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

15 thoughts on “A Sculpture Monalisa

  1. Just Excellent. I wonder myself with each and every post of you when published, whether we could go back to these good old times!.


  2. beautiful!
    one thing i dont understand.
    if the face on the side of his consort and boy is normal and the other side frightening one can understand. but it is just the reverse!
    but perhaps that is why parvati is shielding!

  3. hi திவா,

    nice question. See it as an action figure – Shiva is all rage personified, as he is skinning the elephant demon – just as he is finishing -he sees his wife shielding his son from seeing the gory sight. He knowing his son’s prowess starts smiling – so the face watching the wife n son is just beginning to smile – the fang is gone.


  4. hi vijay
    Excellent Post. But i would like to touch upon what Dhiva said. The last 2 images that u have given, the angry shiva and normal shiva, if you look close it looks like the side facing parvathi is angry and the other side looks calm as opposed to what you’ve mentioned. Can u pls have a re-look?

  5. Hi,
    One of your silent admirers from PSVP group. Firstly kudos for maintaining a site like this. Very happy to see that you are putting so much effort and posting very frequently. Last year in August there was a seminar at madras sanskrit college where myself and plastics chandra participated and had a wonderful time listening to the stapathi who gave a talk titled “iconography of shiva” the highlight of the talk was about the same sculpture from Darasuram. He explained the marma sthanams and other details of this sculpture. So very happy to see this on your blog.

    But, one comment from myside is that I donot see any difference between the two half of the faces. The reason is as follows:the side facing parvathi also has the brows arched in the same angles and the eyes are wide open. Lets imagine looking shiva not from the side angle but rotating the view so as to face him straight to straight. Then you could imagine that if half is in anger and other half smiling then it would look like the two-face from batman comics. (The dark knight effect….) What I would suggest for you to check your theory is to ask some one visiting tanjore to take a photograph of the sculpture with the close up of shiva’s face facing the camera. This will throw more light.

    Looking forward to your interesting posts.

    With Kind Regards,


  6. dear ragothaman,

    Greetings and welcome to the site. I will most certainly ask my friends to get better snaps to support the post. Meantime you could see below article of K Balu sir which came in the Hindu on this sculpture


    you can also try to click on the image titled single fang


    to get a clearer view


  7. தாராசுரத்தின் மற்ற சிற்பங்களின் முழு அழகைக்காண கட்டாயம் ஒருமுறை நேரில் சென்று பார்வையடவேண்டும்.

  8. That is divine! the sculpture must be at least a thousand years’ old but the divinity has not gone! we should be proud that we have this kind of heritage. Will our descendants be lucky to look at these after some hundreds of years?

  9. நன்றி திரு ஜி.ஸன்தானம்,

    விரைவில் இன்னும் ஒரு தாராசுரம் சிறப்பு சிற்பத்துடன் வருகிறேன்.


  10. Nice pix. But I find the commentary for the first pix a bit intriguing. The tamil name and its meaning would translate to Gajacharmangadane
    (Gaja-Elephant, charmanagada- skin clad) and not Gaja Samhara. pl. checkup and clarify.

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