Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 2

Its so nice to receive such wonderful feedback from all readers, believe me it was as interesting and thoroughly enjoyable to me and the artist Mrs. Subhashini Balasubrmanian, as it has been to you, to finally be able to fulfill a long pending and cherish dream, of seeing this beautiful panel in one piece. But then, we wanted to share with you the journey of our recreation process, so that you also learn want we learn’t working on this assignment.

Thankfully, a lot of finer detail was made available to us by Jagadeesh’s high resolution photos of the four remaining panels of the Kanchi Kailasantha Somaskanda Pantings. We once again thank him for his timely support.

Having done the general composition of the panel, we returned to study the panels at more depth to figure out the gana and the attendant. The Gana was tough, as only a part of his face was available in one of the panels, so we had to do the rest from a bit of artistic license.

The lady attendant and the details of the beautiful saree pattern of Umai came to us from the panel.


The next was the question of the pitcher or vase, though not there in any of panels – for all the panels have peeled off – we do not have any reference to this portion in the panels, people following the thread on Somaskanda Evolution would have found the small pitcher being a permanent feature in all of Rajasimha’s Somaskanda Panels. Take for example this somaskanda from the Mallai shore temple, though the gana and attendant are not there for sure, we do get to see this prominent pitcher / vase.

So, the vase finds its place in our recreation as well.

The next ofcourse was Brahma. Only one of the panels, has a outline of Brahma.

Depending on this, showing the side faces of Brahma was a bit tricky. So we decided to take inspiration from the splendor of Pullamangai temple.

and fashioned our Brahma. ( the lower hands must be changed to anjali – praying posture – we should do it soon)

Thankfully, Vishnu was pretty straight forward with one of the panel surviving completely giving us a shot at the magnificence of the Pallava artist.

So the next question before us was Skanda.

We needed to get upclose to see if we could spot the features of baby Skanda, it was very important, for isn’t he the most beautiful of Gods and imagine his as a small baby.

While, we were looking at the closeups, we realised that the Throne did not have lion motifs as had envisioned them, but were just decorative patterns.

Now, to get Umai’s face, headdress and posture correct.


Shiva, was especially tough, the toughest being the Hand mudras, ( we were helped by a small note – but we will see that in the concluding part of this series). Take for eg, his upper right hand.

The Makuda of Shiva, was especially tough one, as we wanted to get as close as possible to the original.

There was this particular design on the head dress, that was very vaguely familiar, but searching for it in sculpture and paintings, finally stuck pay dirt in Dr R. Nagasamy sir’s Masterpieces of South Indian Bronzes. This Pallava bronze, had a very unique twin makara clasps.

So,we could add that authentic detail into our sketch as well.

and here we have arrived at a basic prototype, to further iterate and work on adding embellishments.

I am sure, all of your are eager to see the finished color version, but that will be in the third and concluding part of this series.

Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 1

The lure of the recreating the lost treasures of Rajasimha’s famed paintings has been on my drawing board for long. Having experienced the sheer ecstasy of seeing the fragments of brilliance that are still remaining, my heart wept with a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy at knowing that the pinnacle of artistic talent that my land had 1300 years ago, that he could still take my breath away – albeit only in traces, the grace of his lines, the versatility of his palette, the excellence of form , stumped me. Sorrow at the realisation, that having survived for so long, the day that these would not be there anymore to inspire and impress a future generation, was not far away.

Modern photography techniques and the net, could help me to a certain extent, to at least capture these for posterity, but then there was always a niggle, a silent wish to be able to see these beauties in their original finery. My imagination helped in painting them in my mind, but to be able to transfer this onto the physical plane, needed greater acumen. My early attempts are tracing them, using manual tracing paper and online trace software, proved that this was not a task for technologically empowered, but for someone who had it in the genes.

Call it luck and chance, or maybe an inner desire of these beauties to be recast and re adored – a causal visit to a Art exhibition, of friends from Facebook, led to an introduction to none other than the clan of Sri Maniam. yes, the master who illustrated Kalki’s immortal works,Immortal works , whose Son Sri Maniam Selvan has continued in his tradition, – his works ,but it was not he, but the granddaughters of the great man. The fertile minds of the master has indeed spawned a second generation of divine artists ! So, i did get to meet Mrs. Subhashini Balasubramanian . We talked about Kalki, his works and obviously about art. Being the greedy guy that I am, I immediately sought her help on the long standing wish, and she readily agreed. We decided to start with the Somaskanda Panels of Kanchi Kailasanthar temple.

The task was not easy, but we didn’t know that fate and destiny had in store for us. The paintings are in really bad state and we had to form a collage of about 4 different works, to compare and pick out missing details. Unfortunately, despite my claims of having a large database, i could not get decent quality / resolution of these paintings. A frenetic search with friends and well wishers didn’t yield the desired results either.

We had to work with what we had in hand, putting together the bits and pieces. Just as i was loosing heart,I got the first cut from Subhasini…

I was clean bowled by the clarity in the work and the inherent beauty in the form. Clearly, the genes have gotten to work and I knew that my objective was not a distant dream but a definite reality. We were working for a week on the details, but the problem of obtaining high resolution photos for closer study loomed large. Just then, a mail arrives from a school boy. He had chatted with me sometime in May through sculpture chat on the site, …he was from vellore and was waiting for his ICSE X std results. The mail reads

“You are invited to view prithviraj’s photo album: kanc
Hello anna! Do you remember me? Am Rajakesari. I would like to share some photographs i took in Kanchipuram with u. I would be happy if these photos will be useful to you.”

And inside we see the exact photos which we wanted, the exact angles and he sent me the high resolution images as well. What a coincidence !! I can see you asking me, why all this about high resolution images, well you will understand as we see the recreation process.

Here is our Hero, Jagadesh, studying 11th Std now in Vellore.

The art of the Pallavas, so superbly nurtured by Rajasimha Pallava, finds release through the lens of a 11std Boy today and feeds our aspirations to recreate them.

Brahma

Umai

Vishnu

The need for high resolution images, comes to the fore as we explore the numerous highlights and new motiffs and features come to the fore. This Gana and lady attendant are spotted.

We try and experiment with Lion motifs for the legs of the throne – like the ones we saw in the Mallai Mahishasuramardhini Mandabam

To come up with the next versions of the sketch.

Its shaping up quite well, but you have to wait for the next part of this post to see more !!

Kirata Arjunam – Art meets art spanning 1300 years

How do we reach out to the next generation and imbibe in them the values of our land, of its art, of art appreciation. These are questions which keep coming up during our discussions. Visual art is definitely something that is attracting the next generation and though we may scoff at the comics and gaming culture, its there to stay. So today we are going to marry a Kanchi Kailasanatha sculpture ( one of my personal favorites) with the latest in digital illustrative art.

The story itself is an interesting anecdote from the Vana Parva of the Mahabaratha, wherein Arjuna splits from his brothers to do penance and procure the Pasupatha Astra from Shiva. Being the benevolent but mischievous God that he is, Shiva decides to test his devotee’s prowess himself before bestowing the boon. So he takes the form of Kirata ( a hunter) with his accompaniment of a Bow and quiver full of arrows, accompanied by Uma as the Kirata woman, enters the same forest in which Arjuna is doing his penance. Just at that moment, Arjuna is attacked by a fearsome Demon Mukasura, who has taken the form of a Wild boar. Seeing the wild boar rushing at him, the accomplished marksmen that he is, Partha ( Arjuna) lets fly a deadly arrow from his Bow Gaandiva, going for the Boar’s head. At the same instant Kirata also lets fly an arrow, which find its target in the rear of the Boar. Both the arrows hit the target at the same instant !! Now, this led to a quarrel among the two, with Arjuna claiming the hunt as his and accusing the hunter for shooting from the rear. The hunter explains that this was not a duel to have the rules of engagement drawn and to attack an animal from behind thus is no wrong ! ( Rama felling Vaali ?)

The argument continues and soon escalates into a tussle. Being warriors both settle on a duel to find out the better among them. A Shell shocked Arjuna soon sees his prowess with the Bow is matched if not bettered by the lowly hunter. His Bow string is deftly cut by the hunter’s arrow and he jumps into to engage in a wrestling match, in which too he is matched. To his surprise, the hunter doesn’t even seem to break a sweat, while he is almost dead with exhaustion. The popular version, says that he stops to create a small Linga and offers prayers with flowers to it, to invoke his blessing and taken on his opponent once again, when he is surprised to find the flowers which he offered the Linga are now adorning the hunter. Realising the true identity of his opponent, he falls at his feet and surrenders to his grace. Rest is history. There is another version that during the wrestling brawl, Arjuna accidentally caught Kirata’s feet and since he bestows grace on whoever touched his feet, Shiva immediately stopped fighting etc. But this is the crux of the Kirata Arjunam story.

Now, thanks to Mr. Abhilash Narayanan, Creative designer & Animation director, who is sharing some of his works with us, we see the story brought to life in the technology of today.

you can see more of his works at his site below

Abhiram’s site

Now, we transport ourselves back in time to the Kanchi Kailasantha temple. This panel must have been featured long ago, as its one of my favorite panels. The dynamism and sheer energy captured in this typical Hollywood style ` Face Off ‘ posture is an arresting sight. Maybe it was waiting to be pitted head to head against the best of digital art.

Photos : courtesy Mr Arvind and Mr Swaminathan.

We have the two warriors, standing their ground, locking gazes, as they are caught in the act of drawing their bows. Its interesting to notice how they seem to have slung two quivers on their backs, interesting only one has a waist sword. That this panel depicts the Kirata Arjunam is seen distinctly by the Boar in the background exquisitely sculpted behind the two figures despite the maze of their legs.

Now, comes the difficult question. Who among the two is the Lord Shiva as Kirata the Hunter and who is Arjuna. Lets take a closer look at the two figures.

and focus on the ornamentation and head dress in particular.

Lets list down the major differences between the two fighters.

Clearly, the figure to the left of the panel ( right as you view it) – wears a tall crown and a Yagnopavitham, while the other has his hair tied in a kind of bun, wears the Channavira ( cross belts) and carries a waist sword whose hilt is clearly seen.

The oral tradition is that Arjuna must have gone as an ascetic, must be emaciated from the severe penance ( he is said to have subsisted on air alone in the final months of his penance ) and there is also a ref to him wearing a sword with a golden hilt

Ref in Mahabratha

“At Yudhishthira’s command, Dhananjaya of immeasurable prowess set out (from Kamyaka) to obtain a sight of Sakra, the chief of the celestials and of Sankara, the god of gods. And the strong-armed Arjuna of great might set out armed with his celestial bow and a sword with golden hilt, for the success of the object he had in view, northwards, towards the summit of the Himavat.

But then, when we come to Kirata, he is clearly is portrayed as a hunter and not as a resplendent King, and Shiva is hardly ever shown with a Krita makuda. Further there is this reference in Sri R. Nagasamy’s article.

Kirata or Tripurantaka


However in many Chola sculptures and also Bronzes (Melapperumpallam image) Kirata will be shown like a hunter with round bellied body , beard and cannavira. His hair would be tied as a bun-like knot and not the jata-makuta one sees in the Tripurari form.

But again the Book reference is a bit unclear. When Arjuna exhausts the twin inexhaustible quivers gifted to him by Agni ( burning of the Kandava forest episode
Fire in the Khadava forest ) he tried to use his Bow as a spear , but is thwarted by Shiva.

Ref in Mahabaratha

And beholding his bow snatched from him, Arjuna took up his sword, and wishing to end the conflict, rushed at his foe. And then the Kuru prince, with the whole might of his arms, struck that sharp weapon upon the head of the Kirata, a weapon that was incapable of being resisted even by solid rocks. But that first of swords, at touch of the Kirata’s crown, broke into pieces

So, we are left with an Iconographic puzzle. Whats your take on this?

I would go with Arjuna with the crown and Kirata with the Bun head dress.

Sittanavasal – the zenith of painting

Everything about Sittanavasal is clouded in mystery. Partly due to the sheer ignorance of common folk and largely due to ridiculous apathy of our system. How else can I describe the continued neglect of this zenith of painting excellence. Had even 1% of what is here, been in any other country, it would be celebrated as a nation treasure !! We have already seen couple of posts which showed the pathetic condition of these fantastic creations. Today, thanks to Mr Ashok Krishnaswamy – who is planning on bringing them out in the medium and in the form that would befit their worth. They are his copyrighted ones. I am forever indebted to him for willingly sharing these with us, so that we might bring out the beauty in this stellar composition and hopefully save what is left of it, at least digitally.

I was first introduced to the magnificence of this particular composition during a session with Prof Swaminathan. From that day, onwards its been more of a penance to bring this as a post, showcasing its true beauty to all. Me and Arvind were there last December, the terrain was harsh and we didn’t have the necessary paperwork to get them on our cameras. Good thing at that, for what we saw needed the expert hands of a professional. ( incidentally This Jaina site and its paintings were first noticed by a local historian S. Radhakrishna Iyer in 1916)

The rockface you see holds two treasures. One on top and one at its bottom. We will see the top one some other time.

We reached the cave front and were immediately taken aback at the site of the front pillars. They were not really the ones you expect of a cave of that date – clear later date additions !!

The rock cut cave could be stylistically dated to the 7th C CE ( notice the chunky pillars ala mahendra style) and was extensively renovated in the 9th C as we glean from an inscription that is on the pillar to the left of the original cave front ( once you step inside – to your right).

The inscriptions is in Tamil and talks of a Jain Ilan Gautaman who renovated the ardta mandapam during the reign of पंड्या king Srimaran-Srivallabhan (815 – 862 AD).

We already saw the location of the two dancers in the previous post, now we go to the main course. The piece de resistance of Arivar Koil ( yes, thats the original name of cave)

The painting style has been done in what is called Fresco Secco – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresco-secco

The treatise Silparatna by Kumaradeva (8th century) gives an account of the Fresco-secco painting technology in detail. According to this text, a picture should be painted with appropriate colours along with proper forms and sentiments (rasas), and moods and actions (bhavas). White, yellow, red, black and terraverte are pointed out in the text as pure colors. Different shades were also prepared from these original colors. Five types of brushes with various shapes and size (flat, long, medium etc.) made of animal hair and grass fibre are also recommended

Whats great about this work, is the difficulty quotient. Working on raised platforms, the artist would have had to work long hours lying down, mixing colors ( mineral dyes at that) and applying them in that position, would have been such a pain.

I can see some of you getting impatient, lets bring it on. Here come the paintings.

Well, whats so great about this work. Let me take you through this journey – visually. Let me mark the areas where you have to focus on.

Still finding it tough, Ok, let me try another way. This is a lotus pond and is filled with lively fishes.

Lets zoom in on a few frolicking fish and see the detailing of the fish.




There are many more hiding in the pond, take your time, go back and see if you can spot them.

Now, this is a huge pond and there aren’t just fishes. If i were to tell you that there is a bison, a buffalo, a cow, an elephant family and a whole herd of frightened geese in that frame, you are not going to believe me…are you.


Ok, lets start with the biggies first. There is actually a small baby as well, try and spot him. ( very vague though – come on – its a 1100 year old work). The large elephant seems have his trunk around a bunch of lotuses and pulling at them !!

Now to the bovines, focus on the top left of your screen. You can see a massive Bison who is starring back at you, just behind him is his mate.

Notice the construction of his massive horns and differentiation provided to those of the cow.


There is one more, but a different species to the bottom center. Yeah, a water buffalo ( must have been my dad’s favorite for he must have called me with that far more times than my own name !!). Notice how the three are expertly handled by the artist.

Now, there is one more badly faded image, which i presume to be that of a horse.

To add to all this fun, there are a whole bunch of geese as well – you could have noticed quite a few already along with the elephants.

But do you notice something in the eyes of these birds. The expert artist has brought forth a sense of alarm in their eyes.

What is it that is causing their alarm. Take a clue from the painting itself, look in the direction of their gaze.

Except for the bottom pair, who seem to disturbed by the elephant to their left, all the rest are looking at a single point in the pond.

Yes, there are two charming men in the pond, the main subjects of this theme. They are part of the Samava Sarana, a Jaina motiff. They are shown as collecting flowers.


One of them seems to be of a darker complexion and is shown in the process of plucking a lotus flower, while on his other hand hands a wicker basket with plucked flowers. Look at the mastery of the artist, you can see the pressure on the stalk as its been pulled !!

The second monk, behind him, is depicted even more spectacularly. He has this serene calm radiant beauty in his face and a gentle grace in his action of pointing the next flower to his friend.

The last exhibit needs a second look.If you notice the three stalks behind the young monk, you will notice a subtle difference in them. Yes, indeed. There are both lotuses and Lilly’s in this pond – a lily stalk is smooth whereas a lotus stalk is serrated.

Thanks to Doyen Sri Sivaramamoorthy’s sketches, we can also see how the outline would look


Such mastery over his art and total understanding of his subjects. Not to take away the variations of different stages of flowering of each – from bud onwards. But wait, we have only finished half the pond. We will see the other side in part 2 of this post.

200th Post – May your praise be sung for eons – The Chola Monalisa Tripurantaka fresco

This site has been an eventful journey. For, getting inspired is one thing, but quite often to nurture the spark to ensure that it stays alive is the toughest part. Maybe for me, the flame that lit the spark was so powerful that it still provides the energy to keep pushing ahead on the chosen path. What better to write on to celebrate the remarkable journey as a 200th post, than about the flame itself !! Udayar Sri Raja Raja Chola, and to his chosen brand he will always be ArunMozhiVarman – a lasting legacy – remembered, revered, impacting us and continuing to lead in his footsteps to sing the glory of his splendid land. Its not just vain praise that i seek or promote my senseless idol worship of him via this post professing my love and adoration for this special person, for i am not alone in this select band, who have felt his presence. The big temple evokes different reactions from different people, some are in awe at this size stuck by its imposing proportions, some others by its architectural beauty and technology beyond its times, some others for its sheer sustenance, others for its epigraphical richness, but for us – the select tribe, its a sense of coming home, of returning to his fold, under his loving embrace.

i edit Shakespeare’s text into this context!!

The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this “site”, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honorable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life “and after”, still lengthened with all happiness.

AD 1010.
We travel back in time, exactly 1000 years ago.

(Yes, 1000 years have since passed – Inscriptional which documents Sri Raja Raja donating gold for making the top filial – kalasam or pot- ceremonially the final work to be completed – and it corresponds to 275th day of his 25th year of reign. its ironical that He, who was destined to such greatness, was not even first in line for the throne – but fate deemed otherwise – for those who want to know how we date his year of ascension to 985 AD see first comment)

The temple bells are clanging – the noise resonates through around the granite walls of the sanctum, the pillars offer temporary respite absorbing the ding dong, but against them a horde of musicians and percussionists are drawn into a fair battle, the air is filled with a myriad of scents – the aroma of burning camphor, to melting ghee to the freshly ground sandalwood paste, but wait there are some more exotic fragrances that seem to drop from above – yes, indeed – an impressive line of dancing girls, their hair done up with rows and rows of sweet smelling jasmine – seem to frozen in time – like a fawn caught in a lion’s gaze, their practised eyes on their teacher, whose eyes are on the door – as is everyone else, waiting for the arrival of he – the Lord of Lords.

They have all seen him before, on many occasions, be it his radiant armor shining as he rode to battle on his magnificent chariot, or in his regal attire as he gracefully sauntered along on top of the royal elephant in the ceremonial victory procession – but today was different. He was coming to them, to see them perform, to see the fulfillment of his dream – the consecration of the big temple – the tallest edifice on the planet, a work of devotion built to last, to sing the praise of their clan for the millenniums to come. A sudden hush descends, the royal entourage passes through the massive door frame, for a minute the light from the doorway is blocked by a big frame, and then as the rising sun shines through, you see him – he has shed all his royal insignia today – just a flowing garment of the purest white is his dhoti, another matching white garment goes around his towering frame – he has smeared ash over his forehead and his mighty arms and chest, and it seems to show in more glory than the golden vest which he just left behind – on seeing him the trusted aide starts the legendary invocation – a queer sonnet that rid the hearts of his enemies with dread, but his subjects with pride… his prasithi –

Swasthisri ( Hail propserity)
Thirumakal pol perunilach selviyum
thanakkeyurimai poondamai manakolak

Immediately, his eyebrows arch, the right hand starts to go up, instinctively the aide stops in mid sentence – the protocol being broken, his trusted bodyguards make a move to encircle him, but then the eyebrow hasn’t gone up fully – its breaks into a curve to compliment the smile that has just born to make his face look even more benevolent – if it were ever possible.

“My praise fades before my lord, i am but his humble servant – for i am no longer Raja Raja or ArunMozhi but Siva Paadha Sekeren here”

On hearing this, the big drums beat, the bell ringers take the clue and another round of acoustic symphony fills the air – just then – from above come the sound of 400 pairs of anklets – and their ankleted feet – complementing the expert call of their guru – “Tha”

Like a child who has seen his wish fulfilled, the eyes of the greatest king light up in glee, as he stands in front of Peruvudayar – he calls for the man who made it possible – the chief architect Kunjara Mallan

“May it be written that henceforth you shall be known as Raja Raja Perunthachan, and let it also be known that no longer will your clan prefer to remain anonymous – let you name be sculpted along with mine in stone on the very walls of this great temple, forever interweaving your name with mine and your greatest creation till the Sun and the Moon shine – proclaiming this achievement of ours. “

Eyes moist the master sculptor looks lovingly on his benefactor –” Its this greatness in you that makes us your servants for eternity, but pray in this moment, i forget to show you something that will make your heart swell more. I have brought in some expert artists to paint your favorite act of valor of siva on the walls of the ambulatory. “

So, this is the reason why you have not been allowing me to go around , wanting to surprise me. Lets us see.

Sir, its a bit dark there, let me get some torches. Hey, you there, don’t go very near the walls with the torches, every inch is being covered with paintings.

“Your excellency, since you chose to show so many Tripura vijaya sculptures in stone in the vimana sculptures, we guessed that it was your favorite and chose it for this painting.”

‘ Wow, you do know me well, yes, Tripurantaka story was my favorite – though my aunt Sembian Madevi always recited the Sundar or Chandeshwarar legends, my elder sister told me the Tripurantaka so many times that the valor of Shiva has continued to inspire me since. So how have you shown the story, is it like a story board like you do in sculpture, showing one scene after another in sequence?”

‘” Oh, we are blessed to have Kundavai pirattiyar to have molded you since young. No, your highness, we have chosen a novel and unique manner to show the entire legend in a single panel”

” In a single panel – interesting, how would you do that – meaning – there are atleast 6 key acts with the tripurantaka legend?”

” Sir, thanks to the richness of talent in our land, take a look at the painting now ”

‘ Wait,let me get Madurantakan also to see”

‘ yes sir, he looks exactly like how you were 20 years ago

“Yes, but amplified 20 fold for battle. Rajendra see this master painting. Remember, the story of Tripurantaka – of how the three demons Taarakaaksha, Kamalaaksha and Vidyunmaali – sons of Taraka – with their boon from Brahma and being Shiva devotees – tormented the earth. They had their cities which could fly in the air and could be destroyed only by Shiva. The power got to their head and they tormented the people and when the devas appealed to Shiva, he could not go against his own devotees. So he sent Vishnu as Buddha to lead them out of the faith and then summoned all the devas, concentrating all the powers of the Gods – the earth became his chariot, the Sun and the Moon the wheels, the very Meru mountain his bow, Brahma as his charioteer and Vishnu the arrow. Am i right Perunthachan”

” Ofcourse Sir, the chariot was crafted by Viswakarma himself who we trace our lineage from. We have painted Brahma here – as the charioteer”

” Father, but why is brahma shown as though he is speaking to Shiva rather than facing the enemies?”

‘ Yes, my son – this is an emotive panel – the painter is trying to tell a story in a single panel”

:Sirs, you can see Vishnu on top seated like Buddha with the demons worshiping him. you can also see Ganesh on his mouse mount, Muruga on his peacock and Devi on her Lion accompanying shiva into battle along with a host of Ganas.”

” Yes, the demons look really cruel – can you ask you man to take the torch nearer – i can see something here, which i think is what you want to show me – Rajendra can you find out?”

‘ Remember hearing the two thevaram verses refer to this incident – very contrasting references. One verse says he was angered and another verse says he smiled.

Thevaram Verse1

Thevaram Verse2

” That is fantastic, you have been concentrating on reading the verses as well. My guru interpreted it – that as Shiva in all his war attire, accompanied by all the devas – confronts the army of the Tripura asuras, he is red with anger, eyes bulging out – your dancer friend would be able to tell you the correct name – i think it is called Raudra drishti in Natya Sastra of Bharata. In depicting this pitiless sentiment, the eye balls should be lifted up, rough, and reddish in line. The eyebrows should be kept crooked.”

” Father, do we have to bring her into this conversation !! Well, yes i can see the painter has depicted that emotion here – Shiva is fully red with rage like you when you get angry.”

‘ son, you seem to have turned a bit red now as well, why? but do you notice something different in the face of Shiva’

” Father, i do notice something more different in the way he is shown holding the bow. The bow is facing inward and not at the enemy”

‘ son, that is the greatness of the painter. to continue to story, there are two versions. One says, the devas grew a bit arrogant and their ego made them think that Shiva needed their help to destroy the demons- while the other version says that Brahma asked Shiva, why he needed the assortment of weapons and entrouge of ganas for this fight. Anyway, at that point, Shiva bends his bow holding hand curling it inwards and just smiled – the next instant – the asuras were burnt to ashes”

” Now, can you see the smile of Shiva – masterly portrayed by the artist. One half of the face he has shown rage and the lower portion a childish smile”

Oh, great work father, i cant wait to see the rest of the works””

Photos courtesy: I am indebted to Dr Kudavoil Balasubramaniam for his guidance and support. This post just scrapes the surface of these fantastic paintings. Please read his masterly work on the Big temple. HIndu paper article on sir’s book release

Thanks for support of REACH Chandra and all others.

I take your hand – for eternity

To depict a wide gamut of emotions into metal casting calls for exceptional skill. who better to attempt it than the Chola craftsmen and what better scene than the drama of emotions during a wedding – the wedding of the divine parents at that. Yes, today we are going to see a stunning bronze composition – the wedding of Meenakshi with Sundareshwarar. We already saw the metamorphosis of Tadagai – the three breasted warrior queen of Madurai into Meenakshi , a stunning shy lass – true to the prophecy, at the sight of her prince charming – Shiva as the epitome of manly charm – Sundareshwarar.

Imagine the situation of such a wedding, throw in the bride’s brother – Vishnu here and his consort Lakshmi giving off their priced possession to Shiva.

Take a look at this bronze now from the Tanjore Raja Raja Museum.


The bridgegroom – heart swelling with pride, a mischievous smile on his lips, majestic in his poise, triumphantly taking the hand of his beloved.

The bride – embodiment of grace, head bent in his shyness – experiencing the first touch of her beloved as she feels his powerful hand close on top of hers, and her left hand flying up to hide her reddening cheeks.

The symbolisation of taking the hand has lot of significance – for its a promise to be with her, to protect her and live as one – for eternity.

The perfection in this composition, flows through every inch , every curve of the bronze – a visual delight.

Sadly, its all held inside glass cases and its hard to bring out the splendor in more depth and detail.


But i have with me a gifted artist, Mr Prasad – who has sketched this for us ( he says it was his early attempt – but to me its masterclass!!!)

Sketching bronzes is no easy task – for you are not sketching just a piece of art , you are sketching a deity and to bring that grace onto paper – calls for exceptional talent.

I am blessed to be even be born in the soil that brought forth these masterpieces.

Images courtesy: Our Satheesh n various on the net.

The unsung Chola painter Vs Da Vinci

In recent times, the Chola fresco paintings of Tanjore have been in the limelight for various reasons. Not many know that these 1000-year-old frescoes, were discovered as early as 1931 – by a 28-year-old historian, S.K. Govindaswami. Thankfully the HIndu did republish the article giving credit to the right person for the find.

An exciting discovery and a 1931 scoop for The Hindu

Sadly, even after 80 years – there are not many published works on these beautiful paintings and some rare attempts have been met with copyright and other issues. Normal visitors to the site are also not allowed permission to view these !! As i write this, i am forced to use already published photos on the net, but then the question lingers that when the artist himself didn’t sign the work,preferring to remain forever immortal yet anonymous, who are we to put copyrights on mere photos, thereby diminishing the great tradition of this land and depriving many of the sheer joy of viewing these.

To truly understand and appreciate the greatness of this artist, i wish to showcase one small panel in a fresco – the ascent of Saint Sundarar ( on Indra’s white elephant) along with Cheraman Perumal ( on a white horse) to the heavens. Much has been already written upon the theme of this panel and i am given to understand a few Phd thesis have been presented on it, sadly as is the case with many of our draconian policies, these are never accessible to anyone !!! Anyway, coming back to the post, we are going to see only a small portion of this panel – to be specific just Cheraman Perumal and the horse.


Photo: Courtesy
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/01/india-ancient-art/behl-photography

Before we dwell further, just a short note on why i wanted to showcase this particular work. Somehow, horses have a certain raw energy in them, the ripple of the muscle, the grace of the arching limbs, the sway of the tail and mane – they are an artist’s delight ( next only to beautiful women)!. No wonder Da Vinci did considerable studies on them. Recently there was a program on Discovery or National Geographic about one of his unfinished works – a collosal 24 foot bronze horse. As i was following up on the sheer effort the great artist had put on the study of horses, there was something familar about it. See his sketches and read on..


Photos: Various sources on the net

We now come to the Chola fresco. Sri C. Sivaramamurthy, one of the greatest connoisseurs of art and chola art in particular, writes about this specific piece thus ( he has sketched the outline as well for us to enjoy)

http://www.yabaluri.org/TRIVENI/CDWEB/SomeFrescoesoftheCholasnov33.htm

The picture of the rider on the horse in fig. 2 is equally attractive in every detail. There is a grace in the way in which he holds the reins in one hand and the long wand in the other. The horse though reminding one of the animals the of that species, especially the white one in the centre in the Battle of St. Egidio by Paolo Uccello in the National Gallery, and though appearing to be defective in drawing to some extent in the so-called modern academic sense–one has to bear in mind that many pictures of great masters cannot stand this test so well, which is, to confess the truth, never a test of true greatness and worth–is yet a unique example of the skill in animal drawing in those far-off days, and testimony to this is borne by the magnificent elephant that is painted very close to it.

We will see the mentioned elephant in a subsequent post. Since the sketch is of low resolution, have retouched it for our better enjoyment. ( i wish i could get one of our more talented artists to paint it as per the original color scheme !!)

Sri C. Sivaramamurthy, does mention the resemblance to Battle of St. Egidio by Paolo Uccello in the National Gallery.

The color combinations do bear an uncanny resemblance. But to me, as i look back at Da Vinci’s sketches and this fresco, it slowly dawns on me – every detail – the roundness of the horses back, the detailing of the rear legs, the fullness of the chest, the majestic head, the neatly cropped and braided mane, the prancing of the front legs,the exactness of proportion, the inch perfect joints, the subtly hinted muscularity – though not as pronounced as Da vinci’s studies, the clarity of the hoofs…..leaves me speech less.

Take a bow, O anonymous chola painter, we salute you.

p.s Maybe, on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the Big temple, the authorities can bring out atleast a book on these paintings if not putting these up on their sites for the world to relish.

Who is considered to be a great painter?

“He who paints waves, flames, smoke and streamers fluttering in the air, according to the movement of the wind, should be considered a great painter.”

Vishnudharmottara , Ch 43 V 28

I heard this for the first time in a fantastic evening lecture by Sri Sivaramakrishnan, who teaches art students in the Government Fine Arts College, Chennai. Thanks to a lucky invite from Sri Swaminathan. It was a wonderful evening, seeing sculpture from an artist’s perspective. But the real treat was towards the end when he went into explaining a few masterpieces of art from Ajanta.

I have heard many friends who visit Ajanta, lured by the timeless masterpieces on display, yet do they really appreciate what is on display ?

This is where experts come into play. To illustrate this, ( thanks to Sri Sivaramakrishnan for allowing me to post this ) – i take one of the murals and try to showcase it to portray its true beauty. I didnt take any notes, so all the positives are attributable to him but if there are any mistakes, please pardon my poor memory.

This is what majority of the thousands of visitors streaming through Ajanta see. Sadly this is what is left of these wonderful creations, yet there is still something left in it for us to take it as a subject of our study and justify the title of this post. Can’t believe, ok, take a look again at the mural, focusing to the right of the screen. You can vaguely make out a dark colored lady.

This is taken at the entrance to Cave 17, and the lady shown is the famous Black Apasara, a member of the troup that is descending to earth to worship the Buddha.

Lets zoom in and see her

Impressive – yes, but hang on to your comments!! Let me take on the task of communicating the greatness of this artwork from an art expert’s view.

Before that, let me take the help of artist friend Prasad to do a quick sketch to fully understand what is there in the painting ( this was a rough sketch by him )


There are certain key elements of this painting that we need to focus on

We take the first one. Chitrasutra section of Vishnudharmottara ( an ancient treatise on Painting) observes

Rekham prashansantyacharya
Varnadhyamitare janah

or simply ” the masters judge through the line”

For those of us who have read about Murals and frescos – or rather even tried our hand at simple brush painting, the simple yet splendid beauty of the above creation, executed with just a single smooth stroke of the brush held in the hands of the master artist , is mesmerizing.

Its not just the simple lines nor or they curved or straight lines – for there is subtle suggestion of a bulge of the eyeball and the roundness of the black circle.

Another verse..

Api laghu likhiteyam
drisyate purnamurith

meaning ” with the minimum of drawing almost the full form of the figure is represented”

Ok, i am not going to keep quoting these ancient texts, how does our master painter fare when we talk in contemporary terms ?

Most art classes would start with explaining perspectives – Linear perspective for example is projecting the three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface.

Now, lets look at the earrings of our subject

You can see that the left ear ring is actually just two parallel lines – with a hint of curve on the bottom. Now view it in conjunction with the right ear ring – where you see the expert rendition – the oval lines gives you the perspective of the circular ornament.

I come back to the initial quote with which i started the post. Movement. Well consider this, the Apsara is descending when suddenly her attention is caught by the person next to her. You can see her eyes looking to her left. Her face is depicted just turning, but the piece de resistance are these.

Do you notice how the artist has masterly captured the life in the painting, movement of the sway of the hanging jewelery. When she is suddenly stopped, the lag in the jewelery is expertly observed and highlighted.

Even in that you can notice contemporary techniques – take foreshortening for instance – a technique used in perspective to create the illusion of an object receding into the background. See how the beads of the necklace nearer to the center of the chest are larger than those that are going over the shoulder.

Thus, you know that this was rendered by a great painter albeit the unknown painter of Ajanta.

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/

Art inspired by Sculpture Series – 4, Horse Avudayar Temple, Tiruperundurai

We have seen an entire series on the horsemen of the Sesharaya Mandabam in Srirangam, so time now to start with another one.

Horses have always held the imagination of men, warriors, artists, sculptures. The horse rider is an embodiment of valor and its not surprising that the Pancing horse inspires many creations of art ( and cars!!). The energy of the horse, flowing through its every muscle, bone, sinew, waiting for the rider’s clue to gallop away at top speed, the feel the wind against your face is a sure rush of blood ( today’s youth who haven’t experienced it can compare to riding a 500 cc Bullet) – the sheer power between your legs ( no pun intended) is exhilarating. The charging cavalry with their outstretched lances would have sent many an enemy scampering. Many a kid would have gone to sleep hearing the heroics of valiant horses of benevolent heroes – be it Bucephalus of Alexander, Chetak of Prithiv Raj Chauhan or steeds of tamil folklore – Ori of Valvil Ori, Panchakalyani of Raja Desingu – the tok tok tok tok would have been the lullaby to many being heard long into their sleep in their dreams.

Today, we are going to see one such amazing horse rider, in a town and temple that is famous for a greater miracle involving horses ( we will see that in a seperate post) – thanks to artist Mr Jeeva, we are going to Aavudayar temple ( Tiruperundurai).

An amazing artist, Mr Jeeva ( www.jeevartistjeeva.blogspot.com) is sharing an exclusive digital art of the horse for us. So before we see the sculpture lets see his amazing work.

Temples built around this period ( late 14th C onwards – Nayak / Vijayanagar style) abound with such depictions. Sadly, visitors don’t even stop a minute to drink in the beauty of these marvels in stone.

Lets look at the beauty of this creation in more detail. The saddle, the stirrup, the reins, the designs of the riding pants … how did they manage to sculpt this in stone.

The weapons of the rider, the beauty of the lance. Its hard to believe that they are all of the same stone.

Not just the same stone as the sculpture, but part of a large stone that is the pillar.

Truly, mind blowing.

Photos: courtesy Mr . Kandaswamy