” We got to do something about it Vijay! ” Its been almost four months since Arvind spoke to me about a visit to Kamarasavalli over a conference call with Shankar. The ruins of the Chola temple had upset even the normally tranquil Arvind. So when Shriram and Shashwath wanted to visit the place, i requested Shash to scout for themes to do a quest post. He picked up the theme when Shiva grants immortality to his devotee to contrast the crumbling beauties that frame the very legend. So here he goes…
We all know the story; it’s a repeating pattern in our literature. Mrikandu and his wife Marudvati don’t have children, and pray to Shiva. He offers them a choice between a short-lived but intelligent son or many long-lived dullards. Needless to say, being a rishi himself, Mrikandu chooses the first offer. The child is born, named Markandeya, and as promised, is an easy IIT aspirant. On his sixteenth birthday, Yama comes claim him, as his appointed life is now at an end. Immediately, Markandeya runs to hug a Linga. Yama lassos the linga along with him. Shiva comes forth, tramples Yama close to death, and grants his devotee that he’ll stay just 16, and never stray beyond his allotted span.
It’s this last part that the Shilpi has chosen to immortalise as a miniature at Kamarasavalli. Kamarasavalli is a village on the northern bank of the Kollidam, far from the main highways. To reach there, we had to travel several kilometers through what out of courtesy one might call “roads”. The trip was worth every bump. As desolate as it is now, the village has apparently enjoyed royal patronage in the past, and one of the most incredible examples of early Chola temples is to be found here. In this temple, on the northern wall, we find this:
See that miniature to the far right, near Ganesha? Let’s take a closer look.
Now, let’s see the miniature itself
The entire panel is no bigger than one’s palm, yet it shows enormous amounts of detail. Markandeya is shown embracing the Lingam, and turning around in surprise. Yama’s behind and below him, trying to reach him, and getting trampled by Shiva. Shiva himself is shown, four-armed and dancing as Kalasamhara murthy - the destroyer of Yama, with leg raised to stamp down once more. Both his anger and his benevolence shine through a thousand and more years in stone. Markandeya himself seems almost surprised to see his Lord. The entire scene is a perfect frieze of action, so cleverly done that you can almost see the figures in motion.
We have other depictions of this story, of course, and we can compare with those too. When we do, you can see how much precision is involved in these miniatures.
First, Shiva: Remember, the one in the Big Temple is approximately super-human-sized, while the miniature is about as big as your palm.
Yet, in my opinion, the miniature shows more life
Next, let’s compare Markandeya embracing the Lingam in the two depictions.
In the later depiction, he’s kneeling, while in the earlier one, he’s obviously standing. Yama occupies the left separate panel in tanjore while the three principal characters are inside the same frame In Kamarasavalli.
Markandeya is turning back, in the act of seeing that Shiva really has appeared, and is trampling Yama. Again, far more animation in the miniature. The format doesn’t offer place for the sculptor to depict facial features, but emotion is conveyed using posture, and by motion. Limited by physical constraints, the sculptor has chosen a more graceful means of presenting his subject. This is the hallmark of an artist.
The whole structure is filled with these depictions; we counted no less than twenty-five miniatures, all as wonderful as this one, and that’s to say nothing of the goshta structures around the sanctum. Happily, for us heritage enthusiasts, this place is off the main axis, has no known connection to lots of saints or miracles, and is thus untouched by modern hands. Sadly however, it is also truly in a ruinous state, with plants growing on the mandapams, collapsed sub-shrines, and a half-baked, half-done “renovation” which has plastered the vimanam with cement and done nothing else. I leave you at this point with pictures of neglect and ruin.
We got to do something about it !!