6.27.2005

Enlightenment: serpent stellae in south India

Gingee fort, enroute Thiruvannamallai:

I happened to stop by at Gingee fort, before i drove on to Thriuvannamallai. This time i chose not to climb the hill, but walk around the ruins lying scattered between the three hills. Gingee fort holds a lot of secrets, from the Vijayanagar period down to the Nayakas and later.

It is a fabulous place which was brimming with life at some point it time, having a solid fort that guards all the monuments within its walls, while one can see watch towers and mandapas along the boulder laiden hillside. I drove on along a muddy road, towards what they called Anjaneyar(hanuman) temple. The beauty of the place is just amazing, I still wondered why people in office just laughed out when i said i wanted to see this fort. They all swore that it was not a great place, at least not to spend a weekend, and now i feel, i really feel they missed out plenty.

The main fort is a days attraction, saps your energy and you are really not enthusiastic enough to explore the ruins below it. But what lies around it is an amazing piece of nature, yet untouched by mankind. I stopped the car, near the "Kaliamman" (goddess kali) temple. Whats starts to look like 3 temples deviod of shrines inside, hosts a pond behind it, the water still fresh and clean urging any passerby to take a dive. The pond, is along the road on one side, on the other it washes huge boulders that stand along its sides. The view is simply spectacular. The main fort is along a hill with very steep cliffs on one side, and the other is a pile of gigantic boulders with a fort wall running along it very abruptly. Below this stands an oasis with a lot of trees which give the sudden burst of greenery around the pond. I parked and walked along the mud road leading around the pond. It took me straight to Kaliamman temple.



I removed my slippers, and walked up to see the entrance lined up with stallae, and lots of them. The priest later told me, that the snakes indicate various functions. Most often these serpents are depicted as a pair, entwined to house a greater deity or remain plain facing each other. Often they are depicted with multiple hoods. Deities typically housed within them are, Krishna, Muruga, Shiva, Naga kanni as far as I can remember. Those snakes that house Krishna, Muruga and Naga Kanni are Nagas, who protect and guard these deities. The plain snakes looking at each other are stellae that guard the main Mother Goddess, in this case its Kaliamman. Interestingly these snakes stand as a seperate stellae next to the main Goddess Herself. Snakes surrounding Naga Kannis would probably be six individual snakes around her, while she is depicted with human head and torso, and snake body.

The most interesting to my eyes, of course were the snakes surrounding Shiva. No they are not plain snakes to guard him. The are Rahu and Ketu holding him in the center and facing each other. Now of course this representation quite beats my logic of Kundalini which i have discussed in "Coiled serpents on a wayside stelae", so i would leave that logic, to Multiple hooded snakes covering the Shiva Linga like an unbrella. There again is another story. Shiva is supposed to have blessed the Naga Kingdom and gifted them with more importance than the mortal world. Hence in reverence, they are always depicted as covering his Linga. The depiction of course continues to be that of two and a half coiled serpents, i might just be right about kindalini.

The whole picture of course looks out of the world. With these stellae lined up, one with krishna, one with Shiva, one with rahu and ketu surrounding shiva, a linga and a few other guardian rocks, under a tree hosting a world of flowers, bees, and monkeys, it also held 4 to 5 trishuls in the ground below it, each decorated with flowers and bangles. And when you look up, its the rocks and boulders of the fort above and when you look back its the pond and the trees with rocky hills in the background with scattered mandapas - vijayanagar style. It almost looks like a mini Hampi.

A truely amazing site.

15 comments:

JC Joshi said...

Hi!
Good to be able to access the blog again!

<<...My first answer therefore to the question 'What is History?' is that it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.>> Chap - 'The historian and his facts', Source - 'What is History', by EH Carr.

I will try to give the basic Hindu Philosophy of purpose of human existence, although it might just be a repetition of what I have already said before…

The ‘Truth’ realized by the ‘wise’ ancient ‘Hindus’ is that the Creator of forms, Parambrahma, itself is timeless and formless. And, that although the forms and time appear real to Him through apparent senses of His imaginary characters - and also different from one another due to varying capacities of the physical forms - in the apparent ‘Present’ the entire forms in the universe are illusory.

Thus, the forms were explained by ‘wise’ characters in the story of Creation, as ‘characters in His dreams’. However, as He is perfect, He alone knows the truth and He is able to see His Creation in His mind any numbers of time, believably 1000 times (I believe 1080, i.e., 360 degrees x 3, with Trinity in mind and to cover the entire globe from North Pole downward to South Pole as His original starting point) in a day in His unending life.

The above-said is similar to man apparently seeing a film - any numbers of times in ‘Future’
(perhaps to study different aspects of production) – although shot by him during a particular period in the ‘Past’ with every shot/ location/ dialogues and so on prepared and well thought out in advance. However, as man’s thoughts and dreams apparently remain under some external control, the film could, therefore, in fact be not his making! This was explained by the ‘Hindus’ saying that man is a model of the universe, or a multi-purpose instrument that could help in visualizing the prototype, or God, only if it is in a good working condition. This is what Yogic exercises are about (even if one is not aware of the structure of human body) and therefore the need of a Guru who knows the how and why…

One could find lots of models in ‘Nature’ the Hindus related with the Trinity, for example, the creation to extend from minus infinity to plus infinity on the globe is depicted through deepest ocean to highest mountain, infinite models of the type of Mount Kailash-Mansarovar lake all over the earth, man made Shivlinga-Yoni Pith by Hindus and so on...

The ‘scientists’ tell us that universe is like an expanding balloon. Buddha, although he wasn’t a scientist, also said that he is just a bubble! A child also appears on earth with a small size, to grow bigger, and bigger, till it reaches maturity, after which the size might not reduce, but the individual might start losing strength and capabilities till he is dead and eventually turns into dust or ashes…

abhilash warrier said...

Wow!! What a place that is...

You've written it so well; the imagery is so good that I feel even I have been there.

The rahu ketu guarding the shiva linga is an awesome discovery.

That is the way every true devotee guards his or her god/ goddess.

Must be something... may be the same as what I felt when I discovered god. Actually, goddess.

I believe in mother goddess. Even Shiva comes only after her. I am her ardent devotee.

By the way, what happened Vimanonym? We all miss you so much. Right, Kavi?

JC Joshi said...

Tulsidas (of Ramayana fame) said that each saw God according to one's own belief...

Regarding Shiva blessing the serpents, I recall a story told to me by a Manipuri over two decades ago. According to ancient Meitei belief, the God is Sidaba Mapu, i.e., the one who does not die. Like the belief prevalent in North India about Shiva, Sidaba too had two sons, named Sanamahi, and Pakhangba. And, similar to the popular Hindu mythological story, Sanamahi and Pakhangba were asked by their parents to go round the world seven times to decide who would be given the charge of the world when Sidaba retired. Pakhangba, on his mother’s advice, went around the parents and was declared the caretaker of the earth. When Sanamahi returned after physically doing the rounds, he was given the charge of each human residence. Sanamahi, meaning liquid god, is represented as a pitcher placed in the kitchen, having a very small hole at its bottom through which water falls down drop by drop on to a vessel containing sand, placed on a low table with skirtings that allow a passage in one of the corners. The vessel is not allowed to become empty. And, according to the popular belief, Pakhangba could appear physically in the form of a serpent…

One late evening I was travelling on the National Highway, along the hilly road, from a place at the Mizoram-Manipur border to Imphal, the capital of Manipur. Just when we had crossed a bridge over a small river and were proceeding towards a bend, I saw in the headlight a unique scene. I thought I saw a white hooded serpent, revolving as well as moving backwards, from the hillside to the valley side! (The realization of the significance was reached recently) I asked the Manipuri driver whether he too saw the serpent. He had not. Once, earlier also, our jeep had overturned while some of us were travelling to Assam after our path was crossed by a black serpent. Therefore I was afraid some accident could happen after we crossed that location. As soon as the jeep rounded the bend, the headlight bulbs failed! The driver switched on the fog lamp and continued to proceed without halting. I asked him to stop for some time, for, in my heart I wanted to touch the earth instead of being forced to do it by the unseen force! Soon we were on the road in the plains and proceeded to Imphal, after replacing the headlight bulbs in a small town located nearby… The first thing I did was to ask a Meitei the colour of the snake that Pakhangba took when he physically appeared. He said it is white with black diamond shaped marks on the body. I told him what I believed I had seen, adding that of course in that passing moment in just the light of the head lamp I couldn’t have observed any black marks. He said that I was very lucky that even when I didn’t believe in Pakhangba, He had shown Himself to me, an outsider!

vimanonym said...

:-) i saw the post at two different instances in time and i smile to myself.

a really well written piece. made me imagine how the place would be.

well as the universe expands from plus infinity to minus infinity and vice versa, the tail of the serpents represents the plus infinity contrary as it may seem to the popular belief that a tail is always minus which has been well understood and documented in teh brihadaranyaka upanishad as this is full that is full everything is full and from fullness comes fullness which shows the greatness of the hindu ancients and the tail of the serpent ending in a point showing the positiveness of things since after all at the start was a bindu, therefore the realization that in a microsoft windows folderstructure to expand you click the plus and to contract you click the minus which was seen all too clearly by our great ancients as how bill gates would create it which brings us to the close relation between bill gates and the bilwam...the bilwam being the offering which opens the gates of knowledge and permeates the infinite...ha ha ha...well you have a sense of humor i suppose so u can let this blog be as entertainment;)

JC Joshi said...

That was a good one about billgates and billwam…

Perhaps the simplest model of a galaxy - which is as known today via the west, and also as understood by the ancient ‘wise’ Hindus too - is a person skipping a rope. A rope can be imagined as a line, or a thread made up of numerous points, or multiplication of Naadbindus. The length of the rope is decided such that it can be held with either end in one of the hands, and generates a disc like imaginary form when rotated with the wrists, so as to envelop the skipper’s body within it (that has models of the entire planetary system at different locations along the spinal column, from serpents tail like tip to the head, or serpent like hood).

An individual is also understood to have a dual personality, of Jekyll and Hyde, good and bad, devata and demon, and so on, i.e., the opposites in nature. Thus a hand could represent either of the two, with the human form divided vertically into two parts, or two hemispheres…

In the above model, one could note that either of the hands could represent one of the Poles. Thus one can visualize this model to represent a wheel that could roll and move, say, along the ground - like the wheel of a wagon… Now, however, we are acclimatized to seeing a heavenly body, viz., our earth, with North Pole pointing upwards, and the South Pole downwards. To visualize the human model in this position, the skipper would need to recline on one side (like Vishnu lying on Anant or Sheshnag)! And, one could now also visualize Vasuki Naga or the serpent used for churning Mount Meru to replace the skipper’s rope!

JC Joshi said...

I would like to add that a child is the best model to appreciate how it initially crawls, or creeps snakelike, along the floor, while using its limbs also - like an oarsman makes the boat move forward/ backward with the thrust provided by water.

After having seen the models of Kings of serpents, Anant or Sheshnag, and Vasuki - reflected by the pairs of hands at the chest or Anhat level, and the pair of legs at the lowest or Mooldhara level for ‘churning’ - in human body, along vertical and horizontal axes respectively, let us come to the model of the Takshaknag also. It’s located in the mouth, in the form of the tongue, with the fangs replaced by the teeth. The evolved tongue, although no more forked, has a duplicate function – it is today used for saying something, while meaning the opposite of it. On one hand it is said ritually that withut His will even a leaf cannot flutter and, on the other hand, in the same breath man boasts of what all he has achieved! Ancient Hindus were ever conscious of the abovementioned belief, as is also reflected through characters, viz., Hanuman, in the mythological stories.

JC Joshi said...

To add to the human model of the universe, when one turns the head, right or left, the mouth reaches the shoulder level. The mythological stories have it that sages had predicted that Takshaknag would be responsible for the death of King Parikshit. Despite all precautions he died when the small snake penetrated the fortress, reached him - hidden amidst flowers used for performing the rituals of worship - and bit him on the shoulder!

Janmejaya, Parikshit’s son performed Ashwamedha Yajna, and to avenge his father’s death, rituals were also performed by Brahmins to pull into Yajna fire, Takshak with other serpents in its kingdom. Many serpents were pulled to the fire and died. Takshak and his support Indra (essence of planet Mars or the supporting energy at the Mooldhara) also were getting pulled towards the fire. As Brahma had told Vasuki, Vasukinag’s nephew, Astika, with his ‘sweet tongue’ and Vedic knowledge managed to impress Janmejaya and save Takshak’s downfall into the fire (from mouth’s level into Solar plexus level), as Indra, being afraid for himself, had forsaken it earlier.

JC Joshi said...

I would like to add that in believably the most evolved human body - as a model of the universe - Kundalini could be seen to refer to the Hindu mythological story of Samudramanthan, or ‘churning of the ocean’, by Suras (devta or angels) and Asuras (raksha or demons), a very interesting episode. The story has it that in order to prevent the mountain used for churning from sinking, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a turtle and supported it. As per Dashavatar, the story of ten forms of Vishnu - starting from Fish as number one - the form of the tortoise is His second.

Now, coming to the structure of the ‘Merudand’ or the Spinal Column in the human body, the present day knowledge indicates three sets of vertebrae: Cervical vertebrae, seven in numbers, located in the neck portion; Thoracic vertebrae, twelve in numbers, located in the upper and mid-back region; Lumbar vertebrae, five in numbers, in the low back. The base of the column is the sacral bone - between the lumbar and the coccygeal regions - that is formed by fused vertebrae, which is perhaps referred in the above story as the ‘turtle’.

For churning of the Kshirsagar, or the milky ocean, Vasuki the most poisonous snake was used. And, by the way, snakes are formidable and highly evolved predators. A snake has up to 400 vertebrae that articulate on each other to give a highly flexible skeleton. The interesting part is that although snakes have established themselves over major landmasses, as well as oceanic lands they are not found on the Antarctica, the turtle like plateau that forms the base of our Earth, the South Pole.

JC Joshi said...

In an attempt to find the origin of ‘Merudand’ used in Hindu Mythology for the spinal column in the human body of the believably most evolved life on earth, the following was found to be of interest (Source – Wikepedia etc. on the Internet):

The first known human species, Homo habilis (Handy man) existed from approximately 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago in east Africa. A nearly complete skull of H. habilis was reportedly discovered in 1972 on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, with an estimated age of 1.8 million years…

And, Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya, and the second-highest in Africa (after Mount Kalimanjaro). The highest peaks of the mountain are Batian (5,199 m), Nelion (5,188 m) and Lenana (4,985 m)… It is an extinct volcano, standing alone, which last erupted between 2.6 and 3.1 million years ago… Meru Town is located on its northeast slopes, about five miles north of the equator, at approximately 5,000 feet altitude…

(It might be a coincidence, still it is worth recording that the altitude of Almora, one of the districts in Uttaranchal, of the Kumaon region (Kurmanchal, i.e., related to Turtle) is 5,200 feet!!)

Homo erectus lived from approximately 2 million to around 400,000 years ago… It may have been the first species to use and control fire. This milestone in human development occurred 1 to l.5 million years ago. Control of fire may have enabled humans to move out of Africa and into colder climates in Europe and Asia… The earliest specimens of H. erectus are found in Africa, but, sometime after 1 million years ago, H. erectus apparently migrated out of Africa. Tools and remains of this species have been found widely distributed in Europe and Asia…

The ‘Samudramanthan’ story, however, generally indicates 'Mandara mountain' used in the ‘churning’. However, it is seen that the Mandara Mountain complex although in Africa is situated at the southeastern region of Nigeria. The area records the highest altitude in the Bomo region, attaining heights of between 900-1200m above sea-level in the extreme south. The Gwoza and 1 Kirawa hills are the most prominent hills that form part of the Mandara Mountains.

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