Today we are going to see a spectacular miniature sculpture from Darasuram Airawateshwara temple built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century CE. This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture and am picking a very unique sculpture to showcase it. This panel was explained to me by Dr. Kudavoil Balasubramaniam, and all credit to him for this post.
To give you an idea of the size of this miniature, once again we see the Slaying of Vali sculpture with a pilot pen. It gives you a sense of proportion of this sculpture.
Next we need to study the story that is depicted in this panel. Its the story of one of the 64 saivite saints – Marar of Ilayankudi. His life is a lesson on the famed hospitality of tamil land, combined with the reverence to saints.
In order to understand the panel more to appreciate its true beauty, we need to learn the story of this great couple. Maarar and his wife, were farmers, quite well to do and they were very devoted followers of shiva. They used to go to any limits to host fellow devotees and the wandering saints and followers of shiva. They thus lived a very contended life, till Shiva, as is his wont, decided to test their resolve.
Their prosperity vanned and they fell into bad times, heavily into debt, the family still continued their pious ways and took great care of any visitors to their home. During one such bad time, when their crops had failed and they had borrowed their last penny ( no US Govt bailout for them), on a stormy rainy night, shiva lands up at their door, disguised as a wandering ascetic.
The couple realise that the dont have anything to offer, while the lady in all her intelligence, suggests for Maarar to go to fields where they had sowed their last bag of grain and use a wicker basket as a sieve to retrieve the sown grain. He too does so, in pouring rain, sieves through his field and gets a basket full of grain. The wife mills it and makes flour and starts cooking, when she realises that they don’t have enough fire wood. The ever resourceful Maarar, takes the sticks off his roof and gives it to his wife to use ( mind the heavy rain)
HIs wife dutifully cooks the rice, offers respects to the ascetic, seats him on a plank, places a tripod stool in front of his and serves food. The ascetic takes one handful of the offering, is overcome with the devotion of his subjects, spontaneously bursting into a blinding flash, and returns with his consort, blessing the couple and taking them with him to enjoy the everlasting bliss in Kailash.
Now we see the how the master sculptor has handled this entire story in such a miniature story board. He has cut the story into three scenes. As you view the creation panning from right to left.
The ascetic is seated and the lady is serving him. This is the master stroke of the scultor – watch closely the head of ascetic – you will see a small flame, then to its right a bigger flame and then a large flame. How beautifully he has shown the Lord disappearing as a flash of flaming light.
Image courtesy: http://www.kumbakonam.info/kumbakonam/darsuam/index.htm