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.

34 thoughts on “Controversial sculpture series – Part 1 -He gifts the discus to Vishnu

  1. சிற்பம் என்பது எங்கும் நிறைந்திருக்கும் ஒன்றை மனிதனின் மனதால் கட்டுப்படுத்தி செதுக்கப்பட்ட பொருள் என்று மட்டும் பார்க்காமல் மனதை கட்டுப்படுத்தி அடுத்த நிலைக்கு எடுத்தும் செல்லும் கருவி என்றே நாம் பார்க்கவேண்டும் supeeeer sir!

  2. hi rhoda

    interesting perspective – yes – we did have clear defn for the placings – directions etc. regarding composition, though we had generic rule of thumb for each deity or major groups of sculptures – the relative sizes i think were left to the individual artists.


  3. vj, Thirumaalukku aazi allitha idam Virkudu near tiruvarur is one of the veeratanam of siva. there u can see Siva giving chakra to vishu .here in panchloka sculpture

  4. தங்கள் நோக்கம் என்னவோ ? விஷ்ணு வை தாழ்த்தி பெருமானை உயர்த்துவதால் சைவம் தழைதுவிடும் என்ற என்னமோ ? …. தங்கள் அறியாமையை நினைத்தாள் பரிதாபமாக உள்ளது …. சிவ சிவ…. இந்த காழ்புணர்சி … இறைவன் அடியவருக்கு அழகா ?

    • செந்தில் குமார் – ஆரம்பத்திலேயே எழுதி உள்ளேனே…

      இந்த தளத்தின் நோக்கம் சிற்பங்களில் மறைந்து இருக்கும் கதைகளையும் நுணுக்கங்களையும் அனைவரும் விளங்கும் வண்ணம் எடுத்துச் சொல்வதே. கடந்து வந்த பாதை கரடு முரடானது. பல மதங்கள் காலப்போக்கில் ஒன்றுக்கொன்று போட்டி போட்டன, ஒரே மதங்களினுள்ளும் இந்த போட்டி நிலவியது. எனினும் இவையும் நமது பாரம்பரியத்தின் இழையாக பிணைந்து விட்டன. இவற்றில் சரி தவறு என்ற வாதங்களை எடுத்தாண்டு எதிரிகளாக நிற்காமல் இருப்பதை இருந்தாக பாருங்கள் என்பது முதல் வேண்டுகோள். இப்படி பார்க்கும் மனப்பக்குவம் இல்லாதவர்கள் தயவு செய்து இப்போதே மேலும் படிக்காமல் விலகி விடுங்கள் என்பது இரண்டாவது வேண்டுகோள்.”

  5. Wow, great story and great interpretation. Ofcourse Shaivite and vaishnavite are not so rigid these days, or it is how I assume it to be, however for me, I am just trying to understand the spirit of the sculptor and the theme, does not matter which god is big and which is inferior, afterall all gods are into one and one into many.

  6. this and the sarabeshwara theories – when do you think they gained prominence?

    Sadly, our habbit of praising somehting by pulling down another is still prevalent 🙁

    • hi pradeep

      The two depictions featured in the post are spanning a wide period between them. the kanchi kailasanatha is a authentic rajsimha structure 700 -730 AD. The madurai is obviously a later creation – post malik kafur’s onslaught 1314AD.

      lingothbhava as a concept seems to evolve from representing shiva as a pillar of fire ….seen as early as in the pillayarpatti cave.

      as regards sarabamurthy – could be western chalukyan influence – early depictions are in Darasuram ( Rajaraja 2) and Tribuvanam (kulottunga 3 ) late 12th C.


  7. let all great leaders of all religion read this and be enlightened that god is one in many forms and vice versa

  8. Dear senthil,
    R you saying that the Nayanmars are liars and bigots for saying Siva gifted the discus to Vishnu?R u saying that Vyasa concocted this story in the siva purana and Linga purana?R the Vedas wrong for saying Siva created Brahma vishnu and Rudra(atharvasikha)?So r all of you trying to say that Appar should be crucified for saying maadevar allal thevar mattrillaye(there is no other God apart from Siva)?Do you people think you people have greater jnana than Appar thirumoolar who swore that Siva is above vishnu?

  9. Please stop trying to destroy Saivism in the name of Universalism and “All is One” slogan.You are suggesting that the great Nayanmars are wrong in declaring the supremacy of Siva over Vishnu whenever you make statements such as before “don’t reach for your daggers yet”Are you saying that Nayanmars did not reach “higher plane” but rather stuck to “imaginary boundaries” in singing about Siva’s supremacy over Vishnu and other Devas till their last Breath?So you are suggesting you are superior to them in spiritual enlightenment?The Siddhanta sastras,Thirumurai,Siva Agamas state that Vishnu is a sakala(ordinary soul invested with anava ,karma and maya) and not God.Are you saying all this scriptures are wrong and that Nayanmars and santhana acharyas are deluded souls?

  10. nuuru koodi brammargal nondinar
    aaru koodi narayanar angane
    eeru gangai manal ennili indirar
    iiru illadhavan eesan oruvane
    One hundred crores Brahmas have died.Six crores of Narayanas have also met the same fate.The number of indras who have perished are countless like the sand particles in the ganges.Only Isa(siva) has no death.

    Appar says that Vishnu and others are ordinary souls like us who undergo births and deaths.Are you saying a jnani like him to whom Lord Siva Himself conferred thiruvadi diksha is wrong?Is a jnani for whom Siva Himself brought food deluded?Can anyone here swear that Appar clung to imagined boundaries and is a bigot who never realised God?

  11. I agree with Chandran.I’m happy that that there are atleast a few people like him who truly follow the footsteps of Nayanmars and the true message of our Vedas.

  12. chandran and Kalai and senthil and eeryone else. read the vedas carefully they very carefully maintain balance of power between all the gods(lets not forget Indra and brahma!!) for every reference for the nayanmars on vishnu, there is one on azhwars of siva. our point here must be research on a social angle and to ensure we learn from this on how to deal with others we dont agree with. One sect ignored them, the other incorporated them as subsidiary deities. lets leave the Siva vs Vishnu debate to the fanatics and sadly the world has enough of them in every religion

  13. Vedas clearly state :
    Dhyayeteesanam pradhyayidavevam sarvamidam brahma vishnu rudrendrasthe sarve samprasuyante sarvanichendriyani ca saha bhutani na karanam karanam tu dhyeyah/sarvaiswarya sampannah sarveswara sambhu akasamadhye dhyeyah/
    Adore the most adorable Isana(siva).Brahma ,Vishnu ,Rudra,Indra are all created.All the senses and elements are also created.The First Cause and the cause of causes is uncreated.That First Cause Bestower of aiswarya,Sarveswara,SAMBHU(Siva) should be contemplated in the middle of Akasa-Atharvasikha
    Vedas clearly state the Supreme Siva creates Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra and indra.
    yo devanam prabhavas codbhavas ca visvadhiko rudra maharsi/
    Siva is the source and origin of the gods.-Svetasvatara
    atho rudro vai jyeshtasca sreshtasca devanam-Siva is oldest and best of the devas-Rig Veda,Aitareya Brahmanam 25.12.7
    eko hi rudro na dvitiyaya tasthur ya iman lokan isata isanibhih/pratyan janan tishtati sancukocanta kale samsrjya visva bhuvanani gopah/ Siva is One without the second,who rules all the worlds.He protects the worlds after creating them and withdraws them at the end of time-Svetasvatara
    The Vedas clearly distinguish between the Supreme God Siva and devas like Brahma vishnu indra who derive their powers from Him.Pradeep please read the vedas carefully.

  14. Chandran, I have. You read the purusha sukta carefully and observe what is said during achamanam and at the end of a yaga. Also observe who all are invited for the 12thday funeral ceremonies

  15. Pradeep,
    Purusha sukta is misunderstood by many to be a hymn to Vishnu due to the verse”hrischa te lakshmisca patnyou”.Here the actual meaning is”modesty and prosperity are your consorts”.Hri and Lakshmi are also the names of Parvati.Further,Taittiriya Aranyaka of Yajur Veda states Purusho vai Rudra(Purusha is indeed Rudra).The commentary of Appaya Dikshita on Purusha sukta establishes that Purusha sukta glorifies Siva.
    Performing acamana with the names of Vishnu is not enjoined by the Vedas.Acamana is of 3 types:srauta,smarta and pauranika.Acamana with Vishnu nama is pauranika.Many strict vaideekas till today follow srauta acamana which is the true vedic acamana.Verses uttered at the end of yagas are mostly puranic and not obligatory;these are later day accretions.Vedas declare “avo rajanam adhvarasya rudram”-Rudra is the KIng of Yagas.Inviting various deities for funeral ceremonies does not make all of them equal.

  16. Hariyum Haranum Ondre endru Ariyathavarum Ularo.. Oru Silarum Ulare.. That is what the needless argument here is stating. In this site, We are trying our best to kindle interest in our art and culture. We have not been confined to religious or sect boundries. This is a forum for art appreciation. The Puranas and history we quote here are to aid in higher appreciation of art. I would request along with Vijay, that personal preferences and views are kept outside this forum. This is our sincere request. As an open forum, we neither delete or moderate the comments and would wish to keep it that way, hence help. Pradeep, Vijay and I have in numerous occassions traveled together and listed our learning here. We are sharing our learnings, we wish to be educated on our culture in this process. We are not in for any division in name of religion or sect. Kindly refrain from further comments which are not in good taste. Welcome all constructive and collaborative feedbacks.

  17. I appreciate the Service you are doing in helping the appreciation of arts.My only request is to do so without running down anyone’s beliefs by saying that they stuck to imaginary each his own.hariyum haranum ondru may be your belief.Fine.I respect that.But saying endru ariyathavarum ularo…orusilarum ulare seems to be hitting at Saivas and Vaishnavas.Your statement is suggesting that Nayanmars are ignorant of the Real Truth and that Real Truth is Hariyum Haranum ondru.I agree that personal preferences should be kept out of the forum.But stating hariyum haranum onru endru ariyathavarum ulare is also a statement of personal view.My only request is that everyone’s beliefs should be respected without being run down as narrow-mindedness.I will refrain from continuing this argument any further.By the way you are doing a great job.Please keep up the good work.

  18. Dear Chandran,

    I too am a Shiva Bhaktan like you and do Siva Pooja every day. I am most impressed with your knowledge and clarity of thought and would like to correspond with you privately. my id is [email protected]

    Having said that, I must say that there are several places, in our Puraanas and Vedas, where it is mentioned that all Deities are facets of the same Supreme Lord. We must hold steadfast to our respective Lords without raising a fuss of who is greater.


  19. Dear Vishwanath,
    Thanks.It is a great pleasure to come into contact with a Siva Bhakta like you.It’s like meeting the Lord Himself.You are most welcome to correspond with me.My id is [email protected]
    Our Vedas,Agamas and Puranas clearly state the distinction between Siva ,the Supreme Paramatma and other Devas who are mere jivatmas like us.Please read the quotations I have given above.Also refer to Kenopanishad.Suta Samhita of Skanda Purana states khadyotoyadi chandabhanu sadrusaha sthulyo sambhuna harihi-If a firefly is equal to the fiery sun then Vishnu could be equal to Siva.Brahma further states
    mayabalenaiva harim sivena samanamahuh purushadamascha/mohena kechinmamasamyamahuh rmaya tu shaivi kaludushtareyam//
    Due to the power of Maya,lowly people hold Hari to be equal to Siva;others equate Siva with me due to delusion;it is difficult indeed to cross this maya of Siva.
    I can show you thousands of other slokas from our scriptures which clearly state it is a griveous sin to equate Siva with other devas but this is not the forum.We shall correspond privately.

  20. Namaskaram chandran…i m a follower of Sri kailasa paramparai of saiva siddhanta..i was sad and angry when I was reading the comments until I came to ur comment…i m happy indeed,because very few people are saivites who defend saivism…my email is [email protected]. …i hope to chat with u about saivism

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