The lost art of Sittanavasal – Part 2

Thanks for all your encouraging comments on the previous post on sittanavasal. Today we are going to see another special from Sittanavasal, sadly in total ruin. Viewers are advised caution as the last couple of photos may not be suitable for general viewing ! meaning to the uninitiated as it contains some nudity ( a bit more than a previous one).

Before i present this beautiful maiden, would like to clarify a few points. First of all what you are seeing is not a religious motif but more a piece of art, so please see it as an art form and appreciate it for its artistic beauty and intrinsic value . Appreciating Nude Art is quite a controversial subject but you got to keep in mind that this is not something new or recent. So please differentiate it from Pornography and vulgarity. Nude art has been there since time immemorial and finds pride of place in many cultures and not necessarily Indian art alone – you can find ample evidences in Greek, Roman civilisations as well. Its got nothing to do with the darker side and unfortunately not too many people differentiate between the two. Art is something that transcends the frontiers of mind / soul / heart /class/religion/ intellect – it defies logical reasoning, so much so that its a feeling – an emotion. Nude art thus is something that provokes emotional sensuality and not erotic sensuality. Seeing the human form in its pristine glory is a sublime feeling and the female form with its aesthetically pleasing curves is its finest expression.

That an artist had scaled to this peak one thousand years ago in sittanavasal leaves me spellbound. Now with this introduction, i take you on a tour to savor this bewitching beauty – who despite years of neglect, thanks to help from Ashok, chooses to dance before us once more.

As usual we start with some long shots to show you the location ( and damage}, slowly zooming in

I can hear you guys yelling, what is there? – remember the first post ! do you see the scratch marks – yes wanton vandalism, What was there….here she is

adding some colors

The youthfulness of her body, the graceful extension of her right arm slightly held up with the palm bent down, the lilting tilt of her head, the nonchalant smile, the bewitching eyes, the balance in her right hand, the slender waist – accentuating the euphoric feeling. The assortment of Ornaments, adding highlights without hiding the supple curves, leave you in raptures.

But that she is gone forever leaves you sick at heart, a tear drop forms in the corner of the eye, we have left this wonderful art to fade away…

The lost art of Sittanavasal – part 1

Its been a long pending wish of mine to do this post on a truly remarkable site – Sittanavasal. For today, even a die hard enthusiast will return back with a negative feeling from a visit to Sittanavaasal – the general opinion is, its not worth the effort ?. What is there? The right question to ask is what was there? But first where is it

Its located at a distance of 58-km from Trichy is Sittanavasal, a site of an ancient Jain monastery – rock cut cave ( pandyan), couple of Jain beds, a rare inscription..and the subject of this post.

Ok ,what was there. I am not going into depth into the history of this place, but just want to showcase what we have lost out. Thanks to Sri Swaminathan and Mr. Mohandoss Ilangovan, read on for the first part of the Sittanavaasal series. Now, i see some of you already googling for information, rest a bit. There is very little on the net about what we are going to see today. Why?

Not many people recognise the name of Sittanavasal. Even fewer look at it as a art location. The minuscule number who claim to know about it, know of it from literary references or form some catchy films tunes. Apart from this not much is known of this amazing treasure trove outside of this small and shrinking band of people. It is after a dying or as of now a dead breed. When the whole world is going ga ga over modern art, its sad that no one cares for this small cave rich with art – 1000 years old. Sadder still is the fact that these stood the test of time for a thousand years, seen innumerable conquests , winds of change sweeping over the plains which they overlook, seen the British come and go, sadly, they have been ruined by the hand of man – to be true the very hands of the men from its own soil in the last 40 years. Yes, what you see is what has been left of these spectacular frescos. The paintings on the pillars of the rock cut cave are two heavenly damsels – we will try and see one of them today.

They must have been the crowning glory of south Indian art,some of the earliest frescos of South India, comparable to the beauties in Ajanta, yet they have been neglected, not just neglected but ravaged.

The amazing ladies of Srigriya have managed to live on despite all the ethnic conflict around them, while these have been destroyed. Maybe we are not worthy of being bequeathed such an inheritance – Not fit to savor these treasures.

I am going to split this post into parts and focus on the main paintings – and today we are going to see just one painting, or rather what is left of the painting.

This is what greets you now. Can you make out. can you make out anything.

Hmm, do you see the scratch marks – yes, the hand of man or rather vandals.

We are left with no authentic pictures even – just been left with a few line drawings of some great men. This rare black and white photograph gives you just an indication of what it used to look like. A couple of line drawings illustrate the great loss.

How did it look before. Catch you breath, if you have seat belts put them on. Here goes, line drawings of these amazing dancing women is what is left for us.

I tried to work some colors to imagine how she would have looked in her prime.

The grace with which she is dancing, her fluid yet confident movement rendered masterfully by the artist – such aesthetically appealing work, such perfection of form is remarkable. The sensuousness of the moment has been brilliantly captured – the slightly pouting lip, the eyes that drown you with an avalanche of emotions, the youthful grace of the maiden.

Sadly, we have allowed it to be destroyed – i thought of using the word lost, but what is lost can be found, but this is dead beyond resurrection. Shame on us.

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.

Art is reborn

Art is reborn today – and an artist is born not made and true art is ageless. The thirst to create something beautiful rests inside all of us, but only a few posses the divine gift needed to express this, to bring out the yearning of ones heart and leave a lasting impression. Time and again art has proved that it sans many boundries, time spans, language, culture and it inspires generations to come.

We are to see one such inspiring art today, or rather witness a symphony between sculpture and drawing, of a unique umbilical cord that has connected three talented artists…. One sculptor who sculpted this spectacular Veerabadra out of solid stone fashioning a pillar that is more alive than stone – from the Srivaikuntam Temple. A vibrating pulsating action figure, rich is ornamentation and complexity, an apt challenge for the master artist silpi. To even attempt such a piece is mind boggling, but to capture it to the minute detail ( when silpi drew it looks like the sword was still in one piece but u can see that the master sculpted even the crack at that time) the pres day photo shows the sword broken at the exact spot. Can’t find words for the amount of detailing he has drawn in the background. That was the hall mark of silpi – a painting that looked more a sculpture than a painting or sketch, he could bring out the lanugage of stone or rather poetry in stone into his sketch.

Now the story spans to current day – present day tale. When Prasad wanted a challenge to sculpt during his winter break, I shared these two ( original
sculpture and the silpi sketch – thanks to. Sri pas pasupathy sir and with him.

When he said he wanted to attempt to sketch this, I expected a muted effort, but when he first sent me his initial outline, I was stumped. I knew this was a masterpiece in the making and hence came up with a plan to document the magic. So here goes, see the magician at work as he brings out this master sculpture out of thin air and makes it appear as his sketch.

Oh, the detailing of the dress, the clarity in the expressions, the intricate carvings on the sword., prasad, hats off. You are a genius. Silpi would be proud today for you are here to carry the baton. True poetry.

you can see more of Sri Prasad’s works here

Prasad’s art blog

Art Inspired by sculpture Series – Belur Elephant – Prasad’s Sketch

its been sometime since we ventured into our art inspired by sculpture series. Our good friend Prasad has come up with a splendid sketch to take us to Belur today.
you can see all his works at his site here
Prasad’s Sketches blogsite

Prasad is uniquely gifted to be able to sketch in such a splendid fashion by just looking at just the picture from a photograph. Inorder for us to understand the task – view the photo and the sketch side by side.


One interesting point to note, ( actually it was the reason for this post to happen) – is this picture. Is it the same elephant ? Got us confused for a sec.

My initial exposure to reading magazine especially tamil ones was the feature where you got to spot the 6 differences. Can you spot such…between these two sets.
Lovely work Prasad, and keep them coming. The sculptor would be mighty pleased.

Silpi – An Artist Par Excellence

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

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

Lets first see his amazing sketch of the pillars.

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


Article original source from Tanjore Big temple consecration commemorative edition 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art inspired by Sculpture – Series – part 2

We had seen earlier how profound is the influence of a divine creation on a viewer. The splendor of the masterpiece, transcends time and the joy of the artist’s creation, despite being a thousand years old, continues to pass on from his flesh to stone and from the stone to flesh – of the viewer.

Not many people are lucky enough to be so enormously talented, to be able to give shape to this feeling. It is a void many feel, when one sees pure beauty in front of your eyes, your mind captures it in its eye and your body is overpowered by this dose of sheer exuberance, you are searching for a medium to release this energy. And if you are as talented as my friend Mr Murali, then all the stored responses gushes forth in a spontaneous burst of creativity – adding luster to the creation, a fitting tribute to the masterpiece. Its not often you get a chance to compare two different art forms, products of two different streams of art – spread over a 1000 years, both masters in their craft

Its easy to see why this creation inspired the artist, though the big temple abounds with such brilliant works in stone, the beauty of this creation, leaves you speechless. The Laxmi ( had earlier posted this wrongly as Gyana Saraswati – on further reading notice that this is Laxmi – has two hands and a breast band – whereas Saraswathi is four armed and misses the breast band – apologise to readers) master sculpture of the tanjore big temple. What perfection, the graceful crossed legged seated position, the calm serene face, those arched brows, the benevolent smile, the jeweled crown, the splendid ornaments, the detailing of the garments, Oh – if only i were a chola sculptor i would have felt that my life’s purpose is attained on creating such a masterpiece. So great is this work, imagine to be able to breathe life into stone and create this divine form.

And despite technology bringing you the best in color photography, black and white is the best – the depth that it lends to the finished product is spectacular.

But for the fingers that sketched it on paper, no words suffice, no praise apt. Hats off to you murali and thanks again for sharing your stuff with us. May you continue your quest in art and bring many more such beauties to life

You can view all his beauties here

Tanjore sculpture

Art inspired by Sculpture

Hope you have all seen the posts on the amazing pillars of Srirangam.

Recently two new friends of mine, not related in any manner, from different corners of the globe – have amazingly sketched the same pillars.

That’s the universal appeal of sculpture, that it touches similar chords among disconnected individuals, hits a soft spot, a past memory, a vestigial umbilical chord that revitalizes a sleeping nerve and suddenly opens your eyes,fills a deeply vacant spot inside you, a longing is fulfilled, leaving you with a sense of pure joy. That my friends, is the essence of art.

Check out these sketches.

Mr Raghavendra Prasad’s
Mr. Shriram Rajaram’s

I wish both my young friends a great future in art, and hope they come up with many more such masterpieces.