The secrets I have held in my fold

We do come across ruined sites quite often. In India t is a problem of plenty, if not each of these would be a national treasure. But then, the brick temple in Pullalur struck a raw chord.
a crumbling treasure in pullalur

Despite the short time we spent there due to the deteriorating light, risky conditions ( no lunch !) n threat of snakes around, there was a feeling which cannot be explained in words. I talked of the sad plight of this mighty structure to everyone i met and luckily impressed on Mr Chandra of REACH Foundation to do a followup visit. My idea was to get some closeups of the Vimana and also the Sudhai ( lime and mortar figurines there) – so that we may have possible clues to tentatively date this structure.

Chandra did one step better. He took Dr.T. Satyamurthy, along with him and rest …is best to give a blow by blow account.

It was around 4.00 PM my time, when Shankar texts me – ” Reach team has found some remains of paintings”
Me. ” Which temple?”
Shankar : Pullalur !
Me: Which one in Pullalur
Shankar: Brick – ruined one.
Me: OMG, calling you ….

But, why did we miss it in the first instance ? Take a look yourself and judge

If i tell you that the find is on this wall, am sure you will be shaking your head. am not joking.

Not convinced yet. Then our overlooking them is forgiven. There are four people with fantastic ornamentation, ornate crowns and if you are sharp enough – can even spot the eye brows and bulging eyes. Who could they be?

The larger question now, is the date of the basic brick structure and the date of these paintings?

21 thoughts on “The secrets I have held in my fold

  1. As explained to dear Vijay, Satyamurthy sir’s hyphothesis and conclusion is:
    Brick temple period is late Pallava (Dantivarma). The paintings are of course Chola. There are 3 men worshipping Shiva in the panel. The renovation had taken during the Nayaka period, where they have used the same stone but have done heavy plastering of the bricks to bind with one another. War or lack of resources have made them remove the idols and re-establish another temple nearby, where the icons establish the Pallava regime.

  2. I too didnt see the paintings first. It was Dr Satyamurthy’s keen eyes which showed me the paintings. But later to our joy,we deciphered 3 men (kings) worshipping Shiva, which we could make out from the main paintings Jadamakuta and the Bilva leaves falling around. The colour scheme and lines confirm paintings as Chola.

  3. @REACH Chandra – The paintings in the photographs above seems to have resemblance to the III phase of Vijayanagar paintings. Since they are so identical to the style probably the same guild of painters employed to paint in Lepakshi, somapalayam or Tiruvalanjuli could have done it. Kindly compare the strokes and the protruding eye structures with paintings in Lepakshi which may fix the date of the painting here to 16th century.

    The arrangement of the charecters on the single plane, the ornaments and the tassels above the charecters also relates the paintings to the Vijayanagara III phase style.

  4. dear Mr Balaji Srinivasan,

    Thanks for the comments. I have enjoyed viewing your collections on flickr as Avanibhajana – wonderful captures. Hope you can share the wealth of photographs with us.

    The date for the paintings are difficult, the thick eye brows and the eyes do take the date away from the classic lines of the pallavas – but what would have caused a possible chola period date is the choice of colors and also the detail / styling of the makutas which are very different from the 16th C Vijayanagara school. Pity we do not have more to view.

    thanks again for

  5. @Vijay – As you say we do not have more to view. But from whatever is available the relationships do have resemblance with III phase Vijayanagar paintings. The tassels hanging from the upper border, the flowers showering behind the images do not exist even in the Ist phase of Vijayanagara paintings leave alone Cholas. (we find them neither in Hampi nor Kancheepuram but we do find showering flowers in the Nayak paintings in Thanjavur temple as you know).

    As about the detail styling of the Makutas the splendid display of more than 25 styles of mens head fashion and not less than 9 styles of women hairdo in Lepakshi stands testimony for the exquisite detailing of that style which is one of the factor that made me relate the paintings above with those.

    Anyway further studies over the above specimens may lead to actual results.


  6. dear mr srinivasan

    thanks, Lepakshi images are nice.

    To draw a comparison in TN for the same period/ style – the hanuman on the left side of the sayana perumal in malaiyadipatti

    – shares much resemblance – especially to the cloth design patterns to lepakshi.

    However, i would say that the paintings in pullalur are slightly more artistic than the ones of the roof on malaiyadipatti – eg this krishna, it will be tough to date this to the same period as the paintings seen in pullalur

    But interesting ref to the Makutas. Please do share those as well. would be great to learn more about Vijayanagara styles.


  7. @ REACH Chandra – The paintings in tanjavur with showering flowers in the background do exist. However they are not in line with the chola murals in techniqes and aesthetics as we all know.

    Simillar set of paintings have been found in various temples around the district. The depiction of Bhairava murthy in Pattiswaram along the minimum Vijayanagara painting available in that temple can also be compared with these paintings in Periya Kovil.

    @Vijay – Speaking about the paintings of the same period out of the available sources we are able to identify various guilds of artists. Malayadipatti also may fall in the III phase of Vijayanagara paintings but however those in Lepakshi and Somapalayam and also the paintings in Tiruvalanjuli(which i do not know if it exists now) have a unique signature.

    Especially the ones in Lepakshi are profusely detailed and aesthetically of a class ahead when compared to the ones in Malayadipatti or Pattiswaram.

    I shall post some pics from Lepakshi which may be self explanatory.


  8. Thanks to the Reach team, the paintings see the day of light!I am not a researcher but having learnt something about thanjavur painting I learn that art in Tanjore had been greatly influenced by the vijayanagar empire for many centuries.Tanjore paintings themselves are supposed to have done by telugu speaking Kshatriyas, and they used the suffix Raja or Raju after their names. Hemingway wrote , “some good painting is done of Tanjore by men of Raju caste, …..”Have been visiting a few ancient temples built by Cholas around Chennai, and though some are in shambles, they are being renovated.

  9. dear Mr Srinivasan – thanks for the wonderful link. There are remarkable and are surely similar to the ones found in pullalur. Thanks for sharing.

    @ Mrs Vetri Maran – Madam we are talking of Tanjore chola paintings and not the modern ` tanjore painting’ style


  10. Pl every one,give proper period this temple as I belong this PULLALUR and my own land. If I get proper history I try to make display board near to place.

    thanks you everybody discuss about my village
    by B.PHIRABU

    • Dear Phirabu

      The basic structure is most certainly of Pre 9th C origins atleast. This is because brick structures of this size and complexity are pretty rare in the Chola period. Reg the Paintings – for now I would go with the explanations of Sri Balaji Srinivasan in the comments – to a VijayaNagara Period – 16th C CE. However, old or new – its our duty to protect these beauties.


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