Updated: October 27, 2012 13:00 IST

A matter of scale

s. muthiah
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The dwarapalaka at the entrance of the Big temple. Photo: D. Krishnan
The Hindu
The dwarapalaka at the entrance of the Big temple. Photo: D. Krishnan

Once again the postman's been so busy that I have no option but to devote today's column to what he — and other message-bearers — have delivered. The greater part of those responses by far has had to do with the python and the elephant (Miscellany, November 1). And to judge by all those messages — most of which agreed on the answer to my riddle being ‘scale' — I must be one of the few in the dark on the subject. I've now been enlightened as follows:

T.S. Subramaniam sends me a quotation from a paper, The Peruvudaiyar (Brihadisvara) Temple, Tanjavur: A Study by K.R. Srinivasan, former Deputy Director-General, Archaeological Survey of India, that summarises this view of many succinctly.

Srinivasan writes, “If the elephant is enlarged in one's mind to its real life size, the size of the python that can swallow one such would be suggested as the next step in the mental visualisation. And if such an enormous python could entwine the club only by three coils from head to tail, the magnitude of such a club could be imagined next, and from it the enormous stature and strength of the colossal doorkeeper who can wield such a gada, and from his size the mental concept of the magnitude of the linga (deity) in the sanctum which he guards, from which again the ultimate size of the vimana which can enshrine such a colossal linga, a size that would ultimately transcend the limits of mental conception.”

Going through more or less the same explanation Pradeep Chakravarthy, who extols the Chola sculptor's “use of metaphor intelligently”, adds, the sculptor's “master-stroke” is that “this immense dwarapalaka holds one hand in Visvaya mudhra, that is, roughly, ‘How great He is' and just in case you are thinking ‘He' is the doorkeeper, the other hand points respectfully with the five fingers to the sanctum inside. You get the idea of the who is biggest now! Ancient sculptors used size to convey importance, bigger being more important.”

Dr. Prema Kasturi says the sculpture intended to represent the power (omnipotence) of Lord Siva, is, according to Dr. Kudavayil Balasubramaniam, “a representation of Kayilayapadiga pada, a song in praise of Lord Siva by Thirugnana Sambandhar.”

Writing from New South Wales, Dr. A. Raman is one of the few who takes a different tack. The moment he saw the picture “the story of Gajendra Moksham” came to his mind. He adds, “Although the elephant is well-depicted, I saw the head of the ‘predator' as that of a badly sculpted crocodile. I am not sure whether there is any mythological story where an elephant was swallowed by a python! The other question is whether a trained sthapati would use a mythological story connected with Mahavishnu in a temple dedicated to Mahaeswari.” And with Dr. Raman exchanging these views with B. Vijayaraghavan of the Snake Park, your columnist watching on the sidelines, found that according to the latter “the crocodile in the Gajendra Moksham story did not swallow the whole elephant but only a part of its leg before its victim was rescued.” He adds, “No single crocodile can eat an elephant, though crocodiles in groups can dispose of very large animals.”

As for the sculpture itself, Vijayaraghavan has no time for metaphors and takes this very rational view: “Presuming that the picture is that of a python, the relative size of the snake's mouth and that of the elephant is totally unrealistic. No snake (including pythons) has a mouth that can be distended to accommodate an elephant in the manner shown in the picture. Even smaller prey are not likely to be swallowed this way, but will be grabbed by the mouth from one end, usually the head, and the snake will then slowly and laboriously ‘jaw-walk' the animal into its gullet. No elephant is known to have been eaten by a python. The largest prey of a python or other constrictors is not likely to be more than about 100 kg. This is just an instance of the sthapati's imagination running wild.”

Despite that very down-to-earth view, I'm afraid those favouring scales in metaphor and artistic licence have the day.

The lawyer from Chittoor

V.C. Srikumar, the editor of The Law Weekly, sends me a bit more information about L.A. Govindaraghava Aiyar (Miscellany, October 11), but my questions about his eminence in Congress circles remains unanswered. What Srikumar has sent me are tributes paid to Govindaraghava Aiyar in The Law Weekly in early 1935. The eminent lawyer from Chittoor was a staunch supporter of the weekly, it is stated, even though he was the head of the editorial committee of its contemporary, the Madras Law Journal.

The most that could be gathered from these tributes about Aiyar's political interests is that “He was ever ready to stand in his post in all fields of moral, religious, educational, economic, industrial and political activities of our country. He was a nationalist at heart, though his political enthusiasm was of a subdued character.”

He was elected to the Madras Legislative Council “several times and even after the Minto-Morley Reforms was nominated to it.” He was obviously well regarded by all sides of the political spectrum.

Born into an affluent family, a success at the Chittoor Bar, his unbounded generosity as much as domestic travails led to his last years being difficult ones with his wealth being given away.


Madras MiscellanyAugust 22, 2010

Madras MiscellanyAugust 15, 2010

Madras Miscellany August 8, 2010

Madras MiscellanyJuly 25, 2010

Madras Miscellany July 18, 2010

Whether it was a mistake of printing, or not, technical jargons explaining the mudras need to be handled carefully. It is Vismaya mudra and not Visvaya, as mentioned in the article. Artist shows the scale of the Lord inside, by this sculpture, as immeasurable. We talk of abstract paintings, no where are seen abstract sculptures, but for the great Big temple particularly the dwara palakas. Vismaya exactly is a sign of surpise and annoy, the door keeper seems to show the great Lord inside who is bigger than all the abstract forms which the viewer sees, before entering the Lord's abode.

from:  J Chandrasekaran
Posted on: Nov 8, 2010 at 21:48 IST
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