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

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


We are about 20-odd kilometers to the South-East of Cochin, Kerala. The precise locality is called 'Mithayikkunnu' ('the hill of sweets' in Malayalam) or 'Midayikkunnu' (not sure what that can possibly mean). We are here to check out a temple dedicated to Vishnu. The temple is named 'Pundareekapuram' which means 'city of the lotus'; the area is as rural as it can get in Kerala.

There are other web-pages and books (especially 'Murals of Kerala' by M.G.Sasibhooshan) which seriously describe the remarkable Kerala-style paintings (experts date them to 17th-18th centuries) on the walls of the Sanctum of this quite small and utterly unassuming-looking shrine. Here are some quick impressions:

The main idol is of an extremely rare form (even rarer than the 'enthroned' form of Vishnu in worship at the Tripunithura temple, which is not far from this place - and about which I have written elsewhere in this blog). It shows the lord in the form of Krishna with his consort Satyabhama, riding his mount, the eagle Garuda. A mural (unfortunately, poorly preserved) repeats the theme. Garuda has wings but no beak and has fangs bared. A priest told us: "Krishna, with the help of Satyabhama, had undertaken an expediion to kill the mighty Narakasura. This shows his victorious return. Although the campaign is over, Garuda is still in a belligerent mood, and in that mood, he is often shown as a fanged being rather than a proper bird."

So focussed is Garuda on his military mission that he seems to have allowed many of his natural prey, the serpents to wind about him as garlands, bracelets and so forth - perhaps, in his present mood, he has no time to devour them. Indeed, the temple also has an enclosure outside with several hundred naga-silas (stone image of hooded cobras), their proximity to Garuda perhaps symbolizing the unusual coming together of two naturally opposed forces in the quest for an exceptional commmon goal.

Another better-preserved mural shows an amorous Siva-Parvati (come to think of it, in our art, Vishnu-Lakshmi always appear significantly more stiff and prim than this pair) . Yet another mural has Rama enthroned with his queen Sita. Rama is warlike and wears armor, which (strangely) leaves the midriff bare and hence looks like a (Indian) ladies' blouse. And (a rather bashful) Sita is virtually topless!
Note: Kerala murals, to my knowledge, always show Rama as a warrior/prince; even during the Vanavasa - - there is a mural showing the Rama-Sugriva pact somewhere - he is not shown in the 'canonical' jungle-dweller's attire.

The best-known mural here shows a horse-riding Shasta (Ayyappa) on a royal hunt - it is remarkable for the wealth of detail. And then, there is a picture of Ganapati being worshipped by quite a gallery of devotees. While most in the crowd are shown as proper Mallus (with unclothed upper bodies), one of the worshippers(?) sports a stubble and wears a collarless, full-sleeved shirt and a turban, the like of which is still worn by some Muslims from North Kerala. And next to him is a similarly attired figure who seems to sport a ponytail; a Chinese visitor?


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