Two Interesting Guhan Panels

This post has taken almost six months to make. I first saw this panel is a presentation done by Sri Sivaramakrishnan in chennai last december, while he explained the nuances of this Ramayana Panel from Tirunageshwaran Temple in Kumbakonam. Heavy rain spoiled our plans to capture the panel in march, but guess the panel wanted it to be showcased – for thanks to help from friends and volunteers, i received superb photos from Sri K.S. Sankaranarayanan, Sri Hari Krishnan. Arvind and Ashok followed up with a specific visit as well – so we get to study this panel in depth.

Ofcourse, we had seen a similar panel but sadly plastered on one half – from Pullamangai ( thanks again to Arvind and Satheesh)

Before, we start studying the two panels, the compositions and key aspects, lets study this episode in more depth. Its a very small but interesting portrayal of Guha in Ramayana. For starters, the very mention of Guha brings up images of a humble boatman, who was immortalized by his love and devotion to Rama, but is he just a boat man. Lets see how Valmiki presents him.

sa tu raamasya vachanam nishamya pratigR^ihya cha |
sthapatistuurNamaahuya sachivaanidamabraviit || 2-52-5

Hearing the command of Rama, Guha quickly received it, invited his ministers and spoke to them as follows:

asya vaahanasamyuktaam karNagraahavatiim shubhaam |
suprataaraam dR^iDhaam tiirkhe shiigram naavamupaahara || 2-52-6

Let a beautiful boat that is solidly constructed, sails well and a helmsman in it, be brought to the bank to carry this hero across!

tam nishamya samaadesham guhaamaatyagaNo mahaan |
upohya ruchiraam naavam guhaaya pratyavedayat || 2-52-7

Hearing that command, the chief minister of King Guha brought a charming boat to the bank and reported the matter to Guha.

apramattaH bale koshe durge jana pade tathaa |
bhavethaa guha raajyam hi duraarakSatamam matam || 2-52-72

Oh, Guha! Remain vigilant in defense, finance, internal security and public relations, for a kingdom is the most difficult one to be protected!

tataH tam samanuj~naaya guham ikSvaaku nandanaH |
jagaama tuurNam avyagraH sabhaaryaH saha lakSmaNaH || 2-52-73

Then Rama, who was a delight to Ikshvaku dynasty, bade farewell to Guha and departed quickly, remaining undistracted, along with his consort and together with Lakshmana.

anuj~naaya sumantram ca sabalam caiva tam guham |
aasthaaya naavam raamaH tu codayaam aasa naavikaan || 2-52-80

Bidding farewell to Guha with his army of men and Sumantra, Rama sat on the boat and directed the boatmen to move on.

Ok, now switching back to Kamban’s tamil version, lets see his portrayal of the same scene.

Paal udai mozhiyaalum, pagalavan anaiyaanum,
seludai nedu heer sinthinar, vilayaada,
thooludai nimir kolin thuzhuvida, ezhu naavaai,
kaaludai nedujendin, sendrathu kadithu amaa!

She whose language is as milk, and he who is radiant like the sun,
played in the waters of the ganges rich in fish,
as he used the long pole to pilot the ship forward,
and it sped like a many legged crab…!

So, now comes the twist in the tale. The next few verses talk of Guha wanting to stay with Rama and Rama in his emotional outpour says the famous words – with you we become Five – meaning, he takes Guha as his own brother !! So, in kamban’s version Guha crosses the river with them. Another interesting thing to note, is the mention of the many legged crab – it could be that there were many who manned the oars of the boat as well, but the sculptor chose to ignore them to focus on just the key players.

So, in Kamban’s version Guha does row the boat and this is the scene that we are looking at in the sculpture – the key aspect being the pole used to propel the ship.

Interesting to view the posture of the man, and compare against contemporary versions – you see that he is really straining and almost bent in pushing against the pole to move the boat!!

Lets look at the other people on the boat – Rama, Sita and Lakshmana ( sadly plastered up in the Pullamangai panel)

Now, there is a subtle difference in the depiction of the passengers in the boat between the two panels. Lets see if you can spot it. Ok, Rama is turned towards Sita in the Nageshwaram panel, but thats not what we have to see.

Pullamangai – Notice how the passengers are standing inside the boat. The length of the torso is important to view.

Now, compare nageshwara depiction

Do you notice, how the torso is much shorter and if you need to extend, they would be below the waterline. Now, which is correct. I was searching for some photos of such boats when i chanced on this antique print of a fishing scene from Andaman islands

Do you notice, the person in the centre of the boat and his height as compared to the people who are handling the poles!!

Now, both these panels are prior to 950 AD. So do these point to an earlier date of Kamban than the current 12th C CE.

Ramayana before Kamban in TamilNadu

Did The Ramayana exist in Tamil land, much before the undisputed monarch of tamil poets – Kavichchakravarthy Kambar composed his Ramavatharam. Of course yes – for the sanskrit original of Valmiki must have been quite popular,but was there any references in Tamil and if so would there be any sculptures to support them ? We are going to analyse this a little further in today’s post.

Historians and linguists have been debating the time of the great poet Kamban, for all his 12000 verses, he overcame poetic tradition of those days, by failing to sing one on any major King or clan. He sings of a friend and patron – Sadaiyappa Vallal once every 1000 verses, but then there are no clear pointers to his period as well. So the date of Kambar varies from the 9th C CE to the 12th C CE, with more pointers to 12th C CE>

The work of Kambar, though, based on the original Sanskrit verson of Valmiki, its not a pure translation. The greatness in the man, not only showed in his masterly use of the power of the tamil language, he also used his poetic license to alter a few key scenes, maybe to suit the changed landscape – considering the time elapsed between the original Sanskrit version and also the regional variants and preferences. Today, we are going to see one such variant.

Thanks to Dhivakar sir, HariKrishnan sir, Shankar ( ps egroup), Anna Kannan and Geetha madam for their support / ideas / content. Thanks to Arvind for the photographs.

The Panel is from our favorite – Pullamanagai Brahmapureerswarar, the temple is dated stylistically to the early chola period and has inscriptions of Parantaka Chola I ( 907 to 953 CE).

Before, we go into the details of the panel, lets go to the story and the two versions. The story we are going to see today is that of Ahalya.

Ahalya – wiki

Crux of the plot :Brahma creates a beautiful woman. Indra lusts on her and wants to marry her, he doesn’t succeed and she ends up as the wife of a great sage – Gautama muni. But that doesn’t stop him from trying and finally, he tries deceit, by taking the form of her husband and tries to seduce her. The problem is, Ahalya did see through his disguise, but…

Let’s, see what the Sanskrit version of Valmiki got to say about this episode.

muni veSam sahasraakSam vij~naaya raghuna.ndana |
matim cakaara durmedhaa deva raaja kutuuhalaat

“Oh, Rama, the legatee of Raghu, though knowing him as the Thousand-eyed Indra in the guise of her husband Gautama, she is inclined to have intercourse ill-advisedly, only to satisfy the impassion of the King of Gods

Her thinking is: ‘This is none but Indra in the guise of my husband, for my husband never asks me like this nor he violates times… I heard that Indra is seeking me for a long time… and when King of Gods expresses such a desire, it cannot be refused… let him have it…

mama ruupam samaasthaaya kR^itavaan asi dur.hmate |
akartavyam idam yasmaat viphalaH tvam bhaviSyati ||

‘Oh, dirty-minded Indra, taking hold of my form you have effectuated this unacceptable deed, whereby you shall become infecund.’ Thus, Gautama cursed Indra

tathaa shaptvaa ca vai shakram bhaaryaam api ca shaptavaan |
iha varSa sahasraaNi bahuuni nivaSisyasi || 1-48-29
vaayu bhakSaa niraahaaraa tapyantii bhasma shaayinii |
adR^ishyaa sarva bhuutaanaam aashrame asmin vaSisyasi ||

On cursing Indra thus the sage cursed even his wife saying, ‘you shall tarry here for many thousands of years to come without food and consuming air alone, and unseen by all beings you shall live on in this hermitage while contritely recumbent in dust.

yadaa tu etat vanam ghoram raamo dasharatha aatmajaH |
aagamiSyati durdharSaH tadaa puutaa bhaviSyas

‘When that unassailable son of Dasharatha, namely Rama, arrives at this squalid forest, for it will be henceforth rendered so along with you, then you will be purified.

tasya aatithyena dur.hvR^itte lobha moha vivarjitaa |
mat sakaashe mudaa yuktaa svam vapuH dhaarayiSyasi

‘On your welcoming Rama, oh, ill-behaved woman, you will be divested of your greed and craze in which you lingered so far, and then you will assume your own body and then you can be in my proximity, rejoicingly.’ Thus, Sage Gautama cursed his wife Ahalya

The operative phrases which we need to see here is the actual curse : ‘unseen by all beings’ ,’contritely recumbent in dust’, you will assume your own body

No where is there any mention of her turning into stone !!

Now, lets see the tamil version of kamban, we have already seen the story enough,we go to the operative verses – the actual curse.

“vilai magal anaiya neeyum, kal iyal aathi” endraan. karungal aai, marunga veezhvaal.

Meaning, for your acts, you are condemned to become like a stone.

Great saints are blessed with infinite wisdom and love, and so he went on to tell her, when she will be relieved of her curse.

“pizhaithu porutthal endrum periyavar kadane, anbaal
azhaltharung kadavul annaai! mudivu itharkku aruluga!” enna
thazaithu vandu imirum thann thaath dasarathan enbaan,
kazal – thugal kathuva, intha kal uruvath tavirthi “

As Ahalya fell, she asks thus of her husband : its the duty of great souls, to forgive, you became like the lord who burnt with his third eye and by his smile ( reference to the tripurantaka panel !!), now do tell me how this curse will end. To which Gomathi rishi, says, you will stay thus till the one with the radiant garland comes, he Dasaratha Rama will resurrect you, when the dust of his blessed feet fall on you, your stone form will go, and you will become yourself again.

Was this Kamban’s extrapolation or was the legend prevalent much before? Thanks to Harikrishnan sir’s post ( please see the link below)

Rama – Sangam ref

We note a beautiful reference to the curse clearly mentioning that she was turned to stone from the Sangam work Paripadal. Regarding dates of the Sangam works see this link

Paripadal period

Verse 19 of paripAdal, by nappaNNanAr is on Lord Murugan and describes the pilgrimage of devotees from Madurai to that ancient shrine, Thirupparam-kundram. The poet goes on to describe the various activities of the devotees on the way to the temple. A few devotees get into an art gallery on the way and gather around different paintings displayed there and discuss spiritedly among themselves, about what is portrayed in the paintings. A particular painting has the image of a cat, a woman, a sage in rage and a rock. The devotees comment, ‘indhiran pUsai’ ;This cat is Indra. ‘ivaL agaligai,’ This is Ahalyä. ‘ivan sendra kavudhaman,’ This sage is Gautama, who was away (at that time). ‘sinan uRa, kal uru ondriya padi idhu,’ And this rock is (nothing but) Ahalyä transformed by the curse of the sage. This painting shows how she was transformed into a rock


Now, back to our sculptural panel. Its another miniature master piece for Pullamangai, you can clearly see the three main players in the panel. From left to right ( of the panel) – Lakshmana, Rama and Ahalya.


Now comes the clincher – in the panel is Rama’s right foot and we are going to see it in mighty closeup after we read this superb composition from Kamban.
mai vannathu arakki poril, mazhai vannathu annale! un
kai vannam anguk kanden, kaal vannam inguk kanden.”

oh, cloud colored one, i saw your hands work when you fought the black ( eye liner) colored demoness, but here i see you foot work !!

This is a clear pointer that Ahalya was resurrected when Rama’s toe hit the rock.

Lets get back to the panel.


The Pullamangai sculpture is part of the base stones of the Vimana and the latest date for this Vimana is 953 CE, and the portrayal clearly show the curse of Ahalya to turn to stone had taken firm root by then. Was valmiki unclear in the actual wording of the curse, did he mean that she be turned to stone as well. But one thing is clear, that she was turned to stone was part of tamil folkore as early as in the late sangam period as evidenced by the Paripadal verse.

Before we end, the last verse of Kamban – talks of Rama’s hand work. What event does that depict and is there a sculpture for that in pullamangai as well? We should see shortly.

Hanuman escapes from a Crocodile – Perur

Pillar sculptures are a treat and when they are in the hands of a master story teller – then its double the entertainment. Sadly, most of these tales have been lost on us, and so we cannot appreciate what is said by the sculptor. We take one such sculpture today from Perur.

Bordering the side of the shops, most visitors would miss this interesting tell tale or tale telling sculpture. We need to did back into the British Univ archives to dig out this frame.

Can’t find him, here you go.

To give you an orientation, the steps you see are the steps to the Kanagasabhai. so you can visualise where this pillar is. Present day, rope included he is like this.

But what intrigued us was this cast away broken pillar with the same motif.

A closeup of him again.

While talking with Artist Padmavasan, he mentioned that he had sketched this pillar as well and shared his with us.

So what is the story depicted in this panel – well, we saw the entire episode carved in the Sesharaya Mandaba in Srirangam in a previous post. Here you go..

Great Escape from a croc’s belly

But how did the pillars break – and is it a replica that we see today ?

The demon Kabanda who helped Rama- Prambanan sculpture

Thanks to a chance meeting with a fellow Ponniyin Selvan enthusiast yesterday ( Mr Sakthis) who had just returned from a business trip to Jakarta, he showed some photos of his friend of the famed Ramayana Panels of Parambanan in Jog Jakarta (Though the temple suffered serious damage due to earthquakes, restoration work is progressing well), reminded me to complete this long pending post. This is a long post, with some detailed references and would like our readers to take their time in reading through, to fully understand the beauty of the sculpture and the importance of this scene to the Ramayana. Its quite amazing how such could be so deftly sculpted.

A very important episode in Ramayana, filled with lots of twists and turns, splendidly depicted in far off Indonesia, is a feast for us today.

Story first: Following the introduction, its a very important stage in the Ramayana, Rama and Lakshmana are returning from Mareecha episode and find Sita missing. They panic and search everywhere. No one is able to help.

At this point they enter a forest which is very mysterious, for there is no living creature big or small in sight. There is a deathly calm and just as they were wondering what was the reason, out comes this hideous creature.

The creature was so huge, but was in essence only a trunk – no distinctive head ( ok the sculpture we see has a head !!, but no proper legs or arms, instead has tentacle like arms stretching to a Yojana ( ten miles!!), he had a massive gaping mouth in his belly – so huge that on seeing it Lakshmana compares it to the entrance arch of a huge city.

Now, lets view the sculpture. Thanks to the net, also found this lovely resource displaying sketches of the entire illustrated Ramayana panels from Parambanan. Very useful for someone to identify the sculptures with this as a guide

Now, as usual, the brothers get into action, which is what we see in the scene, chopping off each of the arms of the creature. Now, comes the interesting part, in this stage, the Demon addresses them as Rama and Lakshmana and implores on them to consign his massive body to flames. Rama asks him, how does he know them and hence he goes on to narrate his story thus.

[Source: Dowson’s Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology]

He was actually a Ghandharva Dhanu, who had done penance on Brahma ( who else) and got the power of immortal life. Drunk on his power of immortality he committed a disrespectful act against a holy sage ( Sthoolasira ?), who cursed him to loose his beauty and eternal life as a demon. Mortified Dhanu asks how he can get release from the curse and return to his Ghandarva form , the rishi said, ‘when Rama burns you, after cutting your
arms, you will get back your form’ – ref slOkam below [which this disfigured
and arms cut khabandha relates to Rama and lakshmaNa now] –

yadhaa Chiththvaa bhujou Rama: thvaam dhahEth vijanE vanE || 3-71-6
thadhaa thvam praapsyasE roopam svam Eva vipulam *s*ubham |

To add to this, in his demonic form, Khabanada ( or Kaavanda), fought against Indra, the lord of the gods, who used his weapon Vajra ( thunderbolt) against him.

*s*riyaa viraajitham puthram dhano: thvam vidhdhi lakshmaNa || 3-71-7
indhra kOpaath idham roopam praaptham Evam raNaajirE |

meaning: Oh, LakshmaNa, you may know me as the most handsome son of Dhanu,
and this misshaped form has chanced on me owing the ire of Indhra in

*Comment:* With that disfigured form and because of longevity of life, he
fought with celestial king dhEvEndhra. DhEvEndhra with his vajra aayudham –
thunderbolt – stuck Dhanu.

thasya baahu pramukthEna vajrENa shatha parvaNaa || 3-71-10
sakthinee cha *s*ira: caiva *s*areerE sampraveshitham |
anaahaara: katham shakthO bhagna sakthi *s*iro mukha: || 3-71-12
vajrENa abhihatha: kaalam su dheergham api jeevithum |

meaning: [khabhandhan says story to raama and lakshmaNa] – But the
thunderbolt that has a hundred cutting edges and that which is launched from
Indra’s hand has rammed my head and thighs into my body. [Slokam 10]

Then I asked indhra – ‘By the impact of thunderbolt disarranged are my
thighs and head, thereby my mouth, went into my stomach. And without thighs
how can I prowl, without arms how can I scrabble, and without a mouth how
can I guzzle, and how am I capable to live on, and when that living is also
destined for too long a time to come’ [slokam 12]

sa Evam uktha: mE *s*akrO baahoo yojanam aayathou || 3-71-13
thadhaa cha aasyam cha mE kukshou theekshNa damshTram akalpayath |

meaning: When I said this Indhra, Indhra devised for me a ‘yojana long’
arms, and also that way a rapier-fanged mouth in my paunch.

[so these long arms stretching to a yojana – {one yojana I read somewhere as
10 miles} and blade like teeth in the fang etc are indhra given and see in
next slokam what he is eating]

( Look at the sculpture – you can see the tentacles still left on one side – one even then eyeng the frog – but also see the head, hands and legs – maybe not a 100% true depiction)

so~aham bhujaabhyaam dheerghaabhyaam sankrushya asmin vanE charaan ||
simha dhvipi mruga vyaaghraan bhakshayaami samanthatha: |
sa thu maam abraveeth indhrO yadhaa raama: sa lakshmaNa: || 3-71-15
ChethsyathE samarE baahoo thadhaa svargam gamishyasi |

* *

meaning: Such as I am, I have been eating the lions, elephants, animals, and
tigers that are on the move in this forest, hauling them in with both my
overlong arms. [Slokam 14]. Indra has also said to me, ‘as and when Raama
hacks off your arms, along with LakshmaNa, in a conflict, then you can go to
heaven…’ and vanished.

In return, he promises to provide vital clues about Sita. At this point Rama is a bit worried, being a demon will he keep his word. He asks him to give him the information and then he would burn him. For which the demon refuses, saying what if they take the information and leave him. So there is a standoff

aham hi mathi saachivyam karishyaami nara rishabha || 3-71-19
mithram chaiva upadhEkshyaami yuvaabhyaam samskrithO agninaa |

meaning: ‘Oh, impetuous man Raama, if I were to be beatified by you two by
incinerating me in fire, I will advice you about the next course of your
action. I will further advise you about your prospective friend” So said
Khabandha to Raama.

*Point:* raama did not straightaway accept that – started explaining how he
knows the only portion of story ‘that raavaNa lifted seethaa and left, and
beyond that he does not know any thing’. This also leads all, to think a
sort of mutual distrust existed between raama and khabhandhan – for a
shortwhile – for – if I burn him then perhaps he will be released from his
curse and may not be able to remember what information he had or has
collected earlier with or in that body.

On the other hand khabandhan had the distrust, ‘if I tell the guiding
message now, after receiving it, if these two vanish, without burning me,
then my release is not there’. That kind of ‘mutual distrust situation’.
After a while, raama asks khabhandhan, ‘please show mercy’ and assures ‘we
will fulfill your request’. Perhaps you may have another opinion also, ‘why
should raama ask for mercy or beg before such fellows like khabandhan’ and
not show his super human power. Please recall that statement – ‘aham
maanusham manyE’ – ‘think that I am a man’ – even at the end of the great
war with raavaNan and that too after brahma says you are so and so and not
simply a man – so he acts like a man having doubts and distrust and all that

*s*Oka aarthaanaam anaathhaanaam Evam viparidhaavathaam || 3-71-23
kaaruNyam sadhru*s*am karthum upakaarE cha varthathaam |
kaashTaani aaneeya bhagnaani kaalE sushkaaNi kunjarai: || 3-71-24
dhakshyaama: thvaam vayam veera *s*vabhrE mahathi kalpithE |
* *

meaning: It will be apt of you to show befitting mercy on us, who are
anguished by agony, running all over helter-skelter like unsheltered ones,
and we will be compliant for your restitution. Oh, brave Khabandha, on
bringing dried firewood that was rent at times by elephants, and on digging
a large trench, we will incinerate you in it.

*Point:* see the words ‘sOka arthaanaam anaathhaanaam’ – one who has all the
wealth at his command says I have only sOkam – deep sorrow only as my
wealth, the whole world looks upon him as their lord and he says I am
anaathha – lordless. [Yes of course he has no one above him so he is

sa thvam seethaam samaachakshva yEna vaa yathra vaa hruthaa || 3-71-25
kuru kalyaaNam athyartham yadhi jaanaasi thaththvatha: |

meaning: Such as you are, if you actually know who stole Seethaa, or where
to she was stolen, either, you clearly inform about her, [when incinerated],
thus you will be rendering a most gracious deed to me, and to all
concerned”. Thus Rama made clear of his case.

Comment: when Rama thus agreed ‘to concede to khabandhan’s request’ for
incineration, see now khabandhan commands ‘please do it fast before sun

kim thu yaavath na yaathi astham savithaa *s*raantha vaahana: |
thaavath maam avaTe kshipthvaa dhaha raama yathaa vidhi || 3-71-31

meaning: “Oh, Raama, soon you have to toss me into trench to burn me
customarily, sooner, for the Sun is going to Mt. Dusk when his horses are

Dhagdha: thvayaa aham avaTE nyaayEna raghunandhana |
vakshyaami tham mahaaveera ya: tham vEthsyathi raakshasam || 3-71-32

meaning: “Oh, Raama, the legatee of Raghu, when I am burnt by you in a
trench as per rituals, oh, great valiant Raama, for sure, I will tell of
him, who can quiet fathom that demon [who carried your wife seethaa].

Evam ukthou thu thou veerou kabandhEna nara ee*s*varou |
giri pradharam aasaadhya paavakam visasarjathu: || 3-72-1
lakshmaNa: thu mahaa ulkaabhi: jvalithaabhi: samanthatha: |
chithaam aadheepyaamaasa saa prajajvaala sarvatha: || 3-72-2

meaning: When Khabandha said that way, both those brave men and lords of
people, on throwing the body of Khabandha into a mountain cleft and then
embedded it with firewood. On his part Lakshmana started to torch that pyre
with highly sparkling torches from all over, and even that pyre too suddenly
blazed with blazes from all over.

Its already a long post, so let me cut this short, out of the Pyre emerges a radiant Danu and as promised advises Rama about the abduction of Sita by Ravana.

He also goes on to offer him a very important piece of advise, in his fight against Ravana – he says he cant go in alone, but could get help from the monkey army. But inorder to do that, he guides him to help Sugreev win his kingdom from Vaali, making him indebted to Rama. Thus Danu comes out as a very shrewd negotiator ( he got his work done before giving advise) and also advises Rama aptly, maybe if Vaali by his superior strength could have fought Ravana single handedly ( we seen the humbling of Ravana by Vaali earlier in sculpture), but then Vaali was a good friend of Ravana, and there would be no reason for him to support Rama. Hmmm

The earliest recorded bird hit

The recent bird hit on flight 1549 of US Airways and its subsequent ditching or expert crash into the Hudson river caught the world’s attention. From the time planes have been invented we have had many such bird strikes and not all have had a happy ending as the one above. But what we are going to see today is possibly the earliest account of a bird strike.

Jataayu – the son of Garuda’s elder brother Aruna ( the charioteer to the Sun god), his valiant battle with Ravana as he is abducting Sita on his Pushpaka Vimana ( aerial chariot aka plane) is stuff of legends.

There are not many sculptural depictions of this battle, the most famous and often shown depiction is the painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

However, there are two sculptural depictions of this battle – one in Ellora Kailasantha ( thanks to flickr friend Mr Murali) and the other in Parambanan, Indonesia. We will visit the Indonesian one a bit later. But of most interest to us is the Ellora panel.

The mighty King Ravana is shown just as he is about to strike at the vulture Jatayu with a sword. Its no ordinary sword as we will see shortly. To the upper right we are just shown a piece of the flying machine.

Who is this Jatayu. We had read when we saw the Garuda story that his elder brother Aruna, who due to his mother’s hastiness is born premature – leaves to serve the Sun God as his charioteer. Well Jatayu and his brother Sampathi are the sons of Aruna.

Once while both the brothers were playing, they tried to fly higher and higher – when Jatayu trying to outsmart his brother flew too high, he went dangerously close to the hot sun ( sounds vaguely familiar – Greek – Icarus ) Well the plot changes a bit here. Sampathi protectively covered his brother with his extended wingspan – while the sun burnt off his wings he fell to the ground while Jatayu was saved. ( Sampathi does get healed but at a much later stage – just by chanting the name of Rama!!)

Ok, back to the bird strike. So great is the resistance shown by Jatayu and his valor in battling Ravana, that the Thevaram verse actually credits him with victory over Ravana. Why so ?

The place where the Lord, Who elucidated the shivadharma
with virtue as the basis freeing the capable devotees from

the disease of bad karma, sits is thiruppuLLirukkuvELUr
of jaTAyu who defeated the rAvaNa who came aggressive
counting his power!

It all comes down to the sword. Chandrahas, Shiva’s invincible sword – Moonblade, a divine gift. How did Ravana come in possession of such a weapon. Again an interesting story.

We have seen Ravana being humbled once before – by Vaali

There is another one by the 20 armed kaarthveeryarjunan ( not found a sculpture for this yet) – but there is another instance – by Siva when Ravana attempted to lift Kailash – we have seen it at many places.


Well after he went through the Ordeal and pleased Shiva by playing his ” hand” crafted veena – Shiva cured his wounds and along with his blessings, gave him his special sword. Chandrahas ( moon blade)

So by saying that Jatayu defeated Ravana – but for the divine weapon, Jatayu had valiantly fought and defeated Ravana. His powerful wings, claws and beak had wrecked havoc, while at the very edge of losing, Ravana not being a match for Jatayu with his powers, had used the divine weapon to clinch victory and slay Jatayu.

That my friends, that is the earliest recorded bird strike.
(Thanks to Murali again for the rare snap of Ellora. On content indebted to Sri Subramaniam, Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam and Dhivakar sir ofcourse)

Seduction of the deer headed sage

Today we are going to see a rare sculpture from Hampi ( Hazara Rama temple again). The splendid photograph is courtesy Kathie and the explanation thanks to Mrs. Geetha Sambasivam. I was intrigued by a friends site about the murals in Alagar Koil of the famous Yagna done by Dasaratha.

Mr. Bhaskar wonderful site on temple murals

For it involved a very special officiating Priest, brought in under special recommendation. Whats so special about him. Well he has a deer’s head to start with. Before we see the main plot, lets look into the peculiar origins of this sage. What set me on this is a chance reading of an article in the hindu.

The Hindu Article

It shows only a part of the sculptural panel and I too took it as per this mention – The deer headed saint as Rishyasingar ( as per Valmiki Ramayan) and Kalaikottu Munivar ( as per Kamban) distributing the child giving potion to the 3 wives of Dasartha. Though there were still a few loose ends, as both the literature and the murals show that he personally did not distribute it and the sculpture in question doesnt seem to show the potion /cup or pot. Thankfully Kathie managed to provide this excellent photograph of the entire panel – which ( thanks to Mrs Geetha) clears up the air. This is a different but equally interesting account of the same sage but happened much earlier.

Rishi Vibandanga, son of Rishi Kashyapa, once casts a passing glance a beautiful female deer. So great is his prowess that his very glance made the deer pregnant. In due course she gave birth – a boy with a deer’s head and human body ! His father brought him up in total isolation ( celibacy) – not even allowing the scent of women near him. ( wonder why?)

In an adjoining land, a King by name Romapathan was disturbed by an unending drought troubling his subjects for years together. It seems ( ok, i am only repeating legend – fairer sex please excuse me) that pious men who have totally abstained from you know what – will bring rain. So King Romapathan decides to bring Rishyasingar to his land, but how does he do it. Well, we have seen it happen many times – carrot of course. He sent ` talented’ women dancers to entice the poor boy. Imagine the plight of the poor boy, having being depraved their company since birth, he gets an overdose. He stands no chance against the guile of these women and follows them to the Kings Land. As foretold he brings rain along with him to the parched land. Well all is well that ends well. The King did it for a good cause i guess, but he could have just gone their explained the situation and brought him. Guess epics wouldn’t be so simple.

The depiction of the plot is superbly handled by the sculptor. see how the gay abandon of the youthful Rishyasingar ` appreciating ‘ dancing damsel. Net we see him being waited upon by three ladies ( the nonchalant stylistic crossing of the legs – cant be when he facing royal queens of Dasarata) – plus as per the epic, he gave the ` potion’ to Dasaratha to distribute.

Anyway, some more good things happen. The pleased King marries his daughter Sandhai ( Santham is calm in tamil – wow, hope she lived upto her name). After that another king sought the services of Rishyasingar but for a totally different act. What is that…we will see it shortly.

A blunder, a loss and a curse – Ramayana Origins

Today we are seeing a very rare sculpture which takes us back to the very beginning of the Ramayana. Its a subtle reminder that the you are accountable for your acts, irrespective of whether committed knowingly or unknowingly – the consequences have to be faced.

When Dasaratha (father of Rama) was a young Prince, he reveled in all sport. He is a charioteer unparalleled but so are his archery skills. His skill is so great that he could put an arrow from just the sound of an animal moving. But this very skill proved to be his undoing. Yes, we are going to see the legend of Shravana Kumara from a rare sculpture from the Hazara Rama temple in Hampi.

updating with anotehr view ( thanks to Manju)

The story goes thus. In his youthful jest, Dasaratha is hunting in the forests adjoining the river Sarayu. But despite his best efforts, he is not able to bag anything till late in the evening. Just as the Sun, was setting, as he was hiding behind tree cover, he heard a familiar sound of elephants drinking water in the river. Impatient to get his prize, Dasartha relies purely on his skill and lets loose a deadly arrow, guided purely by the sound. But as it found its mark, he was shocked to hear a man scream in mortal pain.

Can you spot the above plot in the sculpture.

As he rushed to the spot, he found that he had mistakenly shot a young boy filling water in a pot.

The boy is actually Shravana Kumaran, the dutiful son – who takes such good care of his aged and blind parents – that he transports them on a sling balancing on his shoulders. His parents are totally dependent on him. As he was passing through the forest they had asked him to fetch some water as they were thirsty and it was in this act that he was felled by the fateful arrow.

The young boy, despite his mortal wound, is still thinking about his parents.Dasartha begs for his forgivness, but the boy requests him to take the water to his parents. He also tells him to disclose the bad news of their son’s death after their thirst is quenched! such a noble soul. So requesting he moves to realm of the heavens.

Dasartha is all remorse personified as he goes to the place where the aged couple are resting. Just as he approaches they realise from the sound of his footsteps that its not their son and insist Dasartha to tell them the truth. Dasartha tries his best to dampen the blow, by offering to be their Son – but on hearing from him that their dearest son is no more, the mother falls down dead. The father is filled with great anger that he curses Dasartha thus :

” you too will suffer this pain of separation from your loved son and die of that ”

The rest – well is history

Vaali ambushed by Rama – Cambodia

We had earlier seen Rama aiming at Vali in the amazing miniature from Darasuram. To see the next part of the story we travel to Cambodia. We have seen many panels from the Banteay Srei complex. This is another excellent one.

We see the story progressing left to right ( right to left as you view it)

Watch carefully the pose of Rama – he has just discharged his arrow. The right hand is a definite give away ( look at the delightful detailing of the bow – even to the knot at the bottom)

Lets look at the two fighting brothers – that they are monkeys is obvious, but see the masterly depiction of their feet – monkey feet. The hands are depicted as humans though. See Vaali’s clenched fist ready to deliver a massive blow to Sugreev. The ferociousness of the battle has been superbly caught by the sculptor in the face of the two fighting brothers.

The next scene in the storyboard is also shown – Vaali is felled by the arrow, mortally wonded, he is shown grabbing the arrow. Who is holding him up – he seems to have fallen down and is held up protectively – is it his Tara. ( see the slight differentiation between the two facial features). A standing Sugreev is shown looking over at his slain brother.

Vali is shown with a questioning look – he seems shocked and very angry. To understand what transpired, we need to look back at the text of the Ramayana. The southern version ( tamil) says that Vaali was very angry with Rama for having shot him from an ambush position, which doesn’t quite befit a noble warrior. He has a heated argument with Rama and Lakshmana, questioning the disgraceful act. Rama then goes on to explain to him his need to uphold righteousness and how Vaali has turned against the right path and banished his own brother and usurped his wedded wife!

The slaying of Vaali – a delightful miniature from Darasuram

Today thanks to some amazing captures by Satheesh, we are being treated to a spectacular miniature from Darasuram.

We had earlier seen Vaali humbling Ravana in a previous post. He was famous for the boon that he had received, according to which anyone who came before him lost half his/her strength to him, thereby making Vali invulnerable to any frontal attack.

Vali had been known as a good and pious vanara-king, but once when he was challenged to a duel by a wicked demon Mayavi – the battle raged on for a long time inside a dark and ravenous cave. Vaali left instructions with his brother to wait for him at the entrance….when vaali did not come out for a long time,Sugreev spotted blood oosing out of the mouth of the cave, he also heard a shrill voice like that of his brother. Fearing that his brother may be dead, he blocked the entrance to cave with a huge boulder and returned to Kishkinda.

Vali emerged and found the cave mouth blocked, in a fit of rage he suspected his brother of plotting against him. HIs anger was multiplied when he came to his capital and noticed that Sugreev was ruling in his place.

Sugriva tried to explain the situation to Vali, but Vali would not listen. Vali banished Sugreev from the kingdom, and held the latter’s wife captive in his own palace. Sugreev fled into the forest, where he met and formed an alliance with Rama. He sought Rama’s help in return for his help in defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita.

The act of Rama killing Vaali, from an ambush attack ( attack from behind) is a subject of many debates. Here we are seeing a superb miniature of the scene just prior to the attack.

Cant see it, lets go closer

Sadly the people don’t even notice the beautiful sculptures.

Check out this for a sense of size.

What happened next and what happened before this – some more interesting sculptures coming our way shortly.

Images courtesy : Satheesh and the last one from

Origins of the Srirangam Vimana – story in sculpture

Today, we are going to see a very rare and unique sculpture. It gives me great pleasure to present this post, since it brings out the true essence of our blog site. We had earlier seen the amazing pillar sculptures of Sesharaya Mandabam, while i was posting about this in mintamil forum, Sir Srirangam Mohanarangan, asked me about a unique sculpture in one of those pillars. I did not have it then and hence requested my ever resourceful friend Mr. Ashok to source it for me. Being such an ardent enthusiast, Ashok made the trip and ensured that i get the correct pictures ( he did get many more – and we will see this in subsequent posts). Writing about the foremost of shrines of Vishnu and one of the most revered of holy places gives me great joy, i thank the will of God for making this possible.

Rudra expounds to Narada the origin, growth and greatness of Srirangam thus:

When God created Brahma from his navel and deputed him to create the earth the latter was at his wit’s end when he saw a sheer expanse of a water. When he was thus perplexed God came to him in the form of a swan (hamsa) and saying ‘Om’ disappeared. Then Brahma worshipped God saying ‘Om’. Once again God appeared to him as a swan and preached the Vedas, which were stolen away by the two asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha. Brahma, unable to trace them even after an elaborate search, appealed to God, who appeared to him in the form of a fish, killed the asuras in His manifestation of a horse (hayagriva) and disappeared after restoring the Vedas. Then Brahma created the universe.

He was displeased, however, with his creation, for he found that everything was transient and disappeared in course of time. He went to Ksirasagar (‘Ocean of milk’) and worshiped God, who appeared to him as a tortoise. Brahma was puzzled and prayed to God to show him His real form. Thereupon God advised him to worship Him by repeating the Astaksara or the eight-lettered mantra (Om Namo Narayanaya). Brahma, so doing, lost himself in penance and contemplation. As a result of his penance the Sriranga Vaimana sprang from the Ksirasagar radiating luster allround.5 (The expression Sriranga Vimana is used to denote the turret as well as the oval shaped sanctum beneath it, containing the image of the reclining Ranganatha. The turret, the sanctum and the image form a single whole and are inseparably associated with one another.) It was borne by Garuda. Sesa, the Serpent God, had spread his hood over it. Visvaksena, with a stick in hand, cleared the way for the God. The sun and moon were fanning the deity with chowries. Narada and Tumburu followed singing. There was the Jayaghosa of Rudra and other gods and the ‘Dundubighosa’. The celestial courtesans danced. Clouds rained flowers. There were great hurrahs and tumult.

Brahma awoke from his penance and prostrated himself before the vimana. He stood up saying the four Vedas through his four mouths and was lost in amazement. Sunanda, a celestial watch at the gate (dwarapalaka), told him that the three lettered Vimana, ‘Sri-ra-nga’ was the result of his penance, that God was resting with His consort inside and that he could see Him and worship Him. Then Brahma worshiped the Almighty for a long time. Finally the God spoke to him thus: “Listen O Brahma! I have appeared as a result of your penance.” Then he explained to him the four types of idols and vimanas, – (1) Svayamvykta – created by God, i.e., God Himself choosing to come down as an idol, (2) Divya – created by the Devas, (3) Saiddha – created by a great seers and (4) Manusya – created by mortals. “The Vimanas of the first class, viz., Svayamvyakta will appear in eight places – Srirangam, Srimusnam, Venkatadri, Saligram, Naimisaranyam, Totadri, Puskara and Badrikasrama. Rangavimana is the first and the earliest of these” Speaking of the second class of idols the God said, “I will come to Kanci as Varadaraja, where my idol will be installed by you. Ananta will instal my idol in the south, Rudra in Kandikapura, Visvakarma at Nanda, Dharma at Vrisabagiri, Asvini at Asvatirtha, Indra at Cakratirtha, etc. So also great seers will install me in certain places and men everywhere.” Then the God explained to Brahma the procedure for conducting the worship and lay down in the characteristic pose at Srirangam and kept silent.

Brahma took the vimana from Ksirasagar to his abode in Satyaloka and established it on the banks of the Vraja. He appointed Viwasvan, the sun god, to do the daily puja of the God. After Viwasvan his son Vaivasvata Manu continued the puja. Iksvaku, a son of Manu, became the king of Ayodhya and found it difficult to worship the vimana at Satyaloka. Hence he did penance, which extended over hundreds of years, and obtained the permission of Brahma to take it to Ayodhya. After Iksvaku his descendants worshiped the God. Rama gave the vimana to Vibhisana, who established it on the banks of the Kaveri.

At this stage Narada asks Rudra to give details of the above account, viz., the coming of the vimana to Srirangam. Rudra replies:

Vasista told Iksvaku, his disciple, the origin of the Sriranga Vimana and added that after being worshiped by him and his generations, it would establish itself in Srirangam and be worshiped by the Cola monarchs. As advised by his guru Iksvaku did penance near the former’s asrama with the object of bringing the vimana to Ayodhya from Satyaloka. Indra, the king of the gods knew the purpose of the penance and consulted Brahma about the possibility of their losing the vimana. Brahma went to Visnu, who told him that it was His intention to go to Ayodhya and thence to Srirangam. Then Brahma brought the vimana to Iksvaku on the back of Garuda. Iksvaku carried the vimana to Ayodhya, established it between the rivers Sarayu and Tamasa, built a shrine and organised worship.

Dasaratha, in the line of Iksvaku, performed the sacrifices of Asvamedha and Putrakamesti for which celebrations he invited monarchs of all India, one of whom was Dharmavarma, the Cola. Dharmavarma saw the Rangavimana, knew its history and wanted to have it in his country. So, when he returned home he began performing penance on the banks of the Candrapuskarani.6 (A tank in the Srirangam temple.) The risis around said to him, “Nearby lies your old city in ruins.7 (The reference is to Uraiyur, the capital of the Colas.) Rudradeva burnt it in anger. Close to it there was a risi-asram, where we had congregated under the leadership of Dalbya risi, who worshipped God. When God appeared to him, he requested Him to stay there and sanctify the place, to which the latter replied that in His avatar as Rama, He would come to that place as Ranganatha, for the sake of Vibhisana. We are expecting the Sriranga Vimana even now. Hence your penance is unnecessary”. On hearing this Dharmavarma stopped his penance and retired to Nisula.

Rama worsted Ravana in battle, crowned Vibhisana king of Lanka and performed the ‘asvamedha’ sacrifice in Ayodhya. To it all were invited including Dharmavarma. Rama presented the Rangavimana to Vibhisana out of his munificence as the latter was very much helpful to him in his fight against Ravana.

Vibhisana bore the vimana on his head and, on his way to Lanka, stopped at Srirangam and placed the vimana on the banks of the Candrapuskarani. The risis immediately informed Dharmavarma about the arrival of the vimana. The Cola king came to the spot and received Vibhisana with great delight. The latter bathed in the sacred waters of the Kaveri and worshipped the vimana. Dharmavarma also performed puja and requested Vibhisana to stay with him for a few days. To this Vibhisana did not agree and said that an utsava had to be performed in Lanka the next day. The cola replied that the festival might as well be performed in his own country and that he would meet all the expenses. Vibhisana then agreed to stay, and the festival was begun and celebrated for nine days in a grand fashion. After a stay of a fortnight Vibhisana started for Lanka. To his utter amazement and sorrow the vimana had got itself fixed to the spot where he had placed it and had become irremovable.8 (According to the popular local version Vibhisana had been instructed by Rama not to place the vimana on the ground. At Srirangam Vibhisana entrusted it to a Brahmana boy for a short while. The latter placed it on the ground as the former did not return in time, as promised. When he returned Vibhisana found the vimana on the ground and irremovable. He became angry and chased the boy, who ran up the rock on the other side of the Kaveri. He was no other than Ganesa (Uccipillaiyar). See also Parameswara Samhita (10:279-281) ) Vibhisana shed tears. The God then said to him, “This place is good, so also its king and people. I desire to stay here. You may retire to Lanka”. He also related to Vibhisana the sanctity of the river Kaveri. “Visvavasu, a Gandharva of the Vindhyas, met on the hill side a congregation of river goddesses and made his obeisance to them. Immediately a debate arose as to whom it was meant. All except Ganga and Kaveri withdrew from the contest. Both the disputants went to Brahma, who declared that Ganga was superior. Kaveri did penance as a result of which Brahma granted to her a status of equality. Still dissatisfied she is performing penance at Saraksetra. To give her the first place among the rivers I have to raise her sanctity to the utmost by remaining in her midst. I will recline here facing your country. You may go back to Lanka.”

Dharmavarma built a shrine for the vimana, the surrounding prakaras and organised worship.

Long post, but here come the pillar sculpture. You can see Vibhisana in his royal bearings – crown and staff, lovingly carrying the Srirangam Vimanam. Sadly this amazing treasure trove of sculptural beauty – the sesharaya mandabam is currently neglected and used as a …..ok, dont want to end a good post on a sad note, we see that in a subsequent post. Enjoy the sculpture for now.

The vimanam pictures ( for comment of shiv) – images are from the net