The vanishing wonders of Mogalrajapuram caves- Vijayawada – part 2

When Dhivakar Sir, gave me only a few photos of Mogalrajapuram caves, i was thirsting for more. So searched enough of the net, but couldn’t find any more resources on it. Finally in a desperate move, use google transliteration and typed `Mogalrajapuram’ in Telugu to try as a last ditch effort and…bingo

Immediately i wrote to the author, Sri. Narayanaswamy, who was kind enough to allow us permission to use his photographs. So we have Mogalrajapuram part 2 today.

The caves did throw up some interesting questions in the first post , but some more questions crop up now. Lets first see the photos.

Now, the door guardians ( yeah i love them, however, dilapidated they are )
are quite interesting. Do you notice the Horn like structure on the right guys crown. Hmm, well, thats stuff for an entirely new post.

Some more views of the delightful kudus.

Shatrumalleswaraalayam – a splendid creation of Mahendra Pallava

Vilupuram Sengi Road. around 11.30 noon

Ragothaman: Hey, its getting really hot. we have been driving for almost an hour, how far did we come 30 kms
Chandru: Just under 30 kms, we need to turn right before that
Narayanaswamy: Oh, how far have we come as of now
Driver: 27 kms done sir
Satheesh: Hey, there is the ASI board, road to Pallava cave Dhalavanur
Vj: Atlast, we are there. Is it that hillock
Chandru: No, we need to go another 6 kms from the main road.
Venkatesh: ok, then it can’t be this chain of hills
Chandru: This cave is very easy to spot. You can see it from the road,but cant drive near. You got to park and walk for say 200 mtrs.

Venkatesh: There, there, can see it from here itself. What a wonderful location. Mahendra’s choice is indeed spell binding. amidst rolling green farms, the rock outcrop offers a spectacular setting.

Chandru: Park the vehicle, by the side of the road, we need to walk up from here.
Farmer: Hey, don’t walk on the field, walk on the raised boundaries. we have just sown.
Vj: sorry we didn’t know. Wow, you got a pump set going, the cool water is inviting…

Ashok: What a setting. Its more a giant boulder than a hill
Venkatesh: Super spot
Vj: Hi chandru sir, the cave’s got an iron gate and is locked.
Chandru: The guard must be around here somewhere.

Farmer: Hi, i have the keys. They gave it to me , i only take care. They dont pay me any Salary !! if we don’t lock it the spoilt brats from the city come and …

Vj: ok, ok, we understand. We are not like that. Chandru sir, what pathetic work, how could they put these door frames on these stone pillars. and the blue paint, what a disgrace. they guy couldn’t even be careful enough not to spill on the pillar. and that too right over the superb pillar carvings…!! senseless brain dead @@@@@@

Ashok: Hi vj, see up.what is that

Satheesh: Hey vj, see this beautiful set of Makara thoranas – facing each other. there are small ganas riding them as well

Vj: Hey that is a kapota – kind of decorative arch with a face just peeping out. Reminds me of a cave in the Ellora group. need to check. Yes, satheesh wonderful stone work. reminds me of a similar one from Cambodia. will check !!!

Ashok: the door guardians are splendid. Look at their relaxed poses. They are majestic

vj: yes, the clothing styles and the left hand side guardians mace are very similar to Mandagapattu. See there are another set of them inside guarding the main shrine as well.
satheesh: see the inside structure, very different
Venkatesh: see that large crack running right across !!
Ragothaman: as we enter we seem to be inside a hall and then turn left to see the main shrine. very different perspective

Vj: yes ragu, another set of mahendra pillars and two pillasters form a mini shrine inside the structure. The door guardians here are also in low relief, sculpted in profile, slightly turned in, classic pallava style. See the detailing on their dress and ornaments

Farmer: Can i show the camphor
All: Here we are all here, wonderful darshan of shiva
Vj: Satheesh, what is the name of the Lord.
Satheesh: Let me check in the book, Satrumalleshwaraaalayam
Vj: any inscriptions
Chandru: Yes, Pallava grantam of Mahendra again

Satheesh: Let me read

This rock cut cave shrine on top of the hillock called sathrumalleswaraalayam was excavated by the one who humbled many kings by the might of his army, the one titled narendra shatrumallan.

vj: Shatrumallan – lovely name. Ashok, see here, they have started putting floral designs on the pillars here as well. But the top is not fluted.

Venkatesh: Come lets go on to the top and see the Jaina beds.
Narayanswamy: Is it very steep
Vj: Not that steep, they have cut steps in the stone like a ladder. so its easier. Ashok, you come as well

Venktesh: Oh, what a view, what a location. Its breezy and cool depsite the sun at noon.

Ashok: must have brought our lunch from the car, we could have finished it here
Venkatesh: you are saying now, it would have been great
vj: From here you get an excellent view of all surrounding areas
Venkatesh: yep, but those coming up cant see, but the guys here can. Excellent location to hide and live in seclusion – foolproof safety precautions

But why did they have to hide and live in seclusion !!

Vj: This jaina bed is too comfortable, didn’t realise it will be so. My eyes are drooping.
Chandru: comes on guys, lets move on
The pump set – cool wash…hmm am hungry

Next on the agenda – Lakshithayanam, Mandagapattu Mahendra cave.

Door Guardians – part 1, Elephanta

I had been wanting to run a series on Door guardians for some time. We have already seen a few like the massive ones in Tanjore Big temple, the mace carriers in Mangadapattu – these lovely sculptures in their myriad forms are a delight to watch, sadly not many people even spend a second looking at them – to marvel at the detailing of their costumes, assortment of weapons and fangs and their facial expressions. Will start to showcase them one by one from now on.

I am choosing this particular one to start the series formally – ones of my favorite sculptures and is part of our site’s logo. Also mumbai has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently and the scene of that mindless violence is near to our subject today.

The door guardian from Elephanta.

Why i chose this sculpture as the logo for this site, is the message this work in stone conveys. Having stood the test of time, sculpted to protect its master from peril, this particular door guardian is badly mutilated, he has lost all his limbs and the bare torso remains. After a 1000 years of dutifully discharging his role the door guardian met his match – with the Portuguese in the 17th C. What it takes in a man however barbaric to use such an immaculate sculpture for target practise for their rifles defies my mind. Even the hardest hearted men, would stop to appreciate the artistic beauty of these creations. The guardian was more a symbolic protector, sculpted to reign in the mind, to create a sense of awe amongst the visitor, to channel his mind to the main deity, to ensure that he rid himself of all other thoughts and focus purely on the God. The rough stone worked on by the skilled craftsmen, toiling long hours to shape these marvels in stone – were no match for the Portuguese guns – is it the punishment for the door guardian to be so left – maimed and to suffer this fate for failing in his duty?

No, one look at his proud face, tells you that he is indeed the victor. The radiance emanating from his calm face, if anything has multiplied by the disfigurement. Truly the triumph of art, its universal appeal and lasting quality – sheer poetry in stone. Hence he finds his pride of place as an apt carrier for our site’s logo.

To give you an idea of his location, here are more pictures – next time you go to Mumbai please do not miss to take the boat to Elephanta and see him.


Now to give you a sense of scale of this creation, i am posting this picture – these are the same scale as our man, but are on the adjacent side of the same wall.

Mallai Olakkaneswara temple

Today we are going to see a unique structure in mallai, sadly not many go to view this amazing place, not just for its beauty but also for its great view. With the new lighthouse ( which itself was commissioned in 1887 !) offering a nice offset, lot of people do capture this structure albeit in long shots. Kind of Old vs new but its more sad since this is probably one of the most unique structures of Mallai.

Why we call it unique, is because its a structural temple and not a rock cut/cave temple like the rest of the sculpture and unlike the shore temple, its build on top of a small hillock. Today the structure is in pretty sad state – nature and the british ( using it as a lighthouse) have taken its toll on the structure. ( images courtesy British library)16891686
From the pictures you could get a good idea on the location, it can reached by climbing a flight of steps adjoining the Mahishasuramardhini cave.
But the temple is still braving the odds and has some very unique sculptures. The rajasimha lions / vyala’s are there on the corner pillars of Garbha Griham and ardha mandabam, and a few of our favorite shiva ganas – amazingly funny and endearing characters these dwarfs.( like children waiting for their dad to come back from work with trinkets)
Now the name, i learnt it after reading Mr. Swaminathan’s work on mallai ( shortly coming out as a book and a must read)

We understand that it was the practice in those days of collecting a measure of oil (Uzhakku-ennai) from the community for the permanent light of this temple. Thus it came to be called Uzhakku-Ennai-Isvarar Temple. Olakkaneswra is its corruption is a view.”
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There are three relief sculptures on the outer walls: on the south is Dakshinamurti, Siva as a teacher, heralding a practice in all Siva temple then on, Siva as the divine dancer ( visitors to Kanchi kailasanatha would recognise this )on the eastern wall and finally, on the north side, an exquisite relief of Siva subduing Ravana who had the temerity to lift Mount Kailasa.”
The beauty of this sculpture is amazing, you can still see the crescent moon gracing shiva’s locks and the scream emanating from ravana’s mouths.

Sadly our modern day Kings and their consorts have decided that these creations should be graced with their names as well. A thousand year heritage being defaced thus, cant they find better avenues to exhibit their love.

( Thanks to Mr. Swaminathan for taking the time to do the Mallai trip for Ponniyin selvan friends and pictures by Sri. Shriram, Sri. Plastics Chandra and Sri. Vinjamoor Venkatesh)

Thirst for Art knows no boundaries – Narthamalai, a guest post

You would have read in the about me section, the yahoo group discussing Kalki’s amazing creation – ponniyin selvan introduced me to host of new friends. One post out of blue in the forum made me stand up and notice ( A post which was not out of place in a forum that discusses one of the greatest work of historical fiction in the Tamil, but coming from an American woman, it sure raised my eyebrow. Maybe it was one of those pseudo blogger names, so i started a conversation – what unfolded left me dumbfounded. Kathie is an American, who possibly has visited more obscure sites ( including ancient sacred places, even ones without much left at the site) than the celebrated back packer, ardent temple enthusiast in India, not just with an eye to see them as a tourist, but to enjoy the beauty of sculpture, to drink in the true pleasure of stone art at its very best – She has been coming to India since ’86 seeking out spiritual places filled with amazing works of art. So when i was thinking of calling someone to grace this site with a guest post, she agreed instantly. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her knowledge makes me wince!! over to Kathie

One site I’d been longing to see, on the strength of one photo in J.C.Harle’s “Art & Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent”, was NARTTAMALAI [Narthamalai].

Legend tells that its great granite pile fell off the mountain of healing herbs carried by Sri Hanuman, flying down to Lanka. It’s true that the area is known for medicinal wild plants.

Winter ’95, I took a taxi down from Tiruchi into Pudukkottai district, wondering if I could find the place. There was the enormous granite hill with a pool at its south end, but where was the temple ?
Doubtful, I walked along the fairly steep rock-face, noting an Ayyannar shrine across the water; then, through the trees, appeared the beautifully balanced Vimana: Vijayalaya Cholisvara Koil

This temple of 866 CE, built by Muttaraiyars — fiduciaries of the Royal Chozhas — shows that their artisans excelled in both architecture & sculpture. The west-facing temple’s round amalaka still had some paint –a soft red–, with 4 side shrines, gentle Nandi, & two caves in the cliff behind.
Murthis on the temple itself was quite worn and hard to see without binoculars.
To my taste, this is the most perfectly proportioned temple in TN.
The several door guardians here were among the finest I’d ever seen, a platform against the rock had a mala of playful elephants & Yalis, , including one with a human face. There were more loose murthis on the platform.

One cave was being used as a storeroom. The other — Samanar Kudagu, once Jain — had interior walls lined with 18(?) carved Vishnus, each subtly distinct.
Beside the koil masterpiece, the view east from the temple courtyard– angled rocks and green paddy — was breathtaking.
in 2007 I visited again with a group of friends. By then the amalaka had lost it’s rosy tint.

This time we continued down the great granite slab slanting to the north, and at its foot, found another Ayyannar Shrine of over a hundred steeds for the village guardians.
A magical place.

There is a newer temple on Narttamalai which we didn’t find.More sculpture from this site can be seen at the Pudukkottai Govt. Museum.

Kathie Brobeck

p.s We will visit this amazing place in more detail in subsequent posts.

How Big is BIG – Part 2 on the Tanjore temple

Ok, we saw a big post with only one picture in the intro post – so those of you eager to see more of the big temple, apologize for that – but the call of my beloved hero Raja Raja aka ponniyin selvan was too much.

We saw the temple vimanam at a distance – so we approach closer, before the visual spectacle arrests you – lets for a second imagine that someone has blind folded you – and moved you closer to the entrance. We skip the first entrance tower ( which is a later addition) and move your nearer to the second – the Keralantagan ( he who destroyed kerela – one of the first victories of Raja Raja was against the Chera stronghold / martial academy in Kandalur Salai – so his meeikeerthi sings-Kandalur salai kalamarutharuli ) – we skip that one as well and move you to the Raja Rajan gopuram ( The illustrious Arulmozhi took the tile of Raja Raja on his crowning) and slowly remove your blind fold. You open your eyes slowly. what do you see?
You see a Dwarabaalaga – door guardian – we first move you to the right one – with bared fangs and bulging eyes – looking down on you .
You are forced to look down – for his lower right hand is held is a kind of warning pose – Be careful


and then you look at the lower left hand – its says – look down –
there we see a lion,ok and then there is a snake biting something – oh, its swallowing an elephant!!! there is also a crocodile that has been depicted but i don’t have an explanation for that now ( we come to this later)
So we look up again – the upper left hand is pointing inside ( the Lord)
and the upper right hand is raised in Vismaya ( Astonishment)
ok lets read whats implied, beware,see below an elephant is being swallowed by a snake, and i am so much bigger than them – and inside – the God is much much bigger than all of us.
so How big is the door guardian – Ok – lets zoom back – bring a human into frame,hmm lets do better and bring an elephant into the frame –

Now do you get the perception of the scale of the doorguardian.
Now we zoom even more and bring the entire tower into the frame slowly moving backwards …wow -how massive.
The story of the elephant being swallowed is a pointer to the question on the first post as to why the Vimaana in tanjore is taller than the gopuram. A delightful explanation comes from Saint Sambandar’s Devaram.

Where he describes the abode of Shiva – the Holy mountain of Kailash, where there are huge snakes that are capable of swallowing elephants ( actually the right translation of Anaconda – is Aaanai – elephant – Kolran – killer – as per some? but how did a tamil saint envision of amazonian snake and how did the amazonian snake get such a name ?) – in other verses we hear of the lions in kailash ( as did we see in the angkorian ravana shaking episode). So the depiction of these animals are a pointer that the Vimana – true to its name is Dakshina Meru – Southern Kailash – the holy abode of shiva.

Now see the pictures

The first Tower – built during late 14 C

The second Tower Keralanthagan Gopuram

The third tower Rajarajan Gopuram

and finally the Maha meru Vimanam – to truly describe the scale of this edifice requires more posts – so just leave you with some breathtaking visuals ( thanks to friends and Mr Rohan R. Rao for allowing me to post some of his pictures)
There are numerous myths and some little known facts about the great temple. in the coming weeks we will slowly see them…

What a Mace ! What a Mace ( Mangadapattu) !

What started off a small discussion became the seed for this post.. interestingly which should have been the first post…for what you see below is acclaimed by its creator to be the first ever such work in stone…. 706 Well most Indian mythological heroes are assigned some divine weapon….the bow, sword etc have their parallels across the globe, but one thing unique has been the mace…when i mean unique, not that other cultures did not have the mace, but then the depictions in ours were huge. They would give today’s Olympic weight lifting champions a complex….for their sheer size is mind boggling. Is this the imagination of later day artists…we explored and for the parallels in sculpture we go to where it all started…the mother of all caves….the foremost amoung sculptures of south India. Mahendra pallava …the self titled vichitra citha ( the many talented or weird talented)…he claims that he built a temple for the trinity without using brick, wood, metal or mortar…. 703 Just look at the door guardians….they seem to have that classic vivian richards swagger about them, almost mocking at us puny mortals…. 712 lugging aroung those monstrous maces….( watch closely you can see a cobra circling the mace) 709 One bash with that is sure to knock the living daylights out of you and send you cranium into a mars orbit… for the serious enthusiast, this beauty is the Mangadapattu cave – on the vilupuram sengi main road…about 20kms from vilupuram….take a side road ( mud road) from there…you can see boards ( thank god) and its a km down the road ( if you can call it that….)