Almost every temple in India is either dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu and their consorts. While every temple has a spiritual significance to it, there are some shrines that remain etched in my mind. I am often taken in by sculptures, although I am no art historian or an architectural expert. They have a magnetic pull. These are some of the sculptures of Shiva in temples of South India that have fascinated me. Most of these temples have archaeological significance and were built by various dynasties several centuries ago.
I start with the 6th century Chalukya capital, Badami or Vatapi where both rock cut and structural temples beckon me. There are four caves in Badami and the first one is dedicated to Shiva and his pantheon of Gods. I was awestruck seeing this 18 armed Shiva carved in the caves, probably an early depiction of Nataraja.
When it comes to carving sculptures of Shiva, the Cholas are the experts. Raja Raja Chola’s Big Temple or the Brihadeshwara temple in Thanjavur towers over all shrines in South India and is a masterpiece in its own right. However his son, Rajendra Chola tries to replicate his father’s magnum opus in his new capital, Gangaikondacholapuram, but stops his work midway. Perhaps, this panel depicting Shiva blessing the prince and showcasing the story of Chandela has something to do with it.
Hampi may be synonymous with art and architecture of the Vijaynagar empire but it is in Lepakshi where I saw this massive beautiful Naga Linga and heard this interesting story. The giant multihooded Naga Linga was said to have constructed out of a single boulder in such speed ; apparently even before the cook had finished cooking for the workers. But a crack soon appeared in the boulder that it looks like the sculpture is split in the middle, towards its base. “ The sculptor’s mother was so taken in by her son’s work that she praised him, but her words only caused an evil eye and the crack appeared ,” says the guide , as I smile.
We spoke about the Cholas, the Chalukyas and the Vijaynagar kings but another early depiction of the Nataraja is carved by the early Pallavas under Mahendravarman 1 in Seeyamangalam, a temple which is about 80 kms from Madras (Chennai). Dedicated to Stambeshwarar, a form of Shiva, the temple has been further extended by the Chola and the Vijaynagar kings who have built the Gopurams and the Mandapams, besides the Murugan temple atop a rock with small steps carved on the stone. The temple has one of the earliest interpretations of the Ananda Thandava posture of Shiva that we know as Nataraja carved in one of the pilasters, while the other has a low bass relief of Rishabhantara.
Have you seen any interesting sculptures or heard any stories ? Please share them here.