Posts Tagged ‘makara thorana ’

The beauty and intricacy of sculpture lies in its detailing and form. It doesnt reveal itself easily though the free flow does captivate you on first instance, it continues to hold you in its sway every time you revisit …

I quote Sri Aurobindo to correctly capture its essence

A great oriental work of art does not easily reveal its secret to one who comes to it solely in a mood of aesthetic curiosity or with a considering critical objective mind still less as the cultivated and interested tourist passing among strange and foreign things; but it has to be seen in loneliness; in the solitude of one’s self in moments when one is capable of long and deep meditation and as little weighted as possible with the conventions of material life.”

The problem is just sitting in penance in front of a sculpture is not going to get you going at the start - the initiation has to be done and for that you need an expert guide or a guru to take you on your journey of discovery, unfortunately not many are privileged to have that. So we turn to the next best - books. Problem with books especially on sculpture and those that are authored by experts, is that they don’t start from the basics or rather, they expect you to have reached a certain stage before you pick them up. So how do you bridge that gap, from zero to a plane where you can confidently pick a work and start reading.

One good work, i would recommend is Sri Gopinath Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography. He has wonderfully illustrated much of his works which help novices like me to pickup what he is saying easily. for eg, lets take something as simple as an ear ring. Does Makara kundala and Patra Kundala sound latin to you. You do find repeated references to these in any description of a sculpture. What are these.

Take this fantastic chola bronze on exhibit at the National Museum, Delhi.


One can go into raptures, just describing the image but am restricting the narrative to the ear rings alone.

shiva nataraja delhi national musuem

You can see obviously that he wears different ear ornaments for each side.

makara kundala 1
patra kundala 1

The one he is wearing on his left is called a patra Kundla - literally patra or leaf - is a circular ornament which was inserted in the lobes and made ( atleast originally of the leaf of a palm tree).

patra kundala

The right ear has more complicated equipment on display. Its the mythological Makara Kundala. We have seen the Makara in depth earlier but chanced on this fantastic sculpture from Java


( btw, Makara is a marine creature - mythological - with the trunk of an elephant, the feet of a lion, the sears of a pig, the body of a fish, sabre like teeth turned outwards, eyes like a monkey and the list goes one - the best however is it fantastically elaborate tail)

Why did he come to wear this on his right ear - well got to do some searching for that. ( well there are more macabre ear rings - which we will see later)

makara kundala

So, that my friends is just an intro for the two earrings of Shiva.

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I had loaned a book on Funan last week and found a very interesting sculpture. It reminded me of something we saw earlier in Dhalavanur. As i scrambled for the closeups and compared the two, i was stumped. Such a remarkable likeness is hard to achieve by pure chance. Oh, sorry forgot to put the pictures, so that you can all see the same - these are Makhara Thoranas ( The Crocodile Arches). Initially they just looked like some decorative motif, but then slowly a pattern emerged.

makara thorana sambor prey kuk.jpg
the makarathorana and koodu combo

Many thanks to Mr. Andy Brouwer for readily giving me the permission to use his amazing snaps .


Do you see the amazing similarity between these two sculptures. lets see them a bit closer

mahendra dhalavnur makara thorana.jpg
makara thorana sambor prey kuk detail.jpg

So, it got me thinking of why and how - an imaginary creature adorning an early Pallava cave in late 630 AD could find such a twin parallel in far off Cambodia - Sambor Prei Kuk. Was this just a decorative motiff or is there more into this. When i searched the scriptures, a few references popped up here and there. But mostly were passing references to decorative stuff.

For eg, this 12th Tirumurai


He had makara-toranas, beautiful bunches of areca-nuts
And severed banana-trees, peerless streamers
And garlands arranged in beauteous rows
And thus had the whole city with its long streets
Beautified with auspicious decorations;
It looked as though, the flawless, ethereal city itself
Had come down to the earth.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

Similar references come in the Ramayana as well. But what in essence is this creature, its sure an auspicious sign - denoting the higher heavens - so whenever a mighty city or godly dwelling was implied, the sculptor threw in the makara - the design elements have evolved into similar structures in most later Chola temples.

We miss these beauties in many later temples as well - Take a look at this decorative hand rail in Darasuram.

darasuram handrail

And this amazing Gyana Saraswathi from Rajendra’s Gangaikondacholapuram ( thanks to Mohandass for the photos) - the last dnap indicates the two wonderful makaras where the arch starts.

gkc gyana saraswathi
gkc gyaana saraswathi
gkc saraswathi
gkc - look at the arches
gkc makara closeup
gkc makara

This pursuit led me to seek the guidance of hereditary architect and master sculptor Mr. K.P. Umapathy Stapathi. He was kind enough to explain the nuances of the makara thorana, its design elements combining 6 different species into one and integrating all of them into one confluence of fluid art, the variety of creepers at the base complementing the delightful curves of the front piece. He was kind enough to send us this illustrated photo to identify them.

darasuram makara

It will be interesting to compile and study similar thoranas from various places.

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