Saturday, 21 September 2013

Atyantakaama Ashrama Vijaya

In January 2010, as the first Site Seminar of the Tamil Heritage group, under the guidance of Prof Swaminathan, we spent three days in Mamallapuram. The following text is the email I sent in September 2009 out as an introduction to the preparatory meetings we held before our site seminar.

Atyantakaama Ashrama Vijaya
Maamallapuram is today considered a tourist spot, a quick getaway, a sleepy hamlet, and a seaside resort. In most people’s minds, its chief attraction is its proximity to Madras, and its uniqueness seems to be that it has temples without priests and sculptures without roofs.

There’s an ocean of ignorance between the history and significance of Maamallapuram and its perception in the public mind. In reality, it was a laboratory of art and sculpture, an open air museum patronized by a dynasty of dynamic monarchs, a granite canvas for grantha calligraphy, a field of stone planted with immortal monuments by artists with fertile imaginations. It stands unique in its diversity of architecture. In grace it has sometimes been equalled, but rarely surpassed. It was the epicentre of a cultural earthquake, whose aftershocks reverberated for a thousand years. Its impact spread across the land, and even crossed the oceans. It was a thriving commercial port, Kadal Mallai, for the first empire of Tamilakam, the Pallavan. But as subtle as the sculptures, are the unsolved mysteries it poses; about authorship, inspiration, incompleteness, paucity of literary references, even its influences and a later loss of imagination.

To have something so magnificent nearby and not revel in it, and share in its marvels, is akin to visiting a restaurant to merely smell the food. Today there are people across a wide spectrum of professions and backgrounds, with a thirsting curiosity to imbibe deeply of the spirit and the saga of Mallai, so that they may in turn spread such awareness among others, so history and art appreciation may come alive once more, a thousand years after they were created.

To this purpose, we propose a seminar at Mallai. This shall comprise an introduction to the history, guided visits, lectures by experts, artistic performances, sessions for feedback and free exchange of opinions. Thematically, there are four types of monuments at Mallai, the only such place in the world. These are cave temples, monoliths, structural temples and open bas-reliefs. They are scattered geographically, and there is a historical evolution with marked stylistic variations.

A proper, patient study would take at least three days, one day each for the caves, the monoliths and the structural temples (reliefs are a feature of all of the above).

As preparation for the seminar, the participants must have at least a brief knowledge of :
  • Early Tamil history
  • The Pallava dynasty, especially from Mahendra Varma to Rajasimha
  • The evolution of temple architecture
  • Bilingual nature of Tamil country
  • The invention and use of Pallava grantha
  • Abandonment and burial of monuments and rediscovery by Europeans
  • Some elements of archaeology
  • The neighbours of Pallavas – the Pandyas and the Chalukyas
  • Influence of Pallava art and architecture on India and South Asia
  • Successors of the Pallavas – Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagara and Nayaks – and their contributions.
  • A brief overview of Hindu mythology, especially of characters featured in Mallai sculpture
  • Mallai as a port
Balaji Dandapani, Umapathy sthapathi, Prof Swaminathan, Gopu, Prof Baluswami, Ashok Krishnaswami, R Chandrasekhar - at Great Himalayan Panel, Mamallapuram
This is a link to Prof Swaminathan's Powerpoint on Mallai.

PS: 1. Mr KRA Narasiah believes Mallai could not have been a port, because it is not a river mouth and it is too rocky for ships.
2. We only had lectures on five of the above topics.
3. Ajanta/Ellora was next, I will post my essay on that next.
4. Please remember, all this happened in 2009/2010. Our current plan is to visit Gujarat for a site seminar in January 2014

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