Photos by Suhas Mehra, text by Beloo and Suhas Mehra
Continued from Part 1
“The temple means religious feeling, worship, adoration, consecration.”
(Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 30:181)
Virupaksha Temple – Meeting the Gods on the Outside Walls
We are still outside the Virupaksha temple, also known as Lokeswara Mahasila Prasada named after Lokamahadevi, the queen who commissioned the building of this temple in about 740 CE to commemorate the victory of her husband King Vikramaditya II over the Pallavas. Admiring the magnificent architecture of the temple and stopping to take a closer look at each deity carved in stone on the outside walls, a sense of awe fills the mind as the realisation of the seamless ‘wholeness’ of the entire design dawns on it. We are reminded of the passage from one of the conversations of the Mother in which she speaks of true art as always being “a whole and an ensemble.” This, she explained, was true of art in all ancient cultures.
“True art is a whole and an ensemble; it is one and of one piece with life. You see something of this intimate wholeness in ancient Greece and ancient Egypt; for there pictures and statues and all objects of art were made and arranged as part of the architectural plan of a building, each detail a portion of the whole…. In India, too, painting and sculpture and architecture were one integral beauty, one single movement of adoration of the Divine.” (CWM, 3: 109-110)
As mentioned in Part 1, Virupaksha temple bears a strong resemblance to the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this is the largest and the grandest in the Pattadakal temple complex. Built on a high plinth of five mouldings, the outer walls of this temple have pilastered projections which frame niches housing various deities. These niches are topped with parapets of miniature roofs. Repeating these features at diminishing scales creates the Dravidian style multistoried superstructure.
All the projections have niches where we meet both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in their various rūpa-s such as Bhairava, Ardhanarishvara, Narasimha, and Hari-Hara. In the recesses in between the projections are seen perforated windows of various designs.
Walking around the temple and ‘seeing’ the Lord manifesting Himself in each of these forms, a bhakta’s heart naturally bows down to one of the grandest visions of our Rishis to whom was revealed the Truth of ‘One and Many’, ‘One in Many’ and ‘Many in One’ as one of the fundamentals of Sanatana Dharma.
“The greatness of Indian art is the greatness of all Indian thought and achievement. It lies in the recognition of the persistent within the transient, of the domination of matter by spirit, the subordination of the insistent appearances of Prakriti to the inner reality which, in a thousand ways, the Mighty Mother veils even while she suggests.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 1: 464)
E.B. Havell, the famous British art historian, said that a golden thread of Vedic thought bound together all varied strands of Indian art—Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, Sikh, and even Indo-Saracenic—in spite of their outer ritualistic and dogmatic differences. He also added that as art is primarily subjective, it is not in existing monuments and masterpieces or in the fragmentary collections of painting and sculpture in museums that we should seek for the origin of the great art schools of the world, but rather in the thoughts which created these monuments and masterpieces.
“..it is undoubtedly true that in Greece, in Italy, in India, the greatest efflorescence of a national Art has been associated with the employment of the artistic genius to illustrate or adorn the thoughts and fancies or the temples and instruments of the national religion. This was not because Art is necessarily associated with the outward forms of religion, but because it was in the religion that men’s spiritual aspirations centred themselves.” (CWSA, 1: 450)
“Amongst the greatest of the names of Shiva is Nataraja, Lord of Dancers, or King of Actors. The cosmos is His theatre, there are many different steps in His repertory, He Himself is actor and audience —
When the Actor beateth the drum,
Everybody cometh to see the show;
When the Actor collecteth the stage properties
He abideth alone in His happiness.”
(Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Essays)
Let us take a closer look at some of the rūpa-s of the Lord as we walk alongside the outer walls of the temple.
Lord Shiva is seen here emerging from a fiery column of light which is represented as flames on either side of the column. On top of the column to the right can be seen Lord Brahma on his vāhana, the swan, soaring high to trace the highest peak of this column of light. The bottom of the column which is supposed to depict Lord Vishnu tracing the root of the column is, however, badly defaced. A beautifully crafted makara torana adorns the niche.
“Beyond the manifestation there is no differentiation, that is, there are not two, there is only one. It was at the moment of creation that it became two. But before that it was one, and there was no difference; as it was one, it was only one….The differentiation is not something eternal and co-existent. It is for the creation, and in fact for the creation of this world only.” (The Mother, CWM, 7: 155)
Lord Shiva here is represented as Gajacharmambara, one who wears the hide of an elephant. A demon taking the form of an elephant named Gajasura was creating havoc on earth until Lord Shiva kills him and tears open his hide. The upper two hands of the Lord can be seen holdin the hide of the elephant-demon. His lower right hand dangles softly in the air while the lower left hand rests on the hip (kati hasta), giving a gentle dance-like movement to the entire form. Gajasura’s head is seen surrendered under the left foot of the Lord.
Here the Lord charms us with this very elegant posture, resting his lower right arm on the head of Nandi – the Divine leaning on His ever-faithful friend.
This was one of the first Shiva temples to have a separate mandapa for Nandi. Situated to the east of the temple, this mandapa is a square pavilion open on all four sides, and houses a large image of Nandi on a raised floor. Its flat roof is supported by four pillars; the outer surfaces of the mandapa’s short walls are carved with attendant figures and Kinnara-maithuna couples.
“…the worshipper of many gods still knows that all his divinities are forms, names, personalities and powers of the One; his gods proceed from the one Purusha, his goddesses are energies of the one divine Force.” (CWSA, 20: 192).
Virupaksha temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, but like most of the Shiva temples here also we find some marvelous representations of Lord Vishnu. One striking image of Harihara – the fused form of Vishnu as Hari and Shiva as Hara – is seen on the outer wall of the temple.
“Rudra is the Deva or Deity ascending in the cosmos, Vishnu the same Deva or Deity helping and evoking the powers of the ascent.” (CWSA, 15: 344-345)
“…in these three wide movements of Vishnu all the five worlds and their creatures have their habitation. Earth, heaven and “that” world of bliss are the three strides. Between earth and heaven is the Antariksha, the vital worlds, literally “the intervening habitation”. Between heaven and the world of bliss is another vast Antariksha or intervening habitation, Maharloka, the world of the superconscient Truth of things.” (CWSA, 15: 348)
In Addition to the Gods
On one wall is seen a sculpture which tells the story of Jatayu figthing with Ravana. The continuous narrative depicted in stone reminds one of the magnificent Trivikrama panel in cave 2 at Badami.
Here the narration proceeds from top to bottom. When Jatayu sees Sita being carried in Ravana’s flying chariot, he valiantly attacks the chariot. He breaks Ravana’s bow and tears off Ravana’s armour. Ravana strikes him with his sword as shown in the wrestling posture. The striking head movements of Ravana and Jatayu give the panel a great dynamic look. Mortally wounded, Jatayu eventually loses his strength and falls on the ground, waiting for Lord Rama and Lakshmana at Lepakshi.
Another magnificently sculpted panel depicts Ravana trying to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva.
Ravana’s crouching posture with his right leg bent at the knee which is planted firmly on the ground gives great movement to this relief. He is balancing himself by partially bending his left leg and planting firmly his left foot. One is amazed at the attention to details such as a crown covering each of the ten heads of Ravana; his yajnopavita is also clearly visible. With all his twenty arms he is shown lifting the mountain.
An inscription engraved in the porch of the eastern entrance to the temple records the victory of Chalukya king Vikramaditya II over the Pallavas. Another inscription speaks of the royal honour and the title of ‘Tribhuvanachari’ conferred on Anivaritachari Gunda, the chief architect of the temple. The virtues of Sarvasiddhi Achari, the architect of the southern portion of the temple are also extolled in an inscription.
Walking toward the mukhamandapa we come across some magnificent and imposing dwarapala-s guarding the gods inside the temple and also protecting the devotees who enter the House of the Lord with an aspiration to ‘see’ Him — in the temple of the stone and in the temple of their hearts.
The relaxed yet alert postures of the dwarapala-s are delightful. On some of the exterior pillared walls we also see some sculptures of female celestial beings in graceful postures as well as Maithuna couples.
“Indian art is not concerned with the conscious striving after beauty as a thing worthy to be sought after for its own sake: its main endeavour is always directed towards the realisation of an idea, reaching through the finite to the infinite, convinced always that, through the constant effort to express the spiritual origin of all earthly beauty, the human mind will take in more and more of the perfect beauty of divinity.” (E.B. Havell, Ideals of Indian Art)