To even try to comprehend Hindusim, let alone setting off to understand it, is a task that many dread to attempt and few have succeeded. The evolutionary tales of this unique religion is lost in pre history and the trails n tribulations of a continent in constant churn. The vestigial remains of its early forms are a distant reminder of its yet unclear origins and when many western scholars first sampled the religious art , their initial impression was not palatable as per their set canons. Have seen many arguments risen subsequently wherein with a wider exposure, the first reactions have watered down and the art has been appreciated more though questions on the religion still persist. To be honest and fair, to someone who is not exposed to the zillion things that one got to know about the Hindu pantheon - the fanged gods, chopped heads, gory depictions of religious self sacrifice, demons impaled on lances, a garland of skulls, an infant fetus as an ear ring, ‘naked’ Gods etc do present a picture that is not pretty.
It is hardly surprising that to even to someone who has been brought up amidst its folds, the cult of Shiva especially, presents a very difficult and complex question - a seemingly paradoxical representation of God - the Destroyer, the one who lives near the abode of the dead, surrounded by Ghosts and goblins as his assistants, smeared with the ash of burnt bodies. That much for his anthropomorphic form, to talk of his ‘other’ slightly darker followers - the Kalamukas, Kabalikas , Pasupathas, Kaulas, of his fiery Bairava forms and then to the more popular manifestation as the Linga, has spawned another stream of contradicting arguments.
To add to the above, I am trying to present a few more to fan the fire of arguments, for that is the beauty of this religion which does allow one to question the very essence of its core !
Apart from the tales and legends, a few vestigial attributes seem to attest to the notion constant evolutionary nature of Hindusim. Thanks to Late Sri. Ganapathi Stapathi’s wonderful work - Indian Sculpture and Iconography for showing us that the creative tradition kept alive these subtle concepts to this day.
We see below an intricate sculpture of Bairava form of Shiva from Halebidu, the heights of Hoysala art, every inch is intricately carved.
Hoysala art is truly a problem of too many and majority of today’s tourists would rush past without even a second glance due to the profusion of art on display and maybe to the call of the horn of the tourist operator’s hurried itinerary bound luxury coach driver. Even for the few who do stop and look, the attribute held in his left hand is truly macabre.
It was with a certain trepidation that I decided to look it up in the book and was surprised to see it listed.
” Katvangam: This is a staff fashioned out of the leg or thigh bone, on which a skull has been fixed. A snake, coiled around the staff, emerges with its hood raised from one of the eye sockets. This implement is similar to the mace, and, instead of the thigh bone, the staff maybe made of wood. Usually an accessory of Kapalika Shivaite images, the Katvanga is also an instrument of Shiva. sometimes, it can also be adopted as a staff for Yogis or rishis. The staff should be 2 face lengths high and 2 viral thick: the skull should be 5 viral wide and 7 viral long.’”
Not only was the description apt but the illustration was picture perfect. Thanks to our artist Raghavendra Prasad for rendering it clearly for us
While we were discussing this, our good friend and fellow heritage enthusiast and expert Photographer Swami came up with another gem and kudos to him for spotting this. A Brahma from Somnathpur
The question was the attribute held in Brahma’s right hand.
Thanks again to Prasad.
Being the destined ‘ Creator’ to find him with this ‘weird’ implement was baffling. Back to the book again.
“Siruk, Suruvam: These ladles or large spoons are considered to be Brahma’s instruments. They are used to pour oblation ( ghee) into the sacrificial fire. On the final day of the yagna or sacrificial rite, the ladle is used to pour various oblations into the sacrificial fire in a ceremony known as purnahuti. The siruk is made of wood and is shaped like an ordinary spoon. The suruvam has a square, box-like scoop, adorned with a cow, elephant or other such animal head at its extremity. The length of the ladle may be taken as one muzham or cubit.
Since Brahma is considered to be the symbolic priest or chief for the sacrificial rite, these ladles represent Brahma in his Vedic identity. Further, the ladles are symbols of the rite itself.”
Quite interesting depiction and lot of questions emanating out of it. But first to set out to find a Suruvam with an Elephant head !