You can sin anywhere and wash it away in a holy spot
You can sin in a holy spot and wash it away in Varanasi
You can sin in Varanasi and wash it away in Kumbakonam
But if you sin in Kumbakonam,
You can wash only in Kumbakonam
Located in the heart of Cauvery Delta, Kumbakonam is stepped in mysteries of time, dating as far as the Sangam Age and was ruled by every Hindu dynasty in South India, from the early Cholas to Vijayanagara kings, the Nayakayas, the Marathas and the British. Kumbakonam’s streets are studded with majestic and small temples and the air often resounds with the sound of Vedic chants.
Like every holy Tirtha in Hinduism, Kumbakonam’s physical and spiritual nucleus is its holy tank, Mahamaham. According to a legend, when Brahma’s pot (Kumbha), containing the seeds of life, was destroyed at the end of an epoch, its nectar flowed into this tank giving the town its name Kumbakonam (the corner where the Kumbha fell). Once in every 12 years, millions of devotees assemble here for a holy bath.
If you stroll around the tank, preferably in the early morning, what draws your attention is its 16 mandapas (shrines) around the corners and sides of the tank and devotees taking holy bath surrounding these shrines. These towers are considered to be forms of Lord Shiva.
Close to Mahamanam Tank stands Kashi Viswanathar temple, where Shiva is worshipped as Kashi Viswanathar and his consort Parvati as Visalakshi. The deity is revered in the 7th-century Classics, the Tevaram written by Tamil Bhakti poets known as Nayanars.
Kumbakonam is located at the heart of Cauvery Delta in Thanjavur District. A medium-sized town, Kumbakonam is a bustling business centre and well connected by road and rail network. It takes about 6 hours from Chennai to reach Kumbakonam by road. The town has plenty of choices for accommodation and food. Just outside the town is Darasuram Village where is located the UNESCO monument, the famous Airavateswara Temple. The other major landmark is the Brihedeswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram.
Kashi Viswanathar Temple has two gopurams, the tallest being the western tower with 7 stories and 72 feet height. The present masonry structure built in the 16th century during the rule of Nayakas.
According to local mythology, Lord Rama and his brother Lakshman are said to have worshipped here during their search for Sita and acquired Rudrasen to enable them to fight Ravana. Later works suggested that Viswanathar of Kashi is believed to have manifested himself here at Kumbakonam.
The next important Shiva Temple is Nageswarswami Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the guise of Nagaraja.
The temple, a masterpiece of Chola architecture was originally built in the 9th century. The orientation of the temple is structured in such a way that it allows sunlight inside the temple right on the sanctum sanctorum during the Tamil month of Chithirai (March-April). The temple is made in the form of a chariot.
According to legend, during the time when Adishesha was feeling under the weight of the earth, he did penance here. Parvati appeared and blessed him at this place to get strength. The water body in the temple is called Naga Theertam.
Adi Kumbeswara Temple is yet another majestic Shiva Temple at Kumbhakonam dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here Goddess Parvati is depicted as Mangalambigai Ammam. The temple is surrounded by 4 gopurams at 4 cardinal points, the tallest being the eastern tower, with 11 stories high.
The temple was built in the 9th century by the Cholas and was later expanded in the 16th century by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayakas. It is believed that the temple has a legendary association with the town of Kumbakonam. Here the Kumbha (the mythical pot containing the seed of all living beings) is kept.
Adi Kumbheswara is the presiding deity of the temple and the shrine is located in the centre. The lingam is said to have been made by Shiva himself when he mixed nectar of immortality and sand.
Kumbakonam is also a Vishnu Kshetra. Two of its majestic Vishnu Temples are Chakrapani and Sarangapani, both Diyadesams.
At Chakrapani Temple, Vishnu appears in the form of charka to put down the pride of Surya (Sun), who subsequently became his devotees. Lord Chakrapani has a 3rd eye on his forehead.
According to a legend, once Vishnu sent his chakra to nether world to kill Jalandhara. The weapon is believed to have come out of the nether world through river Cauvery. God Brahma, who was taking bath in the river, got impressed and installed the image of Sudarshana in the place where the temple is located now. Surya, the Sun God, who was glowing in brilliance, had his brightness diminished by effulgent Sudarsana. Surya, the Sun God, who was glowing in brilliance, had his brightness diminished by effulgent Sudarshana. Surya worshipped Sudarsna and pleased by his devotion, Sudarsana restored all the power of Surya.
Sarangapani is the largest temple complex at Kumbakonam dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of Divyadeasam, 108 Vishnu Temple revered by 12 Alwar poets. Its Rajagopuram is the tallest tower in the town consisting of 11 tiers and 53 m.
Sarangapani is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who appeared for a sage Hema Rishi and performed penance on the bank of Potramarai Tank.
Once sage Bhrigu wanted to meet Vishnu at his residence in the Ocean of Milk. However, Vishnu did not give attention which made Bhrigu angry. In his anger, he kicked Vishnu on his chest. Mahalakshmi who resides in Vishnu’s chest became angry as her husband did not show his anger towards the sage. She left Vaikunta and reached earth and took the form of Padmavathy. Vishnu followed her and got married to her. Padmavathy had not forgotten the incident and was still angry with Vishnu. To avoid her anger, Vishnu resided in the underground chamber in the temple as Pathala Srinivasa. In the meanwhile, the sage Bhrigu sought his apology and requested Mahalakshmi to be born to him as Komalavalli in his next birth. The sage was born as Hema Rishi and performed penance to attain Mahalakshmi as his daughter. Vishnu was pleased by the penance and he wished the sage to get Lakshmi as his daughter. Lakshmi emerged from the Potramarai tank among thousand lotuses and was thus named Komalavalli (the one who emerged from lotus). Vishnu descended to earth as Aravamudhan in a chariot drawn by horses and elephants from his abode Vaikuntam. He stayed in the nearby Someswaran Temple to convince Lakshmi to marry him and the couple eventually got married. The name Sarangapani (“one who has the bow in his hand”) derives from the Sanskrit word Sarangam meaning bow of Vishnu and pani meaning hand.
After a night journey from Chennai, I arrived at Kumbakonam for a day and after visiting the above-mentioned temples of the town I realized the justification of Kumbakonam where Hindu epics and legends are celebrated with full pomp. It is also a great centre of Sanskrit learning and tolerance.
A little west of Navrashpur, the third city of Bijapur, now in ruins…I chanced upon a freshly painted mural, quite uncommon, depicting a Muslim King as a yogi meditating to invoke Goddess Ganga to descend down to his capital from the Himalayas to quench the thrust of million plus people in the mid 16th century.
He is Ibrahim Adil Shah II, celebrated as the Akbar of Deccan for his religious tolerance and literary ingenuity.
When Ibrahim built Navrashpur as a city of par excellence for performances of dance and music, he needed water. The legend goes: ‘Goddess Ganga was pleased with his prayer and agreed to flow down to the heart of Bijapur but under one condition. Ibrahim would walk in the front and she would follow him behind. The condition was – he would never look back till he reaches Navrashpur. Ibrahim agreed to the condition and was in high spirit. He marched down to Bijapur from the Himalayas and a few kilometres before his destination, he stopped, as he could not hear the cascading sound of water anymore. He was puzzled and looked back. Now the water stopped flowing. Upon asking the reason, Ganga replied: ‘You did not follow my advice. Now it is you to channelize water from here’.
The Ruins of Navrashpur
This place was Torvi, a dry undulating place, but catchment for all the run-off water from the plateau.
Torvi – The Source of all Water for Bijapur
The water heritage of Bijapur, however, begins with Ibrahim’s predecessor Ali Adil Shah, who had pioneered establishing Bijapur as a commercial hub after the battle of Talikota that led to the fall of Vijayanagar Empire.
Ali Adil Shah, the visionary Sultan of Deccan, had initiated grand projects for his capital including the construction of Jami Masjid. He also had established a city called Shahpur for traders and merchants to the east of Bijapur Fort. For all these people and their domestic animals, it was essential to manage water with high sophistication as the region was a harsh semi-arid plateau.
Ramalinga Tank, an existing water facility from the time of Yadavas, was upgraded by constructing a long masonry bund to meet the water requirement of Shahpur. Ramalinga Tank received water from Torvi catchment and was meant for Sahahpur residents. Water was also supplied from here to the main city of Bijapur.
Ramalinga Tank – Now Under Intensive Agriculture
Initially, it was an earthen dam built by the Yadavas. The Adil Shahi engineers brought in a new technology of hydraulic engineering making it one of the most advanced dams in Medieval Deccan.
In the film below, Dr Viswanath Siddhanti, a heritage activist from Bijapur explains the water heritage of Ramalinga which had a series of jack wells across the bund. The dam covered an area of 40 sq km supplying water to more than one million populations that thrived in Bijapur and its suburbs in the 16th century. At present, sadly, the tank is under intense cultivation by the locals.
The bund constitutes a series of jack wells which are intake structures for collecting water from the surface sources like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and conveying it further to the water treatment plant. These structures are masonry or concrete structures and provide relatively clean water, free from pollution, sand and objectionable floating material.
Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.
The Ramalinga Tank, which formed the core of water management in Bijapur, did not survive for a long time. During the rule of Ibram Adil Shah II, it was breached by Ahmednagar Sultan. Ameenduin Hullur, the heritage activist of Bijapur explains the reason in the film below.
The next stage of development was at Torvi which is situated beyond Navrashpur in the west. It is also the catchment for all run-off water from the plateau. As mentioned earlier, during the rule of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, water was brought from here through earthen pipes till Surang Bavadi near the tombs of Afzal Khan’s wives and then through subterranean channels (qanat system) to Ibrahim Rouza enclosure through Moti Dargarh.
Annicut and Terracotta Pipes Laid by Adil Shahi Engineers from Torvi Source, Photo Credit – Hamza Mehboob
During my travel to Bijapur, I was fortunate to be accompanied by Hamza Mehboob, a local heritage activist. We spotted a number of air-shafts, however, except few sadly, most of them are encroached upon. They are placed at regular intervals along its course, but beyond Ibrahim Rouza it is lost.
The Qanat System in Bijapur
Ameenudhin Hulur explains here about the qanat system in Bijapur.
At the time of Muhammad Adil Shah, the Ramalinga Talav and Torvi waterworks had lost their capacities as these had been destroyed by the Sultan of Ahmednagar during his raid of Bijapur. It was necessary to create a large water facility to meet the growing demand of the city. In 1651 CE in memory of his wife Jehan Begum, Muhammad Adil Shah constructed Jehan Began Talav to the south of his capital. The talav today is popularly known as Begam Talav. It is located about 5 km to the south of Gol Gumbaz and covers an area of 234 acres. Even today this talav fed southern and eastern side of Bijapur.
To the right side of the tank is an underground room from where water was supplied to the city through terracotta pipes. The pipes were laid to the death of 15 to 20 feet and were joined and encased in masonry. Many water towers of height 25 to 40 feet called Gunj had been built to release the pressure of water and prevent pipes from bursting. These towers also allowed dirt in pipes to remain at the bottom and the water to flow.
Gunj or Water Towers
Apart from Begam Talav, several other tanks were created in and around Bijapur to meet the water need of its population. Some of these are Rangrez Talav, Qasim Talav, Fatehpur Talav and Allahapur Talav. There were also a large number of bavadis or step wells constructed at different locations by both sultans and nobles for water management. Among these, the most significant is the Taj Bavadi.
Prior to Taj Bavadi, it was Chand Bavadi that had formed the most iconic among all water monuments of Bijapur. Chand Bavadi was built by Ali Adil Shah in memory of his queen Chand Bibi in 1549 CE. The square-shaped bavadi is located closed to Shahpur Gate.
Most of Bijapur’s tombs and mosques had also attached water structures which show the engineering achievement of Adil Shahis. These were actually the quarries used for building the structures and later converted into small bavadis. For example, the Gol Gumbaz the largest of all among Adil Shahi monuments had an excellent hydraulic arrangement as suggested by the presence of water tanks, fountains, tank cum lifts, tank cum distributor and wells. At present, there are 28 features within the complex. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Bavadi on the north and Begam Talav on the south. One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.
Water Works at Gol Gumbaz Complex
In Bijapur, water was managed not only for sustenance but also for the luxury of Adil Shahi sultans and nobles. You visit any palace or grand public buildings, there are traces of water fountains and Jacuzzi. Ameenudin explains in this film how water was integrated with luxury and amusement of Adil Shahi Sultans.
Today sadly, that entire water heritage for which Bijapur had achieved height benchmark is in shattered ruins. Lately, however, thanks to dedicated efforts of activists like Ameendhin and Dr Sidhanti there is hope for their partial revival for posterity.
Every year millions of tourists, art connoisseurs and heritage enthusiasts visit Ajanta, the mural capital of India located in Sahyadri Hills of Maharashtra. The mural heritage of Ajanta was however short-lived, thanks to the fall of Vakatakas and their patronage.
The features that were laid in Ajanta was however found in full bloom in the Pallava Court at Kanchipuram, 1000 km away from the Vakataka capital. Unfortunately very little of Pallava murals have survived today. Following the Pallavas, it was the Vijayanagar and then Nayaka rulers who also made Kanchi as a canvas for their mural sojourn.
Pallavas who made Kanchipuram as their capital were great patrons of art. Mahendra Verman I, the founder of the dynasty was credited for the introduction of rock-cut architecture in Tamil Nadu in 7th Century CE. Because of his artistic talent, he was titled variously as Vichitra Chitta, Mattavilasa, Chaitrahari or Chitrakarapuli. However, none of Mahendra’s murals has survived at Kanchi today. What has remained are from the period of Rajasimha, who ruled towards the end of the 7th century CE.
Rajasimha’s murals have also mostly gone; however, a close observation helps us to find traces of lines and colours on small cells in the pradakshina path.
In cell 9 there are remains of fragments of upper and lower arms of Shiva and in cell 11, one finds the beautiful face of Shiva depicted in Pallava style with only a part of the nose, cheek, kandala and yognopavita. In cell 23, there are remnants of a painting of Shiva and cell no 34 there remain traces of a mahapurusha (kirata, shoulder and thigh are left). However, the most striking remains are that of a Samakanda mural in red on the back wall of cell 41. The colours are gone, but the line of composition of the seated Shiva and Parvati and a lovely attendant of Parvati are an indication of the excellence of the artist’s ability. Depicting Samakanda was a favourite Pallava theme for murals as well as sculptures. The curve of the arms and legs, the excellent proportion of the limbs, details such as tussle, the folds of the garments and the ornamentation are surpassed only by the very adorable baby Skanda. Parvati’s figure is full of feminine grace.
Kanchipuram is located at a distance of 72 km from Chennai off Bangalore Highway. The city is also well connected by rail. Located on the banks of Vegavathi River, Kanchipuram has a rich history and heritage. It was the administrative capital of Pallavas in the 7th century. It was later ruled by Cholas and Vijayanagar rulers. Kanchipuram was a great centre of education in historical time. Of the 108 holy temples, the best -known are Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, and Kumarakottam Temple. The city is well-known for its hand-woven saree industry known as Kanchipuram Silk. While at Ekambaeswarar Temple relish Kanchipuram Idli which is offered to temple as prasadam every morning.
One other painting which is in a fair state of preservation is that of Kinnara and Kinnari, a half human and a half bird couple who are celestial musicians.
The tradition of Pallava murals had carried forward the Ajanta tradition. They display the same grace of line and movement. The artists were masters of brushwork and figure drawings. The paintings were executed on a smoothly prepared surface in the fresco style. The colours used are black, red, white, yell, blue and green.
The Pallava murals of Kanchipuram are known for their fully open and wide eyes in accordance with South Indian ideals which demands wide, beautiful eyes as they are most striking features in the face. Faces are round and fuller.
The Pallava tradition of murals was revived much later in the 16th century during the Vijayanagar Period at the time of Achyutadevaraya who had commissioned murals on the walls and ceilings of Vardarajaperumal temple at Kanchipuram.
In Andal Unjal Mandapa, the ceiling is carved with stories of Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana and Harivamsa, stories of Kaliyamardana, Vishnu with his consorts and so on.
Other common themes include the Vijayanagar crest of the boar and dagger, vidyadhara ridden of palanquins composed of feminine figures of Rati and Manmatha.
Sadly the Vijayanagar murals are also badly survived. The only prominent colours left are red, yellow, green and black. Yet the leftover outlines depicts prominent figures, strong undulated lines and animated movement.
Vijayanagar rulers were succeeded by Nayakas in the 17th century, who had commissioned Jain themes of various bala lilas of Rishabadeva, the first Tirthankara, of Vardaman, of Krishna, of Neminatha and so on. These paintings are illustrated as long elaborate panels in the ceiling of the Jain Temple at Kanchi. The panels are supplemented with the depiction of purnakumbha, flowers along with dancers and musicians.
The mural heritage of Kanchi may not be the richest in India but what makes it interesting is the evolution of styles and multiplicity of forms and themes that developed at different periods of history under the patronage of different dynasties. But sadly most of it gone with ravage of time.
Author – Jitu Mishra. He is grateful to archaeologists Vijay Sundararaman Iyer and Aarti Iyer for their knowledge sharing and accompanies at Kanchi in February 2018. Jitu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many travellers from the far-flung lands visit Telangana mostly for Hyderabad, a city full of historic sites like Golkonda Fort, Charminar, Qutb Sahi tombs etc. But if you are a history buff then Telangana has more to offer you and some places get hardly any mention in the guidebooks or history books.
Rachakonda is a huge fort, positioned in the magnificent hilly landscape near Nalgonda. Built by the Racherla royals around 14th century CE, this fort was later ruled under Qtub Shahi dynasty along with other forts like Golkonda and Koilkonda. One has to climb many steps through the jungle to reach the top. In between the arched boulders, there are still few stone gateways left with unique ancient designs. Its wilderness and the breathtaking views from every twist and turn will truly fascinate the visitors.
Koilkonda is another forgotten fort on a hilltop and was renowned as the outpost for the Qutb Sahis. Surrounded by jungles this fort has many intact structures to give it a castle-like formation. An easy 125 km drive from Hyderabad towards Madhuban Nagar can take you to this fort. Though not yet maintained you can hike till different levels and explore the essence of erstwhile Deccan Plateau.
The majestic view of Kolikonda Fort
A three and half hours’ drive from Hyderabad will take you to thousand years old Khammam Fort which is situated in the middle of a city. It is believed that gold coins were used as the fund to make this fort.
Located in a very scenic hilltop of Karimnagar, Elgandal fort was controlled by five major dynasties – the Kakatiyas, Bahmanis, Qutub Shahis, Mughals and the Nizams. It still has huge walls, twisted steps and geometric gates but yet hardly known to broader communities of travellers. At the highest point, one can find “Dho Minar” or the two tall pillars. From a certain angle, they look almost like the ‘Charminar’ of Hyderabad. The 180 Km drive from Hyderabad to Karimnagar is simply incredible due to the well-maintained roads and picturesque countrysides.
The view of Elgandal Fort
The last one is our favourite Bhongir, mostly known as ‘Bhuvanagiri fort’ to locals. Formed by a gigantic monolithic rock, this fort is an epitome of the Chalukyan rulers since the 10th century. However, later it was taken under the Bahmani kings and renovated in Islamic style. The 180-degree view from the top proves its strategic location as a defence base. We visited Bhongir a number of times but it still attracts us to explore some of the other corners. The serenity of Bhongir can be best enjoyed from the top, especially when the sun rolls down and the city lights pop up one by one.
Author – Mangalika Ghosh
A travel photographer and a travel blogger by passion, Mangalika is currently working on various personal photography projects. You can always find her at Happyfeet https://mangalika.com/happyfeet/
Lovely blossoming mango flowers are his lovely arrows,
Kinsuka is the bow and black bees its string.
Bright moon is his imperial canopy,
And the spring breeze is mighty elephant.
Cuckoos sing like minstrels,
Behold ! He has conquered the worlds.
May that victorious Kama shower benefaction on all
– Kalidasa in Ritusamhara
Vasant or the season spring has been the muse of many poets and is considered as the king of seasons; Rituraj. For when else is the air redolent of the fragrance of flowers, for when else is the breeze so cool, for when else does everything seem so pleasant.
Vasant in Indian epics has been depicted as one of accompanying mates of Kama Dev, the God of love who with his bow of sugarcane and string of bees aims sweet arrows of Ashoka flowers, mango flowers and blue lotus towards unsuspecting mortals inflicting them with wounds of deep passion. Therefore the onset of Vasant or spring is celebrated all across the country.
In South India and Tamil Nadu in particular, Vasant is identified with the legend of Kama Dahanam and celebrated as Kaman Pandigai (The Festival of Kama Deva). The legend has been described in various Puranas and also by Kalidas in Kumarasambhava. There are two important places that are identified with this legend. One is Manmatha Tank near Virupaksha Temple of Hampi in Karnataka and the other is Sri Veeratteswarar Temple in Korukkai city of Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu
Legend of Kama Dahanam
This episode is intertwined with Girija Kalyana, the marriage of Shiva and Parvati / Girija. The story goes, after the death of Sati, Shiva decides to forsake everything and become a sanyasi. He goes to a desolate forest near a cremation ground and goes deep into meditation. The heat from his meditation is disturbing the Devas but it is a minor irritant in front of the problem named Trakasura whose death will come only at the hands of the son of Shiva. Meanwhile, Sati is reborn as Parvati, the daughter of the King of mountains, Himavan. Aware of her destiny, she begins her penance to have Shiva as her husband from a tender age.
Indra, worried of the fate of Devalok, approaches Brahma who placates him by informing him of Parvati and her penance and asks him to arrange for Parvati to wait on Shiva whilst he is meditating. Days pass but Shiva does not even notice Parvati lest falling in love with her. The impatient Indra summons Kama Dev, the Lord of love to induce lust in Shiva.
Kama though fearful of Shiva’s angst but knowing that his act will benefit the world calls on Vasant and stocks up on his flower tipped arrows and leaves to face Shiva. On reaching, Vasant turns the desolate forest into a grove with sweet smelling flowers and singing birds. Parvati watches in awe while Kama aims his arrow and shoots inducing lust but Shiva being the ultimate Yogi controls his lust that turns into rage. He opens his third eye and reduces Kama to ashes.
The place from where Kama aims his arrow is the Veeratteswarar Temple of Korukkai and here Shiva is worshipped as Kama Dahana Moorthy. It is one among the Ashta Veerattanam, eight places where Shiva is supposed to have exhibited his valour.
On seeing the image of Sati in Parvati, Shiva’s joy knows no bounds and he immediately decides to marry her. Meanwhile, Rati on being informed of her husband’s fate come running to Shiva and pleads him to restore Kama as he was only doing his duty. Shiva relents and says – Kama will be restored on the day he marries Parvati but only in spirit. He will remain ananga (without physical form) to all except Rati. Only she will be able to see him in his physical form while he will remain invisible to others. Thus, the God of love works unseen and unheard!
The underlying philosophy behind resurrecting Kama Dev in spirit form is to assert that love in its truest form goes beyond the confines of the physical self and manifests in spirit. The day Shiva burnt Manmatha was the full moon day of Phalgun, therefore the holi bonfire represents the burning of pride and desires.
The advent of Vasant in Tamil Nadu begins with Pongal festivities where sugarcane plays an important part symbolizing bountiful produce and also Kama deva, the God of Love. The season spans the 3 months of Thai, Maasi and Panguni of Tamil calendar which corresponds to Makara, Magh and Phalgun months of Hindu calendar. Vasanthotsava or Manmadotsava consists of celebrations on pournami of all the three months
Sri Andal, one of the Azhwar saints of Vaishnava tradition, after a month long fast to be one with her Lord Ranganatha, decides to worship Manmatha throughout the month of Thai. In the verses of Nachiyar Thiru Mozhi, she talks of how to worship the god of love so that he helps her in uniting with her Lord. She can be called Meera Bai of South!
Given below are verses with translation taken from the book ‘Nalayira Divya Prabandam’ Four Thousand Hymns of Twelve Azhwars and commentary by Dr S Jagathratchagan. English rendered from ‘The Sacred Book’ by Sri Rama Bharati. Pictures courtesy: Balaji Srinivasan
The very famous Thai Pusam festival commemorating the legend of Parvathi giving ‘Vel’ (spear) to Muruga is also celebrated during the Tamil month of Thai. It is celebrated in all countries where Tamil diaspora resides in large numbers and in some countries it is a national holiday!
But the festival that generally corresponds to Holi in the Tamil Calendar is Maasi Magam. The pournami of the month of Maasi when the star of Maagam is at the highest point in the sky. On this night Kaman Koothu is performed.
Tamil Nadu has various folk theatre practices for different occasions and it is called Koothu. Kaman Koothu or Kaman Nadagam is performed to commemorate the event of Kama Dahanam and narrates his story of supreme sacrifice for the greater good of the world. It begins with the marriage of Rati and Manmatha.
A priest performs the wedding between the pictures of Rathi and Manmatha. Here children are seen playing the protaganists
After the marriage, the couple goes around the village aiming arrows at each other which are mostly made from Oleander stems (Arali Poo Chedi in Tamil). An accompanying part sings ballads that are based on a dialogue between Rati and Manmatha. One interesting thing to note here is though there are references to Kaman Koothu in Sangam era epic, Silappadikaram, the ballads sung presently are called Lavani. An influence of the rule of Marathas in Thanjavur most likely.
After many exchanges between the spouses, Manmatha aims his arrow at Shiva and the enraged God burns him. Rathi expresses her pain through laments (sung by the accompanying party) and pleads Shiva to bring back her husband or kill her too so that she can join him in death. Finally Shiva marries Parvathi and restores Kama in his spirit form.
This Koothu was performed for 3 nights in succession earlier but now it is performed on one night only.
Kaman Koothu renders poignancy to the celebrations where people see their favourite God being burnt. Knowing that he will be resurrected soon, it renders a solemn air to the festival that is otherwise marked by much fanfare in other parts of the country. Same country, same season, same festival yet a different legend and way of celebration!
The celebrations continue with Panguni Uthiram. Panguni is the last month of Tamil year and Uthiram is the star which is at its highest point in the sky during the pournami. Panguni Uthiram is the day when Shiva got married to Parvati and Manmatha was resurrected. This day of love and romance is celebrated throughout Tamil Nadu and adjacent states with the wedding of deities.
This is followed by a float festival where Utsava Moorthis (idols used during processions) are decked up and taken to the temple tank for a joyride. These celebrations are uniform whether it is a Vaishnava temple or a Shaivite or a Muruga temple
Thus, love in its various manifestations is celebrated in the form of Kama Dev throughout the three months of spring when the land is at its fragrant and colourful best!
The cover picture is the depiction of Vasanthotsav as seen on the ceiling of Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram. Picture courtesy: Balaji Srinivasan
All the pictures of Kaman Koothu used in the post are from the performance staged at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. The pictures have been clicked by: Sudarsanrao Bhoware
Author – Zehra Chhapiwala with inputs from Mr. Balaji Srinivasan
Zehra Chhapiwala can be contacted at email@example.com and Balaji Srinivasan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” ~ UNESCO
As I sat down to read the books and various journals that I had bookmarked in order to write on my recent heritage run in Telangana, I would sometimes pause to wonder on the fact that when I had started my journey, how ill prepared I was to meet the grandeur of the Kakatiyan temples, with almost no idea about the dynasty that had built them. While north Indian temples have always figured in my travel itineraries, and many a time I have stood in awe at some of their exquisite craftsmanship, I was still unprepared for the sculptural magnificence of the innumerable temples that dot the southern parts of India. It was my first foray into South Indian temple architecture, technically termed as Dravidian temple architecture, and the beauty and splendour of it is indescribable.
A look at our history will show that architecture and sculpture were two distinctive forms of art, and developed as such from the ancient times. The two became intertwined during the Buddhist era; and as Buddhism declined, in the southern parts of India the intertwining continued, as beautiful figures were sculpted on temple walls during the Pallava and Chalukyan period, a practice later adopted by the Chalukyan vassals: the Kakatiyans. As the Kakatiyas declared their independence and slowly turned into a dominant ruling dynasty of the Andhradesa, their architecture and sculpture, which evolved simultaneously over the three centuries of their rule, merged seamlessly into each other. This is evident in their various temples, which are filled with exquisite figures covering each pillar, wall, door panel, door jamb, lintel, and ceiling.
Beautiful sculptures fill the door jambs and pillars of Kakatiyan temples
Who were the Kakatiyas? A rather complex history
There are no clear records of how the Kakatiyas got their name or their caste, and few theories make the rounds. From two stone inscriptions it is learnt that the Kakatiyas got their name from a place called Kakatipura, which is a place where the Cholas once ruled, and where the temples of Ekavira devi and Kakati devi or Kakatamma (Chamunda of the saptamatrikas) stand. It is also believed that the Kakatiyas worshipped the Kakati devi, from whom the family name may have been derived. Some epigraphical evidences suggest that the Kakatiyas belonged to some Ratta (Rashtrakuta) clan, hence they were Sudras (Chaturdhakulajas), with claims to Kshatriya-hood based on their warrior like activities.
Devi Chamunda or Kakati devi (Kakatamma) from whom the Kakatiya dynasty was likely to have derived its name, 13th century, Kolunapaka
Trying to decipher the Kakatiyan lineage:
870-895 CE – Gundaya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal
895-940 CE ~ Ereya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal
The Mangallu inscription in 956 CE shows Kakatiyan Gundyana fighting under the Eastern Chalukya king; hence likely their vassal (noticeably the inscription doesn’t place the prefix Rashtrakuta before Gundyana’s name showing the disconnect with the clan)
973 CE ~ Collapse of Rashtrakutas
996-1052 CE ~ Beta I installed as king of Annumakonda or Hanamkonda by Erana and his wife Kamaseni (Beta I’s sister)
1052-1076 CE ~ Prola I rules as Kalyani or Western Chalukyan vassal under king Trilokyamalla Someswara. The latter gave the official ruling rights of Hanumakonda to Prola I (which was already bestowed upon him by his aunt Kamaseni), after Prola fought a successful battle against the Cholas.
1076-1110 CE ~ Beta II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal of king Tribhuvanamalla Vikramditya
1110-1158 CE ~ Prola II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal
1158 CE ~ As the Western Chalukyas fall from power, Rudradeva or Prataparudra I declares his independence, and becomes the first independent ruler of the Kakatiyan dynasty. He rules as the first king of the Kakatiya dynasty until 1195 CE.
1195-1198 CE ~ Mahadeva rules. He dies in a war in 1198 CE and his young son Ganapatideva is imprisoned. Later Jaitugi of the Yadavas set him free, and Ganapatideva comes under loyal guardianship of his faithful vassal Recherla Rudra.
1199 -1262 CE Ganapatideva rules. In 1262 he hands over his throne to his daughter Rudrammadevi. In 1269 Ganapatideva dies.
In 1289 Rudrammadevi dies in a battle along with her loyal Senani Mallikarjuna Nayakudu.
In 1289 Prataparudra II starts his rule. He was Rudrammadevi’s grandson (daughter’s son), brought up by the queen herself and trained as her successor.
In 1323 CE after a fifth time invasion of Kakatiya kingdom by Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the capital of the Kakatiyas, Warangal finally falls. Prataprudra II was taken a prisoner, and while being taken to Delhi he commits suicide by drowning in the Narmada river.
In 1323 CE Kakatiya rule comes to an end.
As the loyal vassals of the Kakatiyas, the Nayakas, snatch power back from Delhi and take over. Prataprudra II’s brother Annamdeo moves to Bastar with his army and carves a kingdom there, which is held by his successors until 1947.
All five Islamic invasions faced by the Kakatiya kingdom took place during King Prataprudra II’s rule. The deadliest attack was launched during the second attack by Alauddin Khilji’s army under Malik Kafur in 1309, when different Kakatiyan cities, including Hanamkonda, were brutally destroyed by Khilji’s army. It was during this attack that Prataprudra II offered the Koh-i-noor diamond to Khilji in exchange for peace.
Remains of temple parts inside the 1000 pillared temple complex in Hanamkonda. The temple complex was started by Rudradeva (1163 CE), and later completed by Ganapatideva (1213 CE), and it is believed that Rudrammadevi came here everyday from the Warangal Fort to pray. Parts of this temple and the entire city faced massive destruction under Malik Kafur’s army (1309 CE).
Did the Kakatiyas rule well?
The Kakatiyas emerged as the most powerful rulers during 12th -13th CE, in the entire Telugu land. Their rule ushered in many new bearings in politics and administration, agriculture (especially in terms of irrigation), religion, literature, architecture, and arts. While it is believed that originally they might have been Digambar Jains, their temples predominantly show their Shaivite beliefs. The many conquests and good maintenance of their vast empire by the Kakatiyas; while encouraging growth of arts, literature, and temple architecture; and simultaneously defending their kingdom from constant onslaughts of invading armies, place them foremost amongst the ruling dynasties of modern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They united the Andhradesa and bought all the telugu speaking people under a single umbrella thus establishing a unique identity of the telugu people and its language.
During their three centuries rule, the Kakatiyas focused on developing the three Ts : Town, Temple, and Tank. Keeping the basic monarchical form, the Kakatiyas gave great importance to decentralisation of authority by distributing power horizontally to their subordinates (thus creating central, provincial, and local levels of administration). Owing to their continued policy of developing widespread tank irrigation, the kingdom at this time saw unprecedented economic prosperity. This led to large-scale trade activities, and development of many new trade guilds. Motupalli at that time was a well known sea port of the Kakatiyas. Marco Polo, the famous traveller visited the Kakatiya kingdom during the rule Rudramma devi, via Motupalli, and in his travel diary praised the prosperity of this kingdom.
Most of the temple and tank construction projects took place during Ganapatideva’s rule, while his successors Rudrammadevi and Prataprudra II spent their lifetimes fighting invasions. Innumerable majestic temples were built under the supervision of Ganapatideva and his loyal general Recherla Rudra, which included the well known Ghanpur temples and tank, Ramappa temples and tank, Laknavaram tank, and Pakhal tank, amongst many others. The Kakatiyan temples predominantly are dedicated to Shiva, and follow the Ekakuta, Trikuta, or Panchakuta plan. The sculptural art of this time gives us an idea of the socio-religious atmosphere of that era. A favourite theme in temple sculptures of this time were stories from various epics, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Gita, and the Puranas. The artisans would take inspiration from these texts and transfer their imaginations onto stone sculptures on temple walls and panels, making it easily available for the viewing and understanding by the common people. The Andhradesa society during the Kakatiya era also saw some religious movements associated with Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.
From an overall perspective, the Kakatiya rulers provided their citizens with stability, security, and economic prosperity; while ushering in art and architectural growth, and literary development, which was unique and unheard of previously. The cultural roots sown by the Kakatiyas can still be seen and felt in the innumerable tanks and temples built by them that still dot the area.
The Nameswara temple in Pillalamarri village
During the rule of Ganapatideva, many tanks were constructed using the irrigation bund system, large forested areas were brought under cultivation, and many Shiva temples were constructed. The first tank was likely to have been constructed in village Pillalamari by Namireddy. He also constructed the Nameswara temple in Pillalamari in 1202 CE. The temple has a stone prakara and a tall dhwaja stambha in front. The temple has a large mandapa which is entered by 6 steps. The door to mandapa has dancers sculpted on the door jambs and six dwarasakhas, each intricately carved, while the lintel holds a gajalakshmi. There is a garbhagriha, antarala, and a square mandapa with a circular dance-mandapa at the centre (nritya mandapa). The temple has a small shikhara with later modifications. The mandapa has a kakshasana, with aasanapatta and mattavaarana, running all around it on the inside. The roof has a jutting out cornice, with tiny shikharas raised at the end on the inside of it. The door jambs to the antarala also have exquisite dancers carved on them, and there are chowrie bearers, yalis, eight handed Shiva, dancers, Brahma, and Ganesha to complete the line on the antrala door panels. The mandapa pillars are square with circular discs, and each pillar is a marvel with intricate carvings of dancers and musicians.
At night it is believed that here in this temple (as in Rudreswara temple too) when the world falls asleep, Lord Shiva on the antarala door panel lifts his feet, and all the dancers come alive, along with the apsaras, and the drummers. Then the heavenly dance starts and goes on until day break.
Sri Erakeswara temple in Pillalamarri village
Pillalamarri village was once the fief of Recherla Rudra’s family, a powerful vassal under the Kakatiyas. This temple also has a dhwaja stambh in front, and stone steps lead up to the mandapa. The main deity here is Lord Shiva. As per an inscription plate, Sri Erakeshwara temple was built in the year 1208 CE under King Ganapatideva’s rule by Recharla Rudra in memory of his wife Erasanamma. Another inscription mentions the rule of Rudradeva (1195 CE) and both are seen in this temple. The pillars are similar to that of Nameswara, with square blocks and circular discs, and have dancers and musicians sculpted on them.
In this temple the mandapa is partly broken (the broken pillars are still standing) and large dancers on the temple pillars all gone with just their stubs remaining, reminding us of those grim days when Malik Kafur’s army attacked the Kakatiyan empire during Prataprudra’s reign.
The temple has a stellate form and stands on a high platform. The temple pillars show floral motifs, elephants, and beautiful pushpalata mandalas that are often depicted for protection or beneficence.
slideshow —–> Pillar sculptures in Erakeswara temple.
slideshow —–> Door to the antarala: a female figure holding a child and dancers are carved on door jambs, while the pilasters show the dwarashakhas with dancers, floral motifs holding tiny human figures carved inside vines. The lower panel of the doorway also has female figures, likely to be dancers. The deity inside the garbhagriha is a Shiva lingam.
figures on a stone panel above the mandapa door
Kakatiyan temples : Thy name is beauty
In terms of architecture, the Kakatiyas followed their former masters, the Chalukyas, in form, but managed to create a distinctive feature of their own by bringing in more indigenous forms of art, such as paintings (Cheriyal paintings) that once adorned the temple walls and still survives in various manifestations. The artisans used granite, basalt, and sandstone that were locally available, while lime and bricks were used for making superstructures. Black granite and basalt were used for making pillars, lintels, jambs, ornamental motifs and figures. One must not forget that these were hard rock and not particularly easy to carve. The perfection of the edges and shapes of the lathe turned pillars especially those that adorn the Natya Mandapa speak eloquently of the skill of the artisans and the technology that was developed by them.
The various Kakatiyan temples show a gradual evolution of their unique style
Kakatiyan sculptures, from what remain, show a focus on kirtimukhas, dancers, Anna pakshi
Kakatiyan temple architecture show high levels of sophistication, and one can see the gradual evolution of their style starting from basic temples having a simple mandapa, antarala, and garbhagriha, with pillars lacking sculptures; to the complex trikuta and stellate form of the Thousand-pillared temple; and finally reaching its climax in the exquisitely carved Rudresvara/Ramappa temple.
Author – Monidipa Bose
She can be reached at email@example.com and at monigatha
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
–Hara (a horizontal row on each storey consisting of miniature shrines) consisting of Salas (intermediate mini shrines) and Kutas (miniature shrines in the corners).
–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.
–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.
–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.
-A water tank near the temple for ritualistic purposes and to provide for the priests living in the temple.
-Huge Nandis with a mandapa of their own
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.
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 has96 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It is a pity that the work of local community members in heritage restoration and management has been overlooked by heritage experts. I firmly believe that it is the local community which needs to be motivated, involved and educated because without them no initiative is meaningful. Afterall, it is the local community which takes maximum pride when their heritage is restored and this pride is what makes them feel responsible towards their local heritage and its upkeep.I have been fortunate enough to meet several such individuals and groups during my travels to historic cities across India, who have felt that their local heritage is beyond a mere appreciation of a grand past but deeply rooted in their daily life and their spiritual consciousness.
During my recent travel, I came across such a person and an entire team of heritage enthusiasts at Bijapur in Karnataka. Mr Ameenuddin Hullur, the leader of the team is not a historian or an archaeologist by profession, but his deep interest in local heritage and history has transformed him into an activist, something that many of our universities and civic authorities have failed to achieve.
Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.
Taj Baodi, a medieval tank, is Bijapur’s pride, a city which was established by the Adil Shahis in the 16th century after the fall of Bahamani Empire at Bidar. The baodi is located in a crowded area of the city and its walls are encroached upon by houses of local residents. It is the largest tank of Bijapur and is named after Taj Sultana, the favourite queen of Adil Shah II. Built square in shape with each side measuring 71 m, the baodi can be entered through a wide arch flanked by two majestic minarets in signature Adil Shahi style.
According to an inscription engraved on a plaque against a wall near the entrance gate, it was built by Malik Sandal, a Siddi official in the service of Adil Shahi court. It translates to: ‘The humble slave Malik Sandal constructed at his own expense the building of Taj Baodi for the service of religious mendicants as a Hammam for bathing and as a resting place for the people of Allah, and bequeathed it to the service of Allah. Whoever seeks possession of it or damages it, may his wife and mother ride a donkey and be overtaken by an eternal curse.’
I first visited Taj Baodi in 2013 and was highly disappointed seeing its pathetic state. It was filled with garbage and the water was filthy. But during my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see clean waters. This revival which was initiated by Ameenuddin Hullur was later funded and joined in by the government.
Fresh water flows down to the tank now from a number of natural springs that are located at several points along the walls. The entrance to the baodi is now guarded by government officials. Ameen’s initiatives eventually drew attention of the State Government. Mr. M.B Patil, who is the water resource minister in Karnataka State government, has taken keen interest in its revival. In an interview with Frontline magazine he has been quoted as saying – ‘This is a dream fulfilled. The plan is to meet a part of Vijayapura’s water needs through these baodis. The city requires 65 million liters a day (mld) of water, and I expect that 5 mld can be met through these wells. All these wells have potable water, and moreover, it is the heritage of our elders. We should preserve these monuments for the future’.
Hear the story of the revival of Taj Baodi in the words of Mr Ameenuddin Hullur himself! Watch the video.
If Taj Mahal is India’s most admired artistic tomb, then the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur that houses the grave of Muhammad Adil Shah is technologically the most advanced tomb of Medieval India. I have been to Gol Gumbaz twice before and each time there was something to be surprised about.
The View of Gol Gumbaz in the Early Morning
Gol Gumbaz, often considered as the triumph of Deccani architecture is actually an unfinished monument. I was told about this fact by Mr. Klaus Rotzer, an expert on Bijapur heritage during my recent visit. Designed by architect Yaqut of Dabul, Gol Gumbaz is a massive cube and its dome (44 m in diameter) is the second largest in the world. However, its plain surface was supposed to have been covered with a range of Persian tiles.
An Unfinished Graffiti
Muhammad Adil Shah started building his tomb immediately after his ascent to throne in 1626 CE. His intention was to build the grandest tomb in India. The construction of the tomb began and ended with his regime in 1656 CE. At Gol Gumbaz, beside the Sultan are buried two of his wives Taj Jahan Begum and Aroos Bibi, his mistress Rambha, his daughter and his grandson.
The tomb is one of the largest single structures in the world. At each of the four corners of the cube is a dome shaped octagonal tower seven stories high with a staircase inside. The top floor of each tower opens into a round gallery which surrounds the dome.
The dome’s exterior walls display examples of fine Adil Shahi stucco work ranging from simple geometric patterns to lotus medallions, branches of trees, leafs, crown of wing, chained motifs, petalled fringes, scroll work and creeper motifs.
Details of Plaster Work
The gallery on the 8th floor is an acoustic marvel. Also known as the whispering gallery, it is the highest achievement of medieval sound engineering wherein an echo reflects for seven times.
Another highlight of this monument is a meteorite that hangs over the main entrance. The meteorite had hit the monument while it was under construction. There is a beautiful story behind it, which is explained by Mr. Ameenuddin Hullur in the video attached here. It is believed to protect the structure from lightning.
A Nakkar Khana (also unfinished) lies to the south of Gol Gumbaz, which now houses a museum of ASI.
The Gol Gumbaz had an excellent water supply system as suggested by the presence of a number of water tanks, fountains, lifts and wells. There are 20 features documented by the ASI related to water supply system at Gol Gumbaz. The main sources are Khandak on the west, Masa Baodi on the north and Jahan Begum Talav on the south. One of the major water structures is Khandak, a small reservoir along with two tanks on the eastern and western rim. It is actually the quarry used for building the Gol Gumbaz that was eventually converted to a water structure. The two tanks lifted the water from Khandak and supplied to an array of fountains in the complex.
A 19th Century Lithograph by Montgomery
My recent trip to Bijapur was hosted by my dear friend Ameenuddin Hullur, a local heritage enthusiast working on the revival of water structures and Hamza Mehmood, another local heritage enthusiast. I was accompanied by Hullur at Gol Gumbaz and as a humble gesture he narrated two interesting stories on Gol Gumbaz. Here is the narration.
What is common to the Patolas, the coveted sarees from Patan, Gujarat, and the Pochampallys that come from the eponymous village of what is Telangana today. Obviously it is the tie-and-dye technique one would say but it is also a story of migrations. If the Salvis from South India moved to Patan to make fresh silk Patolas for the king, two brothers Malliah and Venkiah from the traditional weaving community of Padmasalis moved from Chirala to Pochampally. Patolas, then as well as now is a matter of all silk, “pattu” as the name itself is supposed to indicate. Pochampallys were woven only in coarse cotton to begin with, as silk was added much later.
Above left: Girl standing in a veranda wearing a Pochampally Ikat weave sari, by Hermann Linde (1863-1923). Pictures courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The story of migrations of weavers as perhaps art guilds across the country in ancient and medieval times is fascinating. While Patan has records of its Patola heritage from 11th – 12th centuries CE, Andhra Pradesh doesn’t seem to have that. One of the earliest evidences of migration is from the 5th century Mandasor pillar inscription that records silk weavers guild from Lata, Gujarat who migrated to Mandasor and built a temple dedicated to Sun. Movement of weavers within and outside the country established Ikat as a well-known and widely practiced craft from the eastern coast of Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, and on the west in Gujarat.
“Some of the weavers claim to have originally migrated from Saurashtra, and settled in Chirala, which formerly produced the finest weft Ikat in the form of rumals used by rich Muslims,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai in “Patolas and Resist-dyed Fabrics of India’.
Writing for the ‘The Journal of Indian Textile Industry’, in 1955 the veritable Pupul Jayakar says it was forty year ago that the brothers migrated from Chirala, already famous for the variety of fabrics called Telia Rumal. Telia Rumals, literally indicating the process the yarn goes through soaked in oil and the square cloth or the handkerchief. Telia Rumals with chowkas, diamond within a square patterns woven in cotton, was a famous export from the eastern coast to Arabia and beyond. They were made typically in three colours, white, black and red with geometric patterns and a single colour wide borders.
Though Pochampally is a name that is generally used for all the Ikat that comes from Telangana today, it came to Pochampally, a small village in Nalgonda district only by the turn of 20th century. It soon spread across several mandals, covering many places like Puttapakka that makes intricate designs in double Ikat and Koyyalagudem that specializes in upholstery and bed spreads.
Chirala’s Telia Rumals served the nobility as well as the fishermen. The cotton square cloths served as basic clothing and the royalty used the embroidered and Ikat woven with gold as dupattas. How then did they transform to full six-yard sarees is an interesting story.
It is believed that All India Handicrafts Board helped the weavers of Pochampally revitalize their craft of weaving Ikat sarees. But, writer Renuka Narayanan gives a dramatic account in Hindustan Times – “Nobody knew of Pochampally until Kamaladevi (Chattopadhyay), a wet towel tied over head in a trick learnt from Bapu, drove through scorched Andhra countryside to track down weavers. The first three saris together cost Rs. 120”. So, the doyen of crafts, textiles and heritage had a hand in bringing us the Pochampallys. During Jayakar’s time itself she records around 150 weavers practicing Ikat weaving at Pochampally village. Today it has grown exponentially and all of Nalgonda district is humming with the sound of looms.
As per the geographical indication (GI) tag application, Pochampally comes from at least 40 villages within a 70 km radius of Hyderabad, capital of Telangana, in the adjoining districts of Nalgonda, and parts of Warangal, including Pochampally, Koyalagudam, Puttapakka, Elanki and Chautupal where Ikat textiles are woven. “In these villages, Ikat weaving is a way of life, with every member of a family from child to grandparent, being involved at one stage or another,” says the GI application of Pochampally Weavers Associations.
Pochampally Ikat or resist dyeing, involves the sequence of tying (or wrapping) and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a predetermined colour scheme prior to weaving. Thus the dye penetrates into the exposed section, while the tied section remain un-dyed. The patterns formed by this process on the yarn are then woven into the fabric.
Pochampally Ikats can be single Ikat or double Ikat – single Ikat involves tying and dyeing either the warp or weft before weaving, double ikat means tying and dyeing both the warp and weft according to predetermined patterns and colours and then painstakingly matching them on the loom manually, a complex and time consuming process. There is also a combined Ikat where there are portions of warp Ikat, and weft Ikat and at places where the warp Ikat and weft Ikat overlap.
With the popular demand for Pochampally increasing, weavers started getting silk from Bangalore and zari from Surat to produce silk Ikats. They added to their repertoire of designs, traditional motifs like parrot, elephant, and flowers. Pochampally weavers also experimented with jacquards and dobby techniques that is reflecting in the hybrid Pochampally with Kanchipuram border sarees in the market.
“Today Patolas of Patan are imitated fairly successfully … The basic difference between the double Ikat weaves of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and the Patola of Gujarat is that the Patola uses eight-ply silk while the imitations do not,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai. Though the copying of Patola designs continue at Pochampally, the weavers and their craft go much beyond the mere imitations.
Copies they do, but the issue is also how some traders are taking copies of Patola made in Pochampally for comparatively lower price of Rs. 30-35,000 and selling it up to even a lakh. If this copy of Patola at Pochampally for a lower price is bad, worse is the fakes that are passing of as Ikats in many cities, as gullible buyers won’t be able to differentiate the Ikat prints passed off as Ikat weave. This is killing the Ikat weave and its trade – a connoisseur had recently mentioned how a printed copy of fake Ikat look alike on a shiny material sells for as low as Rs. 900/- in the markets of faraway Kolkata. A word of caution, always look out for the handloom mark and silk board mark on the fabric you buy as it is a stamp of authenticity and ensures you a verified product.
Today, at Pochampally an invention that has brought a lot of pride and if followed to convenience to weavers is the ‘AsuLaxmi Machine’. Born in the family of traditional Pochampally weavers, Chinthakindi Mallesham won the 2015 Kamala Award for Contribution to Crafts in 2015 and Padma Shri in 2017. One of the processes involved in making of Pochampally sarees is the process of yarn winding called as “Asu” that involved 9000 arm movements consuming 5 hours for a single saree. Mallesham who used to watched his mother go through the painstaking Asu process created the AsuLaxmi Machine which in a day can prepare yarn for six sarees with little labour involved.
The AsuLaxmi Machine. Refer the following website for more details
While the industry is picking up, the issues that the Pochampally weavers face are grave especially that of low wages. Younger generation has moved on to other jobs. Second, an inability to price the products for if they stick to the old practice of using locally treated yarn rather than all falling for the mercerised yarn the price is going to be steeper. For instance the Telia Rumal is made from a distinct quality of yarn that comes from the treatment of it in oil. Today, this practice is unviable and just one master craftsman accepts it on order and the price naturally hits the roof. Telia Rumal is still available on order, but the ones that are made of mercerised cotton.
Whether it is the advent of swift powerlooms or the profuse availability of mercerized cotton, until we do not value a handmade product and the skill and artistry involved, we will loose an invaluable piece of our rich cultural heritage.
Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer
Pochampally is not only a name famous for textiles but has an important place in the post independence history of the country. Bhoodan Pochampally, as the place is referred to comes from the Bhoodan Movement. It was at Pochampally in 1951, Vedire Ramachandra Reddy voluntarily donated 100 acres of land to Vinoba Bhave and began a movement that would leave a permanent mark on the social consciousness of the country. Thus was created Bhoodan Pochampally.