'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Impressions - Pattadakal

Pattadakal is now a small hamlet on the banks of the Malaprabha. Unlike Aihole and Badami, which are both nearby, it is a 'world heritage site' and appears to be taken more seriously by the foreign tourists (hordes of school kids are also seen herded around the site by usually grumpy teacher-custodians).

Almost all the Chalukya temples here (about a dozen of them) stand in the same protected enclosure of a few acres; all appear to be Siva temples. As at Aihole, there are examples of both the northern (Nagara) and the southern style of temple design; the difference is that here, one begins to see the southern style gaining a clear ascendancy (the largest temples, Mallikarjuna, Virupaksha and Papanatha are all Dravidian) and some maturity. The sculpture here is of a higher order than elsewhere in this circuit.

Some of the details which caught the eye: in the three temples mentioned above, there are carvings of couples on many of the pillars and on the walls - they are not really erotic 'Mithunas' as at Khajuraho etc; they seem to be variations on the 'donor couples' which can be seen in Buddhist caves at Karla, Bedsa etc (these temples were done at least 600 years after the caves). Again, one senses a difference. The Buddhist couples are manifestly amorous and the female figures are buxom and voluptous. Here, things are generally subtler - the male and female figures usually stand with arms around each others' shoulders but where visible, their faces express affection and an understated love rather than open physical attraction; there is one couple which was particularly notable for the tenderness on the face of the man; and unfortunately, the woman has lost her head (and unfortunately, I didn't take a pic). Also among these is one strange specimen where the female of the pair has a tiger's (?) head and human body. Anyways, one can probably conclude that the Chalukyan art of Pattadakal provides a link between the Buddhist cave art and later temple art of Southern and central India.

Some of the other sculpture illustrate mythological episodes like the slaying of Hiranyakashipu and Ravana shaking Mount Kailas (both these themes seem to have been favored - and elaborately developed - by the artists of the later Ellora caves). Then there are unusual episodes like Bheeshma lying on the bed of arrows, Krishna slaying an elephant and so on, carved in smaller-scale friezes. One can also see a small-scale copy of the grand Mahabalipuram relief of the battle between Durga and Mahishasura.

There is also a Nataraja with a divine attendant figure playing an instrument very like a compactified 'Mizhavu' ( The Mizhavu is nowadays seen only in some Kerala temples. It is a large metallic pot with the diaphragm stretched over the mouth and is used primarily as accompaniment for Koodiyattam, the traditional enactment of Sanskrit plays). I recall seeing a (much later) Kerala style mural painting of Nataraja in Ettumanur where Vishnu(?) plays the Mizhavu.

Some of the designs, like a ceiling carving of Nagaraja, the serpent king - the lower half of his body is serpentine and forms a spiral around his head - are to be seen in Aihole as well and seem to be common Chalukyan motifs. The complex floral designs which decorate the niches on the walls of several of the temples here seem to have received the attention of experts as well.

Some questions suggest themselves: the Chalukyas seem to have worked liberally with both the northern and southern styles of temple building (and also a bit of the 'intermediate style', developed later in Orissa). Did the northern style actually come from the north and the southern from the south? In later times, how did these two styles get so clearly separated - hardly any northern-style temples in the South postdating these Chalukyan experiments and the southern style too seems not to have penetrated the north either (Thought: the Ellora Kailasnath temple (which was perhaps built a little after the Pattadakal temples) has a Southern feel about it).


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