The calling - Darasuram Shiva temple

Its a bright sunny morning,the smoke rises out of the kitchen as she gets the aroma of a delicious brahmin meal in the making. Her father heads to the temple next door, to do the routine abhishekam for the day, while her mother gets ready to weave the next silk saree.

She hums a little tune to herself as she freshens up and looks out at the trees dreamily as the shimering leaves sway in the gentle breeze. She watches the birds with colorful feathers sing to each other as they make home. Dressed and ready for the day, she pins up the jasmine flowers onto her head and tucks the davani onto her waist and walks out of the house to head to the temple next door.

Its an old temple, not too big, not small either but simply beautiful. She rings the big brass bell hanging down at the hall, its ring reverberating through the walls. Its a calling, to the Lord that she has arrived to serve him again. She sings a melodious tune to herself as she sweeps through the hall while her father offers abhishekam to the deity within. She advances near the main shrine, the most beautiful shrine she has seen and been close to all her life.

She walks through the silence as the cool breeze shuffles her hair. She watches the fire dancing gentle as it clings to the wicks of the oil lamps. She observes the dancers all along the walls as they perform for the Lord, movement that she had wished she could grasp, movement that she saw even through stone. They danced and played the drum, they went in rhythmic motion, she could swing with them and bring it all back alive, she could hear the music in her ears as she swayed with the wind following the poses on the wall.

True beauty, pure love, that no one could touch, pure music in her heart as she danced her way through the pillars, pure rhythm in the feet as she felt each sculptural pose in her fingers as she bent backwards feeling them on the wall. The wind rang the bells in gentle motion, the fires seems to join the dance flow, as the idols in the niches watched on to see her, the performer on the floor.

She walked into the darkness, closer to the lord, through the dark passage occasionally lit by patterns of sunlight. Her anklets made the only sound she could hear as she stepped closer to the Lord's chamber. She was now as close as she could get, in front of the dark room, where he stood. She looked at his stony self, a silent Linga, draped beatifully in the lamp light. The intoxication rising as she felt it right through her skin, rhythm still in her mind, she swayed with the beat as the Lord danced in her mind. The madness ever rising, the darkness giving way to the eternal light, she watched the the fire flicker into haze as she swooned to the floor.

She had looked out of the grilled windows all these days, longing for her prince, wanting to know which land he would come from. He had been here, right by her side, always there, watching her every step in pure bliss as He took her in His arms, every day as she swooned listening to the rhythmic beat in his feet.

P.S. Darasuram hosts a shiva temple surrounding which live a lot of weavers who make our most famous silk sarees. This just brings alive the feelings of one such innocent life.


Galaganatha temple, Pattadakkal - prototypes of structural indian temples.

Galaganatha temple, Pattadakkal, Karnataka:

Karnataka boasts of some really interesting temples that are lesser known but more important in the path to maturity of architectural styles that later governed the imperial Cholas and Vijayanagara kingdoms in the south, as well as the Orissa and Khajuraho. Aihole, Badami and Pattadakkal were the seat of architectural experiments that took place in the post Gupta era, during the rule of the Chalukyas of Badami.

Galaganatha temple is one such temple, hardly known to us but would be considered a complete learning experience to anyone who sees it. What remains of this temple is the cross section of a once complete temple now in ruins.

At first look, it paves the way to Orissa school of architecture (a combination of Nagara and Bhumija styles), the elements seen in later Orissa temples like the Lingaraja, Mukteshwara and also the Vittal Deol temples. What is more interesting is the pronounced approach to the various parts of the temple roof.

For one, the most striking feature is the deep dark passage of circum-ambulation that surrounds the main shrine. The central door leads to the shrine proper within which the deity resides. Interestingly the sloping roof was experimented upon, in this temple as well as at the Hucchimalli Gudi temple also found at Pattadakkal.

In fact even more interesting is the point that the interior of the temple within the shrine chamber and the roof (vimana) above it was one hollow room, which displays itself is greater extravaganza in later temples like Brihadeshwara at Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram. It also shows a process of multiple floors in the making, which can be seen in Varadaraja Perumal temple Kanchipuram (Pallava style).

What appears here as a gaping hole in the tower (top most window) is called the Gavaksha window (chandrasala in the north and kudu in Tamil), which used to host a form of the deity within. In fact that was the only way to find out to whome these temples were attributed, given most of the shrines are now missing. The lintels above the door still show signs of possible iconographic carvings of the deity within.

This is one example of a temple in early stages of development, where we can quite clearly understand how to identify the deity to which it has been attributed, should all the idols inside and on the niches outside go missing.

Original photos ©2002 Michael D. Gunther.


Shore temple in true grandeur!

Shore temple, Mamallapuram - Tamil Nadu
By day its a simple temple. two roofed and gorgeous to an unsuspecting onlooker who visits this site for the first time. Innocent nandi bulls guard the entrance of this two shrine temple as it speaks of erosion and lost past glory. Yes very obviously its an ancient Shiva temple and flaunts the iconography of Lord Shiva all through. But is that it?

Look close, for this temple holds more secrets than what the normal eye can see. For one, to the trained eye, it speaks of a plinth (platform on which temple stands) that is more chalukyan than pallavan in nature. Two, it sandwiches a reclining vishnu in the center, and three, it holds two shiva lingas opposite to each other one facing west and one facing east. Does all this look normal to you?

Lets move back a little. This temple displays a congregation of many cults, or lets say all the Hindu cults known at that point in time. This would exclude the buddhists and jains. What this temple displays is the presence of an ancient vaishnavite cult that was over powered by the shaivite cults(supported by royal patronage) because of which there are two towering vimanas over Lord Shiva's shrines. It shows tolerance towards vaishnavite cult since lord Vishnu has been allowed to continue reclining and has not been uprooted from his chamber, interestingly he stayed carved well into the bedrock on which the shore temple stands. That apart it shows the strong presence of the devi cult more in the form of Parvati and Mahishasuramardhini - the two forms of the goddess that have been profusely carved across Mahabalipuram. Vishnu is either depicted as Himself or as Varaha.
But stranger cults exist among the shadows of this temple. The naga cult dominates the walls of this temple with five hooded serpent deities around its four walls transforming the whole look of the temple. This really takes ones imagination to wonder what could be called regular sacrifice at this temple.

As the sun sets in the evening, the temple priest lights up the oil lamps within their triangular niches into the temple walls. The darkness now wiped out by shimering lights that dot the temple allow for much larger ritual fires at the main temple platform. Fire, the path to heaven, the path to immortality, rises into the air as incense is lit right around the area of ritual. Drum beats pierce the air as the smoke and fire rise up to call on the dieties to come down into the forum of men. Rhythmic beats of the ancient drums with a slow constant rumble of the waves along the beaches completes the ambience of this small temple. Vedic chants rise into the air and the ritual takes full force. The heat generated calls on the very Gods to come and take a seat. The prayers roll out in rhythmic breath to the Mother and the ever present Lord Shiva as they are brought to life, into divine visibility. The Lord decends with the crecent moon dancing among His locks. Mystical diagrams paint the floor of the temple as oil lamps light up the temple bringing alive celestial beings who fly down showering flowers over the potent couple. Gandharvas play music as they fly around as tiny lights. The chanting creates rhythmic motion making the worshipers sway with the beat. The fire rages on and brings around the very beauty of the creator, as He comes alive with the Goddess to reunite and once again bring to earth the miracle of creation.

The fire dies down, the chanting continues to ring away within the mind. The sun rises again shimering among clear waters of the sea as it dances in its lap. The temple awakens again to another unassuming tourist passing by...

How then can one assume this temple is a mere collection of stone, that speak nothing but a tradition long gone? Its alive, very much alive well within my heart.