Somaskanda Evolution, earliest depiction in bronze – assigned to Pallava Period

We have seen the evolution of the Somaskanda form in stone so far. Most of the works we studied are assigned to the Pallava period. As we progress into metal images, we see today an early bronze Somaskanda. We tend to associate bronzes mostly with the reign of the Cholas but there are some wonderful depictions before them as we will see today.

The date of this bronze is assigned to late Pallava period based on stylistic grounds. A few pointers to this, is the small size – this is about half the size of a 10th C Chola bronze Somaskanda, but more than the size, experts opine the posture and general styling are off an earlier date than 9th Century CE. Sadly the skanda is missing in this group.

What is it about the posture that we need to take notice.

Shiva majestically seated in the Sukhasana pose, but do you notice a slight inclination to the back, which makes him more majestic to the viewer.

The depiction of the figures and faces are also unique. Shiva’s face is almost round with a medium sized Jata makuta ( crown made of branded hair locks). The nose, eyes, lips and mouth seem to be modelled by hand. He wears two kanthis ( necklets) and a Hara ( necklace). The Yagnopavitam seems to be made of plaited gold wires, with a knot on his left chest.

Another pointer to its early date, is the way the multiple arms are handled – the upper arms are bifurcating from the lower ones at sharp angles.

The way the attributes are held and the hand poses are also definitive clues.


Interesting to see the arm bands of shiva – they are off the Keyura type – naaga vyalas.


The face is round but the features are sharp and graceful. Interesting there is no trace of Mangalya sutra in this figure. She wears a conical Karanda Makuta.

The rendering of the limbs are more supple and not muscular.

The ornamentation is beautiful, the detailing of the body shapes especially the waist lines are exquisite. Its important to note that though the belt clasp is very ornate its yet to get to the simha mukha type seen in later bronzes..

The Siraschakra ( head circle ornament) which we saw much pronounced in the stone sculpture, has come down in size. The six locks of braided hair, divided into two groups are simply superb.

The chest nipple of Shiva seems almost as pressed on later.

How does this all sum up to prove the early date of this bronze ? We will see a 10th C and a 12 C Chola bronze and analyze it in a similar manner to complete our study.

Ref: Bronzes of South India – Sri. K. R. Srinivasan

200th Post – May your praise be sung for eons – The Chola Monalisa Tripurantaka fresco

This site has been an eventful journey. For, getting inspired is one thing, but quite often to nurture the spark to ensure that it stays alive is the toughest part. Maybe for me, the flame that lit the spark was so powerful that it still provides the energy to keep pushing ahead on the chosen path. What better to write on to celebrate the remarkable journey as a 200th post, than about the flame itself !! Udayar Sri Raja Raja Chola, and to his chosen brand he will always be ArunMozhiVarman – a lasting legacy – remembered, revered, impacting us and continuing to lead in his footsteps to sing the glory of his splendid land. Its not just vain praise that i seek or promote my senseless idol worship of him via this post professing my love and adoration for this special person, for i am not alone in this select band, who have felt his presence. The big temple evokes different reactions from different people, some are in awe at this size stuck by its imposing proportions, some others by its architectural beauty and technology beyond its times, some others for its sheer sustenance, others for its epigraphical richness, but for us – the select tribe, its a sense of coming home, of returning to his fold, under his loving embrace.

i edit Shakespeare’s text into this context!!

The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this “site”, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honorable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life “and after”, still lengthened with all happiness.

AD 1010.
We travel back in time, exactly 1000 years ago.

(Yes, 1000 years have since passed – Inscriptional which documents Sri Raja Raja donating gold for making the top filial – kalasam or pot- ceremonially the final work to be completed – and it corresponds to 275th day of his 25th year of reign. its ironical that He, who was destined to such greatness, was not even first in line for the throne – but fate deemed otherwise – for those who want to know how we date his year of ascension to 985 AD see first comment)

The temple bells are clanging – the noise resonates through around the granite walls of the sanctum, the pillars offer temporary respite absorbing the ding dong, but against them a horde of musicians and percussionists are drawn into a fair battle, the air is filled with a myriad of scents – the aroma of burning camphor, to melting ghee to the freshly ground sandalwood paste, but wait there are some more exotic fragrances that seem to drop from above – yes, indeed – an impressive line of dancing girls, their hair done up with rows and rows of sweet smelling jasmine – seem to frozen in time – like a fawn caught in a lion’s gaze, their practised eyes on their teacher, whose eyes are on the door – as is everyone else, waiting for the arrival of he – the Lord of Lords.

They have all seen him before, on many occasions, be it his radiant armor shining as he rode to battle on his magnificent chariot, or in his regal attire as he gracefully sauntered along on top of the royal elephant in the ceremonial victory procession – but today was different. He was coming to them, to see them perform, to see the fulfillment of his dream – the consecration of the big temple – the tallest edifice on the planet, a work of devotion built to last, to sing the praise of their clan for the millenniums to come. A sudden hush descends, the royal entourage passes through the massive door frame, for a minute the light from the doorway is blocked by a big frame, and then as the rising sun shines through, you see him – he has shed all his royal insignia today – just a flowing garment of the purest white is his dhoti, another matching white garment goes around his towering frame – he has smeared ash over his forehead and his mighty arms and chest, and it seems to show in more glory than the golden vest which he just left behind – on seeing him the trusted aide starts the legendary invocation – a queer sonnet that rid the hearts of his enemies with dread, but his subjects with pride… his prasithi –

Swasthisri ( Hail propserity)
Thirumakal pol perunilach selviyum
thanakkeyurimai poondamai manakolak

Immediately, his eyebrows arch, the right hand starts to go up, instinctively the aide stops in mid sentence – the protocol being broken, his trusted bodyguards make a move to encircle him, but then the eyebrow hasn’t gone up fully – its breaks into a curve to compliment the smile that has just born to make his face look even more benevolent – if it were ever possible.

“My praise fades before my lord, i am but his humble servant – for i am no longer Raja Raja or ArunMozhi but Siva Paadha Sekeren here”

On hearing this, the big drums beat, the bell ringers take the clue and another round of acoustic symphony fills the air – just then – from above come the sound of 400 pairs of anklets – and their ankleted feet – complementing the expert call of their guru – “Tha”

Like a child who has seen his wish fulfilled, the eyes of the greatest king light up in glee, as he stands in front of Peruvudayar – he calls for the man who made it possible – the chief architect Kunjara Mallan

“May it be written that henceforth you shall be known as Raja Raja Perunthachan, and let it also be known that no longer will your clan prefer to remain anonymous – let you name be sculpted along with mine in stone on the very walls of this great temple, forever interweaving your name with mine and your greatest creation till the Sun and the Moon shine – proclaiming this achievement of ours. “

Eyes moist the master sculptor looks lovingly on his benefactor –” Its this greatness in you that makes us your servants for eternity, but pray in this moment, i forget to show you something that will make your heart swell more. I have brought in some expert artists to paint your favorite act of valor of siva on the walls of the ambulatory. “

So, this is the reason why you have not been allowing me to go around , wanting to surprise me. Lets us see.

Sir, its a bit dark there, let me get some torches. Hey, you there, don’t go very near the walls with the torches, every inch is being covered with paintings.

“Your excellency, since you chose to show so many Tripura vijaya sculptures in stone in the vimana sculptures, we guessed that it was your favorite and chose it for this painting.”

‘ Wow, you do know me well, yes, Tripurantaka story was my favorite – though my aunt Sembian Madevi always recited the Sundar or Chandeshwarar legends, my elder sister told me the Tripurantaka so many times that the valor of Shiva has continued to inspire me since. So how have you shown the story, is it like a story board like you do in sculpture, showing one scene after another in sequence?”

‘” Oh, we are blessed to have Kundavai pirattiyar to have molded you since young. No, your highness, we have chosen a novel and unique manner to show the entire legend in a single panel”

” In a single panel – interesting, how would you do that – meaning – there are atleast 6 key acts with the tripurantaka legend?”

” Sir, thanks to the richness of talent in our land, take a look at the painting now ”

‘ Wait,let me get Madurantakan also to see”

‘ yes sir, he looks exactly like how you were 20 years ago

“Yes, but amplified 20 fold for battle. Rajendra see this master painting. Remember, the story of Tripurantaka – of how the three demons Taarakaaksha, Kamalaaksha and Vidyunmaali – sons of Taraka – with their boon from Brahma and being Shiva devotees – tormented the earth. They had their cities which could fly in the air and could be destroyed only by Shiva. The power got to their head and they tormented the people and when the devas appealed to Shiva, he could not go against his own devotees. So he sent Vishnu as Buddha to lead them out of the faith and then summoned all the devas, concentrating all the powers of the Gods – the earth became his chariot, the Sun and the Moon the wheels, the very Meru mountain his bow, Brahma as his charioteer and Vishnu the arrow. Am i right Perunthachan”

” Ofcourse Sir, the chariot was crafted by Viswakarma himself who we trace our lineage from. We have painted Brahma here – as the charioteer”

” Father, but why is brahma shown as though he is speaking to Shiva rather than facing the enemies?”

‘ Yes, my son – this is an emotive panel – the painter is trying to tell a story in a single panel”

:Sirs, you can see Vishnu on top seated like Buddha with the demons worshiping him. you can also see Ganesh on his mouse mount, Muruga on his peacock and Devi on her Lion accompanying shiva into battle along with a host of Ganas.”

” Yes, the demons look really cruel – can you ask you man to take the torch nearer – i can see something here, which i think is what you want to show me – Rajendra can you find out?”

‘ Remember hearing the two thevaram verses refer to this incident – very contrasting references. One verse says he was angered and another verse says he smiled.

Thevaram Verse1

Thevaram Verse2

” That is fantastic, you have been concentrating on reading the verses as well. My guru interpreted it – that as Shiva in all his war attire, accompanied by all the devas – confronts the army of the Tripura asuras, he is red with anger, eyes bulging out – your dancer friend would be able to tell you the correct name – i think it is called Raudra drishti in Natya Sastra of Bharata. In depicting this pitiless sentiment, the eye balls should be lifted up, rough, and reddish in line. The eyebrows should be kept crooked.”

” Father, do we have to bring her into this conversation !! Well, yes i can see the painter has depicted that emotion here – Shiva is fully red with rage like you when you get angry.”

‘ son, you seem to have turned a bit red now as well, why? but do you notice something different in the face of Shiva’

” Father, i do notice something more different in the way he is shown holding the bow. The bow is facing inward and not at the enemy”

‘ son, that is the greatness of the painter. to continue to story, there are two versions. One says, the devas grew a bit arrogant and their ego made them think that Shiva needed their help to destroy the demons- while the other version says that Brahma asked Shiva, why he needed the assortment of weapons and entrouge of ganas for this fight. Anyway, at that point, Shiva bends his bow holding hand curling it inwards and just smiled – the next instant – the asuras were burnt to ashes”

” Now, can you see the smile of Shiva – masterly portrayed by the artist. One half of the face he has shown rage and the lower portion a childish smile”

Oh, great work father, i cant wait to see the rest of the works””

Photos courtesy: I am indebted to Dr Kudavoil Balasubramaniam for his guidance and support. This post just scrapes the surface of these fantastic paintings. Please read his masterly work on the Big temple. HIndu paper article on sir’s book release

Thanks for support of REACH Chandra and all others.

A Very Special Bull – from the Shiva Cave in Malaiyadipatti

Deep inside Pudukkotai, a meandering dusty red track that faintly remembers being called a road once upon a time ends abruptly. Vegetation is sparse.. A few houses lines its periphery giving it the respect of being called a road. A few village boys are playing cricket ( yeah IPL reaches there as well!!) under the tamarind trees and an old man sits on rock outcrop, his eyes and mind lost deep in thought. On seeing us approach, his face brightens up, as he tries to get up, balancing his withering body on his third leg – for one of the ones he was born with has lost itself to disease. The background offers us a familiar feeling of expectation – a low cliff or rather a large boulder, and a serene surrounding, a water body nestled within the rocks…perfect environs for a cave. And this site holds not one but two caves. One for Shiva and one for Vishnu. The old man was the watchman and opened both the caves for us. We wanted to pay him so that he go and have a well deserved and long awaited meal – for it didn’t look like the site attracted more than a handful of visitors in a month. He did ask us for something – an old shirt !! ( so please remember if anyone is planning a trip after reading this post – please take an shirt for the old man).

We will see the older Shiva – Nandhi ?Danti varma Pallava period by Mutharaiyar cave first ( it could be that way since they were the chieftains ruling under the Pallavas then), before we proceed to the later Vishnu cave in the coming posts.

Am reversing the order of the visit, inorder to let you relish the beauty of the master sculptor. Take time and drink in the splendor of this fantastic Nandhi – Shiva’s bull mount.

What’s so special about this Nandhi, its is a nice sculpture , but we do find pieces like him all over – he is special not because he has stayed in this place for 1200 years, but because of the fact that the sculptor sculpted him so that he may remain in this place for ever. Not clear??? Read on…

We go back to the outside, will try and give you an idea of the cave face, by digitally removing the later day constructions infront of it.

Now, that you have an idea of the how the cave is sculpted into the rock face, by carving out the mother rock to create this cave – let’s go in a bit more close. We are greeted by a not too impressive construction.

But as we enter and turn right, as our eyes adjust to the dim light, we squeal in delight, at what lies in front of us.

There are many things to see in this cave dedicated to Shiva, to our left from the previous picture, is the central shrine for Shiva, flanked by two superlative door guardians ( we will study them in more detail in the coming posts). There are more interesting sculptures like the saptha maatrika panel with Ganesha at one end and Veera badra on the other – ie to the left of the nandhi and larger relief panels to his back. We shall see all in the coming posts.

Can you see something just to the right of the image – yes its our Nandhi again. But what is so special about him.

Let me try to do some erasing digitally to show you.

The entire Nandhi, with its pedestal is carved out of the mother rock – its a monolith as well – makes you wonder at the margin of error the sculptor had, his masterly use of available technology then to reduce the rock while sculpting the cave – leaving enough mass to sculpt the nandhi – with zero margin for error.

Now you know why i said that this Nandhi was so so special.

Controversial sculpture series – Part 1 -He gifts the discus to Vishnu

Gods vs God – Our God against your God – is always controversial and generally you would prefer to step clear of these, inorder not to hurt the sentiments of both sides. But at times we need to dwell on these to understand that whatever physical manifestations we see are but mere rungs of a ladder that are meant to take us to a higher plane and not to defend imaginary territories by laying anchor on these. So, as part of the site’s initiative to bring out purely the story behind sculpture, there are a few such which we cannot ignore – be it the more common Lingothbhavar, to the exotic Sarabeshwarar, to the Ganga’s origins on the other side. Having said that, these have been around for a 1000 years and form part of the religious framework and hence its our duty to look at them objectively. With that as a forward and a warning to increase your patience ( you may please leave now if you may wish !!) am going ahead with the first of this controversial sculpture series. Vishnu Anugraha Murthy and Chakra Dharanar. One is from the Madurai temple – could have been rebuilt post Malik Kafur’s assault – by the Nayak’s but the other is from 8th C CE – Rajasimha Pallava – kailasanathar temple Kanchipuram.

To make sure that this legend is not a figment of my imagination nor am i forced to concoct such a conspiracy theory am taking refuge in the Thevaram hymns of Appar at the outset.

Sixth Thirumurai

O Holy One whose crest is flower-laden,praise be!
O Ens hailed by the gods,praise be!
O Lord of gods,Praise be!
O Giver of the Disc to Tirumaal,praise be!
O One that saved me from Death and rules me,praise be!
O the Adept who is bedaubed with the ash that is white Like conch,praise be!
O the One whose victorious flag Displays the Bull,praise be,praise be!
O Tirumoolattaana,praise be,praise be!

Translation: T. N. Ramachandran,Thanjaavoor ,1995

Now that the ground work has been done and have ensured i have built all my defenses, proceeding with the story – well, there are many versions of it ( as usual).

Part 1:

To be brief – A wicked demon Jalandran gets a boon – who else but from Brahma. Shiva needs to slay him but since his wife is a devotee of his wants to use a proxy. Vishnu meantime needs a powerful weapon and does penance on Shiva ( hang on – dont crucify me just now – there is more to come) with 1000 lotus flowers. As luck could have it, he finds he is short by one – he being the lotus eyed one ( kamalakkannan) himself, he wastes no time in plucking his eye and offering to complete the 1000. ( now – don’t reach out for your daggers yet ! let me put across the exhibits as well)

The sculpture from Rajasimha Pallavas Kanchipuram Kailasanthar Temple:

Well, well – what do we have here now. The classic free wheeling style of the Pallava sculptor comes to the fore here. You can see the relaxed seated style of Siva, Stylistically folding one leg up, while he seems to leaning on his right hand for extra comfort. The Back two hands seem to be in the process of tying up his headdress or something of that sort. Vishnu on his part, kneeling on one knee – both his lower left and right hands seem to be in the act of offering something to Siva ( lotus flowers??) – the most interesting thing to note is the upper left hand – seems to be in act of plucking his left eye – a la Kannappar !!

I for one expected a more balanced portrayal of the chief characters, but then that is maybe the core devotion that is the basis of this panel. You must be prepared to forgo your ego and submit totally to him to realise God.

But the next part, have to renew my life insurance at a hefty premium after seeing this in Madurai.

Part 2:

Pleased with Vishnu’s devotion, Shiva conjures up ( some versions say he drew a circle on the ground and cut out a discus form and proceeded to cut the demon into two himself and later presented it to Vishnu, some others say there were some more deceit involving the wife of the demon – am stepping away from these – not wanting to create more controversies- am sure you would google these up) – crux is Shiva gifts the Discus to Vishnu.

We swing across to the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple to view this sculpture.

That it is Vishnu and Shiva – with Brahma watching reverently by the side is clear from the relative attributes held. You can see that the cannons have become more rigid and the sculptor has merely sculpted to definition following set rules – leading to a duller or rather less artistic output.

It is a pillar sculpture but I do wish the sculptor be bit more balanced in depicting his subjects – especially the relative sizes and the problem is compounded by the size of Vishnu and he having to match the size of the discus to that of Vishnu. It would have been more pleasing both aesthetically and politically to have sculpted …. hmm, let me stop with that.