Friday, August 31, 2007


It would be something of an understatement to say that Indian temples are a great repository of a cultural information. The goal of this blog is to see what information can be gleaned of the dress, weapons and anything else of the time period the sculptures belong to.

Some of my inpirations have been and Kamat's Potpourri. I must also mention an article on Sulekha where they mentioned that Dr. Padma Subrahmaniam, the famous dancer, analyzed some of the sculptures on the walls of Chidambaram temple and discovered that the multiple arms of the figures actually indicated the start and end points of dance movements and correlated to Bharata's Natya Sastra.

I am not a trained archaelogist or historian. I am just a programmer who likes history :)

I am fascinated by the detail in these sculptures. It's almost like they were 3-D photographs of their day. Many of the sculptures that I saw had different faces and had different accesories. They were clearly meant to represent different people. Whether or not it was real people or the sculptor's fancy is anyone's guess. It's pretty amazing how many details spring to your eye once you actually start looking for this sort of thing though.

If anyone would like to use the photographs posted in this site, they are free to, provided they mention their provenance. If you want higher quality photographs, let me know and I will email them to you.

If any of you visitors have comments, illuminating insights or photographs you wish to share, please feel free to contribute.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

And another goddess is born

Walking through Matunga, I glanced upwards and spotted this colourful carving. I couldn't figure out who this lady was. So I hunted around, and I found a thousand year-old story - the story of Goddess Kannika Parameswari.

In the 10th Century AD, in Penugonda in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, a daughter was born to the Vysya chieftain Kusuma Sreshti. She was named Vasavi - and she grew up to be beautiful and talented, an accomplished musician and artiste.

When the girl turned 16, the Hoysala Emperor Vishnu Vardhana visited Penugonda, and became enamoured of her. He was much older, already married, and from a the Kshatriya warrior caste (the girl was from the trader caste). So the alliance was refused. Enraged (and perhaps besotted), Vishnu Vardhana declared war and defeated Kusuma Sreshti.

In the wake of defeat, faced with the plunder and looting of her city, the princess arranged a great immolation pyre on the banks of the Godavari and burnt herself to death. Along with her, 102 other families, who had supported Kusuma Streshti also immolated themselves, in a show of solidarity. The legend is that the princess appeared before them in her true form as an incarnation of the Goddess Parvati, so they followed her into the fires. (Methinks it was political expediency - they had backed the wrong horse, so to speak, and perhaps immolation was preferable to Vishnu Vardhan's tender mercies).

And what of the victorious Vishnu Vardhan? He advanced towards Penugonda to claim his bride - but died mysteriously on the outskirts of the city, vomiting blood. The city was saved from loot and plunder.

And so the princess became Kannika Parameswari, the Virgin Goddess, a saviour of her people. A temple to her was built in Penugonda, and continues to be the most important place of pilgrimage for the Andhra Vysyas.

As for me, I continue to be amazed by the stories and legends that are everywhere around me.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Across, upwards, and inwards

It takes an hour by boat to get to Elephanta. Once on the island, you climb a set of 120 steps up the hill, to the cave that houses a fourteen hundred year old temple to Shiva.

There is something quite poetic about the idea of "crossing a sea, climbing a mountain, entering a cave" to see God. It is a journey across, upwards, and inwards, and the sculptures that await at the end are a magnificent reward.

First sighting of Elephanta Island. There are mangroves on the coast.

Shiva is such a paradoxical, puzzling God! In the first place, he is both male and female. He is angry and happy, forgiving and vengeful, creator and destroyer, an ascetic and a skilled lover. It doesn't make sense! Or perhaps it makes enormous sense, because we're all a bit like that?

In any case, Elephanta mirrors all of his contradictions with art that simply blows me away.

Panchamukha Shiva - Trimurti representing three aspects of Shiva

Ardhanarishwara - Shiva as Male and Female

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thiruvidanthai Contd. : Indra in a headlock

This was from another pillar in Thiruvidanthai. I thought it was a scene where the guy in the right was in a headlock and about to be slapped :-) My father pointed out that there's a mountain in the top of the image and animals under it, and so, this must depict the Govardhana giri incident. That's the one where Indra decides to punish the cowherds for worshipping the mountain and not him, sends down rain and Krishna (who had instigated them to worship the mountain), protects them by picking up the mountain and letting them shelter underneath. Indra of course, sees the error of his ways and begs forgiveness.

He maybe right, but you know, that looks awfully close to a headlock :-)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

In praise of demi-gods

The Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai has this sculpture of a yaksha and a yakshi.

I was pretty intrigued by this yaksha in particular - because in typical Hindu sculpture, yaksha men are fat pot-bellied dwarves, and this guy was anything but that!

A little digging around gave me half the answer - this is a Jain yaksha, not a Hindu one. But the pot-belly still ought to apply - so how did they become so good-looking? I looked it up some more - and found a story.

The male yaksha's name is Dharanendra, and that is his consort Padmavathi. The couple rose from their sub-terranean world, to protect Parshvanatha, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara (Tirthankara
= Enlightened One) from a flood. Dharanendra spread his serpent hood over Parshvanatha, and Padmavathi a diamond umbrella.

In return, they attained godhood and became perfect divine beings (so that explains their good looks!) Dharanendra's vehicle is the popular tortoise (can you see it, just under his knee?), but Padmavathi has a curious vehicle - a rooster with the head of a snake.

Go figure.

Size matters

Eighteen feet of elephantine strength, carved from a single granite boulder. The belly area was broken during the looting of Hampi. No lamps are lit in this temple because the idol is broken, so he sits there in dark grandeur. I wonder what he looked like with the lamps lit and the incense burning, decked in flowers and silk.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Narasimha and the Art of Action Sculpture

Here's another sculpture from the same mandapam.

Narasimha has Hiranyakasipu on his lap and is ripping his entrails out. I think that the different hands (except the ones holding the conch and the discus) show different hand positions in a single movement. So, what we see here is stop-action-photography of Hiranyakashipu's intestine being ripped out. Atleast, that's my guess :-)

Coming to the story being described.. You would think that after a couple of tries, the rakshasas would figure out that the boons that Brahma gives them all have a catch in them. Maybe they aren't given to introspection :-)Hiranyakasipu, a case in point. He asked that he not be killed by metals or by wood, not by man or beast, and not indoors or outdoors. He thought he was safe. So, he was killed at a doorway, by a half-man, half-lion, and by having his intestines ripped out by claws. I daresay that decapitation by the chakra (which seems to be the fate of most who oppose Vishnu) would have been a whole lot less painful.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


What we have here is two women (two more on the other side of the pillar) dancing with swords in their hands. I initially thought it was some kind of dandiya-type thing, but closer examination reveals that what they are holding in their hands are small swords (or huge daggers). Sword dances and warrior women date back into the mists of history.