Great escape from a Crocodile’s belly

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)

This story is known to most of us, but what other troubles did he encounter in this trip. This is what is portrayed in this pillar.

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.

12 thoughts on “Great escape from a Crocodile’s belly

  1. I have a question…
    do these artist follow these myth from any manual or they use any myth randomly…
    I am asking this because usually performers in india tend have manual based on which the artist uses their own creativity and make subtle changes to it….

  2. Dear Vairam,

    Interesting question – does art follow literature or vice versa. I firmly believe that sculpture followed a strict regimen which led through a long apprenticeship – wherein they learnt the scriptures, nature, human anatomy etc etc. This should have happened something during the late pallava period, because the early pallava, pandya ( post 7th C CE) sculptures are true expressions of pure artistic beauty. The later pallava Rajasimha shows some character, legends and repetitive forms coming in. We will see them shortly.

    There is another stream of thought based on the legendary varAhamihira’s encylopediaic work – which included among others a kind of guide for representing hindu gods. The dating of this work is unclear and as you rightly pointed out the artist did add his ‘touches’


  3. ஆஹா, கடைசியில் இந்தக் கதையா அது??? 🙁 முதல்லேயே தோணலையே? 🙁 வாழ்த்துகள் விஜய், தேடித் தேடிப் போடும் உங்கள் உழைப்புக்குத் தலை வணங்குகிறேன்.

    • hi virutcham

      thanks – our land is the land of epics – n short stories intervined with those epics. not necessarily fm the same author or source but no less entertaining.


  4. Brilliant and simply amazing work, nice to know about this legend as I was not very much aware of this. These simple simple tales helps a lot in our iconography and identification of stories carved into these stones.

  5. விஜய்,

    முதலைக்கதையை உங்கள் இடுகையின் மூலம் தெரிந்து கொண்டேன். கதையை என் தளத்தில் பகிர்ந்து கொள்கின்றேன், உங்களுக்கு நன்றி தெரிவித்தலுடன்.

    முதலில் அனுமதி பெறவில்லை. தயவு செய்து மன்னிக்கணும் .

  6. Terrific. I have puzzled over that sculpture for a year, should have checked here first 🙂

    First, I think literature modifies or deviates from the source narrative with each retelling, and in keeping with the times and the skill & taste of the author. Occasionally, writers (Silpa sastra, Vishnu Dharmottara, Tholkaappiyam) try to codify art, and artists find new ways of breaking out of those shackles.

    Second, Economics also plays a very important part.

    Finally, we are making sweeping statements based on a very small fraction of the art that has actually survived.

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