Sunday, February 28, 2016

Pullamangai temple

The sculptures at Pullamangai temple speak volumes of artistry during the Chola reign

Pullamangai, a temple dedicated to Lord Siva, located near Pasupathikoil in Papanasam Taluk near Kumbakonam, is an architectural marvel. A series of icons here depict scenes from the Ramayana. One such is the 6” x 6” square where a touching scene is sculpted - the deceased Vali surrounded by other grieving vanaras after he is hit by Rama. The stone surface is somewhat rough, but that does not affect the profoundness of the relief. There are several such squares which show scenes from the Epics and Puranas and each one has a stunning appeal. The trip came about when the principal of the College of Fine Arts suggested that we visit the Pullamangai temple. It may have a simple and uninspiring façade, but each piece inside is a visual treat. Every little space is filled with carvings the largest not more than four ft tall and many of them are not carved from a single block of stone. But the blocks have been piled up so neatly that the outlines of the sculptures are perfectly aligned.

The temple is believed to have been built during the reign of Parantaka Chola-I (907-953 AD). Those days, it was the practice to remodel old brick temples suing granite. Even frequent wars did not deter such religious activities. The Saivite saint Thirugnana Sambandar has sung verses on many Siva temples in this region, including this one. It is said that his hymns on Thiruvalanthurai Mahadeva temple at Pullamangai could refer to this temple if one were to go by epigraphic evidences.

Situated on the banks of Kudamuruti river, the temple was also referred to as Alandurai. The sthalapuranam says Lord Siva rested here after he had consumed the poison following the churning the paarkadal. Another version states that Goddess Parvati worshipped the Lord here in the form of a chakravaka bird, and hence it is known as Pullamangai. The shrine is considered as one of the best examples of architecture from the Parantaka Chola period. The present condition of the temple may defy that opinion, though!

The high relief sculptures such as the lingodhbavar, Lord Siva seated on the snake or the standing female form on the tower, all have a smooth finish. But those made up of more than one block of stone on the vimanam or in the small panels appear rather rough. It could either be due to the ravages of time or they might have been left untouched in the beginning for some valid reason. Nevertheless, great care had been taken to include details in every scene, be it a dancing Siva, Rama taking an aim with an arrow or a relaxed Siva.. The dancing figures and the Mahishasuramardhini sculpture emanate grace. In one panel Siva is seated with His right leg crossed over the left, both turned towards His left, while his torso faces straight, His right arm is seen resting on a cushion.

Every sculpture is a reminder of the superb craftsmanship of artisans of those times. Indeed, we must celebrate those unknown artists who have sculpted each piece with such precision and style.

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