In our earlier posts, we saw the famous penance panel of Mahabalipuram and how the Pallava Sculptor masterfully handled it. Now we run ahead 300 years to come to the Big temple in Tanjore.
The pinnacle of Chola art, the great contribution of Raja Raja Chola to south Indian temple architecture – everything about this temple is big, massive, yet today we are seeing a very small wall panel sculpture.
There are a lot of interesting books on the big temple ( every stone there is a subject for research), but to me this book was most useful in helping me identify a lot of these sculptures.
Iconography of the Brihadisvara temple by dr francoise lhernault.
This particular composition is called the Pasupatha astra dana murthi, its a very lively composition and exquisitely crafted. First, lets see the full panel in relief.
At first glance, seems to be a maze of characters. so lets focus on line by line – bottom up
The row starts with a host of Shiva bootha Ganas ( goblins! for want of a better word) slowly morphing into a wild boar – need to check back the actual story. ***
Arjuna is advised to beef up his nuclear stockpile and aims at getting the Pasuptha astra from Shiva -he dsoe severe penance. Pleased with his penance, shiva comes with his consort, but as is his wont, wants to sportingly jest with him – to see if he truly has the skill to wield the great weapon. So he comes disguised as a hunter and both seem to shoot down a boar ( was the boar sent by shiva – so could be logical that he sent his attendant himself ) at the same time. Soon an argument ensures as to who will take the prize and both of them engage on a one to one combat. It goes on for a long time, and Arjuna is visibly tired, yet the hunter shows no sign of tiring. This makes Arjuna realise that he is up against a divine force and he submits to his grace. Shiva reveals himself and grants him his weapon.
Now we step back to the panel and see how masterfully the sculptor has interwoven the principal characters….
ok the Gana morphing into a boar could be one of our assumptions.
then we see Arjuna up on one leg in penance – not as emaciated as the mallai version ( so maybe the mallai one is Bagiratha who is said to have been in penance for a much longer duration)
The next is the famous face off pose ( remember the one from Kanchi Kailasantha temple) –
you can see how the sculptor has sculpted parvati with a baby skanda clinging to her in such a miniature..amazing.
Next to them,looks like Brahma, Vishnu and Lakshmi watching the amazing duel. ( but it mallai panel we see Vishnu encased in a temple !!) and a host of other gods.
We now come to the third tier – the panel read right to left as we see it – all the gods seem to give a hats off salute to the Arjuna – who is in all revenue, head bowed, folded hands – while the majestic posture of Shiva
– oh, how can i describe it aptly in words – one arm non chalantly on his bent knee, while the other resting on his consort – Parvati too is amazingly graceful. While surprise surprise, a small bootha gana seems to be handing over the boon/weapon ( sadly no belly face for him – remember the belly tiger face of the gana in mallai – will post a seperate thread on him soon)
The last, looks like Shiva, Parvati ( with baby Skanda on her hip – what a lovely lively depiction) returning to their abode.
The fourth tier – also has a host of celestials in the act of saluting the great event.
The last characters – seem to be a ascetic giving a discourse to an ardent pupil – is this the great sage Vyasa dictating the Mahabharata? 1307
** I did some checking and found the actual story – credit to Mr. V. Subramaniam for giving me the correct references from a delightful song from Saint Sambandar’s Devaram ( Tirumurai 1.48.6)
The song indicates it was an asura ( demon) – Mukasura who was disturbing Arjuna’s penance.
More information on the legend
purANa of the deity
kirAtar : the hunter
This is the only form of Lord Shiva in which He appeared black in color. arjuna wanted to get the peerless weapon pAsupatAstram from Lord Shiva for the battle of mahAbharata. He left the other four pANdavAs, went to the forest and did austere tapas for getting the boon of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was satisfied with his prayer, wanted to give the pAsupatAstram to him, but wanted to play a bit too. He took the form of a Hunter with Shakthi as Huntress. That time a demon by name mUkAsura, who was in the form of wild pig came to kill arjuna. To kill the wild pig arjuna fired an arrow from the front, at the same time the Hunter, Who is none other than God Himself, attacked it from the back and killed the pig.
arjuna mocked at the Hunter for firing the arrow from the back. Having great pride of his valor, he was als angry at the Hunter because He aimed at his prey. The Hunter responded that attacking an animal from the back is not against rules of hunting. An argument broke out. They decided to fight deciding who was more valorous between them. The Hunter cut the string in arjuna’s bow with His arrow in the fight! Angered and excited, arjuna started wrestling. He couldn’t match the Lord, and the Lord enjoyed his fighting. At one point of time in wrestling arjuna held the foot of the Hunter. As the Lord is pleased when somebody catches His holy feet, He stopped wrestling appeared with pArvati revealing Who He is. Shocked arjuna pleaded for forgiveness, as he was trying to fight with the Supreme out of his ignorance. However the God, Who is pleased by devotion, blessed him and gave him the invincible pAsupatAstra. (In some books it is told that arjuna couldn’t fight with the Hunter, he started worshipping the Shiva Lingam. To his astonishment he found the flowers he offered to the Lingam on the head of the Hunter. Then he prostrated before the Hunter and the Lord revealed Himself). This can be found in detail in kirAtArjuniyam of bhAravi and mahA bhArata.