What makes it so fascinating? Walk into the exhibition.

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts has arranged an exhibition on `Brihadisvara: The Monument and the Living Tradition,’ March 20-31, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore. The exhibition was inaugurated by N. Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner of India and the chief guest was Dr. Avvai Natarajan, former Vice-Chancellor, Tamil University, Thanjavur. The guests of honour were Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Trustee, IGNCA Trust and Dipali Khanna, Member Secretary, IGNCA. It was presided over by Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu, and former Vice-Chancellor, Kanchipuram University.

The one-day seminar on March 21 on the Brihadisvara temple, Thanjavur, opened with a lecture on the Karana dance sculptures of this temple by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. This was followed by a talk by Dr. T. Satyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India on ‘The Great Living Chola Temples - An Appraisal of their preservation and conservation.’ Dr R. Nagaswamy spoke on the inscriptions of the Brihadisvara temple, which are remarkable documents. His lecture contained plenty of details regarding the donations made by Rajaraja Chola I, his queens and officers. Dr Chithra Madhavan highlighted the bronzes presented in the reign of Rajaraja Chola I, Pradeep Chakravarthy’s power-point presentation focussed on the photographs of the temple taken by the British and Sri Chandrasekaran (OviyarChandru) spoke on the Chola paintings of the temple.

Fabulous photographs

The exhibition which is spread across three halls has a section of superb photographs of the stone sculptures of Siva seen on the walls of this temple in various manifestations such as Sadanrittamurti, Gangadhara, Ardhanarisvara, Alingana Chandrasekhara, Bhikshatana, Nataraja and others of the Chola era. The main icon of worship is the huge Linga to enshrine which this huge temple was built. The measurement of this Linga, which is one of the biggest in Tamil Nadu, is based on a scale derived from the middle finger of its builder. Rajaraja Chola I was influenced by the concept of the golden Meru Mountain and the deity was worshipped as Dakshina Meru Vitankar as this temple was conceived as the Meru of the South.

Another section has photographs of the various Karana dance sculptures found in a narrow circumambulatory passage on the upper floor of the central sanctum-sanctorum with the name of each Karana given. As many as 81 karanas or dance movements out of the total 108 described in the Natya Sastra of Sage Bharata have been chiselled in this temple. They follow the same order given in this text.

Most of the inscriptions of the Thanjavur temple belong to the Chola period and are in Tamil. One record mentions Rajaraja Peruntacchan as the chief architect, who, assisted by two more artisans, designed and constructed the temple. A long and important inscription furnishes in detail the transfer of 400 female dancers to this temple from well-known temples in Tamil Nadu and also the appointment of over 250 musicians and the performance of a dance-drama on the construction of the temple. A very long estampage of a Chola epigraph is one of the highlights here. There is a photograph of a neatly etched epigraph of Queen Chola Mahadevi, which records the donation of copper images of Adavallar (Nataraja) and His consort to the temple before the 29th year of the reign of Rajaraja Chola I.

Another section of this exhibition of this temple focuses on the superb murals in the Thanjvaur temple. They belong to three different dynasties, namely the Chola, Nayaka and Maratha. The Chola paintings which were discovered in the 1930s are found in an inner ambulatory passageway which is 1.88 metres wide. The later Nayak paintings were superimposed on the original 11th century Chola paintings, which are the only remaining examples of murals of this splendid era. There is a huge difference between the Chola and the Nayak paintings in technique as well as in the colour scheme. The Chola murals, following the fresco technique, have been integrated into the plaster, while the Nayak artists painted over the plastered surface. The later paintings have begun to peel off the wall.

The Maratha paintings of the 19th century A.D., commissioned by Serfoji Ii are seen in the Brihannayaki Amman sanctum, Subrahmanya shrine, compound walls and the Nandi Mandapa. This exhibition has detailed photographs of many of these paintings.

The concept, visualisation design and guidance for this effort are by well-known scholar Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan.

Dr. R. Nagaswamy, scholar of Tamil architecture, epigraphy, sculptures (especially Chola bronzes), paintings, music and dance is the Chief Coordinator of the Brihadisvara documentation project. The concept, thematic arrangement and direction are by him.

An interactive multimedia DVD presents the context explanation systems on this temple to intensify cultural learning and visualisation. Through the DVD, users can access sections of architectural layouts, both horizontally and vertically, with respective images and a short description about each section.

As part of the audio-visual documentation of ‘The Monument and the Living Tradition,’ a set of seven DVDs on the monument and the rituals has been released.

The exhibition, ‘Brihadisvara: The Monument and the Living Tradition’ is on up to March 31, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.