The Yaazhi riders of Tanjore

After a series of serious posts, felt we need something light to relax. Plus Prasad said the last post had only few photos and satheesh said i wasn’t publishing enough of his photo contributions. ( same apology to chandra as well). Been quite occupied with work n travel, plus sometimes the story need to fit – dont want to just exhibit some photos – you can go to flickr / picasa for that. So this post is a conscious effort to redress the above, but combining with my favorites…tajore, yaazhi, sculpture.

Yaazhi’s are most probably the least viewed and discussed sculptures. Despite this they find prominent position in almost all major temples. In fact in tanjore there are two rows of Yaali’s which run almost right around the vimana base.

These kind of artistically border the great edicts ( inscriptions ) of my beloved Raja Raja Chola. Being there, standing amidst the massive edifice often leaves me under a spell,the air brings in many familiar scents, to be able to see the words, to be able to read them ( standing for a 1000 years) – its doesnt inspire a sense of awe, but more a feeling of returning to ones home, as though i once belonged there!

Back to the post, we are going to see the top row of impressive Yaazhi riders in this post. there is another row down below, which we will see later ( one thousand thanks to Satheesh for patiently taking these and sending over to me)

At first glance they do look similar, the symmetry is mesmerizing. What you must also notice is that these are action frames, the riders, the prancing yaazhis, the fighters emerging from the mouths are all full of live, frozen in time.

But are they symmetrical, r they just repetitive depictions of the same.


To give you an idea of the size of these beauties, as usual we place a common object..a mineral water bottle

The riders on their part come in a myriad of forms and poses.


The corners of this row of yaazhi riders are interesting as well. An unique mythological animal – a yaazhi as well is shown framing two fighters inside its open mouth – sometimes two yaazhi riders emerge as well. This concept is also seen in various early chola temples ( Chandra and Satheesh – will showcase them as well shortly)



What beautiful miniatures, next time please do not miss them.

Punishment for smelling the flowers meant for the Lord….

We have seen quite a few sculptural panels from Darasuram depicting the lives of the Shaivite Nayanaar stories. Today we are going to see one more, but in slightly more detail. For, presenting the story as it is, could lead a some misunderstandings, initially when i read it, it gave me a portrayal of brutal, cruel or even barbaric nature of not one but two exalted souls – two Nayanars who were made so in a single act. However, on reading the deeper left me with a better understanding. Inorder to compare and contrast the true meaning / lesson of this story, we are going to see two not dissimilar acts which ended up diametrically extreme outcomes.

Lets take the first case in question. Sculpture first. Another Periapuranam Panel from Darasuram.

At first sight its quite gruesome. It shows a King ( the impressive crown) is shown raising his sword to chop off a lady ( queens) arms from the elbow onwards. To make it worse he almost has a smile on his face, while the queen’s nose seems to be disfigured ( was it on purpose?)

Yes, this is the story of Kazharsinga Nayanar: Kazharsingar belonged to Pallava royalty. He was a sincere devotee of Shiva. Once he went on a pilgrimage and after worshipping at several shrines, he came to Tiruvarur. While he was worshiping the Lord, his queen Sangaa ( daughter of Rastrakutha King Amoga Varsha Nirupathungan and could be of the Jaina faith – source – Pallava History) walked around the temple watching the preparations for worship. Then she found herself in the corner where garlands of fresh flowers were being made ready for decorating the presiding deity.

Attracted by the variety of colours and scents, she drew near and picked up a flower that had fallen on the floor.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1253&padhi=72&startLimit=5&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

The queen who in her mien was very like a peafowl,
Came round the temple, beheld each one of its glories,
Moved on and came near the mantapam where soft flowers
Were woven into wreaths; there she picked up a fresh flower
That had just then fallen, and inhaled its fragrance.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

When she began smelling it, Cheruthunai, an intense devotee of Shiva, happened to pass by. He was angry that she had desecrated flowers meant for Shiva’s worship and cut off her nose.( he was made a Nayanar for this as well – we will see his in later posts)

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1253&padhi=72&startLimit=6&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

As she was so inhaling, the holy servitor Serutthunai
Thought thus: “Ha, she has inhaled a flower
Taking it from the mantapam (where garlands
Are being woven).” He ran in all haste, secured a weapon
Pulled the nose of the Lakshmi-like one who smelt
The honey-laden flower, and cut it away.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

On hearing the queen’s distressed cry, Kazharsingar hastened to her. “Who did this?” he thundered. Cheruthunai came forward and confessed of the horrible mutilation. But the king went one step further. He said, the first error was committed by the hand – for it had helped the act of desecration by picking the flower from the ground. So he drew out his sword cut off the queen’s hands as well.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1253&padhi=72&startLimit=10&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

This Said, he unleashed his sword from its scabbard
With which his waist was girt, and saying:
“It is but proper that the hand which first
Touched the fragrant flower and picked it up
Should be first chopped,” cut off with bangles and all,
The roseate hand of his queen-consort
Of fragrant locks, his own beloved wife.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

Watching this scene of zealous Shiva-consciousness, the immortals rained flowers on them.

Before we go into the analysis of this episode, lets cross over to the more famous Kothai / Andaal amd compare Sangaa’s deeds with those of Andaal.
( thanks to Ashok for this splendid photo from Chettipuniyam Deva Narayana Perumal temple )

For the uninitiated ( thanks to wiki) – rest can skip the first para.

Aandaal is believed to have been discovered under a Tulsi(Basil) plant in the temple garden of Srivilliputtur, by a person named Vishnucitta who later became one of the most revered saints in Hinduism, Periyalvar. The child was named Kodhai (meaning, a beautiful garland, in Tamil) and she was raised by Vishnucitta. Kodhai grew up in an atmosphere of love and devotion. Vishnucitta doted on her in every respect, singing songs to her about Lord Krishna; teaching her all the stories and philosophy he knew; and sharing with her his love for Tamil poetry. As Kothai grew into a beautiful maiden, her love and devotion for the Lord grew to the extent that she decided to marry none but the Lord Himself. As days progressed, her resolve strengthened and she started to live in a dream world with her beloved Lord and was constantly fantasizing about marrying Him.

Vishnucitta had the responsibility of delivering flower garlands to the Lord’s temple, everyday. Goda made these garlands and sent it to her beloved Lord through her father. Eventually she started acting unusual by wearing the flower garland which was meant to be offered to the Lord. This is generally considered sacrilege in Hinduism because the scriptures teach the devotees not to offer to the Lord, a thing that has already been used by a human being. However, Kothai felt she should test to see how the garland suited her and only if it did, she should offer it to the Lord. One day, she was caught red-handed by her father in this strange act, and as an orthodox devotee he was extremely upset. He rebuked her and told her not to repeat the sacrilegious act in the future. A new garland was then offered to the Lord that day. Legend says that that very night the Lord appeared to Vishnucitta in his dream and asked him why he had discarded Kothai’s garland instead of offering it to Him. The Lord is believed to have told Vishnucitta that He had whole-heartedly accepted Kothai’s offering all this time. This moved Vishnucitta so much even as he started to realize the Divine Love that existed between the Lord and his daughter. From this day on, Kothai is respected by the devotees and came to be known as “Aandaal”, the girl who “ruled” over the Lord. She is also known by a phrase “Soodi kodutha Sudarkodi” which means “The bright creeper-like woman who gave her garlands after wearing them”.

Now that we have heard both, how was one different from the other. The difference between one being punished and the other being elevated to Godly status lies in the intent. While Sangaa smelt the garland / flower for herself, Kothai thought it fit to try on the garland to see if it suited her Lord, ie was the garland worthy of beautifying her beloved. It was her devotion and love for the Lord that made the difference. While the two Naynaars, one who did not hesitate even when facing the Land’s Queen with the entire might of the King’s retinue looking on, and the other – a mighty King, upholding the law, even if it meant striking down his favorite queen, and a beautiful one at that. Such was their devotion.

Was this the inspiration behind Mahendra Pallava’s sculptural quest

Since the site is dedicated to sculpture and its easy to fall in love with Pallava sculpture, it was very difficult for me to do this post. Quite often we get so obsessed with our favorites to the point of becoming fanatics. I am one such proclaimed Pallava fanatic. Quite often Kathie would drag me back to ground zero with interesting questions and photos from the middle kingdom. One such fanatical quest was that of Mahendra Pallava and his sculptural quest. A King hitherto unparalleled in his pursuit for artistic excellence in my eyes. But a chance glance at a collection of photos of Dr. Mohammed Tajuddin KHAN of an impressive cave in Andra Pradesh – the Undavalli Caves (Guntur District about 6km south west of Vijayawada, 22km north west of Guntur City and about 280 km from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh – thanks wiki) propped up some interesting questions.

I tried to check with Sri Dhivakar, who had done much research on the early life for Mahendra Pallava for his book – vichitracithan. Two interesting informations came out of the interaction – one – these caves were excavated between the 4th and 6th C.E (The caves are associated with the Vishnukundina kings of 420 to 620 A.D), definitely predating Mahendra Pallava’s famous excavation in Mandagapattu and two – Mahendra spent a good part of his early life in and around these parts. ( Simha Vishnu had a Vishnukundin Wife !!)

Before we start inferring anything from above, lets compare the sculpture styles under question. without burdening you with two many, am just throwing in one door guardian from both sites and a pillar each.


The pillar design, fluting, styling – the stance of the door guardian, the flexing of his hips down to his mace, the way he places his hands on his hips – the the lion banner on the pillar.

On the other extreme side, we can argue as to if Mahendra was responsible for carving the Undavalli caves – but then the time frame sets us back by atleast 50 to 100 years.

One more clue – is again the main argument proposed for Mahendra as the originator of cave or rock cut architecture is the famous Mandagapattu inscription. Let us see it once more now.

I quote Dr Nagaswamy’s words below

http://www.tamilartsacademy.com/books/mamallai/new-light.xml


Let us study the inscription itself. What does the inscription say? It says that this temple, dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva was caused to be made by Vicitracitta, without the use of brick, mortar, wood or metal. It does not mention that this was being excavated for the first time in South India. Nor in any of his subsequent inscriptions Mahendra assumed a title, commemorating this great achievement of his life. He was certainly fond of titles and could have assumed a title like “the first excavator of cave” Adyaguhayatanakari or some such thing. We do not come across any such titles in his inscription.
None of the epigraphical records, both lithic and copper plates, which were issued after him, refer to Mahendra’s achievement in excavating caves for the first time.”

But whatever we infer from the above, one thing is for sure – this was the first excavation of Pallavas.

The theory is not without speculation – as door guardians could have been carved later ( especially the ones in Mandagapattu door guardians seem to be slightly advanced in styling when compared to its own pillar designs !!)

Keeping these aside, what we infer is a logical progression. Both the styles are dramatically similar and one definitely predates the other. So, was Undavallai the inspiration behind Mahendra Pallava’s sculptural quest, heralding a golden age in south Indian cave / temple / sculpture / architecture.

For those who are still not convinced about the remarkable similarity in styles, presenting to you more parallels from other Mahendra caves and Undavalli. Believe me, this is not any trick photography – just placing them side by side for you to make your judgements.

Now, do you agree?

Another cave which offers some clues is Bhairavakonda, which we will see shortly.

Makara Thoranas an interesting link between Pallavas and Cambodia

I had loaned a book on Funan last week and found a very interesting sculpture. It reminded me of something we saw earlier in Dhalavanur. As i scrambled for the closeups and compared the two, i was stumped. Such a remarkable likeness is hard to achieve by pure chance. Oh, sorry forgot to put the pictures, so that you can all see the same – these are Makhara Thoranas ( The Crocodile Arches). Initially they just looked like some decorative motif, but then slowly a pattern emerged.


Many thanks to Mr. Andy Brouwer for readily giving me the permission to use his amazing snaps .

www.andybrouwer.co.uk/blog/

Do you see the amazing similarity between these two sculptures. lets see them a bit closer

So, it got me thinking of why and how – an imaginary creature adorning an early Pallava cave in late 630 AD could find such a twin parallel in far off Cambodia – Sambor Prei Kuk. Was this just a decorative motiff or is there more into this. When i searched the scriptures, a few references popped up here and there. But mostly were passing references to decorative stuff.

For eg, this 12th Tirumurai

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1228&padhi=72&startLimit=1071&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

He had makara-toranas, beautiful bunches of areca-nuts
And severed banana-trees, peerless streamers
And garlands arranged in beauteous rows
And thus had the whole city with its long streets
Beautified with auspicious decorations;
It looked as though, the flawless, ethereal city itself
Had come down to the earth.
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

Similar references come in the Ramayana as well. But what in essence is this creature, its sure an auspicious sign – denoting the higher heavens – so whenever a mighty city or godly dwelling was implied, the sculptor threw in the makara – the design elements have evolved into similar structures in most later Chola temples.

We miss these beauties in many later temples as well – Take a look at this decorative hand rail in Darasuram.

And this amazing Gyana Saraswathi from Rajendra’s Gangaikondacholapuram ( thanks to Mohandass for the photos) – the last dnap indicates the two wonderful makaras where the arch starts.


This pursuit led me to seek the guidance of hereditary architect and master sculptor Mr. K.P. Umapathy Stapathi. He was kind enough to explain the nuances of the makara thorana, its design elements combining 6 different species into one and integrating all of them into one confluence of fluid art, the variety of creepers at the base complementing the delightful curves of the front piece. He was kind enough to send us this illustrated photo to identify them.

It will be interesting to compile and study similar thoranas from various places.