[This is the fifth 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 is about the surviving mural (ninth-century) at the Talagirishwara temple in Tamil Nadu. This temple is one of the earliest constructed by the Pallava kings; and it served as a model for the other bigger Pallava temples.
In the next article we shall look at the Paintings at another Pallava temple – Sri Kailasanathar of Kancipuram]
Panamalai situated about 7km to the south of the famous heritage fort at Gingee ( Tamil Nadu) is renowned for the ancient temple dedicated to Shiva as Talagirishwara , the Lord of the Talagiri. (It is his earth abode here). The exquisite temple still has a few remnants of beautiful paintings.
16.1. The Talagirishwara temple on top of the rock-hill overlooking a placid lake is dated around seventh – eighth century, based on the inscriptions found in the temple. The temple is attributed to the creative genius and enterprise of the great Pallava king Narasimhavarman II aka Rajasimha (son of Parameshwaravarman I), who ruled for more than three decades from c.690 to 728 AD. By the time Narasimhavarman II ascended to the throne, the Pallavas had gained supremacy over their rivals – Chola and Pandyas; and were established as the dominant power in Southern India. The Pallavas had even established trade and diplomatic relations with China. The long reign of Narasimhavarman II was free from conflicts with the neighbouring states; and was blessed with a fairly long spell of peace of prosperity during which literature and arts flourished.
Narasimhavarman II, the Pallava King
16.2. It is said, Narasimhavarman, in particular, was a great patron of art and literature. Dandin, the great scholar was his court – poet. Narasimhavarman himself was an accomplished playwright and poet; and had to his credit many works in Sanskrit and Tamil. Though most of his works are now not extant, his plays on Ramayana and Mahabharata themes continue to influence the traditional theatre. For instance, his plays kailasodharanam and kamsavadham, in Sanskrit, are still a part of the repertory of Kutiyattam, the ancient School of drama in Kerala.
16.3. Pallavas were the pioneers of south Indian architecture; and, laid the foundations of the Dravidian school which blossomed during the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar kings and the Nayaks. Among the later Pallavas, the contribution of Narasimhavarman was phenomenal. During his reign he caused as many as fourteen major temples to be constructed. The prominent among those were: the Kailasanatha and the Airavatesvara temples of Kanchipuram; the shore temple of Mamallapuram; the Atiranacanda temple of Saluvankuppam; and, the Talagirisvara temple of Panamalai. He is also credited with the construction of the Buddhist Vihara commonly known as ‘China-pagoda’ at Nagapatam, for benefit of Chinese merchants, mariners and visiting monks. Marco Polo who visited the monastery in 1292 AD wrote about it.
Saluvankuppam Yali Cave, façade
16.4. The architecture of his time was versatile and innovative. While the Mamallapuram temple was located on seashore, the kanchi temple was in the plains and the Panamalai was atop a rocky hill. Architecturally, each temple was distinct in its style and in its depiction of the details.
While the sanctum of the Kanchipuram temple was decorated with sculpture, the one at Panamalai was painted with the Somaskanda murals. It is also said, Narasimhavarman’s shilpis (sculptors) displayed a great deal of imagination and artistic liberty; and, did not strictly adhere to the prescription of the Agamas.
Shiva at Talagirishwara
( It is believed that the modest sized graceful looking Vimana of Talagirishwara temple, with its sharply recessed corners leading up to the stupi (top point) served as a prototype for the more intricate vimanas of the later Pallava temples.)
17.1. The temple at Panamalai is smaller in size; its inner and outer walls are plain unlike that of the other Pallava temples of its time. The inner walls of its cells and the sanctum were, at one time, covered with paintings of exquisite beauty. Interestingly, it is said, the Panamalai murals resembled closely with the sculptural details on the inner walls of the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram.
Somaskanda panel at Kailasanatha-Kanchi
17.2. The Somaskanda murals on the sanctum walls and other paintings in the pavilion front of the sanctum have all but vanished, leaving behind few traces of paintings.
The lone painting
18.1. The only identifiable figure now visible on the temple walls is that of a beautiful looking, well adorned graceful young lady standing beneath a royal parasol, wearing a tall bejewelled kirita (tiara)and jewellery, typical of the Pallava period. The skilful shading has endowed the figure a three dimensional appearance. It is regarded one of the most beautiful paintings of ancient India.
Detail of the parasol
18.2. She, with the parasol, resembles Parvathi of the Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram, and the Vakataka women of Ajanta. She is identified by some as Parvathi, the consort of Shiva; but she could be any beautiful woman of refinement and elegance. In any case, the influence of Ajanta is unmistakable. The enraptured gaze and the tender grace are inherited from the Chitrasutra and Ajanta tradition.
18.3. The idiom of Pallava painting, which began here, later blossomed into a grand imperial style of painting under the Cholas.
The Pallava temple – Sri Kailasanatha of Kanchipuram.
All Pictures are from Internet