Dhakshinamurthy Worship – A guest post by Dr. N. Ganesan

One of the most intriguing forms of Shiva, as Dhakshinmurthy is being analysed by one of our foremost scholars, who has been kind enough to allow the article to posted in our site. Dr. N. Ganesan from Houstan, needs no introduction:

oTTakkuuttar, who lived in 3 Chola kings’ reigns, sings two laudatory poems at the Chola court upon becoming the Poet Laureate ‘kavichakravarti’. Ottakkuuttar mentions 5 legendary Tamil teachers and Pothiyil mountain. An essay detailing
‘who is Patumakkottan2 referred to in Ottakkuuttar poems’ is at:

Reading a scholarly book from Tamil university professor, Raju Kalidos, Sectarian rivalry in art and literature, 1997, Sharada Pub. House (Papers, chiefly with reference to South India, presented at the XVII International Congress of History of Religions, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropologicas, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico.)

He quotes some Naalaayirat tivviyap pirapantam poems associated with Dakshinamurti. See the sectarian poem where it is claimed that all that dakshinamurti teaches is worshipping of vaTapatrasaayin – vishNu sleeping on the tiny banyan leaf who also has taken visvaruupam as trivikrama.

Ala nizaRkIz aRaneRiyai nAlvarkku
mElai ukanturaittAn2 meyttavattOn2 – njAlam
aLantAn2ai aazik kiTantaan2ai aalmEl
vaLarntAn2ait taan2vaNaGku mARu.
(tirumazicai aazvaar, naan2mukan2 tiruvantaati, paacuram 17).

A second example,

neRivAcal tAn2Eyaay nin2Raan2ai aintu
poRivaacal pOrkkatavam caartti aRivaan2aam
aalamara niizal aRamnaalvark kan2Ruraittaan2ai
aalamar kaNTattu aran2,
(poykaiyaazvaar, mutal tiruvantaati).

My query: Do we have any more poems describing
dakSiNAmUrti in naalaayiram? Thanks for your help.


I have always wondered about dakSiNAmurti images in the southern niche of Vaishnava temples in Tamizakam.

“DakshiNaamuurti is viewed in four different aspects namely, as a teacher of yoga, of viiNaa, of jnaana and also an expounder of other ‘saastras (vyaakhyaanamuurti). Of these, the last form is the one which which is most frequently met with in temples. It has already been mentioned elsewhere that in all Hindu temples, both ‘Saiva and VaishNava, the niche on the south wall of the central shrine should have the figure of DaksiNaamuurti enshrined in it.”
(page 273, T. A. Gopinatha Rao, Elements of Hindu iconography, vol. 2, First edition, 1914).

Daksinamurti is a speciality in ancient Tamizakam temples, not found in the north of Tamizakam. Usually LakuLiisa of Karvan (= KaayaarohaNam) will be found in the Saiva temples in Karnataka, Andhra, Orissa … in D.’s place. T. A. Gopinatha Rao quoted a Nara-Narayana image of Deogarh as Daksinamurti, evidently wrong because the image faces west, and depicts Vishnu. In certain temples (eg., Ellora), the presence of dakSiNAmuurti can be explained in terms of Tamil royal matrimonial alliances. Daksinamurti is described in sangam texts, and profusely found in temples irrespective of the sectarian divisions all over Tamizakam from Pallava and all subsequent dynasties.

Preliminary observations of the linkages between PadmapaaNi avalokitesvara and Dakshinamurti iconology and references from Tamil literature are given in my tamil paper,

A discussion about the oTTakkuuttar poem mentioning “Patumakkottar” in the Chola imperial court is given.

It is very interesting that many early Dakshinamurtis have lotus flower in their hands (top left). I will list them – a beautiful one is at Kanchi kailasanatha, Tiruvisaluur and so on. This lotus flower with a stem is so clear. This is in accordance with the aagamas that require lotus flower (taamaraippuu). In later periods, the lotus flower with the stem sometimes gets changed to fire ‘agni’ with a stem.

This is probably because the earlier notion of padma coming from Padmapani Avalokita is forgotten after few centuries. But still the lotus flower persists as seen in Suchindram temple even in that late period. The maharajalilasana, the akshamaala and lotus flower in two top hands in Pallava and Chola dakshinamurtis undoubtedly tie him to Padmapani avalokita’s iconography.

P. Schalk (pg. 555) writes, “So we get the impression that Mulavasam was a Mahayana monastery, which is not impossible, but the impression is based on an inference, namely that the Lokanatha statue in Gandhara/Nepal is a copy of a Lokanatha statue in Mulavasam. This statue has not been found. What has been found and Rav refers to are buddha statues in stone, none of which depicts Lokanatha.”

But S. Padmanabhan has located two large, beautiful Chola sculptures (Avalokita in rAjalIlAsana posture & Tara) in worship at Theroor village near Cape Kumari. Thera + uur is Theroor. Avalokita there is called “iLaiya-nayinAr” at Theroor. (Cf. dakshnamurti always depicted as young teacher of aged rishis like Sanakaadi munis). Compare the Therur Avalokita and Tara sculptures with Siva in Rajalilasana pose with Umaa in Darasuaram granting Paasupatam to a worshipping Arjuna. I think Therur images predate by 1 or 2 centuries the Darasuram imagery. For Dakshinamurti as a couple, the famous image is
of course from CuruTTapaLLi (a Pallava one?). KavimaNi TecikavinAyakam PiLLai was born in Therur. It looks we should look into N. P. Unni’s book, and in particular, the VaTTezuttu (10th century) inscription which mentions Vikaramarama.

Schalk misses out on the “ancient god” of Potiyil/Malaya and the patronage to it by Ay kings of VeNaaD in sangam times, and the mention of Muulavaasam in the 9th century inscription. “ten2n2an2 peyariya tun2n2arun tuppin2 tol mutu kaTavuL pin2n2ar mEya varai tAz aruvip poruppin2 poruna”
(maturaik kAJci),

“kaliGkam aalamar celvaRku amarntan2an2 koTutta cAvan tAGkiya
pular tiNi tOL Arvam nan2mozi Ay” (ciRupANARRuppaTai).

In the ninth century, the Ay king VarakuNan2 donates “paLLiccantam” to Tiru-muulavaacam temple, “maRRum kOyiRkuriyatu ellaam akappaTa tiru-muulavaatattu paTaarakku aTTik kuTuttatu”. This reference is to the “temple” (kO-il) to Avalokitan/Lokanathan (with a Saiva background), that finds a place in
Nepali manuscripts also.

N. Ganesan

GaNDavyuha text mentions that Avalokita lives in Potalaka, southern India. This is depicted in Borobudur, Indonesia with Avalokita in a frontal, cross-legged pose with rosary beads in his hands. In south India, we see Avalokita with padma lotus and aksamala in 10th century. See the Chola bronzes (968 AD) stored in Majunatha temple at Mangalore on the west coast. Lotus and aksamala in Nagapattinam Avalokita bronzes. 10th century example (Pl.19) 17th century example (Pl. 20) in Nandana Chutiwongs’ book.

In south India, where Buddhism was a minority religion and Buddhist images are numerically small when compared with Shaiva and Vaishnava sculptures, Buddhist iconography had a large impact on Shiva Mahesa images.

For example.
In Karnataka, Andhra and Orissan temples, a Mahesamurti image is seen in the southern side wall of a Siva temple. This will be a Lakulisa, seated in a meditative pose, a form of Mahesvara in the Chalukyan and Orissan temples. “It may seem unusual for Lakulisa to be the first fully manifest body of god on the rAhA. From the foregoing, Mahesa is to be expected and not Lakulisa, the historical teacher who founded the Pasupata order. It must therefore quickly pointed out that by the seventh century, the Orissan cult of Lakulisa-Pasupata no longer considered him to be a human teacher. Lakulisa was deified and recognized by the sixth-seventh centuries as an incarnation of Mahe’svara. Already in the Gupta age, his deification was acknowledged.” … (pg. 131,

Doris M. Srinivasan, From transcendency to materiality: Para Siva, Sadasiva, and Mahesa in Indian art, Artibus Asiae, 50, 1/2, 1990, 108-142). The Lakulisa image is adaptation of Buddha sculptures (with additions of urdhva retas and a stick for Lakulisa): “These images of Siva as Lakulisa, seated in a yogic position, obviously owe much to images of the Buddha” (p. 501, J.C. Harle, Art
and architecture of the Indian subcontinent).

Further south, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Lakulisa in the southern walls of Shiva temples are not there as Mahesamurti. Instead, another Mahesamurti image was chosen – the South-facing Dakshinamurti images are present in Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Chera periods. There are iconographic relationships अवलोकिएश्वारा with Siva Dakshinamurti. They are usually shown in maharaja lilasana pose with a lotus and aksamala.

The ascetic with matted locks (Dakshinamurti) and Padmapani Avalokita are mentioned as teachers to sage Agastya at mount Potiyil / Potalaka.

Recently, Cleveland Museum purchased a beautiful 1000-year old Chola sculpture of Siva Mahesa (4 million $). Some newspapers call it as Brahma or Brahma as Siva. It is not correct as there is no reference for Siva as Brahma or Brahma with a third eye etc., in silpa texts or in Indian sculpture. This is also a Siva Mahesa image (see Doris Srinivasan’s paper for details). A high resolution photo of the Cleveland purchase is at, http://blog.cleveland.com/reviews/shiva.jpg
Note the lotus flower and akshamaala rosary on this Mahesmurti, typically seen on Avalokita images.

4 thoughts on “Dhakshinamurthy Worship – A guest post by Dr. N. Ganesan

  1. This was a really an interesting post. I learned many new things by reading it. Thank you so much for writing this article it was a true pleasure to read it.

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