The Dance of Shiva, in stone

The greatness of the Chola sculptor seems to have brought the Lord of Dance to be confined into the niches of his creation. This magnificent creation in stone in the Tanjore Big Temple…is a splendid work of the artist on his favorite subject…if it was the Shiva Gangadhara or Somaskanda for the Pallava sculpture it was the Nataraja for the Chola artist.

See how the swirling nature of Shiva’s cosmic dance is brought into the composition…the serpent which garlands Shiva has been upset by the speed of the dance movement and it has slipped to his wrist, desperately clinging on to his beloved. The waist cloth too is not spared…its flowing movement beautifully depicts the lords twirling dance… the grace of the lifted feet, the strength of his other leg, the beauty of his upper torso, combined with the divine benevolence of his face…its difficult to put the emotion into words….you are truly spell bound.


“How many various dances of Shiva are known to His worshipers”, says Ananda Coomaraswamy, “I cannot say. No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy.” Continues Coomaraswamy, “Whatever the origins of Shiva’s dance, it became in time the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.”

A lasting effort in stone, yet forgotten in our hearts

Kalugu malai or vettuvan koil…where is this place. For those of you who have visited Ellora Kailasantha temple these pictures may seem vaguely familiar…this is a unique effort of early pandya rock cut temple…its in tuticorin district, in a small place near Kovilpatti….to the uninitiated …you may ask what’s so special..simple, it’s a monolith … carved out of the face of mountain side….Now see the pictures and the detailing once more.

Such a stupendous effort – carved top down, to the last detail….a superlative effort, but sadly few locals know of this monument. Such a great craft has been forgotten, so too are their amazing creations. Sadly no amount of crying is going to bring back this artform to life, at least lets learn to properly appreciate them. This is the only service we can do to the unknown sculptor…..


Whats the elephant doing amidst all the art work in Mahabalipuram

Many a tourist has taken a picture having it as their backdrop. The immaculate proportions of this sculpture defy imagination. On a moonlit night one would easily mistake its silhouette for a real elephant. But what is it doing inside the `so called’ five rathas complex.


To understand this you got to understand the evolution of the humble temple towers of south India…however to make it short, we are taking you on a pictorial tour….just keep in mind that the sculptor did not just try to exhibit his art here but also wanted to educate the viewer…only 1400 years ago ! such was the knowledge pool then, that these places of worship were not confined merely to awaken religious thoughts but also served as veritable treasure houses of art, literature, theater, community etc.

Ok, back to the question .. Whats the elephant doing amidst all the art work in Mahabalipuram.


Seeing it as you walk towards the ratha complex you cant still make out the significance.


A few careful pointers …and you are focusing on the elephant and then the building next to it.


seeing them in isolation…no get them both into the same frame…not like that …not from the front…


move towards the side , the rear….now does it dawn on you. ….


yes, the style of the mandabam is called gajapristam …( Gaja – elephant, pristam – back…in sanskirt)…the greatness of this composition is the positioning of the two. Keep in mind both are carved out of live rock…and done specifically in that fashion …so that generations to come understand.

A delightful Boar

The Boar incarnation of vishnu is a spectacular depiction found in many places across India. But nothing is as spectacular as this unique form in the Lakshmana temple in Kajuraho.


At the outset, it looks like a normal boar, but as you go near, you realise that this is no normal boar….


Every inch of this sculpture is covered with thousands of miniatures…


from the curved tusks to the upturned ear….every inch of space abounds with carvings….


of the thousands of celestials who witnessed the amazing feat of the boar in rescuing the goddess earth …..from the nether world…a common ruse among indian sculptures is to depict a naga …a snake man….to depict the under world….unfortunately we have lost the torso…you can yet see his lovely winding tail between the legs of the boar….( you might recall the sculpture from udayagiri which we saw earlier — where you can see the naga)


not only has the boar lost much of its beauties incl its tail to vandals…and nature…but its also lost its prize…for what is left of the goddess earth are her two feet….though firmly grounded….sad


The three headed Elephant, Airavatham

The proverbial white elephant is an actual reality in Indian literature. This noble creature is the vehicle of the King of the Devas ( celestials)…Indra …. a la Zeus with his Thunderbolt. Not only is he white but has 33 heads.

Here is a depiction from a mural painting …


Though there are other white elephants.. the Airawatam ( Erawan in thai/cambodian culture )is said to be the most powerful of all. Described as a huge elephant with silvery white body of 33 heads, each head has 7long ivory tusks. Each of his tusk is 16 million meters long, so huge that it can house 7 large lotus ponds, within each tusk also live thousands of angels and their servants.

This massive modern sculpture greets visitors at the entrance of the Erwan Museum in Thailand.


Without doubt its almost impossible depict this creature in stone…and hence quite rare to see the full version of Erawan elephant with 33 heads, instead, many artists prefer to draw Erawan as a 3 headed elephant instead.

The Irrawaddy River in thailand is also named after Erawan …

We find the workship of indra and airavatam among the temples of ankor,
prasat preau, siam reap …


In india some wonderful depictions exist…. in a cave at Bhaja not far from Mumbai that was the site of a Buddhist monastery – there is a stone relief carving showing Indra, king of the gods.


He is seated upon Airavata with his thunderbolt in hand …in somnathpur.


In The famous chola murals of tanjore big temple…there is airavatham…oh thats the subject of an entire new post….

Whats amazing is that the indian sculptor restricted to just one head while his cambodian couterpart depicts him with three heads.

How can this be a work of man ?

Painting and sculpture are divine arts. When both of them combine their confluence creates splendor. Rabindranath Tagore on seeing the sculptures of the Konark temple had said ” Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man”.

525 Not sure if he had seen this sculptor /art combo… from Ellora Those mesmerising eyes sorry an eye, maybe they felt two eyes would have killed you. Through centuries, nature has taken its toll but what little is left is enough to enthrall you…looking deep into you, churning your insides. How can this be a work of man..?

Please don’t go my dearest, says Shiva!

Looks like even Gods have domestic quarrels….spotted this superb composition in a temple renovation group recently 633 This form is called Shiva Gangadhara….when the divine ganges is ordered to flow to the earth ( Bagiratha’s penance…Oh thats another thread by itself) she is filled with anger…her ego…she is filled with rage that she has to leave her divine abode and gushes with all her might to wash away the earth……well she didnt contend with the power of shiva….he handles or rather humbles her… you can see shiva holding up just two strands of his hair…for her to descend into….caught in his locks…breaking her fall and then he lets her fall gently to the ground…. 635 This interesting episode forms the plot of Pallava Mahendra’s amazing cave in trichy rock fort ….he called it lalithangura pallava griham…thats another post as well. 629 Ok but how does our sculptor see this episode…the divine river is a ravishing beauty…and she has taken temporary refuge in the Lord’s locks….this causes his consort Parvathi to take offense…afterall its competition and she begings to walk away…and then our poor man is trying to cajole and console her to stay… see the mastery in stone here in solapuram and also in gangai konda cholapuram GKC images tks to

Spontaneous Joy, Divine Bliss

There are many different dance poses and forms of shiva and predominantly people associate his dance with destruction. Its very wrong for his dance is the dance of creation. I present to you this truly amazing confluence of man’ art and divine grace…a dancing shiva from Ellora

Amidst all the destruction around it, you can still see the amazing poise, grace …of an exuberance of life, of spontaneous joy…divine bliss. This is the essence of this sculpture…where the pinnacle of human art is towering, almost reaching the borders of divine creation. The sculptor couldn’t maybe infuse live into the creation, but we can surely say that he stopped just short of that…..truly beauty beyond compare ….

Ravana Shakes Mount Kailash

Ravana is well known as the villain of the epic Ramayana …his depiction as the demon king of Lanka who abducts Rama’s wife is well known….however this is an interesting episode which is a prequel to the events of the Ramayana…Ravana as the great shiva devotee and excellent Veena player….. Ravana is humbled four times…once by Vaali, then by KaarthaVeera Arjuna ( not the Arjuna from Mahabharat), then by Rama….and prior to all that by Shiva. This sculpture is called Ravana anugrahamurthy – was sung to great glory by the Saint Appar and finds depiction in many places. But this interesting work is from Cambodia… you can see ravana in all his glory…ten heads, twenty hands 645651653 As Ravana was passing around in his flying chariot..he comes across the abode of shiva and the chariot refuses to go over the mount out of respect for shiva. Ravana is furious and drunk on his ego tries to uproot the entire mountain and hurl it out of his path….as he does so…the lions and other animals run helter skelter….Parvati is scared and leaps on to the lap of shiva…you can see Ganesha in one of the rows along with other ganas ( assistants of shiva) 659655657649 when shiva calmly presses down the mountain with his big toe….and ravana is trapped…what happened next…well thats the plot for a new post by itself… So we see how an interesting lesson in being humble was taught to Ravana …and the greatness of the cambodian sculptor who brought this into stone in such a lively manner

Tiger Caves

Lot of locals miss an important site just off mahabalipuram…so spare the tourist…..its another great treat left behind by the illustrious Rajasimha Pallava…its just about a km before you enter mallai town to your left….you can see the ASI board…yes there are still excavations going on……..


seemingly simple…but deceptive..calmly nestled between gently swaying palm fronds and the beach sand….lulled by the sound of the waves….you are at saluvankuppam. There are 3 important sites for us to see here…We will visit all three in separate posts…


The tiger caves is an impressive structure….from the back its a simple rock…but that was not how the pallava sculptor visualised it…..walk around and you are stuck for words…a lovely grandstand…capped by 11 massive yaazhi’s ( yes the tiger or more closely lion is also a misnomer..if you watch carefully you will see the delightfully carved horns of these magnificent beasts)….


To truely appreciate this you got to get an idea of the gross dimensions…ok, time for me to peep in…now the ugly looking person is me…all 100 kgs….now does that give you an indication of the massiveness of this entire composition…


The stage is slightly offcentre as you see two mounted elephants to one side…in straight profile. the stage iself is capped by a set of prancing lions … a rajasimha trade mark



the identity of the riders is a not known as nature has taken its toll…you can vaguely make out just the outlines….yes we did manage to climb upto to the elephants and take a couple of shots of the rider housed inside the howdah…quite dangerous as there are no proper footholds….


ok, you are hiking up a 1300 year old pallava sculpture….where else in the world can you touch and feel such a artifact..the danger is multiplied by the fact that the audience section of the stage is set into the floor like a pond and collects rain water….so you are risking a bath in a muddled pool as well.


what a magnificent spectacle…such massive work on hard granite…and 1300 years of wind, sea …man…yet these have retained their beauty…magnificent proportions..a living tribute to the mastery of the sculptor..