Posts Tagged ‘Shiva Gana ’

We continue this controversial series with another highly controversial sculpture - Kankalamurthy. Lets look at the Iconography first before heading into the murky plots - he is quite often confused with his Bhikshadanar form not without reason, for they appear quite similar but for some key differences.Take these two from Gangai Konda Cholapuram.


The first and most obvious one is the presence and absence of clothing. Bhikshadanar is naked with a few snakes on him, while Kankala is shown fully dressed. The texts do mention however that his upper garment must be the skin of a horse or an ass, which he should wear with the hairy side appearing outside and lower garment made of threads of the hemp and when worn
it should not descend below the knee. ( notice the when worn ! ). Both wear thick wooden clogs /slippers.

The second obvious difference is in the headdress. Kankala has a Jatamakuta ( hair that is worked to form a crown) while Bhikshadana has a Jata Bara ( more like a wandering mendicant’s unwashed thick locks brushed back!) or even a Jata Mandala ( the same like jata bara but the hair kind of radiates to form a circle!).

Hair style differences …thanks for art


However, this hair dress part seems to be not followed 100% with some combination sculptures, meaning there are a few Bhikshadanar with Jatamakuta - maybe the sculptor tried a two in one upsize combo.

But there are some very important differences that enable us to clearly distinguish the two.

Watch what Shiva is holding in his lower left hand. If it is a skull cap begging bowl ( we will come to the story shortly) - it is Bikshadanar and if he is holding a particular variety of drum called a Dhakka, it is Kankala.

Further, the lower right hand of Bikshadanar is feeding his antelope, while that of Kankala must be beating the drum with a stick ( called bana). The second right hand of Bikshanda holds a damaru above shoulder height, while that of Kankala is feeding the antelope. Now we have a peculiar problem in the Gangaikonda Cholapuram sculpture - the Kankala has 6 hands and the front ones are broken but then you can see that only the second right hand is feeding while the third is bent up holding a coiled snake.

The upper left hand of both hold a staff but herein comes the most clinching evidence. The staff is no ordinary staff for the Kankala murthy. Kankala - is termed as a skeleton or corpse. The skull cap in the hand of Bikshadana is the plucked head of Brahma - the popular Lingothbava connection. However the Kankala connection gets more sinister with many a variant being sung about. Its 100% controversial with the most common version - stating that Shiva as Bairava being barred entry by Viswaksena - the head of Vishnu’s staff and an enraged Bairava spearing him with his trident and carrying his lifeless body impaled on it. Sounds gruesome - but believe me this is the most mildest version that i could post. The others versions talk of the spinal cord etc. But the ending kind of brings some parity between the two Gods - by saying Vishnu infact helps Shiva redeem himself from the curse etc ( other versions say it was Lakshmi !)

To get back to Iconography of the supporting cast of the Kankalamurthy form , below passage from Sri Gopinath Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography will be of interest

“The Kankalamurti should be surrounded by a number of women and the bhutaganas (goblins) represented variously as dancing, singing and in other attitudes ; one of the bhutas should carry on his head a large vessel for storing in the food received in alms and be situated on the left of Siva. Of the women who surround Siva some should appear to be completely possessed of irrepressible love for him, some eager to embrace him, some others blessing him, while still others serving in his vessel food ladled out from another with a spoon. Out of lust for Siva the clothes of the women should appear slipping down their loins.. There should also be hosts of rishis, devas, gandharvas, siddhas and vidyadharas everywhere around Siva, with arms crossed on the chest in the anjali pose. The god Vayu should sweep the streets before Siva, Varuna should sprinkle them with water, the other devas should shower flowers on him, the rishis should praise him by repeating the Vedas, Surya and Chandra should carry umbrellas over his head and the celestial musicians Narada and Tumburu should sing songs to the accompaniment of musical instruments.”

When we were in Thirukkurungudi last December, we were fortunate that the Gopura was undergoing extensive upkeep and hence we could climb both the outside ( a little scary and spiderman like ) and also on the inside. It was the last place we expected to find a relief sculpture of Kankalamurthy confirming to iconographic cannons as above !


Must have been a very brave sculptor to attempt this.


You can apply the specifications from above perfectly to this sculpture.


What is a puzzle however is what is shown on the other end of staff. Looks like a reptile


Maybe it is a contingency against him not being so successful in his efforts to secure his breakfast, which is not surprising considering the fact that he has a corpse dangling behind him.

It is important to read these in context to life and culture of those days. What may appear in today’s context to be stupid or ridiculous might have been the norm them. While reading a paper on Self sacrifice came across this interesting reference where ” Viran and Narayana - twin brothers who served under Parantaka Chola I, simply cut off their own heads to demonstrate how they cut off the head of Vikkalan, the King of Nellore’

However, as usual all ends well - with Viswaksenar resurrected and going back to his duties and Shiva regaining his benevolent form .

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Read this as a prelude to the previous post on Pullalur…

It was well past lunch time, but Shankar showed no signs of even vaguely harboring any thoughts of lunch !! We had been in touch for quite sometime, ever since he sent some wonderful miniatures my Mondays have been filled with anticipation - of where Shankar would be visiting that weekend and what new beauties he will unearth. Such is the enthusiasm of this wonderful heritage enthusiast from Chennai. So it was a quick exchange of pleasantries over phone and we drew a short program - the highlight would be to get to the famed early Chola temple - vaguely mentioned in ASI references as ” North Arcot District. Walajapet Taluk, Tirumalpuram, Ruined Vishnu Temple”

With no further references for the actual location, but confident that we are in the right locality thanks to the train station with the same name, we started our ride on what could at best be called a cart track. The Landscape suddenly turned greener and we saw the familiar ASI green fence. Must have been repaired recently for it was in very good condition ( the fence n gate i mean) and it was locked. At a distance, we could see a very small central shrine bereft of any towering Vimanas. We chanced our luck and placing our bets on the ASI contractor’s ` work’ went around the site, but looks like the ASI picks its contractors well. There was not a inch hole ( not that we could squeeze through a ` hole’). There were quite a few village folk working the farms around the site and we tried our luck if anyone had the keys ( as is the case with many ASI sites). Finally, our patience ran out and having driven in motorcross fashion from Kanchipuram to here, we decided to rough it up. Somehow scaling gates was so easy when you were young and a ` few’ stones lighter. I made it much to delight of a group of young girls and a crowd had already gathered to witness our circus. ( I was quite taken aback at the vocabulary of these children especially with the choice tamil unspeakables they uttered. Always thought Kathi overdid it in Ayirathil oruvan !!). Some good Samaritan produced a cycle with which shankar too jumped in ( the cyclist was gone and then Shankar asks how do we go out ?? - thankfully someone produced a stool later)

Ok, back to the site. as we walked the long walk to the Shrine - the manicured lawns showed us a very very simple structure from a distance. We approached from the rear side.


Not too impressive and how soon we jump to such conclusions ! We walked up to the front and stepped in closer.


Now, the Inscriptions references were so many right from Parantaka Chola times ( 907 - 955 CE) and even our beloved Sri Raja Raja as well.


The simplicity of the shrine defied the sheer volume of gifts and endowments given to it. So we decided to go near and see - every inch was covered with scripts !!


There was some cheer for me as well - we did find many miniature sculptures , two splendid thoranas and some real rare gems ( warrants a sequel post), but to me the greatest interest was finding the Boota gana row lining the lintel.


Could i get lucky and spot our favorite Tiger belly in this row, i scanned each of the charming dwarfs for the familiar one..


Towards the center of the side wall, for a second i thought i had got him


No, it was a false alarm. it was actually one of the guys turned upside down !!

But then, towards the extreme left, yes, we were in luck. Jackpot


Not one but two Tiger belly ganas.


Maybe, if we had seen only one, we could have stopped, but since we found two of this ( which is by the way a first - we have never seen more than one of these guys in one site so far !) , we went around to try and see if we can spot more. The back wall didn’t disappoint.


a jiving Tiger belly specially for us.


Three so far, can we find a fourth ? yes on the other side, we spotted a fourth tiger belly. A rich Haul for the day.


The indulgence in Tiger belly ganas finally getting over, we can focus on the main items in part two of the post shortly.

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