The mystery behind the horns of Pallava Door Guardians

Friends, i am writing about a man who changed the course my life’s pursuits. Its a tale of selfless service, the reach of the net, information sharing,knowledge assimilation, leaving a lasting impression on the generations to come. I read that Einstein once said ” If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants”, thereby acknowledging the contributions of the scholars before him.

To start with, i have never met this person. For, he passed away in 1988, long before i even knew where i was headed in life.

when i first started my pursuit to learn sculpture, the stones of mahabalipuram were becoming not just time pass but posing some intellectual questions. spurring me to learn and read more about them. Being in Singapore didn’t help and the only way to quench my thirst was by reading books. Quality books on sculpture were heard to get, of the few good ones, some were ( are) at a higher plane than my current grade, and the rest were priced higher than what i could convince myself to spend on a hobby. The pursuit was still at the hobby stage at that time. But the thirst was still driving me and i turned to the net for help, coming across just two sites. One was Dr Nagaswamy’s tamil arts academy and the other, Dr.Gift Siromoney (30.7.1932 – 21.3.1988), M.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., F.S.S.

The posts he had graciously left behind on the net, quality content, absolutely free, easily accessible, spurred me, 20 years after his death, inspiring me to use the advances in technology, the power of the net and its networking capabilities to tap on the potential of friends, to create a site, with powerful content with an unique visual appeal, absolutely free – that even a chance encounter of a casual visitor, will make him sit up and take notice, of the treasures that our great land bore out of its intellect, help protect and preserve them for future generations. Like the legendary Ekalavya, i try to follow his effort. This effort, hopefully will outlast my human existence, and pray will inspire atleast a few like me, long after i am gone.

I take one such thread, which the great man had left behind in his site and develop – One of the first puzzles i had taken to study. Please take time to read his extensive note below:

He has supported his theory with some rough sketches, which i have developed with photographs.

The hypothesis is very simple, Are the Pallava door guardians personifications of the divine attributes ( weapons) of the Lord whom they are guarding?

To understand this better, lets take the Shiva shrines for study first. Most early Pallava shrines had door guardians who wear a curious headpiece. Various postulates have been proposed, right from horns worn by a primitive tribe, later evolution of Jaina Naga icons and even as personifications of the Nandhi.

Unfortunately the main door guardian at Vallam, which Dr. Gift analysed is not clear enough ( thanks to Prof Swaminathan and Chandru sir for the photos), but i am thankful for Mr. Shriram for giving me an excellent photograph from Tirumayam cave ( though later than Mahendra ) that helps us to study the concept. We also see examples from other Mahendra caves including Mandagapattu and Seeyamangalam.

First of all, lets visit the Mahendra cave in Vallam. The cave has been pathetically managed with an ugly grill marring the entire beauty of the place. Anyway, for purpose of this study ( am thankful to Prof. Swaminthan sir and Chandru sir for sharing their photos of Vallam).I am just going to present to you a series of photos and then work on the hypothesis.

so just watch the dissimilar door guardians ( wonderfully sculpted in side profile) as compared to later temples where they are sculpted a mirror images, no two Pallava doorkeepers were done to look similar.

Notice the right side door guardian ( invariably) is carrying a set of curved horns. But are these horns. They seem to be positioned slightly below the head, where you would normally sculpt horns. Also the way the horns are attached or start – there is a very conspicuous convex curve.

Now, lets look at the left side doorguardian, he is bereft of any horns, but watch closely – he seems to have some sort of a projection in the centre of his head dress – like he has taken a serious whack and is all swollen up! Is it just a fashioning of his crown or does it signify something else?

Lets move on to Mandagapattu Mahendra cave.

Here, the right side door guardian doesn’t sport any horns. why? But not to be disappointed, we see the same protrusion in the head of the left side door guardian!!

Can you make it out now. Seems to be very much in fashion among the left door guardian. We will come back to this towards the end of the post.

Lets swing across to Seeyamangalam.

We have our horned door guardian at the right but the left side door guardian doesn’t sport the protruding crown.

But lets take a closer look at the horns. Even though they seem to occupy a more normal horn position, the curve at the base is very distinct and doesn’t look like a normal horn.

Now, thanks to Shriram we are going to see a really spectacular sculpture and example that is going to prove this postulate. These door guardians are from Tirumaayam. The right door guardian is possibly one of the best executed forms – such grace, such pristine beauty. His majestic poise is sheer poetry.

The left door guardian is slightly more subdued in his stance.

Lets peek in closer to view them. The left one does has a queer projection on top of his head. But the right door gaurdian’s head dress is worth a second look.

Lets analyse the complex curve at the base of the so called horns. Just imagine the sculpture without the face of the doorguardian.

Do you notice that there is a spike at the top of the crown. Now when you look at the three spikes as a single structure you can notice that they are indeed the three frongs of a large trident that has been superimposed on the door guardian. This could only mean that the door guardian is the personification of the Trident of Shiva – Thirisoolanathar.

In the same vein, the argument is that the protrusion on left side door guardian is the face of an Axe blade, depciting the Axe aspect of shiva ( check out the axe blade when being held by shiva in the famous chandesa sculpture in Gangaikondacholapuram) – Mazhu being the old name of the axe and hence he is called Mazhuvudayar.

Thus we see that the two door guardians are infact the Trident and Axe of Shiva

Another example from Kaveripakkam ( thanks kathie for sharing) currently in the chennai museum with the Horns!!

31 thoughts on “The mystery behind the horns of Pallava Door Guardians

  1. சாதாரணமா பாத்துட்டு நல்லா இருக்குன்னு சொல்லிட்டு போயிடறோம். இவ்வளோ விஷயங்கள் இருக்கா? :-))

  2. aRputham, one of the best research article on sculptures.

    இதைக் கல்லில் வடித்த சிற்பிகளின் ஆவி சந்தோஷப்படும் (:-. இத்தனை ஆண்டுகள் கழித்தேனும் இவ்வளவு உன்னிப்பாகக் கவனித்துச் சொல்ல ஆள் இருக்கிறார்களே என்று!!


  3. next time, when i go to temple, dwarabalakar will look different to me !!! deeper we look , there is a spirituality in all things !!!

    dwarabalakar in temples are being used by us to put holy ashes and kumkum .. .now it will be a different thing…

  4. brilliant, VJ! great job. I love them, too. Will have to examine the right-hand ones more to
    make out that Parasu. I was just looking at photos of some some Chozha ones I have and
    found sinhamukhas in crowns of both sides.
    You’ve inspired me to take them all out and study them!

  5. Excellent VJ. By reading this i came to the importance of them.The pictures and the way of explation is really fantastic.

  6. Excellent VJ.By reading this i came to know the importance of them.The pictures and the way of explanation is really fantastic!

  7. நன்றி திவா சார்,

    இன்னும் தெரிந்துக்கொள்ள நிறைய இருக்கிறது. நான் கற்றது கை மண் அளவு!!!.


  8. விஜய் அற்புதம் !!

    உங்கள் வலைப் பக்கத்தின் பெயரை மாற்றும் எண்ணம் ஏதும் உண்டா ?
    ஏனெனில் இதில் வெறும் கலை வண்ணம் மட்டும் காண்பதாக நான் எண்ணவில்லை.

    கல்லை மட்டும் கண்டால் கலைவண்ணம் தெரியாது – கலையை மட்டும் கண்டால் கல்லே தெரியாது – நாங்கள் காண்பது முதல் ரகம் என்றால் நீங்கள் காண்பது இரண்டாம் ரகம்.

    “Da Vinci Code” போல ஒவ்வொரு சிற்பமும் ஒரு புதிராக இருக்கக் கூடும். அதில் நாம் அறிந்து கொள்ளக் கூடிய ரகசியம் புதைந்து கிடக்கக் கூடும். மனித சமுதாயம் உய்யக் கூடிய ரகசியங்கள் காலம் காலமாக காப்பாற்றப் பட வேண்டி சிலை வடிவில் இன்றளவும் போராடிக் கொண்டிருக்கலாம். எல்லாவற்றையும் வெளிக் கொணர உங்கள் ஆராய்ச்சிகள் சிறந்த முன்னோடியாக இருக்கும்.

    நம்ம ஆளு ஒருத்தர் நம்மளைப் போல் இல்லாமல் ஒவ்வொரு சிற்பத்திற்கும் அர்த்தம் காண்பவராக இருக்கிறார் என்று என்னும்போது மிகவும் மகிழ்ச்சியாக இருக்கிறது.

    உங்களது “சோமாஸ்கந்தர்” பற்றிய ஆராய்ச்சிப் பதிவை படித்த பிறகு கடந்த வார இறுதியில் காஞ்சிபுரம் கைலாசநாதர் கோவிலில் வெளிப் பிரகாரத்தில் உள்ள சோமாஸ்கந்த வடிவங்களைப் பார்த்து இதன் முன்பும் சிவலிங்கங்கள் இருந்திருக்குமோ என்று எட்டிப் பார்த்தேன். ஒரே சிலிர்ப்பு – சிவலிங்கம் இருந்ததற்கான அடையாளம் அங்கே இருந்தது. அதே போல் மற்ற எல்லா இடங்களிலும் பார்த்தேன். எல்லா சோமாஸ்கந்தர் வடிவத்தின் முன்பும் சிவலிங்கம் அல்லது இதற்கு முன்பு இருந்த தடயம் தெளிவாக இருந்தது.

    எத்தனையோ முறை அந்த கோவிலுக்கு சென்றிருந்தாலும் முதன் முறையாக அக்கோவிலை முழுமையாக பார்த்த திருப்தி. இன்னும் ஏராளமான புதிர்கள் உள்ளே இருக்கும் என்றாலும் இது வரையாவது பார்த்தோமே என்ற சந்தோசம். விரைவில் நான் எடுத்த படங்களை உங்களுக்கு அனுப்பி வைக்கிறேன்.

    நன்றி !!


  9. அடியேன் தரிசித்த பல தலங்களில் துவார பாலகர்களின் கையில் உள்ள ஆயுதங்கள் மாறியிருப்பதை கவனித்துள்ளேன். வலப்புறம் உள்ளவரிட்ன் கரங்களில் சிவபெருமானின் மானும் மழுவும் விளங்கும் அதே சமயம் இடப்புறத்தாரிடம் விநாயகப்பெருமானின் அங்குசமும், பாசமும் விளங்கும். இந்த ஆயுதங்கள் எல்லாம் நம்மை தண்டிக்க அல்ல, நம்மை சரிப்படுத்த என்பதால்தான் நம் முன்னோர்கள் கடவுளர்களீன் கையில் இவ்வாயுதங்களை அளித்தனரோ?

    தாங்கள் அளித்துள்ள அஸ்திர தேவர்( திரிசூலம்), மழு துவாரபாலகர்கள் மிகவும் அருமை. முடிந்தால் நானும் சில துவாரபாலகர்களின் படங்களை தங்களுக்கு அனுப்புகின்றேன்.

    தங்கள் சேவைக்கு வாழ்த்துக்க்ள்.

  10. இவ்வளவு விஷயம் இருக்கிறதா என்று…..இப்போடியொரு பார்வைக்கு எனது வாழ்த்துக்கள்

  11. உங்கள் blogகை தோண்ட தோண்ட புதையல் கிடைகிறது. மிக்க நன்றி. இன்னும் நம் நாட்டில் கண்டறியாத அதிசியங்கள் எவ்வளவோ!! நினைத்தால் பிரமிப்பாக உள்ளது!!!!

  12. Hi Vijay,

    Doing fantastic work, I am also publishing temple details in my webpage but, I am appreciating your involvement to bring our temple architectural brilliance to the entire world. I am also ready to share photos of different temples which I captured in my camera. Keep rock.

    G. Kannan

    • Thanks Arvind. Please keep visiting and share with friends as well. If you are planning any trips, do let us know the locations.


  13. Vijay,

    This is terrific analysis. Very interesting indeed! I did notice these in my recent trip to Thirumaayam, but no such light bulb (as yours) lit up in my head 🙂 Obviously you are endowed with a better eye and intellect!

    Thanks again for the contribution. You are our Gift – pun intended!

  14. excellent work done! Recently had been to Seeyamangalam and therefore I am able to appreciate the great work done by you. Thanks .sivakumar

  15. Dear Sir
    was impressed by your analysis was recently told about the dwarapalakas by my uncle who visited seeyamangalam and now i can see your point of view. very interesting indeed….no one can really be a 100% sure of these issues but you make a very cogent argument
    thanks again

  16. Brilliant! You take a very subtle topic, research it , and present it in the most simplest terms. Thanks for your mention of Dr. Siromoney. he was indeed a multi-facted person, and his website is a great resource. Your work will prove of immense resource for ages! Just discovering your blog one page at a time. Best. –GS

  17. I am new to this site, i am very much impressed they way you are explaining the sculputures. Your site is very much informative.

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