Posts Tagged ‘nandhi’

Sculptor father and sculptor son seems to be a bad formula. The curious urban legends of sculptors killing or maiming themselves for ‘ defects’ ( usually toads found inside the stone!) finds itself repeated in so many sites that we were actually happy that there was at least an attempt to concoct something new this time around !

It was late evening when we reached the twin caves of Thirumalapuram (Thirunelveli district about 5 kms from Kallidaikurichi - older name Tirumalaipuram) in pursuit of our tryst to cover the caves of the Pandyas. Despite the sites being ASI protected monuments it took a lot of direction seeking, blind turns and pure serendipitous luck to arrive there.


The long shot gives you an idea of the plain rock face which would have dauntingly stood before the nameless sculptor or his more generous master/ king as they envisioned their masterpiece. Would they have envisioned their creation standing for a thousand years and beyond?


Its a relatively small excavation comprising of two pillars and two pillasters (The cave on the north face of the hillock is finished with reliefs on its inside as well, while the one on the south has been left unfinished - which incidentally lends itself perfectly to this urban legend which we will see shortly!)

Lets take a closer look at the north face cave. The pillars have some really nice carvings and are fluted.


The piece de resistance of the finished cave must have been its monolithic nandhi but sadly only its base and one of its hooves remains. To fully appreciate the task envisioned by the sculptor, you must understand how he must have felt as he shaped the bull, knowing fully well that even one wrong move would endanger the entire work. We will see this in more detail when we tour the unfinished second cave helps us in this task, as we can see how the stone at the center has been reduced leaving the enough rock to carve the Nandhi.


The date for this cave is assigned to the second half of the 7th C CE and of Pandya style. This is ascertained by the monolithic Shiva linga - carved out of the base rock, a feature which is not present in the Pallava caves of the same period and the presence of Ganesha relief.

One of the door guardians sports a very majestic mustache which has been curled upwards in the style that is in vogue in rustic Tamil Nadu to this day.


Further there are high relief carvings trinity Brahma and Vishnu, plus a very unique dancing form of Shiva.


The posture of his is not the classic Natraja thanadava but more of his chatura pose and he is dancing in gay abandon to the merriment of his Ganas. The throw of the upper left hand accentuates the feel while his lower left hand holds the book of dance – a feature unique and met in Pandya sculptures of this period.


There are two Ganas ( were !) on his two sides - the one to his right has been defaced while the one on the left is of profound interest to students of Music. We will see these in more detail in the next part of this post.

There are few vestigial remnants of paintings which supports that view that most if not all of the early caves were embellished with mural paintings. It is also interesting to note that the reliefs are actually separated by carvings of actual pillars in relief.


However, it must be mentioned that the overall proportions seems a bit dwarfish especially the lower torso which is quite baffling considering the expertise that has gone into the facial expressions and overall stonecraft - the shortening of the lower torso and legs is singular sore feature on the sculptor.

A short walk in the dropping light led us the locked gate of the second unfinished gate. We had now built up our own crowd of delirious camp followers who maybe thought we were movie directors. They tried their best to first dissuade us from wasting our time in seeing this cave which had ‘no’ art.


To be fair to them the art work was pedestrian as evidenced by what must have been a amateurish attempt at sculpting maybe a Ganesha on the outer wall. After watching us trying to peer inside the rusty mesh for a couple of minutes they must have realised that we were indeed hard nuts and gave us the number of the ASI person responsible for the site and we made the call with a healthy sprinkling of ” I know so and so in ASI !” and he promised to come over.


As we waited for the ASI person to arrive, the ever present goat herders kept our company with an absorbing tale on the two caves. The master sculptor who was excavating the north cave had a talented son who would bring his ‘coffee’ from home every day. He would then observe his father work the stone and would go around the hill and replicate the same moves on the stone there. He took care to match the strokes with those of his father’s hammer, so that his father’s hammer strikes would mask his own. He continued in this fashion when one day, the father suddenly stopped mid stroke and heard the sound of the hammer on chisel. He immediately set off to find the source and came across a boy stooped over a stone. But since he was turned away from him, he couldn’t recognize him but seeing the work he realized that someone was copying his design. Enraged he stuck the lad on his head with his hammer and slew him on the spot. Only then he realized that it was his own son but it was too late!

We have seen many variations of this tale now, like urban legends, we need to coin a term for these sculpture legends, how they first came to be and how they manage to reach even the real off beat locations is a mystery by itself.

The key finally arrived and as we had been adequately warned - there was nothing inside but for a delightful insight into a cave excavation that had been abandoned - the work in progress giving us vital clues as to how they attempted the insitu Nandi etc.


You can see how a pillar of the mother rock has been left in the center of the cave excavation and slowly reduced from the middle. You can also see the patterns cut into the rock wall to excavate more depth. It must be pointed out that the stroke marks left on the stone differ from those we find in the Pallava caves of mallai.

Photos: Arvind Venkatraman

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We had earlier seen how Shiva contemplates to consume the poison . This post is a continuation of that act, with a brilliant sculpture from Surutuppalli about 60 km from chennai near Uthukkottai. The narrative for this post is courtesy Mr. Shankar Kumar, a medical doctor currently in USA[North Carolina] and a blogger since 2006 ( www.aaththigam.blogspot.com, and www.kasadara.blogspot.com and photos are thanks to our expert Mr Ashok Krishnaswamy.

‘ No, means no ! How much ever you plead its going to be the same answer from me’ Nandhi was animated in his refusal as he swung his huge head from side to side.

The dejected crowds let out a collective moan of desperation.

A tense air prevailed as it was no ordinary crowd, for it had Vishnu, Brahma, Indra, Vayu the god of wind, Agni the god of fire, Varuna the god of rain, Narada, Mahalakshmi, Saraswathi and along with them countless devas, rishies.


‘ Its all because of him’ murmured a irritated Vayu.

Indra knew it was directed at him. ‘ Did i do this for me ? I did it for all of us, is it not ?’ so saying he glanced around at the hundred eyes looking at him.

‘ Ok, ok. No point in crying over split milk now’ Brahma tired to pacify everyone.

‘ Well, how to just leave it. What Vayu is saying is right. He asked for Amrit and it is what led to all these events!’ Narada as usual was upto his tricks to flame the fire.

‘ Come on, we were getting bashed right left and centre by the Asuras. Unable to bear this and with no other option in sight, we all agreed to churn the milk ocean to obtain the Amirt. Even then, our limited strength was not enough and we had to enlist the support of the Asuras as well. At that time it sounded like a good idea. Who would have known it would end up like this?’ Indra found his voice once more.

‘ Yes, ofcourse. We are not disputing that. But did we use Vasuki like a normal rope. Scared to hold the head of the snake, we gave it to the demons and held the tail. The savages, they must have used all their strength to squeeze the poor creatures head, that out of extreme pain it spit out its deadly poison. Seeing the frothing deadly poison, all of you ran away for your lives’ Brahma was really angry now.

‘ Didn’t I tell you guys……my dad needs just a little encouragement and then no one can stop his ranting’ would be right words that go with Narada’s sly smile, But he didn’t utter a word, lest his father might blow his top.

Brahma ignored that and continued

‘ The Venom leapt across threatening to devour the three worlds and beyond. I didn’t know what to do, who to seek shelter. Who else to seek refuge under but Shiva’

‘Then too, this same Nandhi blocked our paths, as we sought an audience with Shiva. We half pleaded half begged him to let us through and somehow managed to gatecrash. Finally as we stood in front of the three eyed one, he gave us his all knowing smile and turned his glance at Sundarar who was next to him. In an instant he vanished and returned again with the condensed Poison in his hand. Oh my, such strength in those hands, they didn’t shake even a little on the prospect of carrying the most potent venom ever as he offered it to Shiva. ‘

‘ You guys were not around when it happened, that is why i am giving a detailed account now. Shiva took the entire contents off Sundaramurthy Nayanar’s hand and before we could even contemplate what he was about to do, he swallowed it in one stroke.’

‘ What love he has on this world, knowing that the continued presence of the venom would destroy entire creation, he had a difficult choice. Where to discard the poison, every second he delayed could be catastrophic, he took the decision to consume it himself. We were all taken aback at his selfless act, when…..’ he paused for the effect to sink into the crowd.

Everyone looked at him, open mouthed, gaping at the enormity of the sacrifice that had played out in front of them.

Brahma for once was happy that he was the center of attraction. Narada once again smirked at his dad.

‘ Tell us, what happened next?’ Varuna could not stand the suspense.

‘The poison that he drank had not yet passed his throat, when Uma who was seated next to him, caught his throat in her hands, not allowing the poison to pass through. It finally condensed at his throat’

‘ The enormity of her act dawned on us, as we realised the implications of the aftereffects of the deadly poison if inhaled by shiva, whose very dance fuels the cosmos and dictates its every move. If the poison were to reach him then there is no point of taking it from the outside.’

‘And the only person who knew the implications and had the presence of mind to act instantly was the mother herself. The divine mother, with her overflowing affection over all beings, used all her power to stop the poison from descending and hence by the divine miracles of the couple, we live to tell this tale’. You could see the gratefulness in his eyes and it reflected in those of the assembled crowd.

‘That miracle has no precedent or comparison, nor will there ever be. But we are waiting her for something that happened after this.’ Brahma brought them all to the present from his tale.

‘Yes, ask this Narada. He is the one who told us’ said Brahmma.

‘It is as i told you all. The poison unable to come out or go in, has stuck in the Lord’s throat. He is feeling a bit tired and has rested on Umai’s lap. He has now closed his eyes and in deep sleep’ said Narada


‘ What, He is sleeping. That is my patented posture ! If he were to close his eyes and ly down, what will happen to this world. No wonder the whole universe is darkening and slowing down. I have to see him and my sister Meenakshi and congratulate them on their bravery and selfless act, but this Nandhi is not allowing me in.’ Vishnu was getting agitated.

‘ Sir, It is not a big thing. He just felt a bit dizzy and rested his head on mother’s lap. When he is resting, how can I let everyone in. Please understand, even I cannot go in now. So saying, he turned his head to listen to the sounds inside. ‘ Hang on, I can hear them inside. Let me go in and check’

Hearing the commotion, Surya, the Sun god decided to peep in as his shift was almost getting over.


‘ I too have some time to rise, before that let me get a seek the blessing of Shiva’ felt Chandra the moon god.

They were both just in time to get the darshan of the divine parents in all their splendor as they came out of their chambers, rested and in all their brilliance.

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