A mole that adorns the chest of Vishnu – Srivatsam

Today we are going to see a bronze – not any bronze, but a spectacular Chola bronze. They are world famous for their beauty but its not just beauty that sets them apart. What is it in a Chola bronze that makes them so special?

Is it the craftsmanship, the artistic work, pleasing lines, attention to detail, expressions – no, its all of this put together plus something more. Maybe once you finish this post you will be able to understand what i am trying to convey.

To start with, lets take a look at the bronze, it stands in the Delhi Museum.

Vishnu – the protector. We have seen various forms of stone sculptures, but working in bronze, frees up the craftsmen to really pour out his heart. We have already seen in the earlier post on Bronze Umai of Singapore Museum, about the Lost wax method. But here is a beautiful verse from a unique Devotee, one who fell in love with the Lord, or rather who made the Lord fall in love with her!! Aandal
( A chance search yielded a ref to the verse in English

My beautiful lover, it is as if he has put clay around me and
poured molten metal into my heart.

and thanks to Sri Dhivakar we have the actual verse below)

The verse in transliterated Tamil with meanings below

mazhaiyE! mazhaiyE! maN puRam pUSi uLLAi ninRa
mezhugu URRinARpOl URRu nal vE’nkaTattuL ninRa
azhagap pirAnAr tammai en ne’njattu agappaDat
tazhuva ninRu ennai tagaittuk koNDu URRavum vallaiyE

Oh rainy clouds! like the clay which embraces the wax mold, which on being fried in the oven melts the wax, The azhagar of tiruvenkatam has embraced me outside, and is melting me inside out and destroying me. Wont you first unite me with Him so that I can embrace Him closely just as I am imagining in my mind, and then shower your rains.

The protector that he is, how does the craftsmen bring the benevolence and love in his face. A face that should be so radiant that it can charm every devotee.

Not only that, he is Alankara Priya. Meaning, loves being dressed up.

Now, we have seen the beauty, but the detailing ( hey i am coming to the topic just now)

Watch carefully. A test to your observation skills as usual.

Ok, a hint, watch closely, just above the right breast.

What is that. Not a barcode or a casting defect. Its the birth mark or mole of Vishnu. Read this sanskrit verse to know what it is ( thanks to Geetha Amma)

durdAntha daithya visikha ksahtha-pathrabhangam
veerasya tE VibudhanAyaka baahumadhyam |
SrIvathsa Kousthubha RamA VanamAlikAnkam
chinthAnubhUya labhathE charithArTathAm na: ||

Oh Dhaiva NaayakA! The unrighteous asurAs fight with You in battles and
wound Your chest with their arrows. You destroy them and yet bear the welt
originating from those arrows of the asurAs like a reminder of those
victorious battles. These arrow marks criss crossing each other on your chest
appear like a varNakkOlam (geometric patterns with different hues). On the
same Chest are seen the blue birth mark (maRu) celebrated as SrIvathsam,
he red gem known as Kousthubham, the wild flower garland revered as
VanamAlai (garland made up of wild flowers) and on top of every thing adorning
Your chest is golden-hued MahA LakshmI, who defines your auspicious
svabhAvam and Svaroopam. All of these special adornments on your chest shed
multiple reflections on the VarNakkOlam caused by the asurA’s arrows.
adiyEn’s mind enjoys the sevai of that valorous chest marked by so many
auspicious lakshaNams and considers itself as the most fortunate among all chethanams.

Now ladies and Gentlemen, thats how you enjoy a Chola Bronze.

A creator’s creation creates his Creator’s likeness – then who is the creator

Today we head back to Pullamangai – Brahmapurisvarar temple. A treasure trove of miniature panels and we are going to see a whole ….lost for the right phrase to describe it!! Want to say something that will sound – like when Steve Irwin lands up on a viper’s nest or a pool filled with crocs. Isn’t she a beauty! Crickey, she’s a fiesty one!! How else to describe these. One particular sculpture, where the master sculptor – the master creator that he is, has tried to create the creator likeness. Well, if a creator creates his creator’s likeness – who is the creator. Read on to understand why i say this.

A very important legend is sculpted into these panels. The legend of Shiva – the one without an end or a beginning, the omni potent and omni present, the legend of Lingothbhava. This is a very important sculpture and a concept that was entwined into later temple building canons to occupy a permanent position on the the Shivaite temple architecture – into the Vimanam, positioned on the rear of the sanctum.

The objective of this post is not to hurt anyone’s sentiments, but just a simple reproduction of the legend as required to explain the sculpture.

There are ofcourse umpteen things to notice in this panel.

To start with we see the whole composition from far. There are 4 different parts of this sculpture and we will take each one in detail to view and study.

The main Lingothbhava sculpture.

The legend first – For the uninitiated, Hinduism’s basic trinity play a big role here – The creator ( must be five faced before this episode) Brahma, The preserver Vishnu and the destroyer Shiva. The story goes thus, once there arose an argument between Brahma and Vishnu, as to whose role / job was bigger and thus who was numer uno. As they kept on arguing, a huge pillar of fire emerged in front of them and a heavenly voice declared that whoever can find the start or end of the pillar is the best. Brahma took the form of a Swan and flew upwards to reach the summit and Vishnu took the form of a Boar and started digging down to find the base. They continued for ages without any success, when finally Vishnu gave up. Brahma on the other hand, noticed a flower falling down. He asked where was it coming from and the flower replied that it was falling down for ages from the top, not wanting to give up, Brahma convinced the flower to lie and brought it as proof to Vishnu to state that he had won the wager and collected the flower from the summit. At this point, from inside the fiery pillar Shiva burst forth and plucked out the lying head of Brahma ( he became 4 faced henceforth), and since he had lied, made a ruling that henceforth he wasn’t fit for worship ( so you generally don’t see Hindu Shrines dedicated to Brahma in India). Incidentally the said flower was also made unfit for worshiping within temples henceforth.

Both Brahma and Vishnu accepted that their ego had made them not realise the obvious that it was Shiva in front of them and he was Aaadhi andan ( endless, no beginning , no end). Now we return to the sculpture to view the characters.

Brahma flying upwards, Vishnu as the Boar boring down. Shiva (sadly badly mutilated) bursting from inside the pillar.

To the left and right, of this main panel – we see amazing sculptures of Brahma and Vishnu.

The facial features of Brahma are so exquisite – despite the legend, the sculptor has not once missed to shape the creator’s likeness – So, if a creator creates his creator’s likeness – who is the creator

Hey, this is not a movie or play, to end with the title. We have more beauties to take notice and enjoy.

We have some spectacular miniatures below the main panel, which we will see one by one. The panels first

We have already seen the famous Chandesaanugrahamurthy sculpture from Gangaikonda cholapuram. He is a pint sized beauty of the same. Shiva is shown fondly bedecking a flower garland on Chandesa’s head.

The next is Vishnu lying down on the coils of Adisesha with Lakshmi and another attendant.

This looks like Shiva and Paravathi – The posture seems to resemble Shiva as Gangadhara

The other side, we have three attendants, heavenly beings or royal persons

Next to them, is a very interesting miniature again – Shiva as Maha Sadhashiva. or is it Brahma??

Down below, we come to the last miniature in the panel ( there are of course some lovely Yaali rows which we will see in another subsequent post)

This has Shiva and Parvathi , kind of sitting on a throne with one leg bent ( upto the Knee) and kind of casually put on the throne. Its so amazing that they could sculpt to this detail in this scale. There is a cute Shiva Ghana by the side as well. Well inorder to truly appreciate the greatness of this we got to give you our signature photo – a scale comparison.

Satheesh’s masterstroke …another miniature from the same temple but with a car key by its side.

Picture courtesy’s are for our inhouse specialist Satheesh and Varalaaru.com archives.

The demon Kabanda who helped Rama- Prambanan sculpture

Thanks to a chance meeting with a fellow Ponniyin Selvan enthusiast yesterday ( Mr Sakthis) who had just returned from a business trip to Jakarta, he showed some photos of his friend of the famed Ramayana Panels of Parambanan in Jog Jakarta (Though the temple suffered serious damage due to earthquakes, restoration work is progressing well), reminded me to complete this long pending post. This is a long post, with some detailed references and would like our readers to take their time in reading through, to fully understand the beauty of the sculpture and the importance of this scene to the Ramayana. Its quite amazing how such could be so deftly sculpted.

A very important episode in Ramayana, filled with lots of twists and turns, splendidly depicted in far off Indonesia, is a feast for us today.

Story first: Following the introduction, its a very important stage in the Ramayana, Rama and Lakshmana are returning from Mareecha episode and find Sita missing. They panic and search everywhere. No one is able to help.

At this point they enter a forest which is very mysterious, for there is no living creature big or small in sight. There is a deathly calm and just as they were wondering what was the reason, out comes this hideous creature.

The creature was so huge, but was in essence only a trunk – no distinctive head ( ok the sculpture we see has a head !!, but no proper legs or arms, instead has tentacle like arms stretching to a Yojana ( ten miles!!), he had a massive gaping mouth in his belly – so huge that on seeing it Lakshmana compares it to the entrance arch of a huge city.

Now, lets view the sculpture. Thanks to the net, also found this lovely resource displaying sketches of the entire illustrated Ramayana panels from Parambanan. Very useful for someone to identify the sculptures with this as a guide


Now, as usual, the brothers get into action, which is what we see in the scene, chopping off each of the arms of the creature. Now, comes the interesting part, in this stage, the Demon addresses them as Rama and Lakshmana and implores on them to consign his massive body to flames. Rama asks him, how does he know them and hence he goes on to narrate his story thus.

[Source: Dowson’s Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology]

He was actually a Ghandharva Dhanu, who had done penance on Brahma ( who else) and got the power of immortal life. Drunk on his power of immortality he committed a disrespectful act against a holy sage ( Sthoolasira ?), who cursed him to loose his beauty and eternal life as a demon. Mortified Dhanu asks how he can get release from the curse and return to his Ghandarva form , the rishi said, ‘when Rama burns you, after cutting your
arms, you will get back your form’ – ref slOkam below [which this disfigured
and arms cut khabandha relates to Rama and lakshmaNa now] –

yadhaa Chiththvaa bhujou Rama: thvaam dhahEth vijanE vanE || 3-71-6
thadhaa thvam praapsyasE roopam svam Eva vipulam *s*ubham |

To add to this, in his demonic form, Khabanada ( or Kaavanda), fought against Indra, the lord of the gods, who used his weapon Vajra ( thunderbolt) against him.

*s*riyaa viraajitham puthram dhano: thvam vidhdhi lakshmaNa || 3-71-7
indhra kOpaath idham roopam praaptham Evam raNaajirE |

meaning: Oh, LakshmaNa, you may know me as the most handsome son of Dhanu,
and this misshaped form has chanced on me owing the ire of Indhra in

*Comment:* With that disfigured form and because of longevity of life, he
fought with celestial king dhEvEndhra. DhEvEndhra with his vajra aayudham –
thunderbolt – stuck Dhanu.

thasya baahu pramukthEna vajrENa shatha parvaNaa || 3-71-10
sakthinee cha *s*ira: caiva *s*areerE sampraveshitham |
anaahaara: katham shakthO bhagna sakthi *s*iro mukha: || 3-71-12
vajrENa abhihatha: kaalam su dheergham api jeevithum |

meaning: [khabhandhan says story to raama and lakshmaNa] – But the
thunderbolt that has a hundred cutting edges and that which is launched from
Indra’s hand has rammed my head and thighs into my body. [Slokam 10]

Then I asked indhra – ‘By the impact of thunderbolt disarranged are my
thighs and head, thereby my mouth, went into my stomach. And without thighs
how can I prowl, without arms how can I scrabble, and without a mouth how
can I guzzle, and how am I capable to live on, and when that living is also
destined for too long a time to come’ [slokam 12]

sa Evam uktha: mE *s*akrO baahoo yojanam aayathou || 3-71-13
thadhaa cha aasyam cha mE kukshou theekshNa damshTram akalpayath |

meaning: When I said this Indhra, Indhra devised for me a ‘yojana long’
arms, and also that way a rapier-fanged mouth in my paunch.

[so these long arms stretching to a yojana – {one yojana I read somewhere as
10 miles} and blade like teeth in the fang etc are indhra given and see in
next slokam what he is eating]

( Look at the sculpture – you can see the tentacles still left on one side – one even then eyeng the frog – but also see the head, hands and legs – maybe not a 100% true depiction)

so~aham bhujaabhyaam dheerghaabhyaam sankrushya asmin vanE charaan ||
simha dhvipi mruga vyaaghraan bhakshayaami samanthatha: |
sa thu maam abraveeth indhrO yadhaa raama: sa lakshmaNa: || 3-71-15
ChethsyathE samarE baahoo thadhaa svargam gamishyasi |

* *

meaning: Such as I am, I have been eating the lions, elephants, animals, and
tigers that are on the move in this forest, hauling them in with both my
overlong arms. [Slokam 14]. Indra has also said to me, ‘as and when Raama
hacks off your arms, along with LakshmaNa, in a conflict, then you can go to
heaven…’ and vanished.

In return, he promises to provide vital clues about Sita. At this point Rama is a bit worried, being a demon will he keep his word. He asks him to give him the information and then he would burn him. For which the demon refuses, saying what if they take the information and leave him. So there is a standoff

aham hi mathi saachivyam karishyaami nara rishabha || 3-71-19
mithram chaiva upadhEkshyaami yuvaabhyaam samskrithO agninaa |

meaning: ‘Oh, impetuous man Raama, if I were to be beatified by you two by
incinerating me in fire, I will advice you about the next course of your
action. I will further advise you about your prospective friend” So said
Khabandha to Raama.

*Point:* raama did not straightaway accept that – started explaining how he
knows the only portion of story ‘that raavaNa lifted seethaa and left, and
beyond that he does not know any thing’. This also leads all, to think a
sort of mutual distrust existed between raama and khabhandhan – for a
shortwhile – for – if I burn him then perhaps he will be released from his
curse and may not be able to remember what information he had or has
collected earlier with or in that body.

On the other hand khabandhan had the distrust, ‘if I tell the guiding
message now, after receiving it, if these two vanish, without burning me,
then my release is not there’. That kind of ‘mutual distrust situation’.
After a while, raama asks khabhandhan, ‘please show mercy’ and assures ‘we
will fulfill your request’. Perhaps you may have another opinion also, ‘why
should raama ask for mercy or beg before such fellows like khabandhan’ and
not show his super human power. Please recall that statement – ‘aham
maanusham manyE’ – ‘think that I am a man’ – even at the end of the great
war with raavaNan and that too after brahma says you are so and so and not
simply a man – so he acts like a man having doubts and distrust and all that

*s*Oka aarthaanaam anaathhaanaam Evam viparidhaavathaam || 3-71-23
kaaruNyam sadhru*s*am karthum upakaarE cha varthathaam |
kaashTaani aaneeya bhagnaani kaalE sushkaaNi kunjarai: || 3-71-24
dhakshyaama: thvaam vayam veera *s*vabhrE mahathi kalpithE |
* *

meaning: It will be apt of you to show befitting mercy on us, who are
anguished by agony, running all over helter-skelter like unsheltered ones,
and we will be compliant for your restitution. Oh, brave Khabandha, on
bringing dried firewood that was rent at times by elephants, and on digging
a large trench, we will incinerate you in it.

*Point:* see the words ‘sOka arthaanaam anaathhaanaam’ – one who has all the
wealth at his command says I have only sOkam – deep sorrow only as my
wealth, the whole world looks upon him as their lord and he says I am
anaathha – lordless. [Yes of course he has no one above him so he is

sa thvam seethaam samaachakshva yEna vaa yathra vaa hruthaa || 3-71-25
kuru kalyaaNam athyartham yadhi jaanaasi thaththvatha: |

meaning: Such as you are, if you actually know who stole Seethaa, or where
to she was stolen, either, you clearly inform about her, [when incinerated],
thus you will be rendering a most gracious deed to me, and to all
concerned”. Thus Rama made clear of his case.

Comment: when Rama thus agreed ‘to concede to khabandhan’s request’ for
incineration, see now khabandhan commands ‘please do it fast before sun

kim thu yaavath na yaathi astham savithaa *s*raantha vaahana: |
thaavath maam avaTe kshipthvaa dhaha raama yathaa vidhi || 3-71-31

meaning: “Oh, Raama, soon you have to toss me into trench to burn me
customarily, sooner, for the Sun is going to Mt. Dusk when his horses are

Dhagdha: thvayaa aham avaTE nyaayEna raghunandhana |
vakshyaami tham mahaaveera ya: tham vEthsyathi raakshasam || 3-71-32

meaning: “Oh, Raama, the legatee of Raghu, when I am burnt by you in a
trench as per rituals, oh, great valiant Raama, for sure, I will tell of
him, who can quiet fathom that demon [who carried your wife seethaa].

Evam ukthou thu thou veerou kabandhEna nara ee*s*varou |
giri pradharam aasaadhya paavakam visasarjathu: || 3-72-1
lakshmaNa: thu mahaa ulkaabhi: jvalithaabhi: samanthatha: |
chithaam aadheepyaamaasa saa prajajvaala sarvatha: || 3-72-2

meaning: When Khabandha said that way, both those brave men and lords of
people, on throwing the body of Khabandha into a mountain cleft and then
embedded it with firewood. On his part Lakshmana started to torch that pyre
with highly sparkling torches from all over, and even that pyre too suddenly
blazed with blazes from all over.

Its already a long post, so let me cut this short, out of the Pyre emerges a radiant Danu and as promised advises Rama about the abduction of Sita by Ravana.

He also goes on to offer him a very important piece of advise, in his fight against Ravana – he says he cant go in alone, but could get help from the monkey army. But inorder to do that, he guides him to help Sugreev win his kingdom from Vaali, making him indebted to Rama. Thus Danu comes out as a very shrewd negotiator ( he got his work done before giving advise) and also advises Rama aptly, maybe if Vaali by his superior strength could have fought Ravana single handedly ( we seen the humbling of Ravana by Vaali earlier in sculpture), but then Vaali was a good friend of Ravana, and there would be no reason for him to support Rama. Hmmm

The vanishing wonders of Mogalrajapuram caves- Vijayawada

Many thanks to Sri Dhivakar for visiting this amazing cave and sharing his experiences and photographs with us. We need to do some more study of the sculptures and would be grateful if readers near Vijaywada can assist in some closeup, high resolution images of the same. Now over to the author for a wonderful guest post:

Its hard to separate Vijayawada from Kanaka Durga, even in our dreams, but today we are not going to see the famous Kanakadurga seated on the sacred abode of Indrakilaadhri, but a 1400 year old sculpted stone Durga and the rock cut caves of Mogalrajapuram (situated in the center of the city only). Some scholars account this to early 5th Century which is quite mind blowing.

In the midst of the sprawling town of Vijayawada, there are two caves which have barely survived, carved into a low hillock not higher than 10 feet. These caves which are under the upkeep of ASI, hold these surprising treasures.

The sculptors have cut into live rock and created a small room to host the main sculpture. The sculpture is much worn out and we have hardly make out the features. We can clearly make out a tail and an animal – a lion behind the sculpture.

As per the ASI board this is Durga.

Can a mere lion mount characterise a sculpture as Durga, the posture and the body proportions create enough doubts in our minds.

Taking the ASI stand that this is indeed Durga, this could be earliest depiction of Her in South India. Dr Kalaikkovan in his lovely work ` Mahendra Kudavaraigal’ lists the vallam ( near chengalpattu) Kotravai sculpted by Gommai as the oldest depiction of Her in South India. The above could make a strong contention to that stand.

The next hillock have some interesting sculptures and designs. The pillar designs are very familiar and the kudus on top contain some very advanced sculptures apparently of the Trinity.

There is a wonderful row of alternating lions and elephants above them and then there is a very badly worn sculpture right on top of this row. You can see the Demon being pressed down by a foot and then only the top portion with only 6 hands wielding various weapons n attributes. The posture and the silhouette of the weapons seem to suggest that this could be a depiction of Mahishasuramardhini but the popular contention is that this is Nataraja. Will present the early chalukya sculptures of Aihole, Badami – natraja ( is he depicted with the asura underneath Shiva as Nataraja) and Mahishasuramardhini ( with Mahisha being trampled ..) later on.

We might need some very detailed closeups of the weapons held in the hands to come to a clear verdict. But the technique is quite advanced and these could be dated to late 6th or 7th Centuries. Compare the kudus with those of Mahendra’s Dhalavanur.

Sadly these unique caves have not quite got the publicity they deserve and hardly anyone visits them. When will people realise the greatness of these treasures and give them the respect that is due to them.

Tanjore Big Temple – Vyaala row

In the previous post, we had seen the top row …many friends, even regular visitors to the Tanjore temple confessed that they have missed that row. So we rub it in a bit more, by featuring the bottom row as well. ( Thanks again to Satheesh for his excellent observation, use of props!! and photography)

Lets see if you can spot them first.

Hmm, let me make this easier for you all

next set

next set

next set

So, lets take a closer look at these beautiful Vyalaas, aren’t they Gorgeous.

The corners of these already miniature Vyalaas are even more spectacular. They have their own emerging rider similar to their bigger cousins on the top row. For good measure they have thrown an even smaller sculpture on top!

The ball pen cover provides us with an idea of scale.

To top all this, we also see a splendid miniature of Shiva as Gajasamharamurhty – Yaaniuri porthiya murthy.

So next time you visit the big temple, don’t just stop in amazement at its massiveness, take time to appreciate the smaller and subtle beauties as well.