Sivapuram Saga – the untold story – Part 3

Today the hand of a master forger provides us a vital clue – and we hope the Norton Simon Museum will try help to disclose or close this case.

As we have seen in the earlier parts – part 1 and part 2 of this series, how two of the looted Sivapuram bronzes landed in the Norton Simon Museum – one was returned after much debate and fanfare while the other still remains in the Museum. That still leaves 4 more to be traced, for the original Indian police case file lists “Thirugnanasambandar, Pillaiar and two Amman” as missing.

The case files further reveal that “The trustees of the temple wanted to repair the idols and this work was entrusted to Ramasamy Sthapathy of Kumbakonam in the year June 1954. In the year 1956 Thilakar of Kuttalam and his brother Doss induced Ramasamy Sthapathy to part with the original Natarajar and 5 other idols and to substitute the same with fake idols. “

Sadly the 1963 book by P. R. Srinivasan doesn’t carry any of the photographs of the two Amman bronzes.

However, thanks to our research we now have the French Institute in Pondicherry archive when they visited the temple on 15th June 1956 and followed up with a visit on 16th Nov 1957. The fake Somaskanda which we featured part 2 of the expose, gave us a vital clue – the master forger had definitely tried his best to mirror the original.

So we did a quick study of the other bronzes from the Sivapuram study by the IFP and landed on this Tani amman. To remind our readers – by the time the IFP landed in Sivapuram the switch was already made and they photographed only the fakes !

A comparison of the online archive of the Norton Simon Museum led us to this exhibit

Parvati, c. 1000
India: Tamil Nadu, 975-1025
Bronze
32-1/2 in. (82.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1972.10.S
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

It is important to see the year of purchase – 1972, is the same year the Nataraja and the Somaskanda came to the Museum.

A side by side comparison reveals the handiwork of the faker – the overall resemblance is there for anyone to see.

The thief maybe in his overconfidence did not go into the minutest of details – if you know how a bronze is cast, you will understand why – its almost impossible to make a perfect copy – especially in the ornamentation and more so to get the actual weathering patterns.


We agree that this is not conclusive proof but given that the Nataraja and the Somaskanda have set a irrefutable pattern – it is now upto the Museum to come clear on this.

Sivapuram Somaskanda – the untold story – Part 2

70 years is a long time ago ! But if you consider the gravity of the offense – a theft that shook the art world and the longevity of the very artifact – a creation that has stood for a 1000 years, then nothing is late to be time bared. Part 1 of this expose detailed how the Sivapuram Somaskanda was looted and is currently in the Norton Simon Museum. Today we provide a startling expose – the very expert who was responsible for making the world aware of the crime – he who visited the Sivapuram temple and said in no uncertain terms that what was being worshipped was a fake – and whose revelations led to the protracted battle and the eventual return of the Sivapuram Nataraja, was aware of much more. Infact he knew about the Sivapuram Somaskanda !!

It is important to reemphasize that the reference in Douglas Barrett’s book of 1965 Early Cola Bronzes is what is considered to be the trigger point of this entire theft coming to light.

We present today an Article in Marg Vol 48. No.4 June 1997 – EARLY CHOLA BRONZES IN THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM – Douglas Barrett.

It is interesting to read the General Editor’s Note: “ The late Douglas Barrett wrote this article for the late Norton Simon soon after his visit to the museum in Pasadena, California, in 1978. However, the article was never published. Marg is pleased to publish it now through the generosity of the Norton Simon Museum and Mrs. Mary Barrett. Mr. Barrett was an authority on Cola Bronzes and we feel that his comments on the selected masterpieces will be much appreciated by Indian Art historians. One of the Bronzes ( figure 9) is no longer in the collection and now belongs to a European Collector. Some faithful readers of Marg may recognize a few of the others as they were published in the fifties in the magazines. “

The detailed article is attached at the end of this post – however, what is pertinent to read is this paragraph in the article page 85 Marg exhibit “ Hence, the importance of the remarkable Somaskanda in the Museum ( figures 3 and 4). The Somaskanda, together with a standing Ganesa and the famous Nataraja , formed part of a hoard discovered at Sivapuram ( Tanjavur district). It was published in its uncleaned state by P. R. Srinivasan and with the Ganesa and Nataraja, dated to the middle of tenth century AD.”

We now have more on this case – the French Institute in Pondicherry visited the temple on 15th June 1956 and followed up with a visit on 16th Nov 1957. Sadly, what they did not realise was the fact that they had photographed the fakes. Till date these images have never been published and today we are doing so for the first time.

This is what Douglas Barret saw when he went to Sivapuram in 1965.


These were the bronzes faked by the stapathy in june 1954, which the expert in Douglas Barret immediately recognised since he had the book by Sri. P.R. Srinivasan with the original photographs of the Nataraja and Somaskanda


It looks like the Stapathy went to great extents to copy of the Nataraja ( the clues are the lack of weathering on the flames of the prabha, the missing petals of the lotus base on the last pedestal amongst a few), but for the Somaskanda he has thrown caution to the wind – is a very poor replica. Maybe he gambled that not many would have concentrated on the rest of the bronzes !!

One look at the bronzes side by side shows the fake


But he did try and mimic the overall styling and facial features. Which leads us to a more damning expose ….to come up shortly….

But some uncomfortable questions first – the out of court settlement between the Norton Simon Museum and the Indian Government was signed in 1976. The Nataraja stayed in the US for a period of 10 years before being returned to India. The case was closed in India stating “All accused arrested and convicted. There is no information about the remaining idols “. This monograph was surely with the Museum in 1978 during the tenure of the agreement !!

Links to the entire Marg article









Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 15- clue from a 1916 book reveals..

With the HR&CE and temple authorities continuing to be lax in their documentation, this expose shows again the importance of photo documenting our temple treasures.

Little did I realise that this innocuous looking book held within itself a vital clue.

South-indian images of gods and goddesses (1916)

available for free download here

page 109 in the book ( 129 in the pdf) has this photograph of a Somaskanda

The label simply states Somaskanda ( metal), sivankudal

This is a very unique somaskanda wherein the Siva and Uma have been cast seperately with indivudual pedestals. For those who know about bronze casting, the difficulty of such an attempt is evident – having to match the pedestals not only for height but also for the runner designs.

Thankfully this provides us some vital clues in identifying this bronze, which is currently in the Asian Civilisations Museum being purchased in the year 2000.

Let us compare the two









It is without doubt the same bronze. Further our enquiries have revealed that the temple has no other bronze currently – ie has lost all its treasures. The Book sadly has no other bronzes listed from this temple and from our checking no other book has any references to this temple. It is sadly an ASI protected site with no documentation.

Now, its up to the authorities to investigate this and establish the chain. But if this is confirmed it pushes the string of robberies to pre 2000 and many more temple bronzes and sculptures sold by the dealer into the ambit of “shady” dealings.

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 8- He is in Australia while She is in America

It has been quite sometime since the world was made aware of the theft of the bronzes and the involvement of accused Subash Kapoor and the gallery Art of the Past. The proverbial tip of the iceberg was this Nataraja and thanks mainly to efforts of blessed souls across the world.. While there has been nothing new that has come up on this case from the authorities and same rhetoric from the gallery.…we now have further evidence to show that his consort is languishing in America.

Here is the file photograph of them together as a couple in their abode in Sripuranthan.


We had earlier shown the proof on the Nataraja and now thanks to a generous reader we have accessed to the Art of the Past galleries 2008 catalogue which reveals shockingly indepth details of the bronze including a flowery writeup. You cannot but notice that the residual marks on her face and cheeks explicitly imply that she was a bronze under continuous worship !!

A simple comparison reveals that both are the same

This is the same bronze that was displayed when America customs displayed their catch in the news conference post the raids on the Art of Past gallery warehouse.

This should be more than adequate proof to seek the return of this bronze back to India ! and hopefully reunite the divine couple.

Who are these two lil ones?

The internet is a definite boon for armchair researchers like me !! Quite often we do stumble on some unique puzzles in our quest to decipher the work of the ancients. One such task was to recreate the lost paintings of the Kanchi Kailasanatha temple.

We ran into quite a difficulty when we had to make out the minor forms especially the two figures found below the divine couple.

We wanted to be as true as possible to the original – but it was interesting to note that these two ganas – a male and a female dwarfs were in the scene at the first instance.

Possibly the first instance of a lady dwarf gana – an assistant to Parvati maybe?

Their iconographic significance was soon lost or so we thought, until Arvind shared this album of his capture of the beauties of Lalgudi

Though our main pursuit was in the narrative panels in the miniatures, there was one particular relief – dimly lit which had vague familiarity in it.

It was a relief of the divine parents albiet sans the skanda seated in the familiar posture – with a kneeling devotee on the right, two more on the top right and two more top left. Can you spot any attributes to assign them as Brahma n vishnu? Not clear. But the familiarity scene was played out at the bottom of the throne.

it would be difficult to date this panel as it does not fall in the early chola 9th-10th C CE scheme of narrative story boards. However, it is interesting that the sculptor chose to sculpt this dwarf couple in the same layout and postures.

This time the sculptor father kills his apprentice son – Thirumalapuram

Sculptor father and sculptor son seems to be a bad formula. The curious urban legends of sculptors killing or maiming themselves for ‘ defects’ ( usually toads found inside the stone!) finds itself repeated in so many sites that we were actually happy that there was at least an attempt to concoct something new this time around !

It was late evening when we reached the twin caves of Thirumalapuram (Thirunelveli district about 5 kms from Kallidaikurichi – older name Tirumalaipuram) in pursuit of our tryst to cover the caves of the Pandyas. Despite the sites being ASI protected monuments it took a lot of direction seeking, blind turns and pure serendipitous luck to arrive there.

The long shot gives you an idea of the plain rock face which would have dauntingly stood before the nameless sculptor or his more generous master/ king as they envisioned their masterpiece. Would they have envisioned their creation standing for a thousand years and beyond?

Its a relatively small excavation comprising of two pillars and two pillasters (The cave on the north face of the hillock is finished with reliefs on its inside as well, while the one on the south has been left unfinished – which incidentally lends itself perfectly to this urban legend which we will see shortly!)

Lets take a closer look at the north face cave. The pillars have some really nice carvings and are fluted.

The piece de resistance of the finished cave must have been its monolithic nandhi but sadly only its base and one of its hooves remains. To fully appreciate the task envisioned by the sculptor, you must understand how he must have felt as he shaped the bull, knowing fully well that even one wrong move would endanger the entire work. We will see this in more detail when we tour the unfinished second cave helps us in this task, as we can see how the stone at the center has been reduced leaving the enough rock to carve the Nandhi.

The date for this cave is assigned to the second half of the 7th C CE and of Pandya style. This is ascertained by the monolithic Shiva linga – carved out of the base rock, a feature which is not present in the Pallava caves of the same period and the presence of Ganesha relief.

One of the door guardians sports a very majestic mustache which has been curled upwards in the style that is in vogue in rustic Tamil Nadu to this day.




Further there are high relief carvings trinity Brahma and Vishnu, plus a very unique dancing form of Shiva.

The posture of his is not the classic Natraja thanadava but more of his chatura pose and he is dancing in gay abandon to the merriment of his Ganas. The throw of the upper left hand accentuates the feel while his lower left hand holds the book of dance – a feature unique and met in Pandya sculptures of this period.

There are two Ganas ( were !) on his two sides – the one to his right has been defaced while the one on the left is of profound interest to students of Music. We will see these in more detail in the next part of this post.

There are few vestigial remnants of paintings which supports that view that most if not all of the early caves were embellished with mural paintings. It is also interesting to note that the reliefs are actually separated by carvings of actual pillars in relief.


However, it must be mentioned that the overall proportions seems a bit dwarfish especially the lower torso which is quite baffling considering the expertise that has gone into the facial expressions and overall stonecraft – the shortening of the lower torso and legs is singular sore feature on the sculptor.

A short walk in the dropping light led us the locked gate of the second unfinished gate. We had now built up our own crowd of delirious camp followers who maybe thought we were movie directors. They tried their best to first dissuade us from wasting our time in seeing this cave which had ‘no’ art.



To be fair to them the art work was pedestrian as evidenced by what must have been a amateurish attempt at sculpting maybe a Ganesha on the outer wall. After watching us trying to peer inside the rusty mesh for a couple of minutes they must have realised that we were indeed hard nuts and gave us the number of the ASI person responsible for the site and we made the call with a healthy sprinkling of ” I know so and so in ASI !” and he promised to come over.

As we waited for the ASI person to arrive, the ever present goat herders kept our company with an absorbing tale on the two caves. The master sculptor who was excavating the north cave had a talented son who would bring his ‘coffee’ from home every day. He would then observe his father work the stone and would go around the hill and replicate the same moves on the stone there. He took care to match the strokes with those of his father’s hammer, so that his father’s hammer strikes would mask his own. He continued in this fashion when one day, the father suddenly stopped mid stroke and heard the sound of the hammer on chisel. He immediately set off to find the source and came across a boy stooped over a stone. But since he was turned away from him, he couldn’t recognize him but seeing the work he realized that someone was copying his design. Enraged he stuck the lad on his head with his hammer and slew him on the spot. Only then he realized that it was his own son but it was too late!

We have seen many variations of this tale now, like urban legends, we need to coin a term for these sculpture legends, how they first came to be and how they manage to reach even the real off beat locations is a mystery by itself.

The key finally arrived and as we had been adequately warned – there was nothing inside but for a delightful insight into a cave excavation that had been abandoned – the work in progress giving us vital clues as to how they attempted the insitu Nandi etc.

You can see how a pillar of the mother rock has been left in the center of the cave excavation and slowly reduced from the middle. You can also see the patterns cut into the rock wall to excavate more depth. It must be pointed out that the stroke marks left on the stone differ from those we find in the Pallava caves of mallai.

Photos: Arvind Venkatraman

This time the sculptor father kills his apprentice son – Thirumalapuram

Sculptor father and sculptor son seems to be a bad formula. The curious urban legends of sculptors killing or maiming themselves for ‘ defects’ ( usually toads found inside the stone!) finds itself repeated in so many sites that we were actually happy that there was at least an attempt to concoct something new this time around !

It was late evening when we reached the twin caves of Thirumalapuram (Thirunelveli district about 5 kms from Kallidaikurichi – older name Tirumalaipuram) in pursuit of our tryst to cover the caves of the Pandyas. Despite the sites being ASI protected monuments it took a lot of direction seeking, blind turns and pure serendipitous luck to arrive there.

The long shot gives you an idea of the plain rock face which would have dauntingly stood before the nameless sculptor or his more generous master/ king as they envisioned their masterpiece. Would they have envisioned their creation standing for a thousand years and beyond?

Its a relatively small excavation comprising of two pillars and two pillasters (The cave on the north face of the hillock is finished with reliefs on its inside as well, while the one on the south has been left unfinished – which incidentally lends itself perfectly to this urban legend which we will see shortly!)

Lets take a closer look at the north face cave. The pillars have some really nice carvings and are fluted.

The piece de resistance of the finished cave must have been its monolithic nandhi but sadly only its base and one of its hooves remains. To fully appreciate the task envisioned by the sculptor, you must understand how he must have felt as he shaped the bull, knowing fully well that even one wrong move would endanger the entire work. We will see this in more detail when we tour the unfinished second cave helps us in this task, as we can see how the stone at the center has been reduced leaving the enough rock to carve the Nandhi.

The date for this cave is assigned to the second half of the 7th C CE and of Pandya style. This is ascertained by the monolithic Shiva linga – carved out of the base rock, a feature which is not present in the Pallava caves of the same period and the presence of Ganesha relief.

One of the door guardians sports a very majestic mustache which has been curled upwards in the style that is in vogue in rustic Tamil Nadu to this day.




Further there are high relief carvings trinity Brahma and Vishnu, plus a very unique dancing form of Shiva.

The posture of his is not the classic Natraja thanadava but more of his chatura pose and he is dancing in gay abandon to the merriment of his Ganas. The throw of the upper left hand accentuates the feel while his lower left hand holds the book of dance – a feature unique and met in Pandya sculptures of this period.

There are two Ganas ( were !) on his two sides – the one to his right has been defaced while the one on the left is of profound interest to students of Music. We will see these in more detail in the next part of this post.

There are few vestigial remnants of paintings which supports that view that most if not all of the early caves were embellished with mural paintings. It is also interesting to note that the reliefs are actually separated by carvings of actual pillars in relief.


However, it must be mentioned that the overall proportions seems a bit dwarfish especially the lower torso which is quite baffling considering the expertise that has gone into the facial expressions and overall stonecraft – the shortening of the lower torso and legs is singular sore feature on the sculptor.

A short walk in the dropping light led us the locked gate of the second unfinished gate. We had now built up our own crowd of delirious camp followers who maybe thought we were movie directors. They tried their best to first dissuade us from wasting our time in seeing this cave which had ‘no’ art.



To be fair to them the art work was pedestrian as evidenced by what must have been a amateurish attempt at sculpting maybe a Ganesha on the outer wall. After watching us trying to peer inside the rusty mesh for a couple of minutes they must have realised that we were indeed hard nuts and gave us the number of the ASI person responsible for the site and we made the call with a healthy sprinkling of ” I know so and so in ASI !” and he promised to come over.

As we waited for the ASI person to arrive, the ever present goat herders kept our company with an absorbing tale on the two caves. The master sculptor who was excavating the north cave had a talented son who would bring his ‘coffee’ from home every day. He would then observe his father work the stone and would go around the hill and replicate the same moves on the stone there. He took care to match the strokes with those of his father’s hammer, so that his father’s hammer strikes would mask his own. He continued in this fashion when one day, the father suddenly stopped mid stroke and heard the sound of the hammer on chisel. He immediately set off to find the source and came across a boy stooped over a stone. But since he was turned away from him, he couldn’t recognize him but seeing the work he realized that someone was copying his design. Enraged he stuck the lad on his head with his hammer and slew him on the spot. Only then he realized that it was his own son but it was too late!

We have seen many variations of this tale now, like urban legends, we need to coin a term for these sculpture legends, how they first came to be and how they manage to reach even the real off beat locations is a mystery by itself.

The key finally arrived and as we had been adequately warned – there was nothing inside but for a delightful insight into a cave excavation that had been abandoned – the work in progress giving us vital clues as to how they attempted the insitu Nandi etc.

You can see how a pillar of the mother rock has been left in the center of the cave excavation and slowly reduced from the middle. You can also see the patterns cut into the rock wall to excavate more depth. It must be pointed out that the stroke marks left on the stone differ from those we find in the Pallava caves of mallai.

Photos: Arvind Venkatraman

A bedecked Bronze – Ornamentation study

Looking at the sky rocketing price of gold one might think that for once this precious yellow metal might at last follow the principles of Economics ! but then postulates come with their own exceptions and for ages this metal has defied all ! So best is to leave its current behavior to those who possess means to posses it and for those lesser mortal restrict to studying its most desirable form – Ornaments.

Kandikai, Sarappali, Savadi, Pulippal Tali, tolmalai, vagu malai, tolvalai, Kataka valai the list continues – thanks to Sri Ganapathi Stapathi’s book Indian Sculpture and Iconography, try to figure out what they are!

Thanks to Shashwath for managing to capture this beautiful Ardhanari closeup for our study.

Try and Identify these now.

Let me make it easier for you

The Kandikai is easy to identify – being the shortest – a rope like necklace with a large bead at the centre and small beads on its either sides.

The Sarappali is also easy – most elaborate, thick with pearls on the top and leaf motif on the bottom.

The Pulippal Tali is simple – a tiger tooth worn on a slender chain. It is interesting to note that though this ornament can be worn by both male and female , in this Ardhanari form the artist has chosen to show the differentiation in this alone – the male side has the Pulippal Tali while it extends as a simpler Savadi on the female side. The Savadi being a slightly longer chain than the Kandikai interlaced with repeating floral motifs along its length.

There is a beautiful flourish on the shoulder – the Vagumalai which is a wavy ornament slung over the shoulder in front, while a similar flourish along the sides is the Tollmalai

The Yagnopavitham is multi stranded and the scared knot – the Brahma Mudichu is stylistically shown.

The lower torso and elbows also sport ornaments.

The stylistic Keyyura / Tollvalai on the elbow is brilliantly set off by another ornament – the Kataka valai. The slender curves of the waist are highlighted by the ornamental belt – Udara Bandam.

The Yagnopavitha would in early Pallava period split into 3 strands – the shorter Uras Sutram, the central Yagnopavitham and a longer Sthana sutram. The Sthana Sutram is missing in this Chola creation.

Let me make it easier for you. Check the 3 in this rare Kongu Bronze Vishnu.

Maybe this will give fresh ideas to our Jewellers for a truly Antique Jewellery range !!

Controversial Sculpture Series – Part 3 – Kankalamurthy

We continue this controversial series with another highly controversial sculpture – Kankalamurthy. Lets look at the Iconography first before heading into the murky plots – he is quite often confused with his Bhikshadanar form not without reason, for they appear quite similar but for some key differences.Take these two from Gangai Konda Cholapuram.

The first and most obvious one is the presence and absence of clothing. Bhikshadanar is naked with a few snakes on him, while Kankala is shown fully dressed. The texts do mention however that his upper garment must be the skin of a horse or an ass, which he should wear with the hairy side appearing outside and lower garment made of threads of the hemp and when worn
it should not descend below the knee. ( notice the when worn ! ). Both wear thick wooden clogs /slippers.

The second obvious difference is in the headdress. Kankala has a Jatamakuta ( hair that is worked to form a crown) while Bhikshadana has a Jata Bara ( more like a wandering mendicant’s unwashed thick locks brushed back!) or even a Jata Mandala ( the same like jata bara but the hair kind of radiates to form a circle!).

Hair style differences …thanks for art

However, this hair dress part seems to be not followed 100% with some combination sculptures, meaning there are a few Bhikshadanar with Jatamakuta – maybe the sculptor tried a two in one upsize combo.

But there are some very important differences that enable us to clearly distinguish the two.

Watch what Shiva is holding in his lower left hand. If it is a skull cap begging bowl ( we will come to the story shortly) – it is Bikshadanar and if he is holding a particular variety of drum called a Dhakka, it is Kankala.

Further, the lower right hand of Bikshadanar is feeding his antelope, while that of Kankala must be beating the drum with a stick ( called bana). The second right hand of Bikshanda holds a damaru above shoulder height, while that of Kankala is feeding the antelope. Now we have a peculiar problem in the Gangaikonda Cholapuram sculpture – the Kankala has 6 hands and the front ones are broken but then you can see that only the second right hand is feeding while the third is bent up holding a coiled snake.

The upper left hand of both hold a staff but herein comes the most clinching evidence. The staff is no ordinary staff for the Kankala murthy. Kankala – is termed as a skeleton or corpse. The skull cap in the hand of Bikshadana is the plucked head of Brahma – the popular Lingothbava connection. However the Kankala connection gets more sinister with many a variant being sung about. Its 100% controversial with the most common version – stating that Shiva as Bairava being barred entry by Viswaksena – the head of Vishnu’s staff and an enraged Bairava spearing him with his trident and carrying his lifeless body impaled on it. Sounds gruesome – but believe me this is the most mildest version that i could post. The others versions talk of the spinal cord etc. But the ending kind of brings some parity between the two Gods – by saying Vishnu infact helps Shiva redeem himself from the curse etc ( other versions say it was Lakshmi !)

To get back to Iconography of the supporting cast of the Kankalamurthy form , below passage from Sri Gopinath Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography will be of interest

“The Kankalamurti should be surrounded by a number of women and the bhutaganas (goblins) represented variously as dancing, singing and in other attitudes ; one of the bhutas should carry on his head a large vessel for storing in the food received in alms and be situated on the left of Siva. Of the women who surround Siva some should appear to be completely possessed of irrepressible love for him, some eager to embrace him, some others blessing him, while still others serving in his vessel food ladled out from another with a spoon. Out of lust for Siva the clothes of the women should appear slipping down their loins.. There should also be hosts of rishis, devas, gandharvas, siddhas and vidyadharas everywhere around Siva, with arms crossed on the chest in the anjali pose. The god Vayu should sweep the streets before Siva, Varuna should sprinkle them with water, the other devas should shower flowers on him, the rishis should praise him by repeating the Vedas, Surya and Chandra should carry umbrellas over his head and the celestial musicians Narada and Tumburu should sing songs to the accompaniment of musical instruments.”

When we were in Thirukkurungudi last December, we were fortunate that the Gopura was undergoing extensive upkeep and hence we could climb both the outside ( a little scary and spiderman like ) and also on the inside. It was the last place we expected to find a relief sculpture of Kankalamurthy confirming to iconographic cannons as above !

Must have been a very brave sculptor to attempt this.

You can apply the specifications from above perfectly to this sculpture.

What is a puzzle however is what is shown on the other end of staff. Looks like a reptile

Maybe it is a contingency against him not being so successful in his efforts to secure his breakfast, which is not surprising considering the fact that he has a corpse dangling behind him.

It is important to read these in context to life and culture of those days. What may appear in today’s context to be stupid or ridiculous might have been the norm them. While reading a paper on Self sacrifice came across this interesting reference where ” Viran and Narayana – twin brothers who served under Parantaka Chola I, simply cut off their own heads to demonstrate how they cut off the head of Vikkalan, the King of Nellore’

However, as usual all ends well – with Viswaksenar resurrected and going back to his duties and Shiva regaining his benevolent form .

Some Macabre attributes !

To even try to comprehend Hindusim, let alone setting off to understand it, is a task that many dread to attempt and few have succeeded. The evolutionary tales of this unique religion is lost in pre history and the trails n tribulations of a continent in constant churn. The vestigial remains of its early forms are a distant reminder of its yet unclear origins and when many western scholars first sampled the religious art , their initial impression was not palatable as per their set canons. Have seen many arguments risen subsequently wherein with a wider exposure, the first reactions have watered down and the art has been appreciated more though questions on the religion still persist. To be honest and fair, to someone who is not exposed to the zillion things that one got to know about the Hindu pantheon – the fanged gods, chopped heads, gory depictions of religious self sacrifice, demons impaled on lances, a garland of skulls, an infant fetus as an ear ring, ‘naked’ Gods etc do present a picture that is not pretty.

It is hardly surprising that to even to someone who has been brought up amidst its folds, the cult of Shiva especially, presents a very difficult and complex question – a seemingly paradoxical representation of God – the Destroyer, the one who lives near the abode of the dead, surrounded by Ghosts and goblins as his assistants, smeared with the ash of burnt bodies. That much for his anthropomorphic form, to talk of his ‘other’ slightly darker followers – the Kalamukas, Kabalikas , Pasupathas, Kaulas, of his fiery Bairava forms and then to the more popular manifestation as the Linga, has spawned another stream of contradicting arguments.

To add to the above, I am trying to present a few more to fan the fire of arguments, for that is the beauty of this religion which does allow one to question the very essence of its core !

Apart from the tales and legends, a few vestigial attributes seem to attest to the notion constant evolutionary nature of Hindusim. Thanks to Late Sri. Ganapathi Stapathi’s wonderful work – Indian Sculpture and Iconography for showing us that the creative tradition kept alive these subtle concepts to this day.

We see below an intricate sculpture of Bairava form of Shiva from Halebidu, the heights of Hoysala art, every inch is intricately carved.

Hoysala art is truly a problem of too many and majority of today’s tourists would rush past without even a second glance due to the profusion of art on display and maybe to the call of the horn of the tourist operator’s hurried itinerary bound luxury coach driver. Even for the few who do stop and look, the attribute held in his left hand is truly macabre.

It was with a certain trepidation that I decided to look it up in the book and was surprised to see it listed.

Quote:

” Katvangam: This is a staff fashioned out of the leg or thigh bone, on which a skull has been fixed. A snake, coiled around the staff, emerges with its hood raised from one of the eye sockets. This implement is similar to the mace, and, instead of the thigh bone, the staff maybe made of wood. Usually an accessory of Kapalika Shivaite images, the Katvanga is also an instrument of Shiva. sometimes, it can also be adopted as a staff for Yogis or rishis. The staff should be 2 face lengths high and 2 viral thick: the skull should be 5 viral wide and 7 viral long.'”

Not only was the description apt but the illustration was picture perfect. Thanks to our artist Raghavendra Prasad for rendering it clearly for us

While we were discussing this, our good friend and fellow heritage enthusiast and expert Photographer Swami came up with another gem and kudos to him for spotting this. A Brahma from Somnathpur

The question was the attribute held in Brahma’s right hand.

Thanks again to Prasad.

Being the destined ‘ Creator’ to find him with this ‘weird’ implement was baffling. Back to the book again.

Quote:

“Siruk, Suruvam: These ladles or large spoons are considered to be Brahma’s instruments. They are used to pour oblation ( ghee) into the sacrificial fire. On the final day of the yagna or sacrificial rite, the ladle is used to pour various oblations into the sacrificial fire in a ceremony known as purnahuti. The siruk is made of wood and is shaped like an ordinary spoon. The suruvam has a square, box-like scoop, adorned with a cow, elephant or other such animal head at its extremity. The length of the ladle may be taken as one muzham or cubit.

Since Brahma is considered to be the symbolic priest or chief for the sacrificial rite, these ladles represent Brahma in his Vedic identity. Further, the ladles are symbols of the rite itself.”

Quite interesting depiction and lot of questions emanating out of it. But first to set out to find a Suruvam with an Elephant head !