The story sculpted in this pillar from the Srirangam temple is quite unique. Have not come across similar depictions anywhere else. In order to appreciate this pillar sculpture we got to go and read the Ramayana.
Indrajit,the evil but extremely talented son of Ravana, hurls a magical missile at Laxmana ( Rama’s younger brother). He is mortally wounded and as per expert medical advise sought on the battlefield, the only cure is a rare herb Sanjeevani, that only grows off in a far off mountain. Hanuman jumps across the ocean in search and since he couldn’t identify the specific plant, he uproots the whole hill and brings it back ( refer to the comment by Kathie on the post on Narthamalai)
Having heard from his spies of Hanuman’s quest for the herb, ravana speedily dispatches one of trusted lieutenants – his uncle Kalameni, a demon to the foot hills of the hill. He disguised as a sage, welcomes Hanuman and since the mountain is very pure, requests him to go take a bath in the nearby pond. ( which is bewitched by a gargantuan crocodile). On stepping into the pond, he is swiftly swallowed by the crocodile. Hanuman uses his strength then to split the crocs belly and emerge, when Lo – the crocodile carcass disappears and there stands a beautiful maiden. She is Dhanyamaali, a heavenly nymph, who was cursed by dhaksha. Having heard all this, hanuman is red with rage that the false sanyaasi who delayed his quest, goes to him, drags him by his hair and kicks him – which launches him into high orbit and he flies and falls dead in the throne room of Ravana.
This is what is being depicted in this pillar. Look closely – to the left you see the sage ( just coming into the picture) pointing to the pond, then you move right to see hanuman emerging from the croc’s belly and then Dhanyamaali thanking him. Switch back to the left, lower panel – you see hanuman dragging the false sage and spanking him.
What an amazing piece of work, such detailing of the crocodile’s body, its feet, the majestic form of the emerging Hanuman ( remember this is part of the same series of pillars which we analyzed is so much detail earlier with regard to the horse rider – this is a similar pillar – you can see the hind legs of the horse coming into frame with its anklets etc)
There is another legend of someone emerging from the belly of a crocodile which is also depicted in sculpture, which we will see in the coming posts.