The masterly art of the Pallava Sculptor

The core of this post is based on a interview that Satheesh conducted with Sri K.P.Umapathy Acharya – hereditary achitect and sculptor. I have supported it with pictures from Shriram,Gokul, graphic work by Ashok and closeups of the individual frames during my recent trip to mallai.

We would have passed this sculpture panel many times ( The earlier post)and each time a new awareness dawns on you. So too is this post

Lets first see the panel as a whole.

We have already seen a detailed post of this core theme,so will skip that part. Now, to add some highlights ( thanks to Ashok)

Can you now understand the crux of this post. – we are going to see how the Pallava sculpture has excelled in his portrayal of a multitude of hand and leg postures, am also trying to compare these with Angkorian ( cambodia – thanks to photos from Sri Gokul / sin – ardent cricket fan and best scorer in Singapore league) panel – to highlight why the Pallava sculptor is par excellence.

Inorder to better understand these, have taken individual exposures of the poses – so please take your time to see the indexed version and then proceed to see the individual items.


Notice how each of the individual carvings are unique, ie not of the same size, yet every aspect of proportion is maintained for the individual sculpture. No two hands are the same, not only posture wise but also in dimensions.

At first glance we tend to miss out the significance of the last two photos.Well you might ask, why bring in the legs suddenly into the discussion. Let me throw in a few snaps of the Angkorian Apsara / dancers and see if you get a hint.

No, ok, now do you get it

See how the Pallava craftsmen has depicted the feet, especially of the person who is sculpted as facing into the wall. Simply mind blowing.

The depiction of the feet both facing to one side – would be akin to a beginner’s attempt at sketching someone in straight profile. You have difficulty in showing the depth in a one dimensional sketch. But a bas relief is almost a 3 dimensional medium ( well 2 1/2 – 3D would be a full sculpture like an idol or statue). But the Angorian style is more representative of a craftsmen moving from a uni dimensional sketch into sculpture, while the Pallava craftsmen centuries before had already mastered this.

Some more pictures to illustrate the intricacies of the panel for your viewing pleasure.

The valor of Chola soil – a Rooster takes on a rogue Elephant

The Chola dynasty of South India, has a long association with valor and bravery, and it gives me great pleasure to present a sculpture that links their valor, sculptural beauty, spirituality etc. Many thanks to Sri N.S. Narayanasamy
( for allowing us the use of this rare sculpture and content.

Its a simple legend and a lovely sculpture. Lets take a look at the legend first. When a Chola King named Veeravadhithan was passing a town on his elephant, the animal suddenly turned rogue and went around creating collateral damage. ( The Kings soldiers were no match for the rogue elephant. As per some version – The pious King prayed to Lord Shiva. He graced his blessings on a rooster which was nearby) The rooster showed remarkable courage is standing up to the rogue elephant and took on the mighty beast. It flew high to its head and used his sharp beak and claws to inflict lot of damage on the elephants sensitive eyes. The vanquished elephant was almost blinded and ran away ( to take refuge / calm down near a tree). Seeing the valor of a common rooster and the spiritual energy in the place, the Chola King decided to use the City as his capital.

Lets look at the sculpture now – from the Panchavarneshwarar Temple in Uraiyur.

A very simple sculpture, but you can still see the detailing. The raised tail of the elephant indicating its rage, the barve rooster clamped on its massive head. That the elephant is loosing, is clearly shown by its demeanor – the bent front legs and the almost crouched head.

Seeing the valor of a simple rooster the Chola king, thought it fit to shift his capital to the town – Uraiyur – which got a new name Kozhiyur ( kozhi hen or rooster) and the kings were praised as Kozhi vendhar ( vendhar – Lord or king ) surprised since technically you could get into trouble for comparing a King to a hen.

Infact, Sri kalki Krishnamurthy would pull this explanation as an answer to a simple question in his immortal work Ponniyin Selvan when describing the Tiruvisaippa sung by Kandrathitha Chola – where the King takes pride in calling himself a hen or rooster king !!

But who is this King and what period can we ascertain him to. When we tried to search more we found references to the “hentown” in Thevaram Verses.
There are Thevaram verses. But the great surprise came when we found the legend in Elango’s Silapathigram ( a tamil work dated roughly to the 2nd C AD) – Tale of the Anklet. The hero and heroine – Kovalan and kannagi , in search of a new market ( after the has wasted all his wealth on his `other’ women Mathavi) move from Chola country into Pandya land towards Madhurai – passing through Uraiyur – Kozhiyur. So the legend was famous even then to find mention in the work !!

So much for legends living on for 1800 years !!!

The earliest recorded bird hit

The recent bird hit on flight 1549 of US Airways and its subsequent ditching or expert crash into the Hudson river caught the world’s attention. From the time planes have been invented we have had many such bird strikes and not all have had a happy ending as the one above. But what we are going to see today is possibly the earliest account of a bird strike.

Jataayu – the son of Garuda’s elder brother Aruna ( the charioteer to the Sun god), his valiant battle with Ravana as he is abducting Sita on his Pushpaka Vimana ( aerial chariot aka plane) is stuff of legends.

There are not many sculptural depictions of this battle, the most famous and often shown depiction is the painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

However, there are two sculptural depictions of this battle – one in Ellora Kailasantha ( thanks to flickr friend Mr Murali) and the other in Parambanan, Indonesia. We will visit the Indonesian one a bit later. But of most interest to us is the Ellora panel.

The mighty King Ravana is shown just as he is about to strike at the vulture Jatayu with a sword. Its no ordinary sword as we will see shortly. To the upper right we are just shown a piece of the flying machine.

Who is this Jatayu. We had read when we saw the Garuda story that his elder brother Aruna, who due to his mother’s hastiness is born premature – leaves to serve the Sun God as his charioteer. Well Jatayu and his brother Sampathi are the sons of Aruna.

Once while both the brothers were playing, they tried to fly higher and higher – when Jatayu trying to outsmart his brother flew too high, he went dangerously close to the hot sun ( sounds vaguely familiar – Greek – Icarus ) Well the plot changes a bit here. Sampathi protectively covered his brother with his extended wingspan – while the sun burnt off his wings he fell to the ground while Jatayu was saved. ( Sampathi does get healed but at a much later stage – just by chanting the name of Rama!!)

Ok, back to the bird strike. So great is the resistance shown by Jatayu and his valor in battling Ravana, that the Thevaram verse actually credits him with victory over Ravana. Why so ?

The place where the Lord, Who elucidated the shivadharma
with virtue as the basis freeing the capable devotees from

the disease of bad karma, sits is thiruppuLLirukkuvELUr
of jaTAyu who defeated the rAvaNa who came aggressive
counting his power!

It all comes down to the sword. Chandrahas, Shiva’s invincible sword – Moonblade, a divine gift. How did Ravana come in possession of such a weapon. Again an interesting story.

We have seen Ravana being humbled once before – by Vaali

There is another one by the 20 armed kaarthveeryarjunan ( not found a sculpture for this yet) – but there is another instance – by Siva when Ravana attempted to lift Kailash – we have seen it at many places.


Well after he went through the Ordeal and pleased Shiva by playing his ” hand” crafted veena – Shiva cured his wounds and along with his blessings, gave him his special sword. Chandrahas ( moon blade)

So by saying that Jatayu defeated Ravana – but for the divine weapon, Jatayu had valiantly fought and defeated Ravana. His powerful wings, claws and beak had wrecked havoc, while at the very edge of losing, Ravana not being a match for Jatayu with his powers, had used the divine weapon to clinch victory and slay Jatayu.

That my friends, that is the earliest recorded bird strike.
(Thanks to Murali again for the rare snap of Ellora. On content indebted to Sri Subramaniam, Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam and Dhivakar sir ofcourse)

Seduction of the deer headed sage

Today we are going to see a rare sculpture from Hampi ( Hazara Rama temple again). The splendid photograph is courtesy Kathie and the explanation thanks to Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam. I was intrigued by a friends site about the murals in Alagar Koil of the famous Yagna done by Dasaratha.

Mr. Bhaskar wonderful site on temple murals

For it involved a very special officiating Priest, brought in under special recommendation. Whats so special about him. Well he has a deer’s head to start with. Before we see the main plot, lets look into the peculiar origins of this sage. What set me on this is a chance reading of an article in the hindu.

The Hindu Article

It shows only a part of the sculptural panel and I too took it as per this mention – The deer headed saint as Rishyasingar ( as per Valmiki Ramayan) and Kalaikottu Munivar ( as per Kamban) distributing the child giving potion to the 3 wives of Dasartha. Though there were still a few loose ends, as both the literature and the murals show that he personally did not distribute it and the sculpture in question doesnt seem to show the potion /cup or pot. Thankfully Kathie managed to provide this excellent photograph of the entire panel – which ( thanks to Mrs Geetha) clears up the air. This is a different but equally interesting account of the same sage but happened much earlier.

Rishi Vibandanga, son of Rishi Kashyapa, once casts a passing glance a beautiful female deer. So great is his prowess that his very glance made the deer pregnant. In due course she gave birth – a boy with a deer’s head and human body ! His father brought him up in total isolation ( celibacy) – not even allowing the scent of women near him. ( wonder why?)

In an adjoining land, a King by name Romapathan was disturbed by an unending drought troubling his subjects for years together. It seems ( ok, i am only repeating legend – fairer sex please excuse me) that pious men who have totally abstained from you know what – will bring rain. So King Romapathan decides to bring Rishyasingar to his land, but how does he do it. Well, we have seen it happen many times – carrot of course. He sent ` talented’ women dancers to entice the poor boy. Imagine the plight of the poor boy, having being depraved their company since birth, he gets an overdose. He stands no chance against the guile of these women and follows them to the Kings Land. As foretold he brings rain along with him to the parched land. Well all is well that ends well. The King did it for a good cause i guess, but he could have just gone their explained the situation and brought him. Guess epics wouldn’t be so simple.

The depiction of the plot is superbly handled by the sculptor. see how the gay abandon of the youthful Rishyasingar ` appreciating ‘ dancing damsel. Net we see him being waited upon by three ladies ( the nonchalant stylistic crossing of the legs – cant be when he facing royal queens of Dasarata) – plus as per the epic, he gave the ` potion’ to Dasaratha to distribute.

Anyway, some more good things happen. The pleased King marries his daughter Sandhai ( Santham is calm in tamil – wow, hope she lived upto her name). After that another king sought the services of Rishyasingar but for a totally different act. What is that…we will see it shortly.

A blunder, a loss and a curse – Ramayana Origins

Today we are seeing a very rare sculpture which takes us back to the very beginning of the Ramayana. Its a subtle reminder that the you are accountable for your acts, irrespective of whether committed knowingly or unknowingly – the consequences have to be faced.

When Dasaratha (father of Rama) was a young Prince, he reveled in all sport. He is a charioteer unparalleled but so are his archery skills. His skill is so great that he could put an arrow from just the sound of an animal moving. But this very skill proved to be his undoing. Yes, we are going to see the legend of Shravana Kumara from a rare sculpture from the Hazara Rama temple in Hampi.

updating with anotehr view ( thanks to Manju)

The story goes thus. In his youthful jest, Dasaratha is hunting in the forests adjoining the river Sarayu. But despite his best efforts, he is not able to bag anything till late in the evening. Just as the Sun, was setting, as he was hiding behind tree cover, he heard a familiar sound of elephants drinking water in the river. Impatient to get his prize, Dasartha relies purely on his skill and lets loose a deadly arrow, guided purely by the sound. But as it found its mark, he was shocked to hear a man scream in mortal pain.

Can you spot the above plot in the sculpture.

As he rushed to the spot, he found that he had mistakenly shot a young boy filling water in a pot.

The boy is actually Shravana Kumaran, the dutiful son – who takes such good care of his aged and blind parents – that he transports them on a sling balancing on his shoulders. His parents are totally dependent on him. As he was passing through the forest they had asked him to fetch some water as they were thirsty and it was in this act that he was felled by the fateful arrow.

The young boy, despite his mortal wound, is still thinking about his parents.Dasartha begs for his forgivness, but the boy requests him to take the water to his parents. He also tells him to disclose the bad news of their son’s death after their thirst is quenched! such a noble soul. So requesting he moves to realm of the heavens.

Dasartha is all remorse personified as he goes to the place where the aged couple are resting. Just as he approaches they realise from the sound of his footsteps that its not their son and insist Dasartha to tell them the truth. Dasartha tries his best to dampen the blow, by offering to be their Son – but on hearing from him that their dearest son is no more, the mother falls down dead. The father is filled with great anger that he curses Dasartha thus :

” you too will suffer this pain of separation from your loved son and die of that ”

The rest – well is history