11.06.2005

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.

9 comments:

Roberto Iza Valdes said...
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Revathi said...

That was sheer poetry again!!!
It isnt unusual to associate poetry with this poetry in stone, but you have brought to life the rituals and the associated mysticism. Simply wonderful! Next time I visit this shore temple, I plan to stay on till darkness sets in.

Badhri said...

Interesting to see the encroachment of Shivism into Vaishnavism, followed by their co-existence. I also read part of the well-known novel Ponniyin selvan, by Amarar Kalki, which threw some light to how the shivites and vaishnavites were divided and didn't recognise each other. Good to see that the dividing line is almost erased today (though sadly, not completely) in our society. Globalisation experts believe that in a completely globalised world, we will have one single global community, where every society knows about the existence of the other, and more importantly recognise and accept them. I hope to live to see that day!

Wonderful post as usual!

PS: You may want to enable comment filtering option in your settings. The unnecessary comments have taken me to bizarre and embarrassing websites!

kavitha said...

thanks badhri, have enabled it.

Premalatha said...

Hi Kavitha,

Very nice observation. I also felt in similar lines when I visited shore temple recently.

see some photos here.
http://www.hallofmaat.com/read.php?1,355480,359690#msg-359690

also you can read the entire thread, if you like. it is all about mamallapuram.

Premalatha said...

Hi kavitha,

Did you post three more posts this morning? I saw then in my "bloglines", but couldn't see them here. I don't know what happened. I couldn't read them fully at that time and don't remember what it was about.

JC Joshi said...

For attempting generalization, i.e., for reaching the ‘truth’ or essence, if one were to rationally observe behaviour of any community/ society at any time, it would be observed that it apparently, invariably, gets divided into minimum two groups on any issue, be it a small or a big one. And, on some particular issue, there might appear a third one also, a neutral or unconcerned one, comprising a variable number - over nil or an appreciable one - out of the total number of the members of the community/ society concerned…

The ‘wise’ Hindus expressed these three basic groups, reflecting different aspects of apparent physical forms in the entire universe or ‘Brahmand’, literally the ‘Creator’s egg’, as governed by the three functional attributes of the one and only formless Creator - creation, sustenance and destruction (or transformation) - which they called as Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, respectively… The three appear to have been associated with the Heavenly Bodies, and also humans as their models, identified as our Sun (essence of stars), the Centre of our galaxy (representing the neutral Creator) and members of the planetary system (with earth as its essence or the most evolved form that sustains humans as the models to exhibit the different aspects of the creation), respectively…

However, as 'work expands to fill time' the generality of the society, due mainly to lack of overall knowledge (vide Bhagwadgita), apparently keep on clashing with each other on every issue...

abhilash warrier said...

You have not got your actual feelings for the shore temple in this blog...

This post seems more like a first draft... maybe, you will write better on this later.

Your talk about this to me contained more passion...

Roberto Iza Valdes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.