Movement and Drama – is it possible in Stone relief ? Pradeep Chakravarthy says Yes

Friends, today we have a special guest post. Very pleased to have Mr Pradeep Chakravarthy , we have already seen a review of his book on Temple Vahanas

He has also authored a very successful book Thanjavur A Cultural History – – , and we will surely see more from this amazing person. I had requested him to do a guest post and we hope this is only the start of an insightful series. Over to him now.

Tirumeyyam is a well known pilgrim spot not very far off from Madurai. I wrote about it in The Hindu a long time back and have always visited it when possible.

After reading Vijay’s posts on sculptures that bear a message of how the sculptor conceived movement and drama, I took a closer look at the stupendous moolavar – more than 10 feet and carved out of a cave. The additions are from the 7th century by Perumpidugu Perundevi a Muttaraiar chieftain’s mother. The structural temple temple complex built around this cave is from the 12th century and later.

Thanks to Ashok for splendid feat to capture the entire scene ( digitally removing the pillars – this is copyrighted work)

The scene is of Perumal reclining in the coils of Adisesha with Brahma emerging from his navel.

In this case, like the Gupta images, the sculptor has chosen a free style in showing the coils, not neat and arranged like in other temples. Already there is drama and movement –

The action in the scene is Adisesha spewing forth venom shown as streaks of fire that move towards your right.

The heads of the serpent are backwards, as if they have just recoiled from one attack.

Just in case you missed the direction, scores of divine nityasoories are all flying to the right. Just above the Lord’s face, the sculptor has left a natural indentation, this is possibly to indicate that the flying figures are much higher than you think and to remind you that even when they are flying, they are keeping their legs away from the face of the lord.

To the extreme left is Chitragupta and Garuda who some scholars think is actually the king who commissioned this image.

Another cleft in the rock indicates a substantial distance between the deity and the two asuras

The asuras are a little slanted to give us a clue that they eventually bite the dust

The temple is one of the few Vaishnavaite cave temples still in active worship and a modified image of this theme can be seen in Mahabalipuram as well.

As part of the relief there is a depiction a deer headed person next to Brahma – who could he be?

Photo Credits : Flickr : lomaDI, Prof Swaminathan and

15 thoughts on “Movement and Drama – is it possible in Stone relief ? Pradeep Chakravarthy says Yes

  1. Hi,
    Been to Thirumayam but was not able to take photograph of the sculpture though I was with an HR&C official. This panel is perhaps the most detailed Sheshasayi panel in India as we claerly see the story depicted with movements in stone. Thanks for giving a detailed account.
    I like the venom fire depiction of this as this feature is most clear in this panel among all other similar panels in India which I have seen.

  2. Deer head person picture is not very clear, I just wanna know if you are sure that this is deer headed and not other animal. You are well versed in iconography however I am just thinking if this could be Jamvan (bear headed) but as you did not proposed this possibility so I assume that you are pretty sure that this is a deer faced icon. Correct?

  3. Hi Saurabh,

    Yes – the depiction reminded me of the computer game Pacman 🙂

    regarding deer head – am sending you the original resolution image


  4. please send to me also. I don’t think that rsi’s always a unicorn. [?] Know he is at Hampi, but e.g. In my book retelling Mbh. artist gives him 2 antlers.

    • Hi Pradeep,

      Thanks – So a Brahma rishi, but very difficult to even fix a form for them. any reason or ref in particular he gave for this identification


  5. Amazing sculpture indeed. I tried pleading with a little boy who was the “priest on duty” the day I visited the temple, but he was adamant in not letting me click any snap and was quite sharp and had an eye on my movements all through the time he perfomed the Archanai, which I tried as a trick to get his attentions away from my acts to manage a secret click 🙂

    Interesting note and a lovely series of pix.

    For some reason the small Bramha from navel enlarges into a very big image that am not view it in one screen:(

    • hi ramjee, thats the 5th face – hayagreeva facing skywards ( 1 – Hanuman’s original face – East., 2 Narasimha – South, 3 Garuda – west, 4 Varaha – north) rgds vj

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