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Posts Tagged ‘Mahendra ’

Many a times, the question is asked to me. As a self styled art appreciator who would i rank as the best - Pallava or Chola. My answer had always been Pallava Stone and Chola Bronzes. If we drill down further, Pallava stone sculptures of the Dharamaraja Ratha and Chola Bronzes towards the closing years of Sri Raja Raja Chola are maybe the finest examples of art that I have seen.

The upper tiers of the Dharamaraja Ratha in Mallai, hold in their midst some of the finest specimens of artistic expression, for not being confined to any cannons the unrestrained imagination of the Pallava sculptor ran riot, faultless and matchless in their execution, working within the cramped confines of its upper tiers, the whole structure being a monolith carved out of mother rock top down, with zero scope for error, what these immortal artists did to the hard granite is the very pinnacle of artistic brilliance. Their ability to conjure up a myriad combination of poses with simplistic grace, perfection in form, clarity in depiction and the stunning ability to bring out the underlying expression of flesh and blood into stone is remarkable.

Today, we take one of these jewels of Pallava craftsmanship to stand in competition. The Shiva as Rishabavahana. ( thanks to Ashok generously allowing use of his expert photography and editing skills) for the first time we can see the full form in all its splendor. The task is not easy as the space available in this is very less and you cannot step back to take the full view. Now, taking a photograph itself being so difficult, consider the difficulty quotient for the original sculptor who had to sculpt this beauty within the confined space.

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Whats unique about this sculpture is of course his unique head dress - a head band and a turban like way in which his matted hair is tied up. We do not see this depiction anywhere else among other later Pallava creations and even any other contemporary example in Mallai. ( for eg take the Arjuna Ratha (
Breathing life into stone).

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What is the main aspect of this sculpture is a flowing sinuous grace, the flesh and blood feel of the limbs and torso. The Tribanga coming to the forefront with the exaggerated swing of the waist and the tilt of the head ! all this in a relief panel mind you and that too in the upper tower of a monolithic stone ratha.

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The classy ease with which shiva rests his hand on the bull and the stylish crossing of the legs…

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To stand up against this, is by itself a herculean task, so we take the very best of Chola Bronzes, and as luck could have it, we were blessed to have a vip access view of this bronze ( currently in the Tanjore art gallery) at the Coimbatore Chemmozhi Maanadu as a sneak preview, a day before the official opening of the exhibition. Chola bronzes are cast by the lost wax process ( hence each bronze is unique, the mold cannot be reused as its broken to reveal the icon) and the very best examples are said to be so perfectly worked at the wax model stage by the craftsmen - that it was said that the real test was to be able to avoid using a chisel after casting. Though we have seen bronzes right from the Pallava times in South India, the craft of bronze casting reached its pinnacle during 1000 and 1014, the period of Sri Raja Raja Chola - as evidenced by the splendid foursome - the Kalayanasundara Panel which we saw earlier (I take your hand for eternity), the Rishabantaka which we are going to see now, the Bikshadana and the Veenadhara , both which we will see subsequently.

Fixing dates of bronzes is a tough and often confusing task, but this is no ordinary bronze, part of a hoard of bronzes found in tiruvengadu in the 1950, currently in the Tanjore Art gallery, it originally belonged to the Svetanarayaneshwara temple in Tiruvengadu. An inscription in the outer wall of the temple inscribed in the 26th year of reign of Sri Raja Raja ( 1011 CE) , one Kolakkavan ( AR 456 of 1918 - Ref to inscription mentioned in South Indian Shrines - Illustrated By P. V. Jagadisa Ayyar ) presented money and jewels to the image of Shiva Vrsabhavahana. ( interestingly a year later his consort was installed !)

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The stylish grace of the bronze and its remarkable resemblance to the Pallava stone sculpture is astounding. Let me try and show you. click on below image and wait for the animation to load.

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Compare the stylistic features. The Bull for the bronze has not been found yet. But taking off the two additional hands from the stone model, the chola artist, has slightly lengthened the position of the hands, dropping them further down and corrected the tirbanga ( lessened the S bend) including the tilt of the head.

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Now, i know this is not fair competition, for 300 odd years before the Chola craftsmen made his mold in clay, the Pallava sculptor had envisioned the form and sculpted it in hard granite with zero scope for error, but then the Chola craftsmen has done his work exceedingly well as well. For to pull a relief panel and extend it to form a complete Idol is no simple task. Take a look at the styling aspects of the bronze. ( We were fortunate to capture the foremost authority on Bronzes in one of the following photos!!)

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I know that some of you might ask as to how we can take it that the chola artist was influenced by the art in mallai. Well, we go back to inscriptional evidence. The earliest inscriptions of Sri Raja Raja Chola in Mallai are found in the nearby Shore temple and …..

http://www.whatisindia.com/inscriptions/south_indian_inscriptions/volume_1/mamallapuram.html

I. INSCRIPTIONS AT MAMALLAPURAM

NO. 40. ON THE SOUTH BASE OF THE SHORE TEMPLE

This inscription is dated in the twenty-fifth year of Ko-Rajaraja-Rajakesarivarman, alias Rajara-deva….that would be 1010 CE. Exactly a year before this bronze was consecrated.

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This is possibly the sneakiest of sneak peaks you can get. A chance for me to place on record my heartfelt gratitude to one my Gurus, the man who introduced me to the language of stone, educated me on the need to spread the message of awareness and to do so without expecting any reward or accolade, but to silently go about your task. Its not just him, but the efforts of another dear friend, expert photographer cum digital artist Ashok, which have culminated in this - Yes, this is a book introduction ( am not competent to call it a review ) and is on the still hot of the press coffee table book on Mallai.

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Whatever was the boon seeker’s objective, standing there on his one leg, arms raised up, he sure has grabbed the attention of the world - be it the ardent art historian or the rookie backpack hugging tourist. By choosing that very sculpture as their cover illustration, one cannot fail to notice , the allegory to the efforts put in my the master historian and the expert photographer - the confluence of their eclectic styles gives life to the stones in Mamallapuram.

True, many works have already been written and will continue to come out about these fantastic treasure trove of stone work, but few before have attempted to capture the essence of being there. The book opens a door and virtually transports you to Mallai, with just the right amount of scholarly diction, like a subtle background score, Prof Swaminathan’s guiding tone accentuates the rhythms that vibrate in the stones captured brilliantly via Ashok’s lenses.

Its been a long pending wish, to see a coffee table book on the splendors of Mamallapuram, for despite the multitude of scholarly works, there was always space for such a endeavor, for among the thousands who throng the site only a few have been properly initiated into appreciating the beauties that are on offer. This book was conceptualized to bridge that gap, to be a companion, which you could take along with you on your visit to Mallai, or come back home to leisurely relish a visit , look back and reminisce at its glory. Lastly, for the select few who are yet to undertake what is a romance for Pallava art enthusiasts like us, its a honey stick lure, for once immersed into the rocky confines of its pages, its hard not to imagine the magnificent pinnacle of stone sculpting reaching out to you from amidst the lilting splash of the waves and the spray of the salty sea mist.

For us, upstart history buffs, who cherish every interaction with such scholars, the availability of such a unique book on Mallai is a boon, gone are the days of reading the text and then hurriedly rushing to the last portion to view the plates, the text and photos mingle seamless and move from one page to next like a slick pair of Salsa dancers.

Don’t get me wrong, its not picture postcard book, the starting invocation, sternly brings you into focus, this is no less a research paper, as the richly thought out foreword by Sri Narasiah, who has taken much pain to list out the multitudes of people who has worked on dciphering the puzzle that is mallai, but the highlight of this particular work, is the results is sans the long diatribe, its easy on the head as its pleasing to the eye. The wise professor diligently takes you through a formal introduction into Pallava art, while Ashok lets you see, touch, feel the fabric of the stone work , each thoughtful frame competes with the insightful texts for your attention. Must thank the publishers for the effort to showcase the early efforts of the Pallavas from many corners of their wide land, to serve as an eye opener to their pioneering efforts and as a prelude to what is on offer in Mamallapuram.

You can almost feel the glee in the eyes, the cheer in the heart of the narrator as we pass through each chapter, its a wholesome visual treat on offer. Half way into the book, you are almost tempted to stop and restart from the first page, but the best is yet to come. For the first time, we get to see the famed Dharamaraja Ratha upper storey sculptures in their bewitching best, as Ashok combines creative photography with technology, we are able to gasp the original brilliance of the Govardhana Panel without the later pillar additions in front in a 4 page spread, the full splendor and glory of the Penance Panel as a 3 page spread, you cannot but stop to appreciate the thoughtful insights like a site Map and Flora section.

A fitting tribute to the Atyantakama.

Our heartfelt wishes to the team . To book is slated to hit stores near you shortly. For more details contact

ARKEY GRAPHICS
arkeygraphics@gmail.com

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