This time around we wanted to have a closer look at the murals that adorn the ceilings of the temple.
The rulers of the Vijayanagar empire embellished many of their splendid temples with exquisite murals. I had written sometime ago about the murals in Virupaksha temple: https://www.profraguram.com/musings--reflections/entrancing-murals-of-hampi
Unfortunately many of them are in varying states of decay. The paintings at Lepakshi also met a similar fate through years of neglect. It was however very gratifying to see that some attempts have been made of late, to restore them without affecting their underlying character.
The paintings can be seen in many parts of the temple, but the most well preserved ones are on the ceilings of the Rangamantapa. It must have been an arduous task to paint on granite ceilings. The colour palettes are quite varied; ranging from earth-red, black, green, yellow and white. The figures appear to have been drawn with a stylus rather than a brush by the artists. There is a wealth of fine detail, ranging from expression on the faces to the patterns in the dress, jewellery and headgear. Exceptionally talented master painters of the era must have worked diligently on these remarkable creations.
Let us now look at some of the contents of these paintings…
Kindly click on the link to view the paintings in google photos...and associate them with the descriptions in the text here!
THE STORY OF MANUNEEDHI CHOLAN
There was an ancient Chola king called Ellalan who lived around 235-161 BCE. He ruled parts of southern India and his capital was Thiruvarur in Tamil Nadu. He was well respected for his sense of justice and rule of law and since he followed the principles of Manu Needhi, he was known as Manuneethi Cholan. He reportedly hung a huge bell in front of his palace and announced that anyone seeking justice could ring the bell and their voice would be heard.
One day his son, the young prince went around the city in his chariot. People cheered him wherever he went and welcomed him by beating drums and with pipes. A young calf terrified with the loud noises ran berserk and got itself crushed under the wheels of the prince's chariot. The mother of the calf helplessly watched its little one die .The cow walked to the palace gates and rang the bell demanding justice from the king. The king came out and saw the cow and learnt about the death of the young calf under the wheels of his son's chariot. He kept his promise and ordered his son to be killed for his recklessness. The prince was killed the same way the calf had died and was crushed under the wheels of the chariot. The Lord appeared and praised the king for upholding justice and brought the prince and the calf back to life. A stone chariot in Thyagaraja Swamy temple at Thiruvarur stands testimony to this episode.
The legend of this righteous king is portrayed in a panel on the ceiling of the temple.
Men are gathered around the chariot driven by the young prince. The calf which has been run over can be seen clearly under the central wheel of the chariot. Hearing about the incident the king is rushing to hear the cow’s account. He then orders the prince to be punished. The chariot carrying the dead calf, with the grieving cow licking it, is driven over the prince, crushing him to death. A rain of flowers falls from above. Shiva and Parvati appear before the king and in the concluding panel, the prince is miraculously restored to life, watched by host of ganas.
SCENES FROM KIRATARJUNIYA
Kiratarjuniya is a Sanskrit epic poem written by Bharavi in the 6th Century AD, describing the interaction between Arjuna and Lord Shiva in the guise of a kirata or mountain-dwelling hunter. Facing the prospect of war against the Kauravas at the end of their exile, Arjuna is advised by the sage Vyasa to seek divine weapons. Reminded of the humiliation that his brothers and his wife Draupadi faced during the dice game where they lose their entire kingdom, Arjuna decides to perform an austere penance. Arjuna endures the hardships of the weather and overcomes many temptations, standing steadfast in his goal. Pleased with his penance, Shiva decides to test his valor by appearing as a hunter, with both of them shooting a wild boar simultaneously and arguing over who shot first. Upon realizing that he is unable to win, Arjuna at last recognizes Shiva and surrenders to him. Shiva then grants him the powerful Pashupatastra.
Unfortunately many scenes from this story have vanished. One can see Arjuna making his way to Indirakila hill. There is also a striking depiction of Indra. He is seen carrying the vajra with flaming tips in his hands. He is flanked by three attendants, who are wearing elegantly patterned dhotis. They are listening attentively to Narada on the left. In the next panel one can see Arjuna performing penance with his bow and arrow by his side. Pleased with his dedication, Indra appears in divine form with four arms. He encourages Arjuna to pray to Shiva in order to receive the Pashupatastra, the magic weapon that can ensure victory over the Kauravas. Arjuna prostrates himself before Indra. Impressed with the intensity of Arjuna’s penance the rishis report to Shiva. Parvati is seen carrying a lotus in her hands. Shiva is seated on a throne, his upper hands carrying the mriga and parashu. Every detail of Shiva’s dress and jewellery is beautifully rendered.
Shiva and Parvathy walk through the forest. They are seen wearing leafy garments and headgear. A boar, the Danava Muka in disguise appears before them. One can also see Arjuna in deep meditation, sitting on top of a hill. The intensity of this tapas is expressed by the jatas standing on end. The wild boar, baring his sharp tusks is seen running through the forest charging everyone in sight. The forest animals and sages are running in fear, with two of them falling on the ground. The chaos in the air is beautifully painted.
Sadly the concluding scenes of the story have almost disappeared, with just some traces which are difficult to decipher.
MARRIAGE OF SHIVA AND PARVATHI
In the first panel Parvati is seen seated wearing a chequered saree. She is holding a palm leaf manuscript in the uplifted hand, some leaves of which are strewn on the ground. A musician playing a tambura is seen behind. Is she reading some texts from the palm leaves before her wedding?
In the next panel Shiva is shown wearing the characteristic tiger skin, carrying the deer and axe in the upper hands. Parvati, escorted by attendants stands in front of Shiva, her head slightly bent. She is seen carrying a lotus in her left hand while offering the right hand to Shiva. Do not fail to notice a diminutive Nandi jumping joyfully between the couple! To the left of Paravati are her parents, Mena and Himavan. Himavan is carrying a kamandala in his raised hand and is about to solemnize the wedding by pouring water on the hands of the couple.
Brahma is seen sitting in front of the sacred fire, ostensibly performing various rituals. By his side are the dikpalas, headed by Indra, recognized by the vajras held in the upper hands. By his side are the two headed Agni with flames emanating from his crown, and Yama with fangs protruding from his mouth. The remaining dikpalas are also seen.
By the side of Himavan and Mena are three women, two of them raise their hands as if to bless the couple while the third one is seen carrying a book. By their side is Vishnu, with his chakra and shanku.
MARRIAGE OF ARJUNA
This panel which has survived vagaries of time shows Draupadi sitting on the right thigh of Drupada ostensibly watching Arjuna hit the revolving fish target. The four Pandava princes, all wearing tall crowns, celebrate the wedding of their brother by pouring the auspicious rice over the couple. By the side is seen Krishna.
ASPECTS OF SHIVA
Portrayal Of Shiva
This is an exquisite painting of Shiva with wonderful details of his dress and ornamentations.
Rescue Of Markendeya or Lingodhbhavamurthi
In this panel, Shiva is emerging from the top of the Linga which is set on a high pitha. The youthful devotee is paying respects to the God after his rescue. However in a departure from traditional renderings, he is not shown clutching the shaft of the Linga. One can catch a glimpse of Yama on the right. Shiva is portrayed holding the axe and fire in the upper hands, the lower hands are in abhaya and varada mudra.
Here Shiva is seated beneath a tree, atop a pile of rocks, intended to represent Mount Kailas. He is dressed in a leopard skin. On his right is Narada, the left arm extended as if reciting or singing with the veena resting on his right shoulder. He is followed by a group of rishis, the last of whom is a dark complexioned sadhu, with a prominent tilak on his forehead He is clad in loin cloth and is carrying a kamandala in his right hand and a leopard skin is draped over his right shoulder. Wonder who he is!
In this panel, Shiva is shown walking through the forest, indicated by two trees. He is accompanied by a gana carrying a large container on his head and a leaping deer. He carries the damaru in the upper right hand, the trishula held in the upper left hand rests on the shoulder; the lower right hand hangs loosely on the side. In the lower left hand Shiva is carrying a bowl in which one of the rishi patnis pours some rice. What is striking is that the end of her white saree is slipping from her shoulder, revealing her breasts and abdomen! Her hair is tied in a large bun adorned with white flowers. Two rishis witness this on the other side.
Bhairava is depicted in a graceful tribhanga pose. His vahana, a dog, is at his feet. The God is shown with long flowing hair, fangs protruding from his mouth and wearing a garland of skulls. In one of the right arms, he is carrying a severed head. To his right is a diminutive devotee with folded hands. Interestingly Bhairava has an unusually benign expression and his gaze is directed away from the devotee!
It is striking to note that all the figures portrayed in these paintings display a wealth of richly patterned garments, elaborate jewellery and interesting hair styles! There is an amazing variety of designs in the garments and textiles worn by the figures portrayed in the paintings. There are patterns with stripes, checks, flowers and flowing vines. Interestingly, both Parvati and Draupadi are seen wearing sarees with checkered designs during their wedding! Most of the floral designs show single blossoms, surrounded by tiny black curls, stylized vines or leaves. Even the dhoties worn by male figures display enchanting, intricate designs! There is rich detailing of ornaments worn by both male and female figures. Most of the panels are embellished with ornately executed borders with captivating designs. These designs have been an enduring source of inspiration for artisans down the centuries. Their impact can be seen even till date on the compositions of Kalamkari art.
The enchanting sculptures have withstood the impact of time and weather much better. After spending a major part of our stay in the temple carefully examining the murals, we walked around the natyamantapa and the unfinished kalyanamantapa, savoring the fascinating array of sculptures adorning these two structures. The high relief sculptures are large and mostly depict Gods and Goddesses and the low relief sculptures adorning the pillars of the mandapas, depict demi gods, fauna and flora.
By then it was noon and it was difficult to walk on the granite stones which were radiating heat. With much reluctance we exited from the temple complex with one lasting look at the dancing lady with a serene facial expression sculpted on the doorway…she seemed to beckon us to visit the temple again!
In every nook and corner of this magnificent edifice, dreams of unknown artisans find their expression through chisel and brush…
There are scores of photos in the google links, take your time and have a look at them at your leisure!
Look forward to your comments here...and kindly don't post them in google photos!