A gift to the gifted Child – Thiruvattathurai

Last year, i accidentally chanced on a brilliant work on Melaikkadambur. I had seen some of authors previous researches on the Spinx of India but this article on Melaikkadambur was special. The wealth of information it brought forth and ease with which they were explained were stunning. However, i was unfortunate to miss the opportunity of having the great scholar doing a guest post for the site – fate intervened and even though Sri Raja Deekshithar had indicated that he would do so, he left us before we could interact more and feature some of his fantastic articles here. However, today that we are fortunate to have his sishya Ms. Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink, contribute via a special series and am ever grateful to her for this fantastic post.

As long as I remember I have always been attracted to beauty and mystery, especially when it is from somewhere far away. A combination of choices and coincidences brought me to India. It is a long story. And so one fine day I came to an ancient temple on the bank of a river in the company of Kandhan, Jayakumar and Shankar, the sons of my great friend and teacher Raja Deekshithar. A quiet village, some children playing, a few people working. The temple was being renovated, but it was being done in a careful, non-intrusive way, as far as I could tell. Nothing of the ancient structure seemed to have been disturbed.

Everything tells a story. In the case of an ancient south Indian temple there are always many stories creating a kind of fabric, a weaving. There is the story of the building, the structure. What shape is it? How many talas or stories does it have? When was it build and who build it? Was it the first temple in this site or was it a renovation or reconstruction in stone? Another story is told by the sculptures. Which deities are presented in the niches? What other sculpture is decorating the temple and what is this telling us? There is the history told by inscriptions. Who donated what and for what purpose? How was the temple administered? And of course there is the story told by the sthala purana, the temple’s mythology. Through which divine intervention did this sacred place come into being? Who was the first to worship here? What are the special powers of this place? We need to understand all these stories if we are going to understand the temple as a whole. Each story is part of the puzzle that together is a sthala. A sacred place and a temple.

When I started preparing this presentation I thought it would be just one short article. But as I progressed I realised the material told so many stories, and I could not tell them all at once. It would just be very confusing. So it is becoming a series of articles about some of the stories that are part of the Shiva temple in the small village of Thiruvattathurai

The Lord of the temple is called Arattathurai Nathar, which just means ‘the Lord of Arattathurai’. This almost forgotten temple presents us with some truly magnificent examples of Chola sculpture

It is situated a short distance from the Pennadam – Tittakudi road on the bank of the river Vellar. The shrine belongs to the Early Chola period. Online I could find almost nothing about it. Adisesha (the snake on whom Vishnu rests) and the Saptarishis (the seven rishis are the constellation Ursa Major) are said to have worshiped Shiva here. These two things is the only information I could find about the sthala purana.

The only other story I could find about this temple is about Jnasambandar, the saint-child-poet from the 7th century. This temple enjoys fame as the place where Shiva offered a palanquin and parasol to the saint-poet Jnanasambandar. He was a small boy who traveled from temple to temple to compose and sing beautiful songs for Shiva. When he approached this temple he was very tired and Shiva gave the inhabitants of the village a dream telling them to give him a palanquin and umbrella decorated with pearls. Both are a sign of honor and distinction. Jnanasambandar composed several songs for the Shiva of this temple.

This story is depicted three times. We see it for the first time as we enter through the renovated gopuram

On the second tala on the right corner the stucco work shows the palanquin with the child inside and the umbrella on top being welcomed with music

Also the second tala of the main shrine depicts this story

And in the central medallion of one of the makara-toranas this story is depicted as a miniature.

This is without doubt the earliest depiction. We see Jnanasambandar and his father on the right side. The palanquin carried by two sturdy persons is approaching from the left towards the father and son on the right. The Umbrella bearer, shown underneath the Palanquin, amazes us as he holds up the umbrella’s bamboo handle , in a manner that can be seen to this day in temple processions. The boy and his father express happiness and a sense of gratitude for the blessing offered by the Lord through the people Arattathurai. The Jnanasambandar raises his arms and his father gestures his thanks and maybe also surprise with arms stretched out, palms up. Above this scene Shiva dances His Ananda Tandava together with Sivakami, blessing the whole scene as it were. The sculptor catches the emotions in this small panel brilliantly. After a thousand years we still experience the happiness and gratitude of the little boy and his father for this offer of transport and honor for the tired little poet. The palanquin is of a different design then what we are used to today. It is rectangular and flat with the umbrella offering protection from the sun.

The other two depictions of this legend show the saint poet sitting in the palanquin and being carried and received with music. Here the palanquin is depicted as we know it today, with a curved roof protecting the passenger from the sun and rain. The umbrella is depicted as fixed on top of this roof, where it looses its function of giving shade and protection from the rain. It is not possible to tell whether these narrative panels were added recently or not. But it is interesting to see the differences between the two narratives. One is as old as a thousand years. The other must be of more recent times. Both show the love and respect for the traditions of this village. I have only one possible regret. The renovations of the gopuram and vimana seem to have been made with a kind of cement and not with the traditional stucco or lime work. I hope I am wrong. Traditional materials last much longer.

Why are there depictions of Buddha in the Tanjore Big Temple?

For a temple as famous as the Tanjore Brihadeshwara, it does have more than its fair share of legends associated with it. We have seen of these before, including the most popular one of the Shadow of the Vimana.. Today, we are to see another popular riddle – Why are there depictions of Buddha in the temple. Yes, its depictions in plural ! There are three places where we get to see the form of Buddha – two carved into stone and one a part of the famed Fresco.

( Images Courtesy: Mr Satheesh, Mr Arvind and Mr Thyagarajan from the fantastic book )

A careful study of the Tripurantaka episode reveals the clues and explains the panels.

The three sons of the demon Taraka – Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha, and Viryavana , were devout followers of Shiva and by the power of their austerities they sought from Brahma the boon of immortality. This was not within the creators powers as all things had to perish, so they sought a seemingly impossible end – They sought three forts, one of pure gold, another of silver, last of iron and each could fly !! Once in a thousand years, the three would align in a single line for a brief second and it was at this moment that they could be felled by a single arrow of Shiva. Having received this boon they sought the services of the divine architect Maya to cast their flying fortresses.

The years passed as centuries and their power thus complimented they grew in prosperity and challenged the Devas. Powerless against them, the devas sought the help of Shiva, who being the benevolent self, said that ` as long as they are my followers, i cannot do anything’. The time when destiny brought the three flying citadels in the same line drew near and in desperation the devas sought the help of Vishnu. Seeing the need to correct the balance of power, Vishnu took upon himself to lead the Tripura demons out of Shiva worship. He took the form of a Buddha ( the operative word here is “a”) and led them out of the Shivaite faith.

Now, Shiva took on the task of ending their rule. The Devas with the help of Visvakarma constructed the chariot of the earth, the Sun and the Moon became its wheels, the bow was the Mount Meru itself and Vasuki the Bow string. Vishnu himself became the arrow. Brahma became his charioteer and he led the Deva army along with Ganesha, Skanda and Mahishasuramardhini.

Quoting Dr R. Nagasamy from his article
“Lord Brahma addressed Siva and said “Lord you are Omniscient and Omnipotent and you do not require all these chariot, weapons, and the retinue to destroy the Asuras? The Asuras will disappear the moment you “will”, but if you are still resorting to these acts it is purely out of your sport”. Siva laughed and at the same moment the Asuras were burnt to ashes. In order to please the Devas Siva discharged the arrow. That is the story of Tripurantaka. “

Now, lets analyse the panels. Stones first – Panel 1

Little closer.

The first part, you can see the three clearly – Mahishasuramardhini on her lion mount, Ganesha on his mouse mount and Skanda on his peacock mount.

The middle row seems to depict the battle – though Shiva is not shown. The bottom is left unfinished.

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The adjacent row has the depiction of Buddha on top with the Tripura demons worshiping him with their consorts

The next row, seems to show the fall of the demons. The posture of the hands marked below, seemed to implore the fallen demons to seek Shiva’s grace.

The last row shows them returning to worship of the Linga with one holding it reverently above his head.

Lets now move on to another varied depiction of the same in stone.

Tirpura demons listening to Buddha

Shiva riding on his chariot to battle with Brahma as his charioteer

Finally the famed Fresco – which we discussed before.

Here again you see the Depiction of Buddha and also Mahishasuramardhini, Brahma, Skanda and Ganesha.

Its interesting to note that there was a conscious effort even during the Pallava period to show Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. However, is this Buddha the same as the Sakyamuni is a difficult question to comprehend. But the point to dwell on is the portrayal in both stone and paint – the size and the dignified manner in which he is portrayed. The reverence is very visible.

Controversial Sculpture Series part 2 – One-upmanship Shiva Vs Vishnu

While the tenets and underlying significance of Hinduism continue to astound many scholars, we merrily pursue our simple pursuit to explain sculptures. Not wanting to repeat the purpose of this controversial sculpture series, would request readers to read the first part prior.

I had wanted to do this post for many years now, but kept putting it away, being unsure of how some readers might opine. But then, when Gaman asked me what is this, after visiting Darasuram, felt that its is duty to atleast explain the iconography. I would request all readers to be patient and read till the end before voicing their concerns/comments.

That this sculpture of Sarabeshwarar is present in Darasuram, the pinnacle of Chola artistic expression in stone, is no excuse for the religious one-upmanship of the emergence of this iconography. Whilst the origins of the particular form is lost in the wormhole of times long past – we are talking of Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th C CE here, that the divide has reached such an extreme expression is sad.

Keeping the narrative to the minimum, as most of the versions are indeed inflammatory, the story of Narasimhar is very well know. To rid the world of the evil demon Hiranyakasipu, who had secured a virtually perpetual existence via a boon from Brahma..


O my lord, O best of the givers of benediction, if you will kindly grant me the benediction I desire, please let me not meet death from any of the living entities created by you. Grant me that I not die within any residence or outside any residence, during the daytime or at night, nor on the ground or in the sky. Grant me that my death not be brought about by any weapon, nor by any human being or animal. Grant me that I not meet death from any entity, living or nonliving created by you. Grant me, further, that I not be killed by any demigod or demon or by any great snake from the lower planets. Since no one can kill you in the battlefield, you have no competitor. Therefore, grant me the benediction that I too may have no rival. Give me sole lordship over all the living entities and presiding deities, and give me all the glories obtained by that position. Furthermore, give me all the mystic powers attained by long austerities and the practice of yoga, for these cannot be lost at any time”

Courtesy : wiki

He goes the usual route upon receiving the boon. His son Prahalad is the epitome of devotion to Narayana ( Vishnu) and refuses to equate his father to God. In anger he asks where is this God you talk of, for which the boy replies that he is omnipresent – in this pillar , in this spec of dust. Angered by it, Hiranyakasipu brings out his mace and proceed to break the pillar to see if this God is there ?

To view a clipping of a Cinema ( telugu language) enactment of the scene

Now the form that Vishnu takes is very interesting: to circumvent the rules ( a la 3 G spectrum allocation !) he takes the form of a part lion part human, bursts out of a pillar ( not born or created !), disembowels him with his claws ( no weapon clause !), puts him on his lap ( not on earth not in heaven !), chooses dusk ( neither day nor night !) – etc. He is such a fiery form as you can see from the depictions and is a powerful deity in the Hindu pantheon. Ideally the story must have ended there – ok, he is cooled down by the melodious voice of Prahalada singing his praise.

But, an educated guess is that, the Shivaite Vashnavite divide had grown so much, that a sequel was added. Seems the anger of Narasimha would not subside, and even Laxmi couldn’t come near her beloved. The whole world trembled at the consequences of the wrath of an angry form that they request Shiva to help. He first sends Veerabadra but he is not match for Narasimhar. In order to match up with the dual form of Narasimhar, Shiva takes up one more aspect – he forms a composite man+lion+bird and becomes Sarabeshwarar.

What happens next is left to many interpretations, but he is supposed to have alternatively embraced, restrained Narsimhar and liberated Vishnu from inside that.

The entire story is depicted in the Madurai Meenakshi amman temple in three simple scenes.

Now, back to the Darasuram sculpture.

Thankfully Gaman has got us another shot of the entire sculpture.

The depiction of Narasimhar being liberated and a small figure beneath him – could be Prahalada. The devas are shown above, happy at the turn of events.

If you notice, there are no visible marks or attributes to identify the forms unlike the later version from Madurai.

The second question from Gaman was about the legs. Iconographically he is said to have a pair of wings and four pairs of legs.


Some versions also have a multitude of hands as well. check this version from a Muneeshwaran temple in Srilanka ( courtesy wiki)

Why i say, i was sad at this depiction is that in recent years there are multitude of interpretations including the ones of Pratyankadevi and people flock those shrines to rid them of various “ailments”. Its time for people to understand that Hinduism is definitely not a mono theistic religion, and its not a question of My God over your God, or even the very existence of God but the maturity that of allowing even a quest to find out if there is indeed God.

To see the greatness of Sri Rajaraja who has wonderfully depicted the confluence of the plurality of Hinduism in such a grand manner in this Harihara sculpture in the Tanjore Big temple,

Am reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s famous address “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. “

Why then this one-upmanship?

An Unique Pala Bronze – in Melaikkadambur – Part 1

Today we are going to see a very rare and unique bronze from a spectacular temple. Kadambur brings back fond memories to all History buffs ( to be read as fans of Sri Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan). We visited Melaikkadambur an year ago !

It was the first day of our tour and we were pushing ourselves to complete this splendid temple before heading for our night halt at Chidambaram ( 30 kms away). It was already dark by the time we reached its gates and the dark clouds were threatening to open up anytime. The temple was getting ready for Prathosham the next day.

But then, i can see you asking, why it took a year to feature the same !

Two reasons – one, Sri Raja Deekshithar had done such a superlative task of documenting this temple, that i was corresponding with him to feature the same here. Unfortunately, fate intervened and the great soul left us. We are working on translating his post and featuring it here shortly. Second reason, was this bronze. He would be taken out only for Prathosha Pooja and despite all our pleadings, all we could get was a photo of the same from the temple board !

However, thanks to the net, managed to track down Sri Vijay the Managing Trustee of the temple via his site
Kadambur Temple
Regarding the origins of this temple check out

Kadambur Temple Puranam in illustrations

For starters, the temple is Amrithakadeshwarar Temple or Melaikkadambur temple. The current structure is assigned to the reign of Kulottunga Chola I (1075 -1120 C.E.). Regarding its architecture and sculptures, we will wait to feature the post of Sri Raja Deekshitar, and proceed to view the wonderful and Unique bronze first up.

This magnificent bronze is called Dasa Buja ( ten handed) Rishaba ( bull or on the bull) thandava murthy ( dancer!)

Lets take a closer look at the beauty.

The striking feature of this bronze is the high pedestal, with straight line edges and the characteristic plate fixed behind as the aureole with the flames emanating out.

Eminent scholar Sri Nagasamy writes thus about this bronze, ” The temple also houses several processional images of exquisite beauty, consecrated in the time of Kulottunga chola. The collection also includes one metal image of Siva dancing on the back of Nandi and surrounded by Ganesa, Subrahmanya, Bringi, Nandi, Bhairava and ganas. This particular image is from Bengal made in the time of the Pala rulers who were contemporaries of the Cholas of Tamilnad. This metal image belongs to 9th – 10th cent. It might have been brought by the Rajaguru of Kulottunga who hailed from Bengal. It is one of the finest and early bronze image of the Pala dynasty but found in Tamilnad. It also establishes a close link between Bengal and Chidambaram in the Chola times.”

Kadambur Temple Dr RN article

Lets compare this bronze with a Pala Bronze Buddha from the Metropolitan Museum Nyc.

You can see the resemblances as far as the pedestal and aureole go. Lets step in closer and analyse the features.

What clearly strikes you as the non local nature of this bronze is the Urdhva Linga of this bronze. We do not find this feature in South Indian bronzes.

Mr Vijay also accommodated our request to study this bronze is closer detail and without the back plate.

The style and grace of this bronze is evident in the way he is shown dancing. The attachment of the arms at the shoulders rather than at the elbow ( as we see in most early chola bronzes and even earlier Pallava bronzes) . You can study this aspect more clearly below.

There are a profusion of attendants and Gods on the aureole and on the Pedestal, whom we will see in Part 2 of this post.

Elephanta is Buddhist, see the elongated ear of Trimurthi. If it is Shiva, show me the snake!

With the tools that google, wiki and the world wide web place on our hands, its very easy to make up a convincing article, but we must take care to ensure that we try and present our posts with utmost care. You may ask, why this sudden concern, but off late there is an overpowering outflow of emotionally charged writing on the net, and poetic license is being twisted to promote half baked theories and a hidden agenda to increase viewership by featuring titillating content. Religion and Castes are thrown in for good measure, with scant regard for communal unity, for they are subjects that we need to handle with caution and the clarion call is to be more responsible in what we put up on the net including contributions to every growing efforts like Wiki.

Couple of years back, an interesting discussion on Iconography, was punctuated by a certain person, who put up this photo of the magnificent Trimurthi or Mahasadhasiva Shiva from Elephanta. He obviously read that there were Hindu and Buddhist caves in the same vicinity and added for good measure that the entire site was an earlier Buddhist cave usurped by Saivites. He went on to showcase the Serene face of the main ( centre) form and its elongated ears and then as a final encore, asked everyone – if its Shiva where are the snakes?

This was the image he put up. I presume he had taken it from this site

Temple net transposed photo

Now, early readers would get easily influenced by this, hence we took on the task of answering his questions.

First of all, there was something wrong with the image. It didn’t look correct. Do you notice the large mustache of the face on the left of the sculpture ( right as you see it) – thats Rudra Shiva , its not supposed to be that way. The image he had ( the site and many more such sites) seem to have put up is a transposed image. ie. the sculpture is rotated right to left. Below is the correct view

The question on snakes was very easy to answer and its clear that he has never been to the site.

See this post and its photos

India Temple Blogspot post

Do you notice what he is holding in his hand?

Pl navigate to the 12th image in the ASI website

ASI site

Mr. George Michell has brought out a book titled “ELEPHANTA” and is a wonderfully illustrated work. I am showing some low resolution images from his book – for there is one more snake which i wanted readers to observe

Now, that we have settled the snake issue, lets take up the elongated ears.

Without getting too much into Agama / Iconography texts, ( for the more seriously inclined – please read the ref from Elements of Hindu Iconography by Sri Gopinath Rao – attaching relevant pages), the canons for Iconography were common for Jain, Buddhist and Hindu sculptures.

For, eg, I am taking an illustration from his book, which gives the proportions as per silpa text cannons for an ear.

Lets, compare this against our Elephanta sculpture and see how it measures up against the standards. ( This is not a research work done to scale, but just to give you an idea)


Interesting exercise, but would this ` Ear Test’ give sustained results on a definitive Shiva sculpture. So why not test it, not against any sculpture, but a chola bronze, not any chola bronze, but a dated chola bronze – Who else but our Rishabantakar.

Need to get a good straight shot of his ear, here we go!

The ears

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How do they match up?

He went on to state that the sculptures in the Hindu caves are all converted from Buddhist ones. I wish he had at least went through the Wiki pages properly. These are monolithic sculptures carved out of base basalt rock. The below link gives you the detailed layout and the location of each of the icons.

Wiki layout of Elephanta

Main Hall

1. Ravana lifting Kailash
2. Shiva-Parvati on Kailash
3. Ardhanarishvara
4. Trimurti
5. Gangadhara
6. Wedding of Shiva
7. Shiva slaying Andhaka
8. Nataraja
9. Yogishvara
16. Linga

East Wing Shrine

10. Kartikeya
11. Matrikas
12. Ganesha
13. Dvarapala

West Wing Shrine

14. Yogishvara
15. Nataraja

Indeed a stunning location, sadly not a single inscription is there to ascertain its date. We are forced to assign a 8th C CE date and Gupta / Chalukya authorship for them.

The truth is out there !!

Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 3

Its been an amazing journey taking our readers through the last couple of posts, as we are treated to ring side seats to this delightful recreation of a lost pallava painting, from the Kanchi Kailasantha temple of Sri Rajasimha Pallava ( 700 CE !!), moving with the artist stage by stage.

We had started of by blocking in most of what we could salvage from the surviving pieces and started working on filling the finer details. The main hero of this panel comes up now. Shiva.

Next Umai, takes form.

Working on the divine mother a bit more. We notice that she is wearing a thin yellowish blouse or has applied turmeric on her upper torso.

The coloring starts now, with very light skin tones.

Shiva gets his color including his famous Neelakanta !

Umai matches her beloved now.

Lets see how they both pair up.

Its coming up quite well. lets add more color and fill in the details of Shiva’s Keyuras ( arm bands)

The bottom ganas and stands get colored up.

and as we approach the final stages of the composition, time for a quick stock taking. Have we missed any detail.

We forgot to correct the hands of Brahma, to be in the anjali pose.

This is where we go back to the origins of this study on Somaskanda evolution – the 1971 article of Dr Gift Siromoney.

http://www.cmi.ac.in/gift/Archeaology/arch_somaskanda.htm

“Of Siva’s four arms, his lower right arm is extended horizontally to the side with his hand in the position of holding something, such as a flower, though no object is actually shown. With his upper right hand he holds a snake by its tail. His lower left hand is in the ardha-dhyana mudra. His upper left hand is near his shoulder as though holding a rosary or akshamala. Siva’s left leg is down.”

This is ofcourse his reference to the early pre Rajasimha Style somaskanda sculptures. But there is no reference to the snake in the Rajasimha style Somaskanda. But his pointer made us search for the snake in more detail.

Do we see something in the lower right hand?

Do you see the raised hood of a beautiful Cobra. We incorporate it into ours.

and without further delay, with many thanks to the artist Mrs. Subhashini Balasubramanian and our young photographer jagadeesh, we have our recreation of the 8th Century lost wonder.

We hope you all enjoyed this attempt ( any mistakes are purely unintentional and we are open to comments)

Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 2

Its so nice to receive such wonderful feedback from all readers, believe me it was as interesting and thoroughly enjoyable to me and the artist Mrs. Subhashini Balasubrmanian, as it has been to you, to finally be able to fulfill a long pending and cherish dream, of seeing this beautiful panel in one piece. But then, we wanted to share with you the journey of our recreation process, so that you also learn want we learn’t working on this assignment.

Thankfully, a lot of finer detail was made available to us by Jagadeesh’s high resolution photos of the four remaining panels of the Kanchi Kailasantha Somaskanda Pantings. We once again thank him for his timely support.

Having done the general composition of the panel, we returned to study the panels at more depth to figure out the gana and the attendant. The Gana was tough, as only a part of his face was available in one of the panels, so we had to do the rest from a bit of artistic license.

The lady attendant and the details of the beautiful saree pattern of Umai came to us from the panel.


The next was the question of the pitcher or vase, though not there in any of panels – for all the panels have peeled off – we do not have any reference to this portion in the panels, people following the thread on Somaskanda Evolution would have found the small pitcher being a permanent feature in all of Rajasimha’s Somaskanda Panels. Take for example this somaskanda from the Mallai shore temple, though the gana and attendant are not there for sure, we do get to see this prominent pitcher / vase.

So, the vase finds its place in our recreation as well.

The next ofcourse was Brahma. Only one of the panels, has a outline of Brahma.

Depending on this, showing the side faces of Brahma was a bit tricky. So we decided to take inspiration from the splendor of Pullamangai temple.

and fashioned our Brahma. ( the lower hands must be changed to anjali – praying posture – we should do it soon)

Thankfully, Vishnu was pretty straight forward with one of the panel surviving completely giving us a shot at the magnificence of the Pallava artist.

So the next question before us was Skanda.

We needed to get upclose to see if we could spot the features of baby Skanda, it was very important, for isn’t he the most beautiful of Gods and imagine his as a small baby.

While, we were looking at the closeups, we realised that the Throne did not have lion motifs as had envisioned them, but were just decorative patterns.

Now, to get Umai’s face, headdress and posture correct.


Shiva, was especially tough, the toughest being the Hand mudras, ( we were helped by a small note – but we will see that in the concluding part of this series). Take for eg, his upper right hand.

The Makuda of Shiva, was especially tough one, as we wanted to get as close as possible to the original.

There was this particular design on the head dress, that was very vaguely familiar, but searching for it in sculpture and paintings, finally stuck pay dirt in Dr R. Nagasamy sir’s Masterpieces of South Indian Bronzes. This Pallava bronze, had a very unique twin makara clasps.

So,we could add that authentic detail into our sketch as well.

and here we have arrived at a basic prototype, to further iterate and work on adding embellishments.

I am sure, all of your are eager to see the finished color version, but that will be in the third and concluding part of this series.

Recreating a lost treasure – Somaskanda Paintings of Kanchi Kailasanatha – Part 1

The lure of the recreating the lost treasures of Rajasimha’s famed paintings has been on my drawing board for long. Having experienced the sheer ecstasy of seeing the fragments of brilliance that are still remaining, my heart wept with a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy at knowing that the pinnacle of artistic talent that my land had 1300 years ago, that he could still take my breath away – albeit only in traces, the grace of his lines, the versatility of his palette, the excellence of form , stumped me. Sorrow at the realisation, that having survived for so long, the day that these would not be there anymore to inspire and impress a future generation, was not far away.

Modern photography techniques and the net, could help me to a certain extent, to at least capture these for posterity, but then there was always a niggle, a silent wish to be able to see these beauties in their original finery. My imagination helped in painting them in my mind, but to be able to transfer this onto the physical plane, needed greater acumen. My early attempts are tracing them, using manual tracing paper and online trace software, proved that this was not a task for technologically empowered, but for someone who had it in the genes.

Call it luck and chance, or maybe an inner desire of these beauties to be recast and re adored – a causal visit to a Art exhibition, of friends from Facebook, led to an introduction to none other than the clan of Sri Maniam. yes, the master who illustrated Kalki’s immortal works,Immortal works , whose Son Sri Maniam Selvan has continued in his tradition, – his works ,but it was not he, but the granddaughters of the great man. The fertile minds of the master has indeed spawned a second generation of divine artists ! So, i did get to meet Mrs. Subhashini Balasubramanian . We talked about Kalki, his works and obviously about art. Being the greedy guy that I am, I immediately sought her help on the long standing wish, and she readily agreed. We decided to start with the Somaskanda Panels of Kanchi Kailasanthar temple.

The task was not easy, but we didn’t know that fate and destiny had in store for us. The paintings are in really bad state and we had to form a collage of about 4 different works, to compare and pick out missing details. Unfortunately, despite my claims of having a large database, i could not get decent quality / resolution of these paintings. A frenetic search with friends and well wishers didn’t yield the desired results either.

We had to work with what we had in hand, putting together the bits and pieces. Just as i was loosing heart,I got the first cut from Subhasini…

I was clean bowled by the clarity in the work and the inherent beauty in the form. Clearly, the genes have gotten to work and I knew that my objective was not a distant dream but a definite reality. We were working for a week on the details, but the problem of obtaining high resolution photos for closer study loomed large. Just then, a mail arrives from a school boy. He had chatted with me sometime in May through sculpture chat on the site, …he was from vellore and was waiting for his ICSE X std results. The mail reads

“You are invited to view prithviraj’s photo album: kanc
Hello anna! Do you remember me? Am Rajakesari. I would like to share some photographs i took in Kanchipuram with u. I would be happy if these photos will be useful to you.”

And inside we see the exact photos which we wanted, the exact angles and he sent me the high resolution images as well. What a coincidence !! I can see you asking me, why all this about high resolution images, well you will understand as we see the recreation process.

Here is our Hero, Jagadesh, studying 11th Std now in Vellore.

The art of the Pallavas, so superbly nurtured by Rajasimha Pallava, finds release through the lens of a 11std Boy today and feeds our aspirations to recreate them.

Brahma

Umai

Vishnu

The need for high resolution images, comes to the fore as we explore the numerous highlights and new motiffs and features come to the fore. This Gana and lady attendant are spotted.

We try and experiment with Lion motifs for the legs of the throne – like the ones we saw in the Mallai Mahishasuramardhini Mandabam

To come up with the next versions of the sketch.

Its shaping up quite well, but you have to wait for the next part of this post to see more !!

Kirata Arjunam – Art meets art spanning 1300 years

How do we reach out to the next generation and imbibe in them the values of our land, of its art, of art appreciation. These are questions which keep coming up during our discussions. Visual art is definitely something that is attracting the next generation and though we may scoff at the comics and gaming culture, its there to stay. So today we are going to marry a Kanchi Kailasanatha sculpture ( one of my personal favorites) with the latest in digital illustrative art.

The story itself is an interesting anecdote from the Vana Parva of the Mahabaratha, wherein Arjuna splits from his brothers to do penance and procure the Pasupatha Astra from Shiva. Being the benevolent but mischievous God that he is, Shiva decides to test his devotee’s prowess himself before bestowing the boon. So he takes the form of Kirata ( a hunter) with his accompaniment of a Bow and quiver full of arrows, accompanied by Uma as the Kirata woman, enters the same forest in which Arjuna is doing his penance. Just at that moment, Arjuna is attacked by a fearsome Demon Mukasura, who has taken the form of a Wild boar. Seeing the wild boar rushing at him, the accomplished marksmen that he is, Partha ( Arjuna) lets fly a deadly arrow from his Bow Gaandiva, going for the Boar’s head. At the same instant Kirata also lets fly an arrow, which find its target in the rear of the Boar. Both the arrows hit the target at the same instant !! Now, this led to a quarrel among the two, with Arjuna claiming the hunt as his and accusing the hunter for shooting from the rear. The hunter explains that this was not a duel to have the rules of engagement drawn and to attack an animal from behind thus is no wrong ! ( Rama felling Vaali ?)

The argument continues and soon escalates into a tussle. Being warriors both settle on a duel to find out the better among them. A Shell shocked Arjuna soon sees his prowess with the Bow is matched if not bettered by the lowly hunter. His Bow string is deftly cut by the hunter’s arrow and he jumps into to engage in a wrestling match, in which too he is matched. To his surprise, the hunter doesn’t even seem to break a sweat, while he is almost dead with exhaustion. The popular version, says that he stops to create a small Linga and offers prayers with flowers to it, to invoke his blessing and taken on his opponent once again, when he is surprised to find the flowers which he offered the Linga are now adorning the hunter. Realising the true identity of his opponent, he falls at his feet and surrenders to his grace. Rest is history. There is another version that during the wrestling brawl, Arjuna accidentally caught Kirata’s feet and since he bestows grace on whoever touched his feet, Shiva immediately stopped fighting etc. But this is the crux of the Kirata Arjunam story.

Now, thanks to Mr. Abhilash Narayanan, Creative designer & Animation director, who is sharing some of his works with us, we see the story brought to life in the technology of today.

you can see more of his works at his site below

Abhiram’s site

Now, we transport ourselves back in time to the Kanchi Kailasantha temple. This panel must have been featured long ago, as its one of my favorite panels. The dynamism and sheer energy captured in this typical Hollywood style ` Face Off ‘ posture is an arresting sight. Maybe it was waiting to be pitted head to head against the best of digital art.

Photos : courtesy Mr Arvind and Mr Swaminathan.

We have the two warriors, standing their ground, locking gazes, as they are caught in the act of drawing their bows. Its interesting to notice how they seem to have slung two quivers on their backs, interesting only one has a waist sword. That this panel depicts the Kirata Arjunam is seen distinctly by the Boar in the background exquisitely sculpted behind the two figures despite the maze of their legs.

Now, comes the difficult question. Who among the two is the Lord Shiva as Kirata the Hunter and who is Arjuna. Lets take a closer look at the two figures.

and focus on the ornamentation and head dress in particular.

Lets list down the major differences between the two fighters.

Clearly, the figure to the left of the panel ( right as you view it) – wears a tall crown and a Yagnopavitham, while the other has his hair tied in a kind of bun, wears the Channavira ( cross belts) and carries a waist sword whose hilt is clearly seen.

The oral tradition is that Arjuna must have gone as an ascetic, must be emaciated from the severe penance ( he is said to have subsisted on air alone in the final months of his penance ) and there is also a ref to him wearing a sword with a golden hilt

Ref in Mahabratha

“At Yudhishthira’s command, Dhananjaya of immeasurable prowess set out (from Kamyaka) to obtain a sight of Sakra, the chief of the celestials and of Sankara, the god of gods. And the strong-armed Arjuna of great might set out armed with his celestial bow and a sword with golden hilt, for the success of the object he had in view, northwards, towards the summit of the Himavat.

But then, when we come to Kirata, he is clearly is portrayed as a hunter and not as a resplendent King, and Shiva is hardly ever shown with a Krita makuda. Further there is this reference in Sri R. Nagasamy’s article.

Kirata or Tripurantaka


However in many Chola sculptures and also Bronzes (Melapperumpallam image) Kirata will be shown like a hunter with round bellied body , beard and cannavira. His hair would be tied as a bun-like knot and not the jata-makuta one sees in the Tripurari form.

But again the Book reference is a bit unclear. When Arjuna exhausts the twin inexhaustible quivers gifted to him by Agni ( burning of the Kandava forest episode
Fire in the Khadava forest ) he tried to use his Bow as a spear , but is thwarted by Shiva.

Ref in Mahabaratha

And beholding his bow snatched from him, Arjuna took up his sword, and wishing to end the conflict, rushed at his foe. And then the Kuru prince, with the whole might of his arms, struck that sharp weapon upon the head of the Kirata, a weapon that was incapable of being resisted even by solid rocks. But that first of swords, at touch of the Kirata’s crown, broke into pieces

So, we are left with an Iconographic puzzle. Whats your take on this?

I would go with Arjuna with the crown and Kirata with the Bun head dress.

How would an Ascetic turn up for his marriage !

Its not often you get blessed thrice in the same day. It was my wife’s birthday and we happened to be in Tanjore and first stop @ big temple( for her – me and Arvind had already been to Pullamagai in the morning!!). Pushed our luck by calling Kudavoil Balasubramaniam Sir, and such a humble person that he is, he immediately came to meet us and gave us a guided tour of Periya Koil.

We have already seen the Dhakshan beheading panel and the Kama Dahana panels previously.

Shiva cuts off the head of his father in law

Shiva burns the lord of love

The current panel is a sequel to those. Shiva has been convinced to come back to becoming a householder and Dhaksayini has been reborn as Uma – the daughter of Himavan, the King of the Mountains. Maybe the only verse i remember from Sanskrit class is atha osadhinaam athipasya vrithow !!! from the Kumarasambava. Not sure if the current story is found in Kalidasa’s version, but it loosely follows the rendition in the kantha puranam ( though a later work to the sculpture).

The background plot is simple, Himavan is convinced by the seven Rishis sent by Shiva and agrees to give his daughter to Shiva. Now comes the tough part, to convince his wife – Menai. The Queen, being what any mother would be, comes over to take a look at the bridge groom for the first time, expecting him to come dressed in all his finery and flanked by the very best in the procession.

Lets see how Shiva turned up for his marriage procession – keep in mind current day baraats – the festivities , revelry and sarees, sherwanis, jewelery and money that are on display- the bridegroom in a designer sherwani on a majestic white horse, with an assortment of pretty looking women and boisterous men , equally decked up.

Here he is, wearing his elephant skin trunks, with his horde of Ganas, on his bull. There is a pet snake thrown in as well, rearing up form his left hand as he nonchalantly turns around to pose for the camera !!

What a shock it would have been to the welcome party. No wonder, the future mother in law Menai panicked

She is already scared for he known for taking the heads ( brahma, dhaksha) , she refused to accept that this uncouth youth could be her son in law.

Finally, Brahma, Vishnu, Narada all came and explained the actions of Dhaksha that led to his downfall and the mighty grace of Shiva to have restored him to life albeit with a Goat’s head. The marriage does take place and finally – ALL IZZ WELL in Kailash – and ready for the birth of Kumara !!

A big thanks to Kudavoil sir. But Sir, has explained this sculpture differently in his latest book, will see it shortly.