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.


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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

Baby Muruga is scared of Shiva- Pullamangai

Today we are going to see a fantastic miniature sculpture from Pullamangai ( Thanks chandra for the photo – more to come of yours shortly) – There is an equally majestic sculpture in tanjore museum – which is my favorite as well, which i fondly refer to as stone monalisa, but we will see that in a subsequent post. Am actually redoing this post, with further photos from Satheesh. We are in a real treat.

In order to truly appreciate this miniature, you got to understand the size of this creation and its location. We see the size at the end, just leaving it with ` miniature’ for now.

Well, need to use some software to brighten it up a bit and closeup for you.

Ok, recap the legend first.

Once upon a time there lived a demon called Gajamuhasura. As all demons are, he was cruel and ill treated all the good incl the devotees of shiva. Lord Shiva enraged at this decided to put an end to this and with his trident had a furious battle with the elephant bodied demon. The battle was so fierce and intense that Shiva was filled with rage and he caught the head of the elephant, crushed it with his foot and skinned him right there and wore it as his garment.

Now for the beauty – can you spot the characters – ofcourse Shiva – in his majestic, dynamic grace, almost dancing into the elephant hide – you can spot the elephant’s head way down to the left of the sculpture ( as you see it), under shiva’s trident – next to the shiva gana – who is up to his useful pranks – showing faces at the fallen asura. Amazing little characters these Ganas.


You can see shiva’s torso twisted in his effort to wrest the skin and is holding it like a blanket around him.


way down to the right, you can see his consort Parvati wanting nothing of this and rushing away, for she is scared and more scared is the young skanda – the portrayal of the baby is the master stroke of this sculpture – he wants to jump into the waiting hands of the lady helper, away from all this fearsome action …

Thats all the canvas that this master sculpture needed to sculpt this amazing microcosm of myriad emotions …Hats off for this splendid miniature. Well, did i say miniature?