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Posts Tagged ‘Kumbakarnan’

This post has taken almost six months to make. I first saw this panel is a presentation done by Sri Sivaramakrishnan in chennai last december, while he explained the nuances of this Ramayana Panel from Tirunageshwaran Temple in Kumbakonam. Heavy rain spoiled our plans to capture the panel in march, but guess the panel wanted it to be showcased - for thanks to help from friends and volunteers, i received superb photos from Sri K.S. Sankaranarayanan, Sri Hari Krishnan. Arvind and Ashok followed up with a specific visit as well - so we get to study this panel in depth.

guha+nageshwarankoil

Ofcourse, we had seen a similar panel but sadly plastered on one half - from Pullamangai ( thanks again to Arvind and Satheesh)

guha+pullamangai
guha+pullamangai+location
guhan+pullamangai+closeup

Before, we start studying the two panels, the compositions and key aspects, lets study this episode in more depth. Its a very small but interesting portrayal of Guha in Ramayana. For starters, the very mention of Guha brings up images of a humble boatman, who was immortalized by his love and devotion to Rama, but is he just a boat man. Lets see how Valmiki presents him.

http://www.valmikiramayan.net/ayodhya/sarga52/ayodhya_52_frame.htm

sa tu raamasya vachanam nishamya pratigR^ihya cha |
sthapatistuurNamaahuya sachivaanidamabraviit || 2-52-5

Hearing the command of Rama, Guha quickly received it, invited his ministers and spoke to them as follows:

asya vaahanasamyuktaam karNagraahavatiim shubhaam |
suprataaraam dR^iDhaam tiirkhe shiigram naavamupaahara || 2-52-6

Let a beautiful boat that is solidly constructed, sails well and a helmsman in it, be brought to the bank to carry this hero across!

tam nishamya samaadesham guhaamaatyagaNo mahaan |
upohya ruchiraam naavam guhaaya pratyavedayat || 2-52-7

Hearing that command, the chief minister of King Guha brought a charming boat to the bank and reported the matter to Guha.

apramattaH bale koshe durge jana pade tathaa |
bhavethaa guha raajyam hi duraarakSatamam matam || 2-52-72

Oh, Guha! Remain vigilant in defense, finance, internal security and public relations, for a kingdom is the most difficult one to be protected!

tataH tam samanuj~naaya guham ikSvaaku nandanaH |
jagaama tuurNam avyagraH sabhaaryaH saha lakSmaNaH || 2-52-73

Then Rama, who was a delight to Ikshvaku dynasty, bade farewell to Guha and departed quickly, remaining undistracted, along with his consort and together with Lakshmana.

anuj~naaya sumantram ca sabalam caiva tam guham |
aasthaaya naavam raamaH tu codayaam aasa naavikaan || 2-52-80

Bidding farewell to Guha with his army of men and Sumantra, Rama sat on the boat and directed the boatmen to move on.

Ok, now switching back to Kamban’s tamil version, lets see his portrayal of the same scene.

http://www.tamilkalanjiyam.com/literatures/kambar/ramayanam/gugappadalam.html

Paal udai mozhiyaalum, pagalavan anaiyaanum,
seludai nedu heer sinthinar, vilayaada,
thooludai nimir kolin thuzhuvida, ezhu naavaai,
kaaludai nedujendin, sendrathu kadithu amaa!

She whose language is as milk, and he who is radiant like the sun,
played in the waters of the ganges rich in fish,
as he used the long pole to pilot the ship forward,
and it sped like a many legged crab…!

So, now comes the twist in the tale. The next few verses talk of Guha wanting to stay with Rama and Rama in his emotional outpour says the famous words - with you we become Five - meaning, he takes Guha as his own brother !! So, in kamban’s version Guha crosses the river with them. Another interesting thing to note, is the mention of the many legged crab - it could be that there were many who manned the oars of the boat as well, but the sculptor chose to ignore them to focus on just the key players.

So, in Kamban’s version Guha does row the boat and this is the scene that we are looking at in the sculpture - the key aspect being the pole used to propel the ship.

compare+guha

Interesting to view the posture of the man, and compare against contemporary versions - you see that he is really straining and almost bent in pushing against the pole to move the boat!!

kerala+longpole
longpole

Lets look at the other people on the boat - Rama, Sita and Lakshmana ( sadly plastered up in the Pullamangai panel)

compare+rama+sita

Now, there is a subtle difference in the depiction of the passengers in the boat between the two panels. Lets see if you can spot it. Ok, Rama is turned towards Sita in the Nageshwaram panel, but thats not what we have to see.

Pullamangai - Notice how the passengers are standing inside the boat. The length of the torso is important to view.

compare+guha2
compare+guha+better

Now, compare nageshwara depiction

torso+compare
study+torso

Do you notice, how the torso is much shorter and if you need to extend, they would be below the waterline. Now, which is correct. I was searching for some photos of such boats when i chanced on this antique print of a fishing scene from Andaman islands

andaman+group

Do you notice, the person in the centre of the boat and his height as compared to the people who are handling the poles!!

Now, both these panels are prior to 950 AD. So do these point to an earlier date of Kamban than the current 12th C CE.

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Well, all of us at one point of time or the other have been shouted at, using the sleeping giant kumbakarna as an example. Its always tough to wake up in the mornings, that too when you are a kid and the evenings are too long and the mornings are too short. But seeing this freeze of the story sculpted into stone in far off Indonesia jolted me wide awake.

parambanan kumbakarna waking up panel.jpg

Lets brush up our memories of the story from Ramayana, Ravana’s mighty brother, the giant Kumbakarna, sleeps for 6 months at a time. Well, this was actually not a curse but a boon which he himself sought ( ok with some nimble work by Indra).

Having born to mixed parents ( mother was a demon and father a high born), the children are advised by their mother to seek the blessings of Brahma, the creator. So all four, Ravana, kumbakarna, Surpanka and Vibeeshana undertake a stiff penance.

Ravana performs intense penance , lasting several years. Pleased with his austerity, Brahma appears and offers him a boon. Ravana asks for immortality, which Brahma refuses saying everyone has to die someday. Ravana then askes for absolute invulnerability and supremacy before gods and heavenly spirits, other demons, serpents and wild beasts. Contemptuous of mortal men, he did not ask for protection from them. Brahma granted him these boons, and additionally gave him great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and sorcery.

Next, its the turn of Kumbakarna, who is already a giant, and Indra the Lord of devas is scared stiff, that any boon would make him invincible. So he seeks the help of the Goddess of Learning, Saraswathi, who at the appropriate moment holds his tongue back. So instead of asking for endless life, he asks for endless sleep. Brahma too glady obliges by granting him this boon. The others are shell shocked and plead with Brahma, that such a boon is akin to death, so he modifies it a bit - saying he will sleep for 6 months and be awake for 6 months. However, he cautions that if he is woken up in the 6 month hibernation, he would become vulnerable.

Ok, now the story spans a few years, the main events of Ramayana are over and we are nearing the climax. Ravana fights Rama - and the brilliance of Rama’s archery makes him loose his divine weapons, chariot and Crowns, and he is left, unarmed, on the battlefield. Rama humbles him more by telling him to go back and come tomorrow with arms.

Smitten by this insult, Ravana commits a blunder by asking his troops to wake up Kumbakarana. Now this is what is depicted on the sculpture. The mountain like colossal figure of the sleeping giant, with soldiers using spears and swords to prod him, one horsemen is riding on him ( see the brilliance of the sculptor - he depicts the previous horse and rider, tired and getting off - towards the left) - we also have an elephant trumpeting into his ear and another demon blowing a conch into his ear.

blowing a conch into his ears.jpg

Guess, my folks didn’t have to go through all this to wake me up.

Image courtesy: http://oldsite.library.upenn.edu/etext/sasia/aiis/architecture/prambanan/

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