Lanka Dahana Festival of Sonepur – A Photo Story

Sonepur also is known as Subarnapur has been the cultural capital of West-Central Odisha. Located on the confluence of Tel and Mahanadi River archaeologists have speculated that it was Ramayana’s Lanka. Archaeological excavations at Manmunda near Sonepur have revealed cultural deposits that can be traced back to the time of Emperor Ashoka and even earlier.

The tradition of its being Lanka is also richly embedded in the folklore of the region. On the dark night of Ashwin (September-October) the locals of the region celebrate the religious festival of Saptapuri Amas when the ploughing cattle are worshipped. On this occasion terracotta images of Adimata guarded by two bulls are pulled by children of the town in the streets.

Also, Read Here:

Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

Travel Tips

Sonepur is located in Western Odisha at a distance of 278 km from Bhubaneswar by road. It is a medium-sized town and the district headquarter of Subarnapur District. While in the town a traveller can also explore its other heritage temples, such as Budhi Samalai Temple, Bhagavati Temple, Dadhibabana Temple, Dasamati Temple and Jagannath Temple. Sonepur is also a major handloom cluster. Bomkai or Sonepuri Saris are woven by Bhullia community in villages around Sonepur.

Sonepur does not have many staying options. However, nearby towns of Balangir and Bargarh, both connected by rail have a number of budget hotels at affordable prices.

To learn and shop terracotta objects do contact

Mukunda Rana,

Village – Kuibahal 

District Subaranapur

Phone – +91 9668209573 

Also, Read Here:

Gifts of Mother Earth– The Story of a Kosali Potter

On this occasion, the village boys obtain wheeled terracotta figures of Hanuman from the potters to place them on flat bamboo platforms so that the terracotta wheels go through and touch the ground. Tying a rope to the device the boys lead it through the streets. The elongated raised tail of Hanuman figure is covered with oil-drenched cow dung which is kept ignited. The festival is locally known Lanka Dahana. The Hanuman figures are partly handmade and partly wheel made and appears in either black or red colour in different sizes. Once the festival is over the figures are either consigned to dung heap or left to disintegrate in ponds.

Also, Read Here:

Terracotta Artist Manbodh Rana – An Inspiring Story

Life in Terracotta – Tile Craft of Barpali

 

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Lanka Dahana Hanuman exhibit at ODIART Purvasha Museum, Chilika

 

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Lanka Dahana Hanuman exhibit at Kalabhoomi Museum, Bhubaneswar

 

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 Lanka Dahana Festival at Sonepur

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Terracotta Hunuman Idols are being made for the festival

 

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Boys participating in the festival

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Etching Krishna and his Childhood

Tall and short, the tree grows in abundance on the coast of Odisha, both in a cluster and in solitary.  It is one of the palm trees, in Odia called Tala Gachha. The tree may not have cultural or religious significance unlike the sacred banyan tree but its leaves are the most sought after material for creative experimentation to illustrate Hindu gods, goddesses and their leela.

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From childhood, I have been well acquainted with the art and also with talapatra pothis or palm leaf manuscripts as it is referred to in English. Talapatra pothis are traditionally used to write horoscopes and its history can be traced back to the beginning of Odisha’s history.

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Depiction of Horoscope Writing in a Patachitra

However, in historical records, we have only from the 17th century now mostly preserved in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. This may be due to the humid tropical weather of Odisha we have lost the earlier ones.

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A historical Pothi Chitra from 18th/19th-century exhibit at Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Specialized tools known as lekhani – Exhibit at Kalabhoomi, Bhubaneswar

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Among the contemporary talapatra pothi chitra one of the most stunning and richly illustrated that I have come across is a pankha (hand fan) exhibit at ODIART Purvasha Museum in Chilika. Narrating the story of Lord Krishna and his leela in a multitude of colours the talapathra pothi chitra pankha is a treat to eyes. The creator of the pankha is noted patachitra artist Bijaya Parida.

Travel Tips

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum.

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com

Also, Read Here:

Celebrating Seasons in Patachitra – a Tribute to an Artist’s Dream and Passion

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The pankha is a pinnacle of traditional Odia creation, but its process starts in nature.

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A tall Palm Tree
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Freshly cut leaves from a Palm Tree
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Dried leaves before they are processed for pothi chitra making

During my travel to Nayakapatna village near Raghurajpur in Puri District, I had got a chance how and who procure the leaves, process them before they appear in zigzag folds of yellow-green leaves. A special set of tools known as lekhani are used for etching the processed leaves. It is not an easy task. You need patience and perfection. First, it is drawn in a pencil and then in a lekhani. Colours are filled at the end. The style is influenced by patachitra painting.

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A stack of palm leaves
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A woman in the cutting and sizing process
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After the Cutting and Sizing with the help of various tools
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An artisan at work
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An artisan at etching work using a lekhani

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The pankha is made up four concentric circles out of which the outer three are filled in illustrations depicting Krishna’s all childhood episodes, mystical beasts, flora and fauna and geometrical patterns. Even the handle is not spared. The innermost circle has the depiction of patra-lata (vegetal motifs).

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It’s Process

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Looking closely at this masterpiece time and again I am reminded of how incredible Odia art has been for centuries. However, sadly with the penetration of foreign goods, especially the Chinese market the glory is fading away at a pace that was never thought up before. But there is hope as long as there is a support of museums like Purvasha and art connoisseurs. Fingers crossed!

Author- Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath is widely celebrated as a supreme Hindu Tirtha for its legendary Jagannath cult. Everyday Puri is visited by thousands of devotees from all over India for darshan of the Hindu Trinity at Jagannath Temple.

The present Jagannath Temple may be a 12th-century structure testifying the highest achievement of Kalinga School Architecture, but the celebration of Puri or Srikshetra as a Hindu Tirtha goes back to much earlier time. For example, Gobardhana Matha located in Swarga Dwara had been founded by Adi Sankaracharya in 8th Century CE as a centre of learning and culture. From then on mathas or monasteries have been playing an important role in performing seva or duty for Lord Jagannath. There are a large number of mathas belonging to different sects located around Jagannath Temple. Mahantas head these monastic institutions, who are also the spiritual preceptors of many followers of the sect. These mathas are treated as social infrastructure located within historic residential neighbourhoods or shais where monks, austerities, bhikkhus and devotees stay to practice meditation for spiritual growth.

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Bada Odia Matha

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The Mahanta of Bada Odia Matha

Once covered with murals profusely with time there are only two monasteries left where one can trace the evolution of Puri paintings although in highly faded condition.

Also, Read Here:

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

Travel Tips

Puri is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus and celebrated as one of the four supreme dhams. The holy city of Lord Jagannath is well connected by rail and road and forms part of the golden triangle in Odisha for tourists world over, the other two places in the triangle are Konark and Bhubaneswar. The nearest international airport is located in Bhubaneswar, 65 km away. Puri abounds in sites for both spiritual and adventure seeking souls. Every street of Puri and its surrounding villages has something to offer whether it is food, craft, ethnic life, devotion or spirituality. Its sea beach is one of the most celebrated beaches of India on the Bay of Bengal and a drive through the Puri – Konark marine drive is one of the most memorable experiences for a traveller. 

Puri is full of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. While at Puri don’t forget to eat mahaprasada, the food offering to Lord Jagannath on a daily basis. 

The Bada Odia Matha

The Bada Odia Matha has the largest concentration of Puri paintings on its walls drawn in the 19th century. This matha was established by Atibadi Jagannath Das in the 15th Century CE. He was a great religious poet and composed the Odia Bhagwat. The image of Atibadi Jagannath Das is preserved in the matha. Jagannath was the intimate disciple of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and founder of Atibadi sect of Vaishnavism. The Odia Matha makes arrangement for pankti bhoga in the Jagamohana during Rukminiharana festival and supplies kala sari (black cloth) to Goddess Vimala. It is also vested with the duty of cleaning the Ratnavedi and supplying of canopy for the inner sanctuary and the pillows for the Lord. The matha provides trimundi chandua and silk cloths for chaka apasara, til oil for phooluri neeti, oil and ghee for Deva Deepavali.

Also, Read Here:

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

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Portrait of Atibadi Jagannath Das

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Inside of the Monastery profusely painted with murals

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More than life-size murals of Lord Vishnu, Krishna and Rama with their consorts and allies, the matha boasts some of the finest religious art of the region. As one enters the inner monastery gate the first sight is the murals of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra.

Also, Read Here:

Illustrating Ramayana Katha – Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

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Next, are scenes from Krishna Leela and the Ramayana.

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The depiction of Anantasayi Vishnu is yet another major draw among the murals of the matha.

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One also finds the episode of Samudra Manthan or the Churning of the Ocean in the monastic wall.

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Among the decorative figures, the images of peacocks are eye-catching.

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The Kaliya Dahana scene of Krishna is yet another important mural of this monastery.

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Krishna and Rukmini

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Scenes from the Ramayana

However, sadly most of the murals are on the verge of extinction. The monastery is neither on the heritage trail.

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Gangamata Matha

Gangamata Matha located in Bali Sahi is yet another monastery where one can see traces of Puri murals of the 19th century. Belonging to Gaudiya Sect, the matha is located beside the sacred Swetaganga Tank.

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Like Bada Odia Matha here also one finds life-size murals of the Hindu Trinity (Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra) at its entrance.

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In the next panel, the mural boasts child Krishna along with the depiction of forest environment. There are also depictions from the scenes of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

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One of the Finest Wooden Panels at Gangamata Matha

In Indian mural tradition, Odisha played an important role as a link between south and north. However, unlike other mural traditions, such as Vijayanagara, Cholas and Nayakas of South and Orchha and Bundi of Rajput north, the Puri paintings have hardly drawn attention. One of the major concerns is their preservation from the sultry tropical weather and human interference. However, before they have vanished completely it is critical to preserve them from their further decay with the help of art restorers.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Appliqué – Celebrating Colours of Odisha

Think of the famous Rath Yatra or Car Festival of Puri that is held every year in July – August. Think of the brightly coloured chariots of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and Sister Devi Subhadra. Think of the gorgeously colourful appliqué sheets that are used to protect the gods and goddesses from the Sun and the Rain when they are out on the street to meet their maternal aunt Devi Gundicha. That is how the story of chandua (the Indian version of appliqué) began in Jagannath Dham.

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Rath Yatra of Puri 

According to Wikipedia, ‘Appliqué is ornamental needlework in which pieces of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern’. Appliqué is commonly used as decoration, especially on garments, but also in canopies, wall and door hangings, quilts, covers for royal bullocks and horses, umbrellas, banners, etc.

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India boasts a great diversity of appliqué craft, the prominent regions being Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Kashmir, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh. Each of these regions has its own uniqueness in styles and fabrics used.

Chanduas are curated by a hereditary caste of a community called darji, who trace their roots to Jagannath cult somewhere around 1000 CE when they first started creating chanduas for the rituals of Lord Jagannath and the Ratha Yatra. In due time, they became sevayatas or temple servitors and were patronized by the Gajapati Kings of Puri for their craft that became a hereditary occupation.

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Kandarva

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Images are from Kalabhoomi – Odisha Handicraft Museum Exhibits

Also, Read Here:

Kala Bhoomi – The Soul of Utkala

They settled in Puri and also in Pipli apart from 50 villages that are scattered in the region. From then on they have been putting together several small pieces of cloth to make designs that are so joyfully colourful and impeccably symmetric.

Travel Tips

Pipli is a small town on old Bhubaneswar – Puri Highway at a distance of 20 km from Bhubaneswar and 40 km from Puri. The new bypass is about a km away from the town. There is signage for Pipli after the Toll Gate while driving from Bhubaneswar towards Puri.  While at Pipli do visit Jabar Khan’s shop on the Main Road called Diamond Applique. (http://www.diamondapplique.com/).

For accommodation, Pipli does not have many options but the nearby Bhubaneswar and Puri offer plenty of choices. A traveller can also explore the nearby Dhauli Hill, the famous Buddhist site of Mauryan Era and Aragarh Hill, yet another important Buddhist site. To visit Pipli booking a cab from Bhubaneswar/Puri is a better option as most buses passing through Pipli are overcrowded.

For modern applique work at Puri meet Shri Debi Nanda at his residence cum workshop in the address below.

D.P.Nanda
Kundheibent Sahi, Near Bhagvat Club
Panch Chaura, Puri

Phone – +91 9437166369

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A Darji in Work at Pipli 

The uniqueness of appliqué creation lies in the carefully created motifs of birds, animals, flowers, leaves and other geometric patterns that are stitched onto a base cloth used to make artistic products, like umbrellas, wall hangings, gardens or beach umbrella, lampshades and other utility items.

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The Bazaar Street of Pipli with a colourful display of Applique Work

However, traditionally the appliqué items were used during the procession of the deities in their various ritual outings. Items like chhati (umbrella used in religious functions and processions), tarasa (heart-shaped banner mounted on a stand) and chandua (canopy) were used for the purpose.

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Tarasa

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Cahati

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They also made batuas (cloth bags of semi-circular shape) and sujni (embroidered quilt). Colour combination of traditional items consisted of black, red, yellow and green.

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Batua

Artistic motifs such as leaves, flowers, animals (elephant, lion and tiger), birds (parrot, duck, swan, peacock) and astral bodies such as Rahu (the demon that swallows the sun and moon during eclipses), sun and moon were cut out from a single piece of cloth and then fixed to the base material with the help of various stitches in embroidery. The decorative repertoire of traditional Chandua crafts has been mainly influenced by temple motifs of Odisha.

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Depiction of Rahu

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Traditionally chanduas have also been used as palanquins during Dola Purnima and folk dances like ghoda nachha.

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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Over centuries, the small town of Pipli became a hub of appliqué craft and started catering to the demand of kings, nobility and the Jagannath Temple.  Historically, Pipli was a centre considerable trade in rice and cloth. The town was seized in 1621 CE by Emperor Shah Jahan when he was advancing from Deccan to Cuttack and then to Bengal in revolt against his father. From then on Pipli became also a settlement of Muslim communities, who since then have also been involved in appliqué trade.

Today the traditional chanduas are mainly replaced with the new variety of items in order to meet the present taste of people and market demand. A New colour combination such as blue and turquoise have also evolved with time.

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Mr Jabar Khan, a celebrated chandua artisan of Pipili explains in the film below on his personal journey, and concerns for the craft’s survival.

In 1980, there was a remarkable shift in appliqué craft of Odisha from traditional to global. Mr Debi Prasanna Nanda, a leading craft innovator and entrepreneur based in Puri was a young man than when he was approached by one of his American clients to create an appliqué based on Mexican traditional themes. Debi Babu saw this as an opportunity and hence agreed to the proposal. As he narrates in the film he succeeded in 80 to 90 percentage in executing the work.

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In modern appliqué craft, the enhanced effect is gained by supporting pieces of coloured fabric in predetermined layout and sequence. The patch edges are then sewed. Unlike the traditional ones, which are mainly carried out by machines, modern appliqué work is done by hands.

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Modern appliqué work revolves around needlework. Designs or representative scenes are created by attaching small pieces of cloths to a larger piece of bright or contrast colour fabric. There are however three important elements – stitches, strips and patchwork.

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The product range includes wall hangings, pillow covers, bedspreads, bags, umbrella, saris and party canopies. These have become quite popular and adorable in urban households and in corporate spaces. The designs are timeless representing both traditional as well as modern art decor.

Chandua craft is Odisha’s timeless heritage. But it is not a static craft. Its journey has always been synonym with creativity to address the changing time and the taste of people. But its core essence has always been its deep association with Jagannath Cult of Puri, one of holiest tirthas for Hindus of India and worldwide.

Author: Jitu Mishra

  He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Lala Deen Dayal – Doyen of Indian Photography

 

“…it is nearly impossible to peruse history books on late 19th century India and not come across a Dayal photograph being used as an illustration.”

– Deborah Hutton and Deepali Dewan

Photographs are not merely experiences captured but they also serve as an evidence to contemplate upon the past left behind.

 

Interior of the Mehrangarh Fort (top left), Street view of Jaipur (top right), City view of Jodhpur (below right), circa 1895 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views of places proposed to be visited by Their Excellency Lord & Lady Curzon during Autumn Tour 1902 CE. Collection & Copyright: British Library.

If one delves into the world of 19th century India, they are bound to stumble upon at least one photograph clicked by Lala Deen Dayal. He was an Indian photographer who has become immortal through his photographs which covered minute details with highly accentuated perspectives. Whether you know him or not, you probably won’t be able to resist the appeal and charm of the photographs he clicked1- Portrait of Deen DayalPortrait of Lala Deen Dayal, photographed by E.Craig (staff photographer), April 1904 CE. Courtesy : Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

By 1850s photography was gaining wide popularity in the country and among the princely states. Although not much is known about the early photographers, Lala Deen Dayal’s name has become a synonym for 19th century photography in India. From documenting the exotic life of the Maharajas, the British officials, to India’s marvellous architectural heritage and beautiful landscapes, his oeuvre encompassed it all. No wonder then that the Bombay Gazetteer, upon his death in 1905, gave him the status of being the “first great Indian photographer” while the Government of India issued a 500-rupee postage stamp in 2006 in his honour. With his studios successfully running in Indore, Secunderabad and Bombay back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they captured some of the most illustrious and iconic moments in the history of India in photographs, estimated to be over 30000 in number.

13-His Highness the Maharaja of Scindia, c. 1885-1887, Cleveland museum

His Highness the Maharaja of Scindia, circa 1885-1887 CE. Collection & Copyright: Cleveland Museum of Art.

16-His Highness Maharana of Odeypur, 1890, British LibraryHis Highness the Maharana of Udaipur (perhaps Maharana Fateh Singh), circa 1890 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views in Meywar’. Collection & Copyright: British Library

 

His Highness the Maharaja of Rewa and classmates (left), His Highness Maharaja of Rewa at Prayer, circa 1885-1887 CE. Collection & Copyright: Cleveland Museum of Art

Born in 1844 at Sardhana (Uttar Pradesh, India) to a family of devout Jains who were jewellers, Dayal took to the camera in around 1870s while working as a surveyor for the Public works department of Central India Agency in Indore. This is where he met Maharaja Tukoji Rao II of Indore, his first patron. Tukoji Rao II encouraged him to step into the world of photography and introduced him to Sir Henry Daly assigning him the task of photographing Prince of Wales’ visit in 1876. This was a turning point in Dayal’s life, as this largely self-trained photographer was on his way to explore photography and make a successful career out of it. In 1878 he took a professional step forward to document the Great Stupa at Sanchi. From accompanying Sir Le Griffin to Bundelkhand to photographing the zenana women of Hyderabad, from selling photographs as souvenirs to selling photographic albums for upto 200 rupees, he worked tirelessly for over a dozen Royal families and many middle class families.

 

Sanchi Stupa, Kandariya Mahadev Temple of Khajuraho, Teli ka Mandir in Gwalior Fort, Orchha Palace and Jahaz Mahal of Mandu. All the pictures are from the British Library and Victoria & Albert Museum collection dated 1882

Taking a two year furlough from his government job in 1885, he went on an extensive tour of India documenting major places in colonial India. But his career took a big leap when he started working for the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan (reign: 1866-1911 CE) – the then largest and wealthiest state in British Raj. In fact, after working in his Secunderabad studio for two years, Dayal was honoured with the position of court photographer of the Nizam. The reason behind this is significant.

One night in 1894, Dayal received an official order to leave for Pakhal jungle where the Nizam was enjoying Shikar (hunt). He was ordered to capture the scene. This was an exhausting task- leaving for Pakhal at 2 am in a special train, reaching Mankota after five hours and directly heading to capture the scene, working till two or three in the noon. More dangerous but rewarding was the time when a few days later Dayal’s shikar van (a large wagon drawn by horses) tumbled in the middle of Pakhal river. Although Dayal and his team were able to survive this accident, they had to urgently rush to photograph the Nizam and after presenting the iconic photograph of him standing victoriously over the tiger (see the image), the Nizam was so delighted that he not only bestowed him with the title of ‘Musavvir-i Asaf Jahi (Artist of the Asaf Jahis), but also composed an Urdu verse in his honour.

Ajab ye karte hain tasvir kamaal kamaal

Ustaadon ke hain Ustad Raja Deen Dayal

In the art of photography surpassing all,

The master of masters is Raja Deen Dayal.

17-Nizam of Hyderabad after hunt, Chowmahlla Palace collectionThe Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Mahboob Ali Khan posing after hunt, June 1894 CE. Courtesy: Chowmahalla Palace collection.

Later, during a durbar held in the celebration of the Nizam’s birthday, Dayal was honoured with the prolific title of “Raja Bahadur Musavvir Jung” roughly translated as “Bold warrior of Photography” and was also appointed the official court photographer with an impressive salary of rupees 600 per month. Dr. Deborah Hutton notes “The Nizam further ordered the salary to be payable retrospectively for six years in honour of the work Dayal had done during that time.”

 

The Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad (left), Principal street showing Char Minar, Hyderabad (right), circa 1880 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views of HH the Nizam’s Dominions, Hyderabad, Deccan, 1892’. Collection & Copyright: British Library

Dayal’s fame grew and though he retired from his studio in 1894, he kept working for the Nizam, developing his firm “ Lala Deen Dayal & Sons”  and establishing a studio in Bombay, which was largely handled by his two sons- Dharamchand and Gyanchand. It was not merely a studio but also hosted events, most notably the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897. Perhaps, the biggest honour for Dayal was the Royal Warrant which the studio received in the same year. Earlier in 1887, he had already been appointed as a photographer for Queen Victoria.

11-Picnic party, Mashobra, c. 1885-1887, ClevelndPicnic party, Mashobra, circa 1885-1887 CE. Collection & Copyright: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Dayal passed away in 1905 ushering the downfall of his studios that incurred huge financial losses. In his career of over thirty years, Dayal’s awe-inspiring progress from an amateur photographer to a professional one is echoed in his photographs. Many storerooms and boxes filled with his photographs are eagerly waiting to be discovered. It has been more than a century since he passed away, but his legacy lives on through the majestic black and white vignettes that he has left behind of the world he inhabited and which has so dramatically changed.

 

The Great Elephant, Sardhana (top left), circa 1880-90 CE. Collection & Copyright: Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Baroda college (top right), circa 1875-1900 CE. Collection & Copyright: Asian Art Museum. Elephant fight ,Udaipur (middle right), circa 1885 CE. From the Curzon Collection: ‘Views in Meywar’. Collection & Copyright: British Library. Lake view from the Udaipur city palace (bottom right), circa 1875-1900 CE. Collection & Copyright: Asian Art Museum.

Author – Vinit Vyas

He can be contacted at nihalchand1715@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mawphlang Sacred Forest – A Photo Story

Its no secret that India’s northeast is treasure-trove of many fascinating places. Ranging from varied natural wonders, age old archeological remains, living cultural sites of various tribes to religious places of mythological importance, India’s incredible north-east has it all! While on my trip to Meghalaya, I got an opportunity to visit one such interesting place – the Mawphlang sacred forest or Lawkyntang in Khasi. It is approximately 27 kilometers away from the state capital – Shillong.  Local Khasi people of Meghalaya, although now converted to Christianity have always remained nature worshippers. An important aspect of Khasi culture is their reverence for sacred forests. These sacred forests have been preserved and nurtured by the Khasi tribals for ages through strict religious sanctions.

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The road from Shillong to Mawphlang is quite scenic, winding its way through pretty hamlets along the road. After driving for about 40 minutes, the landscape dramatically changed, and I could see green hillocks all around covered with tiny green grass and a dense forest popping out from nowhere! The surrounding area is bereft of trees so this forest looks like an oasis in the grassy desert.

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We took a local guide with us and entered the forest through a small entrance formed by the natural canopies of Rhododendron trees. Just at the entrance, there were a few menhirs; our guide quickly told us that the standing menhir signifies a male while a horizontal stone slab supported on small stones signifies a female.  He was quick to tell us about the ‘strict’ rules of sacred forest that scared us a bit. One can sit on the female menhir for some rest but no one can or should climb a male menhir; the person who dared do so would get elephantitis! Not sure whether he was joking, we reluctantly nodded and entered the forest.

What we saw at the entrance was just a trailer, as inside the forest there were an infinite number of menhirs and funerary mounds / Dolmens, housing relics of the long dead ancestors. Menhirs were often erected in the memory of the dead elderly people who were highly respected in the society for their knowledge. But one can also find other menhirs, smaller in size, perhaps used for sitting while performing ceremonies and some used as platforms for ritualistic animal sacrifices. Khasi tribals visit these on many occasions but especially before going to war. 

Read more about menhirs and dolmens here

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The male menhir

 

 

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Menhir used as a platform for animal sacrifice

 

 

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A group of monoliths

 

 

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A Dolmen

 

 

 

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The forest seemed more of an overgrown megalithic site teeming with Menhirs than a sacred forest. But for the Khasis, the nature spirits and their ancestors are sacred

 

Once inside the forest, we were flabbergasted by what we saw. Such a beautiful sight that it could compete with best of the Hollywood movie sets! We were surrounded by so many different kinds of trees and plants as if it was a live botany lab! The forest got denser as we went further. Owing to the density of the foliage, sunlight could hardly enter except filtered through the thickets of leaves and branches making the gloomy interior of the forest even more mysterious.

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As we walked on the humus carpeted soft forest floor, our guide started giving us information and the scientific names of the plant species we were encountering along our path. Many species of parasitic Orchids, Rhododendrons, and mushrooms of various types could be spotted in abundance all around us. Other plant species that are common in the forest are Rhus Chinensis (Chinese Sumac or Nutgall), Schima Wallichi (Needlewood tree), Lithocarpus dealbatus, Engelher diaspicata (introduced by our guide as butterfly plant as when ruffled, its dried leaves appear like flying butterflies), Myrica Esculenta (box myrtle or Bayberry) and various Lichens. However the star attraction in the forest is the Castanopsis Kurzii trees as well as Khasi pine trees that form the dense canopy and also acts as a host to parasites like orchids, ferns, mushrooms, pipers, climbers and variety of mosses.

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There are so many unusual things in the forest fallen all around that we were tempted to pick them up and take them back as souvenirs especially the seeds of Elaeocarpus Ganitrus or as we know them commonly; Rudraksh. Why not- anyway it is just lying around; I thought. But our guide warned me not to take anything that belongs here outside the forest as these forests are protected by spirits locally called as U Ryngkew U Basa. These are believed to be sent by the Gods to protect the forest from human abuse. To convince me, the guide narrated a past incident when the army officers tried to take out wooden logs from the forest. But the truck carrying the logs refused to move from its place until the logs were unloaded and put back into the forest.

Carrying any of the forests’ belongings outside is believed to anger the Gods and the protective spirit here, which results in a poisonous snake being spotted by miscreant resulting in injury or death. Good behavior and no ill intentions while entering the forest is rewarded by being protected by a tiger or a leopard! Call me superstitious or whatever but not wanting to hurt their sentiments I dropped everything I had collected before leaving the forest. Thank God our guide at least allowed me to take the pictures I had clicked inside in my camera to be taken outside. Jokes apart, I have never seen something this awesome in my life before. I strongly suggest everyone to come here and visit this stunning biological museum of the Khasis whenever you make it to Meghalaya.

 

It is heartening  how nature holds utmost importance in Khasi culture and despite modernization and rampant abuse of nature elsewhere, these forests remain protected by men for whatever reasons. The way these beliefs are deeply embedded in the minds of the people truly speaks how constructive religious sanctions can be at times resulting in the continual development of a responsible society. Some traditions are worth keeping and following

 

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Free and wild growing roots of the trees have spread far and wide for there is no human to interfere here

 

How to reach: Hiring a taxi from Shillong (27 kilometers) to reach Mawphlang is the easiest way to reach. Shillong is less than 2 hours by road from Guwahati – the biggest city in Northeast with regular domestic flights to all major cities in India.

Where to stay: Although staying in Shillong is the most convenient option, a more adventurous traveller can opt to stay in the traditional Khasi huts constructed in Mawphlang village. Adventurous for the reason considering its remote location overlooking a valley, electricity is often a luxury here with not even small shops anywhere closeby!

Best time to travel here: Avoid monsoons for obvious reasons! Mawphlang village is also venue to an annual 3 day festival known as the ‘Monolith Festival’ in March.

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

He can be reached at onkaar7@gmail.com

Dravida Temple Architecture – Origin and Development : A Visual Journey

As an art and heritage lover, I have travelled to many historical sites in the country but Tamil Nadu seemed to have eluded me. With the three great living chola temples on my mind, I sat down with a map and planned a 10 day road trip through Tamil heartland. And was I not surprised and overwhelmed. This state is full of stories and here stones speak eloquently !

Though temples were on my mind, I made sure not to miss seeing the Pichchavaram mangroves that are a mere 20 minutes drive away from the Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram. Here I recall my journey not in the way I took it but how Dravida style of temple architecture has developed.

Post Sangam Age, Tamilakkam, which was more of a cultural identity than a geographical entity was the crucible of development of a fabulous style of temple architecture known as the Dravida.  Dravida style temples were first constructed by the Pallavas.

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Tamilakkam of Sangam Age. Picture courtesy – Wikipedia

Pallavas were the great rulers of the northern part of today’s Tamil Nadu, and parts of Karnataka and Andhra until the 9th century. During their long reign, art and architecture of early Dravidian period bloomed and thrived. The rock cut as well as built architecture pioneered by them continued to be the inspiration and base for the architecture of peninsular India whose development continued for many centuries thereon. The journey of rock-cut architecture in Tamil Nadu started with King Mahendravarman I commissioning the construction of Laksitayana cave temple at Mandagapattu. It imitated the interior of a timber building akin to the Buddhist rock cut caves of Maharashtra. The cave and its pillars showed Chalukyan influence and have well defined mukha mandapa, ardha mandapa and three shrines. The Panchapandava caves at Pallavaram and Rudravaliswaram cave at Mamandur were amongst the series of rock cut caves that followed. His successor, Narsimhavarman Mamalla (630-668 CE) built a new port town called Mamallapuram and introduced unique temples that were carved out of a large boulder.

Mamallapuram is what we know today as Mahabalipuram – the place that I found as spectacular as Hampi is. Scattered with magnificent structures and ruins. Surely, Mamalla’s style led to the development of various stylistic attributes such as the Kudu (inspired from the Buddhist sun window), development of Sala and Kuta, a well defined adhisthana (basement), slender columns, crouching Vyalas and introduction of various decorations such as garlands, kalasa (vase), potika (corbels), padmabandha (lotus petals). Koneri Mandapa, Varaha mandapa, Mahishasuramardini caves, at Mamallapuram can be considered the earliest examples of this style.

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From the book ‘A History of Fine Arts in India and the West’ by Edith Tomory
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From the book ‘A History of Fine Arts in India and the West’ by Edith Tomory
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Trimurti Cave, Mamallapuram (present day Mahabalipuram)

Narasimhavarman also introduced free-standing monolith rathas. These rathas carved out from hard granite and 9 in number, are important milestones in the development of Dravidian temple architecture as they show the development of multi-storey Vimanas. These storeys known as Tala are stacked onto each other with the upper tala necessarily being smaller than the lower one, making it appear like a stepped pyramid. Mamallapuram was the Pallavas laboratory of experimenting with various construction styles and sculptural details. Here you see rathas from a single storey (Draupadi ratha) to three storeyed (Dhramaraja ratha) structuring and with varying number of Talas. Pallavas also experimented on the roofing style of the rathas. Draupadi ratha, the smallest ratha, looks like a hut with its curved dome like roof, Arjuna and Yudhisthir ratha have pyramidal roofs while the Bhima ratha has wagon vaulted roof and, Nakul-Sahadeva ratha is a horse-shoe shaped building topped by a wagon vault with an apsidal end. The Dharmaraja and Arjun ratha here are the most important ones as they influenced the later form and development of Dravidian temple architecture. Similarly, various theories also suggest the possibility of the wagon vaulted Bhima and Ganesha rathas influencing the design of Gopurams – the most striking feature of south Indian temples.

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View of the Pandava Rathas
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Ganesha Ratha
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Bhima Ratha

Successive Pallava kings – Rajasimha and Nandivarman continued the legacy of their predecessors and constructed beautiful structural temples. The famous shore temple at Mamallapuram consists of two Shiva shrines having vimanas, a third shrine dedicated to Seshashayi  (reclining) Vishnu having no superstructure, and a prakara wall enclosing the three. Unique feature of this temple is however its vimanas which don’t appear like stepped pyramids but rather tall slender tapering spires. 

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Shore Temple

Kailashnathar temple built in the Pallava capital Kanchipuram has many unique features such as; the main shrine has smaller shrines attached to it on the middle of each side as well as its four corners. The exterior of this temple mainly features the pilasters with rearing Vyala at their base. A gopuram makes an appearance in this temple, while a prakara surrounds the entire temple, with a row of mini shrines running all along its inner face.

After the Pallavas came the mighty Cholas. The long period of wait from the fall of early Cholas till the resurrection of Cholas (hereafter referred to as medieval Cholas) is known as a dark period in Chola history. The great empire which once ruled Tamilakkam became extinct in its own land with the rise of Pallavas and Pandyas. According to Manimekalai, Princess Pilli Valai had a liaison with the Early Chola King Killivalavan. Out of this union was born Prince Tondai Eelam Thiraiyar, a supposed ancestor of Pallava Dynasty. Since no other source except Manimekalai mentions the name of King Vallivalayan, this myth remains a tale whose historic veracity is yet to be confirmed.

 The Cholas, under the suzerainty of the Pallavas and Pandyas, had held onto their ancient capital – Urayur near modern day Trichy and continued to have influence over areas around like Thanjavur, Trichy, Mayiladuthurai and Pudukkottai. Taking advantage of the continuous wars between the Pallavas and Pandyas, Chola king Vijayala captured Thanjavur and added large parts to his territory. Finally, in 897 CE, Pallava king Aparajitavarman was defeated by the Chola King Aditya I, ending the Pallava rule. With large parts of northern Tamil Nadu under their belt the Cholas went on to become a mighty power in the South and ruled the region for more than four centuries- a golden period of art and architecture.

Although the Chola architecture is considered to have reached its zenith during the reign of the father- son duo, Rajaraja and Rajendra I who built the Brihadeesvara temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram respectively, this giant leap in the development of temple architecture didn’t take place overnight. Cholas knew that after defeating the Pallavas they had a large gap to fill when it came to ruling over a territory that had seen glorious rule of Pallavas as well as their magnificent rock-cut architecture at Mamallapuram and the brilliant built architecture in and around the Pallava capital of Kanchipuram.

It was natural that the early medieval Chola architecture was greatly influenced by the architectural style of Pallavas. These examples of medieval Chola architecture though small in size and not many in number implies that these structures/ temples were built by local chieftains of the Cholas without any imperial involvement like the Moovar Koil that is built by an Irukku Velir Cheiftain and a Chola general; Boothi Vikrama Kesari. Most of the examples of above mentioned style were entirely built in stone and are found in the Pudukkottai district of Tamilnadu.

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A fine example of early Cholan temples

 

Vijayalaya Choleesvaram – a temple in Narthamalai named after the first Chola king Vijayala was constructed in second half of the 9th century. This Shiva temple is famous for its unusual plan where the sanctum is circular (omkara garbhagriha) and its prakara is square. Of the four storeys of the Vimana here, three lower ones are square and the topmost is circular shape which then supports the dome like round kalasha above it. Another very interesting fact to note here is that, some of the ancient south Indian literary works such as Svayambhuvagama, karanagama, Marichi Samhita etc define hybrid ‘Vesara’ temple style as “the buildings which are round, apsidal and elliptical or may be square at the below but round from neck upwards”. This definition of Vesara exactly fits Vijayala Cholesvaram temple’s sanctum which is square at the base but round from Griva (neck) and above.

Moovar Koil- another milestone in the early medieval Chola architecture is located at Kodumbalur near from Pudukkottai and was constructed in the 10th century by a Chola general. Moovar koil meaning ‘temple of three (Gods)’ in Tamil, this temple complex had three temples only two of which survive today. At Moovar koil, one can observe a change in the sculptural form- from non- refined figures to the delicate figures showing Pallava influence. This change in temple form was attributed to the marital relationships of the Cholas with the Muttaraiyars who were the vassals of Pallavas.

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Moovar Koil. Picture courtesy : By Kasiarunachalam (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Brihadeesvara temples at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram are considered two of the greatest examples of Dravidian architecture. Both the temples are massive in scale and constructed out of large blocks of granite. Their tall Vimanas seem to be competing with the clouds with the one of Thanjavur Brihadeesvara reaching 66 meters. Both the temples stand on an ornate Adhisthana carved profusely with intricate designs and Tamil inscriptions. Massive monolithic Nandis sit in front of the temples in detached Nandi Mandapas. Their exterior mainly consists of pilasters, niches and decorative pillars called Kumbhapanjaram besides the common features of Salas and Kutas. The Thajavur temple is internally adorned with beautiful frescos and equally amazing sculptures on the exterior make it a heaven for the iconography enthusiasts. The relief sculptures inside the temple have been a great resource for documenting the history of classical dances such as Bharatanatyam as they showcase Nataraja, dancing Lord Shiva in various classical dance poses. Another overwhelming fact about this temple is that, its sixteen storeyed Vimana is topped by a massive octagonal monolithic Shikhara stone weighing 80,000 kilos. It is a mystery to this day how such a heavy stone was carried to such a great height. Some theories suggest it was taken to the top with the help of either a linear or spiral ramp being pushed by several elephants! Another interesting feature is the faces of a European man wearing a hat, a European girl, an Oriental man placed in kudus on the exterior of Vimanas. Although later additions, they confirm that Cholas had diplomatic as well as trade relations with far flung lands even thousand years ago!

Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram although smaller, is more intricate and has higher sculptural quality than the one at Thanjavur. Though the temples flummoxed me, being a marathi, I must admit that I found Thanjavur’s maratha connection quiet thrilling ! 

Another temple- Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram though much smaller in size than its predecessors surpasses both of them when it comes to an elaborate sculptural and architectural design. It is designed in such a way that it appears like a giant chariot pulled by elephants. Not surprisingly all the above mentioned three temples are a part of UNESCO world heritage sites together known as the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’.

Thus by the time the power of the Cholas started declining the Dravida style reached its maturity with distinct features. Very broadly, these features are:

          Pyramidal Vimana standing on a square base.

          Vimana towers formed by superimposing diminishing storeys on one another.

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Picture courtesy : Wikipedia

          Hara (a horizontal row on each storey consisting of miniature shrines) consisting of Salas (intermediate mini shrines) and Kutas (miniature shrines in the corners).

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          The main temple structure divided between Garbhagriha (Sanctum), Mahamandapa (closed hall) Mandapa (semi-closed hall), Ardha Mandapa (porch). Depending on the size of the temple, Mahamandapa and Mandapa often replaced each other. Natya Mandapa for dance performances was introduced in a lot of temples for performances of classical dances.

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Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur

          Gopurams (temple gateway towers)- probably the most striking feature of the Dravidian temples. Just like Vimanas, Gopurams too have their pyramidal tower divided into many diminishing storeys topped by a barrel vault having several small finials placed along the ridge of the vault.

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Brihadeesvara Temple, Thanjavur

          Enclosure wall known as Prakara that encompassed the entire temple complex within. Depending on the size and importance of the temple, the number of concentric Prakaras varied. Vaikuntha Perumal temple, in Kanchi has a unique plan where the sanctum is encircled by four layers of concentric walls, the fourth being its prakara.

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-A water tank near the temple for ritualistic purposes and to provide for the priests living in the temple.

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Temple tank of Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram

-Huge Nandis with a mandapa of their own

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Nandi at the Brihadeesvara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Pandyas came back to the power for a while in the Tamil region after the collapse of Cholas in the 13th century. However, Pandyas were not creative builders like Cholas and rather concentrated on building Gopurams to the existing temples. The main contribution of Pandyas is in the heightened focus on the temple gateways. The gateways of Jambukesvara temple and eastern gopuram of Thillai Nataraja temple are the prime examples of gateways built during this period.

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Gopuram of the Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram

Vijayanagara Empire that came into being in 1336 CE, though concentrated on constructing new temples in and around their capital Hampi, also made significant additions to older existing Pallava and Chola temples by constructing sky soaring gopurams known as Raya Gopurams and Kalyana mandapas. The Kalyana mandapa at Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram has 96 pillars carved with either mythological figures or warriors on horses or Yalis except for the two pillars where the Goddess and God of Love in Hindu Mythology Rathi and Kamdev are carved on a parrot and a swan respectively. The entire hall is intricately carved with sculptures of stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, various dances, daily chores of people, amorous couples, Portuguese soldiers carrying guns, trick sculptures etc. However, fascinating stone rings that can move freely even though the entire chain is made of a single stone remains the most mindboggling feature of this era.

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Monolith chain and Yali Pillars in the Kalyana Mandapa of Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram

The sky soaring gopuram of Ekambarnathar temple at Kanchi was erected in 1509 CE by King Krishnadeva Raya. Its pyramidal tower has eight diminishing storeys in plaster-covered brickwork and rises to 192 feet. Raya Gopurams at the Chidambaram (139 feet high) as well as the one at Annamalaiyar temple (217 feet high)are some of the other well known examples of the temple gateways built during this period. Another example of Vijayanagara era worth mentioning is the impressive hall of Thousand Pillars in Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangam constructed during the years 1336–1565 CE. The pillars consist of sculptures of wildly rearing horses bearing riders on their backs and trampling with their hoofs upon the heads of rampant lions/ yalis.

 

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Ekambarnathar Temple, Kanchipuram
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Annamalaiyar Temple, Thiruvannamalai

The last phase of Dravidian temple architecture began with the collapse of Vijayanagara Empire and the declaration of independence of various Nayakas under them, such as the Thanjavur Nayakas, Gingee Nayakas and Madurai Nayakas. These Nayaka rulers continued the legacy of their previous masters and added various halls and gopurams to the existing temple complexes. Southern gopuram at the Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai by far remains the most important contribution of the Nayakas as its here that the development of gopuram reached its zenith. With its slightly inward curvature and unbelievable projecting stucco statues, this is easily the most beautiful gopuram in all of south India.

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Southern gopuram, Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai. Picture courtesy : Madhu Jagadeesan

The gopuram at Srivilliputhur is taller than the one at Madurai and has a larger number of stucco figures all over it. Very intricately carved Subrahmanya temple in Thajavur Brihadeesvara complex perfectly exhibits the ornate temple architecture style of the Nayakas. Features such as Pushpapotikas, Kumbhapanjara, double flexed cornice, mouldings of adisthana and various pillars add to its beauty by manifolds.

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Subramanya Temple

It is astonishing how the Dravidian style did not change much as per the region unlike its northern counterpart, Nagara whose regional styles flowered to become distinct sub-styles in their own right.  Almost like the people who till today live very traditional lifestyles and retain fierce pride in their culture. 

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise. The illustrations are from the book “A History of Fine Arts in India and the West” by Edith Tomory

He can be reached at Onkaar7@gmail.com

 

Mandapeshwar Caves – Isolated Remains Of A Tumultuous Past

4 kms in an hour. My bike can go faster but not the rush hour traffic and crowd of Swami Vivekanand Road in Borivali. Does not matter if its a sunday today for in Mumbai every waking hour is a rush hour. Exhausted but finally in front of Mandapeshwar caves. How I wish I could go back in time when the Buddhist monks used the Dahisar river to travel between Kanheri- a 5th century Buddhist university and Mandapeshwar- a Hindu rock cut cave complex that the monks had made their home.

Centuries have gone by and a lot has changed, including the course of Dahisar river that now flows at least 300 meters away to the east of the caves and is reduced to a dirty nullah. A far cry from a navigable river that was a nodal point of a wider trade route.

facade of Mandapeshwar cave

Nevertheless, I was very happy to see the caves being preserved and protected well with a compound wall and a large open breathing space in front of the caves contrary to Jogeshwari, Magathane and other such rock cut caves that are choked by illegal urban settlements mushrooming all around them.

Mandapeshwar is rather small for a cave complex and has just two caves, one much smaller than the other. The bigger cave, as is apparent was meant to be the main shrine for Lord Shiva while the other one- which is largely unfinished, plain and devoid of any sculptural traces was meant to be the living quarters.

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The caves start capturing your imagination from the entrance itself where four completely worn out frontal pillars of the Mandapa flanked by two pilaster in a fairly good state at the extreme ends, greet you.

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There are evidences of claws of an animal- most probably lion on both the sides of the entrance steps. As one enters the mandapa, we see more refined and fairly intact pillars. This cave has a total of five cells of which two are at the extreme ends and facing each other while the middle three cells are along the rear wall. It has a large Mandapa spread across five cells, most likely the reason why this cave shrine came to be known as Mandapeshwar- hall (Mandapa) of the lord (eeshwar).

L to R (nataraja cell, Pashupata cell, Sanctum, another cell, and the cell from where i have clicked this picture- a total of 5 cells)

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Entrance to the sanctum cell in cave 1

 

The central of the five cells is the sanctum sanctorum of the cave- the abode of lord Shiva. The entrance to the sanctum is flanked on both the sides with pilasters. These pillasters are designed in almost the same way as the rest of the pillars in this cave are, with an Amalaka as a capital. A quintessential feature of many rock cut caves of this period that are dedicated to lord Shiva, be it Mandapeshwar, Elephanta or as far as Badami in Karnataka.

Newly installed lingas in sanctum

 

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The interior of the central shrine is largely plain except for a couple of niches carved in the walls housing remains of withered sculptures. The sanctum is occupied by two Shiva lingas that are clearly a later addition to the cave.

Nandis in front of sanctum

Just outside the entrance of the sanctum, sits the original sculpture of Nandi bull- the vahana (vehicle) of lord Shiva, split into half with just the rear half still in place. Alongside the old and injured Nandi sits a younger Nandi with his ears in place to listen to the devotees. It is a general custom to whisper one’s wishes in the ear of the Nandi so that it reaches Lord Shiva and the same is granted. Look out for the inscription on the door jamb –  done during the Maratha rule as is evident from the devanagari script

Inscriptions on door jamb of sanctum

Moving to the extreme left cell, we see what can be termed as a treasure – a Nataraja panel carved with great details. A massive six armed figure of Nataraja takes the centre stage here surrounded by various other figures. On the right are the figures of Goddess Parvati along with two of her attendants. While on the other side is an artist beating a drum. The upper left corner is occupied by the three headed Brahma while the upper right corner has Vishnu. Just below Brahma’s sculpture is the sculpture of Lord Ganesh. Celestial beings are present on both the sides of the head of Nataraja.  The panel seems like some sort of a celebration, Henry Salt in his ‘Account of the caves in Salsette’ published in Transaction of literary society in Bombay Vol.1 1819 A.D, describes this panel as that of Shiva’s marriage with Parvati. However few historians are of the opinion that the figure thought to be Parvati is just another attendant and the panel depicts the dance of Nataraja to the beats of a drum!

Nataraja panel cave 1

The story of the creation of Mandapeshwar caves between 5th and 6th centuries and the ensuing events that took place is a tale of how structures bear a testimony of the struggles of the time and encapsulate it. 90 percent of the rock cut caves in Maharashtra are of Buddhist origin including the nearby caves of Mahakali & Kanheri, but what makes Mandapeshwar fascinating is that the construction of this Shaiva cave is also attributed to the Buddhist monks. What made the Buddhist ‘missionaries’ hewn a Hindu cave? Could it be that Buddhism- a comparatively new religion then considered itself to be a faction of Hinduism? Is it possible that the Buddha was still considered more of a saint than God while the Hindu Gods continued to be worshipped?

Lets compare the time periods of the construction of Kanheri and Mandapeshwar caves. Kanheri caves, cut as early as 3rd century BCE, attained the status of a Buddhist university between 4th and 5th centuries. At its zenith, Kanheri had a total of more than 125 different types of caves and structures including Stupas, cemeteries, Chaityas (prayer halls) and Viharas (residential chambers for monks) carved out of a single rock hill. There is a possibility that during those years Kanheri’s infrastructure could not handle the increasing population and they were forced to look for accommodation options for its visiting monks. Various historical texts confirm that Mandapeshwar was indeed used as a residential quarter by the Buddhist monks. Kanheri was situated very close to the mouth of Dahisar river and Mandapeshwar was along its banks making it very easy for the monks to access it by the riverine route. Dahisar river was a part of a bigger trade route that existed between Konkan and Sopara (today’s Nala Sopara which was an established Buddhist center back then).

Pashupata panel cave 1

 

Another sculptural link that connects the dots, is the cell between the sanctum and the Nataraja panel cell. This cell is apparently thought to have had a large sculpture of Lakulisha (a Shaiva sect reformist and often considered the last avatar of lord Shiva himself) in the centre sitting on a lotus flower, stem of which is held by two nagas, while the central nonexistent sculpture is surrounded by other divinities and celestial beings. The style in which the lotus is carved, anyone with even a little knowledge about Buddhist sculptural art would not miss the connection between this sculpture and sculptures of Buddha represented in rock-cut art of the same period. Although, much is lost in this panel and the central Lakulisha figure is destroyed beyond recognition, we can only guess (logically) that the Pashupata cult that Lakulisha is often associated with, was dominant during this period.

Plain interior of cell next to Sanctum (if Pashupata cell is on left then this is on sanctum's right side)

Looking out from Pashupata cell

The cell on the other side of the sanctum however is plain with no sculptures except for few on the pillars and so is the lateral cell next to it

Cell 5 (its not called cell 5 .. im calling it cell 5 so you know which one is in the picture)

Sculpture on a pillar in cave 1

As you step outside the main cave and walk towards the second cave, you notice a misplaced symbol on the southern facade- a rock-cut Christian cross. This seemingly small cross however is the only remnant of Mandapeshwar’s tumultuous past. The Portuguese chipped off what was thought to be an idol of lord Shiva and flattened it to carve a cross out of it.

Southern external facade of the cave (right side is the Portuguese cross, and left side is the entrance to Cave 2)

Every event that soon followed has two drastically opposite theories, one from the Hindus trying to portray the Portuguese and the Christians in bad light and the other claimed by the Portuguese blaming Marathas for destruction of sculptural art here due to the usage of heavy explosives to uncover the Hindu sculptures from the plaster used by Portuguese to hide them.

Clicked from cave 2

It all goes back to the time when the Portuguese were ruling Mumbai with their main base in today’s Thane on extreme northern end of Sashti- the Marathi name for Salsette island on which the caves are located. Hearing about these wonderful rock cut caves, the Portuguese arrived here in mid- 16th century and chased away the Hindu yogis to set up their base in Mandapeshwar thinking of a larger role for it to be played in future. The Christian account of the same story however claims that the Portuguese arrived at Mandapeshwar wanting to meet the Hindu yogis but hearing of the news of arrival of the Portuguese, the Yogis got scared and ran away. However, both these accounts agree that a yogi known as Ratemnar was converted by the Portuguese priests and was given the village of Mandapeshwar.

Cave 2 & cave 1 and monastery on top of it

 

The Caves were soon converted into a shrine for Mary named as Nossa Sra De Piedade (roughly translating to Our Lady of Pity) with all its Hindu sculptures buried under a thick layer of smooth plaster and the Shiva shrine was hidden by a brick wall in front of it. Mandapeshwar was ripped off its identity and it came to be known as ‘Monapazer’ or ‘Mont Pesier’ by the Portuguese. As a part of expansion of the complex, a church and a monastery was constructed on top of the cave and was used to impart religious education to the recent converts and other Indian Christians. Another shrine was erected on the opposite hill and a graveyard in between the two.

 

Mount Poinsur church Graveyard

After about 180 years of functioning as a Christian shrine, Mandapeshwar returned to its original ‘faith’ and again became a Shaiva shrine when Maratha prime minister Bajirao Peshwa 1 defeated the Portuguese in 1737 in the battle of Bassein (Vasai). But Mandapeshwar soon exchanged hands when the Sashti island went to the British in 1774 under the treaty of Salbai with the Marathas. The caves again became a Christian place of worship. The Portuguese church, however couldn’t survive and what remains today are beautiful ruins evocative of a distant past. 

Ruins of the Portuguese monastery Pic 2

Ruins of the portuguese monastery

The second cave at Mandapeshwar is very different than the main cave in many ways. There are no sculptures, no carved pillars, no idols, no niches but just a large plain hall. The only traces of carvings are found on the entrance pillars which form the southern facade of the main cave.

Narrow rock cut path to cave 2

Cave 2

Cave 2 interior shot

Mandapeshwar caves remained a Christian place of worship till 1920’s and was possibly abandoned later. Around 1960’s the caves were declared a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India and continues to be a popular Shaiva shrine. Life seems to have truly come a full circle for Mandapeshwar!

a small devotee

A walk today in this area better known as ‘Mount Poinsur’ (a disambiguation of Mandapeshwar) of Borivali is a living reminder of its past. The residential area along the Laxman Mhatre Road and Swami Vivekananda Road are largely Hindu whereas to the rear side of the caves is IC colony; named after the Portuguese Immaculate Conception Church, a residential colony that has highest concentration of Christians in entire Mumbai. As a popular quote by journalist Edurado Galeano goes “History never really says good bye. History says, see you later”!

Author – Onkar Tendulkar 

He can be contacted at onkaar7@gmail.com      

Chikal Kalo – A Photo Story

“Jai Hari Vitthal” chant a hundred mouths in unison. The oil smeared participants and the audience are ready and so is the ground; slushy from incessant rains. Perfect for a hearty roll in the muck. You read that right ! This is exactly how the people of Goa celebrate Lord Krishna and his childhood games played during the monsoon

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On Ekadashi (11th day) of the hindu month of Aashad, villagers flock to the ground of Devki Krishna temple in the village of Marcel in Ponda taluka. This is the only temple in the country dedicated to Devki, mother of Krishna. After a sampak (continuous prayers / Jagrata) of 2 days, the celebration commences by invoking the local deity, Dad Sakhal whose shrine is opposite the scene of action, the Devki Krishna Temple. The participants, mostly men, in their shorts slather their bodies with oil to prevent infection or allergy from the slush.

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After oiling their bodies, all the participants enter the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and dance in a circle while chanting “Jai Hari Vitthal” to the tune of cymbals. The pace quickens and the chanting gets louder till it reaches a crescendo. Then they symbolically smear the oil from the lamp, burning in front of the idol of Devki holding the baby Krishna, on their bodies. A signal for the games to begin

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Everybody troops out of the temple and Chikal Kalo begins by throwing each other into the mud. Chikal Kalo literally translates to play in the mud

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Why should the kids remain behind. In fact, they have the maximum fun

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Girls join in the fun too along with the boys

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Traditional games such as running catching, blind man’s bluff, frog and the mountain, passing the parcel etc are played; all in a slushy muddy amphitheater

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What.. stop .. for food … naaaaa we are not going home … today we eat sweets and savouries  lovingly made for us by the villagers. The participants of Chikal Kalo have the honour of first tasting the sweetmeats made for the day before the others in the village.

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And then again roll in mud ! Today we are Balakrishnas

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Whether young or old, rich or poor, today everybody is equal and we just want to have fun with our friends like Krishna had with his friends during monsoon. The sense of camaraderie and joi de vivre is infectious

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After an entire day of revelry, Chikal Kalo ends with the symbolic breaking of the dahi handi (pot of butter) by the participants.

Chikal Kalo is a unique festival celebrated only in Goa and a must see and experience if you are around this side during the famed monsoon of the land (check the hindu calendar for Ekadashi dates or just google). The mud festival begins in the morning by 10 am and finishes around 5 pm in the evening. If you are planning to shoot, do not forget to get protection for your camera lenses and if you wish to participate then just jump in the muddy slush and roll ! Goa has much more to it than beautiful palm fringed beaches and stunning sunsets.

Text – Zehra Chhhapiwala

She can be contacted at zchhapiwala@gmail.com

The pictures have been clicked by a young street photographer Rohanyuri Fernandes.

He can be contacted raulabrez@gmail.com

Vesara Temple Architecture – Origin and Evolution : A Photo Journey

Ereya was a small boy when his father Kirtivarman- II died and his uncle Mangalesa ascended the Chalukya throne as regent. As the boy came of age so did his uncle’s greed for power and he decided to declare his son as his heir apparent showing Ereya the door. The young prince sought shelter in Bana territory (present day Kolar) and formed his own small army that went on to defeat his uncle. Ereya ascended throne taking the name Pulakesin -II and the title Chalukya Parameshwara. Thus began the golden period of the Chalukyan dynasty.

Chalukyas are one of the first dynasties of the upper Dravida Desha and known as the real builders of Karnata / Kuntala desa (present day Karnataka) region. The scion of the dynasty launched his political career sometime in the 5th century CE from a small territory around the Bijapur town. This region lay north of Banavasi (of the Kadambas) and was a region that gave no sign of notable cultural activities until the advent of Chalukyas as rulers. The twin cities of Aihole (Ahivalli) and Badami (Vatapi) were the nerve centres from where the Chalukyas and their empire spread out to become one of the most powerful .

As the Chalukyan empire started growing rapidly, more and more neighbouring regions fell in the dominion of the dynasty. From these two cities, elements of art and culture travelled to the lands that the Chalukyas newly conquered and the first monuments bearing an authentic brand of the “art of Karnata” started taking shape. The role of first two Chalukya kings was largely insignificant as they were merely seen as the puppets of the previous dynasties that ruled here. The real glory began from the time of Pulakesin I who was an independent ruler and fortified Badami (Vatapi) in 543 CE. His successor Kirtivarman-II, then the next king Mangalesa, then Pulakesin II added to the legacy of Badami (Vatapi) by constructing Hindu, Jain & Buddhist caves as well as the Mahakuta group of temples.

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During the reign of Pulakesi II (CE 608-642), Chalukyas attained imperial status. He soon went on to capture Talakadu (of Gangas), Banavasi (of Kadambas), Aluvakheda (of Alupas). He shortly defeated Mauryas of Konkan and conquered large areas of today’s coastal Maharashtra rapidly moving towards North. His army went further north till river Narmada to check advance of his enemies by defeating them and restricting them beyond the river. The same was repeated on the eastern front along the Godavari river. He defeated the Vishnukundinas and added most of Vengi- one of the most fertile regions in the south; to his kingdom. The difficulty in keeping a check on the activities this far east from his capital in Badami might have seemed difficult to Pulakesi II. Very smartly, he stationed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana there as his viceroy. Within a decade, Vishnuvardhana declared independence and thus began the eastern branch of Chalukyas (Vengi Chalukyas) who went on to rule Vengi for many centuries outliving the Badami Chalukyas as a dynasty.

From being the Chalukya Parameshwara to defeating the mighty Harshavardhana and assuming the title of Dakshinapatheshvara (Lord of the South), Pulakeshin – II’s achievement on the battlefront have inspired both poets and chroniclers. Huein Tsang, Harshavardhana’s Protégé  could not hold himself from writing about his valour while the poet Ravikriti wrote verses in his praise. Etched in stone at the Meguti temple and known as the Aihole inscription, it still is a reference source of events of the times. But Pulakesin – II’s achievements were not limited to the battlefield alone. During his reign, he added the cave no 2, Sivalaya temples at Badami, Gaudargudi and Meguti temples at Aihole and Mahakuta temples near Badami. Vikramaditya I- one of the sons of Pulakesin II carried his father’s legacy after the latter’s mysterious disappearance.

Badami Agastya lake & Shivalaya templesBadami Shivalaya temples

Agatsya Lake and Sivalaya Temples, Badami

Chalukyans can be considered a pioneering dynasty as they did not patronize either Vaishnavism or Shaivism but followed both. This is amply clear in the construction of both the Shaivite temples (Badami cave 1 and Ravalaphadi cave at Aihole) and Vaishnavite temples (Badami cave 2 & 3, Badami Shivalaya temples). The dynasty further took keen interest in Jainism (Badami cave No.4) and Buddhism (unfinished cave at Badami as well as caves in Aihole).

 

The Chalukyas of Badami have left prolific monumental remains. The geographical placement of Chalukyas allowed their kingdom to be a unique cultural magnet- a fact reflected in their art. Political circumstances not only put Kuntal desa (today’s Karnataka) but also parts of rest of the Deccan (today’s Maharashtra & Telangana state), southern Kosala (part of today’s Chhattisgarh and western Odisha), Kalinga (today’s coastal Odisha and coastal Andhra) into their areas of influence. As a result, a number of art styles converged and emerged from Chalukya territory. In the nuclear Chalukya cities like Vatapi, Aryapura, Kisuvolal (Pattadakallu) and other sites in western Andhra desa- a curious variety of temple form and architectural and sculptural styles are encountered.

This is the Vesara style or the Chalukyan style of temple architecture. But of course, this style didn’t take birth all of a sudden. The extreme creative curiosity of Chalukyas created marvellous pieces of architecture by experimenting with different styles and forms. They seem to have chosen Aihole- on the banks of Malaprabha river for their architectural experiments. From the rock cut- Rawalaphadi caves, the apsidal Durga temple to the imitation of wooden architecture in Ladkhan temple and planting a Nagara (north Indian) shikhara on a large area otherwise covered by flat roofs at Chakra Gudi temple; they tried it all! It’s not for nothing that this otherwise underdeveloped village of Aihole is bestowed with the honour of being called ‘the cradle of Indian architecture’.

Aihole Ladkhan templeAihole Ladkhan temple- inside

Ladkhan Temple, Aihole

A point to note here is that, the brick and timber structures preceding the Chalukyas have totally disappeared. Nothing is left of the art and architecture of the Kadambas or Konkan Mauryas. Hence it is difficult to say whether the ‘hybrid’ architectural style that Chalukyas are often credited to have developed, was actually exclusively developed by them or was it an experiment in continuum.

Coming back to the style, most of this architectural experimentation of Chalukyas can roughly be categorised as follows:

1) Nirandhara Temples- small temples without a circumambulatory (Pradakshina Patha) eg. Surya  and Huchchappayya temples at Aihole.

2) Sandhara Temples- Bigger temples showing Garbhagriha and pillared hall with an occasional porch. These temples had a circumambulatory path. Eg. Huchhimalli Gudi and Meguti temples at Aihole and Sangameshwara temple at Pattadakal.

3) Temples showing Garbhagriha, pillared hall as well as a porch. However the Garbhagriha is pushed to the back wall of the temple leaving no space for pradakshina. Eg. Ladkhan and Kontigudi temples at Aihole.

4) Apsidal i.e. horseshoe shaped temples in plan. It has an apsidal Garbhagriha as well as apsidal ambulatory path. This type of temples are considered to have been inspired from Buddhist rock-cut chaitya halls which were apsidal in plan. Eg. Durga temple, Aihole.

5) Trikuta Temples- temples with 3 garbhagriha but a common hall and an open porch. Eg. Jambulinga temple, Badami.

In his book ‘Indian Temple Forms’, the author  Shri. Madhusudan Dhaky points out that, although the term Vesara means ‘Hybrid’, this particular hybrid style is assigned to the region between Vindhyas and Nasik (roughly today’s Madhya Pradesh) or to an extent till Krishna river. Umpteen examples of this style are found to the south of this region. As seen from the temples at Aihole & Pattadakal by the early Chalukyas one cannot deny the fact that a transitory phase between the Nagara and the Dravida styles of temple architecture did exist. The features of this ‘architectural phase’ but which may not always be a part of it, are as follows : 

1.      Subsidiary shrines around the main shrine (picked up from Nagara temples)

Pattadakal Group of monumentsPattadakal

2.      Diamond shaped stepped plan that slowly evolved into stellate plinths (picked up from Nagara temples)

Badami Bhutanatha templeBhutanatha Temple, Badami

3.      Presence of a vestibule between the mandapa and the garbhagriha (picked up from Nagara- Kalinga temples)

Pattadakal virupaksha templeVirupaksha Temple, Pattadakal

4.      Minimization of height of each storey (than that of the Vimana of Dravida temples) and arranging them in descending order of height from base to top.

PattadakalPattadakal

5.      Pillared mandapas with flat roof (a Dravida temple feature)

somnathapura3Chennakeshava Temple, Somnathapura. Picture courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

Another reason for the birth of Vesara style in this particular region could be the fact that it was not the first time, a ‘combination’ of two or more distinct features was carried out in the architecture of Karnata. Hari-Hara (the combination of Vishnu & Shiva), Ardhanari-Nateshwara (combination of Shiva & Parvati), Yali- the mythical animal (thought to be a combination of multiple animals like lion, bull, elephant, crocodile etc.) are just some of the most famous examples of the above. Given these examples, I think it was only natural that such a distinct hybrid architectural style was born in Karnata. Also, when this style was developed, the architectural features of Nagara and Dravida temples could have naturally mingled as unique features of these two styles were still developing. It took another couple of centuries for various Nagara sub-styles such as Khajuraho, Kalinga (Odisha), Osiyan and Gujarati to fully develop. If one has to chronologically trace various architectural styles, it was the Vesara style which came into being before the various Nagara styles were fully developed. For all we know, the lines between Nagara and Dravida styles were blurred which is what could have given birth to this unique combination and which may not have been regarded as a separate architectural style back then.

Pattadakal group of monuments 2Pattadakal group of monuments 3

Pattadakal group of monuments

Let’s go through various examples of this hybrid style right from its inception till the time it reached its zenith, to understand how this particular style evolved.

The 7th century Durga temple at Aihole may be regarded as one of the first and most prominent examples of this style of architecture. This Gajaprastha (resembling to elephant’s back) temple is dedicated to either Lord Shiva/ Vishnu or Surya is still under debate as there is no such deity in the sanctum. Although the temple shows predominantly Dravida features, it is topped with a Nagara Shikhara on its sanctum. Its apsidal plan takes inspiration from the Buddhist chaityas making it a truly ‘hybrid’ temple.

 

 

Aihole Durga temple ambulatory 1Aihole Durga ambulatory 2

The apsidal Ambulatory Path

Aihole Durga temple Durga sculpture

Sculpture of Durga at Durga Temple, Aihole. The deceptive name ’Durga’ here actually refers to Durg i.e. fortification of which it was a part of and not goddess Durga.

Galagnath temple dedicated to Shiva; not too far from here shows presence of Ganga and Yamuna sculptures- necessarily a Nagara feature till then along with chaitya windows.

Pattadakal Galagnath templeGalaganath Temple, Pattadakal

The 8th century Papanatha temple in Pattadakal is the only temple in the UNESCO world heritage site of Pattadakal that has been designed using both north and south Indian architecture styles. It seems that the temple was initially supposed to be a Nagara style temple but there was a change of intention during the course of construction of this temple as is evident from its narrow circumambulatory path. The construction of rest of the temple was continued on the lines of Dravida architecture.

papanatha-pattadakalPapanatha Temple, Pattadakal. Picture courtesy – TeamGsquare

Chakra Gudi temple at Aihole built in 9th century CE shows a Rekha Nagara Shikhara (northern superstructure topped by an amalaka and a kalasa). It encompasses a large mandapa with flat roof and has a large temple tank beside it.

Aihole Chakra gudi templeAihole chakra gudi kund

By 9th century, the western Chalukyas i.e. Kalyani Chalukyas had taken over large parts of Karnata and continued experimenting with the temple architecture. The term western Chalukyas  however refers to a distantly related dynasty- a fraction of Rashtrakuta dynasty that broke off from the Rashtrakutas, defeated them and made Kalyani- in northeastern Karnataka their capital. The western Chalukyas came into the picture much later than the Badami Chalukyas i.e. in 10th century. They built so many exquisite temples in and around today’s Gadag town. Trikuteshwara, Someshwara, Veera Narayana temples at Gadag, Kashi Vishweshwara and Mahavira Jain temples at Lakkundi, Dodabasappa temple at Dambala, Amriteswara temple at Annigeri are some of the best temples built in improved Vesara style by the Kalyani Chalukyan kings. Architectural articulation like the recess chajjas, is the most striking feature that Vesara seems to have picked up from the Nagara style. Most of the above mentioned temples show stepped projections in odd numbers making it appear like stepped or a diamond pattern in plan. Although the later Chalukyans retained features from both Nagara and Dravida styles, surprisingly, they inclined more towards the Nagara style and built smaller shrines around the main shrine as is evident from the presence of smaller shrines. They also seemed fascinated by decorative miniature towers along the Shikhara of the main shrine just like in Shekhari and Bhumija Shikharas with miniature spires horizontally and vertically filling up the quadrants of the four faces of the central projection right upto the top.

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Trikuteshwara Temple, Gadag. Pictures courtesy – TeamGsquare

LakkundiKashivishweshwara Temple, Lakkundi. Picture courtesy – TeamGsquare

DambalDoddabasappa Temple, Dambal. Picture courtesy – TeamGsquare

The Hoysalas picked up from where the Western Chalukyas left. Naturally so, as the initial builders employed by the Hoysalas came from the centres of medieval Chalukyan art. Hoysalas kept the basic architectural form of the Western Chalukyas but built much more detailed temples with intricate sculptures at Belur, Halebidu, Somanathpura and in the vicinity of southern Karnata region.

belur1belur2Chennakeshava Temple, Belur. Pictures courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

halebid1halebid2Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebid. Pictures courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

 

Chennakeshava Temple, Somnathapura. Pictures courtesy – Anupam Mazumdar

It is very interesting to see how the Vesara style which in its initial phase of development restricted itself only to the Shikhara/ Vimana part, slowly over the centuries looked beyond the superstructure of the sanctum and absorbed more from both the major temple architecture styles in more ways than one – be it plan, features, sculptures, structural members or decorative elements. The outcome of these centuries of experimentation have paid off and we have some unique temples as a standing testimony.  If Pulakeshin II and his Badami Chalukyan successors could come back and see how stunning their hybrid temple style has transformed into by the end of 11th century, the dynasty of art connoisseurs would erupt in joy and do a happy dance. Well, they can or cannot but we surely can !

 

Author – Onkar Tendulkar

He can be contacted at onkaar7@gmail.com