Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Poda Poda Nrusingha Temple – A Wooden Heritage Treasure in Kandhamal

Odisha, unlike Gujarat, Kerala and Himachal, has not been known for wood carving heritage to the outside world.  However, it does not mean that the state has a shortage of wooden heritage. More than one-third of the state’s geography is densely covered with forest. Little wonder, Odisha’s state deity Lord Jagannath is made of wood.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Odisha had reached its climax in the construction of wooden temples. The Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda of Ganjam District testifies the culmination of the skill of Odia woodcarvers. Dedicated to Lord Surya, the temple is often regarded as the Wooden Konark of Odisha. The temple of Biranchi Narayan Temple was patronized by the Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar, the present Bhanjanagar region.

Also, Read Here:

ILLUSTRATING RAMAYANA KATHA – BIRANCHI NARAYAN TEMPLE AT BUGUDA

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Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

Apart from Biranchi Narayan Temple, in a large part of south coastal Odisha and around the holy town of Puri, one of the finest wood carving heritages of South Asia flourished depicting the rasa of Lord Krishna and Radha and episodes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and Lord Jagannath. Some of these wooden wonders are now shown in various museums including the Odiarat Purvasa Museum at Chilika Lake.

Also, Read Here:

MONKS, MONASTERIES AND MURALS – A PHOTO STORY ON PURI’S TWO LEGENDARY MATHAS

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Wooden Carving of Lord Krishna and Gopis at Ganga Mata Matha in Puri

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Exhibit at Odiart Museum

For more than 800 years the Bhanjas of Ghumsar had ruled over Kandhamal region in highland central Odisha. Kandhamal is inhabited by various branches of Kondh tribes who speak in Kui language, a branch of Indo Dravidian language family. The Kondhs are known for their aboriginal beliefs and lifestyle resembling prehistoric ways of life. In the past, they were notoriously known for human sacrifices under the guidance of their Jani (the tribal priest) with a belief that planting human flesh and sprinkling blood would yield a good harvest. Today the human sacrifice is mostly replaced with buffalo sacrifice.

Also, Read Here:

KANDHAMAL – HERITAGE IN WOOD

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The Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar had largely patronized the Kandha beliefs and practices and incorporated many of their ritual elements in Hinduism to draw the hegemony of their tribal subjects. For instance, there are dedicated shrines of Kandhuni Devi and Maa Patakhanda in various villages in the erstwhile territory of Bhanjas. In these shrines, one finds an interesting blend of tribal beliefs and Hindu rituals.

Travel Tips

Poda Poda is located in between Baliguda and Phubani towns in Kandhamal District. Connected by excellent road, one can visit Poda Poda from Darigibadi and Mandasaru as well. For accommodation, the nearest town is Baliguda (30 km).

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Shrines of Kandhuni Devi

The Bhanjas also had built temples in Kandhamal in the same fashion and artistic style which they had erected in and around their capital. Today, however, most of these temples are lost over time except Poda Poda, a small village located on Phulbani – Baliguda Highway in Phiringia Block. Surrounded by enchanting hills and valleys, Poda Poda has preserved the remains of a wooden temple dedicated to Lord Nrusingha, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

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Built as a rectangular structure the temple is a single building without having any porch. Its original roof is long gone and now replaced with asbestos sheets. The shrine of Nrusingha is shown as a bearded man sitting on a serpentine coil and protected by the cobra hood. Conventionally the display of the deity does not fit into the iconographic canons of mainstream Hinduism.

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As you approach the temple what draws your immediate attention is the wooden door jamb depicting a tantric ritual tale. The panel has a display of various forms of sex perhaps associated with fertility cult. Women are shown having sexual intercourse with multiple men in various actions. Above the lintel, there is a mastika panel displaying the popular Gaja Sihmha character of Hindu temples in Odisha. On its top, there is a display of yet another woman showing her virginal.

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The backside of the jamb has the depiction of beautiful geometrical patterns and a group of peacocks forming a circle.

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On tops of wooden posts, there are depictions of animals, such as bear, elephant, lion and tiger in different cardinal directions. There is also a depiction of birds like parrot and swan. These panels were painted with various shades of colours as one finds at Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda. However, only traces are left.

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In the interior part of the temple, there is yet another door jamb depicting the scene of Dasavatra (10 incarnations of Vishnu). On its mastika panel is a pair of fish displayed with intricate design as one sees in Ganjam. Fish symbolises peace in Odia culture.

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The wooden temple of Nrusingha at Poda Poda is truly a remarkable example of Odisha’s splendid wooden heritage now lost in time. It is difficult to believe that a tribal-dominated region like Kandhamal could possess such intricate heritage. However, if no immediate attention is paid we may lose this wonderful wooden structure forever.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Kumbakonam – The Celebration of Hindu Legends

Anya-kshetrE-krtam Papam-punya-kshetrE vinasyati

Punya-kshetrE krtam Papam VaranAsyam vinasyati

VAranAsyaAm krtam pApam KumbakOnE vinasyati

KumakOne krtam pApam KumbakOnE vinasyati

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Travel Tips

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.

Also, Read Here:

Unfinished Monoliths of Mahabalipuam – An Architectural Journey

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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.

Also, Read Here:

Kanchipuram Murals – An Artistic Sojourn

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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.

Also, Read Here:

Dravida Temple Architecture – Origin and Development : A Visual Journey

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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.

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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.

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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.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

 

 

Erotica Konark – Frozen in Stone

At Konark

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Majestic Sun Temple at Konark

You are a curious onlooker to countless sensuous carvings in close embrace and interlocked in lovemaking. You are puzzled, keen to unravel their stories shrouded in mysteries. Then you seek the help of a trained guide, who narrates you – “the erotic sculptures were made after the brutal Kalinga War in remote 3rd century BCE. The battle had been fought between Emperor Ashoka of Magadha and the army of Kalinga. 1,50,000 soldiers had died leading to a severe scarcity of warriors in Kalinga. The population declined sharply. The erotic sculptures you see here were made as a medium to attract sexual indulgence. Since women visited in large numbers on a daily basis, the erotic figures motivated them to indulge in more sex with their spouses. This led to more childbirth and in the processes created more warriors for Kalinga”.

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Female Musicians and Dancers

Not satisfied, you seek an explanation from yet another guide. He narrates:

“None of these things — none of those acts, ever happened anywhere. They were made up by the sculptors because they were away from home for a long time and were missing their wives.”

What Rubbish! The timelines between two events were 1600 years apart in history. The logic for the second narration is neither acceptable by any serious traveller to the world heritage site of Konark, an architectural wonder, now frozen in stone.

Travel Tips

Konark is seaside town to the north of Puri and northeast of Bhubaneswar. Together with Bhubaneswar and Puri, Konark forms the golden triangle of Odisha. While the Sun Temple is the main attraction here, a traveller can also visit the nearby archaeological sites such as Kuruma and Gangeswari Temple in Gop. The other major attractions are Chandrabhaga and Ramchandi Beach and the marine drive that connects Puri with Konark, which is also part of Balukhand Sanctuary. Within Konark, the other major attractions are light-and-sound shown in the evening, interpretation centre and the ASI museum. While most travellers prefer Puri to stay, we recommend Konark as a better alternative as it is less crowded and more serene. Konark is a heaven for seafood lovers.

Konark, among all Hindu temples of India, has the highest concentration of erotic sculptures, ranging from oral to group sex, perhaps depicting all 64 types of ratikrida that find mentioned in Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. The concentration is so high that Lowell Thomas, an American traveller and broadcaster described Konark as the most beautiful and at the same time the most obscene building in the world.

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Erotica on the walls of Konark Sun Temple generates curiosity and even puzzles the mind of every visitor. The brazenness and ethereal beauty of these sculptures are not only sensuous but also artistically rich and vibrant. They are mostly concentrated on the outer walls of the temple.

Also, Read Here:

Bhubaneswar – Romance in Stones

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In Indian culture for all ages our ancestors had emphasized on wholesome living, kama or sex is an essential part of living. According to Stella Kramrish, an international authority in Hindu Temple art:

‘This state which is “like a man and women in close embrace” is a symbol of moksha, final release of the reunion of two principles, the essence (purusha) and nature (prakriti)’.

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Love making in Odisha had been more explicit compared to rest of India. This may be due to remaining of Odisha in isolation for a very long time from the influence of Islamic civilization as one sees in Deccan, Gujarat, Central and North India.

In the 12th century CE, Jayadeva, Odisha’s classical poet wrote Gitagovinda, lyrical poems celebrating the romance of the divine cowherd Krishna and his beloved Radha.

Also, Read Here:

Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

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Erotica depicted in Palm leaves or Pothi Chitra

Exhibit in Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar (18th Century)

Some Examples from Gitagovinda

Abhinava jaladhara sundara” — beautifully dark-hued like a fresh rain-bearing cloud (shritha Kamala kucha)

Shrimukha chandra chakora:” — longing for Goddess Lakshmi’s face as a chakora bird longs for the moon (shritha Kamala kucha)

Shri Radhapathi paada padma bhajanaanandaabdhi magno anisham tham vande Jayadeva sathguruvaram Padmavati vallabham” — I bow down to that foremost preceptor Jayadeva, who is always immersed in the ocean of bliss in worshipping the lotus feet of the consort of Radha and who is the spouse of Padmavati (Dhyana slokam – Shri Gopalavilasini )

Source: The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/poetic-richness-of-gita-govinda/article25389131.ece

Jayadeva was born in Kenduli village on the bank of Prachi River, not far from Konark Temple in Coastal Odisha. It was the time when the cult of Jagannath and Vaishnavism had established strong footings around Prachi River. Several temples built on Prachi Valley during this period show an array of erotic and amorous sculptures on their walls against the spread of bhakti-rasa in the background. Bhakti is about shared joy, about sharing Krishna, it is about yearning for Krishna and wanting that union on an individual level — ‘I want him. He wants me.’

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Erotica Depicted in Soveswara Temple near Niali on Prachi Valley

It is most probably the spread of these ideas from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that had deeply influenced the master builders of Konark and their patron to conceptualize and execute erotica in a grand way.

Erotica in Konark was however not new. Odisha had a long tradition of depicting and celebrating love and passion from time immemorial. Like Vrindavan, in Ekamra (Bhubaneswar) during the period of their sojourn, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva. Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose.  The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.

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The dalliance between Shiva and Parvati in Parasuramaeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar

In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma once had said: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.

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In temples, right from the beginning, we find depictions of amorous couples. For example, at the 6th century ruined Shiva Temple of Bankadagada near Banapur (140 km from Konark in the southwest), we find a large number of amorous couples associated with Tantric rituals depicted on its walls.

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Amorous Couples in Bankadagada (6th Century CE)

The early temples of Bhubaneswar including Parasurameswar and Vaital also exhibit numerous erotic and amorous couples on their walls. But unlike Konark here they were part of Tantric rituals associated with Kapalika sect of Shaivism.

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Amorous Couples in the earliest Bhubaneswar Temple, Parasurameswara

Though difficult to accept but true – the Buddhist monasteries of Ratnagiri too had adopted sex a part of Mahayana Tantric rituals.

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Erotica in Ratnagiri Buddhist Monastery

In the later phase (10th -12th centuries CE), the decorative programme in temples was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.

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According to Puranas, ‘in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hand’s whiles still, another come out with her garments worn inside out’.

According to scholars, the amorous activities of gods and celestial as found mentioned in the Puranas actually showcased as models of behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.

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Amorous Couples in Brahmeswra Temple in Bhubaneswar (11th Century)

This was the time when Konark was conceptualized as an epitome of Odia architecture and art. After so much experimentation with amorous art in Odisha here, the builders had mastered perfection to showcase erotica as a symbol to the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. The outside of the temple represents various activities that belong to the ‘samsara’; beyond that and within the temple is the image of God. The worshipper must overcome the world of pleasure to find this god.

The erotica depicted in Konark offers not only windows to explore Odisha’s past, but also to present, how life needs to be celebrated to attain mokshya through kama, two essential pillars of Indian wisdom. Unfortunately, today discussing sex in open forums is seen as a taboo. Work pressure, alternative lifestyles and stress especially in urban India has kept people distance from kama. Perhaps a visit to Konark and appreciating how our ancestors celebrated life may inspire us for a deeper retrospection to tune our lifestyle in sync with ancient wisdom and practices.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

It was 6 PM on an October Day. I was at Salia Dam enjoying the pristine beauty of nature, sun going down against the western sky turning it into a pallet of golden and turmeric hues; and a fisherman sailing through the placid water after the day’s catch in his bamboo raft, a watercraft that has survived from the prehistoric time.

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In less than 30-minute pitch dark shrouded all around us. I and Chitra, my companion dared to drive into the jungle of Barbara, Asia’s largest teak forest. The distance was less than 10 km, but the forest road in the dark came as a major obstacle. There was not a single soul to ask. We lost the direction. With no hope of finding in the middle of nowhere and fighting against the eerie evening, we gave up our daring adventure. We turned back our vehicle in the direction of Odiart Museum, my camping site. To drive 30 km, it took nearly 2 hours in the dark jungle treks.

Also, Read Here:

Human Adaptation in Satkosia Tiger Reserve – Challenges and Prospects

Barbara Forest is a nature’s best-kept secret near Chilika Lake in coastal Odisha. It is named after a British woman, Barbara who had been killed by a tiger in the late 19th century while she was with her husband in a hunting expedition.

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However, Barbara Forest is not very old. Historically, this region was under the rule of Raiyat Zamindari System of Banapur. Till 1870, there was no restriction for cutting trees in today’s Barbara Forest. The locals had almost cleared the forest to support their agriculture. In 1871 for the first time restrictions were made to fell trees and the practice of seasonal agriculture. In 1880, it was declared as protected forest and in 1883 it was taken over by the Forest Department, Bengal.

Travel Tips

Barbara Forest is spread over Khruda and Nayagarh Districts near Banapur Town in Coastal Odisha. The forest and its surroundings can be approached from National Highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Berhampur. While at Barbara, one can also visit the nearby Chilika Lake at Balugaon and Barkul, which have also staying and food options. Also, visit Banapur Bhagawati Temple and the 13th-century Dakshya Prajapati Temple. The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (120 Km) and railway station is at Balugaon (25 km). The other nearby city is Berhampur (70 km).

 

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According to Mr A.L. McIntire, Conservator of Forests, Bengal, 1908:

‘In 1883 the forests were placed under the management of the forest department, a forest settlement being carried out at about the same time. Under the latter a total area of 110 square miles of forest was declared reserved forest, free of rights, and the rest of the forest and waste, was declared to be protected forest, in which revenue paying Raiyats were allowed to exercise a number of privileges, such as gazing their cattle and cutting bamboos and trees, of kinds which were not received, for making their houses, agricultural implements, etc and for firewood. The most important timber and fruit trees were reserved, and they were not allowed to cut or damage them, nor were they allowed to cultivate any parts of the protected forests before such parts were properly leased to them, and they were required to pay grazing fees for cattle in excess of the numbers supposed to be necessary for ploughing and manuring their fields, and cesses for permission to remove unreserved trees for firewood, etc. Since 1883 the 110 square miles of reserved forest have been carefully protected from fire, grazing and unauthorised felling; and efforts have been made to increase these forests by planting teak in small parts of the area. Under this management, the growth of trees has steadily improved’.

Thanks to the British Forest Management, even today, the slopes in the hills still hold the natural evergreen-deciduous forest, where teak is the prominent trees. Some of these trees are more than 80 feet high and 10 feet wide in circumference.

To oversee the forest management, the British also had built a teakwood panelled forest bungalow in 1912. Today it is a major attraction in the forest. Giant squirrels are found in great numbers in the teak forest of Barbara. While on a trek, one can find them in their acrobatic best jumping from one branch to another. But I was unfortunate. The forest is also a heaven for bird watchers. Woodpeckers, bulbul, bets, oriole, jungle fowls, baya weaver bird, parakeets are found in abundance in Barbara Forest.

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On my day 2 trail, I stepped into mystic ruins on the fringe of Barbara Forest. Bankadagada, the remains of a fortress butting out of a hill, and a Shiva Temple built in Pre-Kalinga style of architecture are the major archaeological heritage of the area, that any serious traveller to Barbara cannot miss.

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The area was the capital of Sailodvaba in the 7th century CE. Sailodvabas ware the first to introduce temple building activity in Odisha. The ruined Shiva Temple is one of the earliest having beautiful carvings of amorous couples and Tantric deities on its walls. There are also loose sculptures carved in the formative styles sheltered within the complex. Some of these sculptures strongly resemble with sculptures of Java and Sumatra (Indonesian Archipelago). One may wonder – around this time of history, the nearby Chilika was a major hub for maritime trade. Ships would sail from ports of Chilika to Southeast Asia for trade and business using wind power. Ideas would be exchanged between these regions and therefore bring artistic influences.

Also, Read Here:

South Chilika Coast – Back in Time

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According to a local legend, during the reign of Sailodvaba ruler Pulind Sen, the king once saw in his dream the next ruler of the dynasty, a heavenly personality, was coming from the Mahendragiri region. Pulind Sen followed the instruction and welcomed the young man and coroneted him as his successor.

The temple built in Astayana style (the central temple surrounded by seven smaller temples) was perhaps built by the successor of Pulind Sen.

The Barbara Forest is surrounded by the timeless rural charm of interior Odisha. Inhabited by Sabara tribes and ethnic Odia communities, you are simply drawn to vast paddy fields that appear as emerald greens as far as your eyes can stretch. Sabara is an ancient tribe and were the original worshippers of Lord Jagannath. They speak in Mundari language, a branch of Mon-Khmer group of the language spoken in Mainland Southeast Asia. Apart from their adaptation to jungle life they also do subsistence farming, fishing, animal rearing and brewing of mahula alcohol. Their houses are made of wattle and daub. Sabaras also revere Barbara Forest and each of its trees as their Gods.

Also, Read Here:

The Heritage of Mahula Drink in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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The region around Barbara is also a major elephant corridor. To chase out elephants, apart from being vigilant and night after a night patrolling they erect manchas (temporary small raised structures) to watch animals’ movements in harvesting season.

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For a traveller, each one of these wonderful souls has countless tales, ranging from their version of tribal and Hindu mythologies to sustenance, farming to food security and local actions against global climate change. You are simply back in time with scores of experiences that you can cherish for your rest of life.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bhubaneswar – Romance in Stones

Once sages asked Brahma, the creator God: ‘Which is the most excellent place on earth that bestows virtue (dharma), love (kama), wealth (artha) and salvation (mokshya)’. Brahma replied: ‘Bharata, the Indian Subcontinent…in particular, however, Utkala and its four great religious centres, Puri, Konarka, Ekamra and Viraja’.  In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma further replied: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.  

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The words of Brahma somehow reached Kashi where Shiva and Parvati lived happily for a pretty long time. But they found the city getting overcrowded. Once heard about Ekamra they decided to leave Kashi and settle in Bhubaneswar. The couple happily spent long fifteen years in the Ekamravana. During the period of their sojourn at this place, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva.

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Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose.  The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.

Also, Read Here:

Sacred Tanks of Ekamra Kshetra

Travel Tips:

Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha and a vibrant metropolis. Also known as ‘The Temple City of India’ Bhubaneswar hosts the largest concentration of Hindu Temples built in Kalinga School of Architecture between 7th and 16th centuries CE. The city also has been known for its incredible Jain (the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri) and Buddhist heritage (Dhauli Hill). 

Bhubaneswar is well connected by air, rail and road with all important cities and other state capitals of India. The city has a plenty of choices for accommodation of various categories, from budget to high-end. The city is best known for its seafood delights, Pahala Rasagola and a variety of snacks and street foods. 

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These descriptions in the Puranas are best expressed through images of lovemaking in the temple walls of Bhubaneswar. These images appear in all parts from simple and seemingly innocent mithuna (amorous couples) to explicit erotic friezes.

Also Read Here:

Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

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Beginning in the late 8th Century CE, images of women make their appearance in the walls of Bhubaneswar temples. Around this time the homage is not just directed to Devi but also to women as sensual and graceful being, alas kanyas or ideal females represented in everyday life. It was part of the belief system that alas kanyas were auspicious apart from their beauty and protected temples.

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By the 10th Century CE, the decorative programme was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.

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In the 11th Century CE, with the introduction of two storied janghas, their images were shifted to the upper storey along with mithuna and maithuna images, so that they appear more like celestial damsels, being high above eye-level.

Pleasure gardens surrounded the temple complex and the entire Ekamra Kshetra as the realm of Kama.

According to Puranas, in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hands while still, another come out with her garments worn inside out.

It is evident that the amorous activities of gods and celestial did, in fact, serve as models and behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Unfinished Monoliths of Mahabalipuam – An Architectural Journey

An obsolete touristy village today, on the shore of Bay of Bengal, 60 km south of Chennai, Mahabalipuram in 7th century CE, however, was a flourishing city bustling with activities of sailors who came from far and near to load and unload their cargoes. Today all that is lost except the drifting sands and the solitude after the sun goes down beyond the horizon of Bay of Bengal whispering its glorious past.

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On this puzzling landscape, there still stand 35 monuments, large and small of different types. But interestingly a majority of them are unfinished.  One of the types of monuments is the monoliths, small shrines cut out of a single boulder of rock. Best known of the series is the Pancha Pandava Rathas that attract visitors in large numbers throughout the day.

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These monuments, the first of its kind in South India had been erected under the patronage of Pallava rulers between 580 CE and 720 CE.

Travel Tips:

Mahabalipuram is located on picturesque Beach Road that connects Chennai with Puducherry on the Bay of Bengal. A popular tourist destination in Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram is well connected by Bus service from Chennai, Kanchipuram and Puducherry. The destination offers a large number of stay options including high-end resorts. It takes about 2 hours to reach Mahabalipuram either from Chennai or Kanchipuram. While at Mahabalipuram also explore the stone craft in the village. It requires a minimum of 6 hours to appreciate the archaeological ruins of the place. December and January are the best months. From February onward it becomes very hot and humid.

The first Pallava ruler was Mahendra who ruled until 630 CE from his capital Kanchipuram. Under his leadership, the Pallava kingdom had extended as far south as modern-day Trichy. He was succeeded by his son Narasimha I Mammala.

Also, read Here: 

Dravida Temple Architecture – Origin and Development : A Visual Journey

Mammala had fought several wars with the Chalukya rulers of Badami (today’s north-central Karnataka) and had defeated many kings of South India. Mahabalipuram, earlier known as Mammalapuram was named after Mammala, who had also developed the site into a major port.

Paramesvara was the next ruler who too had fought several wars with the Chalukyas. Paramesvara was succeeded by the great ruler Narasimha II Rajasimha during whose reign Pallava territory had remained in peace. Rajasimha was also a great builder. Notable structural temples at Mahabalipuram and his capital at Kanchipuram were built during his reign.

According to a recent trend of research, most of Mahabalipuram’s unfinished monoliths were erected during Rajasimha’s time. Because all his predecessors were too busy in wars with Chalukyas and there was little time to focus on building or carving temples. After Rajasimha’s death, there was anarchy like the situation with political instability and that may explain why most of Mahabalipuram’s monoliths are unfinished.

Also, Read Here:

Kanchipuram Murals – An Artistic Sojourn

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Among the best known of Mahabalipuram’s monoliths are a group known as Pancha Pandava Rathas. Four of the five rathas have been cut from a single whale-back boulder. The fifth is excavated from an isolated boulder. The rathas are named after the five Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi. However, the monuments have no connection to Pandavas.

These monoliths exhibit four completely different styles of architecture. Except for the Draupadi Ratha, none of them is complete, which depicts a common man’s hut. The Arjuna and Dharmaraja Rathas depict the early stage of South Indian temples. The Bhima Ratha is an example of a structure with a cylindrical form of roof that later became the basis of the typical South Indian gopurams.

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The Nakula – Sahadeva Ratha is an example of Gaja Pristha or elephant backed architecture. An elephant shaped monoliths stand nearby suggesting that the apprentices were first made to carve out the elephant and the curvature of its back was set out as the model for the shape of the shrine.

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These shrines were never completed and hence never in use. Perhaps space was used as an experimental ground to create different forms of architecture at the formative phase of South Indian temples. Some of them were later formalized and evolved into mature forms of Dravidian temples.

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There are a few other rathas, one in the middle of the village, the Ganesh Ratha, which is in a relatively complete state and three on the other side of the village close to the Highway, which is abandoned and in a fairly preliminary state of excavation. But a close observation of their unfinished state gives an idea of how the rathas were carved from isolated boulders of rock.

 

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Kakatiya Dynasty – An Architectural Sojourn

“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

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The stellate form of Sri Erakeswara temple, Pillalamari village, Kakatiya dynasty

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.

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The most magnificent jewel in the Kakatiyan crown of temple architecture is the Rameshwara temple within the Ramappa temple complex, in Palampet. The beauty of this temple is mesmerising; like a beautiful verse carved in stone, frozen for posterity.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The painting represents the court of Rani Rudramma of the Kakatiya dynasty meeting Marco Polo, who was representing the Mongol king Kublai Khan (13th century CE). Marco Polo is shown accompanied by Chinese and Mongol representatives, and they are carrying gifts of silk and Chinese pottery. 
Here the Rani and her throne has been painted based on the image of Indrani in Ellora, while the two huge gold makaras are based on the two makaras seen on top of Yamuna in Ellora. The queen’s crown shows the Nataraja carved in emerald, which depicts her as a Shaivite. Marco Polo‘s clothes have been painted based on old paintings of Venice people, and the Chinese and Mongol dresses are based on old paintings of those places. The court has been based on pictures by Fergusson of Warangal temples and of Chakukyan temples.
Painter is Prabhat Mohan Bandyopadhya (1904-1987).

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.

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Remains inside the Warangal fort. Standing prominently is a Kirti thorana of the Kakatiyas. The fort was completely destroyed by Mohammed bin Tughlaq’s army in 1323 CE.

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.

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Many such large tanks for facilitating irrigation were built under royal patronage during the Kakatiyan era

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.

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Owing to the relentless focus of the Kakatiyas on building innumerable tanks for irrigation purposes, the arid region turned fertile and remains so even to this day. Extensive farmlands stretch across to the horizon that are green and yellow with the growing crop-heads of paddy, cotton, lentils, maize, and sugarcane

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.

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The temple wall with the jutting out cornice, and thick cross beams for supporting the mandapa roof. The tiny temple shikharas are seen at the edge of the cornice on the inside, which were likely built for supporting the cornice. The main shikhara is short with many small turrets, and the bull in front of the shikhara is likely to be a later addition.
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The door to the mandapa. Dancers are seen on the door jamb and lower panel part, while the lintel has a gaja lakshmi
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The kakhshasana; and square mandapa pillars with discs that are intricately carved with dancers and musicians. The dhwaja stambh is seen outside.
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ceiling patterns
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Door to antarala. Dancers, yalis, among others, adorn the shakhas and panels. The Shiva lingam can be seen inside the garbhagriha, and it is one and half feet in height and and breadth.
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Two dancers in large square panel and two below. it is said there are 32 dancers in total in the nritya mandapa. There are two apsaras on the cross capitals of each pillar. Along with the other figures, is is said there are altogether 100 figures sculpted in the temple.

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. 

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Pillar panel depicting dancers and drummers
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Pillar on kakhshasana supporting the ceiling and cornice of the mandapa. Square pillars with discs, and cross capital. Animal motif and floral patterns visible on panels
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An inscription pillar kept in the courtyard
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Beside the main temple is a smaller trikuta temple with less ornamentation. It is also a Shiva temple with a beautifully ornamented nandi in front. There is  a third smaller (double celled) Shiva temple at the back with various sculptures of Kakatamma, Kumara, etc kept inside the mandapa (shown in the slideshow below)

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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The temple walls and a part of the shikhara. The shikhara has little turrets (urushringas) attached to it. The cornice, like the Nameswara, shows tiny hanging little temple shikharas.
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The nritya mandapa. The yellow circles marked on pillars are the places where the dancers once stood. The base stubs just remain now.

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slideshow —–> Pillar sculptures in Erakeswara temple.

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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.

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Gaja lakshmi on the lintel of the mandapa entrance

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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.

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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

A broken panel from a temple jaali of the Kakatiyas, with their distinctive Anna pakshi motif. Anna pakshi is a mythical white bird that resides in Devalok and is the symbol of purity and honesty. It has the ability to separate milk from water when given mixed together. It is a popular symbol down South especially in Andhra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

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 monidipadey@rocketmail.com and at monigatha

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

 

In the Land of Mahabharath – Temples of Uttarakhand

Those sparkling snow peaks swirling diamond dust in the bluest of skies, those majestic and divine deodar trees preserving age old silence and those green blue ribbons of water, flowing down the mountain slopes with noise and gust, full of inner joy !

 

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Himalayas as seen from Tunganath. Picture courtesy : Wikipedia

 

Himalayas, from ancient times have been revered as a sacred land of spirituality. Though it forms the northern boundary with China and central Asia, it was never a route of invasion and assault because of difficulty in access. The traditional protector of Indian landmass stood tall and wide exuding purity and silence.

Himalayas starts from  Kashmir valley and ends in the Meghalayan foothills, stopping just short of Bay of Bengal.  Spanning 2400 kilometres from North-West to South-East of Indian subcontinent, Himalayas have a very special and unique position both in geography and in people’s mind. Geographically it segregates India from rest of the North Asian landscape, culturally it is the sacred abode of Gods. For millions of Indians, Himalaya is known as Devatatma which literally means someone with a divine soul. True to meaning., there are several places of worship, several gods and goddesses, several forms of worships and not to forget several structures of worship adorning this huge mountain range.

Uttarakhand , the part of middle Himalaya, is nestled between Himachal Pradesh and Nepal with its foot hills touching the north Indian planes in Uttar Pradesh. The western part is Garhwal and eastern part is known as Kumaon.  In Uttarakhand, we find several places which have close association to the story of Mahabharata and people in the legend. For example, Lakhamandal is where the infamous sabotage of burning the Pandavas happened. Swargarohini is the peak from where Pandavas embarked on their heavenly journey. Not surprisingly a horizontal section of Himalayan ranges  is also  known as  Mahabharat range

 

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Lakhamandal. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

Our tradition tells us that Mahabharat is the fifth Veda and by itself an Itihas; the story as it happened. These villages, temples and rivers all take us to that era, just a little more closer to our ancestors.

The western part of Uttarakhand bordering Himachal is nourished by waters of Tons and Yamuna. Rupin and Supin rivers come together from lofty valleys to form the Tons or Tamsa. The Jaunsar-Bawar region of Uttarakhand and the villages of Netavar, Osla and Jakholi have interesting legends associated. As the people of this region believe, this is the land of Kaurava, the Kuru race from Mahabharat times. Mind you, Pandava brothers although technically Kauravas, are not celebrated here but it is their defeated cousins, the sons of Dhritarashtra who are worshipped in this land. One can find several temples dedicated to Duryodhana and a few to Karna !  The victorious Pandavas being ’other’ party are not treated as Gods, but it is their able opponent, the prince of Kuru kingdom, the eldest of the Kaurava, Duryodhana that is their object of prayers! Duryodhan temples are found at Jakholi, Osla, Gangar and some other places. Devra and Netawar in the same valley has a temple of Karna, Duryodhana’s best friend and eldest son of Kunti, also a celebrated Daan- Veer. There is a Karna temple at Karnaprayag too.

 

Duryodhan temple at Osla
Duryodhan Temple at Osla. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

 

Karna Temple at Devra
Karna Temple at Devra. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

It will be interesting to note that polyandry, famously followed by queen Draupadi in Mahabharat is somewhat common in this region. At times, the locals insist that these temples belong to Someshwar, a form of Shiv. However this is done to shield the real deity as it is against the popular belief.

The beautiful stone and wood Himalayan temples are breathtaking. These temples are generally built in multiple chambers placed in sequence. The temple pinnacles  are inverted metallic cones and sloping four sided roofs balanced on top of each other. The beautiful wooden carvings give a very ornate look to the entire structure.

For more details of architecture of Himalayan temples read :

Himalayan Temples – A Himachali Sojourn

Many of the villages in the region are away from roadways and can be reached only by foot. This difficulty in approach has worked in their favour as the cultural beliefs and legends have been preserved from strong influences. like, waters of Tons river are thought to be the tears of the residents when they mourned the loss of Kauravas in Mahabharat war.  As everywhere in India the legends and traditions have traversed across centuries and even today Tons river water is not used for drinking. Yamuna forms the eastern boundary of this land of Kaurava.

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Picture courtesy : here

Central Garhwal is the spiritually important region of Char Dham Yatra.  Yamanotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath are the four places of utmost importance in Hindu pilgrimage.

Yamunotri is the temple site marking the origin of Yamuna River higher up in the mountains. This temple has been reconstructed several times because of the geological instability in the region. Gangotri  Temple is a 19th century addition by a Nepali commander. Ganga River originates farther up at Gaumukh which is the snout of a mighty glacier. The five holy confluences of Mountain Rivers with Alaknanda are also important landmarks of this divine region.  Needless to say there is a temple at each of the confluences either for the river or the divine destroyer Shiva !

 

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Lakhamandal. Picture courtesy : Aditi Mahajan

 

Kedareshwar, one of the 12 Jyotirlings is not a shivling but a conical round shaped stone jutting from earth. It is supposed to be the hump of the bull whose body has sunk in the ground. Lord Shankar took the form of a bull to run away from Pandav brothers who were seeking his blessings after the war. The other parts of the body appeared at 4 more places close by, namely Tunganath, Rudranath, Madh-Maheshwar and Kalpanath. These are the famous Panch Kedar in the Himalayas.

The Kedarnath temple has stood the test of time for last 1200 years. Built at the height of 3300 meters, overlooking the lush green Mandakini valley and being guarded by Kedar Mountains, the temple is the rugged example of Nagar style stone temple architecture. With minimalist ornamental carvings, the temple is an impressive ‘tri-rath’ black stone structure. The 2013 deluge of June washed away the entire Kedarnath town but the temple stood still.

 

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Kedarnath

 

Badrinath or Badri Vishal is the supreme place of Vishnu worship. The temple of Badrinath, with a boisterous flow of Alaknanda in the vicinity is a riot of colours.  Badrinath is also one of the Sapta Badri, seven places of Vishnu worship in the region, the other being Bhavishya Badri, Yoga Badri, Dhyan Badri, Narsimha Badri, Vriddha Badri and Adi Badri. All 4 major ‘Dhams’  literally close their doors for icy winters in Himalayas after Divali in the month of Kartik. The temples reopen at the start of spring mostly on Akshay Tritiya in the month of Vaishakh , sometime in May. The essence of the deity is carried to the lower hills at designated places during this hibernation. However it is not uncommon to find some holy monks still keeping company to Kedarnath , all surrounded in large mounds of snow during the ‘Shishir’ winter !

Yamuna is closely associated with Krishna’s childhood and  Krishna is one of the Vishnu’s Avatar. Ganga is closely linked with Kedar or Shiv as she descends on earth through his knotted hair. And Uttarakhand is blessed to be home to these symbols of traditions carried forward for thousands of years. Hence, fondly also called Devbhoomi.

Moving further to east, Kumaun region of Uttarakhand takes its name from Kurma – an incarnation of Vishnu; the turtle. The green landscape with rolling gentle slopes and sapphire lakes, the pretty valleys of Binsar or Ranmgarh, the chirping jungle lore of Pangot and marvellous locations of some of the most enchanting temples, Kumaun is soothing to eyes and senses.

Jageshwar is a tiny temple town. You travel through lovely green hills and through dense Pine forests, high and mighty, reaching for the sky, just right to form the most naturally majestic courtyard for the supreme deity Shiv, the divine destroyer, the sage of the sages, the creator of letters and god of performing arts.

 

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Jageshwar group of temples

 

In ancient times, this was the starting point for pilgrims who would travel to Kailash, the ultimate abode of Shiva.  Crossing the high mountain pass, reaching to the land of Tibet and traversing the dry cold valleys of higher Himalaya to attain and see the majestic site of Holy Kailash mountain and touch the heavenly blue waters of Man Sarovar. What a journey!

 

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Jageshwar group of temples

 

Dandeshwar temple is akin to the catchy opening chords of an enchanting melody. The temple stands erect without any rath formation on its outer walls. There are small shrines of Kuber and Varun in the same premises.  A little ahead is Jageshwar temple complex. Some texts treat it as part of 12 Jyotirlings and some don’t.  The crowded campus of Jageshwar have several small and large temples.  There are several open Shiv lings and ritualistic tanks within the premise.

 

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Dandeshwar

 

Apart from Shiv and Vishnu, Uttarakhand is also home to an exquisite sun temple at Katarmal in Kumaon. The Kosi River flows nearby and this beautiful piece of architecture stands erect on the slope of a high mountain.

Katarmal Sun Temple – Interesting, Intriguing, Invisible

The goddesses have also left their mark in this land of pines. Kalimath, an important pilgrimage is home to Kali worship. Nanda Devi, the charming princess of the region has temples at Almora, Koti and many other places. Nanda Devi Jat Raj is an important pilgrimage for whole of Garhwal and Kumaon organized every 12 years. Nanda Devi peak in Kumaon stands tall blessing the valley and beyond. Naina Devi temple at Nainital is a Shakti Peeth, where Sati’s eyes fell down on earth  while Shiv fiercely danced to a Tandav, holding a dead Sati in his arms, in eternal agony and grief of losing her.

Apart from these mainstream deities and river goddesses, Uttarakhand has not forgotten its local and native divinities. Travelling though Kumaon , you come across a temple of Golu. The temple structures are simple , sometimes newly constructed and painted ugly cement creations too. But the vibe at these places is nothing short of divine. Garhwal region has a powerful local deity called Mahasu devata. Beautiful three chamber temple with Pagoda style roofs at Hanol signify the importance of Mahasu Devata in local mind.

 

Mahasu Temple
Mahasu Temple

 

Himalyan stone temples follow same style of architectural elements almost everywhere. Right from the three faced central carving on shikhar to a line of semi circular carvings on adjoining walls of shikhar, one can find similarities throughout. Almost all have compact niches on the outer walls of temple for sculptures.

Another important aspect of Himalayan temples is the cluster in which they appear. From Laxminarayan Temple complex in Chamba to Jageshwar in Kumaon, from Adibadri in Garhwal to Lakhamandal in Western Uttarakhand, all of them can be classified as temple clusters. There are a few bigger ones and then there are several small temples strewn all around the premises. Several deities give company to each other in these temple clusters.  However what we don’t see are imposing enclosures as seen in other temples in India.

Though populated with deities, if you ask me, the green meadows, the land locked sapphire pools of water, the tall peaks turning golden in setting sun, the fresh pine scented air and the silence of the woods giving solace to your mind is the real and ultimate place of worship …. Himalayas itself are a temple!

 

All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise

Author – Manisha Chitale

She can be  contacted at manishachitale@hotmail.com