We begin with the kodimaram, the flag post at Perur temple. I learn about Vygrahpaada (puli kaal muni), a mythological figure with tiger paws, who is entrusted with the task of offering fresh flowers to Shiva. There is Arjuna in tapas, and Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of Shiva, with drums, snake and his divine vahana, a dog.
Next is the main entrance of the historic temple. S.Vijay Kumar points to the tower. “In Tanjore big temple and Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple, the vimana (the tower on garba graha ) is taller than the gopuram,” he says. And, narrates how the emperor Raja Raja Chola wished it to be Dakshina Meru, the holy abode of Shiva. His son Rajendra Chola built his new capital in Gangai Konda cholapuram and built a temple there, where also the vimana is taller than the gopura, but slightly shorter than the Tanjore vimana.
It was a walk down the corridors of history at the Perur temple with Vijay Kumar. Stone sculptures, bronze images and paintings, especially of the Chola and the Pallava period are his areas of interest. He documents them on his blog www.poetryinstone.in, up for over three years now. A shipping professional, Vijay Kumar took to historic fiction to learn history. “Interest in sculptures was always there. I read Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, Sivagamiyin Sabatham and Parthiban Kanavu to know more,” he says.
An off shoot of this was PSVP (Ponniyin Selvan Varalatru Peravai) yahoo group, active since 2001. A couple of his friends started www.varalaaru.com, an online monthly Tamil magazine on historic fiction and sculpture. For a wider reach, he set up the blog in English and Tamil. “We don't' block any content, photographs are not copyrighted and we encourage people to download,” says Vijay.
The objective is to initiate young reader into the nuances of temple art — sculpture, painting and bronzes. And, build repository and involve the public in creating a digital database. “There are 40,000 temples in Tamil Nadu. Documentation helps you to explore more. If you want to study about idols of Dakshinamurthy, you need the data,” he insists.
Stone sculptures interest him more. “There is no greater example than the Pallavas. Their imagination wasn't restricted and they made sculptures with minimum ornamentation. The focus was on the grace of lines, body contours, postures and curves.”
For bronze idols, he says there is none to beat the Cholas, Raja Raja Chola in particular. “The ‘Kalyana Sundaram' image at the Tanjore Art gallery of Shiva as the groom and his blushing bride Parvathi, speaks volumes of their mastery over the art.”
With Internet, the reach is faster and cheaper, he says. And, mentions William Voirol, who is based in Switzerland. “When he sent us the pictures of the Mogul Rajapuram cave in Andhra, we learnt that he has visited over 1,200 sites across India over 60 years. William has geo-tagged all the sites on Google map with pointers and photographs, it is up on our blog and the reach is phenomenal.”
Many IT guys have stumbled upon the blog and contributed immensely. “Instead of idling in front of the TV sets, we tell them to hit the unwind button. It is an advantage that most of them are interested in photography,” he says. Besides India, visitors from the U.K., U.S., Australia, and South Africa frequent the blog.
There are now plans to involve school students. “We want to talk about Amar Chitra Katha and introduce them to the art of appreciating sculptures at a young age.” They also want to organise heritage trails, painting and photographic competitions, etc; upload short guides on heritage as PDF files, which can be easily downloaded. Vijay Kumar has documented about 50 temples in Tamil Nadu. There are many more temples to be explored in Tamil Nadu, he says. “You can find no greater miniatures in stone than at Pullamangai, an early Chola temple, situated at 10 kms from Tanjore.”
A live chat guides visitors on temples that can be visited
Tips on how to get the right pictures
There are instances where bloggers have helped with the data base. For e.g. Jagadeesh, a student got photos of 1,300 year-old painting of Shiva as Somaskandar in Kailasanathar temple in Kanchipuram. Franck Rondot, a French photographer, sent in the pictures of Alindhritta Shiva (a rare form) in Panamalai Talagireeswarar temple (sadly, only the outline of the painting remains. So it is a valuable record)
There is a call for volunteers to repaint and recreate original paintings from temples
More about Perur
The central shrine has references to the 7th and 8th century. While the main hall is predominantly of the Nayak period (16th century)
Symbols and inscriptions represent the Cholas (tiger), Cheras (bow and arrow) and the Pandyas (fish) periods.
The Veerakal symbolises bravery
Arjuna performing penance on a needle point deserves special mention
Butter drips out of Vennai Krishnan's mouth in another exquisite sculpture
Majestic pillars decorate the Kanakasabhai
The pillars that surround the idols of Lord Nataraja and Sivakami are inclined, as if to indicate humility. A carving of Nataraja's hair settling down indicates his calm posture after dance.
A broken sculpture has a story too. A master craftsman threw his axe on it when his son pointed out a defect in it. A toad crawled out. Sculptors call it “kal kul therai (toad)”, a defective stone.
Megalithic sculptures abound. These structures have marginal or nil error as they are carved out of a single stone.