Posts Tagged ‘Rock cut cave’

Friends, today we have a special guest post. Very pleased to have Mr Pradeep Chakravarthy , we have already seen a review of his book on Temple Vahanas

He has also authored a very successful book Thanjavur A Cultural History - - , and we will surely see more from this amazing person. I had requested him to do a guest post and we hope this is only the start of an insightful series. Over to him now.

Tirumeyyam is a well known pilgrim spot not very far off from Madurai. I wrote about it in The Hindu a long time back and have always visited it when possible.


After reading Vijay’s posts on sculptures that bear a message of how the sculptor conceived movement and drama, I took a closer look at the stupendous moolavar – more than 10 feet and carved out of a cave. The additions are from the 7th century by Perumpidugu Perundevi a Muttaraiar chieftain’s mother. The structural temple temple complex built around this cave is from the 12th century and later.

Thanks to Ashok for splendid feat to capture the entire scene ( digitally removing the pillars - this is copyrighted work)


The scene is of Perumal reclining in the coils of Adisesha with Brahma emerging from his navel.


In this case, like the Gupta images, the sculptor has chosen a free style in showing the coils, not neat and arranged like in other temples. Already there is drama and movement –

The action in the scene is Adisesha spewing forth venom shown as streaks of fire that move towards your right.


The heads of the serpent are backwards, as if they have just recoiled from one attack.


Just in case you missed the direction, scores of divine nityasoories are all flying to the right. Just above the Lord’s face, the sculptor has left a natural indentation, this is possibly to indicate that the flying figures are much higher than you think and to remind you that even when they are flying, they are keeping their legs away from the face of the lord.


To the extreme left is Chitragupta and Garuda who some scholars think is actually the king who commissioned this image.


Another cleft in the rock indicates a substantial distance between the deity and the two asuras


The asuras are a little slanted to give us a clue that they eventually bite the dust

The temple is one of the few Vaishnavaite cave temples still in active worship and a modified image of this theme can be seen in Mahabalipuram as well.

As part of the relief there is a depiction a deer headed person next to Brahma - who could he be?


Photo Credits : Flickr : lomaDI, Prof Swaminathan and http://senkottaisriram.blogspot.com/2008/04/thirumayam-near-pudukkoottai-tamil-nadu.html

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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.


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