Art meets engineering – The world’s largest Buddha

We have seen many rock cut shrines and structures in india, but not many outside china know about this magnificent rock cut Buddha – the largest in the world, sitting facing the west, the Giant Buddha is located on the western slope of Xiluan Peak of Lingyun Hill in Leshan.
The total height of the Buddha is 71 metres (233 feet) tall, the statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees. His shoulders are twenty-eight metres wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person.
It is lofty and massive with a symmetrical scale and with a 10 meter wide head, 5.6 meter long nose, 7 meter long ears, 5.6 meter long nose, 7 meter long ears, 5.6 meter long eyebrows, 3.3 meter long eyes,3.3 meter long mouth, 3 meter long neck, 28 meter wide shoulders and 8.3 meter long fingers, and the height from the Giant Buddha’s insteps to its knees is 28 meters. On its head, there are a total of 1021 hair buns.

Construction was started in AD 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels travelling down the river. Construction was completed by his disciples ninety years later. Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.
The most amazing aspect of this sculpture is the engineering behind it ( literally) – the area receives abudndant rainfall and inorder to safeguard the Buddha from the effects of flowing water – the top hair buns are so designed to channel the water that falls on his into hidden channels down into holes in his ear and taken to the back of the statue and drained. similarly the water than falls on his body is channeled through canals in his robes skillfully concealed from the back of the Buddha’s neck to its toes. The Buddha rests his feet at the confluence of three rivers, reclines his back on nine hills, overlooks Emei Mountain and dominates the old city, Jiazhou. With a dignified and solemn appearance and grand verve, the Buddha is the largest sitting Stone sculpture of the Maitreya Buddha in the world. ( sadly it been badly scarred by industrial pollution in the recent years)
The sitting pose and the water in front – kind of remind you, of another site halfway across the globe – Abu simbel and its colossal Statue of Ramses. Quite remarkable despite considering the totally different ideals of the two men, one who renounced everything becoming a God to his followers and the other who coveted every possible possession ( wearing the two crowns of lower and upper Egypt) and called himself God.

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.

Art inspired by Sculpture – Series – part 2

We had seen earlier how profound is the influence of a divine creation on a viewer. The splendor of the masterpiece, transcends time and the joy of the artist’s creation, despite being a thousand years old, continues to pass on from his flesh to stone and from the stone to flesh – of the viewer.

Not many people are lucky enough to be so enormously talented, to be able to give shape to this feeling. It is a void many feel, when one sees pure beauty in front of your eyes, your mind captures it in its eye and your body is overpowered by this dose of sheer exuberance, you are searching for a medium to release this energy. And if you are as talented as my friend Mr Murali, then all the stored responses gushes forth in a spontaneous burst of creativity – adding luster to the creation, a fitting tribute to the masterpiece. Its not often you get a chance to compare two different art forms, products of two different streams of art – spread over a 1000 years, both masters in their craft

Its easy to see why this creation inspired the artist, though the big temple abounds with such brilliant works in stone, the beauty of this creation, leaves you speechless. The Laxmi ( had earlier posted this wrongly as Gyana Saraswati – on further reading notice that this is Laxmi – has two hands and a breast band – whereas Saraswathi is four armed and misses the breast band – apologise to readers) master sculpture of the tanjore big temple. What perfection, the graceful crossed legged seated position, the calm serene face, those arched brows, the benevolent smile, the jeweled crown, the splendid ornaments, the detailing of the garments, Oh – if only i were a chola sculptor i would have felt that my life’s purpose is attained on creating such a masterpiece. So great is this work, imagine to be able to breathe life into stone and create this divine form.

And despite technology bringing you the best in color photography, black and white is the best – the depth that it lends to the finished product is spectacular.

But for the fingers that sketched it on paper, no words suffice, no praise apt. Hats off to you murali and thanks again for sharing your stuff with us. May you continue your quest in art and bring many more such beauties to life

You can view all his beauties here

Tanjore sculpture

Mallai Shore Temple – An Intro Post

Before i start introducing the shore temple ( does it need introduction?) i got to place on record my sincere thanks to two friends i met on – their photography stunned me and when i sought their concurrence to host their pictures here, they gladly agreed. The stunning visuals truly add beauty to the pallava creation and they are from the lenses of Mr. Prabhakaran ( Aadhi arts) and Mr Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan ( Ravages)
Any chennaite and every visitor to Chennai – takes back many interesting memories, but nothing as spectacular as the twin spires of the shore temple.
By the lilting waves of the sea shore, landscaping the skyline, words cannot aptly explain the visual overflow of senses on seeing this magnificent edifice, standing tall for a 1300 years, withstanding the elements, a living tribute to the pinnacle of artistic excellence of the Pallavas. In Art school you are taught the elements of symmetry and how aesthetic beauty comes from symmetric images – you could base the straight profile for that argument, but the greatness of this creation is that the asymmetric towers too appeal very much to your senses.
The structure most often serves the purpose of a photo backdrop and not many know the intricate details of the structure, which is the purpose of this introduction.

The mallai shore temple is actually a three in one temple – an earlier Vishnu shrine
sandwiched inbetween two shiva shrines. The two Shiva shrines
gopurams are built by the great Raja Simha Pallava ( the self styled king of unlimited fantasies – Atyantakama – you can see his trade mark prancing lion pillars – we did see them earlier in the Saluvankuppam post – tiger cave bordering the stage and you will see more of them when we venture to Kanchipuram for his grandest creation – the Kanchi Kailaasanatha temple ). The Vishnu shrine in between, did it have a tower or was it damaged later, is not clear.
But there are references in Vaishanvite Saints ( Alwars) works of Kadalmallai
Talasayana perumal. In Rajaraja’s later inscriptions he mentions the names of the three shrines of at Kshatriyasimha Pallavesvaragriham, Rajasimha Pallavesvaragriham and Pallikondaruliya Devar shrine.
Kshtriyasimha and Rajasimha are ofcourse titles of Rajasimha himself and hence we can conclude that these shiva shrines were built by him.

The shore temple is truly an ode to sculpture

We will see more of the Sthala Sayana, the Vishnu shrine in the coming posts.

How did they manage to cut into rock?

We have seen quite a few rock cut structures, in order to truly understand the beauty and appreciate the effort that has gone into these creations one has to study how they were sculpted.

Lets take the monuments of Mahabalipuram for instance. These magnificent creations are cut out of living rock – how did the ancients manage this. To envision and conceptualise such works of art is one thing but what to execute them in the hardest rock is another and with what kind of implements, tools.

We look at a few tell tale marks of the sculptor ( will lead to another question – as to why these beautiful structures are half finished or rather unfinished – leads again to the question of authorship of these monuments, who, when – how long did he rule, were there interruptions /enemy incursions etc )

First off all, once a boulder is chosen – how do you sculpt away bulk of mass. The Pallava sculptor used a very simple technique. Take a look at these row of holes chiseled into many rocks ( you see them almost everywhere in mallai) – we expect them to have had hammers and chisels. Now once they chose a rockface, they would roughly draw a line with these holes.
Once done, they would use wooden plugs driven into the holes into a tight fit, and then water it. The wood would absorb the water and expand – the pressure created by this uniform expansion of all the pegs would make the stone crack. What ingenuity ( recently i was watching a channel showing a modern quarry in Italy – and they used basically the same principle to crack marble!)
OK, this is fine for breaking a boulder. How did they manage to cut the amazing caves into the rock face. Again very simple, this picture should give you a clue of both the techniques in one shot.

The rock face to be sculpted into, would be marked into kind of a grid, and then slowly divided into smaller squares and chiseled – which would eventually chip off the smallest piece of rock. If you can imagine this, then you can appreciate the effort that would have been taken to create these.

How Big is BIG – Part 2 on the Tanjore temple

Ok, we saw a big post with only one picture in the intro post – so those of you eager to see more of the big temple, apologize for that – but the call of my beloved hero Raja Raja aka ponniyin selvan was too much.

We saw the temple vimanam at a distance – so we approach closer, before the visual spectacle arrests you – lets for a second imagine that someone has blind folded you – and moved you closer to the entrance. We skip the first entrance tower ( which is a later addition) and move your nearer to the second – the Keralantagan ( he who destroyed kerela – one of the first victories of Raja Raja was against the Chera stronghold / martial academy in Kandalur Salai – so his meeikeerthi sings-Kandalur salai kalamarutharuli ) – we skip that one as well and move you to the Raja Rajan gopuram ( The illustrious Arulmozhi took the tile of Raja Raja on his crowning) and slowly remove your blind fold. You open your eyes slowly. what do you see?
You see a Dwarabaalaga – door guardian – we first move you to the right one – with bared fangs and bulging eyes – looking down on you .
You are forced to look down – for his lower right hand is held is a kind of warning pose – Be careful


and then you look at the lower left hand – its says – look down –
there we see a lion,ok and then there is a snake biting something – oh, its swallowing an elephant!!! there is also a crocodile that has been depicted but i don’t have an explanation for that now ( we come to this later)
So we look up again – the upper left hand is pointing inside ( the Lord)
and the upper right hand is raised in Vismaya ( Astonishment)
ok lets read whats implied, beware,see below an elephant is being swallowed by a snake, and i am so much bigger than them – and inside – the God is much much bigger than all of us.
so How big is the door guardian – Ok – lets zoom back – bring a human into frame,hmm lets do better and bring an elephant into the frame –

Now do you get the perception of the scale of the doorguardian.
Now we zoom even more and bring the entire tower into the frame slowly moving backwards …wow -how massive.
The story of the elephant being swallowed is a pointer to the question on the first post as to why the Vimaana in tanjore is taller than the gopuram. A delightful explanation comes from Saint Sambandar’s Devaram.

Where he describes the abode of Shiva – the Holy mountain of Kailash, where there are huge snakes that are capable of swallowing elephants ( actually the right translation of Anaconda – is Aaanai – elephant – Kolran – killer – as per some? but how did a tamil saint envision of amazonian snake and how did the amazonian snake get such a name ?) – in other verses we hear of the lions in kailash ( as did we see in the angkorian ravana shaking episode). So the depiction of these animals are a pointer that the Vimana – true to its name is Dakshina Meru – Southern Kailash – the holy abode of shiva.

Now see the pictures

The first Tower – built during late 14 C

The second Tower Keralanthagan Gopuram

The third tower Rajarajan Gopuram

and finally the Maha meru Vimanam – to truly describe the scale of this edifice requires more posts – so just leave you with some breathtaking visuals ( thanks to friends and Mr Rohan R. Rao for allowing me to post some of his pictures)
There are numerous myths and some little known facts about the great temple. in the coming weeks we will slowly see them…

The BIG temple – an intro post

After doing the intros of Ajanta, Ellora,thought i should do one for the Big temple in Tanjore. But a post of its sculptures preceded the post, so we take this as a prequel.

This grand exhibition of Chola architecture and its lasting beauty is but a fitting tribute to one of the greatest kings of our land. The great man, as Arulmoli, who was content to let his uncle rule for 15 years, waiting by the sidelines ( after the assassination of his elder brother – the crown prince, Aditya Karikala in 969 AD), and then take on the reigns in 985 AD and user in a glorious period of chola rule.

The exact words are beautifully translated by Sri. K.A. Neelakanta Sastry in his lovely work COLAS ( 1935 – Madras Univ publication) from the thiruvalandadu plates

You can read them here:

but for this verse in particular

(V. 69.) (Though) requested by the subjects (to occupy the Chola
throne), in order to destroy the persistently blinding darkness of
the powerful Kali (age), Arunmolivarman who understood the essence
of royal conduct, desired not the kingdom for himself even in (his)
mind, while his paternal uncle coveted his (i.e., Arunmolivarman’s)

Look at the lovely use of the words desire when it comes to Arulmoli and covet when it comes to Uttama ( his uncle)

Arulmoli took the title Raja Raja on his coronation and his military prowess and administrative capabilities are to be etched in gold – but maybe for longivity he chose Stone – yes, he left behind his illustrious deeds in the form of his Prasithi ( in sanskrit) or meikeerthi ( in tamil ) – mei – true, keerthi – fame – his true fame. That would be another post altogether

We look to another plate that sums up the big temple ( thanks to Sri Nagaswamy’s sir site

To him was born Arumolivarma, who with his long and beautiful arms bore the marks of sankha and cakra in his palms. He conquered the Ganga-s, Vanga-s, Kalinga-s, Magadha-s, Malava-s, Simhala-s, Andhra-s, Ratta-s (Rastrakuta-s) Odda-s (Orissans), Kataha-s, Kerala-s, Gauda-s and Pandya-s. By the wealth obtained through his conquests he erected at Tanjanagari (Tanjore) a very great temple (atyuttamam) named Rajarajesvaram
As you enter tanjore – you are greeted by this – the towering Vimaana ( Vimaana is on top of the main Idol, Gopuram is on top of the outer walls/compound – most south indian temple gopurams are taller than the vimaana, Raja Raja’s tanjore temple and his illustrious son Rajendra’s Gangaikonda cholapuram being one of few exceptions – why ??) – we go nearer in the next post..

Understanding the greatness of Ellora – Part three

Well we saw that the elephants and other animals with burdened with a load in the last post. What are they carrying?
We look at the string of pictures once more to get into the flow.
Now we take a zoom upwards, no do you get the picture. The entire rock cut temple is fashioned as though its supported on this line of elephants. Just to put things in right perspective, reminding you once again that this cut into a mountain rock face. Meaning, the sculptor has to sculpt this in situ – top down in one single piece.
Now that you understand the intricate work, lets look at the larger picture of the Ellora Kailasantha temple. From different angles with people occupying the frames to give you an idea of scale of this spectacular composition. The pictures show you the sheer rock face from which the skilled artist has fashioned this entire creation. Doesn’t it blow your minds off, just to imagine a scale of this size is mind bloggling. How on earth could someone have the courage to envision something of this nature, with technology that was prevalent a 1000 years ago.
Step to the right, to the left, to the back – every inch is breath taking. Stone art its very best. For once i am short of words and take refuge in the visual overflow. Enjoy and drink up this fountain of art.

The last picture has an interesting story board – of an epic carved into stone, which we will visit later.

Understanding the greatness of Ellora – Part 2

I have been summoning the courage to attempt this post for a long time. We had earlier seen what is so great about Ellora. This is part two of the post and certainly one in a long line of posts to come.

This is a large post and hence i would request you keep all your work aside, take your time – make sure you are on a stable chair ( lest you might fall off your chair) – such are the contents that are to follow.

I first introduced you to the fact that this is a mountain cut structure – ie the sculptors have cut this entire composition into the face of a mountain – so now i am going to detail the size of this composition, its complexity and innate beauty.

Inorder to do this, i adopt a bottoms up approach.
Do you see this elephant, peacefully threshing some vegetation in its trunk – watch the detailing of the small bump of its skeleton as its trunk starts, the slight twist of it trunk to the right and the curl of it holding the grass – the beautiful symmetry of its ears and the delicate curl of the ear.
We move a bit back – oh, maybe there are more like this one, NO, its a whole line of such elephants ( some have not withstood the forces of nature n time – lost a limb, a trunk)
Now we zoom out – to see what this actually is – is an entire foundation of elephants who are sculpted as though they are carrying the whole structure. And what a structure, the man walking int he frame gives you an idea of scale.
We try another place – oh,here elephants are combining delightfully with lions to form a nice one two combo. Oh, some delightlful Yazhi’s are also there. Some of lions and elephants seem to be bored of this work and are playfully fighting with each other.1243

What are they carrying on their mightly shoulders…well wait for the next post…

Arjuna gets the Pasupatha Astra – Chola version


In our earlier posts, we saw the famous penance panel of Mahabalipuram and how the Pallava Sculptor masterfully handled it. Now we run ahead 300 years to come to the Big temple in Tanjore.

The pinnacle of Chola art, the great contribution of Raja Raja Chola to south Indian temple architecture – everything about this temple is big, massive, yet today we are seeing a very small wall panel sculpture.

There are a lot of interesting books on the big temple ( every stone there is a subject for research), but to me this book was most useful in helping me identify a lot of these sculptures.

Iconography of the Brihadisvara temple by dr francoise lhernault.

This particular composition is called the Pasupatha astra dana murthi, its a very lively composition and exquisitely crafted. First, lets see the full panel in relief.
At first glance, seems to be a maze of characters. so lets focus on line by line – bottom up

The row starts with a host of Shiva bootha Ganas ( goblins! for want of a better word) slowly morphing into a wild boar – need to check back the actual story. ***
Arjuna is advised to beef up his nuclear stockpile and aims at getting the Pasuptha astra from Shiva -he dsoe severe penance. Pleased with his penance, shiva comes with his consort, but as is his wont, wants to sportingly jest with him – to see if he truly has the skill to wield the great weapon. So he comes disguised as a hunter and both seem to shoot down a boar ( was the boar sent by shiva – so could be logical that he sent his attendant himself ) at the same time. Soon an argument ensures as to who will take the prize and both of them engage on a one to one combat. It goes on for a long time, and Arjuna is visibly tired, yet the hunter shows no sign of tiring. This makes Arjuna realise that he is up against a divine force and he submits to his grace. Shiva reveals himself and grants him his weapon.

Now we step back to the panel and see how masterfully the sculptor has interwoven the principal characters….

ok the Gana morphing into a boar could be one of our assumptions.
then we see Arjuna up on one leg in penance – not as emaciated as the mallai version ( so maybe the mallai one is Bagiratha who is said to have been in penance for a much longer duration)

The next is the famous face off pose ( remember the one from Kanchi Kailasantha temple) –

you can see how the sculptor has sculpted parvati with a baby skanda clinging to her in such a miniature..amazing.
Next to them,looks like Brahma, Vishnu and Lakshmi watching the amazing duel. ( but it mallai panel we see Vishnu encased in a temple !!) and a host of other gods.
We now come to the third tier – the panel read right to left as we see it – all the gods seem to give a hats off salute to the Arjuna – who is in all revenue, head bowed, folded hands – while the majestic posture of Shiva


– oh, how can i describe it aptly in words – one arm non chalantly on his bent knee, while the other resting on his consort – Parvati too is amazingly graceful. While surprise surprise, a small bootha gana seems to be handing over the boon/weapon ( sadly no belly face for him – remember the belly tiger face of the gana in mallai – will post a seperate thread on him soon)
The last, looks like Shiva, Parvati ( with baby Skanda on her hip – what a lovely lively depiction) returning to their abode.
The fourth tier – also has a host of celestials in the act of saluting the great event.
The last characters – seem to be a ascetic giving a discourse to an ardent pupil – is this the great sage Vyasa dictating the Mahabharata? 1307

** I did some checking and found the actual story – credit to Mr. V. Subramaniam for giving me the correct references from a delightful song from Saint Sambandar’s Devaram ( Tirumurai 1.48.6)

The song indicates it was an asura ( demon) – Mukasura who was disturbing Arjuna’s penance.

More information on the legend

purANa of the deity

kirAtar : the hunter

This is the only form of Lord Shiva in which He appeared black in color. arjuna wanted to get the peerless weapon pAsupatAstram from Lord Shiva for the battle of mahAbharata. He left the other four pANdavAs, went to the forest and did austere tapas for getting the boon of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was satisfied with his prayer, wanted to give the pAsupatAstram to him, but wanted to play a bit too. He took the form of a Hunter with Shakthi as Huntress. That time a demon by name mUkAsura, who was in the form of wild pig came to kill arjuna. To kill the wild pig arjuna fired an arrow from the front, at the same time the Hunter, Who is none other than God Himself, attacked it from the back and killed the pig.

arjuna mocked at the Hunter for firing the arrow from the back. Having great pride of his valor, he was als angry at the Hunter because He aimed at his prey. The Hunter responded that attacking an animal from the back is not against rules of hunting. An argument broke out. They decided to fight deciding who was more valorous between them. The Hunter cut the string in arjuna’s bow with His arrow in the fight! Angered and excited, arjuna started wrestling. He couldn’t match the Lord, and the Lord enjoyed his fighting. At one point of time in wrestling arjuna held the foot of the Hunter. As the Lord is pleased when somebody catches His holy feet, He stopped wrestling appeared with pArvati revealing Who He is. Shocked arjuna pleaded for forgiveness, as he was trying to fight with the Supreme out of his ignorance. However the God, Who is pleased by devotion, blessed him and gave him the invincible pAsupatAstra. (In some books it is told that arjuna couldn’t fight with the Hunter, he started worshipping the Shiva Lingam. To his astonishment he found the flowers he offered to the Lingam on the head of the Hunter. Then he prostrated before the Hunter and the Lord revealed Himself). This can be found in detail in kirAtArjuniyam of bhAravi and mahA bhArata.