[This is the Sixth article in the series.
This article and its companion posts may be treated as an extension of the series I posted on Art of Painting in Ancient India
The present article looks at the surviving mural (earlyeleventh -century) at another Pallava temple viz.theKailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu.) This temple is one of the earliest constructed by the Pallava kings; and it served as a model for the other bigger temples.
In the next article we shall look at the Paintings at the magnificent Chola temple of Brihadeeshwara at Thanjavur.]
Sri Kailasanatha of Kanchipuram
19.1. Kanchipuram located along the banks of the Palar has a glorious history. In the ancient times it was reckoned among the seven primer Sacred cities (Saptapuri) that granted liberation (moksadayikah): Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya (Haridwar), Kashi (Varanasi), Kanchi, Avanthika (Ujjain), Puri, and Dvaravathi (Dwaraka) .
Ayodhya Mathura Maya Kashi Kanchi Avantika | Puri Dvaravati chaiva saptaita moksadayikah ||
And the great poet Kalidasa (4th century CE) lauded Kanchi as the best among those cities (Nagareshu Kanchi).
Kanchipuram was the holy city not only for the various sects of the Vedic religion but also for the Jains and the Buddhists.
19.2. Even much prior to that, Kanchi located in the region referred to as Tondaimandalam in ancient Sangam literature, was described as the city of Kachchi surrounded by forests, lovely like the many-petalled lotus.
Manimekalai, a Buddhist epic from the later Sangam age, recounts Kanchi as the graceful city where the most beautiful, golden-hearted dancer Manimekalai, causes to build a delightful garden in honour of the Buddha; places the Amuda Surabhi at the lotus seat of the Buddha ; and, welcomes all living beings, including the lonely, the neglected, the hungry, the defeated, and the maimed to gather and partake food offered by her and bless her. The beloved Manimekalai enters the Sangha under the guidance of her teacher Aravana Adikal; and dedicates the rest of her life to Dharma.
Kanchi developed into a centre of Buddhism in South India, from where the Dharma spread to other regions in India and also to Far-East and China. It was the home of many eminent Buddhist scholars, such as: Buddhaghosha (fifth century CE) and Aniruddha (author of Abhi-dhamma-ttha-sangaha); and of revered monks such as: Venudasa, Vajrabodhi, Sariputra, Sumati and Jotipala.
Among the Buddhists of Kanchi was the renowned scholar Dignaga (c. 480 – c. 540 CE), one of the founders of the system of Logic (Hetu Vidya) which developed into the deductive logic in India ; and, as the cornerstone of Buddhist system of Logic and Epistemology (Pramana).
Kanchi was also the home-town of the remarkable and matchless Bodhidharma (470-543 CE), a Pallava prince, the third son of Simhavarman II; and a contemporary of Skandavarman IV and Nandivarman I. He came under the influence of the admirable Buddhist teacher Prajnatara who trained him in the techniques of meditation. Later, as per the wish of his teacher, Bodhidharma left for China to spread Dharma in that land. He arrived at the port city of Kwan-tan (Canton), along the southern coast of China, during the year 520. He was honoured by the Chinese emperor Wu-li in whose court was the great translator Paramartha. Soon thereafter, Bodhidharma headed north, crossed the Yangtze River and reached the Ho Nan Province. There at a temple, Bodhidharma meditated for nine years facing a wall, not uttering a sound for the entire time.
Bodhidharma is revered as the Adi – Guru, the first patriarch, of the Chinese Cha’n (Skt. Dhyana) School, which later developed into the system of Zen meditation – a way to awakening through self-enquiry. In order to ensure that his disciple –monks are physically strong enough to withstand both their isolated lifestyle and his demanding training methods, Bodhidharma trained the monks in the ancient Indian style of armless combat, called Vajramusti (diamond-fist). That later gave rise to the now famous martial art , the Shoaling style of fist fighting ch’uan-fa (literally ‘way of the fist’).
19.3. Kanchi was, in a similar manner, a prominent centre of Jainism. It is believed that Jainism entered Southern India in around fourth century BC, when the monk Visakhacharya, at the behest of Acharya Bhadrabahu, moved over to the Chola and Pandya countries along with a group of sramanas (Jain monks), in order to propagate the faith of the Thirthankaras.
The Jain scholar-monks such as Acharyas Sumantha-bhadra, Akalanka, Vamana-charya Pushpa-danta, Kunda-kunda and others, were highly regarded for their piety and scholarship. Under their guidance a number of Jain temples and educational institutions (samana-palli) were established in the Tamil country, especially in its Northern regions.
The recognition accorded to Jainism is evidenced by the fact that a sector of Kanchipuram is known as Jaina Kanchi. It is said; the Pallava King Mahendra-varman I (600 – 630 CE), in the early part of his life, caused , in that sector , construction of two temples : one dedicated to Chandra-prabha the eighth Thirthankara; and the other dedicated to Vardhamana the twenty-fourth Thirthankara who is also addressed as Trailokya-natha-swami. The ancient paintings in the Vardhamana temple are renowned for their artistic qualities.
19.4. Kanchi was the imperial capital of the Pallavas for over five hundred years from 4th to 9th centuries. The Pallava power and the city of Kanchipuram were at the zenith of their glory during the 7th and 9th centuries, when the Pallavas had established supremacy over their southern rivals and ruled over the territory extending from the Krishna in the north to Cauvery in the south. During this period the Pallava kingdom enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity; and, during which literature, art and architecture flourished. Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese-Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller and translator who visited Kanchi during the 7th century, wrote glowingly about the splendour of the city and its intellectual wealth. He records that there were as many as one hundred monasteries with ten thousand Buddhist monks in Kanchipuram. Further, the might of the Pallavas was such that they had established diplomatic and trade relations with China, Siam, and Fiji etc.
19.4. Thereafter, the city came under the rule of Cholas from 10th to 13th century; and of the Vijayanagar kings from 14th to 17th century. By then the city had lost its primer status and was steadily on the downward slope. Kanchi’s decline was accelerated by the drying up of the Palar River.
Kanchipuram is one of those sad cases where a thriving urban populace forced by neglect and paucity of resources rapidly reverts to rural life styles. The city could no longer sustain itself, particularly after the near-demise of the Palar. Kanchi is now a little more than a weavers’ town.
The other instance of that nature that quickly comes to my mind is the city of palaces and mansions located on the Ganga that once was the seat of a mighty imperial power, the Pataliputra which now has degenerated into squalor and dirt ridden dust-bowel called Patna.
20. Sri Kailasanatha
20.1. The oldest among the ancient temples in Kanchipuram is the Kailasanatha Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was earlier known as Raja-simheshwaram. The temple is credited to the initiative and enterprise of the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman II or Rajasimha (also known as Ajiranakanta, Ranadhira and Kshatriya Simheshvara) who reigned between 690 to 728 AD. The Kailasanatha temple is the finest structural project of the Pallavas. It looks as if a chariot from heaven has descended on earth. The sanctum enshrines a shodasakona (sixteen-cornered) lingam of black colour. The vimana rises over the sanctum like a pyramid.
20.2. The Somaskanda panel, depicting Shiva and Parvathi with their son Karthikeya is the main iconographic motif of the temples built by Rajasimha in particular and the Pallavas in general. The term Somaskanda (Sa-Uma-Skanda) literally means (Shiva) “with Uma and Skanda”. The rear wall of the sanctum in Kailasanatha is adorned with the Somaskanda panel. The Pallavas seemed to be very fond of the theme of Shiva’s family. In endless varieties of depictions they celebrate Shiva as regal and yet a loving family man with a beautiful wife and a playful child.
The Pallava depictions of the Somaskanda are usually large sized. Shiva is three eyed; four armed, splendidly ornamented; and his complexion resembles the rising sun (udaya bhanu nibha) or the coral (mani vidrumabha).His matted hair is done up as a crown adorned with crescent moon and Ganga. He wears a patra-kundala in his left ear; and makara kundala in his right ear. His upper hands carry tanka or cane (vetra), and an antelope; and his lower two hand gesture benediction and assurance. He sits with his one leg bent and kept on the seat (sayanam padakam); and his other leg stretched down (lambaka padam).
Parvathi sits to his left. She has two hands; and holds a blue lotus in one of her hands. She too sits with her one leg bent; and the other stretched.
Both have a pleasant countenance; and sit in a relaxed posture (sukhasana).The playful child Skanda is between the loving couple. The child Skanda, in these depictions, has one face, two hands; and holds a flower in each of his hands. His complexion is blue
20.3. The Kailasanatha is a four-storied structure containing two walls providing an ambulatory (pradakshina –patha).The stories are decorated with architectural designs .The temple built almost entirely of sandstone is integrated into a coherent complex. The modest scale of the temple, and the closeness of its enclosing wall, lends a sense of intimacy to the surroundings.
20.4. The Kailasanatha temple is perhaps the biggest sandstone temple structure in the world. Among the ancient temples in Kanchi, the Kailasanatha is the only temple whose structure has not been meddled with or re-constructed. It still retains its pristine form and structure. It’s another unique feature is the 58 devakulikas (mini-shrines) that run round the main temple. They had murals that portrayed scenes from the Shiva- Lila, the legends of Shiva. Sadly, most of those paintings are no longer visible.
20 .5. The Gopuras were not an essential feature of the early temples. At the Kailasanatha there is just a suggestion of a Gopura- dwara. It was only by about 11th century that tall, colossal and overwhelming Gopura emerged as a unique feature of the South Indian temple architecture.
20.6. The Kailasanatha appears to be the earliest structured temple constructed by the Pallavas. It surely served as a forerunner and a model for the later temple structures including some Chalukya temples. Some scholars opine that Rajaraja –Chola I was inspired by Kailasanatha to build Raja-Rajeeshwaran temple at Tanjore. Kailasanatha contains in embryo many features of the emerging South Indian style, such as: gopuras, pilastered walls with ornamental columns, a pyramidal shikhara, and a perimeter wall enclosing the complex. Many of the ornaments depicted in the Chola and Vijayanagar sculptures and paintings owe their origin to the Pallava period.
20.7. Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to the graceful magnificence of Sri Kailasanatha temple was by the victor and conqueror of Kanchipuram. Vikramaditya II (reigned 733 – 744 AD) son of King Vijayaditya of the Badami Chalukya in his military career conquered the Pallava kingdom on three separate occasions. Vikramaditya ‘s third campaign against the Pallava kingdom ( around 735 AD) was to support the cause of a young Pallava prince Chitramaya against the Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla .Besides, by defeating Nandivarman II, Vikramaditya avenged the defeat his ancestor Pulikeshin II suffered (during 642 AD) at the hands of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I.
Vikramaditya II was very gracious in his victory. Unlike many conquering kings, he ensured that the city and its residents were not harmed in any manner .Even amidst battle violence he did not lose his sensitivity and love of art. As a connoisseur of art and architecture, he was captivated by the beauty of the Kailasanatha temple then known as Rajasimheshwaram. Vikramaditya II not only returned the war-booty but also donated considerable gold and jewels to the temple .He also gifted in charity to city’s Brahmins and to its weak and forlorn. His acts of benevolence are inscribed, in archaic Kannada, on a pillar erected in front of the pavilion (mantapam) at Sri Kailasanatha temple.
The inscription reads:
Hail Vikramaditya –sathyashraya, the favourite of Fortune and of earth, Maha-rajadhiraja Parameshwara Bhattara having captured Kanchi and after having inspected the riches of the temple, submitted them again to god of Rajasimheshwaram.
It is also said that Vikramaditya II took along with him, to his imperial city Vatapi (Badami), the temple architects (sthapathy or sutradhari) Sarvasiddhi Acharya and Anivaratha Acharya ; and as desired by his queens Lokamaha Devi and Trailokyamaha Devi, caused construction of two temples, in Dravida style , dedicated to Shiva as Lokeshwara (now known as Virupaksha temple) and Trailokeshwara (now known as Mallikarjuna temple).In addition, the queens caused construction of two other temples, at Pattadakal, in Rekha-Nagara style, dedicated to Papanatha (Shiva) and Durga Devi. These temples were in celebration of King Vikramaditya’s victories over the Pallavas. The sthapathys were generously remunerated and honoured with gifts and titles Perjarepu, the great architects; and sent back to Kanchi.
Of these, Lokeshwara temple (now known as Virupaksha temple) at Pattadakal is said to have been modelled after Sri Kailasanatha (Rajasimheshwaram) temple of Kanchipuram. That was Vikramaditya’s expression of appreciation and his tribute to the graceful Rajasimheshwaram.
Sri Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal
20.8. It is remarkable; while the cave temples of Badami influenced the carved structures of Mahabalipuram, about a century later the Pallava temples influenced the style, structure and depiction of the Chalukya temples. Over a period the two rival schools enriched each other giving place to composite styles of sculpture and architecture.
21.1. Though the sculptures of the Rajasimha are fairly well preserved, its paintings have almost vanished. It is said that the walls of the pradakshina -patha of the Kailasanatha temple were once covered with paintings of brilliant colours. But most of that has turned into faint traces .None of the surviving paintings at Kailasanatha is complete; only fragments have remained.
21.2. The problem of aging was exacerbated by the coat of white wash applied by the temple authorities on the ancient murals. The conservation work, to rescue the underlying paintings, was taken up during 1936-40 by Shri S.Paramasivan, an archaeological chemist, who was a curator at the Madras museum. And; he encountered a number of serious problems in restoring the paintings in the cells of the Kailasanatha temple. He remarked said, “Since mechanical removal is the only possible means of removing the whitewash, it had to be done with great patience, not just skill”. Thanks to the efforts of Shri Paramasivan a few fragments of paintings at Chittannavasal, Thanjavur and Kailasanatha, Kanchipuram, have survived.
21.3. The fragments at Kailasanatha along with the remnants at Talagishwara temple at Panamalai are however quite significant. Because, these are the only two surviving examples of the Pallava mural paintings. Further, they represent an important stage in the history of development of South Indian paintings. Sadly, there has not been much discussion about these paintings.
21.4. Benoy K. Behl, the scholar and art historian remarked, “The fragments at Kailasanatha reveal the tenderness and grace that come from the tradition of Ajanta; as well as the glory of great kings. The theme of the family of Siva is also, at another plane, a representation of the royal family. There is an impressive quality in the crowns and in the painted figures, which are not seen in the earlier gentle beings of Ajanta. The idiom, which begins to develop here, is seen to blossom later into a grand imperial style of painting under the Cholas. The ancient Indian murals were also the foundation of the later manuscript paintings and Indian miniatures.
Here we see the high quality of painting of the classical Indian style, with a beautiful rendering of form and volume.”
22.1. While explaining the technique of Pallava murals, Shri Theodore Baskaran says the painting surface consists two layers of plaster. The first layer was a rough layer of lime and sand. Over this a thin lime plaster was applied and this stuck on to the first layer firmly. Then the plaster ground was given a gentle polish with a trowel or stone.
22.2. He also mentions that the Pallava plaster – fresco –technique was superior. “The plaster from Kanchipuram was 2 to 3 mm in thickness and the two layers of plasters adhered to each other firmly. Because of the high degree of purity in the lime used, gypsum content was negligible and there was no efflorescence on the surface of the paintings”.
We shall look at the remains of the early 11th century Chola murals on the corridors around the sanctum of Sri Brihadeshwara at Thanjavur.
All pictures are from Internet