A Sculpture Monalisa

This is an amazing sculpture of Shiva as Gajasamhara murthy ( gaja – elephant), samhara ( vanquish) ins sanskrit or Yaani uri porthia murthy ( yaani – elephant, uri – skin, porthia – cover or clad in) in Tamil. This beauty was brought from Darasuram to Tanjore museum.

We have seen many sculptures of this episode before, so whats so great about this one? you might ask. Well when i met one of my mentors Shri. Kudavoil Balasurbramaniam, i asked him about his favorite pieces. ( incidentally the same one was picked up by master sculptor Sri Umapathy in our recent interview – will post it – he is trying out a new form of showcasing these beauties in plates !!)

Well, K Balu Sir explained to me the splendor of this creation. At first glance, i did not pick the amazing details of this sculpture. There are many repetitions of this pose in later chola temples and also in other places, but the chola style is unique. Here is one from Chidambaram.

Chandra of course will pick the Pullamangai sculpture we saw earlier as his pick – since its a miniature and the delightful baby skanda jumping off parvathi’s hands.

But the beauty of this creation – standing at almost 6 feet, the sculptor really used the proportions to bring out at sculptural marvel.

Inorder to fully appreciate the greatness of this magnificent piece, i requested my good friend Mrs. Lakshmi Sharath who was going to Tanjore to get me some closeup pictures. ( Kathie also helped with her snaps!!!)

We have already seen the episode in detail in the earlier post, however the dynamic post, quote from Sri Vidya Dehejia’s book – Art of the Imperial Cholas

Also from Darasuram is a dynamic relief carving of Siva’s jubilant dance of triumph after killing the elephant demon Gajasura. Having flayed the elephant, Shiva held its skin in his outstretched hands and danced a tempestuous dance. The exaggerated twist of his body dramatically conveys his frenzied movement. One cannot but appreciate the sentiment of Saint Manikkavachakar, who described Shiva as a madman:

i shall call you
madman draped in elephant skin
poison throated madman,
madman dancing
amid the trees
of the burning ground,
madman clad in tiger skin,
madman who enslaved
even me.

But the beauty of the piece needs more elaboration. He has four hands on each side – look at how his fingers have torn into the elephant hide and protrude out. Oh! such splendid detailing.

Look at the ornamentation on the hands, legs, neck. The elaborate headdress, flowing locks forming a crown held back by a Skull shaped diadem, his knotted waist cloth swaying in the power of his dance. Exemplary art. But what is his lower left hand doing, its pointing the viewer towards the extreme left of the sculpture ( right as you view it).

Well well well, we see Parvathi in a kind of sidewards stance – her right shoulder is slightly pushed up, as though she is shielding someone, Oh!, there he is, baby skanda, cocooned by his mother, who doesn’t want him to witness the gory scene.

Here lies the magnificence of this sculpture. As you bend down and look upwards from the position of baby skanda, parvathi’s body would block the action of Shiva totally. But we return to the face of Shiva now, for the final flair of the artist, as a singer would finish off his masterful composition with a delightful alapana. Look closely at the face of shiva.

The side facing away from Paravathi and Skanda – the right side ( left as you view it) – eyes brows are arched in anger, while the other side is more gentle

Mannargudi Sri Rajagopalaswamy

Mysterious are the ways of God.. How else to describe these. Our Artist friend Prasad decides to sketch an idol and he searches on the net. He lands on a splendid photograph and is so inspired by the beauty that he renders a divine painting/sketch to compliment it. Later when i shared it with our Photographer friend Ashok, find that it is his commission. Not stopping at that and keeping the beauty of the Idol and sketch in mind and to compliment them – i sought the help of two distinguished friends for a description. Sri Seshadri ( Father of Varalaaru.com Sri Gokul – or rather now Author of Rajakesarai Novel by Palaniappa Brothers Gokul) and Sri Dev Raj. Both of them turned in wonderful renditions – so here i am having the joy of mixing an Idol, a Photo, a sketch, an english and a tamil description – thanks to all.

Sri Seshadri lists a few things that are nearer to his heart.

If we allow our minds to wander on the wonderful deities that our eyes have feasted on and touched our inner souls, I venture to list them:

1. our own Azhahiya ManavaLan of srirangam ( he is a resident of Srirangam)
2. The Tirumalai Deivam (moolamoorthy)
3. Ramabiran of Thillaivilaham and
4. The Gopalaswamy of Rajamannargudi.

The list is of course endless.

Ashok’s amazing capture

The slightly leaning stance of the lord at mannargudi with the bewitching smile readily captures the heart. The only vasthram that cowherds adorn on their body knee high shows him at once as a simple kovalan who can be touched upon ,talked to and quarrelled with. The azhwars esp. Periazwar goes into raptures on the leelas of lord krishna imagining himself as the mother, yasodha. The endless chestithams(kurumbuhaL) are narrated at great length in those pasurams. His adorning the earring in one ear enhances his beauty.

Prasad’s splendid sketch

The cow and the two calves yearn to have his attention and are blessed to be with him always 24 hours a day and see their eyes and their radiance proudly proclaiming their proximity to him! It is hence not strange that His touch has made them VALLAL PERUM PASUKKAL and only the availability of utensils is the limit for their supply of the nector milk. I learn that the stick in his hand is called sendu and not saattai as some have stated in the websites. The sendu is a lengthy stick in the hands of cowherds which is used to bring down the branches green with leaves to be fed to the cattle. It helps to lower the bough to be used by the cattle but will survive as the branch is not completely broken. u.ve.swaminatha iyer has narrated this in en charitram i presume. Can any one ever imagine, saattai in His hand, as it is a punishing stick and the Paahan who touched fed and treated the wounds of horses in the midst of battlefield in Bharata yuddam will he touch it at all?

During the month of panguni vennaiththazhi uthsavam i saw in the t.v. as to how the Lord (and perforce the archahar) are flooded with vennai by all and sundry and He is not satisfied and seems to want more! I could feel that those who throw the navaneetham transform at that moment into the very gopalars and mannargudi transforms itself into ayarpadi. How fortunate they are?

Reg the flute that was used by Him there are references to it in many places and an entire paththu is devoted by Periazwar for this 3-6 thirumozhi–starting with Navalam. Kulasekarar better known for the cryptic summary of ramayana in his PerumaL Thirumozhi has talked about the agony of Devaki who laments on the luck of yasodha and her own ill luck not to savour the leelas of the Lord. (devahi pulambal). The ectasy experienced by the girls of ayarpadi, the women, the celestial beauties, thumburu, naradha, the kinnarars famous for dance and music, gandarvar, the gods who are offered havis for their food,the birds, the cattle, the deer,the trees and their branches was beyond measure. ) there is ref to ‘ seviyuL navin suvai kondu mahizhndu” which brings to our mind the famous kuraL ” sevikkunavillatha…eeyappadum”..

For a sculputural appreciation one may visit the front mandapam of chakkrathazwar koil at srirangam where the cattle,the birds, the reptiles and the trees are shown spell bound as they are by the melody of that music. It is a pity that the sculpture is not too well executed but the suggestion is there for everyone to see. (But how many have the aptitude?)

kodhai (godha in sanskrit) of course is a class apart but i feel that srirangam and thirumalai are places that captures her heart and soul. Pity she has not thought of the mannargudi temple.



Patanjali – the snake bodied saint

We have already seen the interesting post of the Tiger legged saint Vyagrapadhar. Today we are going to see his contemporary – The snake bodied saint – Patanjali. There are many versions and legends associated with this interesting person again liked to Chidambaram and the Dance of Shiva.
( Thanks to Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam for the excellent narration in tamil and Picasa contributor Ms. Komilla for the stunning pictures)

The dating of his time is difficult – some say its from time primordial. Legends associate him as an incarnation of Adhi Sesha, the mount of Vishnu with an interesting anecdote. Some say when Vishnu took the different incarnations, Adhi Sesha took to the earth as a Rishi- as he fell, he was found as though prostrating at the feet of a pious women and hence the name – Paadha – feet, anjali – oferring salutation. There is another interesting anecdoate – Once Vishnu was resting on Adhi sesha he was able to visualise the cosmic dance of Shiva in his dreams. As he smiled in his sleep, Adhi Sesha also realised the weight of the Lord increasing. When He asked the Lord for reasons for the same, Vishnu beautifully explained the delightful dance of Lord Shiva, hearing this Aadhi Sesha was filled with desire to personally witness the dance of Shiva, and hence Vishnu directed him to go to Chidambaram to wait to see the performance! I due course Adhi Seshan was born as the son of Rishi Athirki and Anusuya.

His contemporary is said to be Pusha Mitra ascertained to BC 3 rd C, so he is also dated to that period by some. Others ascertian him to be a contemporary of noted Siddhar Tirumoolar – one of the 18 Siddhars. Some others opine that Tirumoolar’s Tirumanthiram is the translation of the sanskrit work Maha Bhasyam of Patanjali. All these are theories and its very difficult to pass judgements on them. Lets see what Tirumoolar writes about him

Patanjali was born to Athiri maharishi and Anusuya. The Rishi had desired to have the three main gods of the Hindu trinity – and hence were born Thatatreyar, Durvasar and Patanjali. Also was born Arundathi who later married Vashistar. About 100 kms from Coimbatore is a place called tirumurthi hills, is ascertained as his birthplace ( in days of yore this area was referrred to as Southern Kailash). Athiri Rishi prayed to the Amanilingeshvaram shrine there and he counts Patanjali as one of the 18 Siddhars.

He also mentions that Patanjali along with his 7 friends learnt Yoga under the direct tutelage of Nandhi.

One of Siddhar, Bogar 7000 writes thus about Patanjali. In his quest for ultimate enlightenment through Yoga, he is led to the right part of Kundalini Yoga and asked to study the path set by Patanjali, Vyagrapadhar, sivayogi Munivar. There are many more references to patanjali in Bogar’s 7000.

The Patanajli who authored the dance scriptures and the one who authored Yoga scriptures along with the one who wrote the Maha Bhasyam – are they one and the same or different individuals. Is a questions that is difficult to answer.

It is said that since Patanjali’s very breath was toxic, he always tutored his pupils from behind a screen. However, one day, one of pupils had just left to answer natures call outside his class, when the rest got the best of human curiosity and lifted the veil – and were all destroyed. The only surviving pupil was the one who had gone out and he brought out the texts and since he missed part of the lecture there are missing infos!!

Here is an interesting anecdote on him: The very first people who witnessed the cosmic dance of Shiva are Patanjali , vyagrapathar but nandhi always claimed that he was the foremost to witness the divine spectacle. He had watched it standing by the side and it got to his head. Similarly Vyagrapahar also felt a bit heady that the feet of the tiger that the Lord gave him to fetch the fresh blooms even before the sun rose, made him resemble the lord who wore the Tiger skin as his garment. Further the tiger legs also gave him swifter speed to match the dancing steps of the Lord. So both of had great pride in themselves and looked down at Patanjali.

Further during the special days of Pradhosham, the Lord danced within the two horns of Nandhi – Nandhi visualised this eternally and even heard the ringing of his ankle bells and rhythmically shook his head often to keep the beat. Oneday, Shiva decided to introduce a new form of dance and there was a huge audience gathered comprising of Devas, Patanjali, Vyagrapadhar – Nandhi was standing with his Drum.

Nandhi started talking to Patanjali and Vyagrapadhar on he witnessing the Lord cosmic dance in Chidambaram. Vyagrapadhar sang the praise of his tiger legs and how with their benefit he too could match the Lord, and hence he is the one who enjoyed the dance more. And since he was watching, the Lord too showed his entrordinary prowess in dance on that day ! Hearing this Nandhi laughed, dismissing Vyagrapadhar claims, he talked of the special dance of shiva during Pradhosa days, for he dances specially for him. so saying both of them look down at Patanjali – belittling him, for he has no horns or tiger legs. Patanjali felt really sad and for once tought that maybe since he had a snakes body and a human head he could not fully appreciate the dance of Shiva.

Just at that time Shiva entered with tremendous fanfare, having known of the banter of Nandhi and Vyagrapadha, and wanting to teach them a lesson, he tells Patanjali – that he should set the rhythm and the song for his new dance. The specialty would be that there would be no horns or legs in the song ( pun – in tamil – the long vowels are written with additional marks – which are called horns and legs) – so Patanjali was filled with joy and gleefully composed a song without any long vowels. Thereby teaching both his learned friends a lesson in humility

We now see an interesting mural from Tanjore big temple corridor – The Lord of dance blissfully dancing away with Vyagrapadhar and Patanjali in rapt attention.

Kudumiyaanmalai – a sculptural marvel – A Guest post – Mr. Mohandoss Ilangovan

A real treat to viewers, my young friend Mr. Mohandoss takes us through a spectacular post ( thanks to him for allowing us to repost his excellent article on Kudumiyaanmalai. The Tamil version is his and the English translation is by me). He is an IT professional and a budding artist as well.


Over to him

I feel my desire to visit Sittanavaasal was influenced strongly by the famous song ` enna vilai azage’ ( whats the price beautiful !) from the tamil film Kadhalar Dhinam ( lovers day). Love, and first love at that is reminiscent with nostalgic memories, one of them being the song which melts your heart.

When i mentioned to my Dad that i wanted to visit Sittanavaasal, even before seeking to book transport /car he put his condition not to photograph the lovely maidens there. I heard of him that after Kallanani, Mukkombu, Trichy Rockfort, the latest haunt of love birds was Sittananvaasal. Do not want to add more on it though. We got to know from the ASI person in Sittanavaasal about Kudumiyaan malai. Only after we visited the temple did we realise that if not for that tip we could have missed a spectacular site. ( will write more about Sittanavaasal shortly)

The Priests as usual were inaccurate in their explanations, adding more masala into legend – like that the temple was over 2000 years old and couldnt explain clearly about the spectacular stone sculptures there. The ASI person was also missing in action during our visit. However, some searching around and enquiring, led us to him – and he did gives us some interesting insights into the ` musical inscriptions’ and ` rock cut temples’.

The main duty of the priests is definitely not this, but atleast they could have some basic information correct. Anyway, thanks to them, i spent some time researching on the temple, having been to Tanjore big temple and Gangai Konda Cholapuram many times, the sculptures at Kudumiyaanmalai were top class, their finishing exquisite, but i quickly learnt that they are dated later to the big temple and gkc.

Despite the beauty, how far this temples fame has spread is to be seen, though well know in and around Trichy ( as per my Dad). When i was looking for authoritative works on the temple, i can across `Pudukkotai District History – Dr J. Raja Mohammed’ – with some information, which i share with you below. The photos are mine.

Kudumiyaanmalai is situated 16 kms from Pudukkotai. The place gets its name from the main deity who is called SigaaNaathasami ( Siga – Kudumi – pony tail – roughly meaning the deity with the pony tail – for want of better words!!). How he got the pony tail is described in the temple legends as an interesting story. The temple priest was a devote Shiva devotee. However, one day, his lady love was with him and in his love lorn state, he offered the garland meant for the Lord to his lady love. At that moment, the King made an unscheduled visit to the temple, and the Priest had to adorn the deity with flowers. Not knowing what to do, he used the same garland and later presented it to the King. However, the alert King noticed a strand of long hair in the garland and querried the priest. Caught in his act, the priest came up with a quick solution, lying that the main diety did have long mane/pony tail. When the king persisted to be shown this, the Lord in his infinite grace, chose to forgive his devotees act and save him. The Shiva Linga grew a mane. To this day, devotees are shown the knot on top of the Linga to testify to this grace of the Lord.

There are many inscriptions of historical significance in this temple, a 10th C one names the town as Thirunalakkundram, a 14th C one as Sigaanallur and the diety as Kudumiyaar, a 17-18C one calls it by its current name as Kudumiyaanmalai. Thirunalakundram – means sacred, holy hillock. Due to some liguistic misconceptions there are some legends relating this site to the story of Nala. 14th C inscriptions refer to the diety as ` thenkonattu siganallur kudumiyaar’. Some others refer to him as Kuduminaathar. Siganallur in all probability could have been Sigaranallur – Sigara – hill top. Even today we see a hill crowning this town. Maybe with the passage of time sigara became siga and the above legend of his pony tail could have been spun during the later period – For Kudumi in tamil doesn’t refer just to the tuff of hair/pony tail ut also to the top of a hill, a person of high standards etc. for eg, the great devotee Kannappa Naaynar prays to the deity names Kudumithevar in Kalahasti. Such names getting altered due to sanskrtisation of tamil names, is seen in other places like Malyilaaduthurai /Mayuram, Kurangaaduthurai / kapisthalam, thirumaraikaadu /vedaaranyam

In days of yore, there would have been settlements all over the plains surrounding this hill. When we climb the hill there is a natural cave/cavern which could have been inhabited by stone age man. There is Murugan temple on top of the hill, and on the eastern slope we find the Siganaathaswami temple.

There are many rare and interesting inscriptions revealing the long and checkered history of Pudukkotai here. The cave temple ( upper cave) has a Carnatic Music inscription which was earlier assigned to the great Pallava King Mahendra Pallava. However, recent studies have proved otherwise. The main Grabha Graha of Siganaathaswami is assigned to 12th C. After that the region chieftains Pallavaraayar have been contributing donations for its upkeep as per inscriptions. Following them, the temple gained prominence during the rule of the Thonadaimaans . They were crowned in this temple, Ragunaatharaayath Thondaimaan ( 1686 -1730) built the outer Mandap of the cave temple. In 1730 Raja Vijayaraguraaja Raayath Thondaimaan was crowned in front of this temple. An inscription dated 1872 in the Amman temple states that this temple was consecrated during the rule of Ramachandra Thondaimaan.

The cave temple as stated above is on the Eastern slopes and carved into the rock face. The main Garbha Graha and its corridor is sculpted into live rock, while the adjoining Mandabam was later added during 18th C with its imposing Door guardians.
The sculptures are majestic and graceful exhibitions of masterly stone work. The Garbha Graha ( Sanctum Sanctorum) has a shiva linga and to the south of the cave, there is a lovely – unique valampuri ( trunk curled left against the normal right) Ganesh carved into the rock fave.

To the south of the Cave temple, on the eastern slopes, measuring 13’x14′ is a famous Carnatic Music inscription, which defines the generic guidelines for the music. This is a unique one of kind inscription and no similar ones exist anywhere in India. It nestles inbetween the 4th C work of Bharatha on Dance and Saarnagadevar’s Sangeetharathanakaara – describing the music during the interlying period. Its a record of a King Parama Mageshwaran, who was studying under the tutelage of Rudrachaarya, however not much is known of their identity. Based on the script, Dr. C. Meenakshi and other researchers asssigned it to Mahendra Pallava. But recently this has been disputed.

On the rock on top of the Cave temples, towards the summit, the 63 naayanmaars have been beautifully sculpted.

Siganathar – Akilandeswari temple, was a thriving centre during the samasthana period. East facing temple, as you enter through the main Gopura entrance, you see the 1000 pillared hall.

The pillars of this hall have lovely sculptures of Hanuman, Vaali, sugreev and others.

As you go further inside, you see the main hall – immediately you feel transported into some Museum of sculptural art. Such is the amazing range of sculptures you find in every side, completely numbing your senses by their overdose of artistic excellence.

Though these sculptures may date more recently ( AD 16-17 C), they are a lasting testament to stone craft of that period.

Having received an almost immortal life though a boon, the demon Hiranyakasipu, drunk on his power, looses his mind and refuses to believe in the omnipotence and omni presence of God, asking where is Hari ( Vishnu) to his own son Prahaladha, who in his infinite devotion says the lord is in every spec every pillar. Amused by the reply, Hiranyakasipu kicks the nearby pillar to split it – and from side bursts open a fiery creature – half man half lion – Narasimha, to use the flaw in the boon, catches him, place shim and his thighs and disembowels him – wearing his intestines as a garland. This is fantastically depicted in this pillar.

The Lord of love, Manmadhan with his love dart shooting sugar cane bow. The mesmerising Mohini ( Vishnu) who bewitched all the Rishis of Tarukavanam.

A lovely Ganesha with his consort, a ten headed Ravana ?, destroyer of evil Agora Veerabadra and many more. Such detailing of the sculptures, you can actually study the armaments of the infantry and the cavalary and how they both fought each other.

The corridor leading from the hall to the temple is called gangaiyaraiyan Kurudu ( built by the chieftains called gangaraiyars). Next to this is a hall constructed during Pandya rule, and further inside the mail hall and shrine are early Chola. The temple has seen multiple renovations and restorations in the interim period right from that time. The presence of the 8th C Pandya inscription refers to two shrines – Tirumoolathaanam and Tirumetrali. Tirumoolathaanam most possibly refers to the shiva shrine. The vimanam is a brick construction. The corridor surrounding the main shrine has Saptra matrika ( seven divine mothers) sculpture, Lingothbahva, Jesta devi, subramanya ( Muruga) etc. The Nayak period Hall has Vyagrapada ( tiger legged saint), Patanjai ( snake rishi) and other splendid sculptures.

The Amman diety is named Akhilandeswari and is a Pandya period construction. Just in front of this shrine is a 12’x8′ slab of black granite. It was on this stone that the rulers of Pallavarayar and Thondaiman clans crowned themselves. A courtesan names Umaiyaalnaachi helped construct an amman shrine near the rock cut cave – and names it malaimangai or sooundaryanaayagi. She also features in many donations for the Kudumiyaanmalai shrine.

Kudumiyaanmalai’s carnatic music inscription was earlier assigned to Mahendra Pallava. The following arguments are put against this :

1.There are no records to show the extent of Mahendra Pallava’s regin into the territory south of the river Kaveri.
2. There are more than 120 inscriptions in Kudumiyaanmalai of various Kings.Not one is a Pallava record. The earliest records are Pandya records assigned to Maravarman Rajasimman aka First Sadayan Maaran AD 730-765 and second Jadilapaaranthaga Varuguna Maran Sadayan AD 765-815.
3. The pillars of the cave are stylistically differing from the charateristic Mahendra pillars.
4. The absence of somasskanda carving in the back wall of Garba Graha.
5. The Linga in the cave temple also differs stylistically from Mahendra’s. From the 8th C inscription in the cavetemple, its been dated to that period.
6. Having dated the shrine to the 8th C, it also follows that the carnatic music inscription also be dated to that period. Though the script is said to be similar to those in vouge during Mahendra Pallava time, similar granta characters have been found in later pandya inscriptions like in Velvikkudi and copper plats grants kept in the chennai museum.
7. The reference to Gunasena in inscriptions is taken to resemble the title ( biruda) Gunabara of Mahendra Pallava. However even Gunasena does not find mention in Kudumiyaanmalai. ( its found in Tirmayam, malayadipatti)
8. The title of Parama Maheswara at the nend of music inscription, was assigned to be a title of Mahendra. However, in all the titles of Mahendra pallava there is no mention of this title. Further, Maheshwara was a title taken by kalamuha/pasupatha sect which were ridiculed by Mahendra Pallava in his sanskrit play Mattavelaar prahasanam. so he wouldnt keep a title which he ridiculed as his own.

Kodumbalur in days of yore was the capital of the Velirs and they supported the kalamuha sects giving them many grants. These are recorded in Kudumiyaanmalai. so in all probablilty a Kodumbalur Velir King could have taken the title of Maheshwara.

Thus all the arguments point away from Mahendra Pallava.

Garudanin Kathai – Thirukurungudi

Garuda and Hanuman were my favorite characters and i used to get drunk on Amar Chitra Katha books. They had some wonderfully illustrated color pages and text.

So today, i share one such story and support it with a sculpture from Tirukurungudi ( thanks to our latest contributor – Sri Giridharan – who has shared his vast collection of photos – we will feature more of his contributions in the coming weeks). Garuda is so well know not only in India but all over south East Asia – Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam….

The story of Garuda’s birth and deeds is told in the first book of the great epic Mahabharata. Garuda’s father was the creator-rishi Kasyapa. His mother Vinata and her sister Kadru – both gave birth in a strange manner. Vinata laid two eggs and her sister a thousand. In due course the 1000 of Kadru hatched into snakes, anxious that her eggs had still not hatched, in her haste Vinata tried to open one of her eggs. Sadly, the baby was only partially formed – he advised his mother to be patient with the remaining egg, and flew off to be the charioter of the Sun – he is called Urud or Aruna. ( incidentally his sun is our famous Vulture Jataya who valiantly fought Ravana while he kidnapped her in his flying chariot).

The sibling rivalry between Vinata and Kadru was intense. One day both of them saw the divine white horse – Uccaihsravas, which is one of the precious items that emerged from the churning of the milk ocean ( along with Koustubam – the jewel that adornes the chest of Vishnu). Vinata was struck by its fabulous white mane, while the wicked Kadru was jealous of her and tricked her into a bet. She said the white horse had a brown tail, Vinata was sure that it was pure white – and so accepted the bet – if it were brown she and her sons would be enslaved to Kadru. Kadru now sought the help of her snakes sons – who quitely went and covered the tail of the horse – so that next day when both the sisters went to the garden they saw Uccaihsravas with a brown tail ! Vinata had lost the bet and her son was destined to be born into bondage.

Wisned by the experience Vinata waited patiently for her remaining offspring – Garuda first burst forth from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno equal to the cosmic conflagration that consumes the world at the end of every age. Frightened, the gods begged him for mercy. Garuda, hearing their plea, reduced himself in size and energy.

Resolving to release his mother from this state of bondage, Garuda approached the serpents and asked them what it would take to purchase her freedom. Being mortally scared of Garuda and his powers, the snakes named their price – nothing less than the drink of immortality – elixr of Amrit. It was a superhuman task for the Gods guarded Amrit, since it was the source of their immortality. They had ringed the elixir with a massive fire that covered the sky. They had blocked the way to the elixir with a fierce mechanical contraption of sharp rotating blades. And finally, they had stationed two gigantic poisonous snakes next to the elixir as deadly guardians.
( There is another version of this legend which says the snakes wanted Garuda to bring them the moon whose spots were filled with Amrit)

Now, we take a detour to a offshoot and the sculpture part of this post, before returning to the main plot. As he had just hatched, Garuda was ravishingly hungry, and sought out his mother to feed him. The mother not used to feeding birds, advised him to go to the seashore and find beings to eat – but warned him not to harm any Brahmins and if he did so, he would have a terrible burning sensation in his stomach. Garuda went to the seashore and ingested a whole village of fisher folk – including their animals, houses and all. Suddenly he felt a burning sensation in his belly and realised his folly, he spat out the Brahmin, who requested him to spare his wife ( a fisherwomen!) – Garuda did as his command and went to meet his father Kasyapa for advise on feeding.

Kasyappa advised him to proceed to a lake where an Elephant and a Tortoise were fighting. The tortoise was said to be eighty miles long ! and the elephant one hundred and sixty !! Garuda swooped on them and caught them both in his claws and perched on a huge tree to devour them ( the tree was eight hundred miles high !! wow). However, the weight of all of them broke the branch and to his horror Garuda found many Rishis praying ( tied upside down) on the branch. Lest he harm them, he swiftly caught the branch in his beak, still holding the elephant and the tortoise in his claws, flew to a nearby mountain peak – there he let loose the rishis and finished his meal of the two foes!!!

Now, for the sculpture, adding the Amarchitra Katha shots as well.

This lovely sculpture is from Tirukurngudi – watch the detailing of the strength of Garuda, the elephant and the tortoise and he branch in his beak with the upside down rishi’s. Amazing.

The rest of the legend for those interested to now – Garuda hastened toward the abode of the gods intent on robbing them of their treasure. Knowing of his design, the gods met him in full battle-array. Garuda, however, defeated the entire host and scattered them in all directions. Taking the water of many rivers into his mouth, he extinguished the protective fire the gods had thrown up. Reducing his size, he crept past the rotating blades of their murderous machine. And finally, he mangled the two gigantic serpents they had posted as guards. Taking the pot of elixir, he launched again into the air and headed toward the eagerly waiting serpents.
En route, he encountered Vishnu. Rather than fight, the two exchanged promises. Vishnu promised Garuda the gift of immortality even without drinking from the elixir, and Garuda promised to become Vishnu’s mount.
Flying onward, he met Indra the god of the sky. Another exchange of promises occurred. Garuda promised that once he had delivered the elixir, thus fulfilling the request of the serpents, he would make it possible for Indra to regain possession of the elixir and to take it back to the gods. Indra in turn promised Garuda the serpents as food.

At long last, Garuda alighted in front of the waiting serpents. Placing the elixir on the grass, and thereby liberating his mother Vinata from her servitude, he urged the serpents to perform their religious ablutions before consuming it. As they hurried off to do so, Indra swooped in to make off with the elixir. From that day onward, Garuda was the ally of the gods and the trusty mount of Vishnu, as well as the implacable enemy of snakes, upon whom he preyed at every opportunity.

Thirukurungudi Photos: Mr. Ashok and Mr Giridharan
Tirukoilur Garudan pic: Mr. Sathiyan

A temple born off a scam ! or is it

Happy Pongal wishes to all readers ( our harvest festival)

One of our avid readers Kavitha had placed a request for sculptures from Avudaiyar temple – and my friend Sivaram Kannan had been good enough to send me his photos of the temple while on assignment in the US. So thanks to them we are going to see some wonderful sculptures.

Before we go into the sculptures as such, there is an interesting story associated with the temple which gains prominence in today’s context ( Satyam Computers 7000 Cr scam) – this temple could also technically qualify as such. Though how much has not been quantified, the fact that temple, in the 8th Century, was built out of state funds misused by a minister is startling.

Known as Tiruperunthurai in ancient times, Avudaiyar Koil, situated in Pudukottai, is 45 km from Pudukottai via Aranthangi. The story goes thus, An young boy, Vadhvuraar from the town of Thiruvadhavur near Madhurai exhibited amazing intelligence and mastered all by the time he was sixteen. The Pandya Kind Arimarthana Pandiyan heard of his fame and promptly took him in as his minister – naming him Tennavan Brahmmaraayan. In due course he grew in ranks to become the prime minister. All was well, when the King heard of a shipload of excellant Arabian Horses destined for a Chola port – the King desirous of having the steeds in his stable, sent his Prime Minister with a huge cache of gold to secure them.

Enroute Vadhuvurar reached Tiruperundhurai, a miracle happened and he saw Shiva sitting in the form of a shaivite sage under a tree elucidating the pupils. Immediately he was taken in by the site and all his senses were immersed into shiva – he sung his first verse hymns to the Glittering Feet of the Lord offering his body, belongings and soul – his first thiruvAchakam song shivapurANam starting n^amachchivAya vAzka ). Shiva heard the songs and blessed him with the name mANikka vAchakar ( Maanikka – Gem, vaachakar – speach). He then ordered mANikka vAchakar to build an abode and disappeared.

The divine sanction was enough for the devotee, who (mis) used all the Kings Gold and built this splendid temple for the Lord. (The temple has no Lingam in the sanctum. Instead it only has the base, (Avudayar), which has a metal cover placed on it. This represents formlessness, the absolute ultimate. Swami’s name is Atmanathar. This is a south facing temple ( which is very rare )the legend is Brahma was taught the Gayatri Mantra here by Atmanathar, when all the four Vedas appeared before Him. Hence, this place is also called `Chaturvedapuram”.In south indian historical texts and manuscripts this place is called Chatur veda mangalam.

So lets see how the King’s gold was spent ( what happened when the king came to know of this misappropriation is more interesting and we shall see that in a subsequent post) but since it bore the supreme’s assent it is money well spent ( apologise for the reference to current Satyam Debacle but its just of topical interest) – there are some interesting threads from this – did God want the funds to be diverted away from military pursuits towards a spiritual cause and the fact that there was active trade between the middle east and south India in the 8th C ( while it may surprise some of you, the trade has been on from much earlier – infact there are Greek accounts of trade with India as early as the 3rd C BC)

For a more topical sculpture post on the episode check

Before we go out and see the actual sculptures, i wanted to present to you some of my favorites – the lesser ones, often neglected, going unnoticed, yet would have required the masterly skill of the sculptor. Even stone in this temple is a treasure trove of stone craft, very unique to this temple. Some of the structures dwell on the realm of impossibility, only a magician could have even attempted to sculpt them, but when they stand in front of us, we have to believe. Ok, dont want to keep you all waiting any longer. Here come the magnificent stones of Avaudaiyar Koil.

Lets start with this long short of a corner ceiling – can you make out something ( vaguely similar to thalakkad), ok, lets go closer. Yes, its a fantastic snake carved complete with its undulating coils into the ceiling stone.

Ok, we have seen similar before, so whats so special about this? you may ask. Hang on, see this – a ceiling sculpted, well – let me give you the photos first. Watch the rods and the variety in them.. Well they are stone. Cant beleive, see this twisted rod – How on earth did they even try to visualise something of this scale and complexity. Seems the sculptor wanted to showcase this as a veritable explosion of his skills. Wait that’s not all

Here come the crowning pieces in the ceiling and the pillar and ceiling decorations. Stumped. hang on for the piece de resistance…
Here they come – a ceiling, sculpted into stone – with hanging chains.

Sorry, i got to take a break now and catch my breadth.

Pullamangai, Shiva as Ardhanari – A guest post by Satish Arun

Today we have a new addition to our team. An art enthusiast transforms into a writer in our columns. Mr. Satish Kumar Arunachalam, a software professional, crosses the border from being a silent appreciator of art, literature and spirituality to share his wonderful experiences with us. We look forward to many more such post from him. Over to satish

Those who have been following Vijay’s Posting in this space, will be very much familiar with Pullamangai. Pullamangai is a treasure trove; A masterpiece, created by sculptors, 1000 years back. This temple which has numerous miniature panels, which are just the size of the stretched palm, is a treat to watch.

The following piece will make the readers to recollect Pullamangai. ( vijay’s favorite tiger belly shiva ghana )

Though the miniature panels are the specialty of Pullamangai, in this article, we are going to see another masterpiece , located on the ‘Vimanam’ of Pullamangai temple.

There are many songs sung in praise of Lord Shiva in different forms and the form in which he shares his left part with ‘Umai’ is no exception.

Thiru Gnana Sambandar sings in Tiruchirapalli as,

nandrudaiyAnai theeyadilAnai naraivellE
rondrudaiyAnai yumaiorubaga mudayanai
chendraiyAdha thiruvudaiyAnai chirApalli
kundrudaiyAnai kUravennullang kulirume’

(when I talk about Civaṉ who has two holy tanks, naṉṟuṭaiyāṉ and tiyatillāṉ who has a spotless white bull who has Umai on one half who has wealth unlike the wealth that people get as a result of their virtuous acts done in previous births who has the hill of cirāppaḷḷi as his abode my heart is comforted

Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)
Courtesy – www.thevaaram.org)

and Appar sings in ThiruKodika as,

‘pUnara vArat tane puliyuri araiyinAnE
kAnilven kOvanamung kayilOr kabAlamEndhi
UnumOr pichchaiyAnE yumaioru bagaththAnE
kOnalven piraiyinAnE kOdika vudaya kOvE’

(one who wears a cobra in the form of a garland one who wears on his waist a tiger`s skin when we see him one who has as his food a small amount of alms, holding in the hand a skull, and tied a white loin-cloth one who has as his half Umai one who has a curved white crescent king of kōṭikā!

Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)
Courtesy – www.thevaaram.org)

We are going to see the form of Shiva, which these great saints have praised and sung quite often in their padigams.

The form in discussion is known as the ‘Arthanaareeswaran’ aka ‘ammaiyappan’ (mother and father) aka ‘umai oru pagan’ (umai on one side of his body) etc.

One half of the body is in male form and the other half is in female form. The right half is male and left half, female. The significance of this form is that, the female power is equal to the male and without the female or the Shakthi, the male power cannot function. Please refer to the link for the purana linked with this form of Shiva

Left side of the sculpture gleams with feminism

Right side portrays the majestic male look. A single face with two different expressions, when looked from different angle. One cannot stop wondering the artistic skills of the sculptor.

I have heard Dr.Kalaikovan speak about Chola art. He says, ‘Chola artists knows the anatomy well’. No other proof is needed to validate this statement, other than the ‘ammaiappan’ sculpture we are looking at.

Umai’s slender waist, and the beauty with which she carries herself; the Lords masculine shoulders and the majestic pose with which he places his hands on the Rishabam; – a thousand words cannot describe the beauty, which the sculptor has brought before our eyes.

I was fortunate enough to visit this temple and see this masterpiece along with the varalaaru team (www.varalaaru.com). One of the elderly gentleman in the temple, observing our groups interest in the sculptures, came forward and helped us to get a ladder, with which we climbed the vimana to have a closer look at this ‘arthanaareeswaran’ sculpture. After enjoying the beauty till it was dark, we started to the railway station and before we left, thanked and asked this gentleman his name. Even after getting into the train, we could not come out of the melancholy caused by his name. He told us that his name is ‘Ammaiappan’.

Art is reborn

Art is reborn today – and an artist is born not made and true art is ageless. The thirst to create something beautiful rests inside all of us, but only a few posses the divine gift needed to express this, to bring out the yearning of ones heart and leave a lasting impression. Time and again art has proved that it sans many boundries, time spans, language, culture and it inspires generations to come.

We are to see one such inspiring art today, or rather witness a symphony between sculpture and drawing, of a unique umbilical cord that has connected three talented artists…. One sculptor who sculpted this spectacular Veerabadra out of solid stone fashioning a pillar that is more alive than stone – from the Srivaikuntam Temple. A vibrating pulsating action figure, rich is ornamentation and complexity, an apt challenge for the master artist silpi. To even attempt such a piece is mind boggling, but to capture it to the minute detail ( when silpi drew it looks like the sword was still in one piece but u can see that the master sculpted even the crack at that time) the pres day photo shows the sword broken at the exact spot. Can’t find words for the amount of detailing he has drawn in the background. That was the hall mark of silpi – a painting that looked more a sculpture than a painting or sketch, he could bring out the lanugage of stone or rather poetry in stone into his sketch.

Now the story spans to current day – present day tale. When Prasad wanted a challenge to sculpt during his winter break, I shared these two ( original
sculpture and the silpi sketch – thanks to. Sri pas pasupathy sir and varalaaru.com) with him.

When he said he wanted to attempt to sketch this, I expected a muted effort, but when he first sent me his initial outline, I was stumped. I knew this was a masterpiece in the making and hence came up with a plan to document the magic. So here goes, see the magician at work as he brings out this master sculpture out of thin air and makes it appear as his sketch.

Oh, the detailing of the dress, the clarity in the expressions, the intricate carvings on the sword., prasad, hats off. You are a genius. Silpi would be proud today for you are here to carry the baton. True poetry.

you can see more of Sri Prasad’s works here

Prasad’s art blog

There are no Ganesha sculptures in Mallai – except for ….

Wishing all viewers a very happy and prosperous new year 2009. A friend commented that over a 100 posts and not one dedicated to the Ganesha – the remover of obstacles. So today we see him, not just any post but one that poses a lot of questions into the origin of Ganesha worship in South India.

This is another of the puzzles of Mahabalipuram – there are almost over 50 representations of Shiva with his family – as Somaskanda ( Sou Uma skanda – With Uma and Skanda) – reminds me to a post on them. But conspicuous by his absence is Ganesha.

Hang on, i know some of you are already jumping – yes – the Ganesha Ratha is the only shrine still under worship in Mahabalipuram. But when it was sculpted it was sculpted as a shrine for Shiva. Why and how it got converted to a shrine for the Son is an interesting legend by itself. Lets see the chronology one by one:

Leaving aside the Pillayarpatti caves that are assigned to an earlier period, the earliest reference to Ganesha worship starts with the famous war of Vatapi. Those who have read Author Kalki’s Sivagamiyin Sabatham ( Sivagami’s Vow) would immediately recollect the scene. The trusted General of Narasimhavaraman II – Paranjothi helps him to avenge his father’s defeat at the hands of the Chalukya king, Pulakesi II in the year 642 CE. ( They prepared for the war for 12 years !!) – but standing on the dawn of the battle day, Paranjothi sees a Ganesha sculpture on the walls of Vatapi and prays to him for his success. On the victorious battle field he undergoes a change of heart and takes to life of a saint – as siruthondar becomes a Nayanmaar, takes back the statue of Ganesha to worship as Vatapi Ganesha. So is he the first instance of Ganesha in Pallava land.

Well, the story gets interesting now. Sambandar and Appar have sung the greatness of Ganesha. See below verse references:

Sambandar’s Verse

the supreme god in Valivalam where many people who are the incarnation of unbounded liberality, crowd.
when Umai assumed the form of a female elephant.
Civaṉ assuming the form of a strong male elephant.
was gracious enough to beget kaṇapati who destroys obstacles to devotees who worship his feet.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

Appar’s Verse

the elephant faced god, Kaṇapati who wanders frightening in the minds of people who rise suffering intensely, having very many desires.the two lights which have the strength to dispel darkness and the great mountain, Kayilāyam.we are the kindred of the God who has Keṭilam having water which confers good on people who bathe on it.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

So, its clear that Ganesha was worshipped and well known as the son of Shiva and Parvathi during their times itself.

There are lot of scholarly debates about the authorship of the Mahablipuram monuments, yet fortunately the Shore temple’s builder is clear – Rajasimha Pallava.

We come back to the Ganesha Ratha. Yes, it does have a Ganesha Statue installed and under worship. But ( here i seek help from the masterly work of Sri. Swaminathan sir) – read below one of the earliest extracts of a foreigner accounts of Mahabalipuram – 1788 AD

The Ganesa Ratha had originally a linga in the sanctum, and seems to have been taken away by Lord Hobert, who was Governor of Madras from 1794 to 1798. A compensation of 20 pagodas was given to the villagers and took away to England. His successor, the second Lord Clive (1798-1803), took away the Nandi of this temple. Chambers: 1788

So, how did the Ganesha come – again a note, this time by a noted historian

When that linga was carried off by Bu…, the people of this place took an image of Vinayaka which was near and put it into the Garbagriha. On the wall to the south of the Garbagriha is some inscription written, the character of which is unknown.
—– (1803:Lakshmiah)

Ok, for the people who are still unconvinced – inscriptional evidence

This is a lengthy inscription of eleven verses in Sanskrit from the ` Ganesha Ratha’.. the fifth verse states, “This temple of Sambhu (Siva) was caused to be made by King Atyantakama, conqueror of his enemies’ territory and renowned by the title Ranajaya.” The name of the temple is then given: “Atyantakama-Pallavesvara-Griham” (“The Isvara (Siva) temple of the Pallava (king) Atyantakama”).
‘Atyantakama’ and ‘Ranajaya’ were titles of Pallava kings

So where does this lead us – in all of the cave temples, Bas reliefs and Free standing Rathas of Mahabalipuram there is not a single representation of Ganesha. He first comes in the shore temple. We have already carried a brief intro of the shore temple

Shore Temple Intro post

Now lets test your powers of observation once again. Can you spot him.

You can see that there are various Ganas occupying similar positions. so what do we conclude ?

Well, the objective of this site is to spread awareness and spur people to search for answers. So i just leave you with some closeups of Ganesha – may he remove all your obstacles and the new year usher a grand year of joy and prosperity.