From the Jacket
The Great Temple at Tanjavur is a visual representation of Cosmic power on earth that remains, according to the pious wish of the builder, so long as the sun and moon lasts. The God who inhabits this abode is said to be seated with his consort on the summit of the metaphysical mountain surrounded by a circle of peaks in which the divine power descends in diminishing potency as it comes down gradually and takes his abode at the peak of the circle, appropriate to his direction and also the relative importance in the hierarchy. So each peak is a virtual temple. This metaphysical mountain is called the great meru - Mahameru, which forms the basic concept of the Brhadisvara temple of Tanjore.
Meru, the mythical mountain is said to be a golden mountain. True to its nature, Rajaraja covered the superstructure of this temple with gold, that made this loftiest golden temple at the time. The images one sees on the upper tiers represented with bow and arrow in their arms are the innumerable Rudras called Sata-rudras, who are said to move in the upper spheres and represent the sun’s rays, a representation unique to this temple. This temple also portrays the five forms of Panca Brahmans - Tatpurusa, Aghora, Sadyojata, Vamadeva and Isana, in individual sculptural forms and enshrined in the lower niches. With four sides of the sanctum provided with openings and its height exactly double its width at the base, the lofty tower fulfils all requirements of the Meru type of temple architecture.
The Brhadisvara temple locates for the first time in Indian history, the 108 forms of nrtta karanas on the upper storey around the sanctum wall in sculptural form and reflects the concept of cosmic space in which Siva’s dance takes place. The available karanas are discussed in this volume for the first time in the light of Abhinavagupta’s commentary and also the views of modern scholars.
Every structure in the temple is dated with the help of inscriptions. The story is taken through the centuries and its change in meaning and ritual are brought out in this volume which points out what a Hindu temple mean when in full form and through the centuries. The personality of the builder, the role of Rajaguru in planning and guidance and also the names of architects who designed and carved the sculptures and executed the lovely paintings are also furnished in this volume which makes it an invaluable work on the temple.
About the Author
R. Nagaswamy (b. 1930) obtained Master of Arts in Sanskrit language and literature from the University of Madras and Doctorate from the Deccan College, Poona under Dr. H.D. Sankalia. He joined the Government Museum, Madras as the Curator for Art and Archaeology in 1959 and became the first Director of Archaeology of Tamil Nadu in 1966, in which capacity he served for 23 years, till his retirement in 1988.
A multi-faceted personality, Dr. Nagaswamy has specialized in art, history, archaeology, epigraphy, conservation, religious history, ancient law and society, numismatics, classical music and dance. Along with Dr. Kapila Vatsyayana, he started the now world famous Chidambaram Natyanjali Festival. He has also produced several dance dramas, some of which were televised and broadcast several times.
Dr. Nagaswamy has conducted excavations at places like the Chola capital of Gangaikondacholapuram, Karur, Alagankulam and Korkai. He was the first to initiate under-water archaeological exploration at Pumpuhar in Tamil Nadu in collaboration with Oceanographic Survey.
He has many publications and hundreds of research articles to his credit in English, Sanskrit and Tamil. His well-known publications include Masterpieces of South Indian Bronzes, Siva Bhakti, Tamil Coins, Tantric Cult in Tamil Nadu, Ancient Tamil Law and Society, Facets of South Indian Art and Architecture, Facets of South Indian Art and Architecture, Timeless Delight and others.
A recipient of several public honours, Dr. Nagaswamy was conferred the title of “Kalaimamani” by the Government of Tamil Nadu for his contribution to Art and Culture.
The Great temple of Rajarajesvara also called Brhadisvara is a visual representation of Cosmic power on earth, that remains according to the pious wish of the builder, so long as the sun and moon lasts. The God who inhabits this abode is said to be seated with his consort on the summit of the metaphysical mountain, surrounded by a circle of peaks in which the divine power descends in diminishing potency as it comes down gradually and takes his abode at the peak of the circle, appropriate to his direction and also the relative importance in the hierarchy. So each sringa is a virtual temple. This enables the devotee to see the image of his devotion within his immediate reach. This metaphysical mountain is called the great Meru - Mahameru, which forms the basic concept of the Brhadisvara temple of Tanjore. All the meanings mentioned in ancient Indian literature about Meru and its encircling peaks are incorporated in the physical temple by Rajaraja, the builder, in the Brhadisvara peaks are incorporated in the physical temple by Rajaraja, the builder, in the Brhadisvara temple which he called the Southern Meru, the Daksina Meru, the Daksina Meru. He consecrated two important metal images in this temple, one called “Mahameru Vitankar” and the other called “Daksina Meru Vitankar” as if emphasizing the concept. Meru, the mythical mountain is said to be a golden mountain. True to its nature, Rajaraja covered the superstructure of this temple upper tiers represented with bow and arrow in their arms are the innumerable Rudras called Sata-rudras, who are said to move in the upper spheres and represent the sun’s rays, a representation unique to this temple. This temple also portrays the five forms of Panca Brahmans - Tatpurusa, Aghora, Sadyojata, Vamadeva and Isana, in individual sculptural forms and enshrined in the lower niches. Besides, other manifestations of Siva, distributed in niches also are the personified weapons Ayudha-purusas as Dvarapalas. With four sides of the sanctum provided with openings and its height exactly double its width at the base, the lofty tower fulfils all requirements of the Meru type of temple architecture. The Brhadisvara temple locates for the first time in Indian history, the 108 forms of nrtta karanas on the upper storey, around the sanctum wall in sculptural form and reflects the concept of cosmic space in which Siva’s dance takes place. The dance sculptures follow strictly the sequence given in Bharata’s Natyasastra, are contemporary with the famous Abhinavagupta whose outstanding commentary had not then reached Tanjore at the time of its construction. The available karanas are discussed in this volume for the first time in the light of Abhinavagupta’s commentary and also the views of modern scholars. The unique character of the front mandapa, and the enclosure and the two gopuras are also dealt with.
Interestingly, this royal temple had a few structures added during subsequent centuries like the Amman shrine, Subrahmanya shrine, Nataraj shrine and Ganesa shrine which were also built by kings, like the Amman shrine by a Pandya in 1400 CE, Subrahmanya temple by the Nayak in 16th century, and the Nataraja and Ganesa shrines by the Maratha ruler in 1800. thus, it is a total royal temple. The enclosure built by the commander-in-chief of Rajaraja gives the temple a lay out of Siva Rajadhani. Every structure in the temple is dated with the help of inscriptions. The story in taken through the centuries and its change in meaning and ritual are brought out in this volume which point out what a Hindu temple mean when in full form and through the centuries. The personality of the builder, the role of Rajaguru in planning and guidance and also the names of architects who designed and carved the sculptures and the executed the lovely paintings are also furnished in this volume which makes it an invaluable work on the temple.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, who worked tirelessly for the documentation, study and publication of Indian art and culture, conceived the Brhadisvara project when she witnessed the great abhiseka performed to that great linga Rajarajesvara at Tanjore. When the milk the celestial Ganga coming down from akasa (outer space) it provided the inspiration for the project. Dr Kapila ji took keen interest in the project that was conceived in several modules like measured architectural drawings, iconographic drawing by Dr. Pichard of the Ecole Francaise D’Extreme-Orient has already come out. This volume on iconography was in the press when Madame L’Hernault who undertook photography of Tanjore temple suddenly passed away, so the volume on iconography was brought out in her memory. This volume got long delayed, due to causes beyond our control.
When the Vedic rsis in their ecstatic state of contemplation poured forth the immortal poem, “Tinier than the atom and far greater than the greatest, the pulsating force resides in the deep inner chamber of the living consciousness (anor aniyan mahator mahiyan atma asya jantor nihitam guhayam)”, they were only exclaiming about the ever-expanding joy of comprehending the cosmos, which they called by the name Brahman.
The Supreme is called Brahman because it continues to expand ever into the macrocosm. Brahmanat Brahman ityuktm defines an ancient saying. From the microcosm of the mind emerges the macrocosm of the Universe. If the mind divests itself of agitations and reposes in the purity of nature, it sees outside itself a capativating form; in turns it into the same mind which reaches the summit of visualisation, like the great Himalayas. The physical Himalayan mountain exists as the loftiest peak but to limit the Supreme abode even to the greatest of physical form will entail placing limitations on the poetic potential. So, the Indian mind created Meru, the supreme abode which is beyond Himalayas, the physical form. Himavan is only a part of the Meru, the abode of Siva; Meru and Himavan are identical in effect. The same seen in its physical form is called Himalayas but when visualized in its metaphysical form it is Meru - the rupa and arupa. The Indian mind was aware that only through form (the rupa), the formless arupa could be comprehended. The movement is from rupa (form) to beyond.
According to the Saiva mode of worshipping Siva, the worshipper first invokes Siva inside his own self, made fit by purification, who is then brought out and projected on an object of worship - either a linga or a sculpture - to which worship is offered in a set order, beginning from the establishment of a relationship between the worshipper and the object of worship, called avahana. The linga, always worshipped as the supreme effulgent light-param jyotis - is identical with cosmic knowledge (jnanamurti). At the end of the worship, created form is proportionate to the great strength of the mind of the devotee (yajamana) and his spiritual guide (acarya) assisted by the maker of the form - the rupakara. When the Three work in absolute union and harmony, then comes forth greatest of form, both in its aesthetic appeal and longevity (according the Agamic ritual Treatises).
However, the role of the last, the rupakara comes to an end with this creation, but the other two, the yajamana and the guru, infuse life into it by hymnal invocations, mantras and offerings that are sustained so long as the sun and moon endure according to the prayer made at the time of consecration.
To fathom the minds that conceived such a magnificent form, visualized its nature, and gave it a physical existence by a meticulously designed layout, a rhythmic articulation of its various limbs and projection of related meanings, ushering in a harmony of form and essence, is an exercise of joy.
No other monumental edifice is capable of giving better opportunity to such an exercise of aesthetic yoga than the Brhadisvara temple of Tanjavur, built by Rajaraja Cola I (AD 1010), who was guided by his guru, Isana Siva Pandita, and it was executed by the architect Rajaraja-perum-taccan. An inscription of Rajaraja Cola I discovered by me reveals for the first time, the complete iconography of a metal image (copper) called Mahameru-Vitankar consecrated by Rajaraja, which consists of Siva with his consort Parvati, seated on the mountain Meru with his two sons, Ganesa and Subrahmanya, and other deities like Surya, Candra, Vrsabha, dwarfs and a tree. Such a group of images on the mountain Meru, made of metal, is unique in the history of South India and has not been known to exist or has been referred to anywhere in Tamil Nadu. Another image made of copper also consecrated by Rajaraja was called Daksina Meru-Vitankar alias Adavallar, the dancing form of Nataraja. These two images - Mahameru-Vitankar and Daksina-Meru-Vitankar - are mentioned as the two principal metal images in the temple in many inscriptions. They point to the fact that the whole temple was visualized by Rajaraja as Daksina Meru. The Mahameru, the legendary mountain, as the abode of Umamahesvara is only a mythical form and does not exist except in poetic imagery, which Daksina-meru, the abode of the Supreme Dancer, does exist in physical form. In the vision of the builder of the great temple of Tanjore, Meru was the underlying concept, the very physical abode (in the south) of Siva in his dancing form of Nataraja. Meru is the golden mountain of radiating luminosity and true to its concept, Rajaraja covered the vimana of the great temple of Tanjavur with gold plates mentioned in an inscription, also recently noticed by me in the temple for the first time.
With Meru as the basic concept this temple has been structured and erected. The iconography of the temple is coterminous with the iconography of Mahameru, graphically portrayed in the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Agamic literature. When viewed in this perspective, and sculpted icons at different levels of the sikhara, fall perfectly in their place as the abodes in minor mounts surrounding the great peak, manifesting the meaning of their iconographic programme. The iconographic study has to be based not only on the sculptures but the entire temple as a whole.
A new dimension is added by the discovery of another inscription, also noticed by me in the temple, recording the consecration of metal images of Ayudha purusas, icons of personified weapons, set up by Rajaraja in the temple. Pointing to the emphatic ritual formulae that underlined the iconografic form of this temple, pointing to the emphatic ritual formulae that underlined the iconografic form of this temple. Dr. Stella Kramrisch has admirably summed up this factor in her magnum opus, The Hindu Temple - that ritual action and architectural form express one and the same meaning. The sculpture of the temple accompanies, follows, and translates into a relative permanence, the rites and their rhythmic formulas (The Hindu Temple, p. 165). I have already drawn attention to this fact in my paper on the ‘Iconography and significance of the Brhadisvara temple’ presented at the symposium on the ‘Manifestations of Siva’. The study of the iconography of this temple is also against the background of Agamic rituals associated with this temple - the Makutagama. This study is based on the concept of Meru and the prescribed ritual in Makutagama.
That the Hindu temple couple could be understood only at a multi-disciplinary level, was revealed to me by His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Swamigal, the seniormost Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti pitha, who lived up to the ripe age of 100, in a seminar organized by him for twelve days at Ilayattamkudi over 40 years ago. Experts in the fields of architecture, sculpture, paintings, crafts, music, dance, ritual and philosophy deliberated and pointed to the emergence of all these branches from one sacred tree - the immortal Hindu Temple. During one of the sessions the great acarya took me aside and taught me in seclusion, the two basic approaches of Indian tradition, the paths of externalization and internalization (Pravritti marga and Nivritti marga), for nearly four hours/both essential, but the former leads to the latter. I owe all my understanding of the subject to the personal teachings of this greatest of Indian sages who lived amidst us.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan has been the foremost inspirer of my academic pursuits for over four decades now. Kapilaji is not new to Tamil Nadu. She has traveled to remote villages in Tamil Nadu, to study the temples, at times accompanied by me. During one such visit, I had the privilege and pleasure of taking her to Tanjavur and Gangaikonda Colapuram, when a Mahabhiseka was performed to the great linga, Mahadeva; when pots of milk were poured continuously over the linga. It flowed over the smooth surface of the linga reminding one the celestial Ganga, descending from the heaven in an uninterrupted flow of waves. A feeling of ascending the vast space above was felt by the spectator every moment. This unique experience made Kapilaji exclaim that we could make a mega study of this great temple of Tanjavur and thus was born the Brhadisvara project. She conferred on me the great opportunity to undertake a comprehensive study, giving me valuable guidelines and creating the necessary infrastructure and assistance. That such a scientific institution of global outlook could be created, sustained and pursued vigorously is a tribute to her vision and capabilities and I am ever grateful to her for the opportunity, her scholarly guidance, and the means to pursue this work which I cherish.
The French Institute of Indology, Pondicherry, then headed by Francoise Gros, readily agreed to my suggestion to collaborate on this venture. Mr. Pierre Pichard undertook to prepare excellent architectural drawings and study, which have appeared as Volume I in the series. Dr. Francoise L ‘Hernault took up the photographic documentation of the great temple. I am thankful to them for the great number of drawings and photographs used in this volume.
There are several scholars who I would like to mention for their enthusiastic participation in discussions which enlarged my perception. The list is so vast that I prefer to remember their invisible voices than to name them.
Lastly, I owe my duty to all my family members, my wife Parvati, and to my grandson Brahadisvar, who encouraged me and allowed me the necessary leisure to pursue this study.
Children’s Books (39)
Brahma Sutras (85)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend