Art Talks Series

Friends, Mark you calender this weekend. 3 back to back talks in Singapore.


The first one on Friday is on Paintings, the second on Stone sculpture and Sunday is on Bronzes. So get ready for some stunning visuals.


Sincere thanks to Temple of fine Arts, the DITI organisers and to the Artist Sri Maniam clan !

Temple Vahanas of Tamil Nadu – Pradeep Chakravarthy

I have never met Pradeep ( yet) and my interaction with him started only in early May this year over a few brief email and facebook exchanges. Must confess that even the few initial interactions made quite an impression. Some googling threw up his columns in the papers, other articles about his Temple walk campaigns ( 30 such in a year is no mean achievement), they made me sit up and take notice that I was dealing with someone special. A few more weeks of email interactions, and I was pretty sure that I was dealing with someone not just special, but an extraordinary person, a dedicated professional who did meticulous preparations and indepth research for even his newspaper columns. Later thanks to technology, managed to view some of the recordings of his talks and realised that inside this modern profile ( definitely not the current avtar of a techie) and attire, there was a vestigial being – the remnants of the rich tradition of Kathakalakshepam, where the versatility and humor of the one man performer held sway over the audience for an entire evening.

So, when he told me that two of his books are scheduled for release shortly, I was more than excited at the prospect of a special treat for heritage lovers and was eagerly awaiting their formal launch. One was ” Thanjavur – A Cultural History” and the other ” Temple Vahanas of Tamil Nadu“. While we wait for the official release of the first book, the second one has been released recently by Kalamkriya, the publishing house of the Sanmar Group of Companies.

Vahanas or vehicles have always been my passion – be it my first BSA SLR and then graduating to an Atlas MTB during my school days, seeing Dad’s trusted Lamby and then on to the popular Chetak, when the affluent could afford either an Amby or a Fiat ( ok Bangaloreans would go for their Premier Padimini) – a slight flicker of hope was the Standard 2000’s and then the Invasion by the Maruti 800’s till the flood gates opened. But then to me – it was always an Arnie inspired bike rage, but had to settle for the Indian Harley – our very own Royal Enfield. Each of these were special in their own right but with the passage of time, most of them have been stripped of their positions. But what we are see today is from a bygone Era, an era when human energy or at best animals were the only means, and how tradition is still ensuring that they are alive to this day.

Combined to this, the fact that these adorable creations get their brief time under the sun ok moon ! once or twice a year ( if at all) – during the annual festival or some special days for the deity, and then being consigned to dingy bat infested confines for the rest of the year, where no one even acknowledges their existence. Its always been our endeavor to champion the cause of Temple Art, more so the beauties that escape our notice most often – a pillar sculpture here, a wood carving on a temple chariot or a magnificent Vahanam. Credit goes to Pradeep for bringing out this work to champion their cause.

What immediately caught my attention was the Pencil sketches – not just for the cover art but the entire book has been wonderfully illustrated by Sri V. Vijayakumar. I hope he does more such and hones his skills to follow the illustrious steps of greats like Sri Silpi, Sri Padmavasan. The team has also made it a bilingual ( in English & Tamil) which is a very good trend. The layouts bring a old world charm and the book in landscape mode is surely a collectors item.

The Foreword starts off on a really bold note and was actually quite surprised that the author chose to start on those lines, but as I read on it was more like the author wanting to clarify his stance on the “great divide”. But the real intensity of the work and the author’s passion hits you as you read the Introduction. He couldn’t have picked a better inscription to set the tone – an inscription from 1274 CE.

The contents cover an exhaustive list including some very special delightful Vahanas.

Here is a sample chapter on Adhikara Nandhi, for you all to read and enjoy

My personal favorite was the Kailasa Vahanam with Ravana shown stuck under the mountain, playing the instrument that he fashioned out of one of his heads and hands with his veins as the string.

Of the specials there is one Aadu ( Goat) Vahana. The extent of background research done by the author is evident as he quotes from literature to support the deity who would ride it !

To me the beauty of our heritage is in its complexity and in its own idiosyncrasies,on how even a simple description of a Puli Vahanam for the “Son” of God can be portrayed.

Surprisingly not all Vahanas are animals, reptiles and Demi Gods, some are Trees as well like the Punnai Mara Vahana or the Kalpa Vrisha Vahana. a pointer to strong nature worship prevalent among out ancestors ( are we learning ?)

Credit to the Author, the Artist and the team behind the book for successfully bringing out the significance of each Vahana, in a crisp manner, interlacing narration with choice selection of hymns and verses that transport you to the temple precincts, to visualise the lilting motion of the vahana bearers, to the accompaniment of characteristic drums and trumpets, and even maybe smell the kerosene from a leaking Petromax lamp.

p.s The book is currently under reprint and will update as soon as they are off the press !!

The soft embrace of a loving savior Vs the crushing grasp of an abductor!

Happy Deepavali Wishes to friends !! Trying to post on something associated with the basic theme on the origins of the festival. We head back to Mamallapuram, to our favorite relief Panel, to see Vishnu as Varaha, rescuing mother earth – the damsel in distress, rescuing her from the dark depth after slaying Hiranyaksha.

The subtle emotions depicted in this masterpiece of stone crafting – cut into hard granite, as a wall in a rock cut cave shrine, is a feast for our eyes. But then, a chance glance at another sculpture ( haven’t had the good fortune to travel to Rome – yet to marvel at these beauties, but hope someday i would get it – so these images are from the internet and credits given at the end of the post) – a marble masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which he fashioned even before he was 23 years of age, made me wonder. If only the Pallava sculptor had tried his hand at sculpting in marble. Why?? Read on.

The piece we are going to see today is the famed The Rape of Proserpina.

The scene depicted is very interesting indeed. The main characters are Pluto, Proserpina and below them Cerebrus !

You can read the full story on wiki, but jist is

” Venus, in order to bring love to Pluto, sent her son Amor also known as Cupid to hit Pluto with one of his arrows. Hmmmm, vaguely familiar story. Ok, we wont digress, Proserpina was in Sicily, at the Pergusa Lake near Enna, where she was playing with some nymphs and collecting flowers, when Pluto came out from the volcano Etna with four black horses named Orphnaeus, Aethon, Nycteus and Alastor. He abducted her in order to marry her and live with her in Inferi, the Roman Underworld, of which he was the ruler.

Her mother Ceres, the goddess of agriculture or of the Earth, went looking for her in vain to every corner of the earth, but wasn’t able to find anything but a small belt that was floating upon a little lake (made with the tears of the nymphs). In her desperation Ceres angrily stopped the growth of fruits and vegetables, bestowing a malediction on Sicily. Ceres refused to go back to Mount Olympus and started walking on the Earth, making a desert at every step.

Worried, Jupiter sent Mercury to order Pluto (Jupiter’s brother) to free Proserpina. Pluto obeyed, but before letting her go he made her eat six pomegranate seeds, because those who have eaten the food of the dead could not return to the world of the living. This meant that she would have to live six months of each year with him, and stay the rest with her mother. This story was undoubtedly meant to illustrate the changing of the seasons: when Ceres welcomes her daughter back in the spring the earth blossoms, and when Proserpina must be returned to her husband it withers.”

Now, this looks as very much a prelude scene to the Varaha. If the Pallava sculptor had sculpted Hiranyaksha taking Boomadevi, lets imagine so and see this beauty in marble.

From Pluto’s side, see the rippling muscles and masculine force

On the side of Proserpine, its all serpentine curves, the anguish and despair gushes through

Lets compare with Varaha. He holds her up majestically and seats her on his thigh , while she is gentleness personified.

Proserpina is pushing out at her abductor and trying to break free

Whereas, Devi is making eye contact with him.

The masterpiece of the young artist, she how he brings in the feel of flesh into stone. How the rough handling of an abductor – The Hands of Pluto on her

and how she pushes at him, the flesh on his face .

Compare the hands of Varaha on Devi, its almost a caress, a loving embrace of the right hand, while the left hand holds a steady yet soft grip on his leg.

You can see the anguish and the tears on the Face of Proserpine

Compare to the shyness in the face of Devi, as her right hand is almost moving to touch and feel the chest of her Lord ( notice the left hand is bent under her chin to complete the expression !!)

A thousand years split the two creations, both great masters – One whose praise is sung to this day and the other who chose to remain anonymous.

Want to end the post with these two once again.

Image and content credits :
Ashok and Shriram for Mallai.
Rest: ( if i have inadvertently missed out please let me know, will include)
Bernini's "Rape of Proserpine"!

If this is the case in a Gallery then ….

The Tanjore millennium celebrations have wound to a close and after the display the exhibits have moved back to their original locations. So we hope. But there is one special exhibit, the one which we featured earlier in a post, which has gone back to its original location at the Tanjore Art Gallery, but then ….
Why loot a door Guardian

The original position of the exhibit was as below

Readers of the post, would remember the speciality of this exhibit – it lies in its base.

“This is the door guardian brought by Lord Vijayarajendradeva after burning (the Chalukya capital) Kalyanapuram.”

But, the care with which the exhibit was displayed at the site exhibition to coincide with the festivities – seen here with a blue carpet in front….

…has not been continued after the event. As with all our exquisite antiques, its been installed with utter disregard for its uniqueness. Senseless is the word that comes to my mind. Take a look yourselves and judge.

The base has been crudely cemented into the floor, painted over – the ignorant mason, having covered up the bottom line !! blood boils….

What can be done to such people, the powers to be, who has scant regard for such treasures.

Sittanavasal – the zenith of painting – Part 2

Its been quite a while since we featured the first set of Sittanavasal fescos – and this post has been long pending. Before starting to read, would recommend new readers to view part 1 of this post below

Part 1 of this series

Ashok’s steady hands and expertise with the lenses, once again bring the beauty of the these paintings. If not for him, I am pretty sure that we could have just let this beauty pass by, without a second glance. We saw earlier, how the entire roof of the outer mandaba has been converted into a canvas and a splendid pond, brimming with life and activity was brilliantly portrayed by the master artist. How he managed to do it, suspending upside down, working with such subtle color variations, is a tribute to his skill.

The Pond scene, we are seeing today is a continuation of the same scene we saw in part one. If i told you that there are 3 birds, a man and even an Elephant plus a horde of fish swimming in this panel, would you believe me. If you have read the previous part, am sure you would . If you haven’t read it then maybe no !!

Let me try and mark the different things we need to observe in the panel.

Maybe, try the same technique as the previous post, by taking color of the rest to highlight what we need to see.

Can you spot the creatures? Here they line up. See the top left of your screen. do you spot a bird’s eye?

The fish on the other corner?

The pairs of Birds and fishes around them?

The man, in his loin cloth, plucking flowers?

Once again, the master’s line drawing

We will come back to him again, but lets scroll down a bit more and see the Magnificent Tusker !!

He too has a few fish for company !!

And another set of our fishes to bring up the bottom

Whats of interest in this detailed study, is that the man is holding two different flowers in his hands.Lily on right and lotuses on left !!

Not only has the artist shown the differentiation in how the two would flower but also in the nature of their stalks. Take a closer look. This time another set towards the top of the frame

Now, thanks to the internet, let me show you the two types of stalks and you can notice the differentiation

( images are courtesy the internet and just to show you the smoothness of the lily’s stalk while the Lotus stalk is rough and spiny)

Truly remarkable !!