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.

The temple that helped us understand more about the Cholas – Esalam -Part 1

Youngsters like Shashwath make us believe that the message of heritage and conservation will be taken to the Gen neXt and beyond. Today he takes us on a tour to Esalam via his guest post.

On a late January morning, a small group of us started on a trip down one of the most historical roads in the south, to find one of the most important places in Chola history.

When we met that morning, Arvind told us about this cluster of four temples within about 5 km of each other, and within a day’s journey from the city. When I got to know that one of the places on the list was Esalam, it was too much to resist. I didn’t know what to expect, except that it is a full stone temple, including the vimanam (which is rare enough), and that there was the “most beautiful Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy” ever. More on the temple itself shortly, but first, I must try to why I was so excited to see Esalam.

Often, it’s not the primary temple endowed by a ruler that tells us the most about them. In Gangaikondacholapuram, there is hardly anything that tells us anything about his builder, Rajendra I. Unlike his father, the “Chola who captured the Ganga” is something of an enigma, since the first available inscription at the temple he built is from the reign of his second son, Virarajendra. Who was he? What were his motivations? Who influenced him? Tough questions…

One of the places that help us piece together some of these answers is Esalam. It was here that a copper plate grant made by him was found, along with several wonderful bronzes.

As Dr. Nagaswamy (who translated the plate) describes the find, “On the 11th of August 1987, the inhabitants of Eslam a village near Villupuram, in South Arcot district, Tamilnadu, stuck upon a group of bronzes, temple utensils and a copper plate charter, within the temple premises of Tiru Ramanathesvara temple of the village, while carrying out renovation work to the temple.” The content of this copper plate is interesting and important, and Dr. Nagaswamy details it in the link above. Just some highlights before we go on: this grant details the creation of a new Devadana to support the temple, dedicated to Shiva in the form of Ramisvara, or Ramaanathesvara. What is most important about this place, and this record, is that this is no ordinary temple. It was built and endowed by Rajendra for his own Guru, the high priest of the Tanjore temple (and quite possibly, the temple at Cholapuram also), Sarvasiva Panditar. Hence, this is a royal temple – built by the strongest of the Cholas, as a gift to his preceptor. As such, some of the best craftsmen in the land would have been called on to work on it, and it shows!

Approaching the temple from the front, it doesn’t really look like much – a miniature modern gopuram greets you in all its garish oil-painted glory.

It’s when you go in, that you see a beautiful Chola temple.

The first thing we notice is this huge, bulbous dome of the Vimanam, almost Mid-Eastern in proportions, and the wonderful Balipeedam, with miniatures on all sides.


A stone-work window, with designs and dancing girls on the “bars” covers the front of the temple

and the entrance is off to the left side

The walls of the temple are covered in inscriptions

Around the temple are the Goshtas: Vinayaka, Dakshinamurthy, Vishnu, Brahma and Durga.




More in part 2 of this post

An amazing early Chola Miniature – Punjai

It is not often you get a chance to witness an early Chola gem in its pristine form – throw in a few miniatures and your trip is made. Such is their allure that quite often, much like school children making a dash for the candy man – we do a dash – as soon as we are through the main entrance doors, we run around to the side to see if there are any of these ( left !). Imagine our glee as we rushed into Punjai with similar anticipation.

The panels in the base are easier to spot as they have a clear boundary and also depict scenes from the epics – however, there are good chances that a few miniatures on these odd pillars are missed to be spotted.

As any accomplished artist or art critic – the most difficult forms to depict are forms that depict action – movement. Imagine the skill that is required to depict dance and music – in stone, in relief?

The artist manages to use every inch of space to suggest the mood – these ganas are not much bigger than a nail head and yet you can sense the feel of gaiety – of their gay exuberance.

The beauty of this depiction is in the grace of form and complexity of pose.

Thanks to acclaimed artist Muralidharan alagar for masterfully sketching this miniature so that we can fully appreciate its grace.

The class of the sculptor is revealed in how the weight of the drum pulls on the players neck via a sling and how she balances it on his thigh ! and to do so at this miniscule scale is mind blowing.

Coming to the dancer – imagine having to depict a dancer, but not a frontal pose but depict her from behind ! To show the folds of her garments, the ornamentation and to do it in stone that is less than the width of a car key..

A true masterclass miniature from the early half of the 10th Century dancing for a thousand years and still managing to hold its grace !

Tracking the evolution of the lingothbava form

The most common request from enthusiasts pertains to dating sculptures. Fortunately dating stone sculpture is easier as most of them are found insitu and in larger quantity and readily available for study. Quite often we do get foundation inscriptions that allow us to precisely date them. The same cannot be said about bronzes though, as the ones under worship are not open to study for obvious reasons and the ones in museums are far removed from their original settings. We shall take up the study of stone sculptures of a single form – the Lingothbhava, for it’s the most common and easy to spot – found in most temples on the circumambulatory right behind the main sanctum – ie usually the sanctum faces east, the western side kosta will feature the Lingothbava. We shall pick six distinct examples and try to trace the form’s evolution from Pallava through early Chola and later Chola periods.

Kanchi Kailasanathar – Rajasimha Pallava (700-728CE)


The first one is a typical later Pallava creation ( meaning they have moved on from excavations to structural temples) from the Kailasanthar temple. It is important to notice the ornamentation, especially how the thick sacred thread – the Yagnopavitha passes over the right hand, a very unique Pallava feature. Shiva’s body is a bit stocky but there is no body builder like chest muscles. The pillar of light has not yet taken the form of a linga and the emergence of Shiva is almost like a geometrical rhombus shape. The importance given to the Trishul and its unique shape, the beautiful crescent of the moon and the thin slightly longer upper body of Vishnu and Brahma on the sides as compared to the lower body etc are all pointers. With experience you will get to notice the round shape of the face, thick set nose and the not too muscular chest giving them an almost young adult profile. Notice the Thorana on top of the sculpture as well. Where is this sculpture found in the shrine ? is an interesting question to readers…

Thirumayam – Satyagiri Shiva Cave.

Around the same time or even slightly earlier in Pudukkottai – this wonderful site which has been variously credited to Pallava ( Mahendra) – Pandya and Mutharaiya origins is this masterpiece.

The Lingothbhava murthy is simple yet stunning. If you notice there are flames emanating from the side of the pillar and they have been sculpted in a natural manner burning upward. Shiva is portrayed with only two hands and stands in Sama Bhanga, his left hand is held in Kati Hasta on is hip, while the right hand is graceful in Varada Hasta – the boon bestowing pose. The pillar has a perfect oval cleft revealing Shiva.

The sculptor has masterfully used the depth of the panel to show the right hand’s bend at the elbow giving it a very natural grace. The face of Shiva is radiates calm, the thick set nose and lips lifelike, while his tresses are stylistically bundled up over his head to form the Jata Bhandam. Iconographical texts state that the height of this must be one face length above the hairline and they have been followed perfectly here. The ornamentation is very simple, the most prominent being the rather thick Udara Bandana – the belt that is worn above the belly button. The lower garment though worn ornately, has no ornamental gem set strings and lacks the lion face belt buckle – simha mukha clasp.

The most interesting aspect to note in this masterpiece are the Yagnopavitha,the sacred thread is thick and single stranded and goes over the right elbow is the classic Pallava Nivitta fashion, and the very natural torso – not the bulging chest of a body builder, but a slender beauty of an ascetic. The shoulders and arms however are portrayed with great strength and muscle volume. The iconographical features and minimalistic ornamentation would give this sculpture a late 7th C CE – early 8th C CE date and the presence of fragmentary yet famous Pallava granta inscriptions affirm the same. But it is a great mystery as to why the sculptor did not depict Vishnu and Brahma – either as a boar and swan nor their forms outside !!

Pullamangai – Parantaka Chola I ( 907 – 955 CE)

It is a tough toss up between the next stage in the progression as we step into the 10th C CE between Punjai Nalthunai Eswaram and Pullamangai – Brahmapureeswarar.

The Chola revival spurs temple building all over Tamil Nadu and the artists expressed themselves to the fullest extent in the early stages. We move on to Pullamangai – assigned to Paranatka I

Though the face of Shiva has been damaged, there are no greater stone sculptures than the Brahma and Vishnu on the sides of this magnificent Ligothbhavar. A span of two centuries and you can see that all the extra trimmings have been minimalized, with the central pillar of fire taking center stage, with Brahma shown flying to see the top and Vishnu as the boar burrowing underneath. The top of the pillar of fire is not seen and it has not yet become like a linga – the fire is shown emanating from the cleft.


They are also sculpted on both the sides and their size is (only slightly) smaller than Shiva’s proportions. Shiva is shown with only two pairs of hands, the sacred thread falls straight over the hip and the attributes of the axe and deer are becoming more symbolic and smaller in size but still within the frame inside the pillar whose rather straight edges of the Pallava are now becoming more rounded. The important feature to notice is the very normal depiction of the body, thin waists and chest, with the face getting more naturally roundish oval – Ofcourse the cleft is larger now and more of shiva’s legs are visible but the body form is still slender.

Punjai around 955 CE

Though epigraphy dates Punjai to around Aditya II period ( 965-969 CE) the sculptural style indicates a date closer to first quarter of the 10th C CE – to Parantaka I.

The sculpture itself is crowned by a stunning thorana and we find the Boar ( vishnu – Varaha) and Swan ( Brahma) present. However, forms of Vishnu and Brahma are conspicuous by their absence on the two sides. The Linga is perfectly formed on top with a band of interwoven flowers near the top. The sculptor continues the tradition of flames emanating from the cleft.

The difference between the Pallava n Pallava transition period form of Shiva to the early Chola is very dramatic.- the more filled out chest and the almost circular / round face are clear to see. The Simhamuka belt clasp is very prominent !

Tanjore Brihadeshwara – Sri Raja Raja Chola ( 985 -1014 CE)


Another century and the emphasis totally shift to Shiva while Brahma and Vishnu are shown in very low relief and much smaller proportion. The difference to note is also in the iconography of the pillar of fire, now depicted almost like that of a Linga. The difference in the shape of Shiva’s face and torso is also visible, with the chest broadening and filling out, as compared to the waist.

Tribuvanam – Kulottunga Chola III( 1178 -1218CE)


Another century has passed we come to the last great Chola ruler Kulottunga’s temple in Tribuvanam. The art has become rigid, the pillar of fire is almost a linga now – with the height of the pillar vs Shiva is almost nil – ie there is no blank space in the pillar anymore and Shiva emerging from a perfectly formed oval opening occupies most of the pillar area. Brahma and Vishnu are portrayed slightly larger but overall we can see a drop in creative aesthetics and a certain conformational adherence to rigid standards in the sculpting.

thanks: Ashok, Arvind, Saurabh, Shashwath, Satheesh and Shriram

An assisted Elephant calving

Happy new year 2013 to all readers and we start the new year with an amazing miniature from a little known but beautiful Siva temple in Srimushnam.

Thanks to Pradeep Chakravarthy the new year begun with a trip to Srimushnam with expert scholar Dr. Marxia Gandhi . There were many highlights to the trip but to start with let me show you the rarest…

As we finished visiting the Boovarahaswamy temple and walked around to the Siva shrine…a massive brick wall welcomed us – we were not expecting such a large premises.

( second image is from Sri Rajendran – Raju’s temple visits

One look at the main shrine was enough to pump energy into the tired legs – an early Chola temple.

But the highlight was….before that, a short introduction .. its been on my mind ever since i saw the article ( in tamil) in Varalaaru.com

The description of 3 adult elephants playing mid wife to mother as she delivered her calf was etched into my memory. From then on have been on the lookout for a similar sculpture. So, to my utter surprise and delight, a small decorative column found in-between the Devakostas seemed to be vaguely similar.


The sculpture was so small which accentuated its beauty.

The centre swirl was the one that had caught my attention. Initially apprehensive if it were depicted something else naughty, on closer inspection it did reveal its true intent.



Thanks to Raghavendra Prasad for quickly making a sketch for us to understand better. The way the mother is shown as holding on to the creeper border design with her trunk is scintillating.

These two depictions follow a pattern – where one of the mid wives seem to man the front, the middle one is maybe assisting in constricting the stomach or holding the mother up on her legs and the third one seems to hold up the tail for easy exit ! It would be interested to compare any study or footage in the wild and know if this does happen so in the wild as well.

Cheranmadevi Ramaswamy Temple…a wooden pillar away from…

Too much is too many…maybe it the bane of our heritage treasures. How else but to explain the sad plight of this delightful gem living precariously on the banks of the Tambraparani, its life blood slowly draining away, having stood for a thousand years, it makes a mockery of our grand visions of cultural renaissance and ingrained spirituality – The Ramaswamy Temple of Cheranmadevi. They called it the Nigarili Chola Vinnagar – Abode without parallel ! read on to see its pathetic state for surely it will not be long before the newspaper headlines lament its demise and pseudo enthusiasts will cry fowl.

The pillar sculpture of Hanuman, in all his humility, affectionately held by his Lord Rama seemed an regular rendition when we entered but as we finished and returned, the posture seemed to gather a new meaning.

As we stepped in, there was nothing extraordinary about the front porch and it resembled any of hundred of temples we see in our villages.

But as we took the few steps towards the main shrine, what awaited us made us hold our breath.


its not often you get to see a pristine pre 10th Century Vimana, a Pandya one at that.

Thanks to Pradeep, we had some inclination of what to expect and the introductions to the Priest had ensured that we could do our work unhindered.

For starters – the temple is unique for its one of the very few Astanga Vimana shrines – three tiered Vimana, with forms of Vishnu – Standing, seated and lying in the three sanctums lined one on top of the other.

At the entrance of the main sanctum, we were greeted by one of the most stunning bronzes – Rama group.

When we wanted to climb to the upper storey, the priest asked us again – if we really wanted to go up ! Little did we realise why he did that, till we saw the narrow stairs and got swarmed by a colony of feisty bats whom we disturbed.

Restaurants with roof top gardens seem to be the fashion these days, but it was really heartbreaking to see a stunning edifice left to rot like this.

As we turned towards the Sanctum in tier one, we spotted this.

The central beam had cracked and the weight was being held by the wooden pillar. My heart filled with dread at the thought of what might happen if it gave way.

And in the midst of all this, there he was seated ( please note he is not carved out of stone but made of stucco – and hence the fractures can be easily mended)

The intricate stucco work and the faint colors seemed to remind us of his glory days. Even the walls seemed to have outlines of vestigial paintings.

We willed ourselves to climb to the next tier and there he is, sleeping peacefully on the coils of his devoted sesha, his two consorts in attention, hoping against hope that some good still lived in the hearts of the people he loves.

As we stepped out, we looked again at Hanuman – he seemed to asking us to help, but not wanting his master to know, for the Lord’s answer would be ” I have the entire universe for me !!”

A Cave, a lost painting and the birth star of Sri Raja Raja Chola – Thiru Nandikkarai

Fellow enthusiast Shankar had been pushing me to see a faint outline of a Ganesha for sometime now, but for some unexplainable reason, I never spent time to study it, despite him sending me some real high resolution images. Little did I realise then what it held in it and that it would choose its own time to reveal itself to us.

When Numismatist Sri Raman said that he had some photos that had come into a waste paper mart, which seemed to cover areas of my interest and if i would like to procure them, i hadn’t the faintest idea of what they would contain. Yet, he persisted and sent me a few scanned images. He had picked them wisely, one was an immaculate bronze and another the famed Tanjore big temple painting – but the images were atleast half a century old !!! I took the bait and asked him to get the entire lot.

When Arvind and me looked at the eclectic mix of fading monographs, one set struck our eyes. They were marked on reverse Thirunandikkarai and dated 1942.

My thoughts raced to Shankar and he obliged by sending his entire collection as the cave stood today ” Thiru Nandikkarai – a cave temple protected by ASI in Kanyakumari district, 10Kms from Thiruvattaru ( 40 Kms from nagerkoil)”

The insides of the cave ( as he had sent me earlier – you wouldn’t fault me for not going over it properly !)

The cave itself is attributed stylistically to 8th C CE ( you can see the provision of a channel for the daily ablution water to flow out of the sanctum which is considered a later feature)

But what i had missed earlier was the faint red outlines which Shankar had been pushing me to study.

It was when i say the half a century old photographs from the waste paper mart that i realised the folly.

A classy Ganapathy complete with his own dwarf attendant on the top ( reminded me of similar ones from the Kanchi Kailsantha temple !) – notice the bold strokes of the hands. Sadly much has been lost since the time the photos were taken.

This was not all, there were more in the collection. Let me draw your attention to the wall we saw earlier, slightly to the top center right.

Now to reference the photographs

Simply stunning yet sad at the continuing loss of our treasures.

There are two more sets in the collection, which we have not been able to spot in current day.

What are these depictions ?

Btw, the cave holds another very important historical information in its entrance.

There is some speculation on the Birthstar of the Great Raja Raja Chola – if he is born in Aippasi Sadayam or Chittirai Sadayam.

Dr. Kudavayil Balasubramaniam in his book on Tiruvarur Thyagaraja temple, quotes an inscription of Rajendra Chola that gives clarity on subject::

” Naam Pirantha Aadi thiruvathiriyum
Nam Ayyan Pirandharuliya AIPPASI SADHAYAMUM .. ”

The article by sir and the text of inscription

10034
10031

– says Rajendra I and gives a grant on the Natal Star of Rajendra I and his father Rajaraja I.

However, in this very cave in Thiru Nandikkarai there is an inscription of Sri Raja Raja himself,

TRAVANCORE STATE

Tirunandikkarai.

185. On the east wall of the rock-cut iva shrine. Belongs to
the eighteenth year of Rajaraja I and records grant to the temple
for the celebration of a festival in Aippasi, Satabhisha, the birth-
day of the king. See Trav. Arch. Ser. t Vol. I, pp. 291-2.”

Btw, we do not know which great soul these collection of old photographs are and how they ended up in a waste paper mart. There are no names on them and hence if someone could identify any, please let us know.

A Chola Pandya Temple in Cheranmadevi and its secrets – part 1

The very mention of the name Cheranmadevi seemed to take us back in time and the sites that greeted us on the 16 odd km drive from Thirunelveli complimented the thought process, for the visual imagery seemed to indicate that time had in some mysterious way stood still as the world rolled on for many centuries. Along the banks of the Tambraparni river nestled this very unassuming town or rather village which Pradeep kept insisting we visit on our Pandya Tour, and when someone with his flair and passion recommends, we were sure that we were in for a treat.

A bountiful monsoon had already metamorphosised the semi arid belt around Tirunelveli, spreading a soothing green blanket on both sides of the road with the river bringing her shades of brown, black, green and at times blue. A new bridge disoriented our driver but eventually we did reach the spot. There were many items on the agenda in Cheranmadevi but Arvind and me headed for the one under the care of the ASI – the Bhaktavatsala Perumal Temple, right on the banks of the river. We did stop every few meters to seek directions and double check if the previous guide was indeed correct, since the progressively narrowing path had no boards, a profusion of thorny scrubs that were intent on claiming back the road and were being ably aided by the village folk with their daily supply of vital essential nutrients ( yuk !!! – our driver wanted to drive straight into the Tambraparni for a cash wash right after !!!). At long last we did see a board but it was not the usual ASI patented rusty grilled blue board ( you know what i mean !) but a shiny metallic transformers inspired board. Our hearts skipped a beat ( non ASI sites are a pain to procure photography permits !!), but the board was indeed an ASI one ! a new avatar maybe.

The entrance tower was incomplete but what was on display was classy.

The temple has many inscriptions and as per the board, Rajendra Chola 1 figures prominently. The artistry on display was splendid, despite the intricate ornamentation they were not garish or over cooked.




There was this really cute slim pillar which made me break my own rules to pose in front of it

The piece de resistance ofcourse was the relief of an unique seated Narasimha with a high Sesha crown.

We went in and our good fortune the priest was such a darling. We had a fantastic darshan of the presiding deity Sri Bhaktavatsala perumal.

In continuing our education into architecture of the temples in Pandya region, we realised that the Vimana was the next place to cover,we wanted to climb on top of the Artha Mandapa, but it soon proved to be a daunting task – we grossly underestimated the height and climbing up a frail steel ladder that even at its precarious incline did not quite reach the top. But before that a mystery unfolded inside the temple, for i could not spot the ASI man nor Arvind. They seemed to have vanished into thin air inside a granite block built mandapa right in front of the Sanctum !! To add to the suspense, i seemed to be hearing voices from beneath the floor ! Aha, there is the secret ….

to be continued…

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.

A miniature mirrors a Bronze – Gangaikonda Cholapuram

It was a very rainy day when we reached Gangai Konda Cholapuram. Fortunately the rain stopped giving us a brief window to complete our tasks on the outside. The rain swept temple gleaned in all her pristine glory as we entered her.

As usual we were subjected to some rants by the ‘ authorities’ on cameras and photography, and we put forward the same arguments that any ASI site – Photography is allowed and free of charge – except for the Sanctum. ( providing of course you cannot use a tripod – some weird logic of ASI !). We wanted to cover a few miniatures inside the main Vimana but the arguments got us nowhere. We faced the prospect of one more unsuccessful attempt to cover them, when we were shocked to see that there was a big family function happening inside with full videography ! We threatened to bring hell and after much persuasion and promise that we would not shoot the main Sanctum, managed to get our equipment out.

The power went off right on cue just as we took in the sight of the gargantuan door guardians guarding the main sanctum.

How massive are these guys?

do you notice a small black speck in the photo towards the base??

Yeah, its the Cannon lens cover

As we walked past the dynamic duo to the next chamber, a very dimly lit wall showcased a brilliant miniature, quite in contrast to the massiveness of the occupants of the other side.

Sadly, we were clicking blind due to the power outage and the most important area of the relief was missed out. But still we could make out the panel. Apart from a whole host of distinguished rishis, we could spot Brahma officiating a ceremonial gathering.

And on top, was the marriage of the divine parents – Shiva as Kalyanasundara taking the hand of Meenakshi, with Lakshmi and Vishnu giving her away on both sides.

The immediate reaction was the recollection of the splendid Kalyanasundara Bronze which we saw earlier. .

The resemblance is remarkable



The stance and posture of Lakshmi

Vishnu seems to be little more bent forward than the bronze

But the clincher were the shy stance of Meenakshi



and the kati Vasta of Vishnu ( if you notice the way the waist cloth is worn by Vishnu – you see a characteristic U ), which is absent for Shiva.

We saw this in the previous post,

Compare the depiction in the bronze

Two different mediums, each with its complexities – the miniature with its size, yet the sculptor adheres to his Canons !