Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 2

Its so nice to receive such wonderful feedback from all readers, believe me it was as interesting and thoroughly enjoyable to me and the artist Mrs. Subhashini Balasubrmanian, as it has been to you, to finally be able to fulfill a long pending and cherish dream, of seeing this beautiful panel in one piece. But then, we wanted to share with you the journey of our recreation process, so that you also learn want we learn’t working on this assignment.

Thankfully, a lot of finer detail was made available to us by Jagadeesh’s high resolution photos of the four remaining panels of the Kanchi Kailasantha Somaskanda Pantings. We once again thank him for his timely support.

Having done the general composition of the panel, we returned to study the panels at more depth to figure out the gana and the attendant. The Gana was tough, as only a part of his face was available in one of the panels, so we had to do the rest from a bit of artistic license.

The lady attendant and the details of the beautiful saree pattern of Umai came to us from the panel.


The next was the question of the pitcher or vase, though not there in any of panels – for all the panels have peeled off – we do not have any reference to this portion in the panels, people following the thread on Somaskanda Evolution would have found the small pitcher being a permanent feature in all of Rajasimha’s Somaskanda Panels. Take for example this somaskanda from the Mallai shore temple, though the gana and attendant are not there for sure, we do get to see this prominent pitcher / vase.

So, the vase finds its place in our recreation as well.

The next ofcourse was Brahma. Only one of the panels, has a outline of Brahma.

Depending on this, showing the side faces of Brahma was a bit tricky. So we decided to take inspiration from the splendor of Pullamangai temple.

and fashioned our Brahma. ( the lower hands must be changed to anjali – praying posture – we should do it soon)

Thankfully, Vishnu was pretty straight forward with one of the panel surviving completely giving us a shot at the magnificence of the Pallava artist.

So the next question before us was Skanda.

We needed to get upclose to see if we could spot the features of baby Skanda, it was very important, for isn’t he the most beautiful of Gods and imagine his as a small baby.

While, we were looking at the closeups, we realised that the Throne did not have lion motifs as had envisioned them, but were just decorative patterns.

Now, to get Umai’s face, headdress and posture correct.


Shiva, was especially tough, the toughest being the Hand mudras, ( we were helped by a small note – but we will see that in the concluding part of this series). Take for eg, his upper right hand.

The Makuda of Shiva, was especially tough one, as we wanted to get as close as possible to the original.

There was this particular design on the head dress, that was very vaguely familiar, but searching for it in sculpture and paintings, finally stuck pay dirt in Dr R. Nagasamy sir’s Masterpieces of South Indian Bronzes. This Pallava bronze, had a very unique twin makara clasps.

So,we could add that authentic detail into our sketch as well.

and here we have arrived at a basic prototype, to further iterate and work on adding embellishments.

I am sure, all of your are eager to see the finished color version, but that will be in the third and concluding part of this series.

Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 1

The lure of the recreating the lost treasures of Rajasimha’s famed paintings has been on my drawing board for long. Having experienced the sheer ecstasy of seeing the fragments of brilliance that are still remaining, my heart wept with a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy at knowing that the pinnacle of artistic talent that my land had 1300 years ago, that he could still take my breath away – albeit only in traces, the grace of his lines, the versatility of his palette, the excellence of form , stumped me. Sorrow at the realisation, that having survived for so long, the day that these would not be there anymore to inspire and impress a future generation, was not far away.

Modern photography techniques and the net, could help me to a certain extent, to at least capture these for posterity, but then there was always a niggle, a silent wish to be able to see these beauties in their original finery. My imagination helped in painting them in my mind, but to be able to transfer this onto the physical plane, needed greater acumen. My early attempts are tracing them, using manual tracing paper and online trace software, proved that this was not a task for technologically empowered, but for someone who had it in the genes.

Call it luck and chance, or maybe an inner desire of these beauties to be recast and re adored – a causal visit to a Art exhibition, of friends from Facebook, led to an introduction to none other than the clan of Sri Maniam. yes, the master who illustrated Kalki’s immortal works,Immortal works , whose Son Sri Maniam Selvan has continued in his tradition, – his works ,but it was not he, but the granddaughters of the great man. The fertile minds of the master has indeed spawned a second generation of divine artists ! So, i did get to meet Mrs. Subhashini Balasubramanian . We talked about Kalki, his works and obviously about art. Being the greedy guy that I am, I immediately sought her help on the long standing wish, and she readily agreed. We decided to start with the Somaskanda Panels of Kanchi Kailasanthar temple.

The task was not easy, but we didn’t know that fate and destiny had in store for us. The paintings are in really bad state and we had to form a collage of about 4 different works, to compare and pick out missing details. Unfortunately, despite my claims of having a large database, i could not get decent quality / resolution of these paintings. A frenetic search with friends and well wishers didn’t yield the desired results either.

We had to work with what we had in hand, putting together the bits and pieces. Just as i was loosing heart,I got the first cut from Subhasini…

I was clean bowled by the clarity in the work and the inherent beauty in the form. Clearly, the genes have gotten to work and I knew that my objective was not a distant dream but a definite reality. We were working for a week on the details, but the problem of obtaining high resolution photos for closer study loomed large. Just then, a mail arrives from a school boy. He had chatted with me sometime in May through sculpture chat on the site, …he was from vellore and was waiting for his ICSE X std results. The mail reads

“You are invited to view prithviraj’s photo album: kanc
Hello anna! Do you remember me? Am Rajakesari. I would like to share some photographs i took in Kanchipuram with u. I would be happy if these photos will be useful to you.”

And inside we see the exact photos which we wanted, the exact angles and he sent me the high resolution images as well. What a coincidence !! I can see you asking me, why all this about high resolution images, well you will understand as we see the recreation process.

Here is our Hero, Jagadesh, studying 11th Std now in Vellore.

The art of the Pallavas, so superbly nurtured by Rajasimha Pallava, finds release through the lens of a 11std Boy today and feeds our aspirations to recreate them.

Brahma

Umai

Vishnu

The need for high resolution images, comes to the fore as we explore the numerous highlights and new motiffs and features come to the fore. This Gana and lady attendant are spotted.

We try and experiment with Lion motifs for the legs of the throne – like the ones we saw in the Mallai Mahishasuramardhini Mandabam

To come up with the next versions of the sketch.

Its shaping up quite well, but you have to wait for the next part of this post to see more !!

Kirata Arjunam – Art meets art spanning 1300 years

How do we reach out to the next generation and imbibe in them the values of our land, of its art, of art appreciation. These are questions which keep coming up during our discussions. Visual art is definitely something that is attracting the next generation and though we may scoff at the comics and gaming culture, its there to stay. So today we are going to marry a Kanchi Kailasanatha sculpture ( one of my personal favorites) with the latest in digital illustrative art.

The story itself is an interesting anecdote from the Vana Parva of the Mahabaratha, wherein Arjuna splits from his brothers to do penance and procure the Pasupatha Astra from Shiva. Being the benevolent but mischievous God that he is, Shiva decides to test his devotee’s prowess himself before bestowing the boon. So he takes the form of Kirata ( a hunter) with his accompaniment of a Bow and quiver full of arrows, accompanied by Uma as the Kirata woman, enters the same forest in which Arjuna is doing his penance. Just at that moment, Arjuna is attacked by a fearsome Demon Mukasura, who has taken the form of a Wild boar. Seeing the wild boar rushing at him, the accomplished marksmen that he is, Partha ( Arjuna) lets fly a deadly arrow from his Bow Gaandiva, going for the Boar’s head. At the same instant Kirata also lets fly an arrow, which find its target in the rear of the Boar. Both the arrows hit the target at the same instant !! Now, this led to a quarrel among the two, with Arjuna claiming the hunt as his and accusing the hunter for shooting from the rear. The hunter explains that this was not a duel to have the rules of engagement drawn and to attack an animal from behind thus is no wrong ! ( Rama felling Vaali ?)

The argument continues and soon escalates into a tussle. Being warriors both settle on a duel to find out the better among them. A Shell shocked Arjuna soon sees his prowess with the Bow is matched if not bettered by the lowly hunter. His Bow string is deftly cut by the hunter’s arrow and he jumps into to engage in a wrestling match, in which too he is matched. To his surprise, the hunter doesn’t even seem to break a sweat, while he is almost dead with exhaustion. The popular version, says that he stops to create a small Linga and offers prayers with flowers to it, to invoke his blessing and taken on his opponent once again, when he is surprised to find the flowers which he offered the Linga are now adorning the hunter. Realising the true identity of his opponent, he falls at his feet and surrenders to his grace. Rest is history. There is another version that during the wrestling brawl, Arjuna accidentally caught Kirata’s feet and since he bestows grace on whoever touched his feet, Shiva immediately stopped fighting etc. But this is the crux of the Kirata Arjunam story.

Now, thanks to Mr. Abhilash Narayanan, Creative designer & Animation director, who is sharing some of his works with us, we see the story brought to life in the technology of today.

you can see more of his works at his site below

Abhiram’s site

Now, we transport ourselves back in time to the Kanchi Kailasantha temple. This panel must have been featured long ago, as its one of my favorite panels. The dynamism and sheer energy captured in this typical Hollywood style ` Face Off ‘ posture is an arresting sight. Maybe it was waiting to be pitted head to head against the best of digital art.

Photos : courtesy Mr Arvind and Mr Swaminathan.

We have the two warriors, standing their ground, locking gazes, as they are caught in the act of drawing their bows. Its interesting to notice how they seem to have slung two quivers on their backs, interesting only one has a waist sword. That this panel depicts the Kirata Arjunam is seen distinctly by the Boar in the background exquisitely sculpted behind the two figures despite the maze of their legs.

Now, comes the difficult question. Who among the two is the Lord Shiva as Kirata the Hunter and who is Arjuna. Lets take a closer look at the two figures.

and focus on the ornamentation and head dress in particular.

Lets list down the major differences between the two fighters.

Clearly, the figure to the left of the panel ( right as you view it) – wears a tall crown and a Yagnopavitham, while the other has his hair tied in a kind of bun, wears the Channavira ( cross belts) and carries a waist sword whose hilt is clearly seen.

The oral tradition is that Arjuna must have gone as an ascetic, must be emaciated from the severe penance ( he is said to have subsisted on air alone in the final months of his penance ) and there is also a ref to him wearing a sword with a golden hilt

Ref in Mahabratha

“At Yudhishthira’s command, Dhananjaya of immeasurable prowess set out (from Kamyaka) to obtain a sight of Sakra, the chief of the celestials and of Sankara, the god of gods. And the strong-armed Arjuna of great might set out armed with his celestial bow and a sword with golden hilt, for the success of the object he had in view, northwards, towards the summit of the Himavat.

But then, when we come to Kirata, he is clearly is portrayed as a hunter and not as a resplendent King, and Shiva is hardly ever shown with a Krita makuda. Further there is this reference in Sri R. Nagasamy’s article.

Kirata or Tripurantaka


However in many Chola sculptures and also Bronzes (Melapperumpallam image) Kirata will be shown like a hunter with round bellied body , beard and cannavira. His hair would be tied as a bun-like knot and not the jata-makuta one sees in the Tripurari form.

But again the Book reference is a bit unclear. When Arjuna exhausts the twin inexhaustible quivers gifted to him by Agni ( burning of the Kandava forest episode
Fire in the Khadava forest ) he tried to use his Bow as a spear , but is thwarted by Shiva.

Ref in Mahabaratha

And beholding his bow snatched from him, Arjuna took up his sword, and wishing to end the conflict, rushed at his foe. And then the Kuru prince, with the whole might of his arms, struck that sharp weapon upon the head of the Kirata, a weapon that was incapable of being resisted even by solid rocks. But that first of swords, at touch of the Kirata’s crown, broke into pieces

So, we are left with an Iconographic puzzle. Whats your take on this?

I would go with Arjuna with the crown and Kirata with the Bun head dress.

Head to Head clash – Pallava Stone vs Chola Bronze

Many a times, the question is asked to me. As a self styled art appreciator who would i rank as the best – Pallava or Chola. My answer had always been Pallava Stone and Chola Bronzes. If we drill down further, Pallava stone sculptures of the Dharamaraja Ratha and Chola Bronzes towards the closing years of Sri Raja Raja Chola are maybe the finest examples of art that I have seen.

The upper tiers of the Dharamaraja Ratha in Mallai, hold in their midst some of the finest specimens of artistic expression, for not being confined to any cannons the unrestrained imagination of the Pallava sculptor ran riot, faultless and matchless in their execution, working within the cramped confines of its upper tiers, the whole structure being a monolith carved out of mother rock top down, with zero scope for error, what these immortal artists did to the hard granite is the very pinnacle of artistic brilliance. Their ability to conjure up a myriad combination of poses with simplistic grace, perfection in form, clarity in depiction and the stunning ability to bring out the underlying expression of flesh and blood into stone is remarkable.

Today, we take one of these jewels of Pallava craftsmanship to stand in competition. The Shiva as Rishabavahana. ( thanks to Ashok generously allowing use of his expert photography and editing skills) for the first time we can see the full form in all its splendor. The task is not easy as the space available in this is very less and you cannot step back to take the full view. Now, taking a photograph itself being so difficult, consider the difficulty quotient for the original sculptor who had to sculpt this beauty within the confined space.

Whats unique about this sculpture is of course his unique head dress – a head band and a turban like way in which his matted hair is tied up. We do not see this depiction anywhere else among other later Pallava creations and even any other contemporary example in Mallai. ( for eg take the Arjuna Ratha (
Breathing life into stone).

What is the main aspect of this sculpture is a flowing sinuous grace, the flesh and blood feel of the limbs and torso. The Tribanga coming to the forefront with the exaggerated swing of the waist and the tilt of the head ! all this in a relief panel mind you and that too in the upper tower of a monolithic stone ratha.

The classy ease with which shiva rests his hand on the bull and the stylish crossing of the legs…

To stand up against this, is by itself a herculean task, so we take the very best of Chola Bronzes, and as luck could have it, we were blessed to have a vip access view of this bronze ( currently in the Tanjore art gallery) at the Coimbatore Chemmozhi Maanadu as a sneak preview, a day before the official opening of the exhibition. Chola bronzes are cast by the lost wax process ( hence each bronze is unique, the mold cannot be reused as its broken to reveal the icon) and the very best examples are said to be so perfectly worked at the wax model stage by the craftsmen – that it was said that the real test was to be able to avoid using a chisel after casting. Though we have seen bronzes right from the Pallava times in South India, the craft of bronze casting reached its pinnacle during 1000 and 1014, the period of Sri Raja Raja Chola – as evidenced by the splendid foursome – the Kalayanasundara Panel which we saw earlier (I take your hand for eternity), the Rishabantaka which we are going to see now, the Bikshadana and the Veenadhara , both which we will see subsequently.

Fixing dates of bronzes is a tough and often confusing task, but this is no ordinary bronze, part of a hoard of bronzes found in tiruvengadu in the 1950, currently in the Tanjore Art gallery, it originally belonged to the Svetanarayaneshwara temple in Tiruvengadu. An inscription in the outer wall of the temple inscribed in the 26th year of reign of Sri Raja Raja ( 1011 CE) , one Kolakkavan ( AR 456 of 1918 – Ref to inscription mentioned in South Indian Shrines – Illustrated By P. V. Jagadisa Ayyar ) presented money and jewels to the image of Shiva Vrsabhavahana. ( interestingly a year later his consort was installed !)

The stylish grace of the bronze and its remarkable resemblance to the Pallava stone sculpture is astounding. Let me try and show you. click on below image and wait for the animation to load.

Compare the stylistic features. The Bull for the bronze has not been found yet. But taking off the two additional hands from the stone model, the chola artist, has slightly lengthened the position of the hands, dropping them further down and corrected the tirbanga ( lessened the S bend) including the tilt of the head.

Now, i know this is not fair competition, for 300 odd years before the Chola craftsmen made his mold in clay, the Pallava sculptor had envisioned the form and sculpted it in hard granite with zero scope for error, but then the Chola craftsmen has done his work exceedingly well as well. For to pull a relief panel and extend it to form a complete Idol is no simple task. Take a look at the styling aspects of the bronze. ( We were fortunate to capture the foremost authority on Bronzes in one of the following photos!!)


I know that some of you might ask as to how we can take it that the chola artist was influenced by the art in mallai. Well, we go back to inscriptional evidence. The earliest inscriptions of Sri Raja Raja Chola in Mallai are found in the nearby Shore temple and …..

http://www.whatisindia.com/inscriptions/south_indian_inscriptions/volume_1/mamallapuram.html

I. INSCRIPTIONS AT MAMALLAPURAM

NO. 40. ON THE SOUTH BASE OF THE SHORE TEMPLE

This inscription is dated in the twenty-fifth year of Ko-Rajaraja-Rajakesarivarman, alias Rajara-deva….that would be 1010 CE. Exactly a year before this bronze was consecrated.