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Images of stunning beauty

RUPA GOPAL is amazed by the striking resemblance the stone idols of the Sri Ramaswamy temple of Kumbakonam bears to the deities Tyagaraja worshipped.

A mural that depicts the celebrations in Ayodhya.

TYAGARAJA'S `ISHTADAIVAM' was Sri Rama, as everyone knows. Hundreds of songs were composed by him on this green-hued God, the ninth avatar of Vishnu.

The idol of Rama worshipped by the saint centuries ago was thrown by his brother Jalpesan into the Cauvery when the saint did not agree to sing for money. The desperate brother thought the missing idol would detach Tyagaraja from Rama, and hopefully make him materialistic. On the contrary, Tyagaraja literally went off the deep end and took to wandering from place to place, lamenting his loss. Bathing one day in the river, the lost idol came into his hands, to his immeasurable joy. He burst into song, "Kanukontini Sri Ramuni (I've found him, found Sri Rama)," in Bilahari The idol was reinstated in his house and all amicability prevailed between the two brothers. "Ra Ra Maa Inti," in Asaveri too was composed around the topic of the idol's coming back to the house. The annual Tyagaraja aradhana and musical homage to the saint falls this year on January 30. Imagine a music devotee's feelings when he learns that this very same idol, in precious metal, worshipped by Tyagaraja, is being kept in a simple home in Thanjavur, by his descendants, and worshipped daily.

Tyagaraja's bloodline petered out after two generations, when a childless daughter-in-law of his descendants, widowed early, brought the idol with her from Tiruvaiyaru to Thanjavur. The group of idols has Rama in a seated pose, along with Sita. Bharata is holding the umbrella, Shatrughna the `chamaram' (feathered fan), and Lakshmana is to Rama's right. Tyagarajan, the current descendant of the widow's parental family, living in a simple home in Varagappaiyer street, Thanjavur, near Terku Veedhi, performs an aarati for us to see this haloed image. All the musicians come here during the aradhana, sing or pray, and take the Lord's blessings, he says. The Sri Ramaswamy temple, Kumbakonam, is one of the loveliest temples, built by Vijaya Raghunatha Nayak in 1620, to be seen in the Cauvery delta region.

The amazing thing is that the sanctum sanctorum has these huge stone images of Rama, Sita, and Rama's brothers — all in the same pose as in Tyagaraja's idols. Said to be in the Pattabhishekam or coronation pose, the images are really of a stunning grace. Lakshmana is said to be holding Rama's bow. Anjaneya is seated in front, in the veenadhari pose, with the Ramayana in His left hand, singing to His beloved Lord.

The walls surrounding the temple contain the most splendid murals — on the entire story of the Ramayana, in panels. The front portion of the temple, and the yard, contain graceful granite sculptures. Sixty-two pillars convey all this grace to the spellbound viewer. Situated in the centre of the town, yet not often visited, Ramaswamy temple is an art lover's delight besides inspiring devotion.

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