Today we are going to see a very interesting legend in sculpture – most visitors would have seen this sculpture in mahabalipuram, but dont stop to notice the legend nor the sculptural beauty of this masterpiece. One of the earliest acts of valor of Vishnu. The Anantasayana Panel in the Mahishasuramardhini Mandabam. I am grateful for Mr. Swaminathan’s guidance to understand this panel.
Before we see the legend, for a change we see the main sculpture once and a superb piece of stone work that often goes unnoticed.
The depth of this panel carved into hard rock and the masterful depiction of these two key players in the legend is unique – it full of life, as though its a scene being enacted before our very eyes.
Now, lets see the legend. Vishnu has absorbed the Universe in Himself after the destruction of the Creation ( which he does once every cycle is complete), he is supposed to be sleeping (because he has no work to do!). He has delegated the work of creation ( for the next cycle) to Brahma and is into deep slumber in the Ocean of Milk. His bed was the coils of Ananta, the god of serpents. This Sleep is the state of deepest meditation of a person, when there is complete cut off from the external and also internal perceptions.
At this moment – The demons Madhu and Kaitabha are said to be generated from the ear-wax of Vishnu.The two demons slip out of the ears of the Lord and attempt to destroy Brahma, the clear perception about the Creation, and try to enforce a world view in terms of categorization by names and forms,disturbing thus the very act of creation. . These two demons are difficult to conquer.
(Madhu in Sanskrit means honey. It is the extra sweet feeling that things are more than right. Kai in Sanskrit means
‘noise’. Kaitabh represents the inner noise resulting from the feeling of inadequacy. The evils represented by Madhu and Kaitabha erode the inner essence compromising effective engagement.Madhu denotes form of anything. Kaitabha denotes name of everything – )
The threatened Brahma requests the Supreme Goddess to help. Vishnu, aroused by the Goddess, destroys the demons. ( its a long story and inorder to justice to the panel i have shrunk it)
Now lets return to the sculpture:
Vishnu reclining in a trance -watch how the sculptor has brought the serene /dream like peaceful emotion into his face.
He is sculpted with two arms – His right arm is out-stretched and seems to be cluthing something? his left arm is bent at the elbow ( sadly broken) He has his head and chest slightly raised. His left knee is slightly bent though other parts are stretched flat. Is he about to get up? He is adorned with a beautiful crown ,necklaces and ear rings.
His bed or couch – Anantha – what a majestic portrayal of his five headed hoods forming a protective canopy over the sleeping Vishnu. Such depth into the carving and such fluid lines.
Below the feet of Vishnu is the goddess, a depiction of great beauty. ( some version say its Bhu Devi, but is she the Goddess requesting Vishnu to wake up?)
Above the reclining God are two flying figures and below him are two more. These are the weapons of Vishnu shown in human form, ayudh-purusha-s. Of the two flying figures, the dwarfish figure, Panch-janya, on the left is conch and the other charming Kaumodaki represents the mace (gada). The two below are two handsome youthful figures represent discus (chakra) and sword (nandaka). Some identify these two as Markandeya and Bhrigu.
The threatening asura-s, Madhu and Kaitabha, are having a stealthy, but animated, discussion. The one on the right is ready to strike at the Lord. The way they talk over the demons shoulder and how it has been sculpted into stone is magnificent.