Gudimallam linga - Satavahana style

This is truely one of the most spectacular sculptures found here, a little north of Chennai. It is known to date back to the 1st century BC, it is also proclaimed to be sculpted in the Satavahana style. Surprizingly there is no other sculpture of the same kind any where near this geographically to associate it with any pattern in art styles.

The gudimallam linga, depicts the true nature of a Shiva linga, with the human form carved well within the limits of the linga. Here we see a sculpture of Shiva standing with a club on one side, the only sculpture where shiva is carved completely within the linga. We later see versions of the same in the Lingodbhavamurthi which shows only part of shiva, found at Kanchipuram and later temples in the southern regions.

We get to know more about the Pallavas from the 6th century onwards because of the constant clashes with the Chalukyas, but as far as early sculptures are concerned, the Gudimallam Linga, stands a class apart.

There are other interesting caves around the Pallava region. The caves at Dalavanur, are probably one of the earliest caves made by the Pallavas. This cave at Dalavanur, depicts the characterestics of the pallava caves with very confused dwarapalas, whose bodies are flexed rather awkwardly. Interestingly, the pillars are very bare and at the most have medallions which is a Chalukyan take off. This si actually in the Shatrumalla cave near Chennai. These caves were built during the period of Mahendravarman and have very square pillars on two ends with an octagon in the center. No yali figures accompany this cave which are so charcterestic to Pallavas. We see that the yali figures come in later constructions.


Shiva Nataraja - Chatura pose

Shiva's dance involves all of 108 poses, some of which have been sculpted in bronze as well as stone on temple walls. Here at the Brihadeshwara temple, under the rule of Rajaraja chola and the patronage of queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, one of the leading queens of the Chola dynasty are depicted the various forms of shiva.

To the Chola rulers, apart from Tanjore, Chidamabaram was another place that boasted the strong presence of Shiva. Apart from the beautiful bronze Nataraja at the Chidambaram temple a lot of similar forms have been installed along the temple niches for the diety.

Here at Brihadeshwara, along its south wall we see Shiva in the chatura pose. The chatura pose is that where the right leg is firmly placed on the apasmarapurusha (ignorance) and the left leg is raised half way into the air shortly before being stretched out as the nataraja tandava pose. Shiva wears a jatamukuta and holds the crecent moon and ganges in his hair! In this sculpture he is seen holding a trident as one of his many attributes.

Photos courtesy: Michael D. Gunther / ww.art-and-archaeology.com


The Pallava foundation of temples

Before we jump to the temples of the Cholas we need to understand what brought about their forms and the prototypes for the same. Their predecessors the Pallavas had by now mastered the art of carving temples into live rock. The rathas and the shore temple are the standing examples of Pallava architecture in Mahabalipuram and the Kailashnatha temple is at Kanchipuram. They house dieties from both Shaivite and vaishnavite iconography.

Lets take a glimpse at the architectural forms at Kailashnatha temple, Kanchipuram. Look closely at the Gopuram. Its the structural version of the sculptural representation of the shrine models as seen in Mahabalipuram. The pillars are mounted on yali figures. The yalis also adorn the sub shrines around the main sanctum which is rich in indian iconography. Each sub shrine marks a part of the outer wall, a sort of fortification a little different from what we get to see at shore temple Mahabs.

The main gopuram though small is very similar to that found on the Bhima ratha. Its a clear understanding here that the subshrines have shallow porches and are a miniature version of that found at the Varaha cave at Mahabalipuram.

The pallavas definitely had their had at structural temple architecture. This was probably one of the larger temples they built. Its very interesting to notice that the Kailashnatha temple though rich in iconography, the sculptures are not life size as that in Mahabalipuram or Ellora. In later temples they will taken on much smaller forms as in the pillars of later Chola temples.


Temple architecture under the Cholas.

The Cholas were Shaivite follower though they were tolerant towards other sects. Their Kuladeivam was Lord Shiva in whose honour they are known to have built the Golden Hall at Chidambaram. Its interesting to note that temple architecture under the Cholas took a new shape. Under the patronage of Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, the temples were now planned and housed dieties on the niches along its outer wall.

Given the rising power of the minor dieties, the temple had to now save its own vitality and hence give room to minor shrines like the mother goddess within the temple premises. This was definitely not an earlier practise. Its also under the Cholas that the temples now have a gargoyle spout on the North wall. The back wall or the west wall always houses a Lingodbhava murti.

Mother Goddess and Ganesha adorn the other niches of the Shiva temple. The shala kutas and Karna kutas(architectural features) continue to decorate the vimana of these temples. Its also during the Chola times that the Vimana shoots up into the sky which can be seen in Brihadeshwara temple, Tanjore, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Tribhuvanam. Its at Darasuram that the vimana remains at 5 storeys. My next posts will have more on these temples.

Politics under the Cholas.

The Cholas ruled in South India from the 9th century to the 13th century. Along with the Pandyas they defeated the Pallavas, who finally disappeared after 300 years. This period also saw the crystalization of the tamil culture. The chola culture ruled the regular life styles of the people thus making it the Classical era.

This is a mural depiction of Rajaraja Chola with Guru Karuvurar at the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore.

The chola empire extended further to the south east Asian countries like Java etc. Politically the Cholas have ruled in Tamil Nadu since the first century AD but came into the lime light of historical importance when the first ruler Parantaka 1 defeated the Pandhyas and established his rule over the south. He was later defeated by the Rashtrakutas. The Cholas rule did have its ups and downs but rose again when they reclaimed their territories from the Rashtrakutas, who by then had faced enough harassment from the Chalukyas. This time the Chola empire came to be more stable under the rule of Rajaraja 1 (985- 1014) is son Rajendra Chola.

Commerce flourished under the Cholas and they were very well aware of their competition in the Arab traders who were supported by the rulers of Kerala. Hence the Cholas went and conquered the Malabar coast and monopolized on this. Further they had ties with China and other south east Asian countries. Indeed a politically very well knit state!