It actually happened during one of our extended tour / journeys - we had hired a tourist cab and an experienced driver. He was with us for 5 days at the end of which he literally gave up on us. He had been handling clients for 12 years in that area and was pretty confident that he knew every known attraction / street/ gully etc - till he met us. In those 5 days possibly he had to ask directions so many times that he would have been taken as a novice driver - not taking anything away from him, our interests were such. Most baffling to him was the fact that we would spend hours together on a ‘ small cave’ while exiting a large temple complex under 30 min. We tried our best to explain our iterated preference for offbeat locations to no avail - the last time i bid him goodbye in a train station he was still shaking his head, dismissing us as a group of nut cases !!
In our continuing quest to showcase the hidden gems of sculptural art, we are going to see one such best kept secret. 23 kilometers from Senji, in Panamalai is Rajasimha Pallava’s magnificent creation,the 8th C CE structural temple of Talagirishwarar.
Built on top of a small hill, the walls of one of its outer subshrines hold remnants of a rare dancing form called Alindhara Siva and a graceful Parvathi looking on. Sadly we have completely lost the Shiva except for a faint outline, however the Parvathi has survived. The sureness of the hand evidenced by the graceful lines combine fantastically with the brilliant ornamentation and use of color shading, especially the green show the mastery of not only the art , of human anatomy, expressions as well as handling of colors. View her here.
The temple gets very few visitors but even those few, miss the other attraction, for it is not found inside the confines of the structural temple, but at the base of the hill. We would have missed it too, had not the arduous yet exciting, exhausting but enlightening climb, virtually left us drained or rather wanting to drain…well, we had to relieve ourselves and boys being boys - and we being good boys did not want to do it on the holy mountain but chose the first opportunity that showed itself at the base. A few well worn goat trails led us around the hill and a short walk to the left of the stairs leads us to a naturally formed rock cavern. Deep inside this cavern, in such a confined space, in the fading light - we chanced on the beauty - that required the true genius of our expert Photographer - Mr Ashok - to bring to light - that the e Pallava sculptor has managed to carve a beautiful relief of Durga as Mahishasuramardhini.
The Natural cavern with the relief
The great king Rajasimha Pallava had a particular fascination for the Lion, as can be seen from the profusion of them in all his creations, and hereto the strength of the mount of Durga is shown prominently with its muscled fore limbs dominating the composition.
The eight armed goddess is a personification of feminine grace, as she strikes a casual pose, but the warrior attributes and strength are seen in the way her right leg is held up high and steady on her mount – Urdhava Janu and the sinuous curves of her hip break the straight lines of her right feet. The volumes of her wait cloth pass under her hand, held in Kati hasta, and fall gracefully alongside. She wears multiple bangles on all her wrists while the long bow is slung casually in front and the superb prayoga Chakra and a heavy straight sword are prominent amongst her various attributes. The interesting feature seen here is the presence of a three headed snake to the extreme right, though the snake is listed as one of the attributes of Durga we do not see this featured prominently as is done here. The Pallavas also seem to prefer having their sword scabbards on their backs instead of at the waist ? Here we see the goddess having a quiver and a scabbard on her back or is it two quivers? check out similar accessory in the Kanchi Kailasanathar kirata arjuna panel.
It should be mentioned that Rajasimha Pallava was not a King who would leave his creations anonymous, for he does make the task easier for historians to identify his creations, after all he embellished the entire base of his Kailasantha temple in Kanchipuram with his 244 Birudas ( Titles) not once – but 4 times, one below the other. He has forever stamped this cavve as his creation with his inscription, with his name and favorite birudas - Sribhara and Ranajeyah.
Rajasimha Pallava Granta inscription.
Have we missed describing something more in the relief? double up and examine the panel closely and let me see if you can spot…..
Photo credits: Mr Ashok krishnaswamy, Mr Shaswath