Kanchipuram, the ancient capital city and intellectual centre of the South, teems with historical temples of great beauty and grandeur. The Pallavas studded the city with artistic marvels like the Kailasanatha temple built by Rajasimha and the Vaikuntha Perumal temple or Parameswara vinnagaram built by Nandivarman. The art of painting was amply cultivated by the Pallava kings and we see traces of it in places like Kanchipuram and Panamalai. At Kanchi, we see some good specimens of painting preserved at least in bits and parts only in the Kailasanatha temple.
The art of painting reached heights of glory under Rajaraja Chola the Great, whose excellent specimens are to be seen at the Brihadiswara Temple, Thanjavur. But subsequent to his period we are not able to trace the continuity because of the lack of specimens of the later Chola period.
Temple art and architecture received a fresh impetus during the Vijayanagara and Nayaka periods when a great spurt in painting is also to be seen. Numerous specimens are to be seen in places like Somapalle, Lepakshi and Hampi. Kanchipuram received ample patronage from Vijayanagara monarchs like Krishnadeva Raya, Achyutadeva Raya, Sadasiva and Venkata Raya I. The stately gopuras seen at Ekambareswara temple and the Varadaraja Perumal temple, the magnificent hundred pillared kalyana mandapa and the tulabhara mandapa at Varadaraja Perumal temple are outstanding examples. Good specimens of their paintings are to be seen in the Jain temple at Tirupparuttikunram and Varadaraja temple. The paintings in the latter place are comparatively less known. They are to be seen in the outer walls of the sanctum and also the corridor walls around the central shrine and a few other places like the abhisekha mandapa, Andal unjal mandapa and on the walls and ceiling of the second prakara gateway.
The major themes of the paintings pertain to the 108 divyadesas or sacred Vishnu shrines of India sung by Alvar (saints), portraits of the twelve saints with their distinctive iconographic features with Nammalvar (Satagopa) as the central figure; sthalapurana episodes; Krishna lila and some scenes of the Bhagavata Purana. Iconographic features shown for the deities of divyadaas are very distinctive.
I had the occasion to make a preliminary study and include a section in my monograph published in 1970. But more paintings have come to light in recent years and I am extremely happy to see that Dr. Nanditha Krishna has made further study on them and brought out a monograph with excellent illustrations. I congratulate her for her distinct contribution.
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