Ever since i laid my eyes on this masterly creation, its been a personal crusade to bring out its beauty for all to see. Its taken almost 10 years and was it worth the wait n effort that went into it. I do hope you will agree with me once you complete reading this post.
We are going to see today the truly remarkable sculpture of Shiva in his Urdhva Thandava pose.
For starters, this is a pillar sculpture – meaning the entire composition is of a single piece of stone – the Kanaga sabhai with its collection of 8 such brilliant compositions was commissioned between 1625 CE and 1659 CE in the reign of Rajah Sivathiru Azhagaathiri Nayakkar.
Why all this effort, you might ask, for this pinnacle of artistic beauty, the very epitome of sculptural excellence, is lost to many – hidden behind a steel cage. I hope patrons who read this, could get together and maybe sponsor a glass casing instead of this ugly steel monster.
Its quite late for such a fantastic exhibition of stone work – considering the relatively lesser quality workmanship seen in the post chola, Pandya 13- 14th C CE – but, the sculptures here are proof that this art form survived and thrived till the 16th Century -possibly reaching its pinnacle in this very hall.
To visualise the true grandeur of this amazing structure, we are helped thankfully with a old plate from the British archives.
Thanks to varalaaru.com we also found this sketch by great artist Silpi.
Now, that we have a macro view of this mind blowing composition, lets go closeup to view what it hides within itself. Place on record our sincere thanks to the temple EO, who after hours of convincing, felt our passion for this art and not only allowed us to photograph these gems but also opened the grill gates for us….we were in for a true feast – come partake in our pleasures.
This sculpture is unique in many aspects and to truly understand them we need to go closeup – mean real closeup – for , its said that Siva’s dance cannot be comprehended by lesser masters. It is only the great ones like Brahma, Bharata, Hari, Narada or Skanda who can understand or appreciate his dance.
An inscription on the cave temple at Saluvankuppam has a verse to elucidate not only the distinction of Siva’s dance, but also to enumerate the great celestial exponents of natya and sangita and their ability, as the right audience, to appreciate Siva’s dance: yadi na vidhata bharato yadi na harir narado na va skandha boddhum ka iva samarthas sangitam kalakalasya (Epigraph. Ind. 10, p. 12).
From the Book:
NATARAJA – THE LORD OF DANCE – Dr. Sivaramamurti
It is not only these great gods and goddesses, the creators each in his or her own important way, that are the witnesses to applaud the dance of Siva, but they enthusiastically also join in creating the orchestra for him, by playing the musical instruments. At the very sign of his brow, Vishnu takes up the drum mardala, which, with is noble rumbling notes, like the cloud inspiring the blue-throated peacock to dance, starts the musical sound. With his louts hand, Brahma takes up a pair of cymbals, ostensibly to keep time to the dance of the victor of Kama
Whats so special here is the depiction of Brahma.
He is shown here with 5 heads and is holding the attributes of Shiva – the Axe and the deer !!
Like a musician, who, during his song, stops for a while, and draws attention to the tala or the rhythm beat, Siva the great dancer, pauses for a while, to sound the drum himself in between, to show the correct adjustment when necessary
Another uniqueness in this sculpture – was tempted to use the word panel here, but then this is no panel – its a monolith for that matter, is the depiction of Karaikkal ammaiyaar.
Such masterly depiction of the shriveled breasts, the loose folds of skin across the neck and throat – to show an old lady, prematurely aged – giving up her beauty to become a ghost. Read previous links for her !!
ofcourse, we do have a very chubby Muyalagan underneath his foot, cradling his snake.
Its becoming a long post, but its a crime to break it into two or three parts, for the beauty and charm of this piece of art is too sublime to be enjoyed in parts. I will try and use less descriptive words and more pictorial speech.
The face of a youthful shiva – complete with a double chin, the carved curves of the nostrils….
The beauty of the limbs – even to the detailing of the reverse kneecap. Oh, the fingers, lines, nails – cuticles…
Another beautiful aspect to notice – the feet – the toes – top and bottom view, the ring of the sandal and on the other side, the grace of the inwardly turned hand and the delicate mudra of the thumb and forefinger !!
The row of arms on both sides are a sight to behold with the myriad of attributes.
Such detailing in the hands and the attributes, some a quite unique and am yet to find their names and significance.
Especially this one
Normally would get some props to give our readers an idea of the scale of the composition – it would be a key for miniature panels and even went with the elephant for the big temple door guardian, but this natural prop blew me away.
Maybe, the skill of the sculptor fooled our winged friend who is blunting his fangs in vain to draw blood from this !!!
If you like what you have seen and would like future visitors not to be deprived of a chance to drink in this distilled essence of artistic brilliance, please pass on the word – to patrons who can raise funds and the cry – to change the grill to atleast a glass panel.