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Posts Tagged ‘Raja Raja Chola’

For a temple as famous as the Tanjore Brihadeshwara, it does have more than its fair share of legends associated with it. We have seen of these before, including the most popular one of the Shadow of the Vimana.. Today, we are to see another popular riddle - Why are there depictions of Buddha in the temple. Yes, its depictions in plural ! There are three places where we get to see the form of Buddha - two carved into stone and one a part of the famed Fresco.

Buddha
Buddha+panel2
fresco.jpg

( Images Courtesy: Mr Satheesh, Mr Arvind and Mr Thyagarajan from the fantastic book )

A careful study of the Tripurantaka episode reveals the clues and explains the panels.

The three sons of the demon Taraka - Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha, and Viryavana , were devout followers of Shiva and by the power of their austerities they sought from Brahma the boon of immortality. This was not within the creators powers as all things had to perish, so they sought a seemingly impossible end - They sought three forts, one of pure gold, another of silver, last of iron and each could fly !! Once in a thousand years, the three would align in a single line for a brief second and it was at this moment that they could be felled by a single arrow of Shiva. Having received this boon they sought the services of the divine architect Maya to cast their flying fortresses.

The years passed as centuries and their power thus complimented they grew in prosperity and challenged the Devas. Powerless against them, the devas sought the help of Shiva, who being the benevolent self, said that ` as long as they are my followers, i cannot do anything’. The time when destiny brought the three flying citadels in the same line drew near and in desperation the devas sought the help of Vishnu. Seeing the need to correct the balance of power, Vishnu took upon himself to lead the Tripura demons out of Shiva worship. He took the form of a Buddha ( the operative word here is “a”) and led them out of the Shivaite faith.

Now, Shiva took on the task of ending their rule. The Devas with the help of Visvakarma constructed the chariot of the earth, the Sun and the Moon became its wheels, the bow was the Mount Meru itself and Vasuki the Bow string. Vishnu himself became the arrow. Brahma became his charioteer and he led the Deva army along with Ganesha, Skanda and Mahishasuramardhini.

Quoting Dr R. Nagasamy from his article
“Lord Brahma addressed Siva and said “Lord you are Omniscient and Omnipotent and you do not require all these chariot, weapons, and the retinue to destroy the Asuras? The Asuras will disappear the moment you “will”, but if you are still resorting to these acts it is purely out of your sport”. Siva laughed and at the same moment the Asuras were burnt to ashes. In order to please the Devas Siva discharged the arrow. That is the story of Tripurantaka. “

Now, lets analyse the panels. Stones first - Panel 1

Tripurantaka+panel

Little closer.

tripurantaka+panel1+part2
tripurantaka+panel1

The first part, you can see the three clearly - Mahishasuramardhini on her lion mount, Ganesha on his mouse mount and Skanda on his peacock mount.

top+part+mahishasuramardhini+ganesha+muruga

The middle row seems to depict the battle - though Shiva is not shown. The bottom is left unfinished.

tripurantaka+bottom+unfinished+row
tripurantaka+middle+panel

The adjacent row has the depiction of Buddha on top with the Tripura demons worshiping him with their consorts

tripurantaka+panel1+part2
second+panel+top+row
Buddha

The next row, seems to show the fall of the demons. The posture of the hands marked below, seemed to implore the fallen demons to seek Shiva’s grace.

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second+panel+second+row+notice

The last row shows them returning to worship of the Linga with one holding it reverently above his head.

second+panel+bottom+row
second+panel+bottom+row+worship+linga

Lets now move on to another varied depiction of the same in stone.

Tirpura demons listening to Buddha

Buddha+panel2

Shiva riding on his chariot to battle with Brahma as his charioteer

tripurantaka+panel2
tripurantaka+shiva+chariot

Finally the famed Fresco - which we discussed before.

Here again you see the Depiction of Buddha and also Mahishasuramardhini, Brahma, Skanda and Ganesha.

fresco.jpg
sketch.jpg

Its interesting to note that there was a conscious effort even during the Pallava period to show Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. However, is this Buddha the same as the Sakyamuni is a difficult question to comprehend. But the point to dwell on is the portrayal in both stone and paint - the size and the dignified manner in which he is portrayed. The reverence is very visible.

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While the tenets and underlying significance of Hinduism continue to astound many scholars, we merrily pursue our simple pursuit to explain sculptures. Not wanting to repeat the purpose of this controversial sculpture series, would request readers to read the first part prior.

I had wanted to do this post for many years now, but kept putting it away, being unsure of how some readers might opine. But then, when Gaman asked me what is this, after visiting Darasuram, felt that its is duty to atleast explain the iconography. I would request all readers to be patient and read till the end before voicing their concerns/comments.

sarabha+darasuram2

That this sculpture of Sarabeshwarar is present in Darasuram, the pinnacle of Chola artistic expression in stone, is no excuse for the religious one-upmanship of the emergence of this iconography. Whilst the origins of the particular form is lost in the wormhole of times long past - we are talking of Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th C CE here, that the divide has reached such an extreme expression is sad.

Keeping the narrative to the minimum, as most of the versions are indeed inflammatory, the story of Narasimhar is very well know. To rid the world of the evil demon Hiranyakasipu, who had secured a virtually perpetual existence via a boon from Brahma..


O my lord, O best of the givers of benediction, if you will kindly grant me the benediction I desire, please let me not meet death from any of the living entities created by you. Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal. Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving created by you. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. Since no one can kill you in the battlefield, you have no competitor. Therefore, grant me the benediction that I too may have no rival. Give me sole lordship over all the living entities and presiding deities, and give me all the glories obtained by that position. Furthermore, give me all the mystic powers attained by long austerities and the practice of yoga, for these cannot be lost at any time”

Courtesy : wiki

He goes the usual route upon receiving the boon. His son Prahalad is the epitome of devotion to Narayana ( Vishnu) and refuses to equate his father to God. In anger he asks where is this God you talk of, for which the boy replies that he is omnipresent - in this pillar , in this spec of dust. Angered by it, Hiranyakasipu brings out his mace and proceed to break the pillar to see if this God is there ?

To view a clipping of a Cinema ( telugu language) enactment of the scene

Now the form that Vishnu takes is very interesting: to circumvent the rules ( a la 3 G spectrum allocation !) he takes the form of a part lion part human, bursts out of a pillar ( not born or created !), disembowels him with his claws ( no weapon clause !), puts him on his lap ( not on earth not in heaven !), chooses dusk ( neither day nor night !) - etc. He is such a fiery form as you can see from the depictions and is a powerful deity in the Hindu pantheon. Ideally the story must have ended there - ok, he is cooled down by the melodious voice of Prahalada singing his praise.

But, an educated guess is that, the Shivaite Vashnavite divide had grown so much, that a sequel was added. Seems the anger of Narasimha would not subside, and even Laxmi couldn’t come near her beloved. The whole world trembled at the consequences of the wrath of an angry form that they request Shiva to help. He first sends Veerabadra but he is not match for Narasimhar. In order to match up with the dual form of Narasimhar, Shiva takes up one more aspect - he forms a composite man+lion+bird and becomes Sarabeshwarar.

What happens next is left to many interpretations, but he is supposed to have alternatively embraced, restrained Narsimhar and liberated Vishnu from inside that.

The entire story is depicted in the Madurai Meenakshi amman temple in three simple scenes.

Madurai+gopuram+sculptures
scene1+fight+narasimha+hiranyakasipu
scene2+slaying+of+hiranyakasipu
scene3+Saraba+Narasimhar

Now, back to the Darasuram sculpture.

sarabha+closeup

Thankfully Gaman has got us another shot of the entire sculpture.

saraba+darasuram

The depiction of Narasimhar being liberated and a small figure beneath him - could be Prahalada. The devas are shown above, happy at the turn of events.

Narasimha+form
Prahalada
sages+devas

If you notice, there are no visible marks or attributes to identify the forms unlike the later version from Madurai.

closeup+shiva+as+saraba

The second question from Gaman was about the legs. Iconographically he is said to have a pair of wings and four pairs of legs.

notice+wings
4+pairs+of+feet

Some versions also have a multitude of hands as well. check this version from a Muneeshwaran temple in Srilanka ( courtesy wiki)

saraba+lanka

Why i say, i was sad at this depiction is that in recent years there are multitude of interpretations including the ones of Pratyankadevi and people flock those shrines to rid them of various “ailments”. Its time for people to understand that Hinduism is definitely not a mono theistic religion, and its not a question of My God over your God, or even the very existence of God but the maturity that of allowing even a quest to find out if there is indeed God.

To see the greatness of Sri Rajaraja who has wonderfully depicted the confluence of the plurality of Hinduism in such a grand manner in this Harihara sculpture in the Tanjore Big temple,

tanjore+brihadeshwara+harihara
harihara

Am reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s famous address “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. “

Why then this one-upmanship?

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