Lord Shiva granted ` ever 16′ to him. But what about the temple in Kamarasavalli?

” We got to do something about it Vijay! ” Its been almost four months since Arvind spoke to me about a visit to Kamarasavalli over a conference call with Shankar. The ruins of the Chola temple had upset even the normally tranquil Arvind. So when Shriram and Shashwath wanted to visit the place, i requested Shash to scout for themes to do a quest post. He picked up the theme when Shiva grants immortality to his devotee to contrast the crumbling beauties that frame the very legend. So here he goes…

We all know the story; it’s a repeating pattern in our literature. Mrikandu and his wife Marudvati don’t have children, and pray to Shiva. He offers them a choice between a short-lived but intelligent son or many long-lived dullards. Needless to say, being a rishi himself, Mrikandu chooses the first offer. The child is born, named Markandeya, and as promised, is an easy IIT aspirant. On his sixteenth birthday, Yama comes claim him, as his appointed life is now at an end. Immediately, Markandeya runs to hug a Linga. Yama lassos the linga along with him. Shiva comes forth, tramples Yama close to death, and grants his devotee that he’ll stay just 16, and never stray beyond his allotted span.

It’s this last part that the Shilpi has chosen to immortalise as a miniature at Kamarasavalli. Kamarasavalli is a village on the northern bank of the Kollidam, far from the main highways. To reach there, we had to travel several kilometers through what out of courtesy one might call “roads”. The trip was worth every bump. As desolate as it is now, the village has apparently enjoyed royal patronage in the past, and one of the most incredible examples of early Chola temples is to be found here. In this temple, on the northern wall, we find this:

See that miniature to the far right, near Ganesha? Let’s take a closer look.

Now, let’s see the miniature itself

The entire panel is no bigger than one’s palm, yet it shows enormous amounts of detail. Markandeya is shown embracing the Lingam, and turning around in surprise. Yama’s behind and below him, trying to reach him, and getting trampled by Shiva. Shiva himself is shown, four-armed and dancing as Kalasamhara murthy – the destroyer of Yama, with leg raised to stamp down once more. Both his anger and his benevolence shine through a thousand and more years in stone. Markandeya himself seems almost surprised to see his Lord. The entire scene is a perfect frieze of action, so cleverly done that you can almost see the figures in motion.

We have other depictions of this story, of course, and we can compare with those too. When we do, you can see how much precision is involved in these miniatures.

First, Shiva: Remember, the one in the Big Temple is approximately super-human-sized, while the miniature is about as big as your palm.


Yet, in my opinion, the miniature shows more life

Next, let’s compare Markandeya embracing the Lingam in the two depictions.

In the later depiction, he’s kneeling, while in the earlier one, he’s obviously standing. Yama occupies the left separate panel in tanjore while the three principal characters are inside the same frame In Kamarasavalli.


Markandeya is turning back, in the act of seeing that Shiva really has appeared, and is trampling Yama. Again, far more animation in the miniature. The format doesn’t offer place for the sculptor to depict facial features, but emotion is conveyed using posture, and by motion. Limited by physical constraints, the sculptor has chosen a more graceful means of presenting his subject. This is the hallmark of an artist.

The whole structure is filled with these depictions; we counted no less than twenty-five miniatures, all as wonderful as this one, and that’s to say nothing of the goshta structures around the sanctum. Happily, for us heritage enthusiasts, this place is off the main axis, has no known connection to lots of saints or miracles, and is thus untouched by modern hands. Sadly however, it is also truly in a ruinous state, with plants growing on the mandapams, collapsed sub-shrines, and a half-baked, half-done “renovation” which has plastered the vimanam with cement and done nothing else. I leave you at this point with pictures of neglect and ruin.


We got to do something about it !!

What is art

Today, is a first for this site. We have been showcasing heritage treasures for over a year, we carried a series on Art inspired by sculpture, which we will continue to do, but today we are entering a new sphere of art, aka breaking new ground. Inorder for any art to survive it should be capable of evolving, not to be restricted by set rules ( Agamas!!) but before that lets indulge in some notions on art…

What is art? We have seen umpteen sculptures, paintings, statues, panels, monoliths, bas reliefs, murals, frescoes, bronze figurines, wooden carvings – mostly works of men transcending time – one thing common among them is their universal appeal. Be it 400 – 500 -1000 years, yet these creations continue to capture our eye, create a sense of sheer joy when we see them. What is it that is there in art that is so universal in its appeal, that the Bas reliefs of a bygone era – a 1300 year legacy, can cast its spell on an uninitiated person, someone who traverses thousands of miles, from a culture that is alien to the craftsmen, someone who does not share the common heritage, the legends and myths sculpted in these forms,though alien, don’t shy away from inspiring him. Art appeals to something that is primeval in you.

Art is an expression, a medium through which an artist communicates his feelings, his emotions to his viewer. It is this freedom of expression, a willingness to be one with his audience, to make the viewer see what he sees, feels what he feels, that is art. There is an artist inside everyone, locked inside, waiting for a release. Training and exposure unchain this angel inside you, for your mind to fly – to seek release in an explosion of color, form – its sheer poetry on a canvas. The mind is a veritable treasure house of emotions, it captures everything it sees, how it does it is a puzzle, but the images with the strong emotions attached are stored with more priority. ( Just sit back and try to bring back a visible memory – am sure you would vision a scene thats got some powerful visual imagery associated with it). The artist seeks to release this visual imagery through a medium – which is his art. This release is universal in man and not restrained only to the creator, as a viewer, you are drawn into the canvas, sharing the anguish, joy, sorry, exuberance of the artist, a thing of beauty in front of you, brings out a feeling of sheer bliss in you – this ability to transmit your emotions, expressing them in a medium that appeals to others is true Art. Its a bonding that you feel with the creator, an invisible umblical chord, which despite being cut, somehow transmits the emotions felt by one to another. There are no set rules for this expressions, you can google for types of art today and comeup with a list of over 1000 different sounding names, some may appeal to you , some may not, but it is this lack of definition that gives art its magic sheen. An aura of sublime beauty that makes you think sometimes – is this a work of man? So this strong expression of visual imagery combined with a emotional outcry transcendenting barriers of race, creed, language is Art. So by its very nature art is subjective and with evolving times, art evolves as well. It is this constant evolution that gives rise to new styles -how long can you stick to the same staple diet. Art should be appealing to the new generation as well. So thanks to Artist Jeeva’s introduction, to Mr Bala, on whose introduction, we are going to showcase a masterful art by Sri Chalukyan.

A sadly ill maintained mural from the Tanjore temple, with its colors worn off is the inspiration for this work. The panel – Kaalasamhaaramurthy ( kaala – death, samhara – overcome) shows Shiva kicking Yama, the God of death to protect his devotee – Markandeya. We have already seen this story from the chola panel from inside the temple before, so we go straight to the stucco panel.

Proving that true art transcends time, Chalukyan has taken the panel that depicts Shiva stopping time for his devotee ( Markandeya was given a boon to remain 16 forever – how many of us would like to have that boon !!), a story of unconditional surrender to the supreme force and chosen to depict it in a medium that has been in use from prehistoric times – charcoal. A medium that mocks mortal existence, for its our ultimate end point – Ash, which is sported by Shiva.

Human existence is mortal, art is immortal.

Further works of Sri Chalukyan

http://www.chalukyan.com/

Shiva kicks Yama – the God of death

Today, once again thanks to some delightful camera work by Satheesh, we are going to see one of my favorite sculptures. But this time not as much for the sculptural beauty but more for its story content. The story of Markandeya, was a popular bedtime song for us and my dad used to put us to sleep often with the rendition – have heard it so many times and today my son goes to sleep hearing the same, that i was overjoyed at seeing this sculpture.

Ok, story first.

Mrikandu was a devote saint ( rishi). He lived offering daily prayers to Lord Shiva with his wife Marudvati. Though they lived a peaceful existence, the couple had one unfullfilled wish – they did not have any children and they longed for a son. The rishi prayed to Shiva and pleased with his devotion, Shiva appeared and granted him the boon, but as usual he put a twist in it. He offerred them a choice, either they have a hundred sons who will be dumb and foolish but live a long life or have one very intelligent son, but will live for only sixteen years.

The rishi contemplated and decided to have the one intelligent son. Shiva blessed the couple and in due course they had a baby boy – they named him Markandeya. The boy grew to be very intelligent and handsome. Markandeya was a born genius and learnt the Vedas and Sastras easily. He was the darling of everyone, but as he got older, he noticed that his father seemed to nurse some bad news – for he was getting more and more sadder. Markandeya was smart enough to notice this and he asked his dad to tell him the truth. His dad wept and told him that as per the deal of the boon, by the end of that year, he would be sixteen and hence they had to give him up. He could not bear to even think of giving up such a splendid son.

Hearing this, Markandeya immediately took stock – his parents gave birth to him, his teachers his knowledge but only shiva coud give him prolonged life – so he set his heart into utmost devotion to Shiva and promised his Dad that he would do enough to please shiva that he will not let him die. Thus he made a shiva linga and was eternally offering prayers to it.

On the appointed day, Yama, the Lord of death, came on his black buffalo vehicle, swinging his lasso ( he uses it to pull the souls whose time on the earth is over, out of the physical body) – seeing him Markandeya ran to the shiva lingam, with yama close on heels chasing him, swirling his rope. Markandeya ran and hugged the shiva linga so close, that the only way Yama could fasten the rope around him was with the shiva linga. Yama in his haste did exactly that, he threw his noose round the boy’s neck, and pulled him along with the Shiva- Linga.

At that instant, The shiva Linga burst open and Shiva came out of it, Shiva was in great rage, he kicked Yama so violently that the Lord of death almost died!! Shiva thus saved his devotee and since the boon/curse was that Markandeya would have only 16years to live on this earth, he blessed Markandeya to be forever 16 ( endrum Pathinaaru ) – how many of us would love to have such a boon today !!

Now, have a look at the delightful panel from Tanjore Big temple – split into three frames, top to bottom. the top frame, we have a fiery Yama chasing Markandeya and the hapless boy clinging on to the Siva lingam for dear life.

The second frame, you have an angry Shiva kicking Yama who is sprawled on the floor ( one of the images is from another friend Srivatsan taken a year back – you can see the damage that these 1000 year old miniatures are undergoing – the Trident in the hands of shiva has been worn off this year !!!)

The last frame – the detailing is lost on the left, but you get to see a visibly relieved Markandeya offering thanks to Shiva with folded hands.

This legend has been sung by Appar in many verses and you can look them up here.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=4&Song_idField=4107&padhi=113+&button=%E0%AE%9A%E0%AF%86%E0%AE%B2%E0%AF%8D%E0%AE%95

to save Mārkkāṇṭēyaṉ, the bachelor, who worshipped him with flowers to be free from the sufferings of birth born of ignorance.
kicking the cruel god of death who had a twisted tongue, hairs as red as fire, curved white teeth and a dark body, [causing him] to tremble with fear.
the superior god who dwells in Kaṭavūr has the lotus red feet with which he caused the god of death to roll on the ground in this manner.
The central idea of the first nine verses is Civaṉ killing the god of death to protect Mārkkaṇṭēyaṉ who worshipped Civaṉ in this shrine.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)