Eclectic Charms of Ancient India – Chidambaram

A single beam of golden rays cascaded,
Tucked behind, pillars so ornate
The simplicity of his self shined, like a thousand suns
As I glanced at him through the lens
I stood transfixed at his ethereal éclat …..

A shot of a majestic sculpture adorning main temple complex of the Natraja temple at Chidambaram.
It was truly magnificent.


Eclectic Charms of Ancient India – Mamallapuram

Hey guys, I do know it has been a really long time since I posted anything. Its been a very busy month and, I’ve been traveling. I’ve also been busy working, just as you work, you just happen to write this rare article that you are really happy about, well… I just wrote one, and I’m sharing it with you. It is a small piece on Mahabhalipuram, I will post a more detailed piece soon enough.

It seems a fantastic paradox, but it is nevertheless a most important truth, that no architecture can be truly noble which is not imperfect.
–          John Ruskin

Along the east coast of Tamil Nadu, is what remains of the legacy of King Narasimhavarman.  A standing testimony of the artistic temperament of the great Pallava kings, the maestros of the Dravidian school of temple architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Mamallapuram boasts of numerous monuments built between the 7th and 9th centuries.  What remains of the ravages of the Bay of Bengal now attracts those in search of lost legacies. The monolithic and cave temples display a rare use of Buddhist technique of rock carving in Dravidian style of temple building.

Myths and Legends
The ancient city of Mamallapuram has been referred to as the land of the seven pagodas. According to legend, alongside the famous shore temple stood six other magnificent works of art in what is now rock strewn beach. So great were the splendorous seven pagodas that it made the gods jealous. So great was Lord Indra’s jealousy that he sank them in a storm leaving only one; the present day shore temple. There have been numerous mentions of fisher folk who claim to have seen these magnificent temples. During the 2004 Tsunami, the sea pulled back 500 m, when the tourists and residents report seeing a row of large rocks emerge from the water. The tsunami also made lasting changes to the coastline, and uncovered some previously covered statues and structures. But the six pagodas and what is left of them is yet to be discerned.

The Rathas
The rathas, are more commonly referred to as the Pancha Pandava Rathas, and mark the point of transition between the ancient rock carved cave temples and the later traditions of free standing stone structures. The five rathas are named after the pandavas but house deities of Shiva and Parvathi in them.

The Mandapas
The main hill at Mahabalipuram is dotted with pillared halls carved into the rock face. These halls are adorned with columns rising gracefully and intricate figurines. There are ten pavilions, of which two are unfinished, designed as shrines and an outer hall. The pillars in these pavilions are perhaps the earliest display of a motif that would become a signature of southern architecture- the lion pilaster (a heraldic lion support to an ornamental pillar. This may well be the primal design to the mythical yazhi).

Krishna Mandapam
It is among the earliest rock cut temples whose walls describe a scene depicting the lord lifting up Govardhana Mountain, against the wrath of Varuna.

Shore Temple
Facing the Bay of Bengal and glinting in the first rays of the sun, the shore temple is the primal attraction in Mahabalipuram. Perched atop a rocky outcrop, this temple is an architectural mmarvel and is a reprecentation of the most evolved forms of temple architecture during the period. The most interesting thing about this temple is its interconnected cisterns that let in water around the temple making it a water shrine. In recent times however, this has been closed away so as to prevent eroding.

Arjuna’s Penance
It is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world. It depicts Aruna (as an ascetic) doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Shiva, though this is disputed, as there are sectors believing it to be Bhagiratha.

Eclectic charm of Ancient India – a photo blog.

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”

The surreal beauty of these ancient marvels has left me singing. It would not be overstating to say the artisans of ancient India have evoked the poet in me. For the sheer spectacle they’ve achieved in this temple… has left me at a loss of means to express myself. Agnostic, by belief, my mind fails to comprehend the strange sense of calm, a silence that is music to my ears.
Of course reading this you may be baffled at the relentless imagery, but believe me no literary genius can do it much justice. At the wee hours of the mornings, (with the sun just peeking out!) walking along the temple grounds, I cannot but borrow words of Tagore, for I no longer seem to have my own…

“Man goes into the noisy crowd
to drown his own clamor of silence.”

Yet only here it seemed almost as if I went into the clamor of Silence to drown my own noisy babbling. Oh well you fellow cynics, I shall show you my proof. Despite not being too good a photographer, I’m proudly posting these pictures, for their beauty is such that it would show past my short comings.

he stood at the door almost as if welcoming us in.
At the Gopuram … majestically!

A classic chola styled gopuram. this is a small shiva shrine (there are a lot of these shrines in the temple.) in the area between the main temple (sanctum) and the temple walls.
stone windows lined the temples walls (and all of this is outside the sanctum. i still have not entered the temple main.)
more Chola handiwork…

Part of the old temple wall that survived the Chola remodeling.

The hall of a thousand pillars. The temple houses a huge unfinishef hall. the hall was supposed to be supported by a thousand pillars. however it was never unfinished (Yeah! i know that is unfinished. makes u wonder how the completed structure might have looked :o) there are hundreads of pillars in this hall and hundreads standing beyond the hall, almost waiting for someone to finish them. there is a legend to it too, exited as i usually get at the prospect of a legend, so i pestered everyone i found and heard various versions. i shall post it next… stay with me 🙂

And this is just the first ten minutes into the temple. (no kidding!) there is a lot more. Forgive me for a long post but I have 350 pictures to choose from. I just posted the first few. let me know if you want more

Eclectic charm of Ancient India…

It was one of those days when you go home for a holiday, and your parents decide to surprise you with the dreaded ‘wonderful temple trip’. Alas, being the youngest in a rather large family (fifteen is a rather large number don’t you say) you don’t have much of a say really. So as the only one on vacation I had to tag along. After all the last minute dropouts, nine of us head out in a car (rather large one of course!).
Coimbatore to Tiruchy was uneventful, largely because most of us slept throughout the wee hours of the morning (that’s my dad’s thing; start traveling before the world wakes up!). After spending the day with my wild cat of a nephew, we head off to Thiruvarur a town in the Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. As ones who enjoyed a long ride we took the winding route. The route from Tiruchy took us across some of the oldest roads, that weren’t too different from the equally dilapidated new ones.  Tiruvarur was one among the oldest cultural centers of the ancient Chola kingdom. It is world renowned for its chariot festival. It is also famed for being the birthplace of saints Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Deekshadar and Sama Shastri, often referred to as the trinity of Carnatic music.
We reached a friend’s house late at night. Tired from the arduous journey, we crashed almost immediately. The next morning I woke up surprisingly early. As I got outside the house for a walk, I was stunned. In front of me rose a wall about twice my height, and atop this was a gopuram; it was built on a square base. It easily dwarfed the wall near it (and of course me next to it!). Every inch of it was covered with figurines. The exquisite artistry of the gopuram is something I cannot do justice through words. Entering the temple through the doors, it seemed almost like going back in history; I could almost imagine sitting on a palanquin atop the royal elephant with guards and the trumpets and all other royal paraphernalia. And mind you this was just the doorway. The wooden doors… (I’ve now officially lost my sense of measurement!). Swallowing hard I brushed aside my daydreams and entered.
What hits you first when you enter the temple, through the doorway fit for the gods was the sheer vastness of the temple. As I stood transfixed, an old man informed me that this temple was one among the largest in India. The actual origins of the temple are unknown. Mentions of its existence have been sighted in manuscripts dating back as earlier as 30th century BC. 
The Chola kings renovated the temple and built a few extra shrines inside the temple. The temple boasts intricate Chola style carvings atop an entirely different style of architecture. Amongst the smaller shrines, I was amazed to find entirely different styles, while one of the shrines was rectangular and dome shaped, with a plain top, the other had an exquisite gopuram reminiscent of the Cholas. Some of them looked visibly older than the others.
As I bugged the old man to give me a tour of the temple, he agreed. On one of the walls, I found a rather strange symbol, it was like the vernacular Tamil script but I was not able to read it. He explained to me that the script was ‘grandam’ an ancient Tamil script prevalent during the Chola period. 
As we went deeper into the temple, the attention to detail struck me speechless (and mind you I always have something to say!). The temple did not entirely seem ‘Chola’, as they renovated it but they did not completely alter the initial look of feel of this ancient marvel it. There was something magical about the beauty of it all that leaves you transfixed. I mean I am agnostic, yet I never could manage walking past a mast or a pillar or just a stone, without having to tear my gaze away from it and dragging my foot past it. As the sun rose higher more people started coming by. What surprised me is the alarming speed with which they went by to the sanctum and out they were walking like griddles horses oblivious to the sheer magnificence that surrounded them.  They’d peep in and out they went as though checking if the deity was still there. Thoroughly amazed I finally brought myself to enter the main temple (yes! I was touring the corridors so long).  I was no longer allowed to use my camera. The presiding deity is Thyagaraja.  Before being mesmerized, what made me furious was the sheer disregard for such craftsmanship. Here was a relic a piece of history like a tear on the fabric of time, that withstood all the ravages of time, a silent spectators to raise and fall of civilizations. And yet there is none so low as to sweep it clean. The floor is littered with plastic covers, packets of oil, all kinds of remnants from the daily rituals from dried up flowers clogging the ancient drainage, to oil and dirt dripping across the pillars.  When finally the surge of annoyance began to subside, I caught sight of a set of murals on the ceiling, showing the royal family paying their respects to the presiding deity. The life-like rendering captivated me completely. If the beauty of the temple did not make me forget myself, this certainly did. My group caught up with me finally and snatched me away from my epiphany. As we began exploring the wonders of that rustic marvel, we chanced across another mural that only managed to survive partially the greedy hands of the ignorant population. It was a perspective drawing of the entire town, ‘theru veedhi’ it was called. It was a representation of the four streets that was the main town back then. Half of the mural was obscured by a sprawl on a layer of plaster covering the original painting (Sadly, I could not get a picture).
The beauty of the temple was so enthralling that I could go on for pages and not have described half of what I wanted to. So I shall post another blog about the remainder of our journey where we walked down the kingdom of the Cholas.