Sunday, January 30, 2011

Any tourist that comes to Kanchipuram are referred to three temples and this is one of them. We had already seen the Kailasanathar Temple earlier. It is mentioned in oldDSC00185en records that this town had 1000 temples once upon a time and was and is still today a prominent centre of worship. And with the Kanchi Mutt established here, it is always famous.

On the way to the Ekambareshwara Temple, we come across an other temple of prominence. I do not remember the name of the temple and unfortunately, i lost my iternary of this trip. One thing is for sure that this is a Siva shrine considering the Nandi statue that we see in front of the temple. The temple is relatively smaller compared to the others. However, a lot of locals visited this place when i was there.

As you see in this picture, the temple is small but is built with amazing architecture entirely. The ceiling is a hemisphere and topped with three kalasas. Surprisingly, we find Vishnu idols carved on top of this temple. We may recognize them only on a closer look. We can also identify this on the sculptures that are carved on the gopura. Photography was not actually allowed insidDSC00193e this temple complex and i remembered switching off my camera after the priest shouted at me. I had a good darshan and moved on to the Ekambaranathar temple.

This is the principal Saiva sanctuary at Kanchipuram & also the largest religious edifice in the vicinity, easily recognized by the soaring gopuras that dominate the city's skyline. A lofty pavilion is built in the middle of the street that leads up to the south gateway of the complex. Images of Ravana lifting Kailasa, Karthikeya with six heads, and Bhairava are carved on the pillars of this pavilion. This temple spreads over an area of 12.14 hectares and is surrounded by a huge stonewall built in the early 16th century during the days of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Ekambareshwar temple is of hoary antiquity, beginning as a small fane, it has grown over the centuries into a large one with innumerable shrines, Mandapams, Gopurams and Tanks. It is considered to be one of the most ancient temples in India and has been in existence even prior to 600 AD. The gopura that provides the focus for this street rises no less than 58.5 m (192 feet) high. This impressive structure was erected in 1509 by the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadeva Raya. The pyramidal tower has eight diminishing storeys in plaster-covered brickwork. The vaulted roof has arched ends surmounted by monster masks with bulging eyes, pot finials adorn the ridge. The lower part of the gopura is of stone and carved with beautiful images of dwarapDSC00198alas and other deities.

The entrance to the inner complex is magnificent and the ceiling is a typical example of Vijayanagara architecture. The wooden door stands tall and decorated with kalasa kind of spokes. The sides of the doors is carved beautifully with creepers from the top to bottom. As we enter through the door, we see a painting on the left which tells about the legend that is associated with this temple.

According to the legend, Parvati, once in Kailasa, playfully closed the eyes of Lord Shiva, plunging the entire world in darkness. An angry Shiva cursed the Devi to turn dark like Kali. The Goddess descended on this place and did penance under a mango tree, making a Lingam out of earth. Hence, much significance is attached to this shrine and the mango tDSC00202ree, situated within the temple.

There is a Mantapa on the right side just after we enter through the main entrance. The Mantapas inside were constructed over generations of kings and dynasties. A clear distinction can be noticed in the architecture of each of the dynasties. Temples in Kanchipuram are always a amalgamation of art. Once we move further we see the main temple. It seems a narrow long one with not much place to move inside. Also, the outer side is recently renovated with colourful paintings. We cannot appreciate its true beauty and magnificence unless we move inside the shrine.

The viDSC00208ew that we see in the picture above is only a small part of the temple. However, we also see the sanctum here. The temple tank is surrounded by four corridors like the one we see in this picture. The temple is supposed to have 1000 pillars in all the four courtyards. Once we enter the temple from the side, what we see further which looks like a small courtyard and a first view of the art.

Turn your head to the right and you see pillars with Pallava style of architecture. A ferocious lion is carved at the top of each of the pillar. There is one amazing thing in this pillars that i have not noticed in anDSC00209y of the places that i had visited before. There is one more thin pillar supporting the main pillar. However, both pillars are not different. The thin one is carved out of the main pillar. The main pillar is carved with various forms of deities. And there is a small gaps between the supporting and the main pillar. One may not feel the greatness of this just be seeing one pillar. But if there are a series of these that one sees, they would definitely appreciate the greatness.

Even though this is primarily a Siva shrine, we see many forms of Lord Vishnu like Lord Rama, Narasimha and Krishna on the temples. From this, we can understand that even though there were huge differences and conflicts between Saivaites and Vaishnavaites in the early history, they gradually reduced leading to harmony among the people and within the religion.

There is one small shrine of Goddess Kali that you find here. It is a black statue with eight hands. Each of the hands hold a different weapon and one in the abhaya mudra. What a temple of Siva is without a Nandi? We can find a beautiful idol of Nandi DSC00214outside the main temple in a smaller mantapa. The mantapa is old, however the ceiling seems to be a recent construction. Even the Nandi statue is painted. If this is just for the beautification of the statue, it is sad to having demolished the actual beauty of it.

The above is the view if we turn our head to the right after entering the main temple. What do you see when you turn you head left is better experienced than said. We see a long series of pillars leading to the main sanctum. In between these statues, we find the dhwajasthamba standing magnificently in front. The pillars on each side have figures of horses ridden by warriors. They either are saluting the supreme deity or we can say that they depict the glory of the kingdom and the king who is a patron of the temples. These pillars are in typical Pallava architecture. Each of the pillars are carved from top to bottom with many deities, the prominent of which is the Devi aspect of Parvati.

I will talk more about this temple in the coming post too…

Monday, January 24, 2011

This place is very famous for its Silk Sarees and the Kanchi Mutt. However, the art and architecture of the temples have not been so much discussed about. Let us know a bit about this place before we move on.

Kanchipuram, Kanchi, or Kancheepuram is a temple town in ancient times it was called Kachi and Kachiampathi. It is said that more than thousand temples existed once, but we can see just more than hundred now. Kanchi is also referred in the greatest epic of all times, the Mahabharata. The rulers of Kanchi were mentioned to have taken the side of Kauravas during the Kurukshethra war.

It is one of the oldest cities in South India, and was a city of learning. Kanchi was believed to be visited by Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang) in the 7th century A.D. Xuanzang, in his records mentions this city was 6 miles in circumference and that its people were famous for bravery and piety as well as for their love of justice and veneration for learning. He further recorded that Buddha had visited the place. DSC00181

It was during the reign of Pallava dynasty, from the 4th to the 9th centuries that Kanchipuram attained its limelight. The Pallavas fortified the city with ramparts, moats, etc., with wide and well laid out roads and fine temples. They were a great maritime power with contacts with far-off China, Siam, Fiji, etc., through their chief Port Mamallapuram, the modern Mahabalipuram. The Cholas ruled this town from 10th century to 13th century. Kings of Vijayanagara dynasty ruled from 14th century to 17th century. The founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma was born here, as was the famous Sanskrit writer Dandin.

Robert Clive, of the British East India Company, who played a major role in the establishment of British rule in India, is said to have presented an emerald necklace to the Varadaraja Perumal (the Clive makarakandi, still used to decorate the Lord on ceremonial occasions).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It was Deepawali, the festival of lights in India. After a strenuous day in Mahabalipuram, i travelled over to a place where i underwent the most spiritual journey of mine ever. Kanchipuram was bustling with festive mood with kids lighting fireworks and men and women dressed in new attire. It was almost 9 AM by the time i reached the toDSC00176wn. I immediately hired an auto rickshaw as i knew it would be painstaking to travel to all the planned places. I had a heavy breakfast and moved to my first destination the Kailasanathar Temple. It was quite hot that day i appreciated my decision of hiring a vehicle for travelling inside the town.

The Kailasanathar Temple is one of the oldest temples that we can see in this area, as we can see by the construction and the wear and tear that affected it. It reflects the freshness and simplicity of the early Dravidian style of temple architecture and was commissioned by the Pallava King Rajasimha and completed by his son Mahendra in the 8th century and is dedicaDSC00160ted to Lord Siva. There are 58 small shrines situated round the main shrine. Fresco-style paintings adorn the inner walls  of the shrines. Sandstone was used in the construction of this temple.

This is the only temple at Kanchipuram which is not cluttered with the more recent additions of the Cholas and Vijayanagara rulers. Fragments of the eighth century murals which once graced the alcoves are a visible reminder of how magnificent the temple must have looked when it was first built. It can also be described as the worthy successor of the rock temples at MahaDSC00161balipuram, which were also built by the Pallava rulers. The bases of the pillars in the temples at Mahabalipuram have seated lions while at Kanchipuram the confident grimacing lions stand on their hind legs, as if ready to pounce on anyone trying to harm the temple. There are a number of small shrines within this temple  dedicated to Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi (Lord Shiva’s consort) and their sons Ganesh and Murugan.

The first view of the temple is a series of smaller shrines and lion headed Yalis guarding them. There is a wall that encloses all of the complex and you find pillars on the wall at regular intervals. I walk in tDSC00178hrough the gopura.  Inside you find eight shrines, two on the south side of the main gate and six on north side. All the shrines are complete temple in themselves, consisting of mukhamandapa, garbhgriha (sanctum sanctorum) & vimana. Each shrine has a shiva-linga inside. The mukha-mandapa is supported on the pillars, adorned with the sitting Yalis. There is a small shrine at the entrance gate. It is a later addition by Pallava king Mahendravarman, son of Rajasimha. As per an inscription on its stair, the name of the shrine is Mahendravarmeshvaragriham. This shrine has recently gone under renovation and repairs.

Let us talk about some of the most amazing sculptures inside.

There are many places where a warrior is shown on a lion which is on its hind legs DSC00159ready to pounce. It is so remarkable that we can even see the smile of the warrior. Such a great art was prevalent that age that even facial expression was given more importance and each masterpiece is incomplete without them. Also, a statue of Lord Ganesha is found here which is said to be one of the oldest in South India. Even this has undergone much wear and tear and you can see the sandstone peeling off. The Archaeological Survey of India need to be commended for its excellent maintenance of the temple despite the age old sculptures. One of the most interesting and detailed panels is the Samudra Manthan in Cell 12. Vasuki, king of snakes, is coiled around Mandara mountain, which in turn is supported by Vishnu by his left hand. One thing of interest here is that Vishnu is shown in human form supporting mountain instead of his Kurma (tortoise) form. Devatas and Asuras are standing around. One horse is shown just sprung from the ocean, which may be Uchchaisrava Ashva, taken by Indra.

One more is the Narasimha in Cell 9. Narasimha shown here slaying demon Hiranyakshipu. There is a pillar in between the two figures, as according to a story, Narisimha came out of the pillar when Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar and askedDSC00163 Prahlada that can his god come out of the pillar. Presence of this sculpture is rather interesting as Shiva is the main deity here. Another is Kiratarjuniya, where Arjuna is shown preparing to fight with Lord Shiva, in disguise of a hunter, over the killing of a boar. When Arjuna saw that none of his weapon were able to reach to the hunter then he realized that this is Lord Shiva himself in disguise of a hunter. This is so detailed that even the boar is depicted behind Arjuna.

I then go inside the main shrine. The sanctum is spacious and there is a big, black Linga inside. One interesting this is that the sanctum is surrounded by a smallDSC00166 corridor and one can actually go around for a pradakshina. There is a catch. The starting point to the corridor is blocked and one need to kneel on all fours and enter it. It would the same when to come out of it. I thought i would try it but abstained as i am a little overweight and was afraid of getting stuck. There were not too many visitors then and i had a nice darshan of the lord.

There are hundreds of sculptures in this temple complex and one may take more than a day to see each of them. Each sculpture has a story to tell there are many blogs one can refer to know each of them. However, my intension is just to introduce these places to others and not to be an authority of it. So i will not describe all. I would seriously recommend 2 days for visiting this temple complex if you are on research. Otherwise half an hour would be enough.

After spending almost an hour here, i move towards one of the most beautiful temples in Kanchipuram, the Ekambareshwara Temple.




Friday, January 14, 2011

After roaming around Mahabalipuram for almost 8 hours, i was damn tired and  desperately wanted an end to the day’s trip. However, there was one place still left to visit and that is the one i am writing about. I hired an auto rickshaw and moved to this place which is at a distance 15 kilometres from Mahabalipuram.

I reaDSC00095ched the place and what i see.. A hill with almost 300 steps to the top on which, a very famous temple is situated. I was tired, but adamant. I started off ascending. Thirukazhukundram is an ancient town in Kanchipuram district of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is famous for its Hindu temple, Vedagiriswarar temple, popularly known as Kazhugu koil (Eagle temple). The word Thirukazhukundram comes from the Tamil words Thiru (Respectful), Kazhugu (Eagle), Kundram (mount). The town is also known as Pakshi theertham. It has also been known as Uruthrakodi, Nandipuri, Indrapuri, Narayanapuri, Brahmapuri, Dinakarapuri, Muniganapuri in the past. The main attraction here is the large temple located atop thDSC00102e mountain which houses the deity of Vedagiriswarar. There is a temple at the foothills which is dedicated to Thirupurasundari Amman.

There is a very interesting legend here. It is said that eight rishis of the Hindu pantheon were cursed by Lord Shiva to be reborn as eagles. The worshippers begged forgiveness and Lord Shiva showed them some mercy. They were to be reborn as holy eagles, two in each yugam (an epoch of the Hindu calendar) and attain Sayujya mukti by worshipping Lord Siva sincerely. Locals believe that out of  the eight rishis, six have already attained their wish by being born as eagles and worshipping the Lord. The remaining two are said to be the two eagles that have visited Thirukazhukundram daily since time immemorial, in order to worship Shiva and obtain salvation from the curse. It is said that after a bath in the Ganges in the morning, they come to the site at DSC00107noon for food, reach Rameswaram in the evening for darshan and return to Chidambaram for the night.

I spoke to the priest and he mentioned that both the eagles died at this very same location and attained Mukti. Also it is said that the eagles moved around with the devotees and never harmed any. They just ate what the devotees offered and flew away. We can have an entre view of the surroundings once we reach to the top. Also we can see the entire complex and the 4 gopurams of the Amman temple  below.

The temple is old but the outer construction is new and painted. The pillars and the sculptures inside date the temple to the 14th DSC00122century AD. Black stone is used entirely inside the temple and the pillars shine in the electric bulbs. Hundreds of devotees throng the temple everyday from all places in Tamil Nadu to offer prayers to the Linga form of Lord Shiva. I attended the evening Aarti of the Lord and came down to the Amman Temple.

There are four inscriptions on the strong room of the Vedagiriswarar Temple. That part of the wall where these inscriptions are found, is disfigured by a number of mason's marks, which are noticed in the footnotes to the texts. These marks consist, in most cases, of Tamil numerals, engraved probably before attempting to pull down the wall with a view to repair the temple. The DSC00108 numerals would indicate the order in which the stones had to be arranged while rebuilding the wall. This custom of marking is still prevalent in Southern India. An example would be the Ekambareshwara Temple at Kanchipuram. At this place the numerals are not cut with the chisel as at Thirukazhukundram, but painted on the stones with tar or chunnam. The alphabet and language of the four subjoined inscriptions is Tamil; but a number of words of Sanskrit origin are written either wholly or partially in Grantha characters.

DSC00144 There is a big mantapa to the left of the temple. Its an old construction and the most beautiful thing is the ceiling of it, where old paintings still awe the visitors. The temple chariot is placed inside this mantapa and even the pillars of this are carved with various forms of gods and goddesses. The construction of the mantapa clearly mark the temple to be one that was commissioned by the Vijayanagara kings.

I then moved inside the temple. The inside of the temple is amazing. Unfortunately, i was not allowed to take any photographs inside as i was carrying my Video Camera. The temple has a long mukha mantapa which leads to an antarala. There are sculptures of warriors on horses on both sides of the mukha mantapa which gives an extra ordinary look to the temple. TDSC00119he garbha griha is big with the Amman shining bright in the lamps as well as electric bulbs.

There is a fresh water pond beside the Amman temple. A conch pops out of this  pond every twelve years and this has been happening ever since the temple has been constructed. All these conchs are stored inside a small room in the Amman temple complex and the visitors are offered to see them for a small fee. It is really amazing to even think that a conch pops out of fresh water.

It was almost 8 in the night by the time i had a darshan of Amman. I went back to my hotel in Mahabalipuram for a nice hot bath, had nice dinner with chilled beer and signed off for the day. I started off early next morning to my next destination, Kanchipuram.

References: Wikipedia and Epigraphia Indica Vol. 3

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Pidari Rathas are two incomplete rathas and similar in style with Pancha Pandava Ratha group, hence could be assigned to the same period. One of these DSC00052 faces east and another faces north. Both are two storeys design where the upper part of the ratha is complete but the lower portion is very little done. Both of them are carved in different profile, one has a square roof and another has an octagonal roof. On the ridges of the roofs is seen floral creepers, similar to Draupadi Ratha. Regular arrangement of mini shrines over the cornice is also found here. In one of the ratha we also see pilasters supporting the cornice, however the other one has not still reached to that state of completion.

The Atiranachanda Mandapa is located at Saluvankuppam, about 4 km from Mahabalipuram on Chennai route. This is an east facing mandapa measuring 28 feetDSC00079 long, 6 feet wide and 6.5 feet high. The fa├žade of the cave is supported on two pillars and two pilasters. Above the cornice we see incomplete horizontal frieze of mini shrines. Inside the are seen three cells, however only the central cell is excavated as a square of 3.5 feet, the rest of two cells are just the wall portions separated by the middle cell. Inside the middle cell is placed a black polished multi faceted lingam, which is seen as a characteristic style of Rajasimha. Another proof to support this cave excavation to Rajasimha is DSC00084 Somaskanda panel on the back wall inside the shrine. Shiva is shown seated with Uma and baby Skanda under a parasol. They are flanked by Vishnu and Brahma on either side. Outside this cell, in the sunk niches, are carved two dvarpalas. Two similar Somaskanda panels are seen carved on the back wall of the mandapa on either sides of the central cell. From the pillars and corbel, it looks that the cave might have been executed during Mahendra/Mamalla’s time however black polished fluted linga and Somaskanda panel inside the central cell suggests the creation to Rajasimha. It would be wrong to assume that the excavation was started during Mahendra/Mamalla’s time and completed by RDSC00086ajasimha as the cave is still incomplete and also to complete such a simple excavation would not require this much time such as between Mamalla and Rajasimha. We see a long stone Lings outside the Mandapa. Some historians suggest that the current granite was placed inside recently and the the Linga outside was the one that was originally inside the cell.

We have two inscriptions, one on northern wall and another on southern wall, in  this temple. Both are similar inscription, only difference is in their script, one written in Sanskrit and another in Pallava Grantha script. From the inscriptions, we found that this temple was called as Atiranachanda-Pallaveshvara-GrihamIshvara temple of Atiranachanda Pallava. It is clearly stated that this was excavated as an adobe for Shiva, Uma and Skanda with the ganas. Pallava Grantha inscription runs for seventeen lines while the Sanskrit inscription runs for sixteen lines. In the additional line of Pallava Grantha script talks about the musical talents of Kalakala, another title of Rajasimha. Few verses of the inscriptions are similar to Dharmaraja and Ganesha Ratha inscriptions of Parameshvaravarman I. From the inscription, it is clear that this cave can be assigned to Rajasimha.

Yali Mandapam (Tiger Cave) – This structure is quite different and unique from the other cave shrines of Mahabalipuram. This south-east facing structure is located DSC00077 near Atiranachanda Mandapam. This cave is refined, cut at a height of 6 feet from the ground level and the pavilion is closed on three sides and a 4 feet deep and 6 feet high cavity is excavated in the front. The staircase, to reach the high raised platform, is supported by lion parapets on either sides.

There are two rampant lion pilasters at the corners of this cavity. There is a female rider sitting over the rearing lion. This is the first instance of rearing lion pillar style in a Mahabalipuram cave which suggests that it DSC00076was excavated during Rajasimha’s time. Also the proximity of this mandapam to Atiranachanda Mandapa also supports Rajasimha as its creator. There are two small niches carved on the either side of  this central cavity, the niches are empty. Around this central cell and the two niches is a surrounding garland like arrangement of eleven vyalas (mythological lion-shaped animal). On the same rock, south of this pavilion, are carved two large elephants heads, above which is a horse-show cavity representing a howdah. If we compare the elephants of Arjuna’s PenancDSC00073e then these elephants heads are very inferior in craftsmanship, even if we take account of the damage done due to saline air. The ears of the elephants are  carved with  Inside these are carved four-armed seated figure carrying what seems like a vajra (thunderbolt) in one of their hands. One figure could be identified with Indra as elephant is his mount. There is a pillar (dhvaja-stambha) in between two elephants. On south of the elephants is a figure of horse, approaching towards the elephants. However that figure is not complete and quite worn out due to the saline air.

On northern face of the same rock is carved DSC00068a huge lion. In its stomach is carved out a cavity. Some figure was planned inside this cavity, as can be seen from what’s left behind,  however it was left unfinished. This lion is similar to the standing lion inside Shore Temple, in whose chest is carved a cavity and inside is a relief of  Mahishasuramardini.The lion head is quite identifiable however In whole it looks like a crude carving. From all above elements of this rock boulder, it can be inferred that this cave was thought to be dedicated to Durga. This surmise is totally dependent upon the presence of so many lions, who is the mount of Goddess Durga. As stated earlier, this creation is assigned to Rajasimha by most of the scholars.

Mukunda Nayanar Temple:

This temple was buried under 12 feet of sand and was excavated at the same time when Sulvankuppam excavations were carried out. This lies little far from town, on the way towards Sulvankuppam. This is a small temple which is very similar to DSC00065 Dharmaraja Ratha in its architecture and design. This east facing double storey temple, thought assigned to Rajasimha’s period, does not have rampant lion pillars, which are very characteristic features of his style and are found in all the temples attributed to him. The temple has a ardha-mandapa supported on two pillars and two pilasters. The pillars are circular in shape with diminishing diameter towards the upper end. Above the cornice is seen regular arrangement of mini shrines interconnected via cloisters. The corner shrines are with square roof however the middle one is with oblong roof. These mini shrines separates the first storey with the ground one. On the first storey are seen niches on all four sides, however all are empty. The ardha-mandapa leads into a square  garbha-griham. On the back wall of this DSC00066sanctum is a Somaskanda panel. Shiva is shown seated with Uma and baby Skanda, while Vishnu and Brahma are shown standing behind them. Skanda is shown seated in Parvati’s lap. The style is very similar to the other such panels of Rajasimha’s time. The presence of this panel supports the theory of its assignment to Rajasimha. There is a Shivalingam installed in front of this panel, however it seems to be a later addition.

We have come to the end of the wonderful journey of Mahabalipuram. This place would always have a special place in my trips as this is the first time i ventured into Tamil Nadu. I bid adieu to the land where stones speak history and move to my next destination, Thirukazhukundram.

-----------------------------------End of Mahabalipuram-------------------------------------------