Deep inside Pudukkotai, a meandering dusty red track that faintly remembers being called a road once upon a time ends abruptly. Vegetation is sparse.. A few houses lines its periphery giving it the respect of being called a road. A few village boys are playing cricket ( yeah IPL reaches there as well!!) under the tamarind trees and an old man sits on rock outcrop, his eyes and mind lost deep in thought. On seeing us approach, his face brightens up, as he tries to get up, balancing his withering body on his third leg - for one of the ones he was born with has lost itself to disease. The background offers us a familiar feeling of expectation - a low cliff or rather a large boulder, and a serene surrounding, a water body nestled within the rocks…perfect environs for a cave. And this site holds not one but two caves. One for Shiva and one for Vishnu. The old man was the watchman and opened both the caves for us. We wanted to pay him so that he go and have a well deserved and long awaited meal - for it didn’t look like the site attracted more than a handful of visitors in a month. He did ask us for something - an old shirt !! ( so please remember if anyone is planning a trip after reading this post - please take an shirt for the old man).
We will see the older Shiva - Nandhi ?Danti varma Pallava period by Mutharaiyar cave first ( it could be that way since they were the chieftains ruling under the Pallavas then), before we proceed to the later Vishnu cave in the coming posts.
Am reversing the order of the visit, inorder to let you relish the beauty of the master sculptor. Take time and drink in the splendor of this fantastic Nandhi - Shiva’s bull mount.
What’s so special about this Nandhi, its is a nice sculpture , but we do find pieces like him all over - he is special not because he has stayed in this place for 1200 years, but because of the fact that the sculptor sculpted him so that he may remain in this place for ever. Not clear??? Read on…
We go back to the outside, will try and give you an idea of the cave face, by digitally removing the later day constructions infront of it.
Now, that you have an idea of the how the cave is sculpted into the rock face, by carving out the mother rock to create this cave - let’s go in a bit more close. We are greeted by a not too impressive construction.
But as we enter and turn right, as our eyes adjust to the dim light, we squeal in delight, at what lies in front of us.
There are many things to see in this cave dedicated to Shiva, to our left from the previous picture, is the central shrine for Shiva, flanked by two superlative door guardians ( we will study them in more detail in the coming posts). There are more interesting sculptures like the saptha maatrika panel with Ganesha at one end and Veera badra on the other - ie to the left of the nandhi and larger relief panels to his back. We shall see all in the coming posts.
Can you see something just to the right of the image - yes its our Nandhi again. But what is so special about him.
Let me try to do some erasing digitally to show you.
The entire Nandhi, with its pedestal is carved out of the mother rock - its a monolith as well - makes you wonder at the margin of error the sculptor had, his masterly use of available technology then to reduce the rock while sculpting the cave - leaving enough mass to sculpt the nandhi - with zero margin for error.
Now you know why i said that this Nandhi was so so special.