Portrait bronzes of Chola Kings – A study from Past references

The Tanjore Big temple is very much in the news these days. On the occasion of its 1000th year, there is a call for the return of this bronze sculpture which is currently residing at the Sarabhai Museum. We take this occasion to explore this in more detail and the trail leads us on an eye opening journey of portrait bronze sculpture.

Statutory Warning: Long but addictive post!!

( Photo Courtesy: Sri Kudavoil Balasubramaniam book Rajarajeeshwaram – Back cover.)

Is this Raja Raja Chola. For a better understanding of the subject, readers have to be transported in time to 1014 CE, to the environs of the big temple – to its west enclosure.


No. 38. On the first niche of the west enclosure, third inscription

This inscription describes seven images, which had been set up before the 29th year [of the reign of Rajarajadeva] by the same manager of the Rajarajesvara temple, who is mentioned in the inscription No. 26, and a number of ornaments, which had been given to these images by the same person (paragraphs 23 to 50) and by the inhabitants of two towns (paragraphs 51 and 59). The images represented Nambi-Aruranar (paragraphs 2, 23, 55, 59), Nangai-Paravaiyar (5, 25, 57, 66), Tirunavukkaraiyar (8, 29, 53), Tirunanasambandadigal (11, 36, 51), Periya-Perumal (14, 44), his consort Lokamahadevi (17, 47), and the god Chandrasekhara[7] (20). Of these, Periya-Perumal, ‘the great king,’ and his consort Lokamahadevi are perhaps identical with king Rajarajadeva and his queen Lokamahadevi, both of whom may have been represented as worshipping the god Chandrasekhara, i.e., Siva, in whose honour the king had built the temple.


1. Hail! Prosperity! The following copper images,[23] which had been set up in the temple of the lord Sri-Rajarajesvara until the twenty-ninth year (of the king’s reign) by Adittan Suryan, alias Tennavan Muvenda-Velan, a headman (of) Poygai-nadu, who carried on the management of the temple of the lord Sri-Rajarajesvara, — were engraved on stone, after they had been measured by the cubit measure (preserved) in the temple of the lord, after the jewels (given to them) had been weighed without the threads by the stone called (after) Dakshina-Meru-Vitankan, and after the gold had been weighed by the stone called (after) Adavallan: –


14. One solid image of Periya-Perumal, having two sacred arms (and measuring) one mulam, four viral and a half in height from the feet to the hair.
15. One lotus on which this (image) stood, (measuring) five viral and two torai in height.
16. One pedestal, joined to this (lotus and measuring) eleven viral square, and five viral and six torai in height.
17. One solid image of his consort Ologamadeviyar, having two sacred arms (and measuring) twenty-two viral and two torai in height.
18. One lotus on which this (image) stood, (measuring) five viral in height.
19. One pedestal, joined to this (lotus and measuring) eleven viral square, and five viral and two torai in height.
20. One solid brass image of Chandrasekharadeva, set up as Devaradevar[24] of Periya-Perumal, having four divine arms (and measuring) five viral and two torai in height from the feet to the hair.
21. One brass pedestal, (measuring) two viral and four torai square, and one viral in height, and (bearing) a lotus, which was joined to this (image and measured) one viral and a half in height.
22. One solid aureola of copper, covering this (image and measuring) twenty-one viral in circumference.

Now the operative line ofcourse is the measurement above : one mulam, four viral and a half in height. Lets take Mulam as approx 15 inches and 41/2 virals to mean half of a mulam – so totals up to 22.5 inches or 57 centimeters. But here comes the complications, the basic scale differs from location to location, from temple to temple – we had learn’t earlier from a session with a master sculptor that it would depend on the grain of rice grown in that area, there are other versions that it depends on the ruler , his birth start etc etc. This basic scale is what drives every aspect of the temple – from the Main deity, to the ancillary shrines. – like the DNA of the site, genetically linking every strand of its architecture and iconography. Experts need to work to find out what the basic Tanjore big temple scale and muzham works out to.

Thanks to a wonderful book we picked up from the Egmore Museum,Bronzes of South India – P.R. Srinivasan (F.E. 1963, L.R. 1994) for just Rs. 386, we embark on our journey to study portrait bronzes of Chola kings.

Its much bigger than what it looks on the photograph and for its price is a steal.

The darker color papers are the description of the bronzes and the whiter ones are the plates – just loved every page. Ok, back to the bronze under question – yes, it is featured in the collection.

Lets see what is the description of this bronze from the work.

The bronze representing a Chola King, height 74 cm – stands on a padmasana in the sama – bhanga posture with hands kept in the anjali pose. The makuta and the loin cloth with its simha mukha clasp are ornate. In fact everyone of the details of this figure is chiseled extremely well eg, the necklets and Keyuras. The face is rather square. its features are clear – cut. The expression suggests self absorption and tranquility. There are only two necklets, the usual ring like necklet seen outermost in the bronzes of this period is absent. The channavira is, however, slender and is treated in the manner in which such details are dealt with by the sthapatis of this period.

The torso is not particularly well modeled. The modeling of the arms is suggestive of strength, although the proportions of the shoulders do not seem to fit properly with those of the chest. The other noteworthy points are the projecting nipples and the elbow ornaments. The latter are beaded and they show the projecting pieces conspicuously. For quite a considerable time now bronzes with this feature were not met with. In fact this seems to us to one of the latest bronzes to show this feature, bronzes of the subsequent periods, showing this detail so prominently being almost nil. Interestingly the shoulder ornament is seen on the side only. A flower like design is shown between the hands which are treated with great skill.

The Ornateness of the loin-cloth is apparent which is brought out clearly by the treatment of the simha-mukha and the festoons and tassels hanging from it. The border of the cloth is noteworthy. The ends of the cloth may be seen to be dealt with rather in a ` modern’ way. The defective modeling of the leg is quite obvious not only from the prominent knees but also from the natural contraction of the lines at that place. A very important detail of this bronze is its anklet seen on the left leg only, beside the padasara. This type of anklet characterises the sculptures of the western and eastern gopuras of the temple at chidambaram. A different type of anklet was seen in the two beautiful bronzes from Sundarapperumal kovil which was similar to the anklet seen in some of the sculptures from the temple at Gangai Konda Cholapuram. But from now onwards this additional anklet becomes more or less a constant feature of bronzes. In several bronzes of subsequent periods, this is seen on both ankles. But later day bronzes without this characteristic are not uncommon.

The Padmasana is simple but delicately worked; its petals are braod and the marginal lines are rather faint. Tips of petals are not emphasized. As a whole its form and details have been beautifully conceived and tastefully executed. On these grounds this may also be assigned to the second quarter of the 12th Century AD, but not to the 13th Century (JISOA Vol VI P22) nor to the 12 -13 th Century ( The Art of India and Pakisthan,p 74)

The stylistic concepts and dating of bronzes vary from one scholar to another, but, the pertinent questions to be asked are – Muzham and viral from the inscription – how much do they translate to in cms and since it clearly talks of the lotus and pedestal separately its clear that it defines the head to toe measurement of Idol. Now, the 74 cms mentioned in the work – is it head to toe or incl the pedestal. Best way would be for someone to visit the Sarabhai Museum to procure its dimensions.

Ideally, we should have ended an already long post with the above, but thanks to a chance interaction with Ms. Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink, who is managing the works of Late Sri Raja Deekshithar, on the previous post on the sculpture from Tiruvisalur, yielded another hidden gem.
An article by Sri.T. G. Aravamuthan, in 1930 titled South Indian Portraits

South Indian Portraits

We came across a very interesting bronze in that article and surprise of surprises, it was ( AT THAT TIME) in the Tanjore temple itself. One glance and you can be sure that we are talking of an entire new image and surprisingly have not chanced on this particular bronze in any museum or article post this. The image is not too clear to check on the anklet, but it does appear that he is wearing on anklet on both legs. Users may help to identify / check where this bronze is ?? ( there is another Bronze in the Tanjore Art Gallery which we will see after this)

In the last days of Rajaraja I (985-1013 A. D.), the great Chola king who built the famous Brihad-Isvara temple at Tanjore, 37 the manager of the temple seems to have set up a solid image of Rajaraja along with a similar one of his queen, Loka-maha-devi, in the temple to the building of which that king devoted the treasures he acquired in his numerous conquests. An inscription in the temple does not seem to be susceptible of any other interpretation. The measurements of the two images and the pedestals are given in the inscription: the image of the king was ‘one mulam, four viral and a half in height from the feet to the hair,’ and that of the queen was ‘twenty-two viral and two torai in height.’ Among the “jewels with which the statues were decked were ‘sacred arm-rings’ and ‘sacred ear-rings.’ It is also worth noting that a lamp was kept burning in the presence of the king’s statue, just as if it were an image of the deity. No image now in that temple is identifiable with that of the queen Loka-maha-devi: her statue seems to have disappeared. A king’s statue is found among the images now in the temple, but it is exceedingly doubtful if it is the statue to which the above-mentioned inscription relates. All that we know of this statue has been summarised thus: ‘In the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjore is a metallic image with the label, Rajarajendra-chola-raja of the big temple, engraved on the pedestal in the modern Tamil alphabet. The king is represented as standing with both his palms joined together in a worshipping pose. As a work of art, it is only a second-rate specimen, not to be compared favourably with the image of Krishna-raya at Tirumalai. It is said that this image receives all the honours in the temple and when the god is taken out in procession, this royal image escorts the deity. The name as given on the image evidently refers to the Chola king Rajaraja I, for it was he who was intimately connected with the construction and the upkeep of this temple. It should be a later work done to perpetuate the memory of the founder of the great temple. The tradition locally current about this image also corroborates this view. One look at this bronze is enough to show that compared with the many icons in the same temple which were set up in the days of Rajaraja I it is of far inferior quality, especially in regard to the moulding of the figure. The fine idealism and the vigorous freedom of those icons do not animate this figure” which is very wooden and unspeakably rigid. Further, the height of the statue of Rajaraja I which was set up in his times is known to us from the inscription in the temple; this height does not tally with the height of the image which now passes for Rajaraja’s. The characters on the pedestal are attributable to the, seventeenth century: at any rate, they do not belong to Rajaraja’s times. From all that we know of Rajaraja we cannot but hold it extremely probable that the manager of the temple acted on Rajaraja’s wishes in setting up the two; statues and providing that the king’s image should accompany the utsava-vigraha of the god in the processions of the great festivals. Perhaps we have to suppose that the, original statues were lost and that the present statue was substituted much later when the metal worker’s art had degenerated greatly in this part of the country. Had the original bronzes survived they would have been of unique artistic value, for they are not merely the very earliest portrait statues of metal the date of which is indisputable,—though we have many specimens of icons of metal of much earlier date,—but they are also specimens of a period to which some of the very best south Indian bronzes belong.


While searching for this bronze, chanced on Satheesh’s set from the Tanjore Art gallery exhibits and hit on this Bronze.

its definitely a king for he is wearing the trademark Veerakkazhal.

Though the body and torso are of decent workmanship, the facial features are a big let down. The modeling of the head dress is also indicative of a slightly later date for this bronze. Not sure if this exhibit is labeled / dated in the gallery. Tanjore readers may assist to find out. SO WHO IS THIS ROYAL PERSONALITY?

Serious readers would have notices that the clasped praying hands is a common feature among all the bronzes we have seen so far, but the first one had a variation – it held a flower in its hand. what is this depiction. We go back to Sri. P.R Srinivasan’s book to look at a few similar depictions in bronzes.

This style is commonly seen in the Chandikeshwara bronzes of the late 12th C. For eg, look at this fantastic specimen from Eton College. ( location as mentioned in the book)

Similarly this Chandikeswara from Polonnaruwa Srilanka, also dated to the second half of the 12th Century. Another masterpiece.

Though the posture is similar including the clasped hands and the flower held in it, notice that the anklet is missing .

And now, we come to another interesting exhibit in the same book. Another bronze king, this time from Kandarakottai, Cuddalore Taluk, South Arcot district.

This is dated to the third quarter of the 11th Century. The Kirita is strikingly similar to that of Rama from Valarpuram, its necklaces and armlets are similar to those of the bronzes of this school dealt earlier. The loin cloth shows closely ” wrinkled folds’ and its edges are prominent. The Uttariya is tied with a graceful knot in front and a pair of pendent ends are seen on either side. The other interesting detail is that rosaries of beads held between the hand in anjali pose, the like of which has not been met with in earlier bronzes. That the bronze is of the school is borne out by the angular treatment of the elbows and by the presence of a thick anklet on the left leg. This latter ornament, as has been seen above, has become a distinguishing feature of a majority of images since Rajendra I’s time. Its erect posture is in the style of Vishnu bronzes; and the workmanship of the legs, which taper beautifully and are proportionate, adds charm to the posture.

The Padmasana of this bronze is of the usual type and the marginal lines of the the petals are distinctly sen although their tips are not prominent. The asana is seen on a simple square bhadrasana which has on either side a pair of rings.

From the above description it will be seen that this is a good specimen of the art of bronzes of this school. As regards its identification Mr. T.G. Aravamuthan has said that it represented a local chief, but the authors of the Catalogue have said that ” it is presumably the Chola King Madurantaka, who is said by local tradition to have built the temple where it was found”. They, however, opined that they had not been able to identify the king. But now the situation is slightly better. It is known that the title of Madurantaka was brone by a number of Chola kings and princes, namely, Parantaka I, Sundara Chola, Rajendra I and Madurantaka, son of Virarajendra. Of these, on grounds of style, this bronze cannot be said to belong to either of the former two kings. On the other hand, the style of the bronze, being characteristic of bronzes of the school of Rajendra I, and that the temple where it was found is said to have been built by a Madhurantaka who may either be Rajendra I was a great builder of temples and it was during his period, as during his father’s , portraits in metal, of royal persons came to be made frequently and places in temples as testified to by the bronze figures discussed above. But this figure being in a slightly more evolved style, it may be a representation of Rajendra I made during his successor’s time. Accordingly to us the school of Rajendra I extends upto about 1075 AD. It may therefore be said that this bronze may have done during the time, by the ruler of Tondaimandalam about 1065 AD by Virarajendra, the temple may have been built by him to which he presented the bronze in question.A solution to this question will require further on the spot examination of the temple and of the other bronzes returned to the villages.

There is no indication of the current location of this bronze !

its been a long post and have been curbing the voices to break it into parts, but the piece de resistance is yet to come and we get to see one more illustrious Chola King – probably Kulottunga III. Again ref and photos from the same book.

The bronze representing a King, over a foot high, probably Kulottunga III, formerly in the Siva temple at Kalahasti but now in a private collection may be examined now ( WHERE ? WITH WHOM?). Extremely fortunate it bears on its pedestal an inscription which according to Mr. G. Venkoba Rao, the epigraphist is in characters of about the 13th Century AD, a proposition accepted by Mr. T.G. Aravamuthan. The inscription is in two parts. ” The first part ………….is a label ‘ Kulottunga Sola devar’ and the second part is a record of the dedication of the image to that temple by one Udaiya Nambi.” So the difficulty in dating this piece has been very much reduced by this inscription. The style of the bronze, appropriately enough, is characteristic of the period to which the inscription is assigned on the basis of its paleography

Prof. Sastri says the following about this : ” ……the figure wears many ornaments and the face is expressive of youthful energy and eagerness. The image is important as perhaps the only authentic contemporary portrait of a Chola Monarch so far known”
.But regarding his dating of the bronze expressed in the sentence “…..the image may have been made about the time of his accession.”…..its date is most probably somewhere around 1180,” it may be said that it is somewhat early.

The noteworthy details of this pretty little piece, are the curly hair in front, depicted in a manner very similar to that which is meet with in the bronzes of Jnanasambanda, the thick cluster of necklaces, the prominent beaded strings on the shoulder, the stylised and not clearly worked keyuras and elbow ornament, the ornate shorts and waist bands and the anklets of three rings on the ankles.

The asanas too are beautiful, the petals of the padmasana are in the traditional style. The bhanga of the figure is beautiful and the excellence of tis conception is exemplified by the realistic rendering of the facial features and the smiling countenance. This may be attributed to the middle of the fist quarter of the 13th Century AD.

Lots of information is available and these are not recent findings. There is much to learn from the work of these scholars and build on. Hope you all found this long post educative and enlightening, for it was definitely so for me . Hoping someday some of these bronzes will surface again somewhere?

There is only one Raja – and that’s Raja Raja, but is this he?

There are few persona who can create such an sense of awe among history lovers, and in that select brand there are fewer still who inspire a sense of belonging amongst his followers a thousand year hence. The supreme among this select band is our very own Raja Raja Cholar – A King, who continues to live on in his mighty creations and in the hearts of his followers. Its a dream for us, to be able to envision him in flesh and blood, even though Kalki, in his immortal work Ponniyin Selvan strung together such a beautiful garland of words to go with Artist Maniam’s sketches, the quest to find an accurate and authentic version of his portrait or sculpture lingers on. There have been many claimants, for the Karuvur Thevar and Raja Raja Cholar painting in the big temple fresco, to the current hot topic of the Bronze in the Sarabai Museum. While in the pursuit of such, i chanced on an interesting research paper: The Problem of Portraiture in South India, Circa 970-1000 A.D.,Author(s): Padma Kaimal

There was a small reference to an inscribed miniature sculpture but the title got me all excited – for it reads.( well this is not the actual inscription in the temple but a simple Meikeerthi of him)

Inscribed portraits of Rajaraja Chola and his chief queen Lokamahadevi. South wall of the mahamandapa, Sivayoganatha temple, Tiruvisalur.

This led to a frantic search for a good photograph of the said sculpture and a further search for the connected inscription.

On the Sivayoganatha temple at Tiruvisalur, an inscription below two relief figures identifies them as representations of Rajaraja and his queen Lokamahadevi, and notes that the king and queen performed rituals at this temple, and that the queen endowed it with 458 kasu of gold.”

Thanks to our contributor Sri Lakshmi Narayanan of Kumbakonam, ( he has an excellent collection of dilapidated temples desperately needing attention at http://picasaweb.google.com/slnvasu) , who immediately undertook the trip and got us the sculpture photograph.

I know you are already jumping, but first a word of caution.Tiruvisalur has an ancient temple which goes back to the days of Aditya I. The reference to inscribed portraits is unclear, the inscription, albeit a very interesting one, talks of a very interesting ritual – the Hiranyagarba ceremony – where one passes through the womb of a golden cow, to stop the process of rebirth and be one with God from this birth, was performed by Raja Raja here at Tiruvisalur. ( thanks to note from Arvind – a copy of this inscription is also found in the temple in Thiruvaalanchuli ). Its also important to note here that this is in his last year of reign -ie 29th Year of reign ( 1014 CE).

Lets take a look at the actual inscription.


No.42 (Page No 20)

(A. R. No. 42 of. 1907)

Tiruvisalur, Kumbhakonam Taluk, Tanjavur District

Sivayoganatha temple— on the same wall

Rajaraja I : year 29 : 1013-14 A.D.

A slight deviation is found in the historical introduction in that it adds the “Twelve Thousand Islands” to the usual list of the king’s conquests. The reference is evidently to the Maldives which are said to have been known by that name in ancient tradition, and which the king should have conquered late in his reign. (Prof. K.A.N. Sastri’s The Colas’. Vol. I, p.220).

The inscription registers an agreement given by the mahasabha of vemgarrur alias Solamattanda-chaturvedimangalam a Brahmadeya in Manni-nadu, to the temple of Tiruvisalur-Mahadeva. A sum of 458 kasu was endowment to the temple and deposited with the assembly by queen Dantisaktivitankiyar alias lokamahadeviyar on the occasion of the performance of tulabhara by the king and of hiranyagarbha by herself in the temple. As interest on this amount they undertook to measure out annually 229 kalam of paddy at the rate of 1 tuni and 1 padakku on every kasu per year, and with this paddy the ur-variyam and kudumbu committees of the year were to meet the daily requirements of akkaradalai offering to the god, of which the details are given as follows:

Items required Equivalent in paddy

Rice – 2 nali … … One kurini and 2 nali

Tupparuppu(dol)—1 nali … …. 5 nali

Cow’s milk – 4 nali …. ….. ….. 1 padakku

Ghee –1 ulakku … …. ….. 1 kuruni

Sugar – 12 ½ palam … …. …. 1 kuruni and 2 nali

Plantain fruits –20 (?) …. …. ….. 6 nali

Arecanut … 10}

Betel leaves … 40} …. ….. …. 2 nali and 1 nali

Earthen pot …. …., …. 1 nali, 1 uri and 2 ¾ sevidu

Firewood …. …. ….. 1 nali
Remuneration to person preparing the offering … 1 nali

Now for the sculpture

Let us study the characters in more detail

The temple per say doesn’t have many sculptures or panels. This is maybe one of the three that are there apart from the main deities. So we can take it that they are no ordinary souls – usually a portrait sculpture is reserved for someone who has done major donation for the temple. So its evidently a royal couple of some importance. The man is definitely not young, but the lady appears a bit younger but no way a teenager, but is depicted with a radiant face, standing there ( most royal portraits show other Kings in a seated position), both are shown praying in total devotion. The man is depicted slightly short stature by normal iconographic measures, slightly rounder. He wears his hair with a top knot but not head gear, his ears are long and again with no ornaments. He wears a Kilt like dress. Is he a King – we cannot spot any special ornaments like the Veerakkazhal ( anklet on either feet – the royal anklet). The Lady does wear a necklace, some light jewelery on her head and elaborate clothing, but is also matching her Lord in her humble prayers. Why show an important donor, who wears no ornamentation, while his wife is wearing. The point to note here is in his closing years Raja Raja took the name Siva Padha Sekhara ( shining at the resplendent feet of shiva) and hence is considered to have lived almost a saintly life. So is the man the Great King in his final years as Siva Padha Sekhara ?

The object of worship however is very simple.

A simple Shiva Linga, which is adorned with a garland of flowers, a conch is also placed before the Linga in front of the worshipers to maybe indicate that they have just performed an abhisekam using the conch and are standing.

So, if we are to tag this Portrait sculpture to the cited inscription, and the circumstantial iconographical evidences, it does show a strong cause to believe that this is indeed He and his Pattamahishi.

A note for history lovers and lovers of historic fiction – Rajendra’s mother was different from this queen. She was Vanavanmadevi ( or Vanathi for ponniyin selvan enthusiasts ) as we have inscriptions which state ” vanavanmadevi tiruvayir uditha rajendra” – meaning rajendra born from vanavanmadevi. The Queen who took the throne along with Raja Raja was Danti Sakthi Vitanki or Lokamadevi.

Now, i leave it for the experts to take this forward.

Mahabalipuram – Unifinished Poetry in Stone – Prof .S. Swaminathan, Photographs Ashok Krishnaswamy

This is possibly the sneakiest of sneak peaks you can get. A chance for me to place on record my heartfelt gratitude to one my Gurus, the man who introduced me to the language of stone, educated me on the need to spread the message of awareness and to do so without expecting any reward or accolade, but to silently go about your task. Its not just him, but the efforts of another dear friend, expert photographer cum digital artist Ashok, which have culminated in this – Yes, this is a book introduction ( am not competent to call it a review ) and is on the still hot of the press coffee table book on Mallai.

Whatever was the boon seeker’s objective, standing there on his one leg, arms raised up, he sure has grabbed the attention of the world – be it the ardent art historian or the rookie backpack hugging tourist. By choosing that very sculpture as their cover illustration, one cannot fail to notice , the allegory to the efforts put in my the master historian and the expert photographer – the confluence of their eclectic styles gives life to the stones in Mamallapuram.

True, many works have already been written and will continue to come out about these fantastic treasure trove of stone work, but few before have attempted to capture the essence of being there. The book opens a door and virtually transports you to Mallai, with just the right amount of scholarly diction, like a subtle background score, Prof Swaminathan’s guiding tone accentuates the rhythms that vibrate in the stones captured brilliantly via Ashok’s lenses.

Its been a long pending wish, to see a coffee table book on the splendors of Mamallapuram, for despite the multitude of scholarly works, there was always space for such a endeavor, for among the thousands who throng the site only a few have been properly initiated into appreciating the beauties that are on offer. This book was conceptualized to bridge that gap, to be a companion, which you could take along with you on your visit to Mallai, or come back home to leisurely relish a visit , look back and reminisce at its glory. Lastly, for the select few who are yet to undertake what is a romance for Pallava art enthusiasts like us, its a honey stick lure, for once immersed into the rocky confines of its pages, its hard not to imagine the magnificent pinnacle of stone sculpting reaching out to you from amidst the lilting splash of the waves and the spray of the salty sea mist.

For us, upstart history buffs, who cherish every interaction with such scholars, the availability of such a unique book on Mallai is a boon, gone are the days of reading the text and then hurriedly rushing to the last portion to view the plates, the text and photos mingle seamless and move from one page to next like a slick pair of Salsa dancers.

Don’t get me wrong, its not picture postcard book, the starting invocation, sternly brings you into focus, this is no less a research paper, as the richly thought out foreword by Sri Narasiah, who has taken much pain to list out the multitudes of people who has worked on dciphering the puzzle that is mallai, but the highlight of this particular work, is the results is sans the long diatribe, its easy on the head as its pleasing to the eye. The wise professor diligently takes you through a formal introduction into Pallava art, while Ashok lets you see, touch, feel the fabric of the stone work , each thoughtful frame competes with the insightful texts for your attention. Must thank the publishers for the effort to showcase the early efforts of the Pallavas from many corners of their wide land, to serve as an eye opener to their pioneering efforts and as a prelude to what is on offer in Mamallapuram.

You can almost feel the glee in the eyes, the cheer in the heart of the narrator as we pass through each chapter, its a wholesome visual treat on offer. Half way into the book, you are almost tempted to stop and restart from the first page, but the best is yet to come. For the first time, we get to see the famed Dharamaraja Ratha upper storey sculptures in their bewitching best, as Ashok combines creative photography with technology, we are able to gasp the original brilliance of the Govardhana Panel without the later pillar additions in front in a 4 page spread, the full splendor and glory of the Penance Panel as a 3 page spread, you cannot but stop to appreciate the thoughtful insights like a site Map and Flora section.

A fitting tribute to the Atyantakama.

Our heartfelt wishes to the team . To book is slated to hit stores near you shortly. For more details contact

[email protected]

Order online

Order your copy online

How would an Ascetic turn up for his marriage !

Its not often you get blessed thrice in the same day. It was my wife’s birthday and we happened to be in Tanjore and first stop @ big temple( for her – me and Arvind had already been to Pullamagai in the morning!!). Pushed our luck by calling Kudavoil Balasubramaniam Sir, and such a humble person that he is, he immediately came to meet us and gave us a guided tour of Periya Koil.

We have already seen the Dhakshan beheading panel and the Kama Dahana panels previously.

Shiva cuts off the head of his father in law

Shiva burns the lord of love

The current panel is a sequel to those. Shiva has been convinced to come back to becoming a householder and Dhaksayini has been reborn as Uma – the daughter of Himavan, the King of the Mountains. Maybe the only verse i remember from Sanskrit class is atha osadhinaam athipasya vrithow !!! from the Kumarasambava. Not sure if the current story is found in Kalidasa’s version, but it loosely follows the rendition in the kantha puranam ( though a later work to the sculpture).

The background plot is simple, Himavan is convinced by the seven Rishis sent by Shiva and agrees to give his daughter to Shiva. Now comes the tough part, to convince his wife – Menai. The Queen, being what any mother would be, comes over to take a look at the bridge groom for the first time, expecting him to come dressed in all his finery and flanked by the very best in the procession.

Lets see how Shiva turned up for his marriage procession – keep in mind current day baraats – the festivities , revelry and sarees, sherwanis, jewelery and money that are on display- the bridegroom in a designer sherwani on a majestic white horse, with an assortment of pretty looking women and boisterous men , equally decked up.

Here he is, wearing his elephant skin trunks, with his horde of Ganas, on his bull. There is a pet snake thrown in as well, rearing up form his left hand as he nonchalantly turns around to pose for the camera !!

What a shock it would have been to the welcome party. No wonder, the future mother in law Menai panicked

She is already scared for he known for taking the heads ( brahma, dhaksha) , she refused to accept that this uncouth youth could be her son in law.

Finally, Brahma, Vishnu, Narada all came and explained the actions of Dhaksha that led to his downfall and the mighty grace of Shiva to have restored him to life albeit with a Goat’s head. The marriage does take place and finally – ALL IZZ WELL in Kailash – and ready for the birth of Kumara !!

A big thanks to Kudavoil sir. But Sir, has explained this sculpture differently in his latest book, will see it shortly.

Two Interesting Guhan Panels

This post has taken almost six months to make. I first saw this panel is a presentation done by Sri Sivaramakrishnan in chennai last december, while he explained the nuances of this Ramayana Panel from Tirunageshwaran Temple in Kumbakonam. Heavy rain spoiled our plans to capture the panel in march, but guess the panel wanted it to be showcased – for thanks to help from friends and volunteers, i received superb photos from Sri K.S. Sankaranarayanan, Sri Hari Krishnan. Arvind and Ashok followed up with a specific visit as well – so we get to study this panel in depth.

Ofcourse, we had seen a similar panel but sadly plastered on one half – from Pullamangai ( thanks again to Arvind and Satheesh)

Before, we start studying the two panels, the compositions and key aspects, lets study this episode in more depth. Its a very small but interesting portrayal of Guha in Ramayana. For starters, the very mention of Guha brings up images of a humble boatman, who was immortalized by his love and devotion to Rama, but is he just a boat man. Lets see how Valmiki presents him.


sa tu raamasya vachanam nishamya pratigR^ihya cha |
sthapatistuurNamaahuya sachivaanidamabraviit || 2-52-5

Hearing the command of Rama, Guha quickly received it, invited his ministers and spoke to them as follows:

asya vaahanasamyuktaam karNagraahavatiim shubhaam |
suprataaraam dR^iDhaam tiirkhe shiigram naavamupaahara || 2-52-6

Let a beautiful boat that is solidly constructed, sails well and a helmsman in it, be brought to the bank to carry this hero across!

tam nishamya samaadesham guhaamaatyagaNo mahaan |
upohya ruchiraam naavam guhaaya pratyavedayat || 2-52-7

Hearing that command, the chief minister of King Guha brought a charming boat to the bank and reported the matter to Guha.

apramattaH bale koshe durge jana pade tathaa |
bhavethaa guha raajyam hi duraarakSatamam matam || 2-52-72

Oh, Guha! Remain vigilant in defense, finance, internal security and public relations, for a kingdom is the most difficult one to be protected!

tataH tam samanuj~naaya guham ikSvaaku nandanaH |
jagaama tuurNam avyagraH sabhaaryaH saha lakSmaNaH || 2-52-73

Then Rama, who was a delight to Ikshvaku dynasty, bade farewell to Guha and departed quickly, remaining undistracted, along with his consort and together with Lakshmana.

anuj~naaya sumantram ca sabalam caiva tam guham |
aasthaaya naavam raamaH tu codayaam aasa naavikaan || 2-52-80

Bidding farewell to Guha with his army of men and Sumantra, Rama sat on the boat and directed the boatmen to move on.

Ok, now switching back to Kamban’s tamil version, lets see his portrayal of the same scene.


Paal udai mozhiyaalum, pagalavan anaiyaanum,
seludai nedu heer sinthinar, vilayaada,
thooludai nimir kolin thuzhuvida, ezhu naavaai,
kaaludai nedujendin, sendrathu kadithu amaa!

She whose language is as milk, and he who is radiant like the sun,
played in the waters of the ganges rich in fish,
as he used the long pole to pilot the ship forward,
and it sped like a many legged crab…!

So, now comes the twist in the tale. The next few verses talk of Guha wanting to stay with Rama and Rama in his emotional outpour says the famous words – with you we become Five – meaning, he takes Guha as his own brother !! So, in kamban’s version Guha crosses the river with them. Another interesting thing to note, is the mention of the many legged crab – it could be that there were many who manned the oars of the boat as well, but the sculptor chose to ignore them to focus on just the key players.

So, in Kamban’s version Guha does row the boat and this is the scene that we are looking at in the sculpture – the key aspect being the pole used to propel the ship.

Interesting to view the posture of the man, and compare against contemporary versions – you see that he is really straining and almost bent in pushing against the pole to move the boat!!

Lets look at the other people on the boat – Rama, Sita and Lakshmana ( sadly plastered up in the Pullamangai panel)

Now, there is a subtle difference in the depiction of the passengers in the boat between the two panels. Lets see if you can spot it. Ok, Rama is turned towards Sita in the Nageshwaram panel, but thats not what we have to see.

Pullamangai – Notice how the passengers are standing inside the boat. The length of the torso is important to view.

Now, compare nageshwara depiction

Do you notice, how the torso is much shorter and if you need to extend, they would be below the waterline. Now, which is correct. I was searching for some photos of such boats when i chanced on this antique print of a fishing scene from Andaman islands

Do you notice, the person in the centre of the boat and his height as compared to the people who are handling the poles!!

Now, both these panels are prior to 950 AD. So do these point to an earlier date of Kamban than the current 12th C CE.