[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. It was at one time, not only reckoned among the seven primer cities of ancient India, but also regarded as the best among those cities (Nagareshu Kanchi).It 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. The might of the Pallavas was such that they had established diplomatic and trade relations with China, Siam, and Fiji etc.
19.2. 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 Rajasimheshwaram. 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