Chalukya Temple Trail – Pattadakal 3

Photos by Suhas Mehra, text by Beloo and Suhas Mehra

Continued from Part 2

The further you go back in time the greater the grandeur you meet in the conception. The nearer you come to our time the more the art becomes great in detail. Even up to the time of the Delvada Temples something of the old culture was living. One must bring the tide back… In spirituality , in the arts, in poetry you find the same foundation in old times. You find a certain “calm strength” founded on the Spirit, and all expression proceeds on the basis of that “calm strength”.” (Sri Aurobindo, 26-1-1927, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, recorded by A. B. Purani, p. 213)

After absorbing the rich beauty of the ‘calm strength’ on the exterior of the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal temple complex, it was time to go in, to meet the Lord. As mentioned earlier, this temple is modeled after the magnificent Dravida style Kailashnatha temple of Kanchipuram that is a masterpiece of the Pallava period.

The east-facing Virupaksha temple has three entrances from the east, north and south directions. Each of these entrances are adorned with strong and heavily armed dwarpals on either side.

Standing in front of these magnificent gatekeepers, we recalled a beautiful passage from Sri Aurobindo where he had commented on a specific sculpture of a dwarpala – this time from the Pallava temple at Mahabalipuram. Describing the inner beauty of these forms, he wrote:

“This example from one of the great styles and periods shows, …very perfectly, the Indian principle in the treatment of the human figure, the suppression of small particulars and trivial details in order to secure an extreme simplicity of form and contour,—the best condition for accomplishing the principal object of the Indian sculptor which was to fill the form with the utmost power of spiritual force and significance. The figure of this princely doorkeeper of the temple in its union of calm, grave, sweet and restful serenity with a latent and restrained heroic energy in its stillness,…the distinctive power of this creation, is indeed equal…. in its dignity and repose to any Greek statue, but it carries in it a more profound and potent meaning; it is a perfect interpretation of the still and intense Godward feeling, seized in one deep mood, in one fixed moment of it, which was the soul of the great ages of Indian religion. There is here a perfection of form with a perfection of significance. This restraint in power, this contained fullness opening an amplitude of infinite suggestion, is not rare or exceptional, it is a frequent greatness in the art of India.” (CWSA, 1: 591)

Virupaksha temple has a square garbhagriha with a pradakshina-patha, an antarala with two small shrines for Ganesha and Mahishasurmardini facing each other, a sabhamandapa with entrance porches on the east, north and south and a separate Nandi mandapam in front.

View of the garbhagriha from the main entrance, Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal
Nandi mandapam as viewed from the main entrance, Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal
Mahishasurmardini at Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal

Lord Shiva in his Linga rūpam at this temple receives regular pūja. We were allowed to take pictures by the archaka present at the temple at that time.

Finding a spot just outside the garbhagriha, we sat for a few minutes absorbing the ever-living presence of the Divine in this ancient temple.

A temple, as Sri Aurobindo reminds, symbolises spiritual aspiration, and only when we go within and start to feel the bhāva which imbues the entire physical space of the temple we begin to see the real inner purpose for which a temple in stone or wood or any other material is built.

As moments passed sitting silently near the garbhagriha door, the eye moved to another beautiful rūpam of Lord Shiva.

As we got up to take in rest of the temple, close to the eastern entrance from where we had walked in, we saw on the ceiling a beautiful carving of Surya Deva on his seven horse chariot.

“Surya means the illumined or the luminous, as also the illumined thinker is called sūri; but the root means, besides, to create or, more literally, to loose, release, speed forth,—for in the Indian idea creation is a loosing forth of what is held back, a manifestation of what is hidden in the infinite Existence. Luminous vision and luminous creation are the two functions of Surya. He is Surya the creator and he is Surya the revealing vision, the all-seer.

“What does he create? First the worlds; for everything is created out of the burning light and truth of the infinite Being, loosed out of the body of Surya who is the light of His infinite self-vision, formed by Agni, the seer-will, the omniscient creative force and flaming omnipotence of that self-vision. Secondly, into the night of man’s darkened consciousness this Father of things, this Seer of the truth manifests out of himself in place of the inauspicious and inferior creation, which he then looses away from us, the illimitable harmony of the divine worlds governed by the self-conscious supramental Truth and the living law of the manifested godhead.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 15: 477)

Carved Pillars

One look at the carved pillars in any old temple is enough to realize that the ancient Indian mind definitely understood the importance of developing an appreciation for beauty. These beautifully carved pillars become great works of art in themselves transcending their original purpose as supports for the temple’s overall architectural plan. Anyone walking into the temple experiences an elevation in the consciousness when surrounded by all the divine beauty.

“Cultivation of the sense of beauty refines the temperament. A refined temperament is much more easy to purify than an unrefined one… the development of the sense of beauty is as much a part of perfection as anything else. Not only that; if a man has not developed the sense of beauty he would miss the path of approach to the Supreme which is through beauty.” (Sri Aurobindo, 14-8-1926, Evening Talks, p. 437)

Episodes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas as well as other stories from the divine play of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu adorn several pillars inside the Virupaksha temple.

Samudra manthan, churning of the ocean
Ramayana panel
Bhishma laying on a bed of arrows
Shiva and Parvati, and their attendants

Another common motif seen on the carved pillars at the Virupaksha temple (and many old Hindu temples) is of war, a battle. This is significant when seen in the light of a deep truth of Life as revealed by our ancient seers and sages. The Vedic rishis have spoken of the inner significance of life as a battle between the powers of Light and Truth and the Powers of Darkness and Falsehood. This battle was fought by the human forefathers, pitaro manushyah, the divine Angirasas, and they had attained a great victory, which can come to us also by following the path they have hewn for us.

“The physical fact of war,…, is only a special and outward manifestation of a general principle in life and the Kshatriya is only the outward manifestation and type of a general characteristic necessary to the completeness of human perfection. War typifies and embodies physically the aspect of battle and struggle which belongs to all life, both to our inner and our outer living, in a world whose method is a meeting and wrestling of forces which progress by mutual destruction towards a continually changing adjustment expressive of a progressive harmonising and hopeful of a perfect harmony based upon some yet ungrasped potentiality of oneness. The Kshatriya is the type and embodiment of the fighter in man who accepts this principle in life and faces it as a warrior striving towards mastery, not shrinking from the destruction of bodies and forms, but through it all aiming at the realisation of some principle of right, justice, law which shall be the basis of the harmony towards which the struggle tends.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 19: 52)

We could have lingered for much longer, admiring each of the carved beauties surrounding us. But from a little corner of the mind a voice reminded that there were several other temples in the same complex to which we must reach before the daylight ended. So silently bowing down once more to Lord Shiva, we walked out of the Virupaksha temple.

To be continued…

Coming up in Part 4…Mallikarjuna temple, Pattadakal

Have you seen Part 1 and Part 2 of our feature on Pattadakal?

For more of Chalukya Temple Trail, see our three-part feature on Aihole.

Also, visit our three-part feature on Badami.

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