Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple is a treasure house of art and culture. As a centre of traditional cultural activities, it is here that architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance, literature, as well as the folk arts and crafts, received great encouragement over centuries and this continues even today.
The architectural marvels and sculptural embellishments of the temples in India in general and those of South India in particular attract both foreigners and the natives. The Pallavas, Pandyas, Cholas and the Vijayanagar Nayak rulers produced excellent architectural monuments enshrining the beautiful sculptures of the divinities as well as the human beings, animals and birds in the Tamil country. Of such monuments, the great temple of Meenakshi Sundareshwarar at Madurai finds a foremost place with its exuberant structures and exhilarated carvings.
Madurai is a well known religious and cultural center of the Tamils from time immemorial. In the past, as an international trade centre it attracted people from
different countries who settled here for many centuries. Madurai continued to be the capital city of various ruling dynasties for many centuries. The Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple is the nucleus of this ancient city. Though the temple is mentioned in early literature, the present structure has undergone many a renovation and rebuilding. This vast temple complex has numerous mandapams exposing architectural marvels starting from the Pandya period to the end of the nineteenth century. Each art piece shows varied styles. Each mandapam accommodates sculptural panels depicting epic, puranic stories and local legends. Majority of the sculptural panels and individual sculptures found here belong to the period of the Nayaks. They are all life size sculptures and statues exquisitely and intricately carved with attention to minute details.
This book "The Sculptural Splendours of Meenakshi Temple" is a well documented work explaining various aspects of the sculptural art of this legendary temple. It provides valuable information on the location of the sculptures, legends related to them and significance of the depiction of sculptures in strategic locations.
We have to salute the greatly skilled master craftsman-long gone, for their enormous contribution towards the incalculable temples in Tamil Nadu and the brilliant sculptures they have created with divine passion, devotion and remarkable skill.
1 am sure that this richly illustrated and painstakingly documented book will appeal to the many art lovers, foreigners, students, general public and researchers. The authors have taken efforts to evolve a comprehensive picture of the sculptural art of the great temple.
1 take this opportunity to thank the Joint Commissioner and his colleagues for their efforts to commission this book. I congratulate the authors, photographers, illustrators and designers for their efforts in putting together this valuable documentation.
I have no doubt that this will serve as a great reference guide to the succeeding generation of devotees.
This work is a collective venture by many who earnestly involved in this task along with the authors. The authors express their deep gratitude to Thiru Karumuttu T. Kannan, Chairman, Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundaresvara Temple, Commissioner HREtCE, and the Shri Natarajan, Joint Commissioner/ Executive Officer and other officials of Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundaresvara Temple, Madurai for their kind cooperation and permission to publish this book. But for their support and encouragement the book would not have been brought out within a short span.
The authors sincerely thank Thiru J.Lakshiminarayanan Ft Thiru R. Prasad for their concept, creative and fine photographic skill employed in this work. They earnestly thank Pulavar Thiru. T. Vijayaragunathan for his valuable suggestions and encouragement.
Indian sculpture is one of the important modes of visual communication of religious ideas. The images of gods and goddesses are the representations of philosophical, mythological and symbolical aspects of various sportive, incarnations, and attributes of different sects sometimes claiming superiority of the one over the others. The Hindu temple is conceived as a microcosm or a model of the universe, the macrocosm. As the cosmos is an idealized one, the sculptures which adorn various parts of the temple are also conceived and made in an idealized style. The earliest Indian sculptures of the historic period are the products of the Buddhist artists, as in the case of architecture and they depict mostly themes from the Jataka tales and some of them are loose sculptures.
The basis of the Hindu temple sculpture was laid during the classical Gupta period (4th-6th centuries AD). Beauty, dignity, refinement, simplicity, freedom from sensuality and thoroughly Indian are some of the unique features of the Gupta sculptures. From the Gupta region, the sculptural tradition reached its culmination and spread all over India. The post- Gupta dynasties which patronized Hinduism furthered this tradition in their region in their own regional idiom. This observance spread to the extreme south, the Tamil country through the Chalukyan region, where Badami, Pattadakkal and Aihole served as the cradle of Dravidian and Nagara style of architecture as well as the Hindu sculptural tradition.
in the Tamil country, the sculptural art was familiar to the Sangam Tamils. The artists were experts in stucco (sudai) works, which was but a development of the simple ceramic art of pottery or terracotta. Being perishable, now we have no trace of their art, except the mention about them in contemporary literature. Tavar spoken of in the Silappadikaram, a post Sangam work denotes the images worshipped in the temples of those days.
Pallava Sculptures (c. AD 590-850)
The earliest available sculptures of the Tamils belong to the Pallava-Pandya period, since they are carved on the walls of their rock sanctuaries. The Latin word sculpture means 'to cut' or 'to carve out'. Now it means not only figures carved and moulded, but also those cast in metal. The sculpture may be done completely "in the round", so that it is fully three dimensional, or carved in " relief', so that it projects solidly from a flat surface. if it projects boldly it is "high relief" and if projects slightly it is " low relief' or " bas-relief'.
The sculptural tradition introduced by the Pallavas and their contemporary Pandyas was followed by all subsequent dynasties like the Cholas, Vijayanagar-Nayak and so on. The Pallava sculpture throughout the period maintains its distinctive feature of tall, strong bodies with large broad waist girdle loops. In most of the Pallava figures the yajnopavita (sacred thread) goes over the right arm which feature is also seen in a few Chola and Pandya sculptures. The real achievement of the Pallavas in the sculptural art belongs to the successors of Mahendravarma Pallava 1, especially Rajasimha, under whom quality in sculpture improved considerably as seen in the famous narrative panels at Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram and Thiruchirappalli. The huge bas- relief panel of Gangadhara in the upper cave, Thiruchirappalli is the earliest masterpiece in the Tamil sculptural history. The symmetry of this composition bestows on it a mandala like character.
Sculpture seems to have had precedence over architecture in the Varaha mandapa and Mahishamardini mandapa at Mamallapuram. All these bas- reliefs here being masterpieces, some stand out strikingly) the Adhivaraha and the Trivikrama panels of the Varaha mandapa, both showing a rare combination of dynamic movement of the body and the yogic static of the mind, as seen on their faces (the Varaha and Trivikrama have been the favourite themes of the earliest dynasties like Guptas, Chalukyas, Pallavas, Pandyas and Adiyamans for they symbolize the Thakravartin (conquering emperor) concept of the Brahmanical Hinduism.
Later, the imperial Cholas, being staunch Saivites preferred Tripurantaka instead). ii) the Mahishamardini, the most remarkable for its virility, dynamism and grace. The eight armed youthful spinster Durga sitting astride her charging lion mount and the buffalo headed demon fast retreating is a forceful composition. iii) the opposite panel to the above shows Ananthasayi in yogasayana and it is a picture of peace, in contrast to the former. iv) the Somaskanda form of Siva filling the entire back wall of the Mahishamardini mandapa is a unique contribution of the Pallavas to the Hindu iconography and iconology. v) the Govardhan panel occupying the entire face of a rock and vi) the descent of the Ganga.
The last mentioned is the most outstanding work of art in Mamallapuram. "No magician- sculptors, anywhere
in the world, have ever worked on a fresco as large as this rock- surface. The flow of figures transcends definition. The energies fuse in to each other. The spell of the myth integrates the awareness in to the belief in Arjuna/ Bahiratha asking for the boon". This gigantic open- air relief on two large boulders (20'high x 80' long) with a narrow fissure in between used to serve as the Heavenly Ganga river descending on earth, is a unique one in the entire range of Indian art. it contains over a hundred figures of celestials, men and beasts. The massive elephants with their calves lend an air of realism and dignity to the entire composition.
The transition from sculpture as architecture, to the structural temple, where the carving adorn the temples, was brought about in Kanchipuram during the reign of Rajasimha, in the first quarter of the eighth century AD. The Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram is a sculptural museum by itself with huge number of sculptures depicting various aspects of Siva, which is perhaps the earliest of its kind in the structural temples of Tamilnadu. This tradition was continued by Rajasimha's successors in their temples at Kanchipuram, Tiruttani, Takkolam and Alambakkam.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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