300th post – Connection of West and East by Art – Poetryinstone becomes a Record of History – Kra Narasiah

300 … Its been a fascination journey of discovery and many joyous friendships therein. “poetryinstone” has been a labour of love and along the way have been touched, tutored, supported,helped by countless individuals – boys, youngsters, relatives, family, friends and Scholars. Yes, Scholars – many of whom shared their countless pearls of wisdom with a novice like me without any reservations, encouraging me to plough on – so far its been an eye opener and yet just a scratch on the surface !

Today, one such amazing individual – a scholar par excellence, a well wisher in the truest sense – Kadalodi Sri Narasiah Sir honors the site with an unique guest post.

What is your first response on seeing the images below?

Photos courtesy: Flickr: Pigalle

“Some of the better maintained Nayak temples in South India??” read on to know more about the remarkable tale of these stones and their journey. Why i request Sir to take this as a subject was it was this discussion that started our serious interaction, almost 6 years ago, in a egroup – he posted these lines:

” There is a temple called Madanagopalswami temple in Madurai which historically dates to 16th century. There in front of the temple now, is a road lined up with shops on either side. There was in this place a full fledged Mandapam with sculptures. This entire mandapam ……………………………..In the meantime this lady passed away and her family members, Susan Pepper Gibson, Mary Gibson Henry, and Henry C. Gibson , procured the material and presented the lot in memory of Adeline Pepper Gibson to the Art museum at Philadelphia. Now the whole lot is housed in Gallery No. 224, second floor of the museum re-erected as a mandapam”

Imagine him with an incredible array of accomplishments:

Profession: Retired Chief Mechanical Engineer of Vizag Port.
Former Consultant to the World Bank for the Emergency rehabilitation Programme of Kingdom of Cambodia.
Former ADB consultant, Visiting Faculty AMET University for MBA Programme. (Terminal Management and IMO related subjects)
Education: Marine engineering. I. N. S. Shivaji Naval Engineering College Lonavla
Writing: over 100 short stories in Tamil (9 as Muthirai kathai in Vikatan.)
3 collections of short stories published, first one for 6 years as non-detailed study for UGs in Madura College. Second won 2 awards. Third won TN State award.
Non fiction. Kadal Vazhi Vanikam a treatise on sea trade from 3rd century BC –won TN State award.
Madrasapattinam the story of Chennai from 1630 to 1947. Won TN State award and Chidambaram Meyyapan award
Sadharana Manithan Biography of Chitti Sundararajan.
Madras (Tracing the history of Madras from 1369) in ENGLISH
Overcoming Challenges the story of 125 years of the Port of Chennai with S Muthiah (English)
Author of the book on the history of Madurai (Aalavai)

……interacting with a novice blogger like me. But his dedication shone through as he remembered and immediately confirmed to this guest post. readon…

Photos courtesy: Flickr: Pigalle

For what is preserved in the Philadelphia Museum (USA) from the pieces picked up from the temple of Madanagopalaswamy in Madurai, we must thank William Norman Brown(1892-1975). He was the first curator of Indian Art in the Museum appointed in 1931. He established the first academic department of South Asian Studies in the United States in 1947, when he was serving as chair of Sanskrit at the University of Pensylvania.

Before going into this detail we must remember Stella Kramrisch, whose name I stumbled upon when researching for the Lettered Dialogue, as this lady seemed to have invited Mathuram Bhoothalingam (Krithika) to the US.

Stella Kramrisch (1896- 1993) an Austrian born art enthusiast, was originally trained as a ballet dancer. While in Vienna with her parents at very young age she came across a translation of Bhagavath Gita, and was highly impressed by it. That induced her to study Sanskrit and thus earned her doctorate in Anthropology and Indian philosophy. When she was invited to speak at Oxford, Rabindranath Tagore heard her and impressed by her knowledge invited her to join Shantinketan in Calcutta. This happened in 1922. From Shantiniketan, she went to Calcutta University as a professor of Indian Art and served there from 1924 to 1950. Director of Philadelphis Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball persuaded Dr. Stella Kramrisch to join the Museum and assume the curatorial position. Thus she was responsible for opening a new section for Oriental Art in the Museum. Kramrisch expanded the Museum’s holdings in Indian and Himalayan art. In addition to bequeathing her personal art collection to the Museum, Kramrisch also endowed the curatorial chair of the department to which she had devoted nearly 40 years of scholarship and service. (Darielle Mason was the first to receive the new independent appointment in 1997 and it was from her I received much information when I was researching for Madurai)

In 1931 the Museum appointed W. Norman Brown (1892-1975) as its first curator of Indian art. Brown, who established the first academic department of South Asian Studies in the United States in 1947, was at that time serving as chair of Sanskrit at the University of Pennsylvania. Brown held honorary degrees from the West Bengal Government Sanskrit College, the University of Madras, India, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. We learn a lot of his effort from The personal papers of Professor W. Norman Brown, that contain lecture notes, drafts and completed papers, and materials related to research, archeology, travel, and letters.

His small (88 pages) but highly valuable book his findings in Madurai is titled A pillared hall from a temple at Madura, India, and is published by the University of Pensylvania press 1940. In this book he narrates the way he went about to establish the place of origin of this art pieces found in Philadelphia.

government service.


Printed at the University of Philadelphia Press 1940
The only Indian stone temple ensemble in America is the pillared Hall (mandapam) from Madura belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and now installed in a gallery on the top floor of the south wing of eh main building at Fairmont. It consists of a number of monolithic pillars with corbels, Lion capitals and some ornamental frieze slabs, all apparently carved in the sixteenth century. These originally constituted part of the temple until at some unknown date they were defaced and the temple badly damaged or razed, possibly by a Mohammedan conqueror in the eighteenth century. No other museum anywhere can show such a large grouping of integrated architectural unit from a single building of India. The nearest approach in America is the small carved wooden room from a sixteenth century Jain sheine of Putan, Gujarat, in western India which is now set up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York. The unit in the Philadelphia Museum so rare outside of India illustrates so many aspects of India Architecture, sculpture and iconography that it has seemed worthy of description in a small monograph, especially since the dimension produces explanation of numerous points not heretofore treated in any publication.

The pieces constituting the pillared hall were originally acquired in Madura in 1912, by Adeline Pepper Gibson who died in France January 10, 1919, in the military service of the United States Base Hospital 38, American Expeditionary force at Nantes. They were presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in August 1919 in her memory by Mrs. J. Howard Gibson, Mrs. Norman Henry and Mr. Henry C. Gibson.

Shortly after the pieces were presented to the Museum, they were installed in Memorial Hall Fairmount Park, and the installation with a pageant called “The Building of The Temple” which was given daily on April 19, 20, 21 and 23, 1920. They remained in Memorial Hall until 1938 when it was possible to remove them to the India Gallery in the Fairmount building and commence to install them there with the aid of Federal Works Progress Administrative grant.

In 1934-35, aided by the late Mrs. Robert G. Logan, the Museum made it possible for me to examine the site from which the pieces had come. The mani purpose of my visit to Madura was to secure information that might assist in the future installation of the pieces at Fairmount. I went to Madura at the end of November and spent five days in intensive investigation, taking with me as interpreter and consultant Mr T. G. A. of the Government Museum Madras.who is mentioned frequently in the book. In the hope that additional pieces could be securd, Mr. J. Noraman Henry and Mr. Henry C. Gibson then generously gave a fund which they also graciously permitted to be drawn against the preparation of this book and for assistance in the final installation of the temple.

The main purpose of this work is to determine the site, date, and the significance of the elements comprising mandapams. To do so it has been necessary to develop some points in the history of Madura architecture showing that features described by Jowean Dubreil to the Madura period appear actually to have been known inn the latter part of the preceding period, that is the known one as Vijayanagara. In the iconography many types have received description which are without printed explanation anywhere.

A mirror point elsewhere has been to discuss the mandapam with enough attention to the back ground for a non-Indian visitor to the Museum to understand the meaning of the Indian terms employed and the cultural significance of the ensemble. To this end I have included the two very summary introductory chapters, which contain almost no new material and have throughout tried to treat the mythology with enough fullness to be intelligible.

The book has VI chapters.
I. The age of importance of Madura
II. South India temple architecture
III. The architectural units in the Mandapam. 16 simple columns 8’ 2” average height. 5 of one variety and others different; 14 compound columns 8’ 4” to 8’ 8” in height, 12 of one variety and one of different variety. 12 corbels; 12 lion capitals; 8 frieze slabs.When purchased in 1912, they were all lying in the compound of Madana Gopalswamy temple. When presented to the museum someone felt that the pieces do not belong to this temple but are from Perumal temple (Kudal Alagar Madura.)
Norman feels that the items might have come from other temples also. They may have been kept here.

The temple that helped us understand more about the Cholas – Esalam -Part 2

We come across many interesting things that pass by before our eyes without registering – until someone draws our attention to it ! Similarly today Shashwath is asking us to study the Veena or more closely the head of a Veena.

The Hindu article is titled Lion – headed legacy ! But is it a Lion??

It is definitely a Yazhi as this illustration marks it ( source the internet). Over to Shash for part 2 of Esalam n the Yazhi head of the Veena.

In the last part about this temple, I had merely left a hint about this wonderful Dakshinamurthy, and stopped with the layout of the temple and some of the other sculpture around it. Today, we will look at this Veenadhara.

Dakshinamurthy is Shiva acting as the supreme teacher – the guru of all gurus. T. A. Gopinatha Rao, who was himself the guru of all who study Indian iconography, has this to say about the Dakshinamurthy form:

“We have already stated that Shiva is a great master of yoga, music and dancing… As a teacher of Yoga, music and other sciences he is known by the name of Dakshinamurthy. (…) This aspect of Shiva is always invoked by students of science and arts.”

According to Gopinatha Rao, there are four aspects of Dakshinamurthy – the teacher of Yoga, of Vina, of Jnana and as an “expounder of other Shastras”, or Vyakhyanamurti. It is the last form that we see most commonly in temples, in the southern niche of the central Garbagriha. At Esalam, too, there’s a Vyakhyanamurti in this location.

Unfortunately, it’s broken, so somebody decided to install a modern one, hiding the original from view!

Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy is the teacher of music. This is not as common as the Vyakhyana, but it’s not a rare form either. There are several instances of this form – at Gangaikondacholapuram

An older version at Keezhaiyur

Standing versions at Kodumbalur and Lalgudi,

And at Esalam…

According to the Agamas, this form is identical to the Vyakhyana form, except for the Veena in his hands, the gourd resting on his right thigh. Essentially, matted locks with a band holding them together, the Datura flower, kapala and crescent moon, right leg hanging down and left leg bent and rested on the right thigh, and so on. The upper hands hold either an Aksharamala, a snake, fire, or a
deer – this is a teacher, after all, so he doesn’t hold any weapons.

As I described in my last post, the Veenadhara is up in the Vimana, above the Vyakhyana. Space is limited up there, so many of the usual attributes are missing – there is no tree, and I can barely make out a single devotee below him and to the right. The dwarf he’s stepping on seems either incomplete or badly worn out.

To me, it’s the face and the Veena that are the most intriguing.

You can just look at it for a while – I don’t have to explain too much!

He’s wearing a decorated band as a crown around his head, keeping the locks away from his face. There are the usual earrings and the moon on his right.

On his shoulders, you can see the cords of the necklaces hanging down. A yagnopavita completes the ensemble There are details here that you can’t really see from the ground. And I’m sure that if we were to get a shot from above, we’d see a tiger belt, too! That dedication to detail – even detail that nobody would actually go up there and see – is what distinguishes our ancient sculptors.

Now, look at the Veena – The gourd is a bit rough on the bottom right, but it’s definitely resting on the right thigh. It’s projecting out a bit outside to the right (something the Agamas prescribe), and the bottom hand is strumming it.

What I really liked was the other side – the head of the instrument is straight, unlike the modern Veena (which is bent downwards) and carved in the form of a Yazhi’s head.

The date of this Dakshinamurthy is quite certain – Rajendra Chola left enough inscriptional evidence to go by. This temple is probably co-equal with Gangaikondacholapuram (probably, because we don’t know GKC’s date). Look at the one from there:

Very similar to the one at Esalam! Gourd’s at the bottom right, Yazhi-head to top left. But now, look at the others that I’d posted earlier:

These are older ones – both Early Chola, from Aditya’s time, maybe a hundred or more years before Esalam and GKC. And here are some older Veena players – Kanchi Kailasanatha:

Narasamangala, in Karnataka

These all seem to be inverted – the gourd is at the top! In an earlier Poetry in Stone post on the similar Veenadhari Ardhanari, we saw similar top-resonating Veenas.

Was the Veena itself originally only with a top-resonator? If so, when was the bottom resonator introduced? If both forms existed since ancient times, why did the sculptors of Rajendra’s time alone start using the bottom-resonator instead of the traditional top resonating Veena?

Maybe answering this, we will understand the evolution of music in medieval India a bit better. Sculpture and music converge, and Dakshinamurthy is still teaching us!

Now, another taste of things to come! Remember that we talked about how details of this icon couldn’t be seen from the ground? How did I manage to take those shots, then?

It turns out that, since this temple was under a mound of sand, the ground level of the surrounding village is higher now than when it was built. Walking around the outside of the shrine, you can climb a small stone, and be at eye-level with the Dakshinamurthy.

When we went around to do this, we found two of the guardian deities of the village – the grama devatas. These are both extremely ancient. I will take them up later.

Who are these two lil ones?

The internet is a definite boon for armchair researchers like me !! Quite often we do stumble on some unique puzzles in our quest to decipher the work of the ancients. One such task was to recreate the lost paintings of the Kanchi Kailasanatha temple.

We ran into quite a difficulty when we had to make out the minor forms especially the two figures found below the divine couple.

We wanted to be as true as possible to the original – but it was interesting to note that these two ganas – a male and a female dwarfs were in the scene at the first instance.

Possibly the first instance of a lady dwarf gana – an assistant to Parvati maybe?

Their iconographic significance was soon lost or so we thought, until Arvind shared this album of his capture of the beauties of Lalgudi

Though our main pursuit was in the narrative panels in the miniatures, there was one particular relief – dimly lit which had vague familiarity in it.

It was a relief of the divine parents albiet sans the skanda seated in the familiar posture – with a kneeling devotee on the right, two more on the top right and two more top left. Can you spot any attributes to assign them as Brahma n vishnu? Not clear. But the familiarity scene was played out at the bottom of the throne.

it would be difficult to date this panel as it does not fall in the early chola 9th-10th C CE scheme of narrative story boards. However, it is interesting that the sculptor chose to sculpt this dwarf couple in the same layout and postures.