My loincloth is priceless

Hi friends, i can hear you laughing, but it no joke, this is another priceless treasure from Darasuram, which denotes the life of Amarneethiyar, one of the 63 Nayanmaars.

Lets look at the location of this miniature panel to start with.

The story is a lesson in how the Lord plays with his devotees, sometimes taking it to real extremes to test the sincerity of a devotee ( wish if they do similar before granting boons !!) . Thanks to http://www.nayanmar.com/abtus.htm and with some verse references from the 12th Tirumurai

Amarneethiyar of Pazhayarai was an honest merchant who used to offer food and clothes including inner-wears to the devotees of Shiva. He had also built a Mutt for pilgrims at Tirunallur.

Once Shiva came in the guise of a devotee and gave him a loin-cloth for safe-keeping till he returned after a bath in the river.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=13&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

The Brahmin-lad consenting to what the devotee
Entreated of Him bowing, said: “I’ll bathe
In the divine river Cauvery and return;
In case it rains, keep this (dried) kovanam with you
And return it to me.” This said, He untied
From His staff a white and bright kovanam.

The visitor gave great importance to the loin cloth thus:
http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=14&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

“I need not expatiate to you on the lofty excellence
Of this kovanam; receive it and keep it safe
With you till I return here; be not negligent;
Preserve it yonder and give it back to me.”
Thus He spake and handed it over to him.

Amarneethiyar understanding the importance of the loin cloth !!, did not keep it with the other clothes but in a safe place with adequate security

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=16&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

The peerless servitor who received the kovanam
Bearing in mind the Brahmin‘s instructions,
Did not keep it with his gift-articles
— Kantais, keells, garments and kovanams –.
He thought of a safe place and thither kept it safe.

When he came back, Amarneethiyar found that the lion cloth had vanished from the box.

He brought a new one in its stead but the visitor was full of fury and refused to accept it. He wanted his own “You call yourself a devotee of Shiva Just to rob other devotee’s! of their belonings” he shouted. When Amarneethiyar sought to pacify him, he agreed to receive clothes equal in weight to the spare loin-cloth he was having.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=31&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

Then the Lord spake thus: “Apart from the kovanam
We now wear, the one we gave you and which
You allege as lost can be matched by this only.”
He untied the kovanam from his staff and said:
“Give me a kovanam equivalent to its weight.”

Notice how the sculptor has sculpted this little detail as well

The game started, the loin cloth was put on one side of a balance and Amarneethiyar’s cloths on the other. They could not weigh equal to the loin cloth. All the riches of Amarneethiyar proved inadequate to tilt the scales in his favour.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=36&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC
Beholding this, fear-stricken, the devotee spake
To the Brahmin thus: “Even when filled with
Boundless clothing, pure and good, and also varieties
Of innumerable threads, the pan stands thus;
Suffer me to freight it with my other wealth.”
Thus did he, Him beseech.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=39&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

Its threads are the import of the Vedas four
Brimming with the puissance of askesis;
It is dear to Siva, the kovanam. So the encomium
— That all the wealth of Amar-Nitiyar in this world
And all the wealth of all the worlds cannot
Match it –, mirrors not its true glory.

It was only when Amarneethiyar ascended the scales along with his wife and son chanting the Panchakshara that the needle of balance became even.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1207&padhi=72&startLimit=40&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

Having witnessed the happening, the peerless one
Standing before Him spake thus: “I have loaded
The pan with all my blemishless wealth; nothing now remains;
O Lord, may I be graced with leave to ascend
The pan with my wife and little child, if considered fit.

Such was the act of complete self-surrender that the Lord extracted from his devotee. Even as the youth vanished, Shiva appeared in the skies with his consort and blessed him. The scales acting as an airship, Amarneethiyar ascended to Shiva’s world along with his wife and child.

See how the Lord plays with his devotees and uses the barest of bare necessities – a loin cloth of all items to test and make them one with him.

verse english version translation are from the site ref and credits
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

Own Hair as a wick to light a lamp – Kanampula Nayanar Darasuram

Hi friends, we saw an interesting post but it ended with a comma ..”But then is there something else that was used to light a lamp by another naynaar, ” Today we are going to see his story, sculpted in stone in the same Darasuram temple complex. Kanampulla Nayanar.

The panel first

Born into a family of village headmen in Velur, our Nayanar took great pleasure in serving the Lord by lighting up the temple. He spent much of his wealth on this act and slowly fell into poverty. He shifted to Chidambaram to be one with the Lord of dance. He had by then sold his lands, house etc and was in abject poverty. His holy service continued in spite of whatever hurdles he faced. He sold the household articles one by one and lit the lamps in the abode everyday with ghee. Then came the situation when there was nothing left in the house to sell, but too proud to beg, he went to toil in the fields. He cut the straw(kaNampul) in the fields, sold it in the market and with that money continued his service to the lord.

One day he could not sell the straws he brought in spite of all his efforts.Not losing heart, he went ahead to burnt the straw. First act of the sculpture

The straws being dry, burnt very fast and pretty soon he was left with nothing. Still wanting to light up the temple, what did he do??

Not able to get it, lets get closer and view the second act

The Verse reference from thevaram as below:

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1248&padhi=72&startLimit=7&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

He who caused the lamps to glow before the Lord
During the appointed hour, could not come by enough
Grass to render duly his service;
Thereupon he that served the Lord in true love
Burnt for a lamp the hair on his head;
He so burnt it that his very bones melted;
Thus, even thus, he burnt away the bondage
And nexus of the twyfold Karma.

He burnt his own hair as a wick. Such was his devotion to the Lord.

The earliest recorded bird hit

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

We have seen Ravana being humbled once before – by Vaali
ravana-humbled-yet-again-by-who

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

if-pride-goes-before-the-fall-this-is-the-lowest-it-can-fall

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

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

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

A Sculpture Monalisa

This is an amazing sculpture of Shiva as Gajasamhara murthy ( gaja – elephant), samhara ( vanquish) ins sanskrit or Yaani uri porthia murthy ( yaani – elephant, uri – skin, porthia – cover or clad in) in Tamil. This beauty was brought from Darasuram to Tanjore museum.

We have seen many sculptures of this episode before, so whats so great about this one? you might ask. Well when i met one of my mentors Shri. Kudavoil Balasurbramaniam, i asked him about his favorite pieces. ( incidentally the same one was picked up by master sculptor Sri Umapathy in our recent interview – will post it – he is trying out a new form of showcasing these beauties in plates !!)

Well, K Balu Sir explained to me the splendor of this creation. At first glance, i did not pick the amazing details of this sculpture. There are many repetitions of this pose in later chola temples and also in other places, but the chola style is unique. Here is one from Chidambaram.

Chandra of course will pick the Pullamangai sculpture we saw earlier as his pick – since its a miniature and the delightful baby skanda jumping off parvathi’s hands.

But the beauty of this creation – standing at almost 6 feet, the sculptor really used the proportions to bring out at sculptural marvel.

Inorder to fully appreciate the greatness of this magnificent piece, i requested my good friend Mrs. Lakshmi Sharath who was going to Tanjore to get me some closeup pictures. ( Kathie also helped with her snaps!!!)

We have already seen the episode in detail in the earlier post, however the dynamic post, quote from Sri Vidya Dehejia’s book – Art of the Imperial Cholas

Also from Darasuram is a dynamic relief carving of Siva’s jubilant dance of triumph after killing the elephant demon Gajasura. Having flayed the elephant, Shiva held its skin in his outstretched hands and danced a tempestuous dance. The exaggerated twist of his body dramatically conveys his frenzied movement. One cannot but appreciate the sentiment of Saint Manikkavachakar, who described Shiva as a madman:

i shall call you
madman draped in elephant skin
poison throated madman,
madman dancing
amid the trees
of the burning ground,
madman clad in tiger skin,
madman who enslaved
even me.

But the beauty of the piece needs more elaboration. He has four hands on each side – look at how his fingers have torn into the elephant hide and protrude out. Oh! such splendid detailing.

Look at the ornamentation on the hands, legs, neck. The elaborate headdress, flowing locks forming a crown held back by a Skull shaped diadem, his knotted waist cloth swaying in the power of his dance. Exemplary art. But what is his lower left hand doing, its pointing the viewer towards the extreme left of the sculpture ( right as you view it).

Well well well, we see Parvathi in a kind of sidewards stance – her right shoulder is slightly pushed up, as though she is shielding someone, Oh!, there he is, baby skanda, cocooned by his mother, who doesn’t want him to witness the gory scene.

Here lies the magnificence of this sculpture. As you bend down and look upwards from the position of baby skanda, parvathi’s body would block the action of Shiva totally. But we return to the face of Shiva now, for the final flair of the artist, as a singer would finish off his masterful composition with a delightful alapana. Look closely at the face of shiva.


33733386
The side facing away from Paravathi and Skanda – the right side ( left as you view it) – eyes brows are arched in anger, while the other side is more gentle

Pullamangai, Shiva as Ardhanari – A guest post by Satish Arun

Today we have a new addition to our team. An art enthusiast transforms into a writer in our columns. Mr. Satish Kumar Arunachalam, a software professional, crosses the border from being a silent appreciator of art, literature and spirituality to share his wonderful experiences with us. We look forward to many more such post from him. Over to satish

Those who have been following Vijay’s Posting in this space, will be very much familiar with Pullamangai. Pullamangai is a treasure trove; A masterpiece, created by sculptors, 1000 years back. This temple which has numerous miniature panels, which are just the size of the stretched palm, is a treat to watch.

The following piece will make the readers to recollect Pullamangai. ( vijay’s favorite tiger belly shiva ghana )

Though the miniature panels are the specialty of Pullamangai, in this article, we are going to see another masterpiece , located on the ‘Vimanam’ of Pullamangai temple.

There are many songs sung in praise of Lord Shiva in different forms and the form in which he shares his left part with ‘Umai’ is no exception.

Thiru Gnana Sambandar sings in Tiruchirapalli as,

nandrudaiyAnai theeyadilAnai naraivellE
rondrudaiyAnai yumaiorubaga mudayanai
chendraiyAdha thiruvudaiyAnai chirApalli
kundrudaiyAnai kUravennullang kulirume’

(when I talk about Civaṉ who has two holy tanks, naṉṟuṭaiyāṉ and tiyatillāṉ who has a spotless white bull who has Umai on one half who has wealth unlike the wealth that people get as a result of their virtuous acts done in previous births who has the hill of cirāppaḷḷi as his abode my heart is comforted

Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)
Courtesy – www.thevaaram.org)

and Appar sings in ThiruKodika as,

‘pUnara vArat tane puliyuri araiyinAnE
kAnilven kOvanamung kayilOr kabAlamEndhi
UnumOr pichchaiyAnE yumaioru bagaththAnE
kOnalven piraiyinAnE kOdika vudaya kOvE’

(one who wears a cobra in the form of a garland one who wears on his waist a tiger`s skin when we see him one who has as his food a small amount of alms, holding in the hand a skull, and tied a white loin-cloth one who has as his half Umai one who has a curved white crescent king of kōṭikā!

Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)
Courtesy – www.thevaaram.org)

We are going to see the form of Shiva, which these great saints have praised and sung quite often in their padigams.

The form in discussion is known as the ‘Arthanaareeswaran’ aka ‘ammaiyappan’ (mother and father) aka ‘umai oru pagan’ (umai on one side of his body) etc.

One half of the body is in male form and the other half is in female form. The right half is male and left half, female. The significance of this form is that, the female power is equal to the male and without the female or the Shakthi, the male power cannot function. Please refer to the link for the purana linked with this form of Shiva



Left side of the sculpture gleams with feminism

Right side portrays the majestic male look. A single face with two different expressions, when looked from different angle. One cannot stop wondering the artistic skills of the sculptor.

I have heard Dr.Kalaikovan speak about Chola art. He says, ‘Chola artists knows the anatomy well’. No other proof is needed to validate this statement, other than the ‘ammaiappan’ sculpture we are looking at.

Umai’s slender waist, and the beauty with which she carries herself; the Lords masculine shoulders and the majestic pose with which he places his hands on the Rishabam; – a thousand words cannot describe the beauty, which the sculptor has brought before our eyes.

I was fortunate enough to visit this temple and see this masterpiece along with the varalaaru team (www.varalaaru.com). One of the elderly gentleman in the temple, observing our groups interest in the sculptures, came forward and helped us to get a ladder, with which we climbed the vimana to have a closer look at this ‘arthanaareeswaran’ sculpture. After enjoying the beauty till it was dark, we started to the railway station and before we left, thanked and asked this gentleman his name. Even after getting into the train, we could not come out of the melancholy caused by his name. He told us that his name is ‘Ammaiappan’.

Shiva burns the Lord of Love – Tanjore

Today we are going to see another interesting panel from the Tanjore temple ( thanks again to Satheesh). The burning of the Lord of Love – Kama by Siva.

To the uninitiated a short brief on Kamadeva – the god of love – fair complexioned, handsome and the best looking among the gods. He carries a bow made of sugarcane and strung with a line of humming bees. He shoots with his bow the five flower-tipped shafts of desire * . RATI (passion) his wife and his friend VASANTA (spring), who selects for him the shaft to be used on the current victim accompanies him. Kamadeva’s vehicle is the parrot.

{ *couple of months ago in agathiar forum Mr. K. Srikanth posted an interesting article on the flowers that make up Kama’s arrow and his targets / effects. am giving that below – His arrows are of five varieties of flowers. Aravindam which is Lotus, Asokam – Hellebore, Chootham – Mango flower, Navamallika – new Jasmine, and Nilotpala – blue lotus are the five arrows of manmadha. With these arrows he hits five places in the body and creates five different effects.
Unmaadana – ‘unmattam’ or craziness/sillyness happens when manmatha hits with Lotus flower on the chest, rodana – the asoka flower hits the lips makes the person lament/cry with excitement, sosna – the jasmine flower hits the eyes and reddens it (loss of sleep), sammohana – the tender mango flower when hit at the head; makes the person loose their mind and finally the deadly Nilotapal flower stupifies the person to standstillness (Stambhanam).
http://manoranjitam.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/legend-of-kaama/ }

Ok, enough of introductions, we plunge into the story / legend.

The story immediately follows our earlier panel – that of Dhaksha’s beheading. Not able to put up with the insults heaped on her husband by her father, Dhakshayini has immolated herself in the sacrificial fire of Dhaksha. Heartbroken at this, Shiva is deeply immersed in penance. He is hardly aware of what is happening around and in deep meditation.

So when the destroyer is in such state, the forces of evil raise their heads. A demon named Taraka performs a great number of austerities for a great number of years, as usual Brahma is forced to grant an audition – usual dialogue – demon seeks boon of immortality – Brahma refuses – offers something short – This time the demon is wise ( or so he thinks), he knows that Shiva is in deep trance and there is no sign of his consort – he is leading a life of absolute austerity. So he seeks absolute invulnerability from every creation in the universe except a son of Shiva.

Ok, back to familiar script – armed with the boon, Taraka has none to stop him from conquering the worlds and inflicting tremendous hardships on humans and the gods. He defeated the gods one by one and forced them to pay him tribute. Indra was forced to part with his wonderful white horse, Uchchaisravas, which was one of the fourteen precious things that had turned up at the Churning of the Ocean at the beginning of creation. Jamadagni, the great sage, had to give up his celestial cow Kamdhenu, a creature which could fulfill all desires. Kubera, the god of wealth, had to pay tribute to Taraka in the form of a thousand precious sea-horses and Vayu had to obey all of the wicked asura’s commands. Even the sun and the moon were in terror of Taraka and while the sun could not give out any heat the moon was forced to shine all the time. The gods were forced out of their respective heavens and wander about in forests.

The disposed gods regrouped in the forest and tried to come up with the way to vanquish the demon – they blamed Brhama squarely for their debacle and at that point Brahma reminded them of the loophole in the boon. Immediately the Gods set about working on the acilles heel of Tarakasura. But the problem was that Shiva was still mourning Dhakshayini and was living a life of complete celibacy.

Fortunately the divine mother was already reborn as Parvathi ( parvatham – mountain – daugter off) daughter of the Himavan ( Himaalaya mountain) and his wife Manorama.
Parvati was born, exceedingly beautiful and worthy of a potent god like Shiva. When she came of age she realised her mission in life and she herself began to perform many austerities in the hope of attracting Shiva’s attention but that god was still in grief and impervious to all her best efforts.

Indra then turns to Kama, the god of love and desire, to go to Mount Kailash and somehow make Shiva break his self-imposed celibacy. That flighty god fearfully went to Kailash and found Shiva deep in meditation, impervious to all around him. Even the birds and animals in that holy place made no noise. Even the leaves on the trees stayed still and made no sound. Kama dared not proceed with what he had been sent to do and hung about the place wondering what he could do.

So Kama dithered about the place quite uncertain as to how to rouse Shiva’s desire to wed with Parvati. This uncertain situation went on for many days till, one day, suddenly, Kama saw Parvati approach gently and quietly and start picking flowers to offer to her desired lord, Shiva. Kama immediately saw his opportunity and, setting aside his fear of the hot-tempered god, fitted an arrow to his famed bow and aimed at Shiva and let fly. The arrow flew true to its mark, Shiva’s breast. Shiva was rudely shaken out of his meditative trance and his eyes flew open. The first person he saw was the lovely Parvati charmingly picking the colorful flowers. He immediately felt a warm surge of love for her course through his body. Then he saw Kama and he instantly understood the reason for his unforeseen desire. He flew into a rage at what he thought of as Kama’s imprudence and, turning his terrible third eye on that hapless god, reduced him to ashes.

Taking pity at the woes and responding to the pleas of his widow, Rati, Lord Shiva restored her husband but only as a mental image, representing true love and affection and not just physical lust. Hence the other name of Kama Deva is ANANGA (the bodiless).

The rest – is the birth of skanda/muruga and how he becomes the warrior chieftain of the Gods and leads them to a successful campaign to destroy Tarakasura. ( the entire legend is beautifully described in kalidaasa’s immortal work – Kumarasambhava )

A long post but an interesting legend. Lets look at the sculpture now.

The entire panel coming up first for you. The top most row is a groups of ascetics and the bottom most row -Shiva’s faithful assistants. The main story described in three scenes in between.

The first scene – shiva is in deep meditation – watch the beauty of the sculpture, even in this miniature scale the sculptor has managed to sculpt shiva’s closed – meditating eyes ! The handsome Kama ofcourse is aiming his arrow on shiva. (you can vaguely see the smile on his lips)

The second scene, immdly below – we see a falling Kama and a wailing Rathi. Again a slightly damaged sculpture, but the falling kama is shown beautifully. You can also see Rathi wailing beating her hands on her heads ( a very south Indian emotional act)

The last one, to the right of the second scene – we see a resurrected Kama in all devotion and a visibly happy Rathi – taking the blessings of shiva ( who has a large assitant – bootha gana beside him)

This reminds me of a similar scene in cambodia – Banteay Srei complex, which we will see in the next post.

There are many references in Thevaram on this episode, ( thanks to Mr.V. Subramaniam ) quoting a couple below;

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=4&Song_idField=41030&padhi=103&startLimit=3&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC


fixing the pure and soft flowers as arrows in the bow of the sugar-cane.
putting into use the fire the Lord in nākaikkārōṇam who destroyed with the frontal eye kāmaṉ to become ash!
praising your names.
grant your grace to utter the five letters of namaccivāya on the day when I die.
our Lord who does good to devotees!
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=12&Song_idField=1228&padhi=72&startLimit=476&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC


“O Nectar that devoured the venom of the ocean
To save the Deva-throng of devotees,
O pure and purifying Lord unknowable
To the tall Vishnu and the Four-faced Brahma,
O One whose jewel is the snake of blue-hued poison!
O Holy Lord who, when Rati prayed to You,
Resurrected Kaaman who was reduced to cinders!
O beauteous Lord of Marukal girt with fragrant
And flowery gardens! Pray, save me!
Translation: T.N. Ramachandran

Shiva kicks Yama – the God of death

Today, once again thanks to some delightful camera work by Satheesh, we are going to see one of my favorite sculptures. But this time not as much for the sculptural beauty but more for its story content. The story of Markandeya, was a popular bedtime song for us and my dad used to put us to sleep often with the rendition – have heard it so many times and today my son goes to sleep hearing the same, that i was overjoyed at seeing this sculpture.

Ok, story first.

Mrikandu was a devote saint ( rishi). He lived offering daily prayers to Lord Shiva with his wife Marudvati. Though they lived a peaceful existence, the couple had one unfullfilled wish – they did not have any children and they longed for a son. The rishi prayed to Shiva and pleased with his devotion, Shiva appeared and granted him the boon, but as usual he put a twist in it. He offerred them a choice, either they have a hundred sons who will be dumb and foolish but live a long life or have one very intelligent son, but will live for only sixteen years.

The rishi contemplated and decided to have the one intelligent son. Shiva blessed the couple and in due course they had a baby boy – they named him Markandeya. The boy grew to be very intelligent and handsome. Markandeya was a born genius and learnt the Vedas and Sastras easily. He was the darling of everyone, but as he got older, he noticed that his father seemed to nurse some bad news – for he was getting more and more sadder. Markandeya was smart enough to notice this and he asked his dad to tell him the truth. His dad wept and told him that as per the deal of the boon, by the end of that year, he would be sixteen and hence they had to give him up. He could not bear to even think of giving up such a splendid son.

Hearing this, Markandeya immediately took stock – his parents gave birth to him, his teachers his knowledge but only shiva coud give him prolonged life – so he set his heart into utmost devotion to Shiva and promised his Dad that he would do enough to please shiva that he will not let him die. Thus he made a shiva linga and was eternally offering prayers to it.

On the appointed day, Yama, the Lord of death, came on his black buffalo vehicle, swinging his lasso ( he uses it to pull the souls whose time on the earth is over, out of the physical body) – seeing him Markandeya ran to the shiva lingam, with yama close on heels chasing him, swirling his rope. Markandeya ran and hugged the shiva linga so close, that the only way Yama could fasten the rope around him was with the shiva linga. Yama in his haste did exactly that, he threw his noose round the boy’s neck, and pulled him along with the Shiva- Linga.

At that instant, The shiva Linga burst open and Shiva came out of it, Shiva was in great rage, he kicked Yama so violently that the Lord of death almost died!! Shiva thus saved his devotee and since the boon/curse was that Markandeya would have only 16years to live on this earth, he blessed Markandeya to be forever 16 ( endrum Pathinaaru ) – how many of us would love to have such a boon today !!

Now, have a look at the delightful panel from Tanjore Big temple – split into three frames, top to bottom. the top frame, we have a fiery Yama chasing Markandeya and the hapless boy clinging on to the Siva lingam for dear life.

The second frame, you have an angry Shiva kicking Yama who is sprawled on the floor ( one of the images is from another friend Srivatsan taken a year back – you can see the damage that these 1000 year old miniatures are undergoing – the Trident in the hands of shiva has been worn off this year !!!)

The last frame – the detailing is lost on the left, but you get to see a visibly relieved Markandeya offering thanks to Shiva with folded hands.

This legend has been sung by Appar in many verses and you can look them up here.

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=4&Song_idField=4107&padhi=113+&button=%E0%AE%9A%E0%AF%86%E0%AE%B2%E0%AF%8D%E0%AE%95

to save Mārkkāṇṭēyaṉ, the bachelor, who worshipped him with flowers to be free from the sufferings of birth born of ignorance.
kicking the cruel god of death who had a twisted tongue, hairs as red as fire, curved white teeth and a dark body, [causing him] to tremble with fear.
the superior god who dwells in Kaṭavūr has the lotus red feet with which he caused the god of death to roll on the ground in this manner.
The central idea of the first nine verses is Civaṉ killing the god of death to protect Mārkkaṇṭēyaṉ who worshipped Civaṉ in this shrine.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

The saint with Tiger Paws

Today we are going to see a very special pillar from the tanjore big temple. Who is this man depicted? Do you notice anything unusual ? Well the topic of this post does give it away !!

Its special because it portrays a very special person, who was so great a devote that the most sacred of towns is named after him – yes, we are talking of Puli Kaal Muni in tamil – puli ( tiger), Kaal ( legs), Muni ( saint) or Vyagrapadhar in sanskrit.

He was one of the earliest devotees of Lord Shiva of Thillai ( Chidambaram) which was called from time immemorial as Puliyur or Perumpatrup puliyur ( perum – great, patru – devotion – puli – tiger, ur – city or town)

The legend goes that the great saint, would go early into the forest to collect the choicest of flowers to offer the Lord of Dance. But however early he went, the bees and ants would still get to the blossoms, so he went even earlier – even before the sun rose to find the flowers before the insects. This gave him problems as the dew drops wouldn’t have evaporated yet and he found the branches slippery.

So great was his devotion and his intent to get the best for his Lord, that he prayed to the Lord to endow him tiger paws, so that he could climb the trees effortless – and the Lord obliged. With great delight, he went on to collect the flowers before the first rays of dawn, beating the insects to the race to find the most beautiful and aromatic flowers, that so delighted his Lord. There are many references to him in literature ( pl see tamil portion of this post to read the references)

Now see him beautifully sculpted in the pillars of the big temple, down to the last detail imbibed into the pillar.
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First day, first show seats for Shiva’s Dance duel with kali

The previous posts on karaikkal ammai was very elaborate and short on sculpture, but had to be that way in order to introduce the great saint. Will try and make amends with this post of her sculpture, amazingly captured by the chola scuptor in Gangai Konda Cholapuram, Rajendra Chola’s amazing creation. ( An intro post for this is pending and will post shortly)

For a more detailed reading of the amazing temple, please visit Dr. Nagaswamy’s site where he has hosted his entire book on Gangai konda Cholapuram

http://tamilartsacademy.com/books/gcpuram

While the beauty of the dancing shiva, is a site to behold, his dance duel with kali in the forests of alangadu must have been quite a spectacle. Chola bronze natarajas are indeed masterpieces of art but the stone sculptor seems to have competed with his metal working counterpart to create this amazing sculpture of Adavallar ( Adal – dance, vallar – Kind or supreme exponent ) – aka Nataraja ( Nata – Dance, Raja – King).

A delightful figure of four armed dancing Siva – what a charming smile on his radiant face, holding kettle drum in the upper right arm and boon bestowing palm on the lower right. The upper left carries fire and the lower left is thrown across the body in gajahasta. The matted locks are flying in rhythm on either side. On the right is shown Ganga. By the left side of the leg is shown an eight armed dancing Kali, carrying drum, sword, trident, abhaya, dandahasta etc. A three legged figure, maybe Bringhi rishi ( we see his story in another post). He is dancing on a very fat musalagan ( the demon – or apasamara pursha – signifying ignorance – apasamara forgetfullness, purusha – man!!) and he is not been trodden to death – he is still very much alive ( see his head trying to lift himself up) but kept under check by his feet.
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Now, we come to the main object of this post, watch the panel just under the dancing shiva – Below the feet are three Ganas shown playing symbols and maddala, and then there is our Karaikkal Ammai, who on account of her devotion, was endowed this privileged position of being seated below the seat of the Lord, singing his Greatness.

On the west side wall is shown Surya on top. Subrahmanya seated on peacock is shown flying towards the Lord while Ganapati moves equally briskly on his rat. Further down is four armed Nandikesvara playing maddala. Chandra is shown on the top on the side wall to the east. The armed Goddess Parvati is leaning on a majestically looking bull which is a bit startled; she holds a lotus in her right arm.

The greatness of this composition is the expert depiction of emotions into stone – The nonchallant divine bliss and grace on the radiant face of the lord, the anger in the form of the bulging eyes of the dancing kali, the comic stance of the three legged bringi rishi, the enjoyment in the face of the shiva ganas and the sheer joy in Karaikkal ammai’s who is leaning up and joyfully clapping her hands, the calm grace of Parvathi compared to the bull which is a bit freaked by the dancing wrath of Kali ( watch is eye level , its seeing the fearsome face of kali)..what a magnificient creation.

Ok, have cut paste the above images to highlight the intricate details in this creation. Enjoy
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Karaikkal ammai sang some of the most inspired verses on the dancing lord and especially about tiruvalangadu, quoting a few here ( ok, she has taken a ghost form – as you read in the previous posts, so her songs are a bit graphic)

11th tirumurai – 1st song

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=11&Song_idField=11002&padhi=040&startLimit=1&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC


The breasts have dried up ; the nerves are bulging ;
Sunk are the eyes and hollow is the maw ;
Ruddy are the gums in the two rows of teeth ;
Two white teeth are jutting out ; long are;
The raised ankles : thus, even thus is she – a ghost ! ;
In the withered wood she abides screaming. ;
In that wilderness of a forest, with His flowing ;
Matted hair wafting in all the eight directions;
He – our Father -, dances carrying in His ;
Cool body, the fire. Behold Tiruaalangkaadu ! ;

Translation: S. A. Sankaranarayanan (2007)

22nd song

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=11&Song_idField=11002&padhi=040&startLimit=22&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

He sports a crescent in His matted crest ; He, for ever,
Dances His twirling dance ; His waist is cinctured
With a serpent. Lo, whoever, by His grace,
Is able to sing and dance out this decad
Of Karaikkaal Pey of fiery mouth and sharp teeth
That abides in the crematory,
Will be freed clean of all sins.
Translation: S. A. Sankaranarayanan (2007)

19th Song

http://www.thevaaram.org/thirumurai_1/songview.php?thiru=11&Song_idField=11002&padhi=040&startLimit=19&limitPerPage=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=DESC

It is a crematory where bodies burn crackling
And where lofty bamboos scatter white pearls !
There the huge and loud-mouthed ghouls
Of dry and dangling hair and tired bodies
Foregather and eat to their hearts’ content
The corpses ; it is in such a great crematory
The One of gramarye dances ; the Daughter
Of the Mountain witnesses this in wonder.
Translation: S. A. Sankaranarayanan (2007)

Got some better pictures
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Exotic Meat for the Lord – A monitor Lizard

We had earlier seen how Kannappar defied conventional practise by wearing sandals. Today we are going to see him present a monitor lizard to Shiva. Again, the Tanjore Big temple sculpture – the deeds of the shaivite saints so en captured the fertile mind of Raja Raja Chola, that he loved their amazing lives and depicted them on the walls of his great temple.
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Its a small sculpture, more like a story board of sculptures depicted the story of Saint Kannappar, but what interested me was this depiction of him presenting this meat ( being a hunter you can see him still clinging on to his boy and arrow, plus his hunting dog comes into the frame as well). The divine bliss resplendent on his radiant face, as he, with total devotion, presents the meat to the shiva lingam.

Is there a devaram reference to this,ofcourse there is, how else would the chola sculpture depict such an act!!
Eleventh Thirumurai

As per the verse out of his extreme love for the lord, he presents a fat uncooked lizard to him.

For more of this amazing story and depiction in the big temple, please read this lovely post of Mr. Gokul ( watch the Priest Siva Gochariar, hiding behind the tree, in the climax scene)

Gokul’s lovely post

Images courtesy: www.varalaaru.com