Trichy Lower Cave – ” its not worth seeing!!’

It was late afternoon when we reached the Rockfort and hurried up the first tier of stairs. Being Aiyappan season, there were a swarm of hands and legs – draped in various shades of black. Being forced to buy tickets for our cameras by the devasthanam guard even though we explained to him that we were here to just visit the two ASI sites ( which by the way do not levy any fee or need any prior written permission for shooting with a still camera – you cant use a tripod though !!!). As we reached the first level and the tar road, we turned left – the auto guy gave us that typical ` look’ ( must have thought we were looking for a spot to relieve ourselves) and pointed to his ‘ correct ‘ direction – uphill. We tried to explain to him saying we were going to the cave and the look turned even more weird -” There is nothing there, don’t waste your time” for good measure. By the time, we spotted the high camouflaged ASI direction sign – so typical of them to have it painted on the side from which you are walking up ( meaning as you emerge from the gate, the sign is already at your back – someone needs to tell these geniuses that our eyes are in front and hence they should have the sign in the wall side facing the entering visitor). Anyway, the sign screamed that it was a Pallava cave !! adding to the confusion and our disgust. Experts have long been at loggerheads to the authorship of this rock cut cave as well.

Finally, after a 100 meter walk, we managed to find a small walking path inbetween the rows of small houses that led towards the parent rock. And there she stood in all her majesty – cut deep into mother rock, the bare rock face accentuating her asymmetry right at the bottom.

But, then lets frame the cave facade to see the symmetry.

When I said carved deep, take into account that even the row of pillars are cut inside the face.

Compared to the mad rush at the entrance, there was not a single tourist or visitor around. A few kids were playing cricket – the stumps being the sculpture’s leg and a couple of ASI staff.
A cursory glance at the pillar itself got us going. This is not a standard Pallava pillar, doesn’t even come close. And here we have the mandatory ASI board proclaiming it to be Mamalla style and period 640 to 670 AD.

The rectangular cave has two sanctums, cut into separate ardha mandabams ( mini halls) at its two extremities – one for Shiva and one for Vishnu. What’s unique about this cave,is that its got two sets of door guardians for the mandabam and two sets for the Sanctum as well – first time we see 8 door guardians in a cave ( we will examine these door guardians and other sculptures in part 2 of this post)

The facing wall too has lent its length to the sculptor – in fashioning a Ganesha ( well well, yes – Mamalla and Ganesha ), Brahma, Muruga, Surya and Durga.

We shall study all these at depth in the coming posts. An ASI artist was meticulously copying the images – to our delight.

Really sad, that this imposing edifice suffers the ignominy of being “not worth seeing” !!

I take your hand – for eternity

To depict a wide gamut of emotions into metal casting calls for exceptional skill. who better to attempt it than the Chola craftsmen and what better scene than the drama of emotions during a wedding – the wedding of the divine parents at that. Yes, today we are going to see a stunning bronze composition – the wedding of Meenakshi with Sundareshwarar. We already saw the metamorphosis of Tadagai – the three breasted warrior queen of Madurai into Meenakshi , a stunning shy lass – true to the prophecy, at the sight of her prince charming – Shiva as the epitome of manly charm – Sundareshwarar.

Imagine the situation of such a wedding, throw in the bride’s brother – Vishnu here and his consort Lakshmi giving off their priced possession to Shiva.

Take a look at this bronze now from the Tanjore Raja Raja Museum.

The bridgegroom – heart swelling with pride, a mischievous smile on his lips, majestic in his poise, triumphantly taking the hand of his beloved.

The bride – embodiment of grace, head bent in his shyness – experiencing the first touch of her beloved as she feels his powerful hand close on top of hers, and her left hand flying up to hide her reddening cheeks.

The symbolisation of taking the hand has lot of significance – for its a promise to be with her, to protect her and live as one – for eternity.

The perfection in this composition, flows through every inch , every curve of the bronze – a visual delight.

Sadly, its all held inside glass cases and its hard to bring out the splendor in more depth and detail.

But i have with me a gifted artist, Mr Prasad – who has sketched this for us ( he says it was his early attempt – but to me its masterclass!!!)

Sketching bronzes is no easy task – for you are not sketching just a piece of art , you are sketching a deity and to bring that grace onto paper – calls for exceptional talent.

I am blessed to be even be born in the soil that brought forth these masterpieces.

Images courtesy: Our Satheesh n various on the net.

Somaskanda evolution -Part 6 -Mallai Mahishasuramardhini Mandabam

Today, we proceed to another wonderful site in Mahabalipuram ( mallai) – we have already been there twice so far – taking in the splendor of the two masterpieces of Pallava relief sculpture – the Reclining Vishnu Panel and Mahishasuramardhini panel. Most visitors would just turn back after seeing these, but there is one more relief panel in this cave that needs to be seen. Its a wonderful and unique Somaskanda panel.

This is one of the largest Pallava Somaskanda panels and occupies the entire back wall of the sanctum. Its important to note that none of caves assigned to Mahendra Pallava have somaskanda panels.

Before we get into analyzing the uniqueness of this sculpture, we need to understand that there is always this issue of dating the sculptures in mallai and also on its authorship. The mahishasuramardhini cave does us no favors, in that it doesn’t have any inscriptions in it to give us any clues. There are also some confusing addons ( later additions – take overs – as per experts). We have already seen the Somaskanda in the shoretemple earlier on in this series and being a structural temple carrying inscriptions of Rajasimha Pallava, we will start our study with that image and try to date the current one as earlier or of later date.

At first glance they seem to be very similar, stylistically. Lets look at them side by side by side, with highlights to do a comparison.

The key things to see in the Mahishasuramardhini somaskanda are marked here.

Its a fantastic composition, with some classic postures. The pose of baby skanda, almost jumping out – the grace of the seated parvathi, how she rests her weight on her left hand, the calm poise of shiva – with Brahma and Vishnu inside the panel – fantastic work by the sculptor. ( notice the parasol above parvathi as well)

The major differences between the two sculptures are are the Lion styled legs of the throne, the nandhi in front and the female devotee by his side replacing the vase. The lion comes in to replace the Bull standard of the Pallavas during the period of Narasimha Pallava. It also enters Pallava pillars ( but that’s the subject of another post – evolution of Pallava pillars – to start soon)

Now, coming back to our question, which of these Somaskanda’s are earlier. Lets study the smaller details.Look into the dress of Shiva and its detailing.

its quite obvious that both these images – gross proportions are similar, styles are similar. Then how can we propose a solution. Lets analyse the two side by side figures one more. Notice the left leg of Shiva ( he is seated in sukasana – for those who want to know the tech terms) – in the panel from the shore temple, its position corresponds to the centre line of the shiva sculpture – whereas in the panel from the Mahishasuramardhini mandabam – you notice that its moved off centre, to its left – to accommodate the Nandhi – seamlessly integrating into the frame as a foot rest for divine couple.

To understand this better, let me attempt to digitally morph these two sculptures to show how the leg moves to the left to create space in the composition for the nandhi.

Based on above, i would assign a later or at least contemporary period for these panels but one thing for sure – the shore temple somaskanda panel cannot be earlier to the mahishasuramardhini somaskanda panel. What do you say.

Hanuman escapes from a Crocodile – Perur

Pillar sculptures are a treat and when they are in the hands of a master story teller – then its double the entertainment. Sadly, most of these tales have been lost on us, and so we cannot appreciate what is said by the sculptor. We take one such sculpture today from Perur.

Bordering the side of the shops, most visitors would miss this interesting tell tale or tale telling sculpture. We need to did back into the British Univ archives to dig out this frame.

Can’t find him, here you go.

To give you an orientation, the steps you see are the steps to the Kanagasabhai. so you can visualise where this pillar is. Present day, rope included he is like this.

But what intrigued us was this cast away broken pillar with the same motif.

A closeup of him again.

While talking with Artist Padmavasan, he mentioned that he had sketched this pillar as well and shared his with us.

So what is the story depicted in this panel – well, we saw the entire episode carved in the Sesharaya Mandaba in Srirangam in a previous post. Here you go..

Great Escape from a croc’s belly

But how did the pillars break – and is it a replica that we see today ?

Divine Grace – Tiger Suckles a fawn. Tiruparankundram

Today, we are seeing another interesting pillar from Tiruparankundram – two natural enemies coming together in a show of tender motherly affection and care. Thankfully, the authorities haven’t tried their hand at exhibiting their ignorance and tried to decipher this legend and instead have just simply named it as Shiva and Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam. ( unlike the previous one where they named Shiva as Varaahi !!). The mindless iron railing, anchored on a priceless piece of art and to add insult to injury the thick coir ropes, make you retch. Isn’t there anyone who can campaign their cause at all !!

This is such a rare depiction, maybe the only one of its kind – a sculpture relating to a very lovely act of Lord Shiva, from the Tiruvilayadal Puranam of Vembathur Nambi.

For starters, how do we confirm that this is indeed Shiva? Simple, look for his attributes.

Pretty simple ahh. You cant miss the Axe and the deer !! ( unless ofcourse you are the temple authorities – naming shiva as varaahi!!)

But then what is so unique about this pillar sculpture? Check out what is in Shiva’s hands.

This does look like a tiger. See how Shiva is holding it like an infant on his hip!!

But then this, is a stunner.

His other hand carries a fawn and it seems to be suckling from the tiger’s udder!!

Yes, its correct. The legend goes that a lactating mother deer, comes to a lake to quench its thirst, when its felled by a hunter. As it breathes its last, the mother languishes at the plight of its just born fawn. Overcome but its motherly love, Lord Shiva , comes to the rescue of the fawn by having it suckle from a tiger that was nearby.

We have seen many poses of shiva, his role as a destoryer, his fiery dance – but here in this unique pillar sculptures – of Shiva – himself taking the form of a mother pig to suckle piglets and now – having a tiger suckle the fawn – natural enemies but then mysterious are his ways. Such a poetic way of expressing the infinite grace of Shiva, his tender heart and wonderful depiction.