On the trail of an icon

The Veeratteswarar temple in Vazhuvoor, is the only one dedicated to Gajasamharamurti.

Updated - November 24, 2016 07:29 pm IST

Published - November 24, 2016 04:56 pm IST

The statue of Gajasamharamurthy at Belur.

The statue of Gajasamharamurthy at Belur.

G urumoorthy was all of three when he was fascinated by a sculpture Gajasamharamurti during a festival at the Patteeswarar temple in Perur near Coimbatore. It left an indelible mark on his mind that when he started doing temple photography, he looked for the image wherever he went. He has over 70 photographs of the image from across India, which he presented during a talk in Chennai recently and also elucidated the details about the form and its significance. But one particular sculpture which got him hooked is the bronze Gajasamharamurti at the Veeratteswarar temple in Vazhuvoor, one of the Ashtaveerattana Kshetras. This is the only temple exclusively dedicated to Gajasamharamurti.

The eight-armed Lord is seen with His right leg planted firmly on the elephant’s head, two arms holding its hide, left leg folded with the foot facing upwards, as he emerges from the animal. The sculpture, over 4 ft tall, is an absolute thing of beauty to be cherished. The elephant hide with four legs is designed around the figure like a Prabhavali. The imagination and skill of the sculptor is indeed amazing. This movement of the Lord also gave rise to a particular style of dance. Perhaps that is why Vazhuvoor has a tradition of dance.

Siva has five faces - Satyojatam, Vamadevam, Tatpurusham, Esanam and Agoram. The last one has five forms, one of which is Gajasamharamurti. This image can be seen in many Siva temples in small sculptural forms, particularly as Koshtadevata.

According to Gurumoorthy, right from Vedic times there has been a mention of Gajasamharamurti. He is also worshipped as Ayurdevata, which is mentioned in Ayush suktam of Rig Veda and mentions Him by the Sanskrit name Krithivasa. He is also venerated in the Tamil texts.

According to legend, the ‘Gajasamharam’ happened in Vazhuvoor. Once 30,000 sages, who were meditating at Tarukavanam, challenged the omnipotence of Lord Siva. Hence, to chasten them, Siva in the form of Bikshadanar and Vishnu as Mohini appeared in front of them. The rishis fell for Mohini , while the rishipatnis followed Bikshadanar.

Though they were lured, they did not want to accept it. Through a sacrificial fire many wild creatures were created to kill Siva, but in vain. Finally they sent an elephant demon (Gajasura). But Siva, dwarfing Himself entered the elephant’s body and then assumed His original form only to slay the demon. This final scene has been beautifully captured in bronze in the 10th Century during Raja Raja’s period and is kept at Vazhuvoor, which differs a little from the references to Gajasamharamurti found in agamas and shilpasastra. Any number of replicas till date have not been able to surpass its beauty.

The figure of Parvati, with a panic-stricken face, too is a beautiful piece. The real beauty of the sculpture can be seen during the abishekam performed on the night before Masi Makam, the day on which Siva is believed to have killed Gajasura.

When Gurumoorthy visited the Elephanta caves he saw an image of Antakasurasamharamurthy, which was similar to Gajasamharamurti. He found a reference about it in Kalidasa’s ‘Kumarasambhavam’, which talks about Siva wearing the elephant skin with blood while he was going to kill Antakasura; and Parvati looking at him with fear and admiration when he comes out dancing. As per legends, it was demon Nila who came in the form of an elephant to kill Siva. Learning about it, Nandi orders Veerabadra to slay Nila. Veerabadra kills the demon and presents the skin (charma) to Siva, who wears it while on his way to hunt down Antakasura. Thus here he becomes Gajacharmambara.

Gajasamharamurti is a Jnanadevata and the shrine at Vazhuvoor is known as Jnanasabha and the deity, Jnanasabesa.

It was at Tarukavanam that the Lord offered Jnanopadesam to the rishis, who surrendered to Him after realising their folly. The Gaja in this story represents ignorance.

In the North, Gajasamharamurti and Antakasurasamharamurthy appear in combination. In Varanasi, Lord Viswanatha is also known as Krithivasa and the temple is called Krithivasa Kshetram.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.