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Posts Tagged ‘seeyamangalam’

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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Since the site is dedicated to sculpture and its easy to fall in love with Pallava sculpture, it was very difficult for me to do this post. Quite often we get so obsessed with our favorites to the point of becoming fanatics. I am one such proclaimed Pallava fanatic. Quite often Kathie would drag me back to ground zero with interesting questions and photos from the middle kingdom. One such fanatical quest was that of Mahendra Pallava and his sculptural quest. A King hitherto unparalleled in his pursuit for artistic excellence in my eyes. But a chance glance at a collection of photos of Dr. Mohammed Tajuddin KHAN of an impressive cave in Andra Pradesh - the Undavalli Caves (Guntur District about 6km south west of Vijayawada, 22km north west of Guntur City and about 280 km from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh - thanks wiki) propped up some interesting questions.

mahendra mandagapattu cave
undavalli caves

I tried to check with Sri Dhivakar, who had done much research on the early life for Mahendra Pallava for his book - vichitracithan. Two interesting informations came out of the interaction - one - these caves were excavated between the 4th and 6th C.E (The caves are associated with the Vishnukundina kings of 420 to 620 A.D), definitely predating Mahendra Pallava’s famous excavation in Mandagapattu and two - Mahendra spent a good part of his early life in and around these parts. ( Simha Vishnu had a Vishnukundin Wife !!)

Before we start inferring anything from above, lets compare the sculpture styles under question. without burdening you with two many, am just throwing in one door guardian from both sites and a pillar each.

madagapattu door guardian
undavalli door guardian
seeyamangalam lion on pillar (1)
undavalli lion sculpture

The pillar design, fluting, styling - the stance of the door guardian, the flexing of his hips down to his mace, the way he places his hands on his hips - the the lion banner on the pillar.

On the other extreme side, we can argue as to if Mahendra was responsible for carving the Undavalli caves - but then the time frame sets us back by atleast 50 to 100 years.

One more clue - is again the main argument proposed for Mahendra as the originator of cave or rock cut architecture is the famous Mandagapattu inscription. Let us see it once more now.

I quote Dr Nagaswamy’s words below

http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/books/mamallai/new-light.xml


Let us study the inscription itself. What does the inscription say? It says that this temple, dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva was caused to be made by Vicitracitta, without the use of brick, mortar, wood or metal. It does not mention that this was being excavated for the first time in South India. Nor in any of his subsequent inscriptions Mahendra assumed a title, commemorating this great achievement of his life. He was certainly fond of titles and could have assumed a title like “the first excavator of cave” Adyaguhayatanakari or some such thing. We do not come across any such titles in his inscription.
None of the epigraphical records, both lithic and copper plates, which were issued after him, refer to Mahendra’s achievement in excavating caves for the first time.”

But whatever we infer from the above, one thing is for sure - this was the first excavation of Pallavas.

The theory is not without speculation - as door guardians could have been carved later ( especially the ones in Mandagapattu door guardians seem to be slightly advanced in styling when compared to its own pillar designs !!)

Keeping these aside, what we infer is a logical progression. Both the styles are dramatically similar and one definitely predates the other. So, was Undavallai the inspiration behind Mahendra Pallava’s sculptural quest, heralding a golden age in south Indian cave / temple / sculpture / architecture.

For those who are still not convinced about the remarkable similarity in styles, presenting to you more parallels from other Mahendra caves and Undavalli. Believe me, this is not any trick photography - just placing them side by side for you to make your judgements.

floral designs on the pillars.jpg
undavalli pillar design
mahendra pillar floral design dhalavanur
mandagapattu pillar alignment
undavalli pillar alignments
undavalli pillar - notice the fluting on top
the design of the fluted pillar.jpg

Now, do you agree?

Another cave which offers some clues is Bhairavakonda, which we will see shortly.

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