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 !

Part 2 of – An interesting Sculpture chat on some confusing sculptures

What an interesting exchange on the previous post ! forced me to put this part 2 of that debate.

Lets take a look at the sculpture under question again


Is the sculpture indeed that of Hanuman holding the Bana l

Arguments for:

The Bana lingam legend, the facial features.

Arguments against

No tail, presence of two ladies on both sides, presence of Vishnu’s attributes ( but this is not a clear case as Cheenu’s rightly pointed out there are instances !)

What other sculptures could it represent

Macha Avatar

But there is a matcha ( fish) avatar sculpture right next to this sculpture.


We had arguments for this image as well, but the depiction of the eyes and the typical mouth kind of settled the issue.

Lets see them in closeup again ( thanks Arvind once again)

Compare this macha avatar with the earlier sculpture, both can’t be the same for sure.

Varaha Avatar – Vishnu

A Definite possibility. Lets take a front depiction of Varaha from Ahobilam to compare.

The depiction of a spherical ( ok egg shaped) earth is not found in sculptures even upto 200 years after this representation. Take a look again, its too defined a sculpture for an artist to err in the shape ( for the finesse in carving the conch and the discus).

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While, its definitely a case in point to the two ladies. We see all the avatars and even Brahma sporting such attendants or consorts.

Now, we come to this interesting sculpture. its Kurma ( Turtle) Avatar

Lets study its features more closely

There are some legends related with Vishnu seeking Shiva’s help ( Kachbeshwarar form). But is this and the original sculpture similar. Lets study the face features once more side by side.

Well definitely not the same – clear from the eyes especially. I tend to side the argument for Hanuman more based on these.

An interesting sculpture and how a little bit of vandalism can lead to confusions, yet some tell tale signs help assist in proper identification.

Hey,who is this. Except for the face, everything is Ganesha. But the face …Hmm, lets take a closer look

Stumped you. Well dont rake your brains yet, is this a composite Ganesha combined with Varaha / Hayagreevar ….

No my friends, take a closer look at the top left ( of the sculpture)

Its the broken trunk, with the tip holding his favorite modhakam. Just a case of part of the trunk being broken !! Its our darling Ganesha only.

An interesting Sculpture chat on some confusing sculptures

Friends, when we first introduced the chat widget in the site, it was more a tool to encourage more readers to participate ( since some were shy of leaving comments). Am sharing a interesting sculpture chat with a interesting follower of our site concerning some really confusing aka interesting sculptures and statues, and has the potential to raise a few eyebrows. So please feel free to share your comments and thoughts.

Name withheld to protect identity

voice 1: Hey, i came across your post on somnathpur in which you direct to another site for this photo

http://bp0.blogger.com/_xUJrI6cswLg/SF_jI-vYY3I/AAAAAAAAAQQ/UKpNmgOUwAY/s1600-h/DSC07354.JPG

vj: sorry, which one please and may i know who i am chatting with ?

v1: Well i am ##### and am studying sculpture @…….. I am talking of the Hanuman holding the Bana Lingam sculpture from Somanthpur.

vj: Oh, Nice to hear. Yes, that one – was an interesting sculpture of Anand and he put this below note in his site.


A creative sculpture showing Hanuman with the baana lingam in his hand. He was asked to bring a shiva linga from the himalayas by Rama when they had to perform a pooja at Rameshwaram to clear the brahmahaththi dosham which had been caused due to killing of Ravana(a brahmin). Since it took a long time to get one and the auspicious time was nearing Rama and Sita devi made a lingam out of sand and started the pooja. When Anjaneya arrived he was sad to see that his efforts were fruitless. So lord Rama granted him a boon that thereafter, the lingam brought by Hanuman would be worshipped first and then only the bhaktas should worship his shivalingam. Thus there are 2 lingams in Rameshwaram till today and pooja is performed as directed by Lord Rama.”

v1: But as per my teacher, this sculpture is still a puzzle and cannot be clearly identified.

vj: Is it the Hanuman or the Lingam that he is holding. Take a look again at both ( Thanks Arvind for the closeups)

v1: Well, the confusion i think is due to the fact that he is holding the Conch and Discus.


vj: Why, its not uncommon to depict such.

v1: Is it so.

vj: Ok, let me ask you this way, have you been to the bronze exhibits at the chennai museum.

v1: Well not yet, we are going to study bronzes next.

vj: Ok, take a look at this bronze, Nandhi. ( thanks to flickr url given)

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2063/2410943558_f9be866992.jpg?v=0

v1: Well, i understand what you are trying to say.

vj: But, let me confuse you more. Take a look at this stone sculpture from the Tanjore Big temple. ( thanks to arvind again !!)

v1: Oh, thats a stiff one.

vj: Yes, why is Hanuman shown as carrying the attributes of Shiva.

v1: You are not answering my question but posing more

vj: Ok, let me attempt to answer yours. Firstly, is the Somnathpur Sculpture Hanuman. Secondly, the legend of Hanuman bringing the Bana Lingam is popular and wouldn’t want to go into justifying legends.Thirdly, can vehicles or mounts carry attributes – Well you see Nandhi with the attributes of Shiva. Lastly, Hanuman is sung as a Avatar of Shiva and hence he is shown with his attributes !!

v1: Hmm, let me try explaining this to my teacher.

vj: Please note, we are novices with no formal training in art or sculpture. Just trying to explain and reason out with the information we have on hand. Dont get into trouble with your teacher arguing based on ours !!!

The three headed Elephant, Airavatham

The proverbial white elephant is an actual reality in Indian literature. This noble creature is the vehicle of the King of the Devas ( celestials)…Indra …. a la Zeus with his Thunderbolt. Not only is he white but has 33 heads.

Here is a depiction from a mural painting …

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Though there are other white elephants.. the Airawatam ( Erawan in thai/cambodian culture )is said to be the most powerful of all. Described as a huge elephant with silvery white body of 33 heads, each head has 7long ivory tusks. Each of his tusk is 16 million meters long, so huge that it can house 7 large lotus ponds, within each tusk also live thousands of angels and their servants.

This massive modern sculpture greets visitors at the entrance of the Erwan Museum in Thailand.

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Without doubt its almost impossible depict this creature in stone…and hence quite rare to see the full version of Erawan elephant with 33 heads, instead, many artists prefer to draw Erawan as a 3 headed elephant instead.

The Irrawaddy River in thailand is also named after Erawan …

We find the workship of indra and airavatam among the temples of ankor,
prasat preau, siam reap …

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In india some wonderful depictions exist…. in a cave at Bhaja not far from Mumbai that was the site of a Buddhist monastery – there is a stone relief carving showing Indra, king of the gods.

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He is seated upon Airavata with his thunderbolt in hand …in somnathpur.

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In The famous chola murals of tanjore big temple…there is airavatham…oh thats the subject of an entire new post….

Whats amazing is that the indian sculptor restricted to just one head while his cambodian couterpart depicts him with three heads.