History & Culture

Stunningly Chola

Ganapathy Stapathy with sculptor at Garbagriha in Manimandapam at Orirukai, Kamcheepuram on Thursday. Photo: V. Ganesan.   | Photo Credit: V_Ganesan

A yushman yogam, Bhava karanam, Sowmya vaaram - a combination of these three makes the day auspicious. But the occurrence is rare, once in several decades - so observed Mahaperiyava to an audience long ago.

The day this writer was blessed with an opportunity to visit Orirukkai, fondly called Orikkai, where a manimantapam for the Sage of Kanchi is coming up, happened to be special in this manner and two more aspects made that Wednesday (Sowmya vaaram) absolutely unique – it was Anusham and also Shukla Panchami, Adi Sankara’s jayanti. Paramacharya’s shrine at Orikkai seemed to radiate the significance.

This is not the first time this supplement has taken up the cause of this monument. The consecration of Periyava’s shrine and Paduka mantapam took place two years ago and work is moving at a steady pace. With one-third of the project to be completed, Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathrubhutheswarar Trust (www.manimantapam.org) is anxious to see the temple rise in all its glory.

“It was conceived as a mammoth structure and we knew it was not going to be easy,” says S.M. Ganapati Sthapati, convalescing from a recent illness at his son’s residence in Chennai. He has devoted nearly two decades to the shaping of the temple and personally supervises work executed by his son Jayendran and his crew of expert sculptors.

With eyes closed, Ganapati Sthapati goes back to the day Pradosham Venkatrama Iyer, acknowledged as the 64 Nayanmar by Periyava himself, asked him to draw up a plan for a huge temple, completely of stone, for his deity, Paramacharya. “It was difficult to take him seriously. A temple, completely of stone and of the proportion Iyer imagined, was going to cost enormously and where was the land in the first place?”

“Why are you worried about that? You make the plan and we’ll see.” Pradosham Mama was not going to be put off by estimates or other reasons. All he wanted was a temple for the saint, whom he and others looked upon as Parameswara.

“Finally, I made a plan but rolled it up and kept it with me, not mustering the courage to show it to Paramacharya. However, he came to know about it and wanted to see it. I showed it to him. He spread it out, took one good look and returned it with kumkum. It was interpreted as approval and the hunt for land began,” says Ganapati Sthapati tracing the origin. The rest, of course is history.

“The stone chosen was white granite that has been sourced from Bangalore and no machine is involved in construction,” Jayendra sthapati had informed. Also no concrete is being used. Traditional techniques, which Paramacharya wished to be preserved, are employed. Even the foundation was laid in the pristine method using sand.

“We overcame the objections of modern engineers in this regard,” elaborates Ganapati Sthapati. “They were sceptical about the ability of a sand-lime-based foundation to take the weight of a huge temple. But that was how temples, including that of Brihadiswara in Thanjavur, were built. I cited several instances but the argument went on and we decided to seek Periyava’s counsel. Lots were drawn and his choice was traditional method. We took the plunge.”

Right from the Government’s sanction for the project and the availability of stones and their transportation to the perennial well that has been yielding water even during droughts, the making of the manimantapam is also a story of Periyava’s infinite grace that has rendered the impossible possible.

The serene surroundings echo with the sounds of hammer and chisel as sculptors are engaged in creating beautiful images out of raw stone. Elsewhere, young boys of the Veda Pata Sala chant mantras. The stone elephants, the lion with the rotating ball in its mouth, the elegant chain of perfectly linked circles… the hundred-pillar (to mark Periyava’s centenary) mantapam is replete with work of exquisite craftsmanship. The elephants are white stone polished to a shining black, the caparison and other ornaments standing out in stunning relief. The space above Periyava’s idol in the sanctum sanctorum is vacuum, again a traditional phenomenon.

The massive Nandi is another piece of art. Said to be bigger than its Big Temple counterpart, Siva’s trusted Lieutenant boasts intricate sculpting. The Sapthaswara pillars are getting ready. Crowning glory is the top of the vimanam, carved out of a single stone.

Where does the money come from? “It is Periyava’s grace,” the Trust members say in unison. MS donated generously and after her, devotees across the globe are contributing to keep the project going. A Rajagopuram, mantapam for Nandi, a tank and a compound wall will make the construction complete. “With about Rs. 2 crores and a year of labour, this temple, a dream of Pradosham Venkatrama Iyer, and Ganapati Sthapati’s magnum opus will stand as a tribute to Chola architecture.

“Prof. Nagaswamy, who has been closely following the progress of the project, hugged me during the consecration of the Periyava shrine. ‘You have brought Chola architecture alive in all its grandeur,’ he said. It was Paramacharya’s wish to preserve tradition and with his grace, a formidable task would have been accomplished when the project is completed,” says Ganapathi Sthapati with tears in his eyes.

As a parting gift, the sthapati invites this writer for an illuminating session with him at Orirukkai. “Spend a day with me. I will explain every salient and special feature of this temple, not to boast of my prowess, but to highlight the nuances of our architecture, the skill of our artisans and a great tradition that we have inherited.”

But it might be too technical to understand…

“Mahaperiyava will bestow the capacity (to understand).” Pat comes the reply, tinged with surprise. Of course, he should know. It is this devotion for his art and the Sage who nurtured it that has made Ganapati Sthapati a living legend.

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