Day 5: Chola Paintings by Vijaya Kumar

(Written by Gopu, posted by Badri)

உலகெலாம் தொழவந்த எழுகதிர் பரிதி
            ஒன்று நூறாயிரம் கோடி
அலகெலாம் பொதிந்த திருவுடம்பு அச்சோ
            அங்ஙனே அழகிதோ அரணம்
பலகுலாம் படைசெய் நெடுநில மாடம்
            பருவறை ஞாண்கற் பெண்டிங்கள்
இலைகுலாம் பதணத் திஞ்சிசூழ் தஞ்சை
            இராசரா சேசுரத் திவர்க்கே.

Arvind Venkatraman introducing Vijaya Kumar
கருவூர்த் தேவரின் இந்தத் திருமுறைப் பாடலை பஞ்சமப் பண்ணில் பிரதீப் சக்ரவர்த்தி பாட, ஆர்வலர் அர்விந்த் வெங்கட்ராமன் அறிமுகம் செய்ய, தஞ்சைப் பெரிய கோவிலின் சோழர் கால ஒவியங்களை பற்றி, தத்வாலோகா அரங்கில் ஐந்தாம் நாள் சொற்பொழிவாக, சிங்கப்பூர்வாசி விஜயகுமார் வழங்கினார்.

Vijaykumar writes a popular blog called where he writes researched, eye opening essays about sculpture, paintings, art etc. in Tamil Nadu.

Vijay Kumar presenting Chola paintings
He began by polling the audience on whether they wanted a brief summary of the previous presentations, and with their eager consent, showed paintings and sculptures of Ajanta, Ellora, Kanchi, etc. He refuted some myths about the big temple, showing a photo of the temple with its shadow and denying that Rajaraja built it as an offering for a handicapped person. While the caves of Ajanta were discovered after a millennium by British soldiers in 1815, the paintings of the Big Temple were rediscovered by Govindaswami in 1931, when a hidden corridor revealed itself, and glimpses of the Chola paintings were found behind Nayaka paintings of much later vintage.

Vijay mentioned that Rajaraja was fascinated by Tripurantaka, Kalyanasundara and of course Nataraja, since the Brihadeesvara temple is festooned with portraits and sculptures of these aspects of Shiva. Also while the story of Sundara Moorthy Nayanar and Kannappa Nayaranar are depicted, Appar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar are missing.

Seamlessly moving between stone, bronze, and mural, Vijay wove a wonderful web of narration and comparative art study. He showed Kalyanasundara sculpture in the Big temple, superimposed photos of Parvati and Shiva bronzes and showed a degree of line and form match that left the viewer in awe. Then he repeated this with photos of the mural paintings of the Gods. Since some of the murals are damaged in sections or have suffered color decay, he also showed pencil sketches outlines of these scenes, drawn by artist Chandru, who had lectured on the Sittanavasal paintings two days earlier.

Vijay continuing his presentation
He finally showed the emperor himself, worshipping Nataraja at the Kanaka Sabha of the Chidambaram temple, with his queens.

A brief interaction followed, with questions about Karuvur Thevar and Rajaraja Chola, whether Kanchi Kailasantha temple inspired Rajaraja to build the Brihadeesvara temple etc.

Gopu concluded, noting that Vijay’s blog was like a Wikipedia for Tamil art and sculpture enthusiasts, as are Arvind’s photographs. Unlike Ajanta, Kanchi or Sittanavasal, the Big Temple’s paintings are neither open to the public, nor easy to peruse in person because they are in narrow corridors. It is thanks to efforts like Vijay’s that the audience was treated to such a well-guided visual feast.