Cheranmadevi Ramaswamy Temple…a wooden pillar away from…

Too much is too many…maybe it the bane of our heritage treasures. How else but to explain the sad plight of this delightful gem living precariously on the banks of the Tambraparani, its life blood slowly draining away, having stood for a thousand years, it makes a mockery of our grand visions of cultural renaissance and ingrained spirituality – The Ramaswamy Temple of Cheranmadevi. They called it the Nigarili Chola Vinnagar – Abode without parallel ! read on to see its pathetic state for surely it will not be long before the newspaper headlines lament its demise and pseudo enthusiasts will cry fowl.

The pillar sculpture of Hanuman, in all his humility, affectionately held by his Lord Rama seemed an regular rendition when we entered but as we finished and returned, the posture seemed to gather a new meaning.

As we stepped in, there was nothing extraordinary about the front porch and it resembled any of hundred of temples we see in our villages.

But as we took the few steps towards the main shrine, what awaited us made us hold our breath.

its not often you get to see a pristine pre 10th Century Vimana, a Pandya one at that.

Thanks to Pradeep, we had some inclination of what to expect and the introductions to the Priest had ensured that we could do our work unhindered.

For starters – the temple is unique for its one of the very few Astanga Vimana shrines – three tiered Vimana, with forms of Vishnu – Standing, seated and lying in the three sanctums lined one on top of the other.

At the entrance of the main sanctum, we were greeted by one of the most stunning bronzes – Rama group.

When we wanted to climb to the upper storey, the priest asked us again – if we really wanted to go up ! Little did we realise why he did that, till we saw the narrow stairs and got swarmed by a colony of feisty bats whom we disturbed.

Restaurants with roof top gardens seem to be the fashion these days, but it was really heartbreaking to see a stunning edifice left to rot like this.

As we turned towards the Sanctum in tier one, we spotted this.

The central beam had cracked and the weight was being held by the wooden pillar. My heart filled with dread at the thought of what might happen if it gave way.

And in the midst of all this, there he was seated ( please note he is not carved out of stone but made of stucco – and hence the fractures can be easily mended)

The intricate stucco work and the faint colors seemed to remind us of his glory days. Even the walls seemed to have outlines of vestigial paintings.

We willed ourselves to climb to the next tier and there he is, sleeping peacefully on the coils of his devoted sesha, his two consorts in attention, hoping against hope that some good still lived in the hearts of the people he loves.

As we stepped out, we looked again at Hanuman – he seemed to asking us to help, but not wanting his master to know, for the Lord’s answer would be ” I have the entire universe for me !!”

Movement and Drama – is it possible in Stone relief ? Pradeep Chakravarthy says Yes

Friends, today we have a special guest post. Very pleased to have Mr Pradeep Chakravarthy , we have already seen a review of his book on Temple Vahanas

He has also authored a very successful book Thanjavur A Cultural History – – , and we will surely see more from this amazing person. I had requested him to do a guest post and we hope this is only the start of an insightful series. Over to him now.

Tirumeyyam is a well known pilgrim spot not very far off from Madurai. I wrote about it in The Hindu a long time back and have always visited it when possible.

After reading Vijay’s posts on sculptures that bear a message of how the sculptor conceived movement and drama, I took a closer look at the stupendous moolavar – more than 10 feet and carved out of a cave. The additions are from the 7th century by Perumpidugu Perundevi a Muttaraiar chieftain’s mother. The structural temple temple complex built around this cave is from the 12th century and later.

Thanks to Ashok for splendid feat to capture the entire scene ( digitally removing the pillars – this is copyrighted work)

The scene is of Perumal reclining in the coils of Adisesha with Brahma emerging from his navel.

In this case, like the Gupta images, the sculptor has chosen a free style in showing the coils, not neat and arranged like in other temples. Already there is drama and movement –

The action in the scene is Adisesha spewing forth venom shown as streaks of fire that move towards your right.

The heads of the serpent are backwards, as if they have just recoiled from one attack.

Just in case you missed the direction, scores of divine nityasoories are all flying to the right. Just above the Lord’s face, the sculptor has left a natural indentation, this is possibly to indicate that the flying figures are much higher than you think and to remind you that even when they are flying, they are keeping their legs away from the face of the lord.

To the extreme left is Chitragupta and Garuda who some scholars think is actually the king who commissioned this image.

Another cleft in the rock indicates a substantial distance between the deity and the two asuras

The asuras are a little slanted to give us a clue that they eventually bite the dust

The temple is one of the few Vaishnavaite cave temples still in active worship and a modified image of this theme can be seen in Mahabalipuram as well.

As part of the relief there is a depiction a deer headed person next to Brahma – who could he be?

Photo Credits : Flickr : lomaDI, Prof Swaminathan and

Temple Vahanas of Tamil Nadu – Pradeep Chakravarthy

I have never met Pradeep ( yet) and my interaction with him started only in early May this year over a few brief email and facebook exchanges. Must confess that even the few initial interactions made quite an impression. Some googling threw up his columns in the papers, other articles about his Temple walk campaigns ( 30 such in a year is no mean achievement), they made me sit up and take notice that I was dealing with someone special. A few more weeks of email interactions, and I was pretty sure that I was dealing with someone not just special, but an extraordinary person, a dedicated professional who did meticulous preparations and indepth research for even his newspaper columns. Later thanks to technology, managed to view some of the recordings of his talks and realised that inside this modern profile ( definitely not the current avtar of a techie) and attire, there was a vestigial being – the remnants of the rich tradition of Kathakalakshepam, where the versatility and humor of the one man performer held sway over the audience for an entire evening.

So, when he told me that two of his books are scheduled for release shortly, I was more than excited at the prospect of a special treat for heritage lovers and was eagerly awaiting their formal launch. One was ” Thanjavur – A Cultural History” and the other ” Temple Vahanas of Tamil Nadu“. While we wait for the official release of the first book, the second one has been released recently by Kalamkriya, the publishing house of the Sanmar Group of Companies.

Vahanas or vehicles have always been my passion – be it my first BSA SLR and then graduating to an Atlas MTB during my school days, seeing Dad’s trusted Lamby and then on to the popular Chetak, when the affluent could afford either an Amby or a Fiat ( ok Bangaloreans would go for their Premier Padimini) – a slight flicker of hope was the Standard 2000’s and then the Invasion by the Maruti 800’s till the flood gates opened. But then to me – it was always an Arnie inspired bike rage, but had to settle for the Indian Harley – our very own Royal Enfield. Each of these were special in their own right but with the passage of time, most of them have been stripped of their positions. But what we are see today is from a bygone Era, an era when human energy or at best animals were the only means, and how tradition is still ensuring that they are alive to this day.

Combined to this, the fact that these adorable creations get their brief time under the sun ok moon ! once or twice a year ( if at all) – during the annual festival or some special days for the deity, and then being consigned to dingy bat infested confines for the rest of the year, where no one even acknowledges their existence. Its always been our endeavor to champion the cause of Temple Art, more so the beauties that escape our notice most often – a pillar sculpture here, a wood carving on a temple chariot or a magnificent Vahanam. Credit goes to Pradeep for bringing out this work to champion their cause.

What immediately caught my attention was the Pencil sketches – not just for the cover art but the entire book has been wonderfully illustrated by Sri V. Vijayakumar. I hope he does more such and hones his skills to follow the illustrious steps of greats like Sri Silpi, Sri Padmavasan. The team has also made it a bilingual ( in English & Tamil) which is a very good trend. The layouts bring a old world charm and the book in landscape mode is surely a collectors item.

The Foreword starts off on a really bold note and was actually quite surprised that the author chose to start on those lines, but as I read on it was more like the author wanting to clarify his stance on the “great divide”. But the real intensity of the work and the author’s passion hits you as you read the Introduction. He couldn’t have picked a better inscription to set the tone – an inscription from 1274 CE.

The contents cover an exhaustive list including some very special delightful Vahanas.

Here is a sample chapter on Adhikara Nandhi, for you all to read and enjoy

My personal favorite was the Kailasa Vahanam with Ravana shown stuck under the mountain, playing the instrument that he fashioned out of one of his heads and hands with his veins as the string.

Of the specials there is one Aadu ( Goat) Vahana. The extent of background research done by the author is evident as he quotes from literature to support the deity who would ride it !

To me the beauty of our heritage is in its complexity and in its own idiosyncrasies,on how even a simple description of a Puli Vahanam for the “Son” of God can be portrayed.

Surprisingly not all Vahanas are animals, reptiles and Demi Gods, some are Trees as well like the Punnai Mara Vahana or the Kalpa Vrisha Vahana. a pointer to strong nature worship prevalent among out ancestors ( are we learning ?)

Credit to the Author, the Artist and the team behind the book for successfully bringing out the significance of each Vahana, in a crisp manner, interlacing narration with choice selection of hymns and verses that transport you to the temple precincts, to visualise the lilting motion of the vahana bearers, to the accompaniment of characteristic drums and trumpets, and even maybe smell the kerosene from a leaking Petromax lamp.

p.s The book is currently under reprint and will update as soon as they are off the press !!