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Posts Tagged ‘Mahabaratha’

It is not often you find miniatures in the upper reaches of a Gopura. So we were pleasantly surprised to find a rare depiction from the Mahabharatha in the Tirukkurungudi Temple’s Gopura.

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Fortunately, the renovation work was in full swing and the strong casuraina poles held our weight and me and Arvind ( who braved his vertigo) climbed up to get to see the beauties.

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We had already captured a very unique depiction of Garuda in this set, but this one was rarest of the rare.

Thanks again to the Amar Chitra Katha memoirs, we knew the plot by heart, but never had seen the theme sculpted in stone.

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Had always imagined that this was part of folklore or atleast a later addition to the Epic.

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You can clearly see the depiction of Hanuman as a `mere’ monkey sitting there nonchalantly as a proud Bhima uses his mace to clear the lowly tail - as though it is some twig.

Decided to give it a re read on stumbling on this depiction.

They reached Kulinda, the kingdom of Subahu, on the Himalayas. They accepted the honors rendered to them by that king and rested there awhile. Later on, they went to the charming forest of Narayanasrama and halted there.

One day, a breeze that blew from the northeast wafted a beautiful flower near Draupadi. Draupadi took it in her hands and was so charmed with its fragrance and beauty that she showed it rapturously to Bhima.

“Come and see this flower. What a sweet fragrance! How charming! I shall hand this over to Yudhishthira. Bring some flowers of this kind. We should grow this plant in our Kamyaka forest.” Draupadi ran to give the flower to Yudhishthira.

Anxious to please his beloved Draupadi, Bhima went in quest of that plant. He went alone in the direction from which the fragrance seemed to be borne by the breeze, without wasting a thought on the wild beasts that crossed his path.

He presently came to a garden of plantain trees at the foot of a mountain, and there he saw a huge monkey shining like blazing fire, which lay right across his path blocking it.

He tried to frighten the animal out of his way by shouting at it. It only half opened its eyes lazily and drawled: “I am indisposed and so I am lying here. Why lid you wake me? You are a wise human being and I am mere animal. It is proper that the rational man should show mercy to animals as interior creatures. I am afraid you are ignorant of right and wrong. Who are you? Whither are you bound? It is not possible to go further along this mountain path which is the path of the gods. Men cannot cross this limit. Eat what you like of the fruits of this place and if you are wise, go back in peace.”

Bhima, unused to being taken so lightly, grew angry and shouted: “Who are you, yourself, you monkey, that indulges in such tall talk? I am a kshatriya hero, a descendant of the Kuru race and a son of Kunti. Know that I am the son of the Wind god. Now move away from the path or stop me at your peril.”

Hearing these words the monkey merely smiled and said: “I am, as you say, a monkey, but you will come to destruction if you try to force a way.”

Bhima said: “I do not want your advice and it is no concern of yours if I go to destruction. Get up and move out of the way or I will make you.”

The monkey replied: “I have no strength to stand up, being but a very old monkey. If you have to go at any cost, jump over me.”

Bhima said: “Nothing could be easier but the scriptures forbid it. Otherwise I should jump over you and the mountain in one bound, like Hanuman crossing the ocean.”

The monkey remarked as though in surprise: “O best of men, who is that Hanuman who crossed the ocean? If you know his story, enlighten me.”

Bhima roared and said: “Have you not heard of Hanuman, my elder brother, who crossed the ocean, a hundred yojanas in breadth, to seek and find Sita, the wife of Rama? I am equal to him in strength and heroism. Well, that is enough talk, now get up and make way and do not provoke me to do you some harm.”

The monkey answered: “O mighty hero, be patient. Be gentle as you are strong, and have mercy on the old and weak. I have no strength to rise up as I am decrepit with age. Since you have scruples in jumping over me, kindly move aside my tail and make a path for yourself.”

Proud of his immense strength, Bhima thought to pull the monkey out of the way by its tail. But, to his amazement he could not move it in the least, though he exerted all his strength.

He set his jaws and strained every muscle till the very sinews cracked and he was covered with perspiration. But, still, could not move that tail the least, a little bit up or down or sideways. In shame, he bent down his head, and then asked in a chastened mood:

“Who are you? Forgive me and reveal to me whether you are a Siddha, god or Gandharva.” Bhima like most strong men, was all respect when he saw one stronger than himself, and spoke like a pupil addressing his master.

Hanuman replied: “O mighty-armed Pandava, know that I am your brother, even that Hanuman, the son of the Wind god, whom you mentioned a little while ago. If you go on this path, which is the road to the spirit-world where the Yakshas and the Rakshasas abide, you will meet with danger and that is why I stop you. No man can go beyond this and live. But here is the stream with its depths where you can find the Saugandhika plant you came to seek.”

Bhima was transported with delight: “I count myself the most fortunate of men in that I have been blessed to meet my brother. I wish to see the form in which you crossed the ocean,” and he prostrated before Hanuman.

Hanuman smiled and began to increase the size of his body and stood forth firmly to the world like a mountain seeming to fill the landscape.

Bhima was thrilled at actually seeing that divine form of this elder brother, the mere description of which had till then filled him with wonder. He covered his eyes, unable to bear the dazzling light radiating from that figure.

Hanuman said: “Bhima, in the presence of my enemies, my body can grow still more.” And Hanuman contracted his body, resuming his former size. He tenderly embraced Bhimasena.

Bhagavan Vyasa says that Bhima felt completely refreshed and became much stronger than before by the embrace of Hanuman.

Hanuman said: “O hero, go to your abode. Think of me whenever you are in need. I felt the same delight when I embraced you that I had in times of yore when I was fortunate enough to touch the divine body of Sri Rama. Ask any boon that you like.”

Bhima said: “Blessed are the Pandavas for I have had the good fortune to see you. Inspired with your strength we are sure to conquer our enemies.”

Hanuman gave this parting blessing to his brother:

“While you roar like a lion in the battlefield, my voice shall join yours and strike terror into the hearts of your enemies. I shall be present on the flag of the chariot of your brother Arjuna. You will be victorious.”

Hanuman pointed out to Bhima the stream nearby, where grew the Saugandhika flowers he had come to seek.

This put Bhima at once in mind of Draupadi who was waiting for his return, and he collected the flowers and returned to her without delay.

and thus did Hanuman came to occupy the banner of Arjuna in the great battle.

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How do we reach out to the next generation and imbibe in them the values of our land, of its art, of art appreciation. These are questions which keep coming up during our discussions. Visual art is definitely something that is attracting the next generation and though we may scoff at the comics and gaming culture, its there to stay. So today we are going to marry a Kanchi Kailasanatha sculpture ( one of my personal favorites) with the latest in digital illustrative art.

The story itself is an interesting anecdote from the Vana Parva of the Mahabaratha, wherein Arjuna splits from his brothers to do penance and procure the Pasupatha Astra from Shiva. Being the benevolent but mischievous God that he is, Shiva decides to test his devotee’s prowess himself before bestowing the boon. So he takes the form of Kirata ( a hunter) with his accompaniment of a Bow and quiver full of arrows, accompanied by Uma as the Kirata woman, enters the same forest in which Arjuna is doing his penance. Just at that moment, Arjuna is attacked by a fearsome Demon Mukasura, who has taken the form of a Wild boar. Seeing the wild boar rushing at him, the accomplished marksmen that he is, Partha ( Arjuna) lets fly a deadly arrow from his Bow Gaandiva, going for the Boar’s head. At the same instant Kirata also lets fly an arrow, which find its target in the rear of the Boar. Both the arrows hit the target at the same instant !! Now, this led to a quarrel among the two, with Arjuna claiming the hunt as his and accusing the hunter for shooting from the rear. The hunter explains that this was not a duel to have the rules of engagement drawn and to attack an animal from behind thus is no wrong ! ( Rama felling Vaali ?)

The argument continues and soon escalates into a tussle. Being warriors both settle on a duel to find out the better among them. A Shell shocked Arjuna soon sees his prowess with the Bow is matched if not bettered by the lowly hunter. His Bow string is deftly cut by the hunter’s arrow and he jumps into to engage in a wrestling match, in which too he is matched. To his surprise, the hunter doesn’t even seem to break a sweat, while he is almost dead with exhaustion. The popular version, says that he stops to create a small Linga and offers prayers with flowers to it, to invoke his blessing and taken on his opponent once again, when he is surprised to find the flowers which he offered the Linga are now adorning the hunter. Realising the true identity of his opponent, he falls at his feet and surrenders to his grace. Rest is history. There is another version that during the wrestling brawl, Arjuna accidentally caught Kirata’s feet and since he bestows grace on whoever touched his feet, Shiva immediately stopped fighting etc. But this is the crux of the Kirata Arjunam story.

Now, thanks to Mr. Abhilash Narayanan, Creative designer & Animation director, who is sharing some of his works with us, we see the story brought to life in the technology of today.

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you can see more of his works at his site below

Abhiram’s site

Now, we transport ourselves back in time to the Kanchi Kailasantha temple. This panel must have been featured long ago, as its one of my favorite panels. The dynamism and sheer energy captured in this typical Hollywood style ` Face Off ‘ posture is an arresting sight. Maybe it was waiting to be pitted head to head against the best of digital art.

Photos : courtesy Mr Arvind and Mr Swaminathan.

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We have the two warriors, standing their ground, locking gazes, as they are caught in the act of drawing their bows. Its interesting to notice how they seem to have slung two quivers on their backs, interesting only one has a waist sword. That this panel depicts the Kirata Arjunam is seen distinctly by the Boar in the background exquisitely sculpted behind the two figures despite the maze of their legs.

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Now, comes the difficult question. Who among the two is the Lord Shiva as Kirata the Hunter and who is Arjuna. Lets take a closer look at the two figures.

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and focus on the ornamentation and head dress in particular.

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Lets list down the major differences between the two fighters.

Clearly, the figure to the left of the panel ( right as you view it) - wears a tall crown and a Yagnopavitham, while the other has his hair tied in a kind of bun, wears the Channavira ( cross belts) and carries a waist sword whose hilt is clearly seen.

The oral tradition is that Arjuna must have gone as an ascetic, must be emaciated from the severe penance ( he is said to have subsisted on air alone in the final months of his penance ) and there is also a ref to him wearing a sword with a golden hilt

Ref in Mahabratha

“At Yudhishthira’s command, Dhananjaya of immeasurable prowess set out (from Kamyaka) to obtain a sight of Sakra, the chief of the celestials and of Sankara, the god of gods. And the strong-armed Arjuna of great might set out armed with his celestial bow and a sword with golden hilt, for the success of the object he had in view, northwards, towards the summit of the Himavat.

But then, when we come to Kirata, he is clearly is portrayed as a hunter and not as a resplendent King, and Shiva is hardly ever shown with a Krita makuda. Further there is this reference in Sri R. Nagasamy’s article.

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However in many Chola sculptures and also Bronzes (Melapperumpallam image) Kirata will be shown like a hunter with round bellied body , beard and cannavira. His hair would be tied as a bun-like knot and not the jata-makuta one sees in the Tripurari form.

But again the Book reference is a bit unclear. When Arjuna exhausts the twin inexhaustible quivers gifted to him by Agni ( burning of the Kandava forest episode
Fire in the Khadava forest ) he tried to use his Bow as a spear , but is thwarted by Shiva.

Ref in Mahabaratha

And beholding his bow snatched from him, Arjuna took up his sword, and wishing to end the conflict, rushed at his foe. And then the Kuru prince, with the whole might of his arms, struck that sharp weapon upon the head of the Kirata, a weapon that was incapable of being resisted even by solid rocks. But that first of swords, at touch of the Kirata’s crown, broke into pieces

So, we are left with an Iconographic puzzle. Whats your take on this?

I would go with Arjuna with the crown and Kirata with the Bun head dress.

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