An amazing bronze of Kalinga nardhana

Prasad is no new comer to us, we have seen his gifted art in our pages many times. But today he takes on a new avatar and coinciding with Janmastami – the birthday of Krishna, he teams up with Ashok, who has been kind enough to share his wonderful pictures of an amazing Bronze, to create a post on the famed Kalinga Nardhana of Oothukadu.

There is no introduction required to the immense and sublime brilliance of Chola artisans of the tamil country. Fully knowing that words cannot capture the essence of my experience, I shall try to lead the readers towards having this divine experience themselves. I shall today humbly attempt to describe, share and perhaps motivate some of you to enjoy this immense wealth even more keenly. I begin with an invocation to the almighty and pray to him to bestow upon me the power to describe what I feel as something that can be better experienced than described.

Today we shall see a sculpture of kalinga Mardhana Krishna, an epic dance to subdue a snakes arrogance captured most exceptionally in metal.

Let us look at the sculpture first as a whole, he is represented as performing his divine dance atop the head of Kalinga, evidently teaching a lesson to the monstrous snake about humility and at the same time showing to the world who he really is. The chola artist are masters in capturing action, its force and also encapsulating a story into it. They are so good at it that one look at the sculpture and the ensuing sequence of actions is completely captured in minds eye.

So let us follow an aarthi starting at the sculptures right foot., only in the opposite direction in which an aarthi it is generally performed. Let us start appreciating the mastery of the sculptures by looking at it not just as a static pose. It is actually a part of the sequence of actions and the perhaps captures the force of the moment most magnificently.

Observe the raised foot, can you now visualize how the foot will land on the head of the snake in a few seconds? Can you feel the immense pressure that step is going to exert, not a death blow but something that will send strong message to the arrogant snake.

Perhaps this is how it might land on the snakes head.

Let us now observe the left hand, grasping the tail of the snake ever slow elegantly. Please try to imagine how your hand will be when you are trying to hold something heavy (wriggling uncontrollably) at shoulder height, Imagine how stiff and strained the muscles will be, imagine the discomfort, but what do we see here?

A bent hand, holding the tail of the snake as if it were a piece of silk, can you now vizualize that this very posture indicates child’s play. To him this snake is no big deal, all he needs to do is hold this giant snake’s tail like a small piece of cloth. However, when you see the whole composition in context, you will understand the complexity of depiction vs actual modelling dynamics.

Next we observe the face. The bewitching smile indicates that he is not intending to hurt the snake nor does it show an ounce of arrogance, anger, strain or pride, all it radiates is pure child like glee. Also observe that he is not looking at the snake nor is he looking at anything specific, his gaze spans the whole universe. His face is slightly bent, here again we need to visualize the force or the grace of his dance. His head sways gently behind before he stamps his foot again on the head of the snake.

How the classical dancer’s body moves, the slight sway of the head.

Finally let us rest our eyes upon his abhaya hasta. It is often said that the eye sees what it wants to see. To his cowherd friends it conveys the message not to worry and that he is in control. To the innumerable saints and gods it tells them that he is there to protect. To the arrogant snake and those who seek to destroy peace and harmony it shows a sign of warning! (ready to slap them). To the family of the snake it shows that he has heard their pleas and granted mercy. And thousand more meaning that I am unable to elaborate simply because my language inhibits me.

The dynamics of this unique bronze upon closer scrutiny lends upon the viewer the fact that there is small gap between his left feet and the head of the snake – so the entire weight of Krishna is on the hand holding the tail – a lasting memory of the bronze craftsmen and his amazing craft.

I now complete this post with a faith that I have been able to express what I experienced when I saw this sculpture. Also I wish to take the liberty to put forward a honest plea to the readers. Our heritage is EXTREMELY precious, to have survived the innumerable invasions, greed of men and the force of nature by itself is a miracle. I urge all the readers to henceforth make a determined effort to look at the idols in altogether new angle. Each sculpture has so many things to reveal, each sculpture is abound with energy, pain, toil and passion of the ancient sculptors. To preserve them is not only our responsibility but our sacred duty.

Please appreciate these timeless marvels. Always remember that it is not a gift by your ancestors but a loan given to you by your children. We need to give it back to the future generations with accrued interest. 🙂

Special thanks to Mr Ashok and Ms.Neeraja Srinivasan ( Dancer) for allowing us the use of the photos.

As a special gift Ashok share this.

All the views above are purely based on intuitive feeling of the writer and may or may not agree upon with scientific and actual meaning according to shilpa shastra. The writer apologizes for any mistakes in the content and wishes to declare that they are solely his views and have been caused due to ignorance. Many thanks to Vijay for the providing an opportunity to express my views and a big round of applause for his commendable efforts to bring forth our rich heritage. May this initiative snowball into a big revolution. Vanakam.

A Heron swallows Krishna !

Today we are going to see one more from the innumerable antics of Baby Krishna superbly portrayed in miniature in Tirumalpuram. The episode is one more chapter of the colorful life led by Baby krishna and the vain attempts by Kamsa to get rid of him. He sends the powerful demon Baksura in the guise of a Heron.

Before we step in closer to view the sculpture, lets read the story behind it.

Once the shepherds of Ayarpadi, the abode of Krishna, led their cows to drink water from the Yamuna. After quenching their thirst they let them graze for a while as they rested on the banks. At that moment a monstrous Heron, the size of a small hill, with sharp talons and beak charged at them. The moment they looked at it, they knew that is was a demon, but he quickly picked up Baby Krishna and gulped him down his throat. The inhabitants were filled with dread on seeing this.

However, Krisha emanated so much heat inside the throat of Bakasura that he could not hold him inside. He spat him out and the next instant set himself to peck and claw the Child to death. Krishna caught his two massive beaks and as though they were a mere blade of grass, or how a child would split a blade of grass for sport, he split the two fronds of his beak apart. The demon was thus slain !

Now take a look at this scene

The sculptor has beautifully shown a baby Krishna tearing the beak of the Heron demon Bakasura.

That he could do so in such a miniature scale is amazing and to see the story boards stay and tell their tale for a 1000 years is incredible.

Compare with today!

( photo courtesy:

The post should have ended with that, but then sometime back Kathie , knowing our infatuation with Ganas, had sent us some amazing panels – of Ganas sporting with Cranes. The vibrant humour that is sculpted in these are truly stunning.

A Grieving Mother or a unwilling assassin?

When Dakshin put up this fantastic photographic capture from the Madurai temple and titled it as Boothagi, the first question that came to my mind was ` Wasn’t she a demoness who was hired as an assassin by Kamsa to kill Krishna?’

Our conceptions or misconceptions of Boothanai were driven not only by graphic depictions of her in our story books, but also in sculpture. This early chola depiction in Pullamangai in stone and this sudhai from from the Tanjore Big Temple ( Photo courtesy: Arvind) added to our visions of an Ugly demoness who was sucked dry by Krishna.

So who else could the beautiful maiden sculpted in Madurai be. Some references identify her as Chandramathi the wife of the legendary Harishchandra cradling her dead son Lohidasan. But then something didnt quite feel right. The great King Harishchandra being reduced to penury, had sold his wife into slavery. The sculpted figure even after discounting the ornamental excesses of the Nayak style, does sport an impressive amount of ornaments. But her face seem to show a variety of emotions, at once a bit sad, a bit like that of a demoness – but definitely not that of a loving mother. Plus the Baby seems very well endowed, very much alive and in one angle seems to be puckering his lips to suckle at her breasts. So it cannot be Yashodha and Krishna for sure.

If only we could spot something about the two that could help us with the identification ! After some frantic requests to friends, Mr Raman obliged by making the trip and getting us the required photographs.

This is going to be a really tough one – the request to him from me was very simple. Get me a good shot of the right chest of the baby. Why ?

Remember this post about the mole that adorns the chest of Vishnu – Srivatsam . Keep the last image of that post in your memory.

The Ornamentation of the baby is rich as well , compare with those of known krishna sculptures. Problem is Sambandar also seems to share the same fashion / wardrobe.


Lets study the baby more to find more clues and why I wanted a closeup of the right chest. Please do keep in mind the position of the baby and how difficult it would have been for the sculptor to be able to sculpt any detail on the baby’s right chest.

You can see that he has not made the clear demarcation of the chest on the right side compared to what he could show in the left – where he has shown the shape of the chest clearly. I have marked in white where the right chest should have been shown.

Now lets, demarcate where the jewelery is sculpted on the chest.

Now, if you have followed closely you would see a small indentation on the right chest.

and if you can sit a bit back and focus on the same place, you can see the triangle emerge.

Compared to the standing icons of Vishnu where the Srivatsam mark is more pronounced and more towards the outer half of the chest, due to the position of the baby closer to the lady – the sculptor is forced to center it more. Compare with this

If we can fix that this is indeed the Srivatsam mark – then the question of Boothanai’s description arises. Boothanai is said to be kind of a contract killer – paid assassin, who would kill by having young children suckle at her breast ( two accounts – either her milk itself was venom or she applied a deadly poison on her breasts). This she does as she is under the grasp of the evil Kamsa. So when Kamsa wants to get rid of Krishna, the first person he turns to is Boothanai. She goes in the guise of a beautiful maiden and Yashoda allows her to suckle her baby. Kishna knowing her ploy anchors his teeth on her breasts and sucks the life blood out of her. She is either shown as falling dead regaining her ugly form or sucked bone dry as per varying accounts.

So having touched Krishna and smitten by his good looks, being a mother herself, is it the anguish of trying to kill a toddler that is shown on her face or the realisation that her end is near and a bitter happiness that she is to going to be liberated by him ?

Krishna as a Matador

The weekend has been buzz with news of youths exhibiting their skills in the various bull rings across Tamil Nadu – Jalikkattu as its more popularly known, has had a lot of coverage in the press during the recent years with animal rights activists and also public safety calls.

( image courtesy – wiki)

While respecting their sentiments and also the age old traditions associated with this sport, we present to you an early ( Chola) sculpture depicting this sport and who else to play Matador than the Stud Krishna himself !! This is another miniature from Tirumalpuram.

Before we proceed with a closeup of the sculpture, some quick references. There are two such episodes that are referred to in the brave acts of Krishna ( his leela) – one is the taming of the bull Hastin and the other slaying of the demon Aritasura who took the form of a bull. After close inspection of the panel under question, we believe that it depicts more a taming than a slaying.

The story is a simple one. In brindavan, the abode of Krishna, among the cattle was a prize bull named Hastin. It was massive and had quite an attitude and temper. So it was always tied to a tree and it would go round and round in rage never allowing anyone to come near. If anyone did dare, he would scour the earth with his hoofs and horns and try to gore them.

Such was his display of aggression that once even the fearless Balarama was apprehensive of going near. Around this time, the youth of the village challenge Krishna to a bet – and Krishna accepts to tame Hastin and ride on him.

Krishna tries to take good care of the Bull, giving it choice feed to eat, yet his temper doesn’t improve and he cannot even go near. Finally Krishna takes his flute and plays such a wonderful tune, that the fierce bull is mesmerized and calms down to allow him to pet it and finally mount it and ride it.

On the contrary the story of Arishtasura is that Kamsan sends his assistant to kill Krishna. Arishta takes the form of a massive bull and charges at Krishna. Unperturbed Krishna caught him by his horns, threw him long and far. Then he picked him up like a wet cloth and twisted him, finally impaling him on his own horns !!

The point to note in the sculpture, is the majestic countenance of the bull, the slightly upturned charge of the head and the ease with which Krishna seems to be riding it !!

Thanks to Mrs Parvadha for help and Geetha Madam’s blogs for content

Baby Krishna restrained by his mother – Tirumalpuram

Friends, today we are going to see an interesting guest post – by Mrs. Parvadha Vardhini Murali Krishnan. She continues to amaze us with her talents and a recent addition is her wonderful blog Ponniyin selvi . One way it was the blog posts that made me seek her help to write about two very interesting miniature sculptures from Tirumalpuram ruined Vishnu temple. Her she goes..

I am a Chartered Accountant, living in Kuwait. Currently I am a fulltime homemaker. Just like many of our friends here, I was also impressed very much by the great novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Amarar Kalki. Out of interest, when I searched in the internet, I found the yahoo group Ponniyin Selvan Varalatru Peravai and joined in it. Through the group, I got introduced to many of our friends. Same way, I got introduced to this site “Poetry in Stone” and Mr. Vijay. From then on, I am a regular reader of this site.

Our friend Mr. Vijay sent me a photograph of a sculpture and asked me if I can do a guest post on it. I was very hesitant and I told him, I do not know about sculpture, what do I write? He said, let me send you the picture, have a look at it and then decide. But once I saw the picture of the sculpture I was very impressed. All of us like children; just imagine if the Lord Almighty is in the form of a child, as Krishna, who wouldn’t love him? Taking this as the willingness of Lord Krishna himself, I write this post.

I am only going to say a story; a story well known to all of us. Yes, it is the story which comes to our mind seeing the sculpture.

Krishna is a mischievous boy. Even though he was in a flourishing house of Nandagopa, with the pots and vessels filled with butter, he always went to others’ house to eat them. The ladies of Gokulam complained about this to Yasodha. Yasodha got furious. Seeing that she’s angry, Krishna wouldn’t come in front of her. Then she calls him with affection, saying that she would feed him with milk. And when he came nearby, she caught hold of him and tied him with a rope to a mortar. Since he was tied in his belly with the rope, he’s called as Damodhara (Thambu + Udharan)

adhirum kadal niRa vaNNanai Aychchi
madhuramulaiyUtti vanjsiththu vaiththu
padhaRappadAmE pazhandhAm pAl Arththa
udharam irundhavA kANIrE
oLivaLaiyIr vandhu kANIrE

(Periyazhwar Thirumozhi – Mudhar pathu – Irandam Thirumozhi – Verse 9)

Yasodha who called Krishna, the mischievous boy like the waves of the ocean, and who was of the same colour of the sea, saying that she would feed him with sweet milk, tied him with an old rope found nearby. See the beauty of Krishna’s belly which has a scar due to tying him with the rope. Oh maiden, who are wearing the twinkling bangles, come over and see the beauty of Krishna’s belly with a scar.

Guess Children will always be children and parents will always be parents. Lets take a look at the depiction in stone now.

Now, we go to act 2. What happened next. Yasodha after tying him in a mortar went inside the house. Krishna was silent for a while. But then, he couldn’t stay quiet anymore. He pulled the mortar and came out of the house. He got an idea to come out of the rope. He saw two big Arjuna trees outside his house. He thought to himself, If only I go in between these trees, then the mortar cannot come to the other side and the rope will get cut on its own and then I can be freed. So, he pulled the mortar and went in between the trees and pulled the mortar with all his strength! But amazingly, the two Arjuna trees, unable to withstand the strength of Krishna, fell on the ground. And two Devakumaras emerged from the fallen trees.

NalakUbara and MaNigriiva were the Devakumaras; they were the sons of Kubera. Out of pride on the matchless prosperity they had, they went to a pond along with Kandharva ladies to play in the water. The sage Naradha, was passing the way. Seeing the sage, the Kandharva ladies were scared and immediately wore their robes and saluted him. Whereas the sons of Kubera, since they had drunk extremely and out of pride, neither did they notice the presence of the sage Naradha nor did they bother to wear their robes. The sage grew angry on their activities and cursed them to become Arjuna trees in the earth. The sons of Kubera realized their position and apologized to the sage and requested for the way out of the curse. Naradha took pity on them and said that when Lord Narayana takes the incarnation of Krishna, their curse will end and they can return to their abodes.

Krishna, knowing all this, pushed the trees to the ground and released the sons of Kubera out of their curse. Nalakoopa and Manikreeva, prayed to the Lord and returned to their abodes.

perumAvuralil piNippuNdirundhu ang
kirumAmarudham iRuththavippiLLai
kurumAmaNippUN kulAvith thigazhum
thirumArvirundhavA kANIrE
seeyizhaiyIr vandhu kANIrE .

(Periyazhwar Thirumozhi – Mudhar pathu – Irandam Thirumozhi – Verse 10)

Tied by Yasodha on to a mortar, due to his mischievous activities, Krishna crawled between the two huge Arjuna trees and broke them. Oh Ladies wearing bright jewels, come and see the radiant chest of Krishna which has Lakshmi, Kowsthubam and the Tulsi Mala adorned.

Arunagiri Nathar, in his Thirupughazh recites as

parivoduma kizhnthi Rainju maruthidaitha vazhnthu ninRa
paramapatha naNpa ranpin marukOnE

He, as a child, crawled in between the Arjuna trees that worshiped Him with love and ecstasy; He is the great friendly Lord residing in the blissful heaven; and You are the love-filled nephew of that Lord VishNu!

Look at the beautiful Krishna who is tethered to the mortar and is pulling it. Also look at the sons of Kubera, Nalakoopa and Manikreeva, who stood as Arjuna trees and were relieved out of their curse.

Look at the beauty of the miniature sculptures which narrates the divine stories for us. The fun in spotting these beauties.

Try to decipher them

That’s the size and see how the trees have been depicting with faces at the bottom.

Weren’t the Silpis so great that they could bring such creativity in such a restrained space and continue to impart divinity in their work!

First year Anniversary post – you need experts to understand Bronzes

Friends, Its with great pleasure that we present to you our anniversary post. Exactly a year ago, urged on by friends and well wishers we embarked on this remarkable journey on uncharted ground. For us, it was a modest start but with lofty ambitions. Its been an eventful 365 days, not restricting to South India and temple art, we have traversed almost the whole of South East Asia, spanning Stone sculpture, Bronzes, Cave art, in the process compiling 150 bi lingual posts covering wide gamut of subjects,sharing a common goal – to spread art awareness.Its been a journey of learning and discovery to us and am sure to our loyal readers as well. Along the way, we met many interesting friends, many who contributed to the richness of this pioneering effort. In our small but significant way, we believe we have succeeded in instilling the love to appreciate sculpture in our readers by presenting them a unique perspective of temple art. A lot of work goes into these posts, sometimes months are spent in researching for the posts, waiting for freinds to share the right photos, the right angles, experts are consulted, rare books are sourced from good friends, the essence of all these are distilled and shared with you in a form that can be appreciated easily by all. As we step into our second year with all your wishes, blessings and support, we present to you another of our special posts.

This is one such post which starts off as a nonchalant conversation and blossoms into a beauty, while emphasizing the need for experts. While discussing with Vairam on the previous post, we discussed the iconography of two very similar looking bronzes. One a dancing Balakrishna and another a dancing Sambandhar. See this exhibit in Tanjore museum ( they are identified properly and exhibited side by side – thankfully – Picture courtesy Satheesh)

To the untrained ( even many museums and sites are not clear) eye, both look very similar and are often mistaken for one another, or given both the titles to be on the safe side.

Take a look at these two bronzes. At first glance, they both seem the same.

But here comes the need for expert advise. Spurred by the doubt, we wrote to one of the foremost experts on bronzes today, Dr Nagaswamy, who replied to us sameday! That advise from the great man himself, who takes time to indulge and educate novices like us, is this post.

Lets look at the bronzes one more time,there seem some subtle differences especially with the pose of the right hand !

We first look at this sculpture of dancing Balakrishna – the clues lie in his right chest. Do you notice the triangular Srivatsam mark just above the right chest !! refer the earlier post on the same. No doubts, its confirmed that this is Krishna. Notice how the right hand is facing the viewer – Abhaya hastam, offering protection to the devotee.

Now, lets see the other sculpture. ( Many thanks to Stuart Lee – the left hand – spectacular capture – from chennai museum and Sakthis for patiently assiting with the others from singapore asian civilisations museum )

This is the more popular bronze, of Saint Sambandhar. The Chola kings were great patrons of Shiva,the very first verse of the Thevaram Hymns were sung by Sambandhar and aptly this sculpture depicts that scene.

According to legend, when Sambandhar was three years old his parents took him to the Shiva temple where Shiva and his consort Parvati appeared before the child.”parvathi fed her milk in a golden cup” . His father saw drops of milk on the child’s mouth and asked who had fed him, whereupon the boy pointed to the sky and responded with the song Thodudaya Seviyan – the first verse of the Tevaram.

Thodudaya seviyan song

the Lord has an ear on which a lady`s ear-jewel is worn.
He rides on a bull.
having worn a spotlessly pure white crescent moon of a single phase.
He smeared himself with the ash in the cremation ground which has the nature of a forest.
the thief who has captivated my mind
this person is really the great one who resides gladly in Piramapuram possessing greatness, where the Lord bestowed his grace on Piramaṉ who is seated in a (lotus) flower having petals, who bowed to him and worshiped him, in the distant past.

For a better understanding of this scene and to hear the verse being recited in this video capture.

Thodudaiya seviyan video
Now, that you have visualised the scene, think of how the sculptor showed this in bronze. And that is the clue to the identity of this bronze as well.

“The father asked who had fed him, whereupon the boy pointed to the sky”
Notice the right hand of the bronze. The index finger.

Let me get you the right photo angle to highlight this point of movement in chola sculpture.

Notice that the index finer is at an angle and gives you a visual impression of being in the process of pointing upwards, its not yet finished traversing to the point of pointing vertically up. Such finesse in sculpting this image. Truly masterclass.

Here are some more splendid bronzes from Delhi Museum, Chennai museum, Freer Museum.

Now, from above its pretty clear to identify the bronzes

Auckland Museum

The srivatsam is quite visible, so its krishna

Hindu wisdom site

This is clearly Sambandhar – as can be seen from the right hand and also the distinct ornamentation of similar bronzes.

Nice article on sculpture but..

The sketch below, while doesn’t show the srivatsam, the right hand index finger does points to the sky. So it should be Sambandhar as per reasoning above.

we thank you all once again for your continued patronage of our site and we look forward to receiving more photos and information from your temple / museum visits.

We take this opportunity to wish all our supporters, well wishers and guides who have stood by us, motivated us and continue to inspire us to do more. The list is endless but our thanks rise from the bottom of our hearts individually to all of you.

Love of a foster mother

The moment we hear of the Indian section of Museum exhibits the world over, we immediately visualise beautiful Chola Bronzes. Most Museums have their fair share of such beauties – we would normally see a Nataraja, a Vishnu, a Somaskanda, Sambandar. But today, being Krishna Jayanthi, thought i would share a very rare bronze from the Cleveland Museum.

The dating of the sculpture as per the exhibit, says it late chola – ie 12 C, basically due to the lack of elaborate ornamentation. But then even very early chola bronzes carried basic ornaments, though they were not very heavy, they were spectacular in designs. In comparison, the images of the shaivite saints were mostly stark in their portrayal keeping their monk like status. So, what is so rare about this bronze. Firstly very few such exist, secondly is the superb handling of the scene. Ok, we are talking of the bronze of Yashoda breast feeding baby Krishna.

Its a very emotional surreal sculpture, a foster mother, offering her breast to her adopted child, a Queen’s son being fed by a milkmaid!! So is this the reason for the sparse ornamentation?

The sculpture is rare, but the scene that it depicts has been sung by the saints long back. Perialwar sings thus

irumalaipola tirintha mallar ( the two wrestlers who roamed as two huge mountains) iruvarangameriseithaai ( burnt their bodies – destroyed). un (your)
thirumalinthuthigazmaarvu ( the heart where lakshmi graciously resides) thekkavanthu ( to store) enalguleri ( you climbed my lap)
orumulaivaaimaduthu ( you took one breast in your lips) orumulaiyai nerudikkondu ( playing with the other breast) irumulaiyum ( both breasts) muraimuraiya yengiyengi iruthunaayo ( one after the other, you satiated your thirst)

What a splendid verse, and noting more required to explain the beauty of this bronze.

But the styling still raises some doubts. Normally chola bronzes are processional images – come with a base with options to stick poles into the holes and carry them. But this doesn’t look like a ceremonial processional image. Maybe made for private collection by a King!! But then Chola Kings especially of that period are said to be a bit biased towards Shaivism!!

picture courtesy

If you are in chennai this Aug 15th, please visit our event

Govardhana, The Hillock Umbrella – Sri Kudavoil Balasubramaniam

Ever since i read Dr. Kudavoil Balasubramanian’s wonderful article i had wanted to translate it into English for a wider audience to fully enjoy it. Thanks to friends Mr. Sps and Satheesh, i am doing that today. Enjoy this masterful post. picture credits to various sources on the net ( the stitched image thanks to Lakshni prabhala/flickr..The artist rendition/sketches thanks to the British Library archives.

The great Pallava dynasty has left behind numerous sites of artistic excellence, prominent amoung them and a pinnacle of their artistic expression is found among the architectural marvels of Kadal ( sea) Mallai, more popularly known as Mamalla ( great wrestler) puram ( town), a UNESCO world heritage site on the onskirts of chennai ( Madras). The artistic brilliance of the Pallavas, transformed small hillocks into the Pancha (Five) Rathas (chariots).

They envisioned a naturally found rock as a reclining Vishnu, and carved it in the form of Thirumal (Vishnu – part of the Hindu Trinity – The Protector) and with flowing designs erected a temple for him. They added to the beauty of this structure by sandwiching it between two Shiva (Hindu trinity – The destroyer) temples, forming the ageless aesthetic poetry of the shore temple.

A hillock in the centre of the town was transformed by their chisels into numerous cave temples. Thus the honor of converting the town into a virtual treasure trove of artistic expression and a living museum of south Indian temple architecture solely rests with King Rajasimha ( Raja – King – Simha – Lion) who called himself in numerous inscriptions ( stone edicts) as Atyantakama – king of unlimited fancies.

Mamallai has the ability of attracting art connoisseurs from world over and leaving them spell bound by its charm. The style of temple architecture popularly known as Thoonganai Madam ( also referred to as Gajaprishtam – temple resembling an elephant) is intelligently exhibited by carving a temple of this style out of natural rock and alongside sculpting a beautifully proportioned Elephant.

They left their unique signature in the tiger cave by carving a stage inside a tiger’s mouth and let divine damsels to dance on it.

The artists did not stop with just the cave temples on the hillock, but virtually filled every possible nook and corner with their sculptural masterpieces, thereby converting the entire town into a scintillating gallery of sculptural masterpieces. On one side, you see the celestial Ganges descending to the Earth, flowing as a river from the top of the hillock into the underground ( underworld). This panel is popularly referred to as Bagiratha ( proper name) prayatana ( Penance or effort). The rainwater that percolates from the top of the hill flows down through a natural fissure formed in-between two rock faces. That this spot was chosen to depict the penance of Bagirtha and the descent of the Ganges, shows the unmatched imaginative genius of the artist.

The subsequent efforts at conserving this panel by people who did not understand the true significance of the sculpture nor the imagination of the artist, has led to damming of the rivulet via a brick wall, thereby redirecting the rainwater away from the panel. If we were to witness the unobstructed flow, we would be able to visualize the rampaging current of the mighty celestial Ganges descending from the heavens, forests and temples are carved along its shores, while animals and birds dot the landscape. We also see realistic portrayal of not only celestial beings, humans, but also Nagas from the netherworld swimming up towards the surface to witness this divine spectacle. Its truly an awe inspiring site to the art enthusiast.

Just as the damming of this amazing spectacle has deprived the viewer of an opportunity to witness the artists inspired creation, another later construction has hid a masterpiece of artistic expression. This has occurred under the Vijayanager rulers. The beauty of this embodiment of bakthi has been marred by this act. However inorder to truly appreciate this intricate panel, one has to dwell deep into Krishna’s ( an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu) history and master the descriptive hymns of the divine Alvars (Vaishnavite saints)

Krishna grew up amidst cow herds in a village called Ayarpadi. Once the villagers got together to celebrate a festival honoring the Indra ( A God, King of the Devas), they failed to follow the norms laid down for a sacrificial ceremony. This angered Indra and he ordered the destruction of Ayarpadi by a hail of stones. In the ensuing pandemonium cattle, cow herds and herdswomen ran helter shelter trying to flee the wrath of Indra. It was at this time that Krishna came there and lifted a mountain called Govardanam with his hand and held is above his head as an umbrella. This mountain acted as a shield against the hail and protected Ayarpadi. With the Lord holding up the mountain as a shield, normalcy returned to the terrified residents. Even though the hail was unrelenting they went about their tasks under the shelter without fear. The cows gave milk, lovingly caressing their calves, while the herdswomen started suckling their infants. Some of the elderly women churned the curd to make butter, hawked the butter milk, while the herdsmen milked their cows. Everyone went about doing their normal chores. If not for Krishna holding up the hillock as an umbrella that day, the hail would have annihilated the entire village.

This spectacular scene is praised in the immortal Gita and finds mention in tirumangaialvars beautiful tamil hymn below:

Indiranukku enru ( for indra) aayargal eduttha ( by cow herds)
Ezhil vizhavil ( beautiful function) pazha nadai sei ( traditional guidelines)
Manthira vithiyil ( code of mantra recital) poosai ( pooja) peraathu ( did not follow)
Mazhai pozhinthida ( it rained) thalarthu ayar ( cow herd got greatly distressed)
Entham odinar ( ran helter shelter) aanirai thalaramal ( thus not tiring)
Emperumal ( vishnu) arul ( grace) ennna ( what)
Antham il varaiyal mazhai thaduthanai ( he stopped the rain)
Tiruvalkenik kandene ( i see him in triplicane)

The same is described by Perialvar as

Aayanar koodi amaitha vizhavai amarartham konaark kozhiyak
Govarthanathuch seithan malai.

Further the Tirumangai king sings the praise as :

Kadungal (heavy) maari ( rain) kalle ( stone) peiyya ( fell), alla emakku enru
Kadungal neeye saran enru ( we have no other refuge)aayar anja (the cowherds fear)
Anjamugan ( he who has no fear )nedungal kundram ( stone hillock) kudai ( umbrella) onru ( one) yendthi ( lift/hold)
Niraiyai ( fully) siramathal ( inconvenience) nadunga ( shiver) vannam kaatthan ( saved)
namam namo narayaname ( the lord)

where he beautifully describes the furiousness of the hail and the grace of lord saving the villagers.

The Pallava sculptors chose a small hillock in the centre of mallai town to depict this scene, as a long bas relief panel. However, later construction of the outer mandabam by Vijaya Nagar rulers ( though the intention was to protect the sculptures from nature’s fury) – the pillars erected in front of the panel do obstruct the views and overall composition of this bas relief.

If one were to stand couple of paces away from the rock and take away the outer mandabam and the pillars in the mind’s eye, we can fully appreciate the powerful portrayal of Krishna, who majestically holds aloft the mallai hillock in his outstretched arms.

The amazing panel even inspired a British artist to sketch it in the early 19th C.

Next to him is a delightful depiction of Balarama, whose nonchalant arm lovingly placed on the shoulders of an elderly cowherd, who is in all humility with folded arms.

Around them the entire village is depicted, with cows in the background and a majestic bull along with its calves etc.

There is a lovely cow sculpted with splendid horns, portrayed along with its calf – the motherly instinct has been brought into stone, by the cow lovingly licking its calf. The man squatting down to milk the cow and the his action reflecting in the cows slightly upheld tail ! simply superb.

There is herds women feeding her child on an other side, while a cowherd is playing the flute. The slant of the head as he his lost in his own composition !

Next is a lady who is sculpted balancing a rolled up mattress on her head and carrying on her other hand pot loads of curd and butter. The slant of her body and gait show that she is walking – an action pose.

To the extreme right, we see a older man carrying a baby lovingly perched on his shoulders supporting himself on a short staff, while his wife is holding a toddler in her left hand, while balancing a pot of buttermilk on her head.

Surrounding Krishna ofcourse is a gang of wonder stuck girls. Despite the terrible hailstorm around these scenes show that the village carried on normal life thanks to Krishna’s benevolent act.

Even the animals seem to be in merry mood. The other side, a young man seems to be intent on moving out of the protective umbrella and is held back by his lady ( or is it – the sculpture looks more like he is pulling the lady with him)

The master pallava sculptor has converted the mallai hillock into Govardhanagiri. Drinking on each detail of this sculpture, lets see the depiction from Alwars once more – stretching up, he used the five fingers of his hand to hold up the hill as an umbrella – the photographic rendition can be seen in Periyalwars verse. He says the beautiful long sholders of the lord became the umbrella rod, his fingers became the spokes and the whole whole was inverted on top to from an umbrella.

sepparudaiya thirumaalavan ( krishna) than ( his)
senthaamaraik ( red lotus) viral ( fingers) ainthinaiyum ( all five)
kambaaga ( rod -) maduthu mani nedunthol ( beautiful broad /long shoulders)
kaambaakak( usage like the stalk of a flower) koduthu ( give) kavitha ( invert) malai ( hill)

Seeing this Perialwar goes on further, seeing the Lord in this pose, he is reminded of Aadishesha having spread his five heads as a hood lifting the earth.

padangal ( hoods) palavumudaiya (have many) paambaraiyan ( snake)
padar boomiyai ( the earth) thaangi ( hold up) kidappavanpol ( he who is)
thadangai ( hand) viralainthum ( all fingers) malaravaithu ( like a blooming flower)
damodharan ( another name of krishna) thaangu ( hold up) thadavaraithaan ( the hill)

Seeing the sights of this panel, with the children frolicking with the cowherds we are also reminded of the song of periyalwar

thaaimaar mor virkka povaar thagappanmaar
karranirap pinpu povar
ne aayarpaadi yilang kanni maargalai
nerpadave kondu pothi
kaaivaark kondrum ugap panave seithu
kandaar kazurith thirium
aiya unnai yarinthu konden unak
kanjuven ammam rtharave

(To one side is a magnificent seated bull – a depiction that is truly masterclass.

and on the other we have a interesting composition of morphing lions – man – vulture)

the beauty of ayarpaadi, the magnificence of Krishna holding aloft the govardhana hillock to protect against the hailstorm – all have been sculpted into stone by the pallava sculptor, not only that he has gone to great lengths to sculpt even the cows – their body forms, commissioning them to eternal life, singing the praise of the lifestock along with the Lord.

Mannargudi Sri Rajagopalaswamy

Mysterious are the ways of God.. How else to describe these. Our Artist friend Prasad decides to sketch an idol and he searches on the net. He lands on a splendid photograph and is so inspired by the beauty that he renders a divine painting/sketch to compliment it. Later when i shared it with our Photographer friend Ashok, find that it is his commission. Not stopping at that and keeping the beauty of the Idol and sketch in mind and to compliment them – i sought the help of two distinguished friends for a description. Sri Seshadri ( Father of Sri Gokul – or rather now Author of Rajakesarai Novel by Palaniappa Brothers Gokul) and Sri Dev Raj. Both of them turned in wonderful renditions – so here i am having the joy of mixing an Idol, a Photo, a sketch, an english and a tamil description – thanks to all.

Sri Seshadri lists a few things that are nearer to his heart.

If we allow our minds to wander on the wonderful deities that our eyes have feasted on and touched our inner souls, I venture to list them:

1. our own Azhahiya ManavaLan of srirangam ( he is a resident of Srirangam)
2. The Tirumalai Deivam (moolamoorthy)
3. Ramabiran of Thillaivilaham and
4. The Gopalaswamy of Rajamannargudi.

The list is of course endless.

Ashok’s amazing capture

The slightly leaning stance of the lord at mannargudi with the bewitching smile readily captures the heart. The only vasthram that cowherds adorn on their body knee high shows him at once as a simple kovalan who can be touched upon ,talked to and quarrelled with. The azhwars esp. Periazwar goes into raptures on the leelas of lord krishna imagining himself as the mother, yasodha. The endless chestithams(kurumbuhaL) are narrated at great length in those pasurams. His adorning the earring in one ear enhances his beauty.

Prasad’s splendid sketch

The cow and the two calves yearn to have his attention and are blessed to be with him always 24 hours a day and see their eyes and their radiance proudly proclaiming their proximity to him! It is hence not strange that His touch has made them VALLAL PERUM PASUKKAL and only the availability of utensils is the limit for their supply of the nector milk. I learn that the stick in his hand is called sendu and not saattai as some have stated in the websites. The sendu is a lengthy stick in the hands of cowherds which is used to bring down the branches green with leaves to be fed to the cattle. It helps to lower the bough to be used by the cattle but will survive as the branch is not completely broken. iyer has narrated this in en charitram i presume. Can any one ever imagine, saattai in His hand, as it is a punishing stick and the Paahan who touched fed and treated the wounds of horses in the midst of battlefield in Bharata yuddam will he touch it at all?

During the month of panguni vennaiththazhi uthsavam i saw in the t.v. as to how the Lord (and perforce the archahar) are flooded with vennai by all and sundry and He is not satisfied and seems to want more! I could feel that those who throw the navaneetham transform at that moment into the very gopalars and mannargudi transforms itself into ayarpadi. How fortunate they are?

Reg the flute that was used by Him there are references to it in many places and an entire paththu is devoted by Periazwar for this 3-6 thirumozhi–starting with Navalam. Kulasekarar better known for the cryptic summary of ramayana in his PerumaL Thirumozhi has talked about the agony of Devaki who laments on the luck of yasodha and her own ill luck not to savour the leelas of the Lord. (devahi pulambal). The ectasy experienced by the girls of ayarpadi, the women, the celestial beauties, thumburu, naradha, the kinnarars famous for dance and music, gandarvar, the gods who are offered havis for their food,the birds, the cattle, the deer,the trees and their branches was beyond measure. ) there is ref to ‘ seviyuL navin suvai kondu mahizhndu” which brings to our mind the famous kuraL ” sevikkunavillatha…eeyappadum”..

For a sculputural appreciation one may visit the front mandapam of chakkrathazwar koil at srirangam where the cattle,the birds, the reptiles and the trees are shown spell bound as they are by the melody of that music. It is a pity that the sculpture is not too well executed but the suggestion is there for everyone to see. (But how many have the aptitude?)

kodhai (godha in sanskrit) of course is a class apart but i feel that srirangam and thirumalai are places that captures her heart and soul. Pity she has not thought of the mannargudi temple.

100th Post – A unique sculpture, an unique person – Dr. Jaybee

This is the 100th posting on this site. A century in a short span would not have been possible without the support of friends, philosophers and guides – but the seed for this effort was sown by a few guiding lights. One such guiding light, who continues to enthrall not only me, but anyone interested in varied subjects from trivia to research thesis – whose sheer propensity to generate articles of interest to a wide audience spanning pre sangam to contemporary living, makes you think if he is a walking encyclopedia – well, How do i introduce this truly multi faceted master of writing – or does he need an introduction at all : yes, its Dr.S. Jayabarathi whose writings (in Tamil and in English) on Tamil history and culture have earned him the respect and affection of enthusiasts world over. He has this amazing ability to judge individuals, an interesting thread or even a small post in some forum and he would call you – clearing your doubt or correcting an error, offering not the answer but show you the path – for the journey is half the pleasure of the goal ! he loves to inspire people to join on this search to understand what a great land we hail from.

( incase there is someone who don’t know him, this is for their benefit :
An introduction

I kind of wriggled this post from him, or technically hijacked from his site, but again since we have showcased most of the other sister sculptures of this group, i sought Dr . Jaybee’s kind permission to use his – and he graciously consented. Pray for his long life, so that he can inspire many more like me.

Dr. Jaybee’s site link

This frieze is a panel from the famous group of temples at Bantei Seri. Bantei Seri is 15 miles north-east of Ankor Wat in Cambodia. Bantei Seri is acclaimed as among the most beautiful pieces of sculpture in the world.

“The lacy setting is superbly executed and the balanced rhythm and harmony of the scene itself cannot be surpassed in any work of man” – Reginald le May.

The above piece shows a scene from Mahabharatha. Its the one of the last scenes in the Bharatha War. Duryodhana lay exhausted and wounded, alone after losing everything. The Pandavas wanted to finish the war decisively and came in search of Duryodhana.

Since Duryodhana was alone and the Pandavas were five, he is given the option of fighting with any one of them. Among the five, all the others, except Bhima, were no match for Duryodhana who possessed the strength of ten thousand elephants. Bhima was similarly strong.

Both of them were exponents of warfare with the Gatha aayudham. Though exhausted, Duryodhana had better training and skill in fighting. So a duel of gatha weapons took place. Gatha is a huge mace which is very heavy. It was used to crush opponents, break armour, wreck chariots and kill elephants.

The Pandavas, Krishna, and his elder brother Balarama were watching. Both Duryodhana and Bhima had learned the art of gatha warfare from Balarama. It was a dvantha yuddham which was a fight to the finish. As the fight proceeded, Bhima got tired and became unwary. But Duryodhana still retained his skill and fought a cautious, careful, and alert fight.

At one instance, Duryodhana jumped up high above the level of Bhima’s head. From that vantage position, he aimed and swung his gatha at the head of Bhima in a downward stroke. But at that time, Krishna gestured to Bhima to hit Duryodhana on his left thigh, which was now at level with Bhima’s swing. The left thigh is Duryodhana’s vulnerable part. Duryodhana can only be killed by crushing his left thigh. Krishna knew this and gave the cue to Bhima. Bhima dealt a death-dealing blow which crushed the left thigh of Duryodana. Duryodana fell to the ground, mortally wounded.

When balarama saw what was happening, he swung his Haalaayudham the plough weapon with fury at Bhima for this frank breach of duel code of honour. But Krishna prevented him from harming Bhima.

You can see in the panel, the scene embodying all the dynamism and feelings fully.

At the right, the four Pandavas are seated.

In the centre, Bhima and Duryodhana are fighting. Duryodhana is aloft if the air with a swing and an unswerving aim.

At the left, Balarama is about to hit Bhima with his Haalaayudham. He is being held back by Krishna who is depicted wth four arms.

This is a wonderful piece of sculpture. What is more striking is that THEY have it THERE and we don’t have it here with us.