Temple Vahanas of Tamil Nadu – Pradeep Chakravarthy

I have never met Pradeep ( yet) and my interaction with him started only in early May this year over a few brief email and facebook exchanges. Must confess that even the few initial interactions made quite an impression. Some googling threw up his columns in the papers, other articles about his Temple walk campaigns ( 30 such in a year is no mean achievement), they made me sit up and take notice that I was dealing with someone special. A few more weeks of email interactions, and I was pretty sure that I was dealing with someone not just special, but an extraordinary person, a dedicated professional who did meticulous preparations and indepth research for even his newspaper columns. Later thanks to technology, managed to view some of the recordings of his talks and realised that inside this modern profile ( definitely not the current avtar of a techie) and attire, there was a vestigial being – the remnants of the rich tradition of Kathakalakshepam, where the versatility and humor of the one man performer held sway over the audience for an entire evening.

So, when he told me that two of his books are scheduled for release shortly, I was more than excited at the prospect of a special treat for heritage lovers and was eagerly awaiting their formal launch. One was ” Thanjavur – A Cultural History” and the other ” Temple Vahanas of Tamil Nadu“. While we wait for the official release of the first book, the second one has been released recently by Kalamkriya, the publishing house of the Sanmar Group of Companies.

Vahanas or vehicles have always been my passion – be it my first BSA SLR and then graduating to an Atlas MTB during my school days, seeing Dad’s trusted Lamby and then on to the popular Chetak, when the affluent could afford either an Amby or a Fiat ( ok Bangaloreans would go for their Premier Padimini) – a slight flicker of hope was the Standard 2000’s and then the Invasion by the Maruti 800’s till the flood gates opened. But then to me – it was always an Arnie inspired bike rage, but had to settle for the Indian Harley – our very own Royal Enfield. Each of these were special in their own right but with the passage of time, most of them have been stripped of their positions. But what we are see today is from a bygone Era, an era when human energy or at best animals were the only means, and how tradition is still ensuring that they are alive to this day.

Combined to this, the fact that these adorable creations get their brief time under the sun ok moon ! once or twice a year ( if at all) – during the annual festival or some special days for the deity, and then being consigned to dingy bat infested confines for the rest of the year, where no one even acknowledges their existence. Its always been our endeavor to champion the cause of Temple Art, more so the beauties that escape our notice most often – a pillar sculpture here, a wood carving on a temple chariot or a magnificent Vahanam. Credit goes to Pradeep for bringing out this work to champion their cause.

What immediately caught my attention was the Pencil sketches – not just for the cover art but the entire book has been wonderfully illustrated by Sri V. Vijayakumar. I hope he does more such and hones his skills to follow the illustrious steps of greats like Sri Silpi, Sri Padmavasan. The team has also made it a bilingual ( in English & Tamil) which is a very good trend. The layouts bring a old world charm and the book in landscape mode is surely a collectors item.

The Foreword starts off on a really bold note and was actually quite surprised that the author chose to start on those lines, but as I read on it was more like the author wanting to clarify his stance on the “great divide”. But the real intensity of the work and the author’s passion hits you as you read the Introduction. He couldn’t have picked a better inscription to set the tone – an inscription from 1274 CE.

The contents cover an exhaustive list including some very special delightful Vahanas.

Here is a sample chapter on Adhikara Nandhi, for you all to read and enjoy

My personal favorite was the Kailasa Vahanam with Ravana shown stuck under the mountain, playing the instrument that he fashioned out of one of his heads and hands with his veins as the string.

Of the specials there is one Aadu ( Goat) Vahana. The extent of background research done by the author is evident as he quotes from literature to support the deity who would ride it !

To me the beauty of our heritage is in its complexity and in its own idiosyncrasies,on how even a simple description of a Puli Vahanam for the “Son” of God can be portrayed.

Surprisingly not all Vahanas are animals, reptiles and Demi Gods, some are Trees as well like the Punnai Mara Vahana or the Kalpa Vrisha Vahana. a pointer to strong nature worship prevalent among out ancestors ( are we learning ?)

Credit to the Author, the Artist and the team behind the book for successfully bringing out the significance of each Vahana, in a crisp manner, interlacing narration with choice selection of hymns and verses that transport you to the temple precincts, to visualise the lilting motion of the vahana bearers, to the accompaniment of characteristic drums and trumpets, and even maybe smell the kerosene from a leaking Petromax lamp.

p.s The book is currently under reprint and will update as soon as they are off the press !!