Emotion in stone.

A 6” x 6” square and within that space a deeply touching scene - the dead body of Vali surrounded by other grieving Vanaras after he was hit by Rama; the stone surface is somewhat rough, but that does not affect the profoundness of the relief sculpture. There are several such squares filled with scenes from the epics and Puranas in the temple of Pullamangai, near Pasupathikoil in Papanasam Taluk near Kumbakonam – dancing Siva, Siva and Parvati in an intimate scene, Mahishasuramardhini – each one steals our hearts.

During a recent visit to Kumbakonam along with my friends, the principal of the College of Fine Arts suggested that we should visit this temple. It is a small temple and the frontage was simple and uninspiring; making us wonder why were we advised to go there. But when we went around it, what a feast to the eyes! Every little space is filled with carvings, the largest being not more than four feet tall; and often many of them were not carved from a single block of stone. But the blocks have been piled so neatly that the outlines of the sculptures are perfectly aligned.

The Pullamangai Saivite temple is believed to have been built during the reign of Parantaka Chola-I (907-953 AD). It was the practice those days to rebuild the earlier brick temples with granite. Even frequent wars did not deter such religious activities. Saint Thirugnana Sambandar had sung on many Siva temples in this region and it is said that his hymns on Thiruvalanthurai Mahadeva temple at Pulamangai could refer to this temple if one were to go by epigraphic evidences. Situated on the banks of Kudamuruti river, the temple used to be known as Alandurai. One Sthalapuranam says that, Lord Sive after taking the poison emanating from the churning of the milky ocean took rest here; another version has it that Goddess Parvati worshipped the Lord here in the form of a Chakravaka bird and hence Pullamangai. This temple is considered as one of the best examples from the Parantaka Chola period. The present condition of the temple may defy this opinion!

The high relief sculptures like the Lingodbhavar, Siva seated on the snake or the standing female form on the tower are better finished, the stone surface being quite smooth. But those made up of more than one block of stone on the Vimana or those in the small panels appear rather rough; it could be due to the ravages of time or they were left like that even in the beginning due to some valid reasons. Nevertheless great care had been taken in including details in every scene, be it a dancing Siva, Rama aiming the arrow, or Siva relaxing with his consort. In the small squares the dancing figures, for example, and even the Mahishasuramardhini, are so graceful with fluid movements. In one panel Siva is seated with his right leg crossed over the left leg, both turned towards to his left side, while his torso faces the viewer, right arm resting on the cushion – what style and elegance! Should we not celebrate these unknown artists?!
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