The embracing couple

It was pouring heavily and i was not sure of where I was headed. The London bus driver’s knowledge of Museums did not seem to earn them much credits or they were eager to get rid of a rotund man carrying a weird package slung over his shoulders – yeah, was lugging a newly bought English willow cricket bat and thank God this was before all the unsavory incidents in London. But still, a few roads seemed to be blocked for repairs ( yeah in London too) and was misdirected twice before making up my mind of switch on my handphone’s GPS and checking the route. Unfortunately it too didn’t pick the difference between the British Museum ( where i was headed to) and the Museum of London. After soaking in the rain and seeing the glorious history of London, managed to get the right directions and headed towards the British Museum.

Finally landed at the imposing facade of the British Museum and was immediately stopped by the guards – thanks to my special attribute ! They were really amused for in their long service they had seen many a weird object being brought along but this was a first – a cricket bat to a museum ! That said the tryst with the bat and the Museum security continued right through the day. Not that i was helping it – trying to peer behind exhibits and trying different angles to try and capture the grace of bronzes from behind glass. But let me explain.

This particular exhibit had me all excited

The name plate gave it a 11th C CE date and called it ” the marriage of Shiva & Parvathi” – technically a Kalyanasundara Murthy. However, we have seen the bronze from the same period in the previous post and its easy to note the striking stylistic differences.

For starters the size of this bronze is about 1/3 rd of the tanjore bronze, the features are more rounded. i wish we could get a good portrait of the famed Pallava period bronzes of Vadakkalathur to compare. I am no expert on dating bronzes, but to me the features are not Chola and definitely not this late into Chola. The aspects of Parvathi as a young maiden are so realistically carved and the suppleness in the legs and arms of both of them indicate a strong 9th C CE date for this bronze.

The interesting feature to note is the pendant / chain worn by Parvathi. We have not seen this before and the characteristic absence of the panigrahanam pose narrows done the identification to Alingana murthy ( the embrace).

I was advised very early in my journey to understand Bronzes to focus not only on the front but also on the rear. I wish all galleries and Museums would exhibit bronzes separately allowing the viewers to admire them with a 360 degree view. It was not easy getting behind this particular exhibit.

But it was worth the effort ( and the trouble – as i accidentally leaned on the glass and caused the alarm to trip and another lengthy explanatory note on why i was mimicking a contortion artist)

…for it was not a single embrace, but a double embrace – double Alingana and to imagine this a 1000 years ago, the kind of intimacy that the divine couple are shown to be sharing and the contemporary appeal of the same, left me simply stunned.

How a Ruler handles an earlier Ruler’s order

With the familiar brand of Indian politics being played out regularly, its time to hit the rewind button and head towards one of Chennai’s best kept secrets, on a journey to find out, the sanctity that is accorded to the ruling of King. To start with, the very mention of Thirukalukundram would cause many of our local readers to frown, for reasons already mentioned in the previous post.. But, please read on, as there is a much more important and beautiful rock cut cave excavated just below Vedagireerswara shrine on top of the hill which we saw earlier. We are going to see the best kept secret of the town.

Half way up when those extra helpings of Deepavali sweets begin to give their attendance and you rest, you are met with a steep flight of stairs. This is the new route, there exists an older route which goes around hill. Take it and you will come to the Oru Kal Mandapam.

Though being under ASI care, there is no one around and is locked ( do not know if i have to thank them or curse them for that)

The cave is stylistically dated to just after Mahendra Pallava’s period – post 630 CE. The first indications are the relatively smaller size of the pillars. The general layout of the cave is as below

We begin with the main Shiva Linga, an imposing edifice in the main sanctum ( note there is no somaskanda relief carved in the back of the Sanctum)

The Sanctum is flanked by our usual door guardians in slightly lower relief than normal

What is interesting is the placement of Brahma ( four faced – 3 showing- with a very unique headdress) and Vishnu with their attributes, on the two sides of the main sanctum in the Ardha mandaba ( inside hall) This is a new feature not found in caves of Mahendra Pallava.

Apart from these, there are two more figures carved in the mukha mandapa ( front hall)

Now, we come to the operative part – the inscription ( Epigraphica Indica Vol 3 )
page 363.

(Line 1.) Hail! Prosperity! In the twenty-seventh year (of the reign) of King Rajakesarivarman ( Aditya Chola – 870 – 907 CE)
(L. 2.)Whereas Skandasishya had given (certain land) free from taxes to the feet of the God of the holy Mulasthana (temple) at Thirukalundram in Kalattur-kottam (and) in the subdivision called after itself, (and) as, accordingly, Narasingapottaraiyar ( Narasimha Pallava),the conqueror of Vatapi, had confirmed (the grant) in the same manner – I, Rajakesarivaraman, at the request of Puttan, the son of Gunavan of Andurai, have maintained ( the grant ) as the former Kings had maintained it. The feet of one who protects this charity, shall be on my head .

The greatness of one King to not only honor a previous King, that too of a different clan, but to state that he did so as the former King had done to another person – is indeed a lesson in ethics for today’s rulers. Not only that he addresses his predecessor ( of 267 years) with his title as the one who conquered Vatapi. True greatness or truly great.