Breathing life into stone

Why is the genius of the Pallava sculptor not recognised despite numerous examples which stare right at us. Take for example, these two sets of sculptures from the Arjuna Ratha of the famous Five ratha complex ( whoever came up with these fancy names for these rathas!!), we have already seen a masterpiece in the other wall. We take two more such from the other two walls. Each a gem on its own.

While we were discussing the evolution of the Ardhanari image, we postulated on how the sculptor had brought in the Bull mount to balance the composite form. But was it just a freak moment of sheer brilliance or was it an evolution. Today we are going to see that it was not just a convenient introduction but a masterful confluence of two forms of Shiva.

Lets look at the this form of shiva – rishabandhika – Shiva with his mount. This is from the Arjuna Ratha in Mamallapuram.

These sculptures are classic Pallava styling with minimalistic ornamentation, pleasing body lines but spectacular styling.

I know some of you are already asking, whats so great about this sculpture.It looks pretty normal if not falling short. There seems to be something wrong with his torso and especially his chest. Did the sculptor make a mistake or ….?

Ok, Let me explain.

First of all, its a monolith, carved out of living rock, second its a relief sculpture and lastly, it carries the hall mark of Pallava craftsmanship.

Take a look at this angle, you will understand what i mean.

For Shiva is sculpted not facing you but half turned in profile. See how the master sculptor has made use of the available canvas – since he didnt have enough space to sculpt Shiva facing fully out, he has made masterly use of the depth available to sculpt him in profile

Though this is not a good angle ( thanks Ashok for the picture, you always come with different angles! ), but i am showing this to demonstrate his amazing use of depth and perspective. You can also see the angle of shoulders indicating how the torso has been angled to show a sideward pose. How he managed to visualise it in stone and managed to deliver is mind boggling.

Now, you will be able to better understand the Ardhanari evolution as a confluence of this image mingling with the Ardhanari.

As another example of the Pallava sculptor’s superlative stonecraft, we visit another spectacular pose from the other wall of the Arjuna ratha.

For a second, you forget that this is stone.

Not that angle, view it from this angle.

Look at how he has sculpted the Royal couple, the lady is calling her beloved who turns his head to answer her. Just close your eyes for a second, visualise her voice. ” My dear lover, “.. He turns around ” What is it sweetheart ….”

Breathing life into stone, that’s what the Pallava sculptor did!! It just needs some patient viewing and tuning to his frequency and wavelength.

15 thoughts on “Breathing life into stone

  1. Makes me wonder…these people didnt have any photosop or maya 3d or any other design software..nor it is a paper art to erase and redraw…they must have had a amazing power packed processing system in their head!!

  2. ஆஹா! என்ன ஒரு கலைத்திறன், பல்லவர்கள் தொலை நோக்குப் பார்வையாலே கற்றளி ஏற்படுத்தினர் என்றால் அவர்களது சிற்பிகள் முப்பரிமாணத் தோற்றத்தில் ஆயிரம் ஆண்டுகள் கடந்தும் மனதை கொள்ளை கொள்ளும் வகையில் சிலைகள் படைத்துள்ளனரே!!!

    இன்றைய காலகட்டத்தில் 2D படத்தையே இதற்கு மேல் சொதப்ப முடியாது என்ற அளவுக்கு படம் போட்டுவிட்டு, அதனை ஆசிரியர் வெளியிடவில்லை என்று கோபப்படுவோர் ஆயிரமாயிரம்.

    ஆனால் 1300 ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன், எந்த ஒரு தொழில்நுட்பமும் வளராத காலத்தில் (3D) முப்பரிமாணத் தோற்றத்தில் கற்பனை செய்து, அதனை கல்லில் சிறிதும் தவறின்றி வடிக்கவேண்டுமானால் எவ்வளவு தவம் வேண்டும்!!! சாதரணமாக பார்த்தால் இதன் நுட்பம் தெரியாது, ஆழ்ந்து கவனித்தால்தான் ஓரளவுக்காவது புரியும்.

    ஏன்னா, இங்க செத்த பாருங்கோ நம்மளை படம்பிடிச்சு எல்லாருக்கும் காட்டிட்டார் இந்த விஜய்…

  3. “ஆனால் 1300 ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன், எந்த ஒரு தொழில்நுட்பமும் வளராத காலத்தில்”

    Satheesh…do we know for sure? Just because we dont know something, we conviniently say that our ancestors didnt had the technology. ‘katrathu kai man alavu’ sir. 🙂

    Recently, I wrote in the PS group about the Bee Movie – that as per known laws of Aerodynamics, Bees cannot fly. But still Bees fly because they dont bother what the humans think 🙂

    So what we think/perceive might be totally different from the fact.

    My father knows basic electronics, plumbing, electrical work, carpentary, a bit of masanory and any other household work you name it, he knows it apart from him banking knowledge. He is a SSLC second attempt. I dont know anything and I have B.Sc, MCA, PGDBA and PMP.
    whom will you call more knowledgeable, me or my father???? I will definitely say ‘my father’ 🙂

  4. அவங்க கற்பனையை விட அதை ஆய்வு செய்யும் உங்கள் கற்பனைத் திறன் வியக்க வைக்கிறது.

    //உயிர் சிற்பம் என்றால் என்ன? இதுவே அது. அதை நாம் ஆத்மார்த்தமாக உணர வேண்டும்//

    உணர வைத்துவிடுகிறீர்கள். நன்றி.

  5. Simply terrific. But there is a problem VJ despite my attempts, I am unable to have a closer view of the pics by clicking on them… it seems to take ages. Can you help. I must admit though that for sometime I did not have a steady net connectivity. But even after that improved, the difficulty remains. Anyways.

  6. Hi Srinivasan sir, we try and limit the image sizes to as low as possible without loosing out on quality. we had some issues last week but should be better now.


  7. To understand, Mahamalaipram, you should visit Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchi. This temple is the first temple built in India, dedicated to the Sun. The artisans were Greeks, Persian and locals of the Kandahar school. The Pallavas encouraged their artisans to adopt their skills on granite. Each one of the pagodas was a replica of the Kailasanatha model. They succeeded. Mahamalaipuram was thus the experimental station for granaite. Most of the original temples in Kanchi were of sansdstone.

  8. Shri. Narasimhan says and I quote “The artisans were Greeks, Persian and locals….” The locals were not ordinary people. They belong to the Viswakarma or Viswabrahmin community, who were considered to be the descendants of Lord Viswakarma who created the world. They are the great sthpathis and shilpis, that is great sculptors and master craftsmen, who followed the tenets of Vastu science. As somebody said the singular greatest contribution by a community to this country were not that of the princely community as they could not defend our country’s borders from various invaders, neither that of the priestly community who could not spread our ancient religion beyond our country, but that of the Viswakarma community consisting of artisans and artifiers, who created monuments such as the Brahadeswara Temple in Thanjavur, Sun Temple in Konarak, the creations in Ellora and Ajanta, the Khajuraho Temple, the creations in Mammallapuram and a whole lot of palaces and temples lying throughout the length and breadth of this country, which attract a whole lot of foreign visitors to our country and make them astounded by the breath-taking artistic monuments and the technology possessed by our country in creating such monuments during those age-old days. Let us salute them for their contribution. And, I request Shri. Pradeep to shed light on them in his writings.

  9. Dear Vijay,

    In the above article about Arjuna ratha you use the word RATHA actually it is not ratha type it is origanally a temple built by NarasimhavarmanI,but around 14th or 15th century religious war between shaiva and vaishnava people who fought themsleves but at the end vaishnava people won and destoryed most of lingams in all rock cut temples you may notified in mamallapuram rock cut temples and then vaishanavas named all the places belong to their religion and vishnu god for eg:- pancha padava ratha, ramanujar mandapam, krishna’s butter rock, arjuna penance it is keep on going not only arjuna ratha all the rock cut temples are made as temples only on those days,so in future if you wrote any article about mamallapuram kindly use the word temples,because historical information should be truth and should be very open to all the hisotry lovers.
    Refernence Book Name:-Narasimhavarman
    Author:-Mayilai. Seni.Venkatasami

  10. dear Ragavendar,

    With due respects to the author, there are many new findings, postulates based on these new discoveries etc – I beg to differ on your views and submit below:

    1. Agree that Ratha is a common usage and Monolithic rockcut vimana is a more apt word – however, the objective of these posts are not to be read as scholarly dissertations but more as interesting insights to spur people on to develop an interest in such art. sadly we do not have the names of any of these ` rathas’

    2. To say that all the ‘ rathas’ had Lingam inside is grossly wrong. A barrel shaped ` ‘Bhima’ ratha was most certainly styled for a sayana perumal. The ` draupadi’ ratha has the durga/kotravai still. If you analyse the sculptures in the ‘Dharamaraja’ ratha – you will know that even though it is dedicated to Siva, it carries sculptures of Vishnu on Garuda, Kalinga mardhana etc. I do agree with you on the Ramanuja Mandapa – which was a shaivite shrine – which was vandalised and attempted to be converted.


  11. நல்ல பதிவு.இது போல சிறிய புடைப்புச் சிற்பங்கள் பற்றிய விரிவான பதிவுகள் அவசியம்.ஓவியம் கூடுதல் தகவல்.நன்றி.

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