Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Rangamantapa of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple is extremely beautiful and worth talking in detail and this post is almost entirely dedicated to it. This hall is DSC00309currently being used for performing special rituals for the Lord. Each March, a great celebration of the Lord’s wedding is held in this hall. This Rangamantapa was commissioned by the great Vijayanagara ruler, Krishnadevaraya in whose time the Vijaya Vittala Temple of Hampi was also constructed. Both of them have their unique aspects and this mantapa is more detailed in its architecture.

The first look of this wedding hall from outside iDSC00312tself creates a lot of interest. We see amazingly carved pillars on the entire outer side. Each of the pillars are carved with either mythological figures or warriors on horses. For example, in the picture that you see here, the Gods of Love in Hindu Mythology Rathi Devi and Manmatha are carved on a parrot and a swan respectively. We see another long chain carved out of stone hanging here. You will find this chain at all the four corners of this mantapa. The most amazing part of this chDSC00319ain is that the rings can move freely within even though the entire chain is made of a single stone. The entrance of the mantapa is in typical Vijayanagara style with a crocodile head on both sides.

There are a hundred pillars in this wedding hall. Out of them 4 are made of wood and the remaining of stone. The four pillars are on the platform where the rituals are held. You will find nice creeper designs on the parapet which inspire the Kanchipuram Sarees. The architecture of the temple is a mixture of cultures. Where you find the stories of godly figures like Rama andDSC00316 Krishna, you will also find the concepts of Kamasutra at the same place. There are many sculptures with amorous couples in this hall. There are many amazing aspects of this mantapa and we shall talk about some of them.

There is this sculpture of a warrior on a horse carved on a pillar. He has two heads and a single body. He is depicted as a North Indian or a Mughal on one side in terms of the dressing. If you go to the other side of the horse, you will be amazed to see that the same person looks like a South Indian with his dressing and face.  In Hindu mythology, there is a story of a fight between Lord Krishna and the bear Jambavanta. This is so well depicted here and the bear is carved with the minute detail including its teeth which are sharp. And all this is entirely monolithic.

Many parts and stories of the Ramayana are carved on the pillars. Various dance forms in India like Kathakali and Bharatanatyam are depicted here. Not only gods and goddesses, the then sculptDSC00324ors used to carve common people who come across in our daily lives. You can see figured of clowns and businessmen in the pillars of the South Indian mantapas and temples. There are beautiful sculptures of the 10 forms of Lord Vishnu, the Dasavatara. This is a very common art. The one thing where this pillared hall stands apart is the level of detail with which each of the pillars are carved.  For example, in the picture that you see above, the way the saree is tied and the jewellery is also shown in detail.

The ten incarnations of Vishnu are also carved on one side of the platform, but in small size. If you see the corners of the platform, you will find beautiful flowers chiselled out of the stone and looks beautiful. It is a pity that this art does not exist today. But the time this temple was constructed, the Portuguese were already in India. We can see sculptures of Portuguese warriors and soldiers. You can see their guns and rifles carved too. The temple was originally built in the 10th century by the Cholas and this mantapa, a later addition by the Vijayanagara King Sri Krishnadevaraya.

There are four pillars in here which has three animals cDSC00360arved on them, a horse, a elephant and a Yali. A Yali as we know is a mystic animal with a lion body and with long teeth poking out of its mouth. There is one statue of Vishnu carrying a bow, conch, wheel and playing a flute. So this statue covers three aspects Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. One statue depicts the replica of the prime deity of the temple, Varadaraja Perumal. There is also a beautiful depictions of the Narasimha aspect of Vishnu coming out of a huge pillar and later killing the demon king, Hiranyakasipa. There are some interesting sculptures like three humans with six legs and six hands. The body in the middle is common to the other two on the left and right.

I met Mr. David from AusDSC00355tralia in this mantapa and he enquired me about the temple history. I knew a surprising fact here. Foreigners are more interested and knowledgeable about our Gods and Goddesses than we Indians are. There was one priest in this mantapa who showed him figures of amorous couples and explained him about the various aspects of Kamasutra. It was real light moment when he asked the priest “You meant to be a holy man??”. We both laughed heartily at this question.

There is a pillar with an DSC00376English soldier with a double barrel gun. I had to lean down and go near the temple tank to a have a view of it. There is one statue on which when you tap with a iron piece, produces three different sounds the same as when you tap a big Gold, Silver and Stone piece. AndDSC00407 the view from the platform is too good. You will see the rows of warriors on horses on one side. The design on the platform is so intricate and delicate that we can actually pass a thin twig from within the holes. This art is extinct now. You can see big temples like the Birla Temple or the Swaminarayan temple which are costly and grand but they are nowhere comparable to these masterpieces. After spending almost an hour in this mantapa alone, i moved on to my further destinations.

In this blog, i discussed just the most important structures in Kanchipuram. Otherwise, there are numerous other old temples like the Sankupani Vinayakar, Yathoktakari Perumal, Deepaprakasa Perumal, Kachapeswarar. It is difficult to give an account of all these temples in detail. Each of them is as old as the temples i had written about and each are being maintained and the deities worshipped. Particularly, a lot of locals visit the Sankupani Vinayakar temple and a special ritual was being performed at the time i visited this temple.

Kanchipuram was in its glory during the Cholas, Pallavas and the Vijayanagara rule. Art and architecture were given a lot of importance by the people and rulers alike. Even the kings were lovers of art and artists themselves. We have a good example of Krishnadevaraya who was a writer and musician himself. The King was treated as a messenger of God and the people respected him. People were lot god fearing than they are today. That is the reason Kanchipuram once or even today is called as The Land of Thousand Temples.

As for the blog, watch out for my next series on Hassan District, Karnataka.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

This is the last of the most important places to visit in Kanchipuram. I talk about one of the most beautiful temples here, the Varadaraja Perumal Temple. The Ekambareshwar Temple is mentioned as Siva Kanchi and this temple as Vishnu Kanchi in our Vedas. If you want to seDSC00307e an amalgamation of cultures, it is this temple that sets as an example. This is initially built by the Pallava, then Chola and later expanded and beautified by the Vijayanagara rulers, who are great patrons of art. According to one local legend, this temple commemorates the site where Brahma performed a yajna to invoke the presence of Vishnu. This ritual was carried out on an altar raised upon a high square platform.

It was almost 4 PM when i visited this place. I had a couple of hours with me so i spent leisurely exploring every part of the temple. The gopura of the temple was under renovation and there was a covering of thatch on it. There are inscriptions in the Tamil language on either side inside the gopura. A small mantapa leads to the main sanctuary. Forms of the Dasavatara aDSC00310nd various other sculptures like creepers are carved on the pillars that support this mantapa. There is a second gopura through which we enter the main temple complex.

There is an extremely beautiful Rangamantapa in the outer complex on the left which we will talk about soon. There is a small long mantapa just after the first gopura. You find a chain at all the ends of the ceiling. On closer look we will be amazed to notice that the chains are also carved out of stone. Remarkable was the art which enabled a stone carved in to a proper chain where each ring move freely within the other.

As i enter the main shrine, the thing that attracted me is the centuries old DSC00363oil painting and the long inscriptions below it on the left wall after passing through the inner gopura. The painting tells various stories of Lord Krishna and his consorts. The lower part of the painting faded over these centuries. However, the inscriptions are still very clear. I then entered the main shrine and had to turn off my camera. The main shrine is more beautiful as the exterior. I had a nice darshan of the Lord and moved to the golden lizard. This is interesting. There a place in this temple where you will find lizards made of gold, silver and bronze and placed on the ceiling. It is believed that whoever touches these lizards will be free of the bad outcomes when a lizard falls on a person. In India, it is considered a bad omen when lizard falls on a human body. DSC00369

I then had a leisure tour of the inner part of the temple. You will find small mantapas inside the main shrine. The pillars of these mantapas are either carved with nice designs like creepers or with figures of deities like Rama and Vishnu. There is one such mantapa which is made of black stone and looks great. You will find images of the Dasavatara carved on the pillars of this mantapa. As this temple is dedicated to Vishnu, you will find the forms of Lord Vishnu or goddess Lakshmi at moDSC00392st of the places.

At one end of the shrine is the temple tank. This tank falls between the temple and the Ranga Mantapa outside and is a nice view. There is a small mantapa in between this temple tank where special rituals are performed. I had a nice tour inside and came outside. There is a mantapa near the inner gopura and its pillars are extremely beautiful in their carvings. One of the most beautiful is the image of Lord Krishna and his lady consorts are around him.

There are other images like Vishnu in the form of a boar (Varaha) carrying the lady earth on his shoulder. Then there is an image of Hanuman carrying Vishnu. The most beautiful of them are the horses carved on these pillars and warriors on these horses. The warriors carry swords. Each minute detail is taken care of when carved. If you find soldiers on horses being carved extensively, you can assume that the temple was constructed by either the Vijayanagara kings or the Cholas. One typical example of the Chola architecture is the Brihadishwara Temple in Tanjore, which is still a wonder in its architecture.

We still have to talk about the very beautiful Ranga Mantapa (next post) and briefly about some other temples in Kanchipuram.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Kamakshi Temple is very near to the Ekambareshwar Temple and is the only Amman temple in Kanchi. This is one of the Sakthi Peethams is run by the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha founded by Adi Sankaracharya. The temple is most probably built by the Pallava Kings in 6th century A.D. Unfortunately, i don’t remember visiting this temple as none of the photographs i have taken resemble this temple. It is very unfortunate that i visit Kanchipuram and miss the Kamakshi Amman temple.

DSC00265The Vaikuntha Perumal Temple is one of the oldest of the temples in Kanchipuram which date to the same time as Kailasanathar Temple. We can say this by the structure and the similarity in the material used for construction and the sculptures. It is said that the temple was constructed in the 6th century by the Pallava King, Nandivarman. The entrance to the temple is very simple without any gopuram. A flat mantapa leads to the inner complex. The pillars of the mantapa are carved with deities, male and female. As we enter into the temple complex, wDSC00273e find the dhwajasthamba in front, which shines like gold. This is a latest addition after the Vijayanagara period. There is a a columned mantapa which leads to the inner sections.

The Vaikuntha Perumal Temple is one the hundred and eight Divya Desams mentioned in our Vedas. This temple was originally known as “Parameshwara Vishnugriham” after the name of the King Nandivarman whose original name was Parameshwaravarman. The principal structure consists of three sanctuaries, one above the other on three ascending levels; these adjoin a columned mantapa which opens to west. The temple is surrounded by a colonIMG_0018nade. The entrance hall is an addition of the later Vijayanagara period.

I took a walk around the temple before going in. The entire outer structure is carved with lions standing on the hind legs. You will find these at regular intervals. This is a distinctive feature of the Pallava architecture which you find in the Kailasanathar Temple as well as temples in Mahabalipuram. Now i move inside the main temple. This inside sanctuary is surrounded by a colonnade, which rear wall is adorned with sculptures all around the temple.  It was mid afternoon then and the temple was actually closed to visitors. I requested the priest and had a tour. I was given only 10 minutes and had to rush off in that time.

The architecture of the temple has played a vital role in the architectural evolution of the grand thousand pillared mandapas built in the later south Indian temples. There are several inscriptions on the wall of the temple related to the wars between the Pallavas and ChDSC00278alukyas. In eighth century script, they even depict the history of the temple. The inner walls of the temple are entirely carved with stories from epics. There are also sculptures which depict coronation of the King with attendants and Brahmins. It could be very well about the Pallava Kings as suggested by earlier historians like C. Meenakshi.

As i move around visiting the temple, i was very amazed by the architecture and i wondered how many years it might have taken building this great structure. No part of the temple is left empty. We either see the walls carved or pillars with lions on it. There  are many sculptures which geDSC00280nerate a lot of interest.

One of them talks about the Birth of Pallava. He was born suddenly to Ashvatthaman on a litter of sprouts (pallava) by Menaka, a apsara, send by Indra who was afraid to lose his position on account of the austerities of Ashvatthaman. Ashvatthaman is shown in penance standing on single leg, while Menaka is shown standing in front of him. Baby Pallava is shown just in right panel, above the heap of sprouts. DSC00284

As the entire construction was done on plaster, the sculptures look disfigured with the wear and tear all these centuries. Most of the panels here talk about the origin of the Pallava dynasty and the various stories and legends associated with it. These long corridors are very cold in the afternoon, so are a nice place to spend some time away from the scorching heat. The main sanctum stands in the center of the temple complex as seen in the temple sketch.

The entrance to the main sanctDSC00290um is through these corridors and we make go around it from below. I had a darshan of the lord inside and went around the inner complex once again. I could have spent more than an hour if i had the time. However, as i mentioned i was left with very little time and so had to rush off. I would want to visit this temple in leisure again and cover all aspects of this wonderful creation. The one aspect i very much liked in this temple are the lion pillars and the centuries old sculptures in plaster. SDSC00286ome of the lion pillars which also are made of plaster are now replaced with stone ones as the earlier ones were broken.  I am not a spiritual kind of person, so i always see temples in the artistic perspective and less in terms of the deity. Over all, this temple brings back great memories. There are other temples that i visited in Kanchipuram but i will not mention all of them but the most important places. I then moved on to the best temple in terms of architecture and my favourite place in Kanchipuram, the Varadaraja Perumal Temple.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

As i mentioned earlier, the temple is with four corridors and we have seen one of the corridors which leads to the Antarala. Photography is not allowed as we go inside the Antarala, so do not have any pictures. Within, we find long pillars with DSC00216amazingly carved sculptures and deities of all forms whether it is Vishnu, Siva or Devi. With the wear and tear since centuries, some of the sculptures have been disfigured. However, with excellent preservation techniques, we still can see their beauty. Lord Siva as Ekambareshwar in the Linga form is the primary deity in the sanctum and it being worshipped since centuries. I had a nice darshan of the Lord and moved on for a tour to the other parts of the temple complex.

The four corridors of the temple enclose the temple tank which sets a beautiful view. I hired a local guide who walked mDSC00233e through the temple. He showed me the various parts of the temple referring to legends that are associated with it. The most beautiful parts of the temple are its corridors. They are long with pillars on the left and right. There are small inner corridors on the left in which you can find various smaller shrines like Murugan. Also, you can find One Thousand Eight Siva Lingas in one of the left corridors. On the right, you have the sanctum and the Ranga Mantapa which are spacious. The corridors are dark with sunlight passing through the upper part of the wall beams. I really felt great when i was walking inside the pavilion and the voices echo inside as its enclosed. It was an amazing experience and better seen than said.

All the pillars inside the pavilion are sculpted with intricate designs all over them. The Kanchipuram Silk sarees are inspired by these designs. Each pillar has a unique design and an ardent art lover can spend days exploring this temple in its entirety. DSC00235There is a small Devi shrine and a legendary mango tree near it. It is said that it was under this three that Goddess Kamakshi did penance and Siva wedded Kamakshi under this very same place. The three has four branches and each branch produces mangoes which are of different shapes and tastes. It is estimated that the age of this tree is over 3500 years.

Each part of the temple has its uniqueness. On the pavilion that we walk, you will find a Mantapa full of pillars and each pillar has an Yali carved on it. Yali, in art terminology is an imaginary and legendary animal which is ferocious and has a lion’s or an elephant head and an other animal’s body. Some of the pillars have peacocks DSC00243carved on them beautifully. In other words, this temple is a textbook on Pallava and Vijayanagara art. You can clearly distinguish between both forms of art as the shrines and Mantapas are carved with things that are a signature of the respective art forms.

I then go for a second darshan inside the sanctum and i was lucky enough to capture a picture of the Utsava Vigraha. I spent more than an hour in this temple complex. Take very good care while walking in this temple as walking barefoot on stone is not easy. I next move on to the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple.