Thirst for Art knows no boundaries – Narthamalai, a guest post

You would have read in the about me section, the yahoo group discussing Kalki’s amazing creation – ponniyin selvan introduced me to host of new friends. One post out of blue in the forum made me stand up and notice ( A post which was not out of place in a forum that discusses one of the greatest work of historical fiction in the Tamil, but coming from an American woman, it sure raised my eyebrow. Maybe it was one of those pseudo blogger names, so i started a conversation – what unfolded left me dumbfounded. Kathie is an American, who possibly has visited more obscure sites ( including ancient sacred places, even ones without much left at the site) than the celebrated back packer, ardent temple enthusiast in India, not just with an eye to see them as a tourist, but to enjoy the beauty of sculpture, to drink in the true pleasure of stone art at its very best – She has been coming to India since ’86 seeking out spiritual places filled with amazing works of art. So when i was thinking of calling someone to grace this site with a guest post, she agreed instantly. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her knowledge makes me wince!! over to Kathie

One site I’d been longing to see, on the strength of one photo in J.C.Harle’s “Art & Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent”, was NARTTAMALAI [Narthamalai].

Legend tells that its great granite pile fell off the mountain of healing herbs carried by Sri Hanuman, flying down to Lanka. It’s true that the area is known for medicinal wild plants.

Winter ’95, I took a taxi down from Tiruchi into Pudukkottai district, wondering if I could find the place. There was the enormous granite hill with a pool at its south end, but where was the temple ?
Doubtful, I walked along the fairly steep rock-face, noting an Ayyannar shrine across the water; then, through the trees, appeared the beautifully balanced Vimana: Vijayalaya Cholisvara Koil

This temple of 866 CE, built by Muttaraiyars — fiduciaries of the Royal Chozhas — shows that their artisans excelled in both architecture & sculpture. The west-facing temple’s round amalaka still had some paint –a soft red–, with 4 side shrines, gentle Nandi, & two caves in the cliff behind.
Murthis on the temple itself was quite worn and hard to see without binoculars.
To my taste, this is the most perfectly proportioned temple in TN.
The several door guardians here were among the finest I’d ever seen, a platform against the rock had a mala of playful elephants & Yalis, , including one with a human face. There were more loose murthis on the platform.

One cave was being used as a storeroom. The other — Samanar Kudagu, once Jain — had interior walls lined with 18(?) carved Vishnus, each subtly distinct.
Beside the koil masterpiece, the view east from the temple courtyard– angled rocks and green paddy — was breathtaking.
in 2007 I visited again with a group of friends. By then the amalaka had lost it’s rosy tint.

This time we continued down the great granite slab slanting to the north, and at its foot, found another Ayyannar Shrine of over a hundred steeds for the village guardians.
A magical place.

There is a newer temple on Narttamalai which we didn’t find.More sculpture from this site can be seen at the Pudukkottai Govt. Museum.

Kathie Brobeck

p.s We will visit this amazing place in more detail in subsequent posts.

2 thoughts on “Thirst for Art knows no boundaries – Narthamalai, a guest post

  1. அருமையான படங்கள். அங்கு சென்று ஒரு முறையேனும் தரிசிக்க வேண்டும் என்ற ஆவலை ஏற்படுத்திவிட்டது. நன்றி.

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