Govardhan pooja is celebrated in certain parts of India today. The legend behind this is as follows:
The pastoral folks of Gokul used to pray with lavish offerings to Indra for rains. Krishna advised them that they should rather be praying to Nature in the form of hills, trees, cattle etc. rather than appeasing Indra. The people followed Krishna’s advice and stopped the offerings to Indra. Indra was enraged and he unleashed torrential rains with thunder and lightning on the Braj region. Seeing the sufferings and potential danger, Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain with his little finger as an umbrella protecting the entire region, its people, cattle and natural resources.
Indra did not relent. For seven days and nights he unleashed his fury in the form of torrential rains. On the eighth day, seeing that Braj and its people are still well protected, he conceded defeat and realized that the boy Krishna was none other than Lord Vishnu.
This episode illustrates the role of nature and the respect we must have for the environment.
In many parts, Govardhan pooja is performed for a heap of rice and/or vegeatbles (Anna koot) or a mound of cow dung or earth. The day is also dedicated to worship of the cow as a mark of respect and thanking for providing us healthy sustenance.
Mahabalipuram has one of the finest bas relief sculptures of this pastoral scene in the Krishna Mandapam near Arjuna’s penance. (7-8 century C.E) [above].
The one in Halebidu from the Hoysala period in Soapstone is also exquisite
Vyaghrapada was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He lived in a thillai forest near Chidambaram.
He used to collect flowers in the morning for his daily puja. Seeing that birds and bees suck nectar from the flowers, he wanted to get flowers even before dawn so that they are untouched and fresh. For this purpose he had to go deep into the forest in near darkness. This involved walking over thorns and sharp stones. Consequently his feet were affected so badly that even his overall health deteriorated. Seeing his plight Lord Siva gave him legs of a tiger to manage the rough conditions of the forest. Hence the name Vyaghrapaada .Vyghra – tiger: pada – foot.
Vyaghrapada lived in Chidambaram for many years. He was a contemporary of Sage Patanjali. Shiva eventually gave his darsan as Nataraja and both Vyghrapaada and Patanjali attained mukti.
From one of the pillars in the Azhagiya Nambi Temple, Thirukkurungudi – one of the 108 Vaishnvite Divya Desams.
Interestingly, though this temple is a Vaishnavite Divya sthalam, it has also many Shaivaite elements as the sculpture above.
This is a rare sculpture of Vishnu as koorma (tortoise) avatara worshiping a shiva lingam. On a pillar in the 16-pillared mandapam in front of Ekambareswara Temple Gopuram, Kanchipuram. The mandapam has several other sculptures on the pillars but indifferent upkeep with haphazard steel structures and flex posters mar the beauty.
Dvarapalakas literally mean ‘Guardians at the Gate’ . Most Hindu temples have the images of dvarapalakas at the entrance. They have a lot of common features, but there are some special features based on the presiding deity, the local practices and the Agamas. For example, the dvarapalakas in a Shiva temple will usually have trishul, damru, gada, etc.
These dwarapalkas in Vydeeswara Temple, Talakadu have the usual features and in addition, they have torsos shaped like a Nandi. This is unique and I have not seen this anywhere else.
The Vydheeswara Temple is located in Talekadu (or Talekad) in Karnatake. It is beleived to have been built by the Ganga Dynasty in the 10th Century.
There is also a story of the Curse of Talekadu. More about it later.
On the Shree Shiva Shakthi Vinayagar koil gopuram at Sivapraksham St.
I had shared my album of post budget Pondy Bazaar with the IIMA- Chennai group. One of the alumni Mr Srikant pointed out that this Pillayar has a Shanku and Chakram, normally associated with Vishnu. Only after his response, I noticed this uniqueness.
I have no idea about how Pillayar came to have the Sangu and chakram, but I am aware that the masons and sculptors of gopurams take liberties with the terracotta or stucco figures that go on the gopuram, often deviating from the accepted norms of iconography. If anybody has any other explanation, please do share it with the readers of this blog.
Sundaramurthy Nayanar was an eighth-century poet-saint and one of the most important Nayanars.
He is believed to have performed many miracles thanks to his great devotion to Shiva.
The Northern face of the gopuram at Kapali temple depicts one such miracle. During his journey through Kongu Nadu, he was informed about an eight-year-old boy who was swallowed by a crocodile at Avinashi (near Coimbatore). Using his divine powers Sundarar resurrected the boy, to the amazement of all. This event is commemorated every year as “Mudalai vaay pillai utsavam” on Panguni Uthram at the Avinashishwarar temple, Avinashi.
Mahishasuramardhini is another recurring theme in my posts.
Here, the medium is unique- painted marble.
18th Century CE from Jaipur Rajasthan. Exhibited at the Indian Museum Kolkata.
Ten-armed Durga is riding a lion as she slays the demon Mahisha. She is flanked by Ganesha and Kartikeya, which I found to be unique again. One of the other two female figures could be Saraswathi. The arch is embellished with paintings of the Durga legends. It is topped by a figure on a buffalo.
Submission of Naga King Apalala, ca 2nd C.CE, Loriyan Tangai
A relief from Loriyan Tangai region of Pakistan at the Indian Museum Kolkata.
The legend: In the Swat river of the Gandhara Kingdom, there was a naga king called Apalala. He used to harass the local residents and they, in turn, offered him a tribute to stop harassing them. Once when the tributes started dwindling, Apalala was furious and turned himself into a Dragon. He threatened to invoke floods in the Swat river and annihilate the community. At that time Buddha with Vajrapani was visiting that area to propagate his thoughts. Vajrapani used the weapon Vajra (lightning) to bring down the mountain and subdue Apalala. Apalala submitted to Buddha and converted to Buddhism.
It was interesting to come across an article in Dawn (Pakistan) about the archaeological department invoking a slightly different version of this legend in the context of floods in the Swat valley. See story: https://www.dawn.com/news/563030
In ancient Hindu temples, you can find exquisite carvings not only on the temple walls and pillars but also on the temple chariots. Though these are in wood and of more recent vintage, the beauty of the carvings cannot be ignored.
The above dasavathara depiction on the temple chariot (ther) is from the Sree Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatnam.
One can clearly see Matsya, kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Srirama, Balarama, & Krishna.