The mystery behind the horns of Pallava Door Guardians

Friends, i am writing about a man who changed the course my life’s pursuits. Its a tale of selfless service, the reach of the net, information sharing,knowledge assimilation, leaving a lasting impression on the generations to come. I read that Einstein once said ” If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants”, thereby acknowledging the contributions of the scholars before him.

To start with, i have never met this person. For, he passed away in 1988, long before i even knew where i was headed in life.

when i first started my pursuit to learn sculpture, the stones of mahabalipuram were becoming not just time pass but posing some intellectual questions. spurring me to learn and read more about them. Being in Singapore didn’t help and the only way to quench my thirst was by reading books. Quality books on sculpture were heard to get, of the few good ones, some were ( are) at a higher plane than my current grade, and the rest were priced higher than what i could convince myself to spend on a hobby. The pursuit was still at the hobby stage at that time. But the thirst was still driving me and i turned to the net for help, coming across just two sites. One was Dr Nagaswamy’s tamil arts academy and the other, Dr.Gift Siromoney (30.7.1932 – 21.3.1988), M.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., F.S.S.
http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Archaeology.htm

The posts he had graciously left behind on the net, quality content, absolutely free, easily accessible, spurred me, 20 years after his death, inspiring me to use the advances in technology, the power of the net and its networking capabilities to tap on the potential of friends, to create a site, with powerful content with an unique visual appeal, absolutely free – that even a chance encounter of a casual visitor, will make him sit up and take notice, of the treasures that our great land bore out of its intellect, help protect and preserve them for future generations. Like the legendary Ekalavya, i try to follow his effort. This effort, hopefully will outlast my human existence, and pray will inspire atleast a few like me, long after i am gone.

I take one such thread, which the great man had left behind in his site and develop – One of the first puzzles i had taken to study. Please take time to read his extensive note below:

http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Archeaology/arch_dvarapalaka.htm

He has supported his theory with some rough sketches, which i have developed with photographs.

The hypothesis is very simple, Are the Pallava door guardians personifications of the divine attributes ( weapons) of the Lord whom they are guarding?

To understand this better, lets take the Shiva shrines for study first. Most early Pallava shrines had door guardians who wear a curious headpiece. Various postulates have been proposed, right from horns worn by a primitive tribe, later evolution of Jaina Naga icons and even as personifications of the Nandhi.

Unfortunately the main door guardian at Vallam, which Dr. Gift analysed is not clear enough ( thanks to Prof Swaminathan and Chandru sir for the photos), but i am thankful for Mr. Shriram for giving me an excellent photograph from Tirumayam cave ( though later than Mahendra ) that helps us to study the concept. We also see examples from other Mahendra caves including Mandagapattu and Seeyamangalam.

First of all, lets visit the Mahendra cave in Vallam. The cave has been pathetically managed with an ugly grill marring the entire beauty of the place. Anyway, for purpose of this study ( am thankful to Prof. Swaminthan sir and Chandru sir for sharing their photos of Vallam).I am just going to present to you a series of photos and then work on the hypothesis.


so just watch the dissimilar door guardians ( wonderfully sculpted in side profile) as compared to later temples where they are sculpted a mirror images, no two Pallava doorkeepers were done to look similar.

Notice the right side door guardian ( invariably) is carrying a set of curved horns. But are these horns. They seem to be positioned slightly below the head, where you would normally sculpt horns. Also the way the horns are attached or start – there is a very conspicuous convex curve.

Now, lets look at the left side doorguardian, he is bereft of any horns, but watch closely – he seems to have some sort of a projection in the centre of his head dress – like he has taken a serious whack and is all swollen up! Is it just a fashioning of his crown or does it signify something else?

Lets move on to Mandagapattu Mahendra cave.

Here, the right side door guardian doesn’t sport any horns. why? But not to be disappointed, we see the same protrusion in the head of the left side door guardian!!


Can you make it out now. Seems to be very much in fashion among the left door guardian. We will come back to this towards the end of the post.

Lets swing across to Seeyamangalam.

We have our horned door guardian at the right but the left side door guardian doesn’t sport the protruding crown.

But lets take a closer look at the horns. Even though they seem to occupy a more normal horn position, the curve at the base is very distinct and doesn’t look like a normal horn.

Now, thanks to Shriram we are going to see a really spectacular sculpture and example that is going to prove this postulate. These door guardians are from Tirumaayam. The right door guardian is possibly one of the best executed forms – such grace, such pristine beauty. His majestic poise is sheer poetry.

The left door guardian is slightly more subdued in his stance.

Lets peek in closer to view them. The left one does has a queer projection on top of his head. But the right door gaurdian’s head dress is worth a second look.


Lets analyse the complex curve at the base of the so called horns. Just imagine the sculpture without the face of the doorguardian.

Do you notice that there is a spike at the top of the crown. Now when you look at the three spikes as a single structure you can notice that they are indeed the three frongs of a large trident that has been superimposed on the door guardian. This could only mean that the door guardian is the personification of the Trident of Shiva – Thirisoolanathar.

In the same vein, the argument is that the protrusion on left side door guardian is the face of an Axe blade, depciting the Axe aspect of shiva ( check out the axe blade when being held by shiva in the famous chandesa sculpture in Gangaikondacholapuram) – Mazhu being the old name of the axe and hence he is called Mazhuvudayar.

Thus we see that the two door guardians are infact the Trident and Axe of Shiva

Another example from Kaveripakkam ( thanks kathie for sharing) currently in the chennai museum with the Horns!!