Importance to Vishnu in Kiratarjuniya Panel

Kiratarjuniya Panel, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, India:

Beauty of this sculptural panel is that it is the depiction of the poetry of Bharavi, a poet during the Pallava period. The beauty of this panel is that it depicts poetry through a scultors eye. He describes a dramatic scene from the Mahabharata where arjuna does severe penance to aquire various weapons for war, from the Gods. This is one such story where Shiva tests Arjuna's devotion by being a hunter opponent who kills a wild boar at the same time as arjuna strikes it as well. Here Shiva, disguised as a hunter comes to Arjuna who is going through severe penance to aquire the "pasupatastra". Interesting name that denotes the pasupata cult of shaivism.

Thats the story. Now lets look at its reference with respect to the panel, and in relation to Vishnu. Through out vishnu's vahana Garuda, has been replaced by a boar, the Varaha incarnate. Yet in this panel there seems to be no reference to a boar, that was supposed to kill arjuna and definitely was not supposed to be Varaha.

Secondly, in the profound drama taking place across this panel, which strongly represents shaivism, there seem to be hints of Vaishnavite flavour in select areas. This picture displays Vishnu in true form, in Samabhanga pose( stiff, back straight, hand resting on hip) in a strong brahmin environment where, there is depicted a sage who is shown as a scribe here, with a few other headless disciples listening to his possible discourse. The ambience of a village or a gurukul has been most beautifully brought out.

This seems to be located near a river, which is brought to life every time it rains at mahabalipuram (a rarity around Chennai these days). Next to him are a series of sages taking a bath and worshipping the sun god. It is interesting to note that in the middle of this theatrical event, Vishnu has gathered a special place as the deity in a shrine, at the bottom of this panel. This is probably the only place where he is represented in this form.


Vishnu on ananta - Mahabalipuram

Cave shrines at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu:
Deviating from Shiva, Vishnu is depicted in a limited set of forms across Mahabalipuram. Well to think that shiva's somaskanda panel is all we get to see apart from Kiratarjuniya panel, vishnu cult definitely had more to show for it!

Yet its interesting to note that garuda, Vishnu's vahana is not seen anywhere. Here, Vishnu reclining on ananta is one of the most exploited concepts at Mahabalipuram. In this particular panel, he is seen reclining with Madhu and Kaitaba, two demons on the mode of silent attack .

A very relaxed Vishnu is sculpted lying on ananta, five hooded with attendants. Brahma is not there but is replaced by flying celetials. The beauty of these panels is that its represented not just in art but in dance as well. These stories have been depicted in art, dance and literature. All the forms of expression for a concept, whose subtle meaning still remains a question! What aspect of the subtle reality were they trying to tell us, its something i still fail to realize.


Shiva - the enticer

He sits there silent, stone cold, like nothing ever bothers him. He is passive silent distant and truely unapproachable. His potency spreads like wild fire to all those who seek him, yet he sits there... silent unattainable.

to awaken him is tough, to tell him i have come is tough, to ask him to shower his attention on me is tough... to give up my ego is tough. How then do i ask him to look at me? how then do i ask him about life.. how then do i ask him to explain what brought me here... when he just sits there silent... shut.

i wait, wait and wait... while life just goes by... i patiently wait dreaming of him all the time. I wait just hoping somewhere he will notice me... i wait to just have him explain "me" to me. yet he sits there silent....

i give up, engulfed in anger, desperation.. dont you hear me... he doesnt budge... he tests me. i look for him around me, i try to figure him out. yet stone cold is all i see. where is your emotion, dont you have a heart. i have given up all to get here and you dont even take a glance? no... i should wait and watch... wait .. just wait .. thats all there is to it. I feel the chilling breeze, in my breath, i feel the chill in my throat. i feel the freshness in the air when i fix my mind on him.

there is no pleasure nor pain, there is no sign of life.. just calm, simple calm on his face. i dont know what to expect...yet i feel the heat rise. whats in his mind, whats in that world, that resembles a thousand petalled lotus? what is that energy which i know exists.. but i fail to just see it within my limited self.

i feel the heat in my eyes, i hear every beat of me heart. i can see the madness in every rising emotion as it rebels within my being... the noise inside me is hard to control, the fleeting emotions too hard to bear, while all lies silent outside... silent calm and cold. what is this that controls me, what is this that attracts. what is this makes me crave for it when i just cant seem to get.

is this something i imagine, is this something that really exists, what ever it is... i rather not question for i simply fail to understand it... i feel like him, i behave like him, i try to be him... yet incomplete... yet frustrating... where is the essence of him. all i want is a drop of him, a drop to bathe me in his being. as i sit and chop my human being, in sheer anger and frustration. as i shred it to pieces to look for him within... as i cry in pain and kill while i cant seem to find my answer.... i stop to hear the rhytm within myself...the rythm of of creation within myself.... shiva awakens within me.... and draws me to himself. the power uncontrolled, burns my aching body, his essence flows over and dissolves me within... i cease to exist anymore... i cease to think... i cease to be...

Shiva - the unattainable

Shiva, is self taught, raw, unadutrated truth, too hard to digest, too hard to comprehend, too hard to accept in our pathetic lives. he is the maverick, who casts his spell on those who are capable of taking it. he is potent, undigestable, at the same time loving in his own way.

to love shiva is to love none other. to want him is to give up all social rules and obligations, to attain him is to die a human. he is a spark that cannot be explained, yet vast and enveloping you at the same time. he is power, he is fear, he is truth, he is death. he is my madness within which lies dormant waiting to pour forth...

he is within me silent as ever, yet i feel his presence withing my walls. he empowers me to take on any problem... to live with it like that is life. he makes me accept the outlandish, he makes me give up myself. he is my breath, he makes me quiver, reveals to me a person i have never known. i have looked for him everywhere, they say he would come and teach me the way i can learn. i see him every where now beyond this mundane world i live, stuck in its own ignorance... i rise. its not simple, me heart aches, it pains...while it tells me to leave everything behind, leave every one behind.

from here on i tread alone, a road less travelled, a road feared, a road unknown. a road silent, a road throbbing with passion, a road unexplained, a road left to experience, a road dangerous, the mortal killer, oh lift me from this misery called life.. take me away from it... far far away...to an unknown world where i know nothing, i take birth to breath teh fresh potent air of love, of devotion.. of shiva...i sink, and yet in a sweet voice he says come.. i will take care of you.

he leaves me in tears.. he melts my heart, for him nothing else seems to matter no more. i awaken in his arms like a baby, where all i learn and see.. is his beauty...those eyes.. they are feared, respected, left alone. now he is with me...


Vimana - a mysterious word in itself.

I have had a lot of people coming up with interesting comments on the Vimana. Here are a few view points! These are not discoveries made by these individuals, but ideas that have quite taken their fascination.

Mr. Joshi, a retired civil engineer doing his own research, a very interesting personality with unique ideas and experiences to narrate, is of the opinion that the pyramidal structure had a very close relation to the pyramids in egypt as well as those in Gautamala peninsula of the Mayas, conceptually, as its believed that there is a point in the center of the pyramid that holds mysteries of keeping anything lasting longer within its interiors.
Taking his view further, its indeed true that in the large pramid at giza, the kings chamber is exactly one third the distance from the bottom. This spot offers exceptional energies that increase the immortality curve for anything thats is perishable within its space(a mummy probably in this case as the egyptians are known to enbalm their dead). How does this apply to a vimana (dravida style down south in india, nagara style in north india or angkhor wat in cambodia) is anyones guess.

Srinivasan, a cartoonist, a coleague and a good friend of mine is of the opinion that vimanas are mainly vehicles or 'viman', which suits the temples as most of them were "chariots of the Gods". The pushpaka vimana(ravana abducted sita using this vehicle) has quite intrigued him, as a machine that has been described to be used to fly across the sky to transport devas and other divinities, and strictly has a charioteer. The science of this is of course lost maybe, but it does throw a lot of light on the Rathas as a vehicle. At ellora of course, there is a depiction of a chariot with sita while ravana fights jatayu.

The third opinion on the vimana is that it is a part of a larger structure that represents the human body, starting from the stupi (head) , the gala (neck) the vimana (body) ending in the kapota(roof) , the bhiti (walls) housing the garbha griha(womb house), the mandapas (legs), and finally the gajastambha as the feet. It depicts the human body seated with legs outstretched.

What ever the vimana ultimately meant, it reached the pinnacle of expression in the temple of tanjore and gangaikondacholapuram in the south and that of khandriya mahadeva in the north, at khajuraho. Its depiction raises serious question on what a vimana was viewed to be. Was it a pyramidal structure that defined the path to heaven for the human soul to rise, was it a pyramidal structure that preserved perishable material for longer within its walls or was it a Chariot that flew across the sky transporting celestial beings.Was it a representation of mount kailasa with all its minor vimanas tapering towards the highest pinnacle or was it a representation of the human body being the personification of the atman within?

Honestly, i wouldnt know! Please let me know what you think!


Dharmaraja Ratha - A shiva iconographic catalogue

The Dharmaraja ratha being the largest of the rathas, has been dedicated to shiva. It has a stone ladder which reaches up to the first floor where sculptures are carved into various niches of the ground floor as well as the first two upper storeys, offering a catalogue of pallava iconography, in a three storeyed vimana. The dharmaraja ratha is unfinished, but the first storey has been hollowed out and is empty. The figures in the niches of the dharmaraja ratha are in perfect early pallava style of sculpture. There are shallow porticos on three sides of the ratha and an equally shallow porch projects from the west.

The dharmaraja ratha is an Anarpita vimana ie. the haras are not attached to the Haramyas, thus leaving a circumambulatory passage behind. This permitted niches with sculptures on the haramya wall, figures of shiva decorate all the three talas, which were meant to have sanctuaries. The aditala was intended to consist of a sanctuary surrounded by a pradakshina patha, with closed walls only at the four corners. The aditala has eight scupltural panels. Two figures of shiva, each with four arms face west. Brahma and harihara face north. Shiva ardhanarishwara and skanda as Gurumurthi face east. Four armed shiva and royal figures face south.

Madhya tala of the unfinished sanctuary with its shallow portico occupy the center of the western side. Flanked by pairs of dwarapalas and shiva kankalamurti other sculptures include, shiva vinadhara, four armed shiva with a atandu, shiva with chandesa, gangadhara, vishnu leaning on garuda and vrishabhantika(vrishabhavana ).

Interestingly, the dharmaraja ratha also lays the architectural foundation of possibilities for the designs of the Kailashnatha temple at Kanchi as well as the Vaikunta Perumal temple. These temples lead to the upper floors, which in later temples is lavishly painted and left in the dark inner passages around the sanctum.


Dharmaraja Ratha - true beauty in dravida style

Gigantic with respect to all the other rathas found here, the dharmaraja ratha is a chariot of the Lord Shiva. A larger version of the Arjuna ratha, it displays all the aspects of true dravida style. A pyramidal structure with 3 tiers before the shikhara appears, here also called the stupi.

There are various interpretations to this stupi. One is that it represents the peak of Mount Meru, the other is that its has been influenced by the buddhist stupa, which is actually a mound for the dead (a sort of ancestral worship where the ancestors were the various gurus in the buddhist sangha and not exactly blood relations). The largest of its kind can be seen on a 10 ton rock atop the brihadeshwara temple in Tanjore.

The haras contain smaller rooflets called karnakutas(corners) and shalakutas (broader in center). One can walk along the first floor through a flight of steps. The next best temple to really show the true characterestics of dravida architecture under the pallavas is at kailashanatha temple at kanchipuram, where entry into the top floors is from the back of the temple. This ratha is obviously incomplete. yet there are hints of squarting lions supporting pillars. This temple is rich in iconography as it displays shiva in various roles around the main body of the temple. It has to be noted here that pallava sculpture compare to their neighbours was very simplified puerly becuase of the hardness of the rock like granite. Its in the later periods that they manage to handle the stone far better. This also indicates the adventurous move into stone from wood.


Nakula sahadeva ratha - Temple for Indra

Indra is a deity very closely associated with Buddhism, the edicts of Ashoka were carved on pillars which took their idea from his staff. The story of Indra goes way back to pre aryan beliefs of water cosmology. The edicts were engraved on pillars which laid the foundation for later styles of pillar architecture.

The buddhist chaityas were the first to display such maturity in style, where the symbolic pot containing the tree of life was actually enhanced into pillars, still retaining its original form and sybolism. Of course along the way this changes but traces of it are seen in this ratha right here at mahabalipuram.

Whats interesting about this ratha is that it takes its idea from a remote chaitya in besra, where the chaitya griha and the vihara have been incorporated into the one single building. Yet when a chaitya griha is removed from the live rock and reproduced as a structural temple, or carved out of monolithic rock, what appears finally is the nakula sahadeva ratha. The barrel vaulted roof from the outside now appears like "gajaprshta" or elephant back side which is very clear in this picture. Hence its also clear with the monolithic rock elephant carved next to it, that the cave has been dedicated to Indra. Whats stands out most is the prominent arch window at the entrance of the ratha, depicting the altar inside, though the real altar is not carved into the rock as its rather small. The pillars of this ratha though are more inclined towards pallava style than towards the old buddhist tradition of pot based pillars. Two lines of haras crown the super structure indicating a merger of two architectural traditions - buddhist and dravida.

It might also be of great interest that the first cave at ajanta actually depicts a small dravida temple from mahabalipuram on its walls, indicating a healthy exchange of ideas between the two regions.