FRIDAY REVIEW

Rock-cut shrines of Namakkal

Namakkal... the holy mountain.

Namakkal... the holy mountain.  

THE ANTIQUITY of Namakkal dates back to the age of the Ramayana. Lakshmana faints on the battlefield. Hanuman sets out in search of Sanjivi herbs to revive him. Having picked up the rock containing the herbs, on way back, he rests for a while near the Kamalalaya tank. When he places it on the ground, it grows into such an enormous mountain that Hanuman is unable to even shake it. Thus is traced the origin of the saligram mountain. The tank abounds in lotus flowers, befitting the name Kamalalayam (tank of lotus).

At the centre of the Kamalalaya tank is a beautiful mandapam. On the bank of the tank under a pipal tree is a beautiful stone image of Hanuman adorned with `Thiruvasi' noted for its exquisite carving. It is only 5 feet in height. The very mention of Anjaneya will bring to one's memory the gigantic figure of Hanuman — the colossus guarding the fort area. The deity commands awe and veneration.

The cave shrines of Narasimha and Ananthasayi are cut on the sides of the hill. Inscriptions refer to Gunaseela of the Adhiyas as the builder of these shrines in 784 A.D.

Hanuman... the awesome Protector.

Hanuman... the awesome Protector.  

The cave shrine of Narasimha is facing the colossus of Hanuman basking in the sun, deeply engrossed in the endless chanting of the name of the Lord. As in Sholingapuram, Anjaneya and Narasimha are placed in opposite directions. Legend relates that Narasimha's fury after slaying Hiranaya, abated here thanks to the graceful looks of Goddess Lakshmi.

Lakshminarayana with Goddess Lakshmi on his lap is enshrined inside the fort. The conch and the discus, which he sports, are carved with meticulous details. The feet of Lakshmi rest on a lotus sprouting from the stem.

The relief of Ugra Narasimha tearing the entrails of Hiranya strikes terror in the heart of the onlookers. Two Vamanas in the Narasimha and Anantasayi caves differ slightly from each other. The former has a sacrificial horse and a parasol in addition. The Narasimha caves have three forms of Vishnu — viz., Narasimha, Varaha and Vamana.

Both the Narasimha and the Anantasayi caves have later additions in the form of mandapams and subsidiary shrines. Both the cave temples are dedicated to Vishnu.

The main shrine contains an enormous rock-cut image of the seated Narasimha. On either side of him are the moon and the sun holding `chowries' Siva and Brahma attempt to cool the wrath and fury of the man-lion Narasimha.

Ulagalandha Perumal.

Ulagalandha Perumal.  

Above Siva's head is a bust of the Sun God with a large halo behind his head and with his hands in the gesture of `Anjali' (folded hands). Sage Markandeya is kneeling in front of Siva with one hand indicative of wonder (`vismaya hastha') and the other with a lotus. Bhoodevi is also found in a kneeling posture.

The panels of Vaikuntanatha or Paramapathanatha and Sankaranarayana attract our attention as that of Ugranarasimha.

Varaha Avataram... excellent relief work.

Varaha Avataram... excellent relief work.  

The image of Vaikuntanatha or Paramapathanatha is a rare work of art. The Lord appears to be seated on the serpent couch of Adisesha but actually floats above it a little — the image is carved in such a way. The conch and the discus are encircled with flames on the edges. There are no rich ornaments adorning the Lord. The figure is noted for its grace and force at once. On the left is Brahma.

In the panel of Vaishnava Gods is also accommodated Lord Siva in standing posture in all His dignity and majesty. The figure of Sankaranarayana carved at another place seeks to unify the two cults of Saivism and Vaishnavism. Siva and Vishnu share a single body, each half of it. Siva is holding a snake in his forehand — a unique representation not to be found elsewhere. With both the hands held on his hips, his serene face radiates divine grace all around. The God is flanked by dwarapalakas (sentinels) on either side and the figures of Gandarvas and Kinnaras (the celestials) are also carved in different poses, enhancing the beauty of the whole composition.

The shrine of Goddess Namagiri Amman beckons one next. It is said that the mathematical genius Ramanujam was a great devotee of the deity.

K. VENKATACHARI

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