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Posts Tagged ‘Rock cut cave’

Thirukazhukundram or Thirukazhugukundram, would bring back fond memories for most Chennaites. For, invariably it would be the place where schools would take you for excursions. Can’t blame them, the choices were not great - toss up between a 99% humidity, baking sun @ 42 deg, thrown in the beach sand - Mahabalipuram, a lecture on bovine mechanics - Madhavaram Dairy , a supposedly bird watch while you end up seeing just monkeys and a few specs of white (couldnt afford decent binocs and the pooled Rs 3 cheap plastic one was dismantled even before we paid up - not that it could magnify anyting anyway ) - ok the white specs were to be cranes travelling XXXX kilometers and so the teacher went on to justify the educational tour tag - what the heck, my backyard had more birds anyday than @ Vedanthangal, last but not least it was the umteen time we got to see the shaggy cross between a cow and a deer, a python so lazy that it didnt move for like 3 years, even the chameleons were bored seeing us, the crocs were thrown into what looked like a community toilet and there was absolutely no venom left in the poor cobra to milk @ Guindy Snake Park. The graduation to the next level would be Sengi fort.

They all had a commonality - all within a couple of hours drive, cheap ( aka no entry fees) and relatively deserted on weekdays - so kids wont get lost. Tirukalukundram scored a vital point as it had ( till recently) the added attraction of the avian visitors - two vultures who turned up at the appointed hour to partake in the brunch. ( its thiru Kazhugu - vulture - kundru - hill lock and Pakshi theertham - bird sacred water - literally translated !!!).

Off we went - neatly packed like sardines in the rickety old school bus and then paired with your best pal or if you are too mischievous or talkative with a girl ( ultimate punishment till we realised that it was not, but which time we were too old to sit in the same bench as them - so much for co education !!) and make the torturous climb up the steep and unforgiving stairs - they don’t seem too steep when you are young and a ` few kilos’ lighter.

So its no surprise that this most sacred of sacred places - maybe one of the very few temples which have been sung by Appar, Sambandhar and Sundarar, is not top of the list for many. Though its just a short detour 14 kms from Mahabalipuram, not many make the trip once they start wearing colored clothing of their choice ( out of school i mean - no more navy blue i swore till i realised that it was part of corporate dressing)

When Arvind suggested a quick drive down ECR to visit this site, i quickly wound up and parked near tiruvanmiyur temple tank ( free parking !!) and hit ECR. As we passed Mahabs, seeking directions - the road turned pleasantly good and green on either side. Just as we took the last diversion ( mean the last curve to avoid) we could spot the majestic hill come into view.

As our luck could have it or otherwise, we hadn’t done our background reading well and skipped the all important Pallava Rock cut cave - Orukal Mandabam ( one rock cave) and attempted to climb to ” the temple on top of the hill“. There is considerable debate on these two shrines and hence i used the italics. We will jump to that debate in a later post when we cover the rock cut cave.

Enough of the ramble ( must be the after effects of staying up all night and reading Chetan Bagat in one go ) I am going to depend very much on Sri K. R. Srinivasan’s Cave Temples of the Pallavas henceforth, and attempt to post on the topic of the post.

After a steady ( meaning stopping every five steps and almost coming close to having a heart attack twice) - we reach the summit blaming it on the heavy lunch…we were disappointed by a a very small stone structure. All this trekking for this !!! It was some auspicious day and looked like the whole village had turned up in all their finery to have darshan of the lord - vedagirirswarar. We tried our best acrobatic moves, attempted to outdo the leaning tower and managed to fit our heads inbetween the nandhi’s ears while our torso was a full 4 feet away - to just get a peak of the moolavar. Just as we came around,we noticed that the surrounding corridor had deep clefts - where we could see the base rock and in it - pay dirt. Atlast some Pallava sculpture - relief panels at that and SOMASKANDA !!

the tirukazhukundram vedagireerswarar panel

We were all eager to check what was its styling. Classic Pallava relaxed styling despite all the wearing of the stone - you can always spot a Pallava art work. Its got a certain laid back styling and freedom in it - and a poetry that runs through it. Next question - Pre Rajasimha or post Rajasimha

somaskanda tirukazhukundram

Just then, we heard some commotion, a road side hero - self professed custodian of the hindu temple arrived, showering the choicest of abuses on us and accusing us of not knowing Hindu culture ( maybe it was our bermudas and camera bags) - despite our best attempts to educate the romeo that we were not taking the Garba Graha nor were these panels under worship - he was more inclined to show of his new found role to his fellow tribesmen. Pretty soon we had a whole village assembly around us with all sorts of mustached elders passing judgments. not withstanding that we had paid a hefty camera fee and there was no photography board !! It was plain ridiculous, stupid, atrocious….and if not for the fact that we were inside a temple precincts, would have asked them to just … off. All my focus was on the reminder of the two panels - one was a very wonderful Shiva seated stylistically on rishaba - now you know what i mean by classic pallava styling.

I did shoot it but then it was close to delirium and we had to give up the last one.

rishabavaahana shiva

Anyway, surprisingly the somaskanda capture, despite the poor light and emergency shot, is good enough to attempt a detailed study

Brahma and Vishnu are inside the panel

closeup

Shiva is in his usual pose, Parvathi /Umai - well will let you decide

shiva
umai

A snug baby skanda with his characteristic head dress.

baby skanda

Surely a post Rajasimha panel. The throne is pretty standard, but the vessel here is quite different from what we have seen in other such panels - its not the standard vase but more like a high bowl. Another interesting variation!!

throne and the vessel

So,now is the tricky problem. Obviously, since the temple was sung by the trio - they are dated to Mahendra’s period - 630 AD around. But Rajasimha was three generations later, so how do we explain the presence of a stylistically later dated panel in an older temple - quite simple - the temple on the hill was existing prior to this panel being sculpted. The confusion arises since the lower cave ( which we will see subsequently) has not been sung - none of the caves of Mahendra have been sung upon, while this temple on the hill has been specifically sung. So the conclusion ( book ref given earlier) is that there must have been some sort of temple structure that existed earlier - then later pallava - Rajasimha or post him did some renovation and created the current structure by standing 3 stone slab -megalithic style shrine - on which these ( hopefully i can get you the third panel via friends shortly).

More on this interesting theory with inscriptional support which lends a new angle - when we see the Pallava cave in the base of the hill shortly.

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Friends, i am writing about a man who changed the course my life’s pursuits. Its a tale of selfless service, the reach of the net, information sharing,knowledge assimilation, leaving a lasting impression on the generations to come. I read that Einstein once said ” If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants”, thereby acknowledging the contributions of the scholars before him.

To start with, i have never met this person. For, he passed away in 1988, long before i even knew where i was headed in life.

when i first started my pursuit to learn sculpture, the stones of mahabalipuram were becoming not just time pass but posing some intellectual questions. spurring me to learn and read more about them. Being in Singapore didn’t help and the only way to quench my thirst was by reading books. Quality books on sculpture were heard to get, of the few good ones, some were ( are) at a higher plane than my current grade, and the rest were priced higher than what i could convince myself to spend on a hobby. The pursuit was still at the hobby stage at that time. But the thirst was still driving me and i turned to the net for help, coming across just two sites. One was Dr Nagaswamy’s tamil arts academy and the other, Dr.Gift Siromoney (30.7.1932 - 21.3.1988), M.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., F.S.S.
http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Archaeology.htm

The posts he had graciously left behind on the net, quality content, absolutely free, easily accessible, spurred me, 20 years after his death, inspiring me to use the advances in technology, the power of the net and its networking capabilities to tap on the potential of friends, to create a site, with powerful content with an unique visual appeal, absolutely free - that even a chance encounter of a casual visitor, will make him sit up and take notice, of the treasures that our great land bore out of its intellect, help protect and preserve them for future generations. Like the legendary Ekalavya, i try to follow his effort. This effort, hopefully will outlast my human existence, and pray will inspire atleast a few like me, long after i am gone.

I take one such thread, which the great man had left behind in his site and develop - One of the first puzzles i had taken to study. Please take time to read his extensive note below:

http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Archeaology/arch_dvarapalaka.htm

He has supported his theory with some rough sketches, which i have developed with photographs.

The hypothesis is very simple, Are the Pallava door guardians personifications of the divine attributes ( weapons) of the Lord whom they are guarding?

To understand this better, lets take the Shiva shrines for study first. Most early Pallava shrines had door guardians who wear a curious headpiece. Various postulates have been proposed, right from horns worn by a primitive tribe, later evolution of Jaina Naga icons and even as personifications of the Nandhi.

Unfortunately the main door guardian at Vallam, which Dr. Gift analysed is not clear enough ( thanks to Prof Swaminathan and Chandru sir for the photos), but i am thankful for Mr. Shriram for giving me an excellent photograph from Tirumayam cave ( though later than Mahendra ) that helps us to study the concept. We also see examples from other Mahendra caves including Mandagapattu and Seeyamangalam.

First of all, lets visit the Mahendra cave in Vallam. The cave has been pathetically managed with an ugly grill marring the entire beauty of the place. Anyway, for purpose of this study ( am thankful to Prof. Swaminthan sir and Chandru sir for sharing their photos of Vallam).I am just going to present to you a series of photos and then work on the hypothesis.

vallam cave face

so just watch the dissimilar door guardians ( wonderfully sculpted in side profile) as compared to later temples where they are sculpted a mirror images, no two Pallava doorkeepers were done to look similar.

vallam Cave  Dvarapala left
vallam Cave Dvarapala right

Notice the right side door guardian ( invariably) is carrying a set of curved horns. But are these horns. They seem to be positioned slightly below the head, where you would normally sculpt horns. Also the way the horns are attached or start - there is a very conspicuous convex curve.

closeup of the horns of the rightside door guardian vallam
closeup of the leftside door guardian vallam

Now, lets look at the left side doorguardian, he is bereft of any horns, but watch closely - he seems to have some sort of a projection in the centre of his head dress - like he has taken a serious whack and is all swollen up! Is it just a fashioning of his crown or does it signify something else?

Lets move on to Mandagapattu Mahendra cave.

mandagapattu cave face
mandagapattu leftdoor guardian
mandagapattu rightdoorguardian
closeup of left door guardian mandagapattu
closeup of right doorguardian mandagapattu

Here, the right side door guardian doesn’t sport any horns. why? But not to be disappointed, we see the same protrusion in the head of the left side door guardian!!

mandagapattu left door guardian
mandagapattu left doorguardian
mandagapattu left doorguardian- highlighting the protrusion
the protrusion
the protrusion highlighted

Can you make it out now. Seems to be very much in fashion among the left door guardian. We will come back to this towards the end of the post.

Lets swing across to Seeyamangalam.

seeyamangalam cave face

We have our horned door guardian at the right but the left side door guardian doesn’t sport the protruding crown.

seeyamangalam cave dvarapala left
seeyamangalam cave dvarapala right

But lets take a closer look at the horns. Even though they seem to occupy a more normal horn position, the curve at the base is very distinct and doesn’t look like a normal horn.

closeup of the horns of rightside door guardians seeyamangalam

Now, thanks to Shriram we are going to see a really spectacular sculpture and example that is going to prove this postulate. These door guardians are from Tirumaayam. The right door guardian is possibly one of the best executed forms - such grace, such pristine beauty. His majestic poise is sheer poetry.

tirumayam right door guardian

The left door guardian is slightly more subdued in his stance.

tirumayam left door guardian

Lets peek in closer to view them. The left one does has a queer projection on top of his head. But the right door gaurdian’s head dress is worth a second look.

closeup of left door guardian
closeup of right door guardian
a better view of the right side door guardian
closeup 2
closeup of the right side horn
left door guardian

Lets analyse the complex curve at the base of the so called horns. Just imagine the sculpture without the face of the doorguardian.

due you notice the trident
due you notice the trident1

Do you notice that there is a spike at the top of the crown. Now when you look at the three spikes as a single structure you can notice that they are indeed the three frongs of a large trident that has been superimposed on the door guardian. This could only mean that the door guardian is the personification of the Trident of Shiva - Thirisoolanathar.

the trisoolanthahar

In the same vein, the argument is that the protrusion on left side door guardian is the face of an Axe blade, depciting the Axe aspect of shiva ( check out the axe blade when being held by shiva in the famous chandesa sculpture in Gangaikondacholapuram) - Mazhu being the old name of the axe and hence he is called Mazhuvudayar.

GKC shiva with axe blade
mandagapattu left doorguardian- highlighting the protrusion
not the protrusion on top

Thus we see that the two door guardians are infact the Trident and Axe of Shiva

Another example from Kaveripakkam ( thanks kathie for sharing) currently in the chennai museum with the Horns!!

Kaveripakkam charmer

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