1. Brihadisvara Legends
Fig. 1: Brihadisvara temple (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
There are a number of legends associated with the temple. The two given below are the most well-known ones.
1. Karuvur Devar (17th century)
In the ancient city of Tancai (Tanjavur)─which had in it a tank full of Ganga water ─the ruler, who imprinted the tiger emblem on Mount Meru, decided to establish a Siva Linga. He built a grand enclosure resembling the Cakravala mountain, a gopura in the likeness of Meru and a pyramid sikhari like the Himagiri. He got the eight-binding materials (asta-bandhana) prepared but no matter how much effort was put, it did not form into a cementing paste.
The king performed sacrifices, made great gifts, invited great people to rectify the defects, recited hymns but nothing worked. As the helpless king wondered what to do, a divine voice told him that the task could be accomplished by the great Siddha Karuvur Sivayogi. The king invited him to the palace. The message reached the Siddha where he was staying in the Podiyil hills (in Tirunelveli district) and feeling blessed at this opportunity, he reached Tanjavur.
Lord Siva appeared from an anthill as a Siddha, Bhoganatha. Karuvurar addressed Bhoganath thus: “Lord, you are capable of entering even an atom in the form of Mount Meru, or a mountain as an atom and yet you are directing me to perform this act out of grace.” Bhoganatha told Karuvurar that since he had infinite grace, he would achieve this task.
Upon their arrival the king fell at their feet. Bhoganath told the king that Karuvurur-Devar had transcended the three mountains─sahankara, karma and maya and thus would be able to install the linga. Thereupon, Karuvurur-Devar reached the ‘golden temple’ being constructed and smiled at the sight of all the attempts being made to install the linga. He approached the pitha (stool) and linga, visualised them as bindu and nada and kindling the internal yogic fire of his body, spat on the binding material, which instantly cemented. He then blessed everyone present and departed.
2. Brhadisvara Mahatmya and Tancapuri Mahatmya (10th to 17th century)
Karikala Cola, the king of Tanjavur became afflicted with leprosy and sought the help of his chief priest (rajaguru), Haradatta. The rajaguru promised to seek the blessings of Lord Siva and took leave to visit the Agnisvara temple for 48 days. Pleased with his devotee’s penance, Siva appeared in his dream and told him that the king was a hunter in his previous birth at Kalahasti and had worshipped Kalahastisvara and Jnanambika on a Sivaratri day. On account of this good deed he was born as a king in his present life. But as he had killed several animals in his previous birth, he was now afflicted with leprosy.
Siva told Haradatta that the king should erect a lofty gopura built entirely of stone and dedicate it to Siva with Devi, Skanda and Ganesa. It should be enclosed by a prakara and preceded by two gopuras. The king and the rajaguru should go to a place called Omkara Kunda on the banks of the Narmada and bring back a Bana linga that would grow into a big linga assuming the name Brhadisa.
Furthermore, the king must employ the service of Somavarma, a renowned architect from Kanchipuram, to accomplish this deed.
On his return the rajaguru conveyed Siva’s message to the king, who immediately sent word to the silpins (craftsmen) and the sthapati (chief architect), Somavarma. The work was started and the construction went on for twelve years. During this time, the sthapati’s wife had given birth to a son, who in twelve years had mastered the Silpasatra. Learning that his father had gone to Tanjavur to construct a temple for the Cola king, the boy sought permission from his mother to go meet him there.
Upon reaching the temple site he was disappointed by what he saw. He measured the adhisthana of the main tower and told the ministers standing nearby that if it was built according to the measurement of the pitha, it would fall down due to the velocity of the wind and heavy rains. When the ministers reported this to the king, he invited the boy to rectify the defect. The boy pointed out the mistake in measurement. The craftsmen overhearing this went and told Somavarma, who was enraged and wanted to kill the boy. He invited him to dinner and asked him who his teacher was. On learning that this was his own son, he was overjoyed and decided to follow his advice.
As construction went on, an old woman regularly supplied food and betel leaves to the sculptors. She told them there was a large stone lying in her house and requested them to use it in the temple as her offering. The sculptors agreed and found that it was a black granite stone of good quality and used it for the sikhara above the main sanctum. Once the temple was completed and the ritualistic activities had begun the king was cured of his leprosy. Siva appeared in his dreams and told him he was pleased to reside under the umbrella provided by the old lady and by the delicious food provided by the king. The king was confused by this and asked the rajaguru, who in turn consulted Somavarma and his fellow sculptors. They confessed to using the stone provided by the old woman.
Upon learning this, the king felt like he had sinned against Siva and was about to set himself on fire when the god himself appeared before him and told him that whatever the old woman did was out of sincere devotion and that he was pleased with the king’s devotion as well.
2. Rajaraja Chola, the patron
Rajaraja, the patron of the Tanjavur temple, was born to Sundara Chola and Vanavan Mahadevi; the latter hailed from the ancient family of Malayaman chieftains of Thirukkoyilur. The childhood name given to him was Arul-moli-varman, Arulmoli means one of graceful expression while ‘varman’ indicates royal lineage.
Arulmoli witnessed a series of family tragedies early in his life. His elder brother, Aditya Karikala, serving as crown prince under his father, was assassinated. Sundara Chola died of a broken heart and his wife, Vanavan Mahadevi, committed sati, self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre. At this critical juncture two women provided him emotional support and moulded his character ─his grandmother Sembiyan Mahadevi and his elder sister Kundavai.
Mahadevi was married to Gandaraditya Chola, the brother of Rajaraja’s grandfather, who ruled for eight years. He died when Mahadevi was pregnant with Uttama Chola. She spent the rest of her life in religious pursuit and was responsible for the consecration of several beautiful bronze images, including the well-known Tripura Vijaya, Vrsavahana and other groups of bronzes at Koneri-Rajapuram. These are now hailed as the Sembiyan Mahadevi School of bronzes. She is now considered to be the most outstanding queen in the history of South India, whose contribution to religious arts is unparalleled. Rajaraja as the crown prince was closely associated with these activities which left a lasting impression on him.
Fig. 2: Rajaraja Chola worshipping Nataraja (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
Kundavai, the second woman to influence young Rajaraja, built a number of temples to Siva, Visnu and Jain Tirtankaras. Rajaraja gives precedence to his akkan (our elder sister) over his queens in the Brhadisvara temple inscriptions.
After his father’s death, Arulmoli’s uncle ascended the throne in 970 AD and made Rajaraja his co-regent. When Uttama Chola died in 986 AD, Arulmoli Varman was coronated as Rajaraja Chola. The Chola kings assumed the royal titles Rajakesari and Parakesari Varman alternately – as Uttama Chola was a Parakesari, Rajaraja assumed the title of Rajakesari.
Rajaraja was the first Tamil king who conceived the idea of formulating in set phrases, an official record of the main events under his rule, which served as an introduction to his stone inscriptions. Early in his reign, he also assumed the title of ‘Mummudi Chola’, Mummudi standing for the three peaks of Mount Meru.
His reign saw massive territorial expansion, the most significant captures being parts of Kerala such as Kandalur Salai, regions up to Trivandrum and the Malainadu (the Western hill range that included Udagamandalam), Madurai, the capital of the Pandyas, the kingdoms of the Gangas, the Nulambas in Mysore region and all the south of the Tungabhadra river under the command of his son, Rajendra, and Colamandalam owned by the Singalas. The northern part of Ceylon was integrated with the Chola kindom under the name Mummudi Cola Mandalam and finally the Maldives islands numbering 12,000.
He anointed his son, Rajendra Chola, heir-apparent in 1012 AD. His chief queen was Danti-Sakti-Vitanki, also known by her coronation name Lokamahadevi. The mother of Rajendra, the only son of Rajaraja, was Vaanathi, also known as Thiripuvana Madeviyar.
Rajaraja is credited with the rediscovery of many lost Tevaram hymns. After hearing short excerpts of Tevaram in his court and being told that the original hymns had been lost, he sought the help of Nambi Andar Nambi, who was a priest in a temple near Chidambaram. It is believed that by divine intervention Nambi found the presence of palm-leaf manuscripts half-eaten by white ants in a chamber inside the second precinct in Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram. Rajaraja thus came to be known as Tirumurai Kanta Chola meaning the one who saved the Tirumurai. Thus far Siva temples only had images of god forms, but after the advent of Rajaraja, the images of the Nayanar saints, who had written these hymns, were also placed inside the temple. Rajaraja also found a musician by the name of Valli, who belonged to the family of the famed musician Thiru Nilakanta Yazpanar, to set the hymns to a traditional mode of singing called the Pann.
It is during the Chola period that Tamil Saivism came of age and Rajaraja made a significant contribution to this. One among his many titles was ‘Sivapada Sekhara’, meaning carrying the footprints of Siva on his head, as is mentioned in the Tanjavur inscriptions.
Rajaraja’s reign ended with his death in 1014 AD.
3. Rajaguru - Isana Siva
Rajaraja’s inscription in the Brhadisvara temple in 1012 AD refers to Rajaguru Isana Siva as the royal priest of whom the king too is a servant. A metal portrait of this preceptor was established by Lata Mahadevi, one of the queens of Rajaraja. The guru himself endowed a fund for lighting a perpetual light in front of the portrait.
Isana Siva provided some money for offering food thrice a day to the deity of the temple in the sixth year of Rajendra, that is, three years after Rajaraja’s death, indicating that he had continued as the rajaguru. Isana Siva died sometime around 1020 AD.
The concept and consecration of the temple was in Isana Siva’s hands and Rajaraja was guided by him in spiritual matters as well as perhaps matters of state. In 1020 AD Rajendra Chola issued an order that only the successors of his Rajaguru who hailed from Aryadesa, Madhyadesa and Gaudadesa were to become acharyas of the Tanjavur temple and would receive the priest’s revenue for their service.
A unique aspect of Brhadisvara temple during this period was that it inscribed the names of all three people who played a crucial role in any temple construction; the yajamana, or one who vowed to build it, the rajaguru, who was responsible for deciding what kind of temple would be built and for what purpose and third was the architect. It is evident that under the Cholas, the Rajaguru played the most crucial of all roles.
4. Amman shrine
The Brhannayaki shrine situated in the north of the enclosure between Nandi mandapam (hall) and the main temple was not originally there when the latter was built. It came up at around 1400 AD. There was however an Amman shrine earlier as part of an enclosure in a sub-shrine in the prakara right behind the present Amman shrine. An image of Ganesa is found within the shrine that was probably consecrated when renovations were undertaken by the Maratha ruler, Serfoji II in 1802 or 1803 AD. In all probability the shrine was empty before.
The inscriptions found at the site state that the shrine within the enclosure housed an image of Umaparameshvari in the time of Rajaraja I and refer to the gifts made by an administrative officer of the temple. Another inscription refers to Ganesa of the parivaralaya found on a wall of the shrine. It refers to a gift of a vessel to the idol also during the same time.
Some scholars have suggested that early Saivite temples did not have separate Devi shrines and those found have been founded later. The inscriptions now found in the Tanjavur temple prove that Siva temples in Tamil Nadu in the time of Rajaraja I did have an independent shrine for Goddess Uma as part of the temple complex. This has an important bearing on the religious and philosophical history of south India. From the time of Kulotunga Chola, 1100 AD, separate Devi shrines within the Siva temple complex assumed a dominant role and came to be called Tiru Kamakkoottam-udaiya-nacciyar temples.
The first inscription further provides some invaluable information. It refers to a gift made by a dignitary to the goddess. He was an officer under Rajendra Chola and was also a cavalier. His name is given as Ravi Palur Udaiyan. Importantly, he is identified as the officer who supervised the engraving of inscriptions on the temple walls. The inscriptions found in Tanjavur are the most neatly engraved ones in the whole of the south; much credit must go to the aforementioned officer for this.
According to the interpretations of the inscriptions, the present Amman shrine was built by the ruler, Jatavarman Vikrama Pandya, who made a gift of a village to the deity while the temple was being built in 1400 AD.
Almost 150 years later, two more mandapas─an eight-pillared one preceded by a 32-pillared one open at the sides and encased by corner walls─were added to the front. This is now preceded by a porch supported by six pillars.
When renovations were carried out under the reign of Serfoji II, the ceilings of the three mandapas and the three talas of the shrine were laid with brick and mortar. The flooring and steps of the front mandapa were laid with granite stone. The space surrounding the shrine was laid with brick flooring. An inscription from the time of Serfoji II refers to the mandapas as mahamandapa and bhairava mandapa.
The pillars supporting the portico of the bhairava mandapa seem to have been brought from a Vijayanagara structure. The height of the pillars is not proportionate to the portico. Some of the pillars have sculptures of high quality, one of which is that of Bhairava, after whom the mandapa might have been named.
The shrine has three niches on the outer wall of the sanctum facing west, north and south. These carry standing images of the goddess with slight variations. The one to west is probably Jnanashakti, the second one Kriyasakti and the last one Icchasakti.
The walls on either side of the central bay of the front bhairava mandapa carry rows of stucco figures representing a number of marriage scenes, including Parvati-Kalyana, Ganesa-Kalyana, Valli-Kalyana, Laksmi Kalyana and Usa-Surya-Kalyana. These were made in the time of Serfoji in 1801 AD.
The entrance to the mahamandapa is flanked by two female doorkeepers heavily plastered in the time of Serfoji. It is difficult to know whether these are from the Nayak period. They represent Jaya and Vijaya according to the Agamic texts.
The two wooden doors at the entrance from the bhairava mandapa to the mahamandapa carry beautiful wood carvings from the age of Mallappa in the 16th century. At the southern end of the brick platform in front of the shrine is a Nandi mandapa, the vehicle of the goddess.
The front and rear portion of the mahamandapa (great hall) are now divided by an intervening wall, which carries a number of fragmentary inscriptions, one of which is Pallava while the others are Chola. These belong to other temples in Tanjavur that are no longer in existence. Stones from the ruins of these temples were reused when the front portion of the mahamandapa was rebuilt, around 16th AD. The Pallava inscription is that of Danti (c. 800 AD), which shows that Tanjavur was directly under Pallava rule during 8th-9th century AD.
The mahamandapa is connected to the main sanctum by a vestibule, the approach to which was originally from the northern and southern sides, which are guarded by dvarpalas. The southern entrance has an inscription that refers to the mahamandapa as Vikramacholan Tiruvasal. The vestibule was probably built towards the end of Rajaraja’s rule or towards the beginning of his son’s, Rajendra I. The name Vikrama Chola was one of the titles of Rajendra and the entrance was probably named after him. The entrance to the north has sculptural representations of the eight auspicious symbols known as astha mangalas.
The eastern end of mahamandapa is also approached through side steps from the north and south. In all probability these steps led to a raised porch with no ceiling or pillars, which gave access to the main sanctum through eastern portion of the mahamandapa. When the front portion of the mahamandapa was rebuilt, the porch was converted into a pillared mandapa.
There are four mandapas in a row extending from the garbagrha. The first is the vestibule adjoining the sanctum and is almost like an extension of it. The Kamikagama refers to such mandapas as niskramana mandapa. Following it is the agra-mandapa where bronze images are placed, then the snapana mandapa where deities are given abhishekha (pouring libations on the image) and finally the nrtta mandapa, which could be the previously open mandapa near the entrance.
The lower tier of the niches in the mahamandapa have images of secondary deities. On the north-east and south-east corners of the front portion of the mandapa, in the snapana mandapa, are eight images, each holding a sword and shield in their hands. These seem to be portrayals of the eight attendants of Siva – Dhara, Anila, Dhumra, Anala, Soma, Pratyusha, Apa and Prabhasa.
The niches on the south walls at the rear portion of the mandapa enshrine Ganesha and Mahavisnu facing the south and Gajalakshmi facing the west. The corresponding niche near the northern entrance, facing west, houses Sarasvati. The northern niches enshrine Durga and Bhairava.
6. Natya Karanas - Dance and dance sculptures
Siva’s dance in different poses or ‘cadences of movement’ is portrayed on the first floor of the Brhadisvara temple around the sanctum in the inner ambulatory. The sculptures are carved in situ and are in sequential order. 81 panels have been carved up to the north-west corner of the ambulatory while the rest of the panels have been left uncarved. The sculptures are in different stages of completion but based on the number of panels it is clear that originally 108 panels were designed for the entire series.
On the basis of this, scholars have come to the conclusion that they represent the 108 dance poses or karanas described in Bharata’s Natyasastra. It is clear that there was a conscious attempt to portray these karanas in the Chola times, as they have been found in the gopura of the Chidambaram Nataraja temple as well as in that of the Sarangapani temple in Kumbakonam.
As the Brhadisvara temple has been made to represent the body of Lord Siva, the Cosmic Dancer, the space above the linga is invoked as the supreme akasa (theatre) where His dance takes place. This is why the karanas have been depicted on the upper floor walls of the garbagrha, a most unusual location, to commemorate not just the origin of Bharatanatyam (an art form of which Rajaraja was a great patron), but of creation itself. Further, the karanas find repeated mention in most of the Agamas as part of the temple rituals, emphasising their importance.
The following are the descriptions of the 81 panels:
1. Tala-Puspa-Puta: This is the first panel found to the right of the entrance. It depicts the offering of flowers to the deity enshrined within. The four-armed Siva is shown with the two front hands held like a cup, which in Sanskrit is puspa puta, flower cup. The rear arms are also bent at the elbow, the right holding a drum and the left, fire.
Fig. 3: Tala-pushpa-puta (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
2. Vartita: The front arms are placed on the thighs, while the rear right arm holds a damaruka and the left one fire. The head is bent slightly to the right. The legs are in mandala position with the sole of the left foot flat on the ground and the right foot in kuncita, with the heel raised and toes touching the ground. Abhinavagupta holds that the karanas were employed to suggest the meaning of a complex sentence. Here the hands are meant to be swung out simultaneously and thrown down on the thigh, which is vartitam.
3. Valitorukam: The figure is shown standing erect with both feet flat on the ground in sama. The two front arms are on the thighs while the rear arms are stretched out in balance.
4. Apaviddha: In this sculpture the left hand is on the chest in kataka-mukha mudra while the right hand is extended onto the thigh as if holding a music instrument. Here the right arm is meant to be thrown out at a forceful speed, or apaviddham. The right foot here is being lifted from kuncita to cross the left leg.
5. Samanaka: Here Siva is represented with four arms standing erect in samanaka pose with the front arms straightened down by the side. The rear arms hold a drum while the emblem on the right is not chiselled.
6. Linam: The figure is standing erect and is four-armed. The front hands are held in anjali, while the rear right hand holds an axe and the left one an antelope. On either side of the figure are ganas.
7. Svastika-Recita: This relief shows Siva standing erect in sama pose. The front arms are thrown down with the palms on the thighs, the rear right hand holds an axe and the left holds an antelope. Two ganas are seen at the side.
8. Mandala-Svastikam: Here the lower part of the body is in mandala, the knees are bent with the feet facing the sides. The front hands are crossed in front of the chest in svastika. The palms are turned in, facing the body. The rear arms remain uncarved.
Fig. 4: Mandala Swastikam (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
9. Nikuttana: The lower body is in mandala with the upper body slightly bent and a gap between the two heels. The front arms are held in line with the shoulders, with the forearms bent and fingers pointing to the neck. The head is turned to the left in a backward tilt. The rear right arm is almost behind the front one while the left is lowered down. Nikuttana refers to the simultaneous actions of the arm moving down while the leg is raised to stamp the ground.
10. Ardha-Nikuttita: The image is similar to the previous one, except the waist and chest are bent further back. The front hands are near the ears. The rear right arm is bent at the elbow and lowered down while the left is extended, also lowered down and holding a trident. The head is turned to the side and thrown back.
11. Katichhinna: The lower part of the body is in mandala with the feet flat on the ground facing the sides. The heels are slightly apart. The upper body is bent slightly to the left. The front arms are held at shoulder-height, bent at the elbows, with the hands near the ears.
12. Ardha Recitam: In this image the lower part of the body is in mandala. The knees are bent and the left foot is flat on the ground with the toes turned to the side. The toes on the right foot are placed on the ground while the heel is raised up in kuncita pose. The left hand in katakha-mukha (parrot’s beak) mudra (hand gesture) is towards the left side of the chest while the right arm is fully extended to the side almost at level with the shoulder with the hand held in pataka mudra facing down. As half the body is bent while the other is being raised, it is called ardha recitam. The rear arms of the image are bent and the right hand holds a drum while the left is uncarved.
13. Vaksa Svastikam: The lower body is in mandala with the knees bent towards the side. The left foot is on the ground with the leg slanted. The right leg is crossing in front in svastika, with the toes touching the ground and the heel up. The figure is bending forward towards the left. The front arms are crossing at the chest in svastika with the hands in arala (bent in blessing or courage) mudra. The rear arms are bent and raised but the emblems are not distinct. A gana is seen on the left.
14. Unmattam: In this panel the lower part of the body is in ardha mandali, the knees are bent and the feet are facing sideways. The front right arm is lifted in pataka while the left is bent and near the navel. The rear right hand holds a long shaft perhaps of a trident while the left is in ala-pallava (lotus) mudra. The head is thrown back with the face looking to the side.
Fig. 5: Unmattam (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
15. Svastikam: In this image the front arms of Siva are crossed before the chest with the palms facing in. The rear right hand holds a drum and the left one is extended down. The head is turned to the left. The legs look ready to cross each other, the right foot in front is flat on the ground while the left one at the back has its heel on the ground and the toes slightly up. Both knees are bent and are almost in a square position. The feet seem to be moving towards a svastika position.
16. Prstha-Svastikam: Here the face, body and hands are turned towards the right with the front arms crossing each other before the chest. The head is tilting down slightly. The front left hand is in kataka-mukha (opening in a link) mudra, while the right is in pataka (flag). The lower portion of the body seems to be swinging towards the right, the left foot is flat on the ground facing the side, while the right almost in line with the left heel, has the heel lifted up and toes touching the ground. The rear left arm is bent and near the left waist while the right seems to be holding a trident.
17. Dik-Svastika: In this panel, the upper body is turned to the right with the neck and face turning towards the left. The front arms are crossed at the chest but held away from it and extending to the right. The rear arms are bent in absolute balance, with the left hand holding fire and the right one probably a drum. The knees are bent facing the sides, the right foot flat on the ground also facing the side, while the left is crossing in svastika near the ankle with the toes on the ground and heel raised. According to Abhinavagupta if the svastika karanam is performed in each of the four directions it is called dik (direction) svastika.
18. Alataka: The upper part of the body is bent towards the left, while the neck and head are tilted to the right. The front right arm is bent and the hand is holding a trident, the left is also bent with the hand holding pataka mudra at chest level. The legs are bent with the right one flat on the ground facing the side and the left heel is raised with toes planted on the ground.
19. Kati-Sama: The body and head are turned slightly to the right. The front right arm is before the navel and the left is placed on the hip. The knees are bent sideward, the left foot is flat on the ground facing the side and the right is touching the left heel with toes on the floor and heel lifted. The rear right hand holds a drum and the left a snake. The feet are moving away from svastika to apakranta.
20. Aksipta-Recitam: Here the left foot is flat in sama, while the heel of the right is lifted with the toes pointed as if the figure were standing on them. The knees are bent facing the sides; the torso is bending slightly to the left. The face is turned in a three-fourth profile to the right. The front right arm is raised and bent in ala-pallava and the left is bent at chest level with the hand in kataka-mukha mudra. The rear left hand is holding fire while the right holds a trident.
21. Viksita-Aksipta: The body is lowered in a half-squat, with both feet on the ground, the heels close together, the knees bent and pointing sideward. Both the front arms are placed on the respective thighs while the rear left hand holds fire and the right holds a drum.
22. Ardha-Svastikam: In this panel the legs are crossed in svastika, the left in sama and the right in nikuncita. The front right arm is on the navel and the left is on the chest. The rear right hand holds a drum and the left is in ala-pallava. The head is tilted to the left.
23. Ancitam: The figure is represented here with the front left arm bent and hand almost touching the nose, while the right arm is on the navel. The rear right hand is lifted at the back and is holding a drum, while the left is extended down with a snake coiling around the wrist. The legs are crossed in svastika, the left in sama and the right in nikuncita.
24. Bhujanga-Trasitam: In the karana portrayed here the left leg is placed on the ground in sama and the right is lifted across the body over the left as in the Nataraja image. The body and face are twisted to the right. The front right arm is at waist level in a pose of pushing out, while the left is on the chest in pataka, palm facing in. The rear right arm holds a drum and the left fire.
25. Urdhvajanu: In this panel the left leg is flat and the right knee is raised above the chest. The front right arm’s elbow is on the raised knee holding a trident while the left is at the chest. The rear right arm holds a drum and the left an antelope. The face is slightly turned to the right.
26. Nikuncitam: Here the left leg is placed on the ground facing forward and the right is raised and bent at the back. The front right arm is bent at the chest with the hand in sukatunda (parrot’s beak) mudra, while the left is in kataka-mukha held below the right. The rear right arm holds a trident and the left is in ala-pallava mudra.
27. Mattalli: The pose depicts the playing of a percussion instrument known as mattala. The legs are slightly bent with the feet on the ground. Both the front arms are extended sideways as if to strike the instrument and the palms are in tripataka (three parts of a flag) mudra, with the middle fingers pressing the sides of the drum. The rear right arm is on the thigh while the left is raised at the back in ala-pallava mudra. The chest is bent slightly forward and the head turned to the left.
28. Ardha-Mattalli: While the legs are almost in the same position as the previous karana, the front right arm is on the thigh and the left is raised above the shoulders like a staff with the hand in ala-pallava mudra. The rear right arm holds an axe and the left is in suci (needle) mudra.
29. Recita-Nikuttaka: Here the left leg is in sama, the right in kuncita and the knees are bent. The front right arm is raised above the shoulder while the left is on the navel. The rear right arm is lowered with the hand holding a trident while the left is in arala mudra. The head is turned to the left.
30. Pada-Apaviddhakam: The left leg is flat on the floor while the right is in suci, that is the toes touching the floor behind the left foot and the heel lifted straight up like a needle. The knees are bent. Both the front arms are before the chest in kataka-mukha. The rear right arm seems to be holding a small stick while the left holds an antelope. The body is bent to the right with the face tilted down a little.
31. Valitam: The figure is shown with the left leg flat while the right is in suci and the knees bent. The front right hand is extended above the shoulders in danda (staff) pose, while the left is bent onto the chest. The body is twisted to the right. The rear right hand holds a trident and the left seems to be in musti (fist) mudra.
32. Ghurnita: The left leg is bent, the foot flat on the ground, while the right leg is bent and crosses the left at the back with only the toes touching the floor. The front right arm is bent at the waist and the left is extended to the side in dola-hasta (swing-like). The rear right hand holds an indistinct object and the left seems to hold fire.
33. Lalitam: In this depiction the left leg is flat on the ground while the right is in kuncita. The front right arm is folded with the hand in kataka-mukha, while the left is extended sideways with the hand in tripataka, palm facing outward. The rear right holds a drum and the left fire. This karana portrays a graceful gait and is therefore called lalitam.
34. Danda-Paksa: In this figure the left leg is flat on the floor with the knee greatly bent. The right knee is raised up to the waist in the Urdhvajanu pose with the toes pointing to the ground. The front left arm is bent and held at shoulder-level with the palm held in pataka facing ahead. The extended right hand is on the raised knee. The rear left hand is in ala-pallava while the right holds a drum, with the body bending to the right and the head turned to the left.
35. Bhujanga-Trasita-Recita: The left leg is on the ground while the right is lifted across to the left as in the Nataraja image. Both the front arms are moving towards the raised foot with the body and face too bent slightly forward. The rear right arm holds a snake while the left is in ala-pallava.
36. Nupura: In this panel the legs are in square formation with the feet flat on the ground. The two arms are stretch over the shoulders like the wings of a bird. The two rear arms are by the side of the waist, the face is turned to the left.
37. Vaisakha-Recita: The feet are apart and the body is in half-squat in the basic Bharatanatyam posture known as ardha-mandala. The right hand is on the chest in pataka mudra while the left arm is extended to the side just under the shoulder. The rear right holds a drum while the left probably fire. The face is tilted upwards.
38. Bhramaraka: Here the legs are crossed in svastika, the front right arm is raised and bent with the hand in ala-pallava mudra, while the left arm is lowered to the waist with the fingers pointing towards it. The rear left hand holds a trident while the right arm is lowered with an indistinct object in the hand.
39. Catura: The legs are in ardha-mandala or aramandi; the front left hand is lowered to the waist and the hand is in suci mudra while the right arm is bent and raised above the shoulder. The rear right arm is damaged, while the left hand is in ala-pallava.
40. Bhujanga-Ancita: In this figure the left leg is on the ground while the right is crossing over to the left with the front left arm bent towards this knee. The head is turned to the left. The rear right arm holds a drum and the left fire.
41. Dandaka-Recita: The left leg is stretched with the foot flat on the ground, with the lower body turned to the right and the bent right leg placed in line with the left leg. The front left arm is held up on the side like a staff and the hand is holding what seems to be a manuscript, while the right is bent and placed behind. The rear arms are bent and held symmetrically.
42. Vrscika-Kuttitam: This panel shows the left leg in aramandi and the right is raised up to the waist, resembling the raised tail of a scorpion, hence vrscika. The waist is bent to the right while the chest is held straight with the head turned to the left. Both the front hands are folded in front of the chest. The rear left arm is raised and the hand is in ala-pallava while the right is extended down to the side, the hand holding what seems to be an axe.
43. Kati-Bhranta: The right leg is flat on the ground while the left has the heel lifted and toes on the ground. Both front arms are lifted to the side resembling the wings of a bird. The rear arms are bent and lowered down.
44. Lata-Vrscika: The figure here resembles a figure that is running, the left leg is bent and flat on the floor while the right is raised up to the waist and bent to the back. The front right hand is near the chest in sukatunda mudra while the left is stretched above the shoulder in lata gesture. The rear right holds a trident and the left hold a drum on the side.
45. Chinnam: The figure is shown sitting in aramandi, with the front right arm bent and hand placed on the thigh. The left is bent and raised on the side. The rear left arm is held down and holding an indistinct object and the right is raised at the side holding a drum.
46. Vrscika-Recita: The left leg is in aramandi while the right is raised to the back like a scorpion’s tail. The upper body is slightly tilted to the right, with the two front arms spread straight behind like the wings of a bird. The rear left arm is lowered and holds some object while the right holds a trident.
47. Vrscika: This karana resembles the previous one except that the front arms are bent and placed on the shoulders. The rear arms are bent down with the left hand holding a trident and the right in suci mudra.
48. Vyamsita: The left leg is stretched out and planted away from the body while the right is bent and placed towards the right, the pose thus resembling a warrior drawing out an arrow, also known as the alidha pose. The front left hand is straight in level with the shoulder while the right is bent at waist level and is holding an axe. The rear left arm is bent with the forearm pointing up and the hand in ala-pallava mudra, while the right us extended at shoulder level like a staff. The head is facing the left.
49. Parsva-Nikuttita: In this panel the feet are in aramandi. The upper body is turning to the right with both front hands crossed at the chest. The rear right arm is bent and holding a drum while the left, also bent, holds fire.
50. Lalata-Tilaka: The left leg is placed on the ground in aramandi and the bent right leg is lifted high up with the toes almost touching the forehead. The hands are held in salutation at left side of the chest. The body and head are bent heavily to the left; the rear left arm is bent and in ala-pallava mudra while the right is bent and is probably holding a drum. According to Bharata one of the legs should be bent like a should be bent like a scorpion and with its toes apply vermilion on the forehead, which is ably illustrated in the panel.
Fig. 6: Lalata-tilaka (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
51. Kranta: The left foot is facing forward and is flat on the ground, while the lower body is twisted at the waist with the right leg turned to the front, the knee bent and foot placed a few paces in front suggesting a forward movement. The chest is facing forward with both front arms extended down. The rear left hand holds an antelope and the right an axe.
52. Kuncita: The legs are in aramandi, the left flat on the ground and the right with the toes on the floor. The upper body and head are tilted to the right with the left arm placed on the right thigh while the right hand is at chest level in ala-pallava. The rear arms are bent and raised at the back.
53. Cakra-Mandala: The left leg is stretched straight out with the foot on the floor. The waist is twisted to the right with the leg turned out in the same direction and placed about three spans from the left. There is a suggestion of a forward swinging movement. The upper body is turning to the left but the head is tilted to the right, though looking straight ahead. Both the front arms are thrown down on the side like a creeper, while the rear ones hold an antelope and an axe.
54. Uro-Mandalam: The karana is depicted with the legs in aramandi with the right’s heel raised and toes on the floor. Both front arms are bent and at the level of the navel. The rear right arm holds a trident while the left is in kataka-mukha mudra. The face is turned towards the right and the body is slightly tilted in that direction.
55. Aksipta: The legs are bent and crossed in svastika. The left hand is on the left thigh while the right is in suci. The rear right arm is bent and raised at the back while the left is in ala-pallava. The face is turned to the left.
56. Tala-Vilasita: In this panel the legs are in aramandi. The face is turned to the right and the front arms are in level with the shoulders, bent at the elbows with the hands near the ears, thought the right is slightly away. The rear arms are bent and lowered with a trident in the right and the left in pataka mudra.
57. Argala: Here both legs are bent and facing the left, with a couple of spans of space between the two. The left arm is stretched to the left in level with the shoulder and the hand looks as though it were holding a bow. The right arm is bent at chest level as if shooting an arrow. The rear right arm is bent and probably holding a drum while the left is in ala-pallava mudra. The face is slightly tilted towards the action.
58. Viksipta: The legs are in aramandi with the right one’s heel raised and toes touching the ground. The arms are stretched to the sides like a shaft at shoulder level in a perfect straight line. The rear right arm is lowered onto the thigh while the left is bent and holding an object.
Fig. 7: Vikspita (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
59. Avarta: The legs are in aramandi with the right leg’s heel raised. The right hand is bent and raised parallel to the head while the left is bent and lowered down. The rear right arm is lowered and holds a trident while the left is raised parallel to the head and probably holding fire. The head is tilted to the right.
60. Dola-Pada: In this karana the left leg is in aramandi while the right is stretched straight across the left at waist level. The front arms are stretched and moving towards the raised foot. The upper body is bending forward and the head is turned to the left.
61. Vivrtta: In this panel the figure is depicted sitting in aramandi with the back turned towards the onlooker. The face is turned to the right; the front hand is bent at waist level and the left is on the hip. The other two hands are turned towards the onlooker.
62. Vinivrtta: The legs are in aramandi with the heel of the right foot raised. The body is bent to the left. The front arms are at closer to the armpits with kataka-mukha mudra. The rear right arm holds a drum and the left holds fire. The face is slightly turned to the left.
63. Parsva-Kranta: The left leg is on the ground and the right is raised across like in the Nataraja image. The two front arms are bent with hands near the armpits in pataka mudra. The rear right arm is raised and bent while the left is extended like a staff on the side. The body and head are facing the front.
64. Nishtambita: The legs are facing the left and about four spans apart indicating a great stride. The front left arm is lowered near the thigh while the right is raised up to the forehead. The rear right arm holds an axe while the left probably holds fire. While the body is facing the front, the head is turned to the left.
65. Vidyut-Bhranta: In this panel the left leg is planted on the ground while the right is raised at the back like a scorpion’s tail. Both the front arms are bent and raised to the side like the wings of a bird. The rear right arm is extended down while the left is also bent downwards. The emblems held in the hands are unclear. The face is turned to the left.
66. Atikranta: Both the legs are facing the left with a few paces between them. The body and face are twisted to the right. The right hand is raised up to the head as if giving a slap while the left is held down at the side. The rear right arm is bent and probably holds a drum while the left holds fire.
67. Vivartitaka: The legs are bent and crossing each other. The right arm is bent and holds pataka mudra while the left is held out at shoulder level like a stick. The rear right arm is bent and raised while the left is bent downward. The head is turned to the front.
68. Gajakridita: The left leg is stretched and firmly in place while the right is stretched out in front. The upper body is twisted to the front. The right hand is extending down in a swinging motion, like an elephant’s trunk, while the left is near the left ear. The rear right arm is raised at the back in ala-pallava while the left is stretched down and holding an object.
69. Tala-Samspotita: The figure is represented as turning with both feet to the right; the left leg is straight while the right is bent. The body and face are turned to the right. The front arms are clapping while the rear right arm holds an axe, whose handle is planted on the ground, and the left is raised up in ala-pallava. A fairly large gana is shown dancing in front.
70. Garuda-Plutaka: The figure suggests the flying movement of Vishnu’s vehicle, the bird garuda (eagle). The right leg is in aramandi while the left leg is raised at the back to indicate feathers. Both front arms are raised up like the wings of a bird, while the rear arms are lowered with a trident in the right and the left probably holding a bell. The face is turned to the right and raised skyward.
71. Ganda-Suci: The left leg is in aramandi while the right has the heel raised and toes on the ground. The left hand is at chest level in ala-pallava while the right is raised up to the cheek. The rear right arm is bent and placed on the thigh while the left is raised and bent in kataka-mukha. The torso is bent slightly forward with the eyes cast down.
72. Parivrtta: The figure’s back is facing the onlooker, with the left leg in aramandi and the right foot with heel raised. Both the front arms are raised, while the rear right arm is bent and the left is stretched down. The head is facing the right.
73. Parsva-Janu: This figure is an unfinished one. The right leg is on the ground while the knee of the left leg is raised and the toes planted on the ground. The right hand is bent at shoulder-level while the left is stretched to the side lower than shoulder-level. The rear right arm holds an axe and the left probably holds fire.
74. Grdhravanilakam: The legs are facing the left with a distance of a few paces. The front arms are raised like a bird’s wings. The rear arms are lowered, with a trident in the right and probably kapala in the left. The head is tilted backwards and the face is raised suggesting an upward movement.
75. Sannatam: The legs are straight and crossed at the thighs. The front arms are bent in samputa-mudra at the navel. The body is held straight. The rear arms hold an axe and an antelope.
76. Suci: The left leg is in aramandi while the right has its heel raised. The front arms are spread like a bird’s wings. Both rear arms are lowered and bent, with the right holding an object and the left in suci.
77. Ardha Suci: In this panel the lower part of the body is similar to the previous karana and so are the front arms. The rear right arm is bent and placed on the thigh while the left is near the waist.
78. Suci-Viddham: The left leg is planted straight on the ground while the right’s heel is raised as if in forward movement. The front right arm is placed on the thigh. The rear arms are in karana pose.
79. Apakranta: The body below the waist is twisted to the side. The right leg is in forward movement while the left is behind in sama. The upper body is turned to the front with the arms raised in pataka at an angle. The rear arms are lowered with the right holding a trident and the left some object. The head is turned to the right.
80. Mayura-Lalita: This figure is almost in the pose of running. The left leg is with the heel on the ground while the right is raised at the back, suggesting the plumes of a peacock. Both front arms are raised like wings while the rear right holds an ankusa on a long stick and the left is in suci.
81. Sarpita: The last of the carved karanas depicts the legs in aramandi. The right arm is stretched straight ahead slightly lower while the left is bent and raised up. The rear arms are balanced. The body is slightly bent to the right. The face is looking downwards.
The prakara (enclosure) was built at the behest of Rajaraja I by his Commander-in-Chief, Sri Krishnan Raman (also known as Mummadi-Cola Brahmamarayan). In all probability it was built after the main tower and the mandapa had reached an advanced stage of completion. The enclosure was completed by 1010 AD.
The two-storeyed, cloistered prakara goes around the main temple like a garland and is called tiruc-curru-malikai (prakara malikai). The upper storey has almost disappeared. The prakara is an absolute rectangle with its length (240 metres) being exactly twice its width (120 metres). It houses 36 sub-shrines of various secondary deities, some of which no longer exist. The external wall of the prakara has a row of Nandis seated on top.
The sub-shrines in the form of miniature temples with sikharas and stupis are distributed according to Vastu texts and are either square (27) or rectangular (9). The sikharas of the square shrines are octagonal in shape and face either the inner side of the central yard or the main shrine and form two bays. The front bay forms a mandapa in front of the sub-shrines and the rear bay becomes the enclosed shrine. The secondary deities enshrined include Visnu, Brahma, Uma, Saptamata, Ganesa, Subrahmanya and dikpalas (directional deities).
Isana Siva Pandita, the royal priest of Rajaraja I, gifted copper pots to crown the sikharas of the dikpalalas’ shrines during the consecration of the main temple. The main tower stands at the centre of the rear square of the prakara. This was the first grid called vastupada vinyasa laid out according to textual prescription. The enclosure has four entrances located in the four cardinal directions and an additional one in the south-east corner. The eastern one is in line with the garbagrha and has the gopura. In the inscriptions it is referred to as Rajarajan tiruvasal, i.e, Rarajan’s gateway. Preceding this, in the same direction, is the outer gopura called Keralantakan tiruvasal, i.e, Keralantakan’s gateway. The other three entrances are smaller and are in exact alignment with the main vimana in accordance with the vastu mandala square.
Fig. 8: Rajarajan Tiruvasal (Image taken by Debhashish Bannerjee)
The square sub-shrines in the prakara constitute exactly one square each. They are called padas and the text prescribes one pada for each deity. The directional deities – dikpalas – are also known as pada devatas. Thus, the original diagram of the temple consisted of 3600 (60 X 60) squares, with the vimana consisting of 225 squares and the garbagrha occupying 16 squares. Such a precise layout of the prakara with all the pada devatas in position can also be found in the Kailasanatha temple of Kanchipuram built by Rajasimha in 700 AD.
8. Candikesvara temple
A separate temple has been built for Candikesvara to the north of the main vimana. This temple survives without any alteration and is perhaps the biggest surviving Candesa temple. It is built on a raised platform (upapeetha) and consists of a sanctum tower preceded by an antarala (an antechamber between the garbagrha and mandapa, a mandapa and an open landing that can be approached through two side stairways.
The temple is three-storeyed, including the sikhara. The ground floor has the central projections, the mukha bhadra in alignment with the cavities, or koshthas. These are topped by four sala sikharas, including the one in front. The corners have karna kutas. The salas in the second tier carry four images of a seated Candikesvara.
The sikhara is octagonal and carries four images of a seated Candikesvara as well. It is crowned by a stupi. At the corners of the sikhara are four Nandis. Similarly there are four Nandis above the mandapa indicating that the whole temple was conceived of as two basic units, the vimana and the mandapa.
The entire vimana is built of stone and is of the suddha variety (built of the same material from the base to the top), though plastering and stucco materials were added during renovations perhaps in the Nayak period.
Inside the sanctum is enshrined the image of Candikesvara not in the centre but closer to the rear wall. It is not known whether the present position is the original one or whether the image was subsequently shifted. The latter seems to be the case.
There is another image of Candikesvara similar to the main one placed to its left. The presence of two Candikesvaras deserves attention. There are a further three images of Candikesvara, this time in standing position, in niches outside the garbagrha.
Candesa is considered to be the personification of the anger of Siva. The main Canda associated with Siva is called Dhvani Canda, a personification of sound. There is a tradition in South India where devotees at a Siva temple go to the Candikesvara shrine in the end and clap their hands before leaving a temple, perhaps as obeisance to the sound deity.
In the Brhadisvara temple, there are two seated images in the sanctum and three standing images in the niches, constituting a group of five. It is possible that this is based on the Panca-Candikesvara concept, where the central one represents the Dhvani Candesa, the second one in the sanctum Yamini Candesa of Uma and the other three would be Tejas Canda, Kumbha Canda and Mitra Canda.
The same text also refers to eight other Candesas to be invoked in different directions. The two upper tiers of the temple in the Brhadisvara complex carry altogether eight Candesa images.
The Candikesvara temple in the Brhadisvara complex is a secondary one. It has a mandapa but no separate prakara of its own. There are no directional or parivara deities and no Dvarpala. Lastly, the temple faces south and is located to the north-east of the main shrine.
9. Subrahmanya temple
Fig. 9: Subrahmanya temple, Brihadisvara (Image taken by Debhashish Banneree)
The Subrahmanya temple was built in the cyclic year Raudri on the 19th day in the month of Panguni. This date seems to correspond to March 15, 1560, which was during the reign of the Tanjavur Nayaks Sevvappa and his son Achyutappa. A Tamil inscription found on a pilaster by the side of a dvarpala at the northern entrance, mentions the name of the architect as Atiravisi Acari (Acari was a title given to architects). A devotee by the name of Virappanayaka is also mentioned. It is assumed that he either commissioned the temple or supervised its construction.
The temple is dedicated to Subrahmanya in his Sanmukha form, which is reflected in the architecture. The main image is a six-faced Sanmukha with twelve arms, seated on a peacock. The total height of the image is about 9 feet. He is flanked by his consorts Valli and Devasena. The vimana is visualised as the body of the deity enshrined within.
The temple consists of a three-storeyed sanctum tower with a hexagonal sikhara, topped by a metallic stupi. The sikhara like the enshrined deity is six-faced. At the corners are peacocks as placing the vehicle of the deity at the griva corners is a ritual.
In front of the mandapa is a portico with steps on the northern and southern side leading up to the main entrance. Unlike the porches of the mahamandapa of the main temple and the Candikesvara temple, this one was built with the ceiling in two parts carrying sculpted square panels showing entwined snakes at the corners. The ceiling is supported by sculpted pillars, one of which depicts Visnu dancing like Nataraja, indicating the popularity of the Nataraja theme. The mandapa was added probably a century later, during the late Nayak period. Initially it was open on all sides with only side steps, which were later converted into front steps with elephant parapets. At the rear end of the hall, steps were built leading to the main portico. This was probably done in the time of Serfoji II, when the two sides were walled up. The hall was probably used during festivals to exhibit the deity. The portraits of Maratha rulers, beginning from Shivaji to the last ruler Shivaji II, were painted around 1850 AD.
There are five niches in the temple, two in the mandapa and the other three in the walls of the sanctum. These carry identical images of a four-armed Subrahmanya standing with a vajra and sakti in his rear arms. The front arms are broken. The niches in the mandapa have Ganesa, the brother of Subrahmanya, in the south and Durga, their mother, in the north.
An additional iconographic representation is that of Kali killing Nisumbha and Durga killing Mahisasura, both placed beneath the window of the mandapa. Provision is made in the centre and also in the north for draining the abhiseka water (sacred water that is drained out of the sanctum after bathing the idol), indicating that the mandapa was used as a snapana mandapa. At the entrance to the mandapa-sanctum are two dvarpalas, each with four arms. One has a vajra on his head and the other has sakti, suggesting that they are the Ayudha Purusas of Subrahmanya.
The front portion of the portico depicts a horse-drawn chariot, the wheels are now broken and the horses are also damaged, but the images suggests that the vimana and mandapa of the temple were designed to represent a celestial flying vehicle. This is a depiction that seems to have gained currency from the 12th century onwards under the Cholas, as is seen at Darasuram and Tribhuvanam.
An unusual aspect of the temple is the material used in building the structure. While the temple itself is made of white granite, the sculptures within are carved out of finely polished black granite thus standing out in sharp contrast. This seems to have become the practice from the middle of the 12th century under Rajaraja Chola II. It is highly likely that this change occurred due to the influence of the large number of bronze images that were created by the end of the 11th century. A second reason seems to be the close contact the later Cholas had with the Pala art of Bengal and Karnataka art. Another noticeable change is that while the earlier niche sculptures were originally painted, from the late Chola period the technique was replaced by fine polish.
The Subrahmanya temple is built on a raised platform with intricately articulated mouldings, niches and other wall decorations. The meticulous proportions and carvings have drawn the attention of art historians as fine examples of Tanjavur Nayak architecture.
10. Torana Entrance
A decorated entrance arch, built of brick and mortar, is found at the easternmost entrance to the temple. It is called a makara torana and is depicted as emanating from the mouths of crocodiles. On either side are images of Nandi, ganas blowing conches and a seated sage. In the centre are five images that constitute the Pancamurtis, namely Candikesvara, Ganesa, Umasahita, Tani Amman and Subrahmanya. All five are shown standing as if in procession.
Candikesvara is two-armed and wields an axe. Ganesa is four-armed and holds ankusa, pasa, a broken tusk and modaka. Siva in the Umasahita group is four-armed holding parasu, mrga, abhaya and varada, while Uma is two-armed with a lily in one hand. Tani Amman is shown with four arms holding lotuses, abhaya and varada. Subrahmanya is four-armed with sakti, vajra, abhaya and varada.
These stucco figures stylistically belong to the Maratha period (mid-19th century) and were probably done in the time of Shivaji II, the last to conduct a kumbhabhiseka.
There is a small shrine of Ganesa to the right of the entrance, which dates back to the Rajaraja period and was probably inside earlier but was later brought out when the torana was built. There is also an image of Subrahmanya assignable to the 11-12th century. The annual procession ritual depicted by the torana requires the Ganesa and Subrahmanya idols to be positioned thus for the devotees to pay their first obeisance.