2.24.2006

Shore temple - a never ending saga.

When there is a convergence of two sciences, a truth is revealed.
When there is a merger of two resonating sounds the reverberation is felt.
When there is a culmination of thoughts between two minds a realization engulfs you.

Shore temple Mahabalipuram: Such was the state when i revisited Mahabalipuram yesterday. There was knowledge in the air, realization in the mind and excitement in the heart! I have visited Mahabalipuram too many times, and i have most often been the guide, telling people what to look for.

This time I went with my Guru since he had not visited the place. I thought i was an expert when it came to the Art History of Mahabalipuram. Strangely this time i maintained silence. There was this long moment of truth when two siences met, when i spoke on the basis of temple architecture and iconography and my Guru spoke on the basis of ritual. Ritual covers all the loop holes that art history misses out. This was clearly evident during our visit.

Art history helps to locate artifacts, and sculptures and gives the logical approach, ritual helps to explain them through subtle reality. This time the Shore temple had added a lot more meaning to my quest. It felt more like the jigsaw puzzle of truth was hidden all around it and prominently exhibited itself at the same time to all those who cared to take a deeper look.

Now let me explain. When you visit the Shore temple or any other old temple for the first time, the thrill has just begun. The first stage is of discovery. A visual display to the imagination you held about that place is now guided by the experience.

The subsequent few visits, display the most prominent facts to you, in the case of the Shore temple it would be two temples, assimetrically placed. Life size Nandis around the main wall and yalis along the walls of the temple. The temple has a platform, on which is the bhiti(wall), with niches and capitals with statues within them. A shrine chamber(garbha griha), with a path of circumambulation and maybe a vestible(antarala in larger temples). A strange reclining Vishnu on Ananta is sandwiched between the two Shiva shrines.

If the intrigue has lasted long enough and has made you look into books to look for what all this is about, then slowly more is visible. Built around 6th to 7th century AD, under the Pallavas, it was patronized by Narasimhavarman and Mahendravarman. The temple still follows the canons of architecture very strictly. It reveals a three tired roof and a five tired roof with strange architectural elements. Small heads called Kudu(tamil term, not sanskrit) figures lace the kapota (the base on which the roof stands). At this point all eyes are on the walls, which are profusely sculpted and the Vimana(roof) which is imposing and magneficent. You will realistically spend the next three years wondering about all the sculptures, their names, who they are and what are the stories behind them. You will find forms of Shiva you never heard of.

Lets assume you got the right books and stuck to them. The Pallavas were initially vaishnavite followers and later turned to Shaivism. Hence the sandwiched Vishnu is carved onto the bedrock and existed well before the temple took shape. Soon the attention shifts to the dwarapalas who are resting their body weight on the walls. Lions and elephants hold up the temple on thier backs and ganas are found every where. The linga is a three part stone of which the third part is embedded within the yoni and cannot be seen. What remains here is the depression in the floor. The panel inside the Garbha griha is Somaskanda panel. Mahishasuramardhini is found carved into the heart of a Lion on the side of the temple.
Conclusions: tolerance to different faiths, enough to leave two deities within the temple complex even if that was not precribed in the canons. Acceptance of the mother goddess cult as another equally potent cult by all faiths( that believed in male deities). Lesser gods like gandharvas and nagas suddenly appear on the walls and how did you miss them all along when they were so prominent!!

Then comes the next enlightenment! You just read about the Chalukyas who were contemporary to the Pallavas and therefore there is a sharing of ideas. The plinth is in chalukyan style and so is the science of carving dwarapalas though the style is pallava. How do we know that? One name strikes out of chalukyan guilds that coexisted with pallavas. Baladeva was a well known sculptor who specialized in carving dwarapalas and autographed his sculptures in pattadakkal. The same style is visible here.
Conclusion: an exchange of ideas and technique between the art worlds though there was war between Pulakesi(Chalukyas) and Mahendravarman(Pallava).

If this was not enough, well you have just about scratched the surface. You start looking at the ground plan, and the evolution of the temple. Judging by all the elements of architecture and going back into ancient architecture, the truth hits you that this was originally Buddhist architecture. The same elements take a functional position in Buddhist monastried in Ajanta and Bedsa. Meanwhile you might learn about the true nature of the Shiva Linga as being a part of Phallic worship and that you are actually worshipping the miracle of Procreation, no not the grose act but the subtle reality that governes it. Now the SomaSkanda panel suddenly makes more sense.

So now there is more to it, Phallic worship was a tradition as old as the Indus valley and there rose several subsects of Shaivism like Ligayats, tantriks and Pashupatas among others who had subtle differences in their rituals. The mother goddess cannot be eliminated and her form can be seen as Parvati, durga and Kali. It is also interesting that Somaskanda is another name for Muruga. And yes, Muruga was originally a dravidian war God before he got christened into the Shiva pantheon while Ganesha is a demi God who has now been elevated to God status with popular belief. None of them were born from the union of Shiva and Parvati.

There are many parallel thoughts running in your mind by now. One would be the connection of the Shiva Parvati icons with the philosophy of Kundalini yoga depicted through the Somaskanda panel. The meaning of life as we see it through the Mahishasuramardhini panel. The undying presence of Shiva and Parvati whose origins cannot be dated. And finally the presence of copulation scenes on some temple walls. Why is sex depicted too blatantly when our mindsets are against nudity.

It takes a long while for this one, the hidden presence of yantras all over the place which has ever so remained a secret. That the scenes on the Khajuraho temples were to hide this truth so that we, the uninitiated never get to see what is behind them(works brilliantly). The presence of a mandala that is at the ground plan of the temple. The presence of forms of Lord Shiva selectively places in various niches.

Every thing had a reason... and then my Guru spoke.

9 comments:

David said...

Wow! That was profound! And thanks so much for your comments on my blog Kavi! You are such a source of inspiration to keep me at it. besides the fact that I truly enjoy writing! Thanks again.

JC Joshi said...

A good description! During my short visit to Madras, 46 years ago, our group of students preferred visit to Marina and Adyar beaches while another group had visited the temple...

If one has the ‘right’ background and training then only one can appreciate and enjoy any abstract idea, such as ‘Asthetics’, ‘Philosophy of Arts’, and so on... Of course, one can’t explain in words why everyone generally feels ‘happy’ just with a look at ‘Nature’, say, a flower, or a flowing river, and so on… Thus 'happiness' does not need an object for “Happiness is a state of mind” only!

Over two decades ago, on return to New Delhi - from (Tantriks’ on Indian side) Northeast region (including Bhutan, where Buddhism is practised) - after nearly ten years' absence, when we were resettled the first thing I did was to read Bhagwad Gita, its English translation only, in one go and I wondered why I hadn’t read it earlier as I believed it had answer to all the questions regarding day-to-day life that were nagging me! Maybe, ‘time’ wasn’t ripe then…

The publication containing the verses in Sanskrit, as well as their translation in English together with critical comments were given to me by a lady staff member as a farewell present. I wasn’t a typical Brahmin, although I was born in a Brahmin family, I was therefore amused at her belief about me!

Having had it, I had attempted to read it a few times, but couldn’t go through even the first chapter. But, I must admit that on many occasions I felt why I hadn’t carried it with me, because verses from it are heard repeated time and again by all and sundry, in India…

In essence, I would suggest one to read at least Chapter X even if one is a follower of some other ‘religion’, other than the ‘Sanatan dharma’.

Best wishes.

Revathi said...

A real racy thriller. Eagerly awaiting your Guru's words. Post the sequel soon.

kavitha said...

Hi Joshi Uncle

I picked up the Bhagavat Gita when my interest went towards the last chapter. This was when i was in class XI. I used to read it on the way to bangalore in the train and sleep over it frequently.

Interestingly when Shankaracharya came to Ranchi much earlier (i used to live there then) he stayed there for a month and performed puja reciting the 9th chapter. This is when i was in class V.

That was one of my moments of great realization, that one of the ways to learn is learning through repetition.

Uncle its was one of the most awesome experiences i have ever had with myself at that age. I used to run around the auditorium when they used to recite the mantras of the IXth chapter. Its very strange, because i didnt even attempt reading into the book while my parents recited. But a month later when my family sat down to recite well after the Shankara had left, i found it very strange that i was able to recite the whole chapter without looking into the book.

Interestingly i have not forgotten it ever since and have learnt that one of the best methods of learning is learning through repetition.

Very interesting experience.

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha,

Yes, the phenomenon is extraordinary! The ‘Hindu Philosophy’ gives credit to ‘life after life’ whereby ‘child prodigies’ are noticed from time and again…

I give below what I recorded based on ‘my research on Truth’, or analysis of data collected by me at another blog site… I sometimes laugh at the thought of comparing man’s head with God's garbage dump and each individual as a ‘rag picker’, who picks up things from it according to his own interest!

"Only a ‘detached’ person perhaps can see that throughout human history man has been gathering, with combined intelligence, all round knowledge - with records passed on from one generation to another - to make his life comfortable. Despite all out efforts, however, he ever finds himself short of his ultimate goal of achieving happiness, and nothing but happiness or, rather, ‘eternal bliss’…

With the given background that today one must have studied medicine, provide written proof that he has and also get registered before he can practice, one should find it difficult to comprehend how, as believed, Jesus cured lepers and blinds in the past when man was believably ‘less advanced’ than in the present...

Also, he apparently didn’t study in any Medical College that had multi-million-dollar laboratories, which are believably essential today (and which microbes don’t have, and still are one step ahead of humans!)…

And, although they maybe rare, and perhaps not as ‘elevated’ as Jesus, even today there are some such practitioners all over the world.

Socrates also said, “By the age of thirty, a man is either a doctor or a fool”… We are also aware of hypochondriacs, and persons suffering from psychosomatic diseases, which indicate a close relationship between mind and body, and the ‘spirit’ also as believed by the ancients, an aspect which the present day man appears to ignore, particularly the 'atheist'...

Maybe it is just a question of having the will to ‘break the paper walls of day-to-day existence’ [in the words of Robert Browning (?)] And, to find out how thoughts appear in not only human head, but even the head of a micro-organism, if they have any :-) Of course, it is known that sound gets recorded even on clay/ CD, and the material part of ‘life’ believably is made from (the same elements that constitute our) earth!

Priya said...

awesome effort kavitha..
will visit frequently!!

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha,

I give below one of my reaction to a news item in paper - difficult for 'specialists' to understand :

Ref India sees unusually warm weather, when I want to fool a child in order to save something breakable and valuable that it has grasped in its small fist, say, I create diversions, viz., pointing out to it a non existent crow behind it while I snatch it from its hand... Child specialists advise one to create diversions and not use the word ‘NO’ to a child if one doesn’t want a rebel… ‘Nature’, like me, perhaps fools ‘experts’ who believe human drama as eternal. Global warming or cooling isn’t the only weapon in its arsenal (we tend to forget Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanic eruptions, H5N1, and so on…) A cartoon even might do the job!

JC Joshi said...

The following is the thought on 'Advaitwad' or one real Supreme being, as received in my 'garbage dump':

Generally a person is guided by ancient sayings carried over through generations. Thus at any time a 'believer' might have some hazy idea about God according to the channel in which he finds his thoughts floating, i.e., his exposure to life, which depends on so many factors, viz., where he is born, the country and the family; what ‘education’, through books and practical experience, he has received since his birth and according to which his ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ have developed in various aspects of life...

Yogis recommended physical, mental and spiritual exercise to reach the ‘truth’... To visualize the ‘Hindu’ belief that the Creator is 'Nirakar' or formless and exists within each living or non living form, today, one could say that perhaps God is some sort of energy, for it too is formless. It, however, could also mean some sorts of fluids ‘that take up the form of the container in which they are kept’… Or maybe both taken together, i.e., an electrochemical system – as it is treated today by fusion, or Yoga, of ancient ‘East’ and the modern ‘West’, i.e., Acupuncture and Allopathic systems today…

As energy is concerned, I would like to suggest a hypothetical case: Let us say you have an exclusive album in which your parents had initially maintained, for record, your photographs as you appeared right from the time of your birth - at regular intervals, at different places, in different dresses, and so on, till the time you were enlightened enough to keep it updated similarly thereafter on your own... Now, if I, an ignorant person, were to ask you – photo by photo – which the person was? You will obviously say, “I” in all cases...

I might be able to see the likeness of the ones that were taken in recent times, or up to a certain time in the recent past only. But, as the faces of most of the children, after they are just born or during an early age, appear similar, I might ask you how you could be so sure those were yours (maybe your parent forgot at a certain time and instead pasted your younger sibling’s or anybody else’s – knowingly or unknowingly). You might reply that as you have full faith in your parents, it has to be you! (Thus Faith plays an important role and no logic might make you change your belief)…

I might now add different sketches in the rest of the album, as I believe you could appear at different intervals… and finally, on the last page, I might draw the sketch of a fistful of dust (a possibility in case you were lucky as a Christian to have a normal death and are buried) or a fistful of ash (likely only in normal case of a Hindu, and in case of Christians, in some fire accident)… And, on the inside front cover, I might draw a sketch of a human sperm as it is believably seen through a microscope by some ‘scientist’… Thus at least every human being, to start with, would appear physically similar! Or even one could generally say that man is made of earth or ashes, as human form and our earth have the same elements in their composition, and therefore again a fistful of earth/ ash!

Now, confused by so many faces of yours, varying in sizes and appearances, I might like to know which one was the ‘real you’?

Maybe you could say that each one is real you - but at different times!

Now, however, I would ask you to stand in front of as many ‘magical mirrors’ as there are photos in your album. You would see a different image in each, which you could photograph and put in another album… Now, all are ‘you’ at the same instant, but appear different from one another!

Apparently, only the viewer is ‘real’! Only a ‘plain mirror’ would perhaps, therefore, show the ‘true likeness’ – and that too inverted along the vertical plane and hence not exactly ‘real’.

Some Yogis, after realization of real time and space as zero for the formless, reportedly exclaimed, "I am the (reflection of the) Creator!" And, similarly, every living and non-living being too (is the Creator)!

Anonymous said...

phallic worship or shivaling, is my interest of philosophy. I am preparing my article, which show, how this ancient concept has work as a root of philosophy. which means,real, original and first hand philosophy.If you have anything to say on this philosophic subject, please email me, we will share our study..OK?