The valor of Chola soil – a Rooster takes on a rogue Elephant

The Chola dynasty of South India, has a long association with valor and bravery, and it gives me great pleasure to present a sculpture that links their valor, sculptural beauty, spirituality etc. Many thanks to Sri N.S. Narayanasamy
(www.shivatemples.com) for allowing us the use of this rare sculpture and content.

Its a simple legend and a lovely sculpture. Lets take a look at the legend first. When a Chola King named Veeravadhithan was passing a town on his elephant, the animal suddenly turned rogue and went around creating collateral damage. ( The Kings soldiers were no match for the rogue elephant. As per some version – The pious King prayed to Lord Shiva. He graced his blessings on a rooster which was nearby) The rooster showed remarkable courage is standing up to the rogue elephant and took on the mighty beast. It flew high to its head and used his sharp beak and claws to inflict lot of damage on the elephants sensitive eyes. The vanquished elephant was almost blinded and ran away ( to take refuge / calm down near a tree). Seeing the valor of a common rooster and the spiritual energy in the place, the Chola King decided to use the City as his capital.

Lets look at the sculpture now – from the Panchavarneshwarar Temple in Uraiyur.

A very simple sculpture, but you can still see the detailing. The raised tail of the elephant indicating its rage, the barve rooster clamped on its massive head. That the elephant is loosing, is clearly shown by its demeanor – the bent front legs and the almost crouched head.

Seeing the valor of a simple rooster the Chola king, thought it fit to shift his capital to the town – Uraiyur – which got a new name Kozhiyur ( kozhi hen or rooster) and the kings were praised as Kozhi vendhar ( vendhar – Lord or king ) surprised since technically you could get into trouble for comparing a King to a hen.

Infact, Sri kalki Krishnamurthy would pull this explanation as an answer to a simple question in his immortal work Ponniyin Selvan when describing the Tiruvisaippa sung by Kandrathitha Chola – where the King takes pride in calling himself a hen or rooster king !!

But who is this King and what period can we ascertain him to. When we tried to search more we found references to the “hentown” in Thevaram Verses.
There are Thevaram verses. But the great surprise came when we found the legend in Elango’s Silapathigram ( a tamil work dated roughly to the 2nd C AD) – Tale of the Anklet. The hero and heroine – Kovalan and kannagi , in search of a new market ( after the has wasted all his wealth on his `other’ women Mathavi) move from Chola country into Pandya land towards Madhurai – passing through Uraiyur – Kozhiyur. So the legend was famous even then to find mention in the work !!

So much for legends living on for 1800 years !!!

There are no Ganesha sculptures in Mallai – except for ….

Wishing all viewers a very happy and prosperous new year 2009. A friend commented that over a 100 posts and not one dedicated to the Ganesha – the remover of obstacles. So today we see him, not just any post but one that poses a lot of questions into the origin of Ganesha worship in South India.

This is another of the puzzles of Mahabalipuram – there are almost over 50 representations of Shiva with his family – as Somaskanda ( Sou Uma skanda – With Uma and Skanda) – reminds me to a post on them. But conspicuous by his absence is Ganesha.

Hang on, i know some of you are already jumping – yes – the Ganesha Ratha is the only shrine still under worship in Mahabalipuram. But when it was sculpted it was sculpted as a shrine for Shiva. Why and how it got converted to a shrine for the Son is an interesting legend by itself. Lets see the chronology one by one:

Leaving aside the Pillayarpatti caves that are assigned to an earlier period, the earliest reference to Ganesha worship starts with the famous war of Vatapi. Those who have read Author Kalki’s Sivagamiyin Sabatham ( Sivagami’s Vow) would immediately recollect the scene. The trusted General of Narasimhavaraman II – Paranjothi helps him to avenge his father’s defeat at the hands of the Chalukya king, Pulakesi II in the year 642 CE. ( They prepared for the war for 12 years !!) – but standing on the dawn of the battle day, Paranjothi sees a Ganesha sculpture on the walls of Vatapi and prays to him for his success. On the victorious battle field he undergoes a change of heart and takes to life of a saint – as siruthondar becomes a Nayanmaar, takes back the statue of Ganesha to worship as Vatapi Ganesha. So is he the first instance of Ganesha in Pallava land.

Well, the story gets interesting now. Sambandar and Appar have sung the greatness of Ganesha. See below verse references:

Sambandar’s Verse

the supreme god in Valivalam where many people who are the incarnation of unbounded liberality, crowd.
when Umai assumed the form of a female elephant.
Civaṉ assuming the form of a strong male elephant.
was gracious enough to beget kaṇapati who destroys obstacles to devotees who worship his feet.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

Appar’s Verse

the elephant faced god, Kaṇapati who wanders frightening in the minds of people who rise suffering intensely, having very many desires.the two lights which have the strength to dispel darkness and the great mountain, Kayilāyam.we are the kindred of the God who has Keṭilam having water which confers good on people who bathe on it.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

So, its clear that Ganesha was worshipped and well known as the son of Shiva and Parvathi during their times itself.

There are lot of scholarly debates about the authorship of the Mahablipuram monuments, yet fortunately the Shore temple’s builder is clear – Rajasimha Pallava.

We come back to the Ganesha Ratha. Yes, it does have a Ganesha Statue installed and under worship. But ( here i seek help from the masterly work of Sri. Swaminathan sir) – read below one of the earliest extracts of a foreigner accounts of Mahabalipuram – 1788 AD

The Ganesa Ratha had originally a linga in the sanctum, and seems to have been taken away by Lord Hobert, who was Governor of Madras from 1794 to 1798. A compensation of 20 pagodas was given to the villagers and took away to England. His successor, the second Lord Clive (1798-1803), took away the Nandi of this temple. Chambers: 1788

So, how did the Ganesha come – again a note, this time by a noted historian

When that linga was carried off by Bu…, the people of this place took an image of Vinayaka which was near and put it into the Garbagriha. On the wall to the south of the Garbagriha is some inscription written, the character of which is unknown.
—– (1803:Lakshmiah)

Ok, for the people who are still unconvinced – inscriptional evidence

This is a lengthy inscription of eleven verses in Sanskrit from the ` Ganesha Ratha’.. the fifth verse states, “This temple of Sambhu (Siva) was caused to be made by King Atyantakama, conqueror of his enemies’ territory and renowned by the title Ranajaya.” The name of the temple is then given: “Atyantakama-Pallavesvara-Griham” (“The Isvara (Siva) temple of the Pallava (king) Atyantakama”).
‘Atyantakama’ and ‘Ranajaya’ were titles of Pallava kings

So where does this lead us – in all of the cave temples, Bas reliefs and Free standing Rathas of Mahabalipuram there is not a single representation of Ganesha. He first comes in the shore temple. We have already carried a brief intro of the shore temple

Shore Temple Intro post

Now lets test your powers of observation once again. Can you spot him.

You can see that there are various Ganas occupying similar positions. so what do we conclude ?

Well, the objective of this site is to spread awareness and spur people to search for answers. So i just leave you with some closeups of Ganesha – may he remove all your obstacles and the new year usher a grand year of joy and prosperity.

Silpi – An Artist Par Excellence

We saw earlier how the the amazing pillars of Srirangam Sesharaya Mandabam inspired our friends to sketch them. But a casual conversation with one of the young artists, Mr. Prasad, sent me to look for the master artist, who forever immortalised sketching sculpture. I was delighted to see that he too sketched these amazing pillars – He is none other than Artist Silpi (1919 – 1983) – P.M. Sreenivasan.

While Prasad was languishing that he had searched everywhere to see the face of this amazing artist, i remembered our Gokul’s article in Varalaaru.com. For a wider audience i am trying to translate it into English, so that the fame of this divinely gifted artist can spread more.

Lets first see his amazing sketch of the pillars.



Temple : Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswami Temple – Trichy, Tamilnadu, India
Location : Sesharayar Mandapa
Features : The mandapa is finely sculpted with various figures. Silpi captures the essence of this complicated and delicate sculpture
Collection sent by : Prof.S.Swaminathan
Original series : Thennatuch Chelvangal
Magazine courtesy : Ananda Vikatan

Sources:
http://www.varalaaru.com/default.asp?articleid=443
http://www.varalaaru.com/default.asp?articleid=561

Article original source from Tanjore Big temple consecration commemorative edition 1997

The fame of those who are born with divine gifts never fade, so too can’t termites destroy the names of those who strive tirelessly. The noblest of intentions seek out the very pinnacle of beauty and the strive for excellence is akin to a penance. The unbent spine, the unaided eyes ( without spectacles to assist), the steadfast gaze, crowned with the essence of benevolent grace, the gifted fingers that let dance the amazing brush strokes to give life to every stroke. The gentlest of smiles breaking through, not a full fledged laugh but those lips do not part yet you know the joy radiating from the poise. The wide forehead displaying proudly the ash marks of shiva and inbetween the large vermilion mark.

These are the marks of a master artist – Silpi. No stone has been left unsketched by his mastery, in every nook and corner of tamil nadu, itself dotted with thousands of temples. He converted every home into a temple or brought the temple to the homes of the masses, by his divine creations.

He was born in Namakkal in 1919. He was named Sreenivasan. From his young age, he displayed amazing affliction to sketching, more than his studies. The National poet Sri Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai, was a renowned artist as well and seeing the gift in Sreenivasan, he advised him to join the Madras Art college in Egmore, to refine his skills.

He joined for a 6 year course, but his abundant talent led the College Principal Sri. D.P. Roy Choudry to grade him from second year to fourth year straight away. He excelled in pen and ink line sketches. His sketches caught the eye of all and sundry including Mr. Choudry. He complimented the work, keeping it on par if not higher levels of european masters.

when Sreenivasan was a student, he was inspired by artist Maali’s caricatures. Similarly, during later years, Sreenivasan;s works attracted Maali. This bond later got and kept Sreenivasan, in the employment of the tamil Magazine anantha Vikadan for 22 years.

Sreenivasan was more inclined to sketch buildings than human figures, and Mali wanting to take full advantage of this, gave him the name Silpi and commissioned him to sketch temple sculpture.

The divine stone sculptures are not only three dimensional creations, but also have a fouth dimension – the confluence of divinity. Photographs of these sculptures are but images or replicas, but inorder for the true expression of the sculpture to be brought forth, was a task which only the great master artist Silpi could do.

He could portray the divine beauty of the sculpture and capture it into his art. How and when he did it is interesting as well. He would wait for all the devotees to finish their darshan, late into the night and then he would sit facing the deity in the dull light shed by the flickering wicker lamp. Yet he could brilliantly capture the depth and texture of every chisel mark of the sculpture. Once when asked how he could do it, he said ” i only get the right mix of paints, then its the work of the deity who converges with my fingers to sketch itself. Its the work of the master of all creation, i am but a tool”

Before sketching the main deity, he would first sketch the ornaments on a separate sheet. Similarly also note down the colors of the individual gems. After that, as he completes sketching the main deity, he would draw on the ornaments and it would give him great pleasure, as though he is anointing the actual deity with the jewels. This divine bliss is what translated into his creations, which live on for us to feel everytime we see his creations. After completing his sketches, he would dutifully take it to seek the blessings of the Acharya at kaanchi ( the eldest pontiff – now no more – a true saint) – and then bring them home to do special pooja to them. Such was the reverence he had for his work.

After leaving Ananda Vikatan, Silpi’s illustrations graced the pages of Bhavans Journal, tamil magazines like Kalai Magal, Thinamani Kathir, Idayam Pesugirathu, Amuthsurabi, showcasing the beauty of South Indian temple sculpture.

Silpi had a small family, he was ably supported by his wife Mrs. Padma. A lean figure, but always smiling graceful lady, she was the goddess Annapoorani herself when it came to hospitality for her guests. However, ill health took its toll at a very young age and she departed in 1968, leaving behind a son – Maali an daughter Saradha.

For long years, Silpi never groomed a successor. However in 1981, on a January14th – a monday, the day of the harvest festival – Pongal, a young lad of 15 years came with his father to visit Silpi. His name was Giridharan.Silpi was taken aback when he saw the young boys art, complimenting him that at such an young age, even he couldnt sketch such amazing art. Such praise flowed from the masters heart.

He took him immediately as his art successor, and was overjoyed at it. He used a part of his name and his wifes and gave him a new name – Padmavaasan. mr. Padmavaasan went on to become a brilliant artist, illustrating the new editions of kalki’s immortal works of historical fiction. The divinity that flows through his works are reminiscences of Silpi.

Such a masterful artist was not aplty decorated during his lifetime. The coming generation should not forget the contributions of this great artist.

But what is the current status of this amazing pillared sesharaya mandabam…will see next

The BIG temple – an intro post

After doing the intros of Ajanta, Ellora,thought i should do one for the Big temple in Tanjore. But a post of its sculptures preceded the post, so we take this as a prequel.

This grand exhibition of Chola architecture and its lasting beauty is but a fitting tribute to one of the greatest kings of our land. The great man, as Arulmoli, who was content to let his uncle rule for 15 years, waiting by the sidelines ( after the assassination of his elder brother – the crown prince, Aditya Karikala in 969 AD), and then take on the reigns in 985 AD and user in a glorious period of chola rule.

The exact words are beautifully translated by Sri. K.A. Neelakanta Sastry in his lovely work COLAS ( 1935 – Madras Univ publication) from the thiruvalandadu plates

You can read them here:

but for this verse in particular

(V. 69.) (Though) requested by the subjects (to occupy the Chola
throne), in order to destroy the persistently blinding darkness of
the powerful Kali (age), Arunmolivarman who understood the essence
of royal conduct, desired not the kingdom for himself even in (his)
mind, while his paternal uncle coveted his (i.e., Arunmolivarman’s)
dominions.

Look at the lovely use of the words desire when it comes to Arulmoli and covet when it comes to Uttama ( his uncle)

Arulmoli took the title Raja Raja on his coronation and his military prowess and administrative capabilities are to be etched in gold – but maybe for longivity he chose Stone – yes, he left behind his illustrious deeds in the form of his Prasithi ( in sanskrit) or meikeerthi ( in tamil ) – mei – true, keerthi – fame – his true fame. That would be another post altogether

We look to another plate that sums up the big temple ( thanks to Sri Nagaswamy’s sir site http://tamilartsacademy.com/articles/article29.xml)

To him was born Arumolivarma, who with his long and beautiful arms bore the marks of sankha and cakra in his palms. He conquered the Ganga-s, Vanga-s, Kalinga-s, Magadha-s, Malava-s, Simhala-s, Andhra-s, Ratta-s (Rastrakuta-s) Odda-s (Orissans), Kataha-s, Kerala-s, Gauda-s and Pandya-s. By the wealth obtained through his conquests he erected at Tanjanagari (Tanjore) a very great temple (atyuttamam) named Rajarajesvaram
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As you enter tanjore – you are greeted by this – the towering Vimaana ( Vimaana is on top of the main Idol, Gopuram is on top of the outer walls/compound – most south indian temple gopurams are taller than the vimaana, Raja Raja’s tanjore temple and his illustrious son Rajendra’s Gangaikonda cholapuram being one of few exceptions – why ??) – we go nearer in the next post..

Have you been to Ajanta?

Having given you a birds eye view of Ellora, cant have ajanta pending. A study of ajanta would take a lifetime….immortalised by Author kalki in his famous work Sivagamiyin Sabhatham…the oldest paintings and stone craft of India is a visual spectacle unsurpassed. A vision so grand that everything else will pale in this splendor.

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Before we step in and drink in the splendid sights, lets get a bird’s eye view. What tranquil surroudings chosen by the Buddhist monks to parade their skills. The pristine natural surroundings set off well against the carvings of man…loo behold…here comes ajanta..

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