Saturday, July 27, 2019

Bath Abbey

This is one of the main attractions of the City of Bath. They say that this site has been a place of worship well over a thousand years. However, the Abbey has undergone many transformations and changes during this time, and much like the city of Bath has experienced rise and falls in fortune, survived a number of major conflicts, architectural and religious reforms, and two World Wars, but still stands proudly today as an essential place for both worshipers and visitors.

The history of this sacred place stretches as far back as Anglo-Saxon times, there is a great deal to discover: tales of Kings and Queens, saints and sinners, as well as stories of ordinary people. 

Three different churches have occupied the site of today’s Abbey since 757 AD. First, an Anglo-Saxon monastery which was pulled down by the Norman conquerors of England; then a massive Norman cathedral which was begun about 1090 but lay in ruins by late 15th century; and finally, the present Abbey Church as we now know it. 

The first King of all England, King Edgar was crowned on this site in 973! The service set the precedent for the coronation of all future Kings and Queens of England including Elizabeth II.

The first sight most visitors have of Bath Abbey is the West front, with its unique ladders of Angels. The story behind this is that the Bishop of Bath, Oliver King, is said to have had a dream of angels ascending and descending into heaven which inspired the design and which also inspired him to build a new Abbey church – the last great medieval cathedral to have been built in England.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by order of King Henry VIII, the Abbey lay in ruins for more than 70 years. It wasn’t until 1616, that much of the building we see today was repaired and in use as a parish church and over two hundred years later, in the 1830s, that local architect George Manners added new pinnacles and flying buttresses to the exterior and inside, built a new organ on a screen over the crossing, more galleries over the choir and installed extra seating.

The Abbey as we know it is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, who from 1864 to 1874, completely transformed the inside of the Abbey to conform with his vision of Victorian Gothic architecture. His most significant contribution must surely be the replacement of the ancient wooden ceiling over the nave with the spectacular stone fan vaulting we see today.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

First of the Hindu triad - Brahma

Brahma, distinct from BrahmaN, the all pervading eternal spirit is the first member of the Hindu Triad. His principal function is Creation. Independent shrines dedicated to him are rather rare. Still figures of this God are commonly found decorating one of the niches in the north wall of the central shrine in a Shiva temple. Sculptures of Brahma may sometimes also seen on pillars, ceilings or other places of the temple but one point that deserves to be noted is that though often seen in temples, Brahma is not worshipped as the chief deity in a temple, like the other two members of the Triad, Vishnu and Shiva.

According to Manasara, one of the standard works on Hindu temple sculptures, Brahma is represented with four heads. He has however only one body and four heads. His sculpture may be standing or seated. The palm of his left lower hand exhibits the posture of conferring boons (varada) while the right lower arm indicates protection (abhaya). The corresponding upper hands hold the water pot (kamandalam) and the rosary (akshamala) or sometimes the sacrificial (srik) and spoon (sruva).

Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
The following ornaments are generally seen on the sculptures of Brahma. Ear rings, the sacred thread (Yajnasutra) hanging right across the body from above the left shoulder, the scarf (Uttariya) thrown around the neck, the Udarabandhana, a girdle going round the belly, necklace and torque, armlets and arm rings.

Sri Periyanayaki Amman Temple, Devikapuram
His sculptures may sometimes have two goddesses Sarasvati (on the right) and Savitri (on the left). There are various other representations of Brahma drawn purely from the imagination of the sculptor and sometimes also based on Puranic legends. But the main points which distinguish Brahma from the other gods are the same in all. 

Jalakandeswarar temple Vellore
This blog post has pictures of Brahma taken by me in some of the temples of Tamil Nadu.

Brahmapureeswarar, Pasupathikoil
Reference: South Indian images of Gods and Goddesses by H. KRISHNA SASTRI, B.A., Rao Saheb,
Assistant Archaeological Superintendent for Epigraphy,Southern Circle. Published in 1916.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Thirukurungudi Nambi Rayar temple

The village of Thirukurungudi is located in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, South India. This is a village with history dating back to more than 1500 years. Village life here revolves around agriculture and the Nambi Rayar temple. 

One cannot confirm the date of the temple’s existence accurately. The main structure of Nambi Rayar temple is said to be built around 1500 years ago but later rulers of the region have also added their contribution to this temple. It is certainly a pre-Chola era temple. The central deity is Vishnu, prayed to, as ‘Azhagiya Nambi’. Prior to the Nayak rulers’ patronage, the temple was part of the larger Pallava kingdom, which patronized it.

The Pallava style of architecture can be found in every nook and corner with small sculptures which are decorated with elaborate detailing. The Nayak rulers of Madurai were great patrons of the arts. A visible proof of their fine taste is this massive temple! As this temple is in a remote corner of the country it has escaped the attention of the invaders and hence the sculptures here are in almost intact condition.

It houses hundreds of outstanding sculptures in all sizes.  It offers a cocktail of Low reliefs, high reliefs and sunken reliefs! It is quite an exhibition of Dravidian style of architecture.

If you are particularly interested in sculptures then this temple is a must see one for you! The temple tower (Gopuram) itself needs an hour as you need to observe very carefully every nook and corner of the lavishly decorated tower. Of course you will need a camera with zoom lens to shoot the sculptures on the tower!

Various scenes from Mahabharata and scenes from Vaishnava stories can be seen here. Interestingly there are panels of Shiva too despite this temple being a Vishnu temple! (Although in recent times because of the fight between Vaishnavites and Shaivaites they have uprooted a Shiva Lingam from this temple and installed it in a corner of this village! It seems a case is pending before the Supreme Court regarding bringing back the lingam to this temple!)

Photography inside the temple is not allowed but picturing the sculptures on the tower is not prohibited!

For details of
Panel Sculptures of Thirukurungudi Temple tower click here!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Chennakesava temple, Pushpagiri

Pushpagiri is a village in Kadapa District, in Andhra Pradesh, India. It lies on the Penna River, about 16 km from Kadapa town. It has a number of important temples, of which the largest is Chennakesava Temple and it is thought to date from 1298 CE.

The sculptures and carvings of this temple are one of its kind. When I did a Google search about this temple I came across at least five books written by different historians and archaeologists on the sculptures of Pushpagiri! It is even referred to as “Mini Hampi”! 

I have not seen in any temple so many sculptures! Every inch of this temple is decorated with sculptures ranging from few inches tall to  life sized ones! This temple was built during the reign of Cholas and later developed by Kakatiya and Vijayanagara rulers.

The presiding deity is Chennakesava Swamy which is the God that Cholas patronised across generations.

The temple of Chennakesava is an artistic structure with three Shrines inside and two sub-shrines outside of the elevated platform. The shrines inside the platform have the main deity of Chennakesava. 

The carvings on the shrines depict various Hindu Gods and Goddesses in various postures and depict the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Most of the carvings are in relatively good condition.  This temple is currently under the protection of Central Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The sculptures and the carvings of the temple are amazingly beautiful and richly decorated. Some of them like the various forms of Lord Vishnu, the dancing Ganapati, Lord Shiva as "Nataraja" (the dancing form), Shiva standing on a demon with "Trishula" in His hand (trying to kill the demon), Krishna preaching Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna and many more still retain the workmanship of the bygone era. Other sculptures like those of Rama, Sita, episodes from Ramayana and Goddess Mahishasuramardini are marvellous pieces of art. One can see rows of carving of animals like elephants, lions and horses, showing scenes from Mahabharata, all along the walls of the temple! 

I have posted some pictures here and also two video presentations on the sculptures of this temple in two modes – portrait and Landscape.

Photography is allowed in this temple!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Bhu Varaha Swamy temple - Srimushnam

Sri Bhoo Varahaswamy Temple is dedicated to the third incarnation of the Lord Vishnu as Bhu Varahaswamy with the face of a wild boar. This temple is in Srimushnam around 40 Km from Chidambaram. First built by Cholas in 11th century this temple has significant contributions from the Thanjavur Nayak king Achuthappa Nayak. 

The highlight of this temple is the sixteen pillared Mandapam (Hall) built by Achutappa Nayak. Each pillar is a monolith and sculpted with sculptures of Yali, musicians, dancers, miniature idols and Gods. They have not left even the ceiling of the mandapam vacant. There are 24 masterpieces on the ceiling too. The Gopuram of this temple is seven layered studded with numerous sculptures. 

This mandapam is full of sculptures – all kinds of reliefs! It looks like it is an exhibition of their talent! Stand alone sculptures of elaborately decorated women are the main attraction in this mandapam!

In an age of rising religious intolerance a festival tradition that celebrates the unity between Hindus & Muslims is practiced in this temple. During the Maasi Maasam procession Bhoo Varahaswamy stops in front of the Dargah to pay homage to the Sufi Saint. During the halt the Imam offers prayers, rice, dry fruits & coconuts to the deity. In return a silk shawl with Tulsi leaves is offered at the Dargah for worship by Muslims! This happens once a year even today! This is the only Hindu temple which allows Muslims to enter it to pray to Hindu God!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Rajarani Temple

Rajarani Temple is an eleventh century Hindu temple located in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha (Orissa previously), India. It is locally known as a "love temple" because of the erotic carvings of women and couples in the temple. (But I did not see any such sculptures in this temple. Probably it was there during those days). But according to Orissa tourism – the name   Rajarani is because of the local sandstone used to build it – I would believe this.

Rajarani Temple is built on a raised platform with two structures: a central shrine called the vimana (sanctum) with a bada (curvilinear spire) over its roof rising to a height of 18 m (59 ft), and a viewing hall called jagamohana with a pyramidal roof. The temple was constructed of dull red and yellow sandstone locally called "Rajarani". 

At present there is no idol inside the sanctum, and hence it is not in worship.This temple too roughly belongs to the same period as that of Jagannath Temple of Puri. The architecture of other temples in central India is believed to have originated with this temple, the notable one being the Khajuraho temples!

Rajarani Temple is famous for its sculpted figures and the successive tiers of projections rising to form its 18 m tower. 

This temple is also famous for the tall and slender nayikas (temple figures) carved in high relief on the walls-figures in amorous dalliance and in such acts as fondling her child, looking into the mirror, taking off her anklet, caressing the bird, playing instrument, holding branches of trees. 

Presently this temple is not under worship and it is declared as a monument by Archaeological Society of India. Photography is allowed in this temple. 

Alampur Group of temples

Alampur is a tiny village on the boarder of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh! It is around 200 kms from the capital city of Telangana – Hyderabad.

This village is of tremendous archaeological and historical importance!  This region was under the rule of Pulakesi I during the 6th century. Subsequently it was ruled by various kings of Chalukyan Dynasty till it was invaded by Moguls during 1350 CE. During the Chalukyan rule starting from Pulakesi I various kings have built many temples in Alampur.

There are three clusters of temples in Alampur - Papanasi group of temples, Navabrahma temples and The Sangameshwara Temple.

Papanasi Temples are a group of twenty three Hindu temples dated between 9th- and 11th-century.

Navabrahma Temples are a group of nine early Chalukyan Hindu temples dated back to 7th century and are located near the meeting point of Tungabhadra River and Krishna River at the border of Telangana - Andhra Pradesh.

Then the stand alone temple of Sangameshwara Temple which was originally built at Kudaveli village, by the confluence (sangam) of two major sacred rivers the Tungabhadra and Krishna. Sangameshwara comes from the word Sangam meaning confluence of two or more rivers. The Sangameshwara Temple was constructed by Pulakesi I (540 CE to 566 CE) - in a similar style to the Navabrahma Temples.

When the Srisailam Dam was about to be built across Tungabadhra river, it was certain that this 7th century temple would be submerged in the waters of the catchment area of the dam. It was then the Archaeological Survey of India came out with the brilliant idea of uprooting the entire temple from its original place of construction and rebuilding it far away in a safer place so that this wonderful temple could be saved for posterity!  

So what we see today as Sangameshwara Temple is actually a reconstructed temple by Archaeological Survey of India.

The temples are significant for their simple square plans, intricate carvings of themes of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. They also contain early examples of friezes that narrate legends from Hindu texts. The temples were a significant influence on the later era Kakatiya Hindu temples. 

The Alampur Navabrahma temples were badly damaged and some razed to the ground during the Islamic invasion of this region in 1390. They were built by the Badami Chalukyas rulers, and early 8th-century inscriptions are found at the site which suggests that the site also had a Hindu monastery which has not survived. Their ruins have been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India after 1980.

All the temples in Alampur are under the care of Archaeological Survey of India. Still photography is allowed in every temple.