Head to Head clash – Pallava Stone vs Chola Bronze

Many a times, the question is asked to me. As a self styled art appreciator who would i rank as the best – Pallava or Chola. My answer had always been Pallava Stone and Chola Bronzes. If we drill down further, Pallava stone sculptures of the Dharamaraja Ratha and Chola Bronzes towards the closing years of Sri Raja Raja Chola are maybe the finest examples of art that I have seen.

The upper tiers of the Dharamaraja Ratha in Mallai, hold in their midst some of the finest specimens of artistic expression, for not being confined to any cannons the unrestrained imagination of the Pallava sculptor ran riot, faultless and matchless in their execution, working within the cramped confines of its upper tiers, the whole structure being a monolith carved out of mother rock top down, with zero scope for error, what these immortal artists did to the hard granite is the very pinnacle of artistic brilliance. Their ability to conjure up a myriad combination of poses with simplistic grace, perfection in form, clarity in depiction and the stunning ability to bring out the underlying expression of flesh and blood into stone is remarkable.

Today, we take one of these jewels of Pallava craftsmanship to stand in competition. The Shiva as Rishabavahana. ( thanks to Ashok generously allowing use of his expert photography and editing skills) for the first time we can see the full form in all its splendor. The task is not easy as the space available in this is very less and you cannot step back to take the full view. Now, taking a photograph itself being so difficult, consider the difficulty quotient for the original sculptor who had to sculpt this beauty within the confined space.

Whats unique about this sculpture is of course his unique head dress – a head band and a turban like way in which his matted hair is tied up. We do not see this depiction anywhere else among other later Pallava creations and even any other contemporary example in Mallai. ( for eg take the Arjuna Ratha (
Breathing life into stone).

What is the main aspect of this sculpture is a flowing sinuous grace, the flesh and blood feel of the limbs and torso. The Tribanga coming to the forefront with the exaggerated swing of the waist and the tilt of the head ! all this in a relief panel mind you and that too in the upper tower of a monolithic stone ratha.

The classy ease with which shiva rests his hand on the bull and the stylish crossing of the legs…

To stand up against this, is by itself a herculean task, so we take the very best of Chola Bronzes, and as luck could have it, we were blessed to have a vip access view of this bronze ( currently in the Tanjore art gallery) at the Coimbatore Chemmozhi Maanadu as a sneak preview, a day before the official opening of the exhibition. Chola bronzes are cast by the lost wax process ( hence each bronze is unique, the mold cannot be reused as its broken to reveal the icon) and the very best examples are said to be so perfectly worked at the wax model stage by the craftsmen – that it was said that the real test was to be able to avoid using a chisel after casting. Though we have seen bronzes right from the Pallava times in South India, the craft of bronze casting reached its pinnacle during 1000 and 1014, the period of Sri Raja Raja Chola – as evidenced by the splendid foursome – the Kalayanasundara Panel which we saw earlier (I take your hand for eternity), the Rishabantaka which we are going to see now, the Bikshadana and the Veenadhara , both which we will see subsequently.

Fixing dates of bronzes is a tough and often confusing task, but this is no ordinary bronze, part of a hoard of bronzes found in tiruvengadu in the 1950, currently in the Tanjore Art gallery, it originally belonged to the Svetanarayaneshwara temple in Tiruvengadu. An inscription in the outer wall of the temple inscribed in the 26th year of reign of Sri Raja Raja ( 1011 CE) , one Kolakkavan ( AR 456 of 1918 – Ref to inscription mentioned in South Indian Shrines – Illustrated By P. V. Jagadisa Ayyar ) presented money and jewels to the image of Shiva Vrsabhavahana. ( interestingly a year later his consort was installed !)

The stylish grace of the bronze and its remarkable resemblance to the Pallava stone sculpture is astounding. Let me try and show you. click on below image and wait for the animation to load.

Compare the stylistic features. The Bull for the bronze has not been found yet. But taking off the two additional hands from the stone model, the chola artist, has slightly lengthened the position of the hands, dropping them further down and corrected the tirbanga ( lessened the S bend) including the tilt of the head.

Now, i know this is not fair competition, for 300 odd years before the Chola craftsmen made his mold in clay, the Pallava sculptor had envisioned the form and sculpted it in hard granite with zero scope for error, but then the Chola craftsmen has done his work exceedingly well as well. For to pull a relief panel and extend it to form a complete Idol is no simple task. Take a look at the styling aspects of the bronze. ( We were fortunate to capture the foremost authority on Bronzes in one of the following photos!!)

I know that some of you might ask as to how we can take it that the chola artist was influenced by the art in mallai. Well, we go back to inscriptional evidence. The earliest inscriptions of Sri Raja Raja Chola in Mallai are found in the nearby Shore temple and …..




This inscription is dated in the twenty-fifth year of Ko-Rajaraja-Rajakesarivarman, alias Rajara-deva….that would be 1010 CE. Exactly a year before this bronze was consecrated.

Portrait bronzes of Chola Kings – A study from Past references

The Tanjore Big temple is very much in the news these days. On the occasion of its 1000th year, there is a call for the return of this bronze sculpture which is currently residing at the Sarabhai Museum. We take this occasion to explore this in more detail and the trail leads us on an eye opening journey of portrait bronze sculpture.

Statutory Warning: Long but addictive post!!

( Photo Courtesy: Sri Kudavoil Balasubramaniam book Rajarajeeshwaram – Back cover.)

Is this Raja Raja Chola. For a better understanding of the subject, readers have to be transported in time to 1014 CE, to the environs of the big temple – to its west enclosure.


No. 38. On the first niche of the west enclosure, third inscription

This inscription describes seven images, which had been set up before the 29th year [of the reign of Rajarajadeva] by the same manager of the Rajarajesvara temple, who is mentioned in the inscription No. 26, and a number of ornaments, which had been given to these images by the same person (paragraphs 23 to 50) and by the inhabitants of two towns (paragraphs 51 and 59). The images represented Nambi-Aruranar (paragraphs 2, 23, 55, 59), Nangai-Paravaiyar (5, 25, 57, 66), Tirunavukkaraiyar (8, 29, 53), Tirunanasambandadigal (11, 36, 51), Periya-Perumal (14, 44), his consort Lokamahadevi (17, 47), and the god Chandrasekhara[7] (20). Of these, Periya-Perumal, ‘the great king,’ and his consort Lokamahadevi are perhaps identical with king Rajarajadeva and his queen Lokamahadevi, both of whom may have been represented as worshipping the god Chandrasekhara, i.e., Siva, in whose honour the king had built the temple.


1. Hail! Prosperity! The following copper images,[23] which had been set up in the temple of the lord Sri-Rajarajesvara until the twenty-ninth year (of the king’s reign) by Adittan Suryan, alias Tennavan Muvenda-Velan, a headman (of) Poygai-nadu, who carried on the management of the temple of the lord Sri-Rajarajesvara, — were engraved on stone, after they had been measured by the cubit measure (preserved) in the temple of the lord, after the jewels (given to them) had been weighed without the threads by the stone called (after) Dakshina-Meru-Vitankan, and after the gold had been weighed by the stone called (after) Adavallan: –


14. One solid image of Periya-Perumal, having two sacred arms (and measuring) one mulam, four viral and a half in height from the feet to the hair.
15. One lotus on which this (image) stood, (measuring) five viral and two torai in height.
16. One pedestal, joined to this (lotus and measuring) eleven viral square, and five viral and six torai in height.
17. One solid image of his consort Ologamadeviyar, having two sacred arms (and measuring) twenty-two viral and two torai in height.
18. One lotus on which this (image) stood, (measuring) five viral in height.
19. One pedestal, joined to this (lotus and measuring) eleven viral square, and five viral and two torai in height.
20. One solid brass image of Chandrasekharadeva, set up as Devaradevar[24] of Periya-Perumal, having four divine arms (and measuring) five viral and two torai in height from the feet to the hair.
21. One brass pedestal, (measuring) two viral and four torai square, and one viral in height, and (bearing) a lotus, which was joined to this (image and measured) one viral and a half in height.
22. One solid aureola of copper, covering this (image and measuring) twenty-one viral in circumference.

Now the operative line ofcourse is the measurement above : one mulam, four viral and a half in height. Lets take Mulam as approx 15 inches and 41/2 virals to mean half of a mulam – so totals up to 22.5 inches or 57 centimeters. But here comes the complications, the basic scale differs from location to location, from temple to temple – we had learn’t earlier from a session with a master sculptor that it would depend on the grain of rice grown in that area, there are other versions that it depends on the ruler , his birth start etc etc. This basic scale is what drives every aspect of the temple – from the Main deity, to the ancillary shrines. – like the DNA of the site, genetically linking every strand of its architecture and iconography. Experts need to work to find out what the basic Tanjore big temple scale and muzham works out to.

Thanks to a wonderful book we picked up from the Egmore Museum,Bronzes of South India – P.R. Srinivasan (F.E. 1963, L.R. 1994) for just Rs. 386, we embark on our journey to study portrait bronzes of Chola kings.

Its much bigger than what it looks on the photograph and for its price is a steal.

The darker color papers are the description of the bronzes and the whiter ones are the plates – just loved every page. Ok, back to the bronze under question – yes, it is featured in the collection.

Lets see what is the description of this bronze from the work.

The bronze representing a Chola King, height 74 cm – stands on a padmasana in the sama – bhanga posture with hands kept in the anjali pose. The makuta and the loin cloth with its simha mukha clasp are ornate. In fact everyone of the details of this figure is chiseled extremely well eg, the necklets and Keyuras. The face is rather square. its features are clear – cut. The expression suggests self absorption and tranquility. There are only two necklets, the usual ring like necklet seen outermost in the bronzes of this period is absent. The channavira is, however, slender and is treated in the manner in which such details are dealt with by the sthapatis of this period.

The torso is not particularly well modeled. The modeling of the arms is suggestive of strength, although the proportions of the shoulders do not seem to fit properly with those of the chest. The other noteworthy points are the projecting nipples and the elbow ornaments. The latter are beaded and they show the projecting pieces conspicuously. For quite a considerable time now bronzes with this feature were not met with. In fact this seems to us to one of the latest bronzes to show this feature, bronzes of the subsequent periods, showing this detail so prominently being almost nil. Interestingly the shoulder ornament is seen on the side only. A flower like design is shown between the hands which are treated with great skill.

The Ornateness of the loin-cloth is apparent which is brought out clearly by the treatment of the simha-mukha and the festoons and tassels hanging from it. The border of the cloth is noteworthy. The ends of the cloth may be seen to be dealt with rather in a ` modern’ way. The defective modeling of the leg is quite obvious not only from the prominent knees but also from the natural contraction of the lines at that place. A very important detail of this bronze is its anklet seen on the left leg only, beside the padasara. This type of anklet characterises the sculptures of the western and eastern gopuras of the temple at chidambaram. A different type of anklet was seen in the two beautiful bronzes from Sundarapperumal kovil which was similar to the anklet seen in some of the sculptures from the temple at Gangai Konda Cholapuram. But from now onwards this additional anklet becomes more or less a constant feature of bronzes. In several bronzes of subsequent periods, this is seen on both ankles. But later day bronzes without this characteristic are not uncommon.

The Padmasana is simple but delicately worked; its petals are braod and the marginal lines are rather faint. Tips of petals are not emphasized. As a whole its form and details have been beautifully conceived and tastefully executed. On these grounds this may also be assigned to the second quarter of the 12th Century AD, but not to the 13th Century (JISOA Vol VI P22) nor to the 12 -13 th Century ( The Art of India and Pakisthan,p 74)

The stylistic concepts and dating of bronzes vary from one scholar to another, but, the pertinent questions to be asked are – Muzham and viral from the inscription – how much do they translate to in cms and since it clearly talks of the lotus and pedestal separately its clear that it defines the head to toe measurement of Idol. Now, the 74 cms mentioned in the work – is it head to toe or incl the pedestal. Best way would be for someone to visit the Sarabhai Museum to procure its dimensions.

Ideally, we should have ended an already long post with the above, but thanks to a chance interaction with Ms. Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink, who is managing the works of Late Sri Raja Deekshithar, on the previous post on the sculpture from Tiruvisalur, yielded another hidden gem.
An article by Sri.T. G. Aravamuthan, in 1930 titled South Indian Portraits

South Indian Portraits

We came across a very interesting bronze in that article and surprise of surprises, it was ( AT THAT TIME) in the Tanjore temple itself. One glance and you can be sure that we are talking of an entire new image and surprisingly have not chanced on this particular bronze in any museum or article post this. The image is not too clear to check on the anklet, but it does appear that he is wearing on anklet on both legs. Users may help to identify / check where this bronze is ?? ( there is another Bronze in the Tanjore Art Gallery which we will see after this)

In the last days of Rajaraja I (985-1013 A. D.), the great Chola king who built the famous Brihad-Isvara temple at Tanjore, 37 the manager of the temple seems to have set up a solid image of Rajaraja along with a similar one of his queen, Loka-maha-devi, in the temple to the building of which that king devoted the treasures he acquired in his numerous conquests. An inscription in the temple does not seem to be susceptible of any other interpretation. The measurements of the two images and the pedestals are given in the inscription: the image of the king was ‘one mulam, four viral and a half in height from the feet to the hair,’ and that of the queen was ‘twenty-two viral and two torai in height.’ Among the “jewels with which the statues were decked were ‘sacred arm-rings’ and ‘sacred ear-rings.’ It is also worth noting that a lamp was kept burning in the presence of the king’s statue, just as if it were an image of the deity. No image now in that temple is identifiable with that of the queen Loka-maha-devi: her statue seems to have disappeared. A king’s statue is found among the images now in the temple, but it is exceedingly doubtful if it is the statue to which the above-mentioned inscription relates. All that we know of this statue has been summarised thus: ‘In the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjore is a metallic image with the label, Rajarajendra-chola-raja of the big temple, engraved on the pedestal in the modern Tamil alphabet. The king is represented as standing with both his palms joined together in a worshipping pose. As a work of art, it is only a second-rate specimen, not to be compared favourably with the image of Krishna-raya at Tirumalai. It is said that this image receives all the honours in the temple and when the god is taken out in procession, this royal image escorts the deity. The name as given on the image evidently refers to the Chola king Rajaraja I, for it was he who was intimately connected with the construction and the upkeep of this temple. It should be a later work done to perpetuate the memory of the founder of the great temple. The tradition locally current about this image also corroborates this view. One look at this bronze is enough to show that compared with the many icons in the same temple which were set up in the days of Rajaraja I it is of far inferior quality, especially in regard to the moulding of the figure. The fine idealism and the vigorous freedom of those icons do not animate this figure” which is very wooden and unspeakably rigid. Further, the height of the statue of Rajaraja I which was set up in his times is known to us from the inscription in the temple; this height does not tally with the height of the image which now passes for Rajaraja’s. The characters on the pedestal are attributable to the, seventeenth century: at any rate, they do not belong to Rajaraja’s times. From all that we know of Rajaraja we cannot but hold it extremely probable that the manager of the temple acted on Rajaraja’s wishes in setting up the two; statues and providing that the king’s image should accompany the utsava-vigraha of the god in the processions of the great festivals. Perhaps we have to suppose that the, original statues were lost and that the present statue was substituted much later when the metal worker’s art had degenerated greatly in this part of the country. Had the original bronzes survived they would have been of unique artistic value, for they are not merely the very earliest portrait statues of metal the date of which is indisputable,—though we have many specimens of icons of metal of much earlier date,—but they are also specimens of a period to which some of the very best south Indian bronzes belong.


While searching for this bronze, chanced on Satheesh’s set from the Tanjore Art gallery exhibits and hit on this Bronze.

its definitely a king for he is wearing the trademark Veerakkazhal.

Though the body and torso are of decent workmanship, the facial features are a big let down. The modeling of the head dress is also indicative of a slightly later date for this bronze. Not sure if this exhibit is labeled / dated in the gallery. Tanjore readers may assist to find out. SO WHO IS THIS ROYAL PERSONALITY?

Serious readers would have notices that the clasped praying hands is a common feature among all the bronzes we have seen so far, but the first one had a variation – it held a flower in its hand. what is this depiction. We go back to Sri. P.R Srinivasan’s book to look at a few similar depictions in bronzes.

This style is commonly seen in the Chandikeshwara bronzes of the late 12th C. For eg, look at this fantastic specimen from Eton College. ( location as mentioned in the book)

Similarly this Chandikeswara from Polonnaruwa Srilanka, also dated to the second half of the 12th Century. Another masterpiece.

Though the posture is similar including the clasped hands and the flower held in it, notice that the anklet is missing .

And now, we come to another interesting exhibit in the same book. Another bronze king, this time from Kandarakottai, Cuddalore Taluk, South Arcot district.

This is dated to the third quarter of the 11th Century. The Kirita is strikingly similar to that of Rama from Valarpuram, its necklaces and armlets are similar to those of the bronzes of this school dealt earlier. The loin cloth shows closely ” wrinkled folds’ and its edges are prominent. The Uttariya is tied with a graceful knot in front and a pair of pendent ends are seen on either side. The other interesting detail is that rosaries of beads held between the hand in anjali pose, the like of which has not been met with in earlier bronzes. That the bronze is of the school is borne out by the angular treatment of the elbows and by the presence of a thick anklet on the left leg. This latter ornament, as has been seen above, has become a distinguishing feature of a majority of images since Rajendra I’s time. Its erect posture is in the style of Vishnu bronzes; and the workmanship of the legs, which taper beautifully and are proportionate, adds charm to the posture.

The Padmasana of this bronze is of the usual type and the marginal lines of the the petals are distinctly sen although their tips are not prominent. The asana is seen on a simple square bhadrasana which has on either side a pair of rings.

From the above description it will be seen that this is a good specimen of the art of bronzes of this school. As regards its identification Mr. T.G. Aravamuthan has said that it represented a local chief, but the authors of the Catalogue have said that ” it is presumably the Chola King Madurantaka, who is said by local tradition to have built the temple where it was found”. They, however, opined that they had not been able to identify the king. But now the situation is slightly better. It is known that the title of Madurantaka was brone by a number of Chola kings and princes, namely, Parantaka I, Sundara Chola, Rajendra I and Madurantaka, son of Virarajendra. Of these, on grounds of style, this bronze cannot be said to belong to either of the former two kings. On the other hand, the style of the bronze, being characteristic of bronzes of the school of Rajendra I, and that the temple where it was found is said to have been built by a Madhurantaka who may either be Rajendra I was a great builder of temples and it was during his period, as during his father’s , portraits in metal, of royal persons came to be made frequently and places in temples as testified to by the bronze figures discussed above. But this figure being in a slightly more evolved style, it may be a representation of Rajendra I made during his successor’s time. Accordingly to us the school of Rajendra I extends upto about 1075 AD. It may therefore be said that this bronze may have done during the time, by the ruler of Tondaimandalam about 1065 AD by Virarajendra, the temple may have been built by him to which he presented the bronze in question.A solution to this question will require further on the spot examination of the temple and of the other bronzes returned to the villages.

There is no indication of the current location of this bronze !

its been a long post and have been curbing the voices to break it into parts, but the piece de resistance is yet to come and we get to see one more illustrious Chola King – probably Kulottunga III. Again ref and photos from the same book.

The bronze representing a King, over a foot high, probably Kulottunga III, formerly in the Siva temple at Kalahasti but now in a private collection may be examined now ( WHERE ? WITH WHOM?). Extremely fortunate it bears on its pedestal an inscription which according to Mr. G. Venkoba Rao, the epigraphist is in characters of about the 13th Century AD, a proposition accepted by Mr. T.G. Aravamuthan. The inscription is in two parts. ” The first part ………….is a label ‘ Kulottunga Sola devar’ and the second part is a record of the dedication of the image to that temple by one Udaiya Nambi.” So the difficulty in dating this piece has been very much reduced by this inscription. The style of the bronze, appropriately enough, is characteristic of the period to which the inscription is assigned on the basis of its paleography

Prof. Sastri says the following about this : ” ……the figure wears many ornaments and the face is expressive of youthful energy and eagerness. The image is important as perhaps the only authentic contemporary portrait of a Chola Monarch so far known”
.But regarding his dating of the bronze expressed in the sentence “…..the image may have been made about the time of his accession.”…..its date is most probably somewhere around 1180,” it may be said that it is somewhat early.

The noteworthy details of this pretty little piece, are the curly hair in front, depicted in a manner very similar to that which is meet with in the bronzes of Jnanasambanda, the thick cluster of necklaces, the prominent beaded strings on the shoulder, the stylised and not clearly worked keyuras and elbow ornament, the ornate shorts and waist bands and the anklets of three rings on the ankles.

The asanas too are beautiful, the petals of the padmasana are in the traditional style. The bhanga of the figure is beautiful and the excellence of tis conception is exemplified by the realistic rendering of the facial features and the smiling countenance. This may be attributed to the middle of the fist quarter of the 13th Century AD.

Lots of information is available and these are not recent findings. There is much to learn from the work of these scholars and build on. Hope you all found this long post educative and enlightening, for it was definitely so for me . Hoping someday some of these bronzes will surface again somewhere?

There is only one Raja – and that’s Raja Raja, but is this he?

There are few persona who can create such an sense of awe among history lovers, and in that select brand there are fewer still who inspire a sense of belonging amongst his followers a thousand year hence. The supreme among this select band is our very own Raja Raja Cholar – A King, who continues to live on in his mighty creations and in the hearts of his followers. Its a dream for us, to be able to envision him in flesh and blood, even though Kalki, in his immortal work Ponniyin Selvan strung together such a beautiful garland of words to go with Artist Maniam’s sketches, the quest to find an accurate and authentic version of his portrait or sculpture lingers on. There have been many claimants, for the Karuvur Thevar and Raja Raja Cholar painting in the big temple fresco, to the current hot topic of the Bronze in the Sarabai Museum. While in the pursuit of such, i chanced on an interesting research paper: The Problem of Portraiture in South India, Circa 970-1000 A.D.,Author(s): Padma Kaimal

There was a small reference to an inscribed miniature sculpture but the title got me all excited – for it reads.( well this is not the actual inscription in the temple but a simple Meikeerthi of him)

Inscribed portraits of Rajaraja Chola and his chief queen Lokamahadevi. South wall of the mahamandapa, Sivayoganatha temple, Tiruvisalur.

This led to a frantic search for a good photograph of the said sculpture and a further search for the connected inscription.

On the Sivayoganatha temple at Tiruvisalur, an inscription below two relief figures identifies them as representations of Rajaraja and his queen Lokamahadevi, and notes that the king and queen performed rituals at this temple, and that the queen endowed it with 458 kasu of gold.”

Thanks to our contributor Sri Lakshmi Narayanan of Kumbakonam, ( he has an excellent collection of dilapidated temples desperately needing attention at http://picasaweb.google.com/slnvasu) , who immediately undertook the trip and got us the sculpture photograph.

I know you are already jumping, but first a word of caution.Tiruvisalur has an ancient temple which goes back to the days of Aditya I. The reference to inscribed portraits is unclear, the inscription, albeit a very interesting one, talks of a very interesting ritual – the Hiranyagarba ceremony – where one passes through the womb of a golden cow, to stop the process of rebirth and be one with God from this birth, was performed by Raja Raja here at Tiruvisalur. ( thanks to note from Arvind – a copy of this inscription is also found in the temple in Thiruvaalanchuli ). Its also important to note here that this is in his last year of reign -ie 29th Year of reign ( 1014 CE).

Lets take a look at the actual inscription.


No.42 (Page No 20)

(A. R. No. 42 of. 1907)

Tiruvisalur, Kumbhakonam Taluk, Tanjavur District

Sivayoganatha temple— on the same wall

Rajaraja I : year 29 : 1013-14 A.D.

A slight deviation is found in the historical introduction in that it adds the “Twelve Thousand Islands” to the usual list of the king’s conquests. The reference is evidently to the Maldives which are said to have been known by that name in ancient tradition, and which the king should have conquered late in his reign. (Prof. K.A.N. Sastri’s The Colas’. Vol. I, p.220).

The inscription registers an agreement given by the mahasabha of vemgarrur alias Solamattanda-chaturvedimangalam a Brahmadeya in Manni-nadu, to the temple of Tiruvisalur-Mahadeva. A sum of 458 kasu was endowment to the temple and deposited with the assembly by queen Dantisaktivitankiyar alias lokamahadeviyar on the occasion of the performance of tulabhara by the king and of hiranyagarbha by herself in the temple. As interest on this amount they undertook to measure out annually 229 kalam of paddy at the rate of 1 tuni and 1 padakku on every kasu per year, and with this paddy the ur-variyam and kudumbu committees of the year were to meet the daily requirements of akkaradalai offering to the god, of which the details are given as follows:

Items required Equivalent in paddy

Rice – 2 nali … … One kurini and 2 nali

Tupparuppu(dol)—1 nali … …. 5 nali

Cow’s milk – 4 nali …. ….. ….. 1 padakku

Ghee –1 ulakku … …. ….. 1 kuruni

Sugar – 12 ½ palam … …. …. 1 kuruni and 2 nali

Plantain fruits –20 (?) …. …. ….. 6 nali

Arecanut … 10}

Betel leaves … 40} …. ….. …. 2 nali and 1 nali

Earthen pot …. …., …. 1 nali, 1 uri and 2 ¾ sevidu

Firewood …. …. ….. 1 nali
Remuneration to person preparing the offering … 1 nali

Now for the sculpture

Let us study the characters in more detail

The temple per say doesn’t have many sculptures or panels. This is maybe one of the three that are there apart from the main deities. So we can take it that they are no ordinary souls – usually a portrait sculpture is reserved for someone who has done major donation for the temple. So its evidently a royal couple of some importance. The man is definitely not young, but the lady appears a bit younger but no way a teenager, but is depicted with a radiant face, standing there ( most royal portraits show other Kings in a seated position), both are shown praying in total devotion. The man is depicted slightly short stature by normal iconographic measures, slightly rounder. He wears his hair with a top knot but not head gear, his ears are long and again with no ornaments. He wears a Kilt like dress. Is he a King – we cannot spot any special ornaments like the Veerakkazhal ( anklet on either feet – the royal anklet). The Lady does wear a necklace, some light jewelery on her head and elaborate clothing, but is also matching her Lord in her humble prayers. Why show an important donor, who wears no ornamentation, while his wife is wearing. The point to note here is in his closing years Raja Raja took the name Siva Padha Sekhara ( shining at the resplendent feet of shiva) and hence is considered to have lived almost a saintly life. So is the man the Great King in his final years as Siva Padha Sekhara ?

The object of worship however is very simple.

A simple Shiva Linga, which is adorned with a garland of flowers, a conch is also placed before the Linga in front of the worshipers to maybe indicate that they have just performed an abhisekam using the conch and are standing.

So, if we are to tag this Portrait sculpture to the cited inscription, and the circumstantial iconographical evidences, it does show a strong cause to believe that this is indeed He and his Pattamahishi.

A note for history lovers and lovers of historic fiction – Rajendra’s mother was different from this queen. She was Vanavanmadevi ( or Vanathi for ponniyin selvan enthusiasts ) as we have inscriptions which state ” vanavanmadevi tiruvayir uditha rajendra” – meaning rajendra born from vanavanmadevi. The Queen who took the throne along with Raja Raja was Danti Sakthi Vitanki or Lokamadevi.

Now, i leave it for the experts to take this forward.

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.

Why loot a Door Guardian and bring it as a war trophy

War Trophies are always controversial. There have been many such famous trophies – the Vatapi Ganapathy by Narasimha Pallavas commander Paranjothi, The Srivijayan Victory arch brought back by Rajendra chola – Today we are going to see another such. The famed Chalukya door guardian of Darasuram currently housed in the Tanjore Art Gallery. ( images courtesy Satheesh and Sriram)

Its indeed a very beautiful work of art, but why would a Chola King want to bring back a Door guardian as a war trophy ? Well one this is for sure, it was a war trophy for he himself inscribed it in its pedestal

The Tamil inscription at the base of this sculpture, seized by the imperial Cholas in 1045 from their Chalukya enemies, reads: “This is the door guardian brought by Lord Vijayarajendradeva after burning (the Chalukya capital) Kalyanapuram.” Institut Francaise d’Indologie, Pondicherry. Courtesy of Richard H. Davis.

its features are characteristically chalukyan

But there are some intriguing depictions near its base.

The first is a monitor lizard, but what is a mouse doing underneath the uplifted feet of the door guardian. What is it that is next ( to the left of the mouse as you view the image) – like a tail ??. and what is the animal to the extreme left.

Thanks to http://picasaweb.google.com/gildubs/IndeDuSud2008# for the closeups

Well, its a cat toying with a rat !! and what is the other??

Well well well, its a snake eating a mouse. This does remind us of something which we have seen earlier connected to the big temple

Big temple intro post

Lets refresh our memories

Zoom in

Now, we have Raja Raja Chola’s masterful edifice in stone portraying a prancing lion, a snake swallowing an elephant ( see the earlier post and the interesting hypothesis to visualise the Vimana as Mount Kailash itself) and a crocodile / large lizard.

Against this, the chaluykan version has a cat playing with a mouse, and a snake swallowing a mouse plus a mouse underneath the door guardian’s feet. Was this an attempt at ridiculing Chola’ sculpture and as an act of retaliation, was this brought back as a war trophy !!

Paradise regained – Tanjore Big temple Moat figurines

Who e’re while the happy Garden sung,
By one mans disobedience lost, now sing
Recover’d Paradise to all mankind,….

goes John Milton in the opening lines of Paradise regained. This is how i feel now. After the previous post, which was in the lines of Paradise Lost, harboring absolutely no hope of even spotting this moat sculptures which we saw in the antique snaps.

But Sri Selvaraj our reader, immediately recognised the figurines – he was absolutely certain that he had seen them 40 years back and promised to trace them out, despite the heavy encroachments surrounding it now. But inorder to build the tension the recent unabated rains did’nt allow immediate access.

However,today, as promised he produced possibly one of the most rewarding mails to me. The photos of the sculptures and that they are still safe in the walls exactly as captured in the century old pictures. Here they are.

Feel so happy, truly paradise regained !!

The moat around the Tanjore Big temple

The recent headlines for renovation of the moat around the Big temple in tanjore,
ASI submits Rs.1-crore proposal to renovate moat around Big Temple , took me back some years ago – when i had chanced on a very interesting antique photograph from the archives of the British Library.

The archives are a real treasure trove for enthusiasts. Since we are talking of the Moat around the temple complex, take a look at these rare captures in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s ( photo courtesy – British Library Archives). Shows the moat still filled with water but the whole structure is in a bit of a mess.

But are we just going to see some antique photos today. No, of course there has to be some twist. the twist is this capture.

Dated to the year 1921, to be precise this is the description of the plate

Sawyer, Wilbur A. [Wall, moat, and outer gate tower of the Hindu temple at Thanjavur]. Photographic Print. 1 Image. [2 April 1921].

Look carefully, do you notice something.

There is a very very unusual object on the wall.

What is it, and where is it now !

Thanks to Rhoda for spotting one more ( adding now)

Tanjore Big Temple – Vyaala row

In the previous post, we had seen the top row …many friends, even regular visitors to the Tanjore temple confessed that they have missed that row. So we rub it in a bit more, by featuring the bottom row as well. ( Thanks again to Satheesh for his excellent observation, use of props!! and photography)

Lets see if you can spot them first.

Hmm, let me make this easier for you all

next set

next set

next set

So, lets take a closer look at these beautiful Vyalaas, aren’t they Gorgeous.

The corners of these already miniature Vyalaas are even more spectacular. They have their own emerging rider similar to their bigger cousins on the top row. For good measure they have thrown an even smaller sculpture on top!

The ball pen cover provides us with an idea of scale.

To top all this, we also see a splendid miniature of Shiva as Gajasamharamurhty – Yaaniuri porthiya murthy.

So next time you visit the big temple, don’t just stop in amazement at its massiveness, take time to appreciate the smaller and subtle beauties as well.

The Yaazhi riders of Tanjore

After a series of serious posts, felt we need something light to relax. Plus Prasad said the last post had only few photos and satheesh said i wasn’t publishing enough of his photo contributions. ( same apology to chandra as well). Been quite occupied with work n travel, plus sometimes the story need to fit – dont want to just exhibit some photos – you can go to flickr / picasa for that. So this post is a conscious effort to redress the above, but combining with my favorites…tajore, yaazhi, sculpture.

Yaazhi’s are most probably the least viewed and discussed sculptures. Despite this they find prominent position in almost all major temples. In fact in tanjore there are two rows of Yaali’s which run almost right around the vimana base.

These kind of artistically border the great edicts ( inscriptions ) of my beloved Raja Raja Chola. Being there, standing amidst the massive edifice often leaves me under a spell,the air brings in many familiar scents, to be able to see the words, to be able to read them ( standing for a 1000 years) – its doesnt inspire a sense of awe, but more a feeling of returning to ones home, as though i once belonged there!

Back to the post, we are going to see the top row of impressive Yaazhi riders in this post. there is another row down below, which we will see later ( one thousand thanks to Satheesh for patiently taking these and sending over to me)

At first glance they do look similar, the symmetry is mesmerizing. What you must also notice is that these are action frames, the riders, the prancing yaazhis, the fighters emerging from the mouths are all full of live, frozen in time.

But are they symmetrical, r they just repetitive depictions of the same.

To give you an idea of the size of these beauties, as usual we place a common object..a mineral water bottle

The riders on their part come in a myriad of forms and poses.

The corners of this row of yaazhi riders are interesting as well. An unique mythological animal – a yaazhi as well is shown framing two fighters inside its open mouth – sometimes two yaazhi riders emerge as well. This concept is also seen in various early chola temples ( Chandra and Satheesh – will showcase them as well shortly)

What beautiful miniatures, next time please do not miss them.

Nandhi on Tanjore Temple Vimanam – a debate on its size

There are many myths surrounding the Big temple – from the claim that its shadow never falls on the ground ( it does!!), to that its top is made of single block of stone weighing XX tonnes ( its multiple blocks), that its builder Raja Raja built it to get cured of black leprosy etc.

In my intro post on the tanjore big temple, i had mentioned about this particular picture in this lovely site ( but my views slightly differ from what is shown in this picture alone)

I take the above for a critical analysis, with some help from friends – Sri Kudavoil Balsubramaniam sir, gracefully allowed me to share these pictures ( for those of you who have not met him in person, here is a chance to see him) and also Mr. Shriram – shared his excellent closeup of the replaced nandhi and the Vimanam Nandhi’s

Lets first look at the claim on the size of the vimaanam nandhi in the site above. The Nandhi thats on the side corridor is actually the original nandhi installed by Raja Raja. This was later replaced during Nayak times with the now signature black one. ( why was it replaced ! maybe it suffered some damage during Malik Kafur’s infamous raids) – but why is it still retained – need to check. The person next to it is the great man himself – Balu sir. Am putting it not only this, but for you to judge the size of the Nandhi.

Now lets, look at the Vimanam. One is the closeup from Shriram and another is a long shot and a very important one for this post – from Balu sir – taken during the consecration ceremony. It clearly shows us the comparison against the person on the scaffolding.

Lets just zoom in on the pictures and analyse them to scale with the person standing below on the scaffolding as a guide.

Its clear that the Nandhi on the corridor is atleast a foot taller and different stylistically to the one on the vimana. However, it doesnt take any credit away from the size of Raja Raja pinnacle – giving you an idea of its massive dimensions. Just take a minute to sequentially view these amazing captures of the Maha Meru.