Tracking the Evolution of the Somaskanda – Part 4

Thirukazhukundram or Thirukazhugukundram, would bring back fond memories for most Chennaites. For, invariably it would be the place where schools would take you for excursions. Can’t blame them, the choices were not great – toss up between a 99% humidity, baking sun @ 42 deg, thrown in the beach sand – Mahabalipuram, a lecture on bovine mechanics – Madhavaram Dairy , a supposedly bird watch while you end up seeing just monkeys and a few specs of white (couldnt afford decent binocs and the pooled Rs 3 cheap plastic one was dismantled even before we paid up – not that it could magnify anyting anyway ) – ok the white specs were to be cranes travelling XXXX kilometers and so the teacher went on to justify the educational tour tag – what the heck, my backyard had more birds anyday than @ Vedanthangal, last but not least it was the umteen time we got to see the shaggy cross between a cow and a deer, a python so lazy that it didnt move for like 3 years, even the chameleons were bored seeing us, the crocs were thrown into what looked like a community toilet and there was absolutely no venom left in the poor cobra to milk @ Guindy Snake Park. The graduation to the next level would be Sengi fort.

They all had a commonality – all within a couple of hours drive, cheap ( aka no entry fees) and relatively deserted on weekdays – so kids wont get lost. Tirukalukundram scored a vital point as it had ( till recently) the added attraction of the avian visitors – two vultures who turned up at the appointed hour to partake in the brunch. ( its thiru Kazhugu – vulture – kundru – hill lock and Pakshi theertham – bird sacred water – literally translated !!!).

Off we went – neatly packed like sardines in the rickety old school bus and then paired with your best pal or if you are too mischievous or talkative with a girl ( ultimate punishment till we realised that it was not, but which time we were too old to sit in the same bench as them – so much for co education !!) and make the torturous climb up the steep and unforgiving stairs – they don’t seem too steep when you are young and a ` few kilos’ lighter.

So its no surprise that this most sacred of sacred places – maybe one of the very few temples which have been sung by Appar, Sambandhar and Sundarar, is not top of the list for many. Though its just a short detour 14 kms from Mahabalipuram, not many make the trip once they start wearing colored clothing of their choice ( out of school i mean – no more navy blue i swore till i realised that it was part of corporate dressing)

When Arvind suggested a quick drive down ECR to visit this site, i quickly wound up and parked near tiruvanmiyur temple tank ( free parking !!) and hit ECR. As we passed Mahabs, seeking directions – the road turned pleasantly good and green on either side. Just as we took the last diversion ( mean the last curve to avoid) we could spot the majestic hill come into view.

As our luck could have it or otherwise, we hadn’t done our background reading well and skipped the all important Pallava Rock cut cave – Orukal Mandabam ( one rock cave) and attempted to climb to ” the temple on top of the hill“. There is considerable debate on these two shrines and hence i used the italics. We will jump to that debate in a later post when we cover the rock cut cave.

Enough of the ramble ( must be the after effects of staying up all night and reading Chetan Bagat in one go ) I am going to depend very much on Sri K. R. Srinivasan’s Cave Temples of the Pallavas henceforth, and attempt to post on the topic of the post.

After a steady ( meaning stopping every five steps and almost coming close to having a heart attack twice) – we reach the summit blaming it on the heavy lunch…we were disappointed by a a very small stone structure. All this trekking for this !!! It was some auspicious day and looked like the whole village had turned up in all their finery to have darshan of the lord – vedagirirswarar. We tried our best acrobatic moves, attempted to outdo the leaning tower and managed to fit our heads inbetween the nandhi’s ears while our torso was a full 4 feet away – to just get a peak of the moolavar. Just as we came around,we noticed that the surrounding corridor had deep clefts – where we could see the base rock and in it – pay dirt. Atlast some Pallava sculpture – relief panels at that and SOMASKANDA !!

We were all eager to check what was its styling. Classic Pallava relaxed styling despite all the wearing of the stone – you can always spot a Pallava art work. Its got a certain laid back styling and freedom in it – and a poetry that runs through it. Next question – Pre Rajasimha or post Rajasimha

Just then, we heard some commotion, a road side hero – self professed custodian of the hindu temple arrived, showering the choicest of abuses on us and accusing us of not knowing Hindu culture ( maybe it was our bermudas and camera bags) – despite our best attempts to educate the romeo that we were not taking the Garba Graha nor were these panels under worship – he was more inclined to show of his new found role to his fellow tribesmen. Pretty soon we had a whole village assembly around us with all sorts of mustached elders passing judgments. not withstanding that we had paid a hefty camera fee and there was no photography board !! It was plain ridiculous, stupid, atrocious….and if not for the fact that we were inside a temple precincts, would have asked them to just … off. All my focus was on the reminder of the two panels – one was a very wonderful Shiva seated stylistically on rishaba – now you know what i mean by classic pallava styling.

I did shoot it but then it was close to delirium and we had to give up the last one.

Anyway, surprisingly the somaskanda capture, despite the poor light and emergency shot, is good enough to attempt a detailed study

Brahma and Vishnu are inside the panel

Shiva is in his usual pose, Parvathi /Umai – well will let you decide

A snug baby skanda with his characteristic head dress.

Surely a post Rajasimha panel. The throne is pretty standard, but the vessel here is quite different from what we have seen in other such panels – its not the standard vase but more like a high bowl. Another interesting variation!!

So,now is the tricky problem. Obviously, since the temple was sung by the trio – they are dated to Mahendra’s period – 630 AD around. But Rajasimha was three generations later, so how do we explain the presence of a stylistically later dated panel in an older temple – quite simple – the temple on the hill was existing prior to this panel being sculpted. The confusion arises since the lower cave ( which we will see subsequently) has not been sung – none of the caves of Mahendra have been sung upon, while this temple on the hill has been specifically sung. So the conclusion ( book ref given earlier) is that there must have been some sort of temple structure that existed earlier – then later pallava – Rajasimha or post him did some renovation and created the current structure by standing 3 stone slab -megalithic style shrine – on which these ( hopefully i can get you the third panel via friends shortly).

More on this interesting theory with inscriptional support which lends a new angle – when we see the Pallava cave in the base of the hill shortly.

12 thoughts on “Tracking the Evolution of the Somaskanda – Part 4

  1. பன்னீர் சொம்பு போல இல்லாமல் இங்கே ஒரு வாய் அகல பாத்திரம் போல உள்ளது.

    Your observation and Comments are very nice.

    I have seen those eagles at 11 noon for taking prasadam’s during 1970’s. very steep steps like Mangalagiri Panaka Narasimha Temple.

    Good that you have covered the important ones.


  2. @ Dhivakar sir. but still rue the missed panel !!

    @ rhoda – thanks – it was fun read, but guess with the number of comments for this particular post, my ambitions of becoming a writer arent too bright.


  3. How odd, 1st 3 & last 2 photos don’t open. Maybe it’s just my Mac. You were so lucky to be able to photograph the fine Somaskanda – I didn’t even think to ask. I do have photos of the Orukal Mandabam if you want them.
    Is there a 3rd cave there?

  4. dear kathie

    we have some glitches on the site since beginning of this week. thiru is battling to set it right. till then please bear with me. Pl do send in oru kal mandabam snaps.

    3 shrines – the later structural temple on the plain, the pallava period cave on the foothills and the oldest – shrine on top of the hill.


  5. //அப்போது , தமிழ் நாட்டு வரலாற்றில் அழியா இடம் பிடிக்க வேண்டும் என , தமிழக கோயில்களை காக்க வந்த காவலன் என்று தானே பட்டம் சூடிக்கொண்டு திரியும் மடையன் ஒருவன் வந்தான். எங்களை தமிழ் கலாசாரம் தெரியாத மூடர்கள் என்று வேசி படங்கள் எடுக்கும் முட்டாள்கள் என்று கூட்டத்தை கூட்டினான். வேறு வேலையே இல்லாமால் திரியும் கூட்டம், எங்கே வம்பு என்று அலையும் கூட்டம், உடனே சபை கூடியது. எவ்வளவோ சொல்லிப் பார்த்தோம் – நாங்கள் விஷயம் தெரிந்தவர்கள், மூலவரை படம் எடுக்க மாட்டோம், இவை வழிபாட்டில் இருக்கும் சிற்பங்கள் அல்ல. கலை வளர்க்கவே எங்கள் முயற்சி என்று முறையிட்டோம். எனினும் அந்த மூடன், அவனுடன் கூடிய பஞ்சாயத்து – செவிடர்கள் கூட்டமாக மாறியது. புகை படம் எடுக்க கட்டண சீட்டு பெற்றுள்ளோம், படம் எடுக்காதே என்று அறிவிப்பு பலகை எங்கும் இல்லை என்று வாதாடினோம். இடையில் சென்று அடுத்து இருந்த ரிஷப வாஹனத்தில் ஒய்யாரமாக அமர்ந்திருந்த சிவனை படம் பிடித்தேன். பல்லவ சிற்பம் – அபாரம்.//

    வருத்தமா இருக்கு, எங்களுக்கும் இம்மாதிரி அநுபவங்கள் நேர்ந்தன. அதனாலேயே படங்கள் எடுக்கிறதுனா யோசிக்க வேண்டி இருக்கிறது. அப்படியும் உங்கள் வர்ணனையும் சிற்ப ரசனையும் அபாரம். மிக்க நன்றி. யாரும் வரலை, பின்னூட்டம் வரலைனு நினைக்காதீர்கள், எனக்குத் தெரிந்து என் நண்பர் வட்டத்தில் பலரும் உங்கள் பதிவுகளைப் படிப்பதாய்ச் சொல்லி இருக்கின்றனர். சிலருக்குப் பின்னூட்டம் கொடுப்பதில் சோம்பல், அல்லது தயக்கம் இருக்கலாம். வாழ்த்துகளும், ஆசிகளும்.

  6. நீங்க இங்கே குறிப்பிட்டு இருப்பது மூலவரின் சுற்றுப் பிரகாரம் இல்லையா? நான் சொல்லுவது சரியாக மூலவர் இருக்கும் கர்ப்பக் கிரகத்து உள் சுற்று சுவற்றில்.
    இதற்கே படம் எடுக்க அனுமதி கிடைக்கவில்லை என்பது புரிகிறது. உள்ளே படம் எடுக்க முடியாவிட்டாலும் நீங்கள் பார்க்க அனுமதி வாங்கலாம்.

  7. I have a chance to visit the world wonderfull chola tempele “pragatheeswarar” inTanjore with a special permission to see the paintings of Rajaraja cholan and Karuvurdevar and three statue in siting posture around the ‘Moolavar” and also lot of paintings seen in and arround the wall of the temple in the first inner circle of the Moolavar.Lot of focus light arranged in and arround the circle.A marvalous and wonderful paintings of the kingdom of chola samrajiyam not everseen
    in anywhere.The second circle of the ‘Moolavar’ have also contains the beautiful 64 posture of dancing girl sculpturet in 62 single stone,But 63 number stone is partly sculptured and 64 number is in plain. But the reasons not known for the incompletion of the
    the dance posture.Any reference about the resons for the incompletion of the sculpture known by the viewer Please send to the poetry in stone

    • Hi Chitrarasan, Indeed fortunate. I am hoping to get the Chola Paintings book published by Tanjore Univ this week. will try and work a few more posts on these paintings shortly.

      regarding the dance karanas and why they were left unfinished, is a mystery.


  8. Hi vijay and chitrarasan, when we visited the above mentioned area of the big temple, the person taking us around said that the reason it was not completed was because Rajaraja had passed away by then and Rajendra transferred the sculptors to Gangaikonda Cholapuram to work on the temple he was building there! Would that be a credible explanation?

  9. dear Vidya,

    The Emperor donated Gold for making the allow for the big temple’s top finial in his 25th year of reign – ie 985+25 – 1010 CE. that is the date we take for the consecration of the big temple. Rajendra was made co regent in 1012 and became sovereign in 1014 ( 29th year – the last of sri Raja raja ) – the most common dates taken for his Ganges campaign are after his 6th year and the city building comes much later ( around his 17th year of reign) – so the argument is not correct. However, it is another story that within 35 years of the big temple consecration Rajendra moved bulk of his father’s donations from the big temple to his temple !! more mysteries

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