Category Archives: d. Some Noteworthy Temples

The Kailasanatha Temple of Ellora


The Kailasanatha Temple is a Saivite Temple located near Maharastra in western India. It is grouped in a family of structures referred to as the Ellora Cave Temples and is one of dozens of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temples among the structures. The Kailasanatha is generally regarded to have been excavated in the mid-8th century during the Rastrakuta Dynasty, inscriptions claim during the rule of Krsnaraja I, who ruled from 757-772 C.E. It is constructed out of a single rock.

The claim that it was constructed under a single ruler, or in the short period of fifteen years, seems rather absurd considering the sheer size of the structure. The architecture and sculpture art are not completed with a uniform style, in fact at least ten different styles can be found each belonging to a particular section on the temple (see Goetz 85-87). The caves in the court walls also appear to have been constructed at a later date. Because it is a cave temple though its historical sequence follows from the top, where the surface was when excavation began, to the bottom. For this reason it is believed that Krsnaraja I was the ruler whom it was completed under. [Goetz (1952) delves slightly further into a few other Ellora cave temples that are believed to be constructed around the same time]. Most of the court as well as the lower story of the temple appear have been created under Krsnaraja, the higher levels under the rule of his predecessor Dantidurga (735-756 C.E.). The courts and lower levels also don’t appear to integrate with the older designs; leaving chambers in the upper levels unreachable except by means of ladders (see Goetz 93-94). Though the Court was likely completed early in Krsnaraja’s reign as many sculptures appear to be more similar in style to those constructed during the time of Dantidurga, simply of smaller size.

Though the architecture and excavation of the Kailasanatha are staggering in and of themselves they are outshone by far by the incredible artwork, sculptures, and statues all about temple. Much of the artwork supports similar themes to several of the Puranas, this is due to the fact that these texts would have been written close to the same era as the temple was constructed. [for more on the Puranas and their relation to the artwork, and specific texts check Heston 1981-1982].

Though Kailasanatha contains undeniable evidence toward the conclusion that it is a temple of Siva, at least a few of its designers did not see issue with frequently interspersing sculptures and art of many other deities, especially Visnu. There are both Vaisnavite and Saivite subjects scattered liberally about the temple structure (see Hawley 80-82). There are also many depictions of the Dikpalas, naga, and River Goddesses, though they never appear quite as important as the sculptures of Siva, Visnu, and Brahma, usually appearing smaller and or made to look as if standing further back (see Heston 220-221).

The gopura (entry gate) of the temple is an area clearly depicting and paying homage to several other Hindu deities. The entry gate depicts many stories with diametrically opposed themes on opposing walls. The north wall clearly portrays Siva as the supreme deity, while enforcing unity among all deities and forces; it supports the pursuit of knowledge in order to achieve moksa. The sculptures contain images such as Siva in several modes of dance, a story of Visnu and Brahma seeking the beginning and end of a flaming linga, with turns out to be Siva in his ultimate form. The sculptures continue, showing Harihara a composite form of Siva and Visnu, showing unity though with Siva dominant in the representation. The next sculpture is one of Siva with his divine consort again with Siva appearing in a superior fashion (see Heston 222-223)

The south wall portrays a radically adverse side of Hindu tales. The sculptures all reveal tales of a deity’s heroic victory over a demon in battle. One is of Visnu in incarnated as a boar, the story of which is told in the Puranas of this incarnation saving the earth goddess from the primordial ocean. Another depicts the dwarf Vamana (another form of Visnu) defeating the demon Bali and claiming the universe for the gods. Some of the carvings are damaged and others still depict demons being killed or defeated. One of these however reveals the connection between the northern and southern walls. The specific carving is one of Siva thrusting his trident into a demon, upon his impalement the demon sees past the illusion and lies of the material world and achieves true knowledge. The demon in the tale is a metaphor for that illusion, the story clearly stating that only through Siva, among other deities, and proper ritual will one achieve that knowledge (see Heston 223-225). This is another section of the temple where the sculptures place emphasis not only of Siva but also depict stories of Visnu and Brahma in tales of seeking knowledge, on the north wall, and in triumph of asura, on the south.

Among the images carved closer to the actual entrance of the gopura only depictions of the Dikpalas, or Gods of the Eight Directions, appear. It is commonplace to see these deities given a protector status, especially among temple entrances and other important religious locales. Four images lie on either side of the portal; unfortunately three are damaged, and of those two are completely unrecognizable. However, because in this era and in this setting it was popular to depict all eight deities together in this role it is assumed that the two damaged sculptures are the remaining Dikpala.

On the north side of the entry presides sculptures of Agni (fire god), Vayu (wind god), and Varuna (water god), the fourth is one of the destroyed sculptures. Varuna in this representation is attributed with a lotus, as opposed to his usual noose. The south side of the doorway consists of sculptures of Indra (sky god), carrying his typical lightning bolt, a damaged panel depicts a bull mount which is the usual vehicle of the deity Yama (death god). Another damaged, unrecognizable panel on this side as well as an image Kartikkeya, who is the son of Siva but is not a deity among the Dikpalas. Though throughout the Puranas Kartikkeya is seen as both as a seeker of knowledge and a sage, as well as a leader of an army of gods, in this he shows himself both as a protector, garnering a place among the Dikpalas, at least thematically. These two roles also aptly blend with the theme already beginning to shine through among the other sculptures (see Heston 226-234). It is impossible to ever tell which of the Dikpala Kartikkeya replaces, due to the two damaged carvings.

The deities flanking the door directly are Indra with his lightning bolt and Varuna carrying the lotus, again this is unusual in representations of Varuna. The lotus often represents knowledge, however, fitting seemingly with that wall’s theme. The lightning bolt clearly held as a weapon in this case fitting with the theme of its respective wall. [It is interesting to note that Buddhist excavations in the Ellora Caves also similar symbols representing religious knowledge, Heston 1981-1982]

The temple also contains much smaller vastly intricate and detailed carvings of Hindu epics, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and The Krsnacaritra. The walls of the porch of the temple depict these stories in their episodic nature. Many believe these depictions are later additions to the temple for several reasons (see Hawley 77-78); this is believed in part due to the intense amounts of detail that has gone into these carvings as well as the fact that they do not seem to be very well integrated into the general architecture of the temple. Despite this studies have dated the story panels at least around the same time as the rest of the monument. It is interesting to note that regardless of the intricacy with which the many episodes of each story are depicted many arguably important episodes of each tale are either incomplete or just missing (see Markel 59).

The Kailasanatha is clearly a marvel of architecture, artistry, and an unfathomable amount of labour. It rests as the center piece and most impressive of the Ellora Caves, an already marvellous network. Its art characterizes a deep understanding of, and willingness to teach Hindu beliefs. It exemplifies the amount of devotion and care one has for something they truly believe in, while at the same time exposing the intelligence and creativity of its designers through their use of symbolism. It is no wonder this place attracts so many visitors, including scholars, pilgrims, and tourists, or why it is considered the unrivalled spectacle among the other cave temples.

REFERENCES AND OTHER RECCOMENDED READING


Heston, Mary Beth (1982-82) “Iconographic Themes of the Gopura of the Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora.” In Artibus Asiae Vol. 43 No.3. Washington D.C.: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Markel, Stephen (2000) “The Ramayana Cycle on the Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora” from Ars Orientalis Vol. 10 Supplement 1. Ann Arbor: Freer Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian Institution and Department of the History of Art, University of Michigan.

Goetz, H. (1952 “The Kailasa of Ellora and the Chronology of Rastrakuta Art” from Artibus Asiae Vol. 15 No. 1/2. Washington D.C.: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Hawley, John Stratton (1981) “Scenes from the Childhood of Krsna on the Kailasanatha Temple, Ellora” from Archives of Asian Art Vol. 34. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

_________________(1987) “Krishna and the Birds” from Ars Orientalis Vol. 17. Ann Arbor: Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institutiion and Department of History of Art, University of Michigan

Kramsrisch, Stella (1981) The Presence of Siva . New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Vishvakarma

The Dashavatara

The Indra Sabha

Krsnaraja I

Dantidurga

Rastrakutra Dynasty

Siva

Visnu

Brahma

Agni

Indra

Vayu

Varuna

Kartikkeya

Yama

Krsna

The Ramayana

The Mahabharata

The Krsnacaritra

The Puranas

Siva Purana

Linga Purana

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellora_Caves

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kailash_Temple

http://www.templenet.com/Maharashtra/ellora.html

http://www.art-and-archaeology.com/india/kanchipuram/kai01.html

http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2501/stories/20080118504906500.htm

Article written by: TJ Riggins (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Sabarimalai Temple and Pilgrimage

Sabarimalai is a temple located in the mountains of South India, in the state of Kerala. It is dedicated to the deity Ayyappan, who is venerated widely throughout the South. Ayyappan is not mentioned in any of the puranic texts, and appears mostly in the myths and legends of Kerala. The first Sanskrit text to mention Ayyappan is the Bhutanathopakhyanam, which was written in the nineteenth century, and is the primary text of the cult (Sekar 15).

There are several differing stories of Sabarimalai’s origins, nearly all tied to Ayyappan. One such Ayyappan myth, of which there are many, it involves Ayyappan, although he is not yet revealed to be the deity, undertaking the impossible task of acquiring the milk of a tiger to save the life of the queen (Younger 18). When he succeeds, the king recognizes Ayyappan’s divinity and promises to build him a temple. Ayyappan shoots an arrow to indicate where the temple should be built, and it lands in the forest where Sabarimalai now stands. A separate story tells of how Parasurama, an avatara of Visnu, founded five shrines to Ayyappan (Sekar 19). The five shrines contain images of Ayyappan in several stages of life, the fourth of which is at Sabarimalai which depicts the deity in the forest dweller (vanaprastha) stage of life. The fifth shrine has not been found, but it is believed by devotees to be on the summit of a nearby mountain, depicting Ayyappan as a sannyasin.

As alluded to above, it is possible that the myths involving Ayyappan are of South Indian origin, and it may be the case that Vedic references are built on a standing definition. Some scholars argue that versions of the story which portray Ayyappan as the son of Siva and Mohini may be a more recent creation, reflecting the southward movement of the The Vedas (Younger 22 and Thomas 20).

Sabarimalai is open to pilgrims only during the festival season, which runs for fifty one days though December and part of January (Younger 17). The pilgrimage is noteworthy for its popularity, drawing approximately ten million pilgrims each year (Younger 23). This popularity is a relatively recent phenomenon, and while scholars are uncertain what caused the rise in pilgrims, having increased in the last fifty years (Younger 22-23).

The pilgrimage is important to the cultural identity of many South Indians, and the austere life lead by pilgrims is seen as similar to ancient forms of religious expression (Younger 18). Between forty five and sixty days prior to departing on the pilgrimage, pilgrims undertake numerous vows of austerity (Daniel 246-247). The list of injunctions is extensive and includes vows to refrain from intoxicating beverages, sexual activity, meat, eggs, and anger.

While Sabarimalai is important to the South Indian identity, it is by no means exclusive to those people. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the pilgrimage is its inclusiveness; the pilgrimage is open to all castes and faiths (Vaidyanathan 50). The tradition has loosely tied itself with both Islam and Buddhism. There is a mosque at Erumeli [the official starting place of the pilgrimage] dedicated to a figure named Vaver, who appears to provide assistance to Ayyappan in some stories (Thomas 14). Pilgrims are expected to circumambulate the mosque three times before visiting the temple to Ayyappan located in the same town. Some scholars have speculated at a possible link to Buddhism because Ayyappan is called simply ‘teacher’ by most pilgrims, which is one of the names of the Buddha (Younger 21). This universality of Sabarimalai is brought into question by its stance towards women.

No women of menstrual age are permitted on the pilgrimage (Younger 20). The reason typically given for this exclusion is that the pilgrimage is at essence a male initiation rite, testing the ability of a man to cope with the challenges of forest life. The exclusion of women is justified in the myth surrounding Ayyappan, who promises to wed the goddess Malikappurattamma the year that no pilgrims arrive to worship at Sabarimalai (Younger 20).. Malikappurattamma has a shrine on a nearby mountain, and during the festival her image is symbolically brought near Ayyappan’s shrine to witness the throngs of pilgrims standing between themIt is common for Hindu rituals and worship to be closed to menstruating women, but Sabarimalai’s exclusion of the entire age group is unusual and worthy of mention.

Despite the casteless nature of the pilgrimage, Ayyappan has historically been much more popular amongst the lower classes; Ayyappan is not worshipped as the chief deity in any Brahmin temples (Thomas 19). Some scholars credited the rise in the ritual’s popularity as stemming from anti-Brahmin sentiment; since the tradition is seen as natively South Indian, and the Brahmins are viewed as Northern migrants. This pilgrimage is seen by some as a way of asserting their independence from the caste system (Younger 23). Despite this undertone, the number of upper-caste pilgrims has increased steadily in recent years (Younger 24).

A shrine depicting the 18 holy steps marking the final ascent to the temple of Lord Ayyapan, the destination of the Sabaraimala pilgrimage in Kerala, India
A shrine depicting the 18 holy steps marking the final ascent to the temple of Lord Ayyapan, the destination of the Sabaraimala pilgrimage in Kerala, India

The pilgrimage begins with the vows of austerity mentioned above, which are taken in advance of the pilgrims departure. First time pilgrims are expected to find the participant in his region who has completed the pilgrimage the greatest number of times, and place himself under their care for the duration (Thomas 24-25). This senior pilgrim is to serve as a spiritual guide for the new devotee. This hierarchy is linguistically reinforced through the different modes of address used for pilgrims who have completed the pilgrimage more often. First and second time pilgrims are called kanni, those participating for a third time are called muthalperu, fourth are bharippu, and those on their fifth pilgrimage or more are addressed as ‘pazhama’ (Thomas 24).

When departing from their hometown, after an appropriate period of austerities, modern pilgrims have two options. The traditional method is to travel by foot to the town of Erumeli, stopping to worship at as many temples as possible along the way, and to begin the pilgrimage proper from there (Younger 19). For pilgrims looking for a less arduous journey, a road now extends to the town of Pampa at the foot of the mountain. Pilgrims are able to park their vehicles in Pampa and undertake a shorter eight kilometre trek up the mountain (Sekar 58). For pilgrims without their own means of transportation, the Kerala State Transport Corporation also runs a bus service to Pampa.

Along the route to the temple from Erumeli, pilgrims stop to hurl stones into a ravine, this is explained in a number of different ways. Some pilgrims understand it as symbolically throwing away a person’s sins, others as a reenactment of Ayyappan’s victory over the buffalo demoness Mahisi. Some scholars have also remarked on the similarity of this ritual to Muslim pilgrims stoning pillars in Mecca (Sekar 60). Pilgrims undertaking the last leg of the journey from Pampa first bathe in the river which the town is named for (Sekar 64). This bathing, as in one possible understanding of the ravine ritual, is intended to rid a person of their sins before proceeding to the temple.

After arriving at the temple, pilgrims smash ghee filled coconuts against the steps, before climbing those steps and entering into the temple itself (Younger 20). In the temple they witness priests pour ghee filled coconuts over the image of Ayyappan. Once the final act of the pilgrimage is complete, the pilgrims turn homewards, lingering only briefly once reaching the goal of their last several weeks (Younger 20).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Daniel, E. Valentine (1984) Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Osella, Filippo and Osella, Caroline (2003) ‘Ayyappan saranam’: masculinity and the Sabarimala pilgrimage in Kerala. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Vol. 9, 4. 729-756.

Sekar, Radhika (1992) The Sabarimala Pilgrimage & Ayyappan Cultus. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Srikant, C. V. Manoj (1998) Sabarimala: Its Timeless Message. Payyanur: Integral Books.

Thomas, P. T. (1973) Sabarimalai and Its Sastha. Madras: Diocesan Press.

Vaidyanathan, K. R. (1978) Pilgrimage to Sabari. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Younger, Paul (2002) Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Ayyappan

Bhutanathopakhyanam

Caste

Dravidian

Kerala

Liminality

Mahisi

Mohini

Pampa

Parasurama

Sabari

Vaver

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

http://www.ayyappan-ldc.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabarimala

http://www.sabarimala.org/

http://plerinageayappa.blogspot.com/

http://www.saranamayyappa.org/index.asp

http://www.sabarimala.org.in/

Article written by: Brian Paulson (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple

The Kandariya Mahadeva is the largest and most magnificent temple at Khajuraho and is a popular tourist site. It is on a level field in Central India (Alles 1988:4). It forms a parallel row with the Chitragupta and Jagadambi temples and is part of the Western group of temples. Vidyadhara, who was part of the Chandella kingdom,  is credited as being the author of the Kandariya Mahadeva, which is supported by an inscription on a mandapa-pilaster in the temple, which reads, “a gift of courtesans on a certain sacred occasion during the reign of king Virimda” (Deva 1987:15). Virimda is thought to be another name for Vidyadhara. Vidyadhara is thought to be the most powerful Indian ruler of his time. He succeeded his father Ganda as king. Under Vidyadhara’s leadership, the Chandella kingdom reached the pinnacle of their prosperity, evident in the intricate and rich design of the Kandariya Madeva temple. There were two contemporary rival powers in Central India, the Kalachuris and the Paramaras, and Vidyadhara had victories over both of them (Deva 1987:15). Vidyadhara’s prestige was heightened when he, with the help of feudatory Kachhapaghata Arjuna, exterminated Rajyapala, the Pratihara king who had retreated when Mahmud, a powerful foreign invader that invaded Kanauj in A.D. 1018. Because of this, Vidyadhara was both feared and respected by the Paramaras and the Kalachuris. Mahmud considered Rajyapala’s assignation as a serious threat and so he challenged Vidyadhara in war. Vidyadhara put together a large army of cavalry, infantry and elephants (Deva 1987:15). Mahmud was scared by the large army. When the two sides met on the first day of battle there was no victor. Mahmud returned to Ghazni. Vidyadhara and his feudatory Kachchhapaghata Vajradaman defended the fort of Gwalior when Mahmud returned in 1022 to challenge Vidyadhara. Vidyadhara was praised as a hero after holding off Mahmud (Deva 1987:15). Vidyadhara built the Kandariya Mahadeva, continuing the tradition of the Chandellas to build great temples.

The Kandariya Mahadeva is dedicated to the god Siva, as shown through the large marble Siva-linga in the sanctum. There are many depictions of Siva, usually with four arms. It is common to see him with a lotus stalk. The images are all over the interior walls and the exterior. Some images are missing hands, heads or other parts. These images have been broken throughout time from age and weather, but the Kandariya Mahadeva is still one of the most well preserved temples from Indian medieval times.

The art at Kandariya Mahadeva is often used as an example for the erotic designs of the Hindu temples. Erotic sculptures are seen on the facades and interior of the temple. The forms of sexuality are intertwined with religious philosophy (Berleant 97).

Sculptures on the temple are tall and slender. They exhibit the sophistication of Khajuraho at the peak of its prosperity. Depicted are nymphs and people in lively or violently agitated postures (Deva 1987:95). The largest monument of Khajuraho is the marble Siva-linga. This form is 100 feet in height and 66 feet wide. These dimensions exclude the platform. The linga is similar to the Visvanatha temple, however it is more elaborate and magnificent.

On one of the outer niches is an image of dancing Chamunda who has twelve arms and is ugly and vicious. He has bulging eyes, large mouth, and shown with veins and bones, dried-up hanging breasts and a scorpion on his sunken belly (see Deva 1990:156). Chamunda wears a jata-mukuta studded with a grinning skull and a pendant with scorpions (see Deva 1990:156). She stands over a headless corpse and there is a preta, which is a soul of the departed, on either side of her. One of these pretas is munching on a human hand. This is just one example of the grotesque depictions on the Kandariya Mahadeva.

The Kandariya Mahadeva is mostly in darkness, excluding a few days of the year. The days when it is not in darkness are when “the rays of the rising sun strike, as if to waken the image of the deity from its slumbers” (Kelley 281). The intent of this illumination process is not elaborated upon (Kelley 281).

The Kandariya Mahadeva is different from other temples of Khajuraho in its architecture in that each element of the plan is grand with elaborate designs and ornamentation (Deva 1987:95). There are a large number of protruding parts and recesses throughout the entire temple. The basement has elegant ornamented moldings. The interior is similar to other temples, however, it is more spacious and filled with sculptures and carvings.

The Kandariya Mahadeva’s platform is the only one that shows protrusions on the rear and the lateral sides; these protrusions correspond with the protrusions of the transepts (see Deva 1987:95). There is a 10 ft. high terrace on which the temple rests. Only a little of the “original façade of the platform survived in the south-eastern corner on the flank of the imposing flight of steps leading to its terrace” (Deva 1987:95). The foundation is granite covered with a plain course of sandstone. There are two overhangs on the west and south that correspond with the overhangs of the west and south transepts (see Deva 1987:98).

The basement is on a granite foundation, covered with two layers of sandstone. The socle (stone serving as a pedestal) rises on the plinth (a flat stone at the base of a column). The socle is comprised of five mouldings. Underneath these moldings is a “recessed band carved with a processional frieze” (Deva 1987:98). On this frieze are depictions of dancers and devotees, acrobats and musicians, warriors and hunters, horses, elephants and erotic themes. The kapota-hood is the last of the five moldings of the socle and is where the junction of two series of nine niches occurs. The niches are large and are set back to back with the basement. The lower niches are now empty and stop just below the kapota, which is an “overhanging cornice or molding representing it” (Deva 1990:398). The upper niches display images of “the Seven Mothers and Ganesa and Virabhadra” (Deva 1987:98) and they start above the kapota.

A sikhara is the “principal spire or tower over the sanctum” (Deva 1990:403). This tower is where the highest roof rises over the sanctum and reaches its highest point, from which are four diminishing half-spires or urah-sringas on each side, and many minor spirelets or sringas. These minor spirelets are of varying sizes (see Deva 1987:98).  The sikhara’s main stem has twelve compressed stories (bhumis), which are specified by eleven semicircular bhumi-alakas. Each bhumi-alaka has a kapota. There are chaitya-arches covering the sikhara (see Deva 1987:98).

The wall or jangha has three rows of sculptures, all equal in size. The boundaries are marked by two series of moldings. The lower series has a projecting band of kirttimukhas. There is a frieze of rosettes below (see Deva 1987:98). The upper series has a projecting faschia that is decorated with stenciled scrolls, which have a ruffled triangular design below. The first series of moldings repeats above the third row of sculptures (see Deva 1987:98). A broad recess showing diamonds in niches is interceded by a pair of kapotas that make up the varandika mouldings of the eave-cornice that separates the wall (jangha) from the sikhara (Deva 1987:98). Balustrades on the five transepts and facades of the mandapa and porch show four moldings. The balconied windows are above these balustrades and the windows have ribbed eaves supported on pillars with atlantean brackets (Deva 1987:98). There are elephant figures found carved in the round, supported by the corners of the eaves. This is similar to the design of the Visvanatha temple.

The north and south faces a vertical row of four sculptured niches that are shown on the roof the vestibule, which is above the eave-cornice (Deva 1987:98). The top of the sculptured niches has a pyramidal roof. Three rows of framed niches, which are behind the four sculptured niches, rise to the gable of the front antefix, which is an ornamented above the top horizontal molding. This particular antefix has a lion figure. There are two rows of sculptured niches on the front of the roof. These niches have an ascending row of four pediments (Deva 1990:150).

The roof over the transepts starts with a row of sculptured niches. There are pyramidal rooflets on either side of the row of niches. Above the niches are four pediments. The lowest pediment on either side is beside a balconied window, while the upper pediments “are adorned at the terminal ends by model pyramidal rooflets” (Deva 1987:99).

The roof of the maha- mandapa has a dome in the place of a point on a pyramidal shape, which is made of “pyramidal rooflets converging to the crown of the roof” (Deva 1987:99). There are four rooflets that form the base horizontal row. Two of these rooflets are on either side of the central pediments. Over the rooflets is a pyramid made of four other horizontal rows of rooflets (Deva 1987:99). The rooflets are arranged symmetrically in vertical and horizontal rows, marking diagonal progressions, which converge to the crown of the maha-mandapa roof (Deva 1987:99). The roof of the mandapa is similar to the roof the maha-mandapa. The main difference between the two roofs is that the roof of the mandapa is smaller.

The porch is a smaller arrangement similar to that of the mandapa roof. A row of sculptured niches is on a pediment. On each side of the row is a pyramidal rooflet. A bell-rooflet occurs at the roof between the pediment and crowning member of the roof (Deva 1987:99). The bell-rooflet occurs on all four sides at the same level, each with a pyramidal rooflet.

The terrace of the jagati (platform) is entered through a flight of steps, the last two steps being represented as moon-stones. The temple is entered through a makara-torana (an ornamental entrance) of four loops. The upper edges of the loops are decorated and the junctions of the loops carry long pendants that resemble pinecones (Deva 1990:151). Two figures of Siva-Parvati are on the sides of the makaras niches. The inner face is Lakshmi-Narayana on the right and on the left is Brahma-Brahmani (Deva 1990:151).

The mandapa has eight pillars and four pilasters. The pillars and pilasters are similar to the ones in the porch (Deva 1987:96). There is an abacus with a divine couple above the atlantean brackets on a pair of pillars. The cornice of the mandapa makes a square shape, as the cornice reduces the length. Scrolls and kirttimukhas cut off the corners, changing the square into a circle shape. The ceiling has a circular design also, with eight cusped flowers. The ceiling has large void in its centre, which represents the seed-pod of a floral pattern (Deva 1990:152).

The maha-mandapa’s hall is a slight variation of a rectangular plan as it has a rectangle shape along with protruding niches in each corner. The ceiling is supported on the walls and atlantean brackets of the pilasters (Deva 1987:102). There is a beam that the brackets and walls hold, which is 18” high and has the common icon of stenciled scrolls, along with a band of kirttimukhas. A cornice surmounts the beam and has floral and geometrical designs and a lotus petal band. Above this cornice are “three corbelled courses of ribbed rafters simulating timber construction” (Deva 1987:102), similar to that of the Lakshama and Visvanatha temples.

There are two pairs of pilasters from the entrance from the hall to the transepts. The pilasters are of the bhadraka variety (Deva 1990:155). In the space between the two pilasters are two nymph figures on lotus leaves. The balconied openings are on two pillars and pilasters with the upper half resting above the asanapatta and the lower half is below the asanapatta (Deva 1990:155).

The pillars of the vestibule have octagonal shafts; they have sixteen sides with circular sections that rest on a heavy octagonal base (Deva 1987:102). The pilasters of the vestibule are beside the sanctum doorway. They resemble the transepts of the maha-mandapa. However, they support an attic section. Their base rests on the back of elephant figures (Deva 1987:102). The eastern side of the shaft has a picture of a Siva door-keeper and the outer side has a female chauri-bearer (Deva 1987:102).

Steps leading to the doorway of the sanctum are four stepped moonstones with conch-shells. The depiction on the lintel of the doorway is of Siva riding a bull. Brahma is on his right and Vishnu on his left and attendant divinities are in niches and recesses. The doorway itself is made of nine sakhas. The first and seventh are carved with stenciled scrolls, while the second and sixth have dancing asparases. The third and fifth have vyalas and the fourth has mithunas and has a circular capital. The eighth and ninth are decorated with lotus petals and scrolls in bold relief (see Deva 1987:102-103).

The ceiling of the entrance to the sanctum is plain, but the ceiling of the cella is decorated with lotus flowers and scrolls. The inner walls of the sanctum are plain. A sandstone pithika supports a marble Siva-linga and is enshrined in the middle of the sanctum (Deva 1990:155).

The sanctum rests on a high adhishthana, a basement of a temple that supports a wall, pillar or pilaster and consists of distinct molded tiers (Deva 1990:395) and the sanctum has adhishthana moldings of pitha (pedestal) and vedibandha (Deva 1990:155). The pitha moldings have elephants, horses and men, erotic scenes and kapotapali. Kapotapali marks the plinth level (Deva 1990:155).

The architecture of the Kandariya Mahadeva is complicated and covered in various images and sculptures. While most of the images on the interior are of Siva or refer to Siva, on the exterior can be found many erotic depictions, for which the Kandariya Mahadeva is well known.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Alles, Gregory D (1988) Surface, Space, and Intention: The Parthenon and the Kandariya Mahadeva. Chicago: University of   Chicago Press.

Alles, Gregory D (1993) A Fitting Approach to God: On Entering the Western Temples at Khajuraho. Chicago: University of     Chicago Press.

Baumer, Bettina (1999) Review: untitled. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Berleant, Arnold (2000) The Aesthetic Field: A Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience. Christchurch: Cybereditions      Corporation.

Desai, Devangana (1990) Social Dimensions of Art in Early India. New Delhi: Social Scientist.

Deva, Krishna (1987) Khajuraho. Singapore: Brijbasi Printers Private Ltd.

Deva, Krishna (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 1. Janpath: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India.

Elgood, Heather (2000) Hinduism and the Religious Arts. London: Continuum International Publishing.

Jones, Clifford R (1973) Source Materials for the Consturction of the Natyamandapa in the Silparatna and the    Tantrasamuccaya Silpa Bhagam. Ann Arbor: American Oriental Society.

Kelley, David H; Milone, E.F; Aveni, A. F (2005) Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclopedic Survey of Archaeoastronomy.    New York: Springer-Verlag.

Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (1997) History of India. London: Routledge.

Lippe, Aschwin (1975) Some South Indian Icons. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Meister, Michael W (1979) Juncture and Conjunction: Punning and Temple Architecture. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Read, Kay A (1995) Sun and Earth Rulers: What the Eyes Cannot See in Mesoamerica. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stadtner, Donald M (1999) Review: untitled. Michigan: Regents of the University of Michigan.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Khajuraho

Chandella kingdom

Vidyadhara

Siva

Visvanatha temple

Vishnu

Brahma

Chamunda

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.art-and-archaeology.com/india/khajuraho/kha0.html

http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1000_1099/kandariya/kandariya.html

http://www.indianetzone.com/1/khajuraho_india.htm

Article written by: Cara Horwood (March 2010) who solely responsible for its contents.

The Konarak Sun Temple

 

Konarak Sun Temple

 

The Konarak Sun Temple is located in Konarak in the state of Orissa and is dedicated to the sun god Surya. It is considered one of the

Black Pagoda or Sun Temple at Konark (Ruins of the great chariot temple to Surya at Konark, also known as the Black Pagoda in Odisha, India)
Black Pagoda or Sun Temple at Konark (Ruins of the great chariot temple to Surya at Konark, also known as the Black Pagoda in Odisha, India)

great temples of India and was constructed by Raja Narasimha of the Ganga Dynasty in the mid thirteenth century C.E. (Misro 56-57). Although over time it has decayed, the Indian government has worked to restore it as it is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is now popularly considered one of the seven wonders of India.

Located in the relatively small town of Konarak, the Konarak Sun Temple lies on the coast bordering the Bay of Bengal in the Indian state of Orissa. The region today is quite arid and sparsely populated; questions remain as to why a great temple was built (Sanjaya 45). The historic reasons for its location are not well known; however, it is near the ocean and used to be quite close to the now dry holy river Chandrabhagam. This area was historically quite populated, with many towns and trade centres along the river and coast. Some historians believe that if this was not so, the great temple could not have been built. Furthermore when the temple was constructed it was within the territory of the Ganga Dynasty, which was an area that contained many Sun Temples. The temples position at Konarak may have been deemed a secure location as the Dynasty’s western border was under constant threat of Muslim invasion; at the time of construction Konarak was in a relatively safe area. It was also customary for Ganga rulers to place temples far away from their capitals. This is because the temples may have promoted ceremonies that were uncommon among the general populace, such as tantricism. The practice of tantracism was popular among the sun cult who were very influential in the Sun Temples construction (Misro 59-61).

Dedicated to the sun god Surya, the temple is meant to represent the horses and the colossal chariot which belong to the sun god. Many aspects of the temple are meant to display various measures of time such as months, days and praharas (the eight time periods of a day). The main complex contains the twenty four great wheels of the chariot which are meant to signify either the twenty four hours of the day or the twenty four fortnights in a year. Each of the wheels is 2.971m in diameter and each contains eight spokes which represent the eight praharas in a day. At both the sides of the main gate there is a team of seven horses pulling the chariot. According to some traditions these horses represent the seven days of the week. Other sources state that the horses represent the seven colours of a sun ray and that sun rays must pass through seven layers (represents by the horses) before it can reach the earth (Misro 62). There are also three standing images of Surya which depict the rising, mid day and setting sun (Misro 57). The temple grounds contain many more buildings such as an audience, dancing and dining hall. Almost every inch of the temple is covered in intricate carvings of deities, mythology and even depictions of courtly life. The temple is also known for containing erotic sculptures and images throughout, which may be likened to the Sun Cults involvement in its construction (Misro 62-63).

Built in the thirteenth century C.E., under the rule of Narasimha Deval, the Konarak Sun Temple is now believed to not only have religious significance but military significance as well. Under Narasimha’s rule several Muslim attempts at invading Orissa were defeated and Narasimha eventually went on to launch a successful offensive against Tughan Khan. After this string of victories the prestige and power of Orissa increased significantly and a campaign was underwent to create the greatest temple in India and a memorial. This is reflected in the temples construction as numerous war scenes are depicted, which is unusual for Indian temples. Tradition says that the temples construction took twelve years and 1200 laborers working day and night (Misro 58-59). The temple was built almost entirely out of dark stone (chlorite, laterite and khondalite) with little iron, lime plaster or cement. This was due to the fact that stone is seen as everlasting and deteriorates very slowly and the architect’s intention was to create an everlasting temple (Misro 62).

Unfortunately, the temple was not to remain in good condition forever; in 1565 Muslim armies raided Orissa and attempted to raze the temple. They were not successful but the temple was damaged and looted and Orissa was in a state of ruin. The Copper finial was removed as well as parts of some of the walls leaving the temple structurally unstable and vulnerable to collapse. A couple centuries of neglect left the temple to further degrade with weathering and vegetation taking a further toll on the structure. The local populace even took stones to build other less significant temples as is seen in the case of the Jagganath Temple at Puri. It still contains a pillar which is believed to be from the Konarak Sun Temple. However restoration began in 1901 with many buried parts of the temple being excavated. Decayed parts of the temple were then rebuilt including the natmandir (the main hall) (Sanjaya 47-49).

The Konarak Sun Temple today is a large tourist attraction and considered by critics to be one of the finest specimens of Indian architecture to date. It is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

 

References

 

Articles

 

Misro, R.C. (2001) Construction of the Sun Temple at Konark: An Historic Perspective. Bangalore: Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society.

Sanjaya, Sanjaya (1976) Sun Temple at Konarak. Madras: Indian Review.

Related Topics

 

Surya

Orissa

The Ganga Dynasty

Praharas

Narasimha

Tantricism

Tughan Khan

Jagganatha Temple

Sun Cult

Noteworthy Websites

 

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/246

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konarak_Sun_Temple

http://konark.nic.in/

Article written by: Chris Banmann (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kalighat Temple and Kali

Kalighat and Its Goddess Kali

The Kalighat Temple is a shrine to honour the Goddess Kali. Kali throughout her history has always been linked to death and destruction. Her appearance alone represents mayhem. Her hair is dishevelled, she has four arms, she is dark and blood is often depicted being smeared on her lips. In her hands she holds a cleaver and a severed head, and with her other two hands she signals peace (Kinsley 77-78). Almost all stories about Kali speak exclusively of her killing someone if not many people. Kali is said to have a tendency to become blood thirsty and even lose control. Kali represents many ideas but over them all she is considered to portray the concept of pain and sorrow, always showing that nothing can escape death but that death, to those who have released themselves from “reality”, is not the end. (Kinsley 142-145).

Kali is associated with the god Siva. Conflict between Kali and Siva is a recurrent theme in many Kali related myths. Both are said to haunt the wilderness, causing destruction or trouble in different ways. Kali in some myths is sent to slay great warriors on the battlefield. This is claimed to protect the world and others from destruction, but at times it seems like Kali is the one who is the destroyer. In one myth, the Vamana-purana, her name is interchanged with Parvati’s [Siva’s wife]. Parvati however does not like having Siva comparing her to Kali, due to her dark complexion, and rids herself of any dark attributes (Kinsley 101-108). In other stories Kali is tied to Siva not so much directly but through Parvati herself. In the Siva-Purana, it is said that all goddesses come from one goddess, Uma-Sati-Parvati. This goddess again is also claimed as Siva’s wife. Kali does not get mentioned in the same manner but later on in a retelling of a story, she is said to come from Siva’s hair (Kinsley 104).

An infamous depiction has Kali dancing on top of Siva who is laying on the ground. The story behind this is while Kali was on the battlefield she becomes so overwhelmed with killing and tasting blood she breaks into a dance that shakes the earth. Siva upon seeing this, lays down at her feet and when she notices him there she then ceases her war dance (Kinsley 108). This is the most popular story regarding Kali’s dominance and blood-thirsty tendencies. With Kali always being portrayed as being disruptive it shows that she is one that goes against stability and what others percieve as order. Kali gets sent to battle warriors and demons but often is shown at the end representing that which she is trying to destroy. When associated with Siva, Kali is the opposite of his other spouse Parvati. Parvati is shown to calm Siva, balancing with his tendencies of destruction. Kali however seems to always bring out Siva’s antisocial and destructive side. To further counter-act each other, Parvati is the one who calms Siva. However it is Siva who is said to try to tame Kali. The disruptive nature of Kali, when being compared with other goddesses, embodies an idea of the anger and intensity that is brought out when forced on the battelfield or to war (Kinsley 80).

Being associated with such violence and often frowned upon behaviour, she thrusts upon an individual the darker aspects of society that many try to ignore or not think about. The Hindu culture was that of people looking for freeing themselves of false reality and obtaining one pure mind. Having such vile aspects of society brought out to the fore front, Kali allows one to see the many faces dharma can take. This brings to life the idea that some call her the Mother Goddess. She is portrayed as a Mother Goddess because she is claimed to bring her devotees a broad world-view (Kinsley 84). Some follow strict dharmic ways and to those and view Kali as too harsh. To others she is viewed as a revealer of the world in its true self, its violent reality. From either position Kali represents that harshness which so many try to avoid. To all, Kali is the part of life that is the hardest to face, that which is inevitable. Kali represents the world as it really is and not just the positive that people have a tendency to focus on. Followers of Kali view her as a way to see the full world and use it to further step away from all illusions (Kinsley 136-137).

Bibliography

Harding, E. U. (1998). Kali: the black goddess of Dakshineswar. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Puiblishers.

Kinsley, D. R. (1996). Kali, Blood and Death Out of Place. In J. S. Hawley, & D. M. Wulff, Devi, Goddesses of India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, D. R. (1975). The Sword And The Flute. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

McDermott, R. F., & Kipal, J. J. (2005). Encountering Kali: in the margins, at the center, in the West. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Websites

www.kalighat.jagaddhatri.com

www.templenet.com/Bengal/kalighat.html

www.kalighat.net/kalighat1.htm

Article written by: Phil Austin who is solely responsible for its content.

The Brhadisvara Temple


The Brhadisvara Temple was built, in its entirety, during the reign of King Rajaraja (985 – 1014 CE) of the Cola Dynasty. At the onset of his political reign, the Cola kingdom was constricted to the Tamil country. Rajaraja implemented a rigorous twenty year military campaign which resulted in putting most of Southern India and some of North India under the rule of the Cola monarchy (Vasudevan 16).

The Brhadisvara Temple is considered a royal temple. A royal temple differs from a bhakti temple (or a non-royal temple) in that a royal temple is built by a monarch to their chosen gods and “were grand in design and execution,” while a bhakti temple usually originates as a small shrine built from brick (Vasudevan 152).

In 1003 CE, his nineteenth year of reign and near the end of his military campaign, Rajaraja commenced the construction on a grand temple located in the town of Thanjavur (in southern India). Upon completion, the temple was the most “massive temple in India” (Davis 4). It is said that King Rajaraja’s greatest achievement was this monumental temple, which he named Rajarajesvaram –known today as the Brhadisvara Temple or sometimes just referred to as the Big or Great Temple (Vasudevan 43).

Building a temple was a highly visible political act as well as a devotional one. It was said that “only the king of kings could be considered qualified to construct a preeminent temple” (Davis 6). One of several purposes for the construction of the temple is that it was a highly visible proclamation of Rajaraja’s political achievement.

Another, and more devotionally directed, purpose was to provide a home for a divinity that Rajaraja believed was the unsurpassed ruler of the cosmos. This temple was constructed in order to allow god to receive homage and offerings of devotion presented by kings, the kings’ family and the kingdom. Only a supreme god could be worth such great devotion. Rajaraja built the most magnificent temple to Siva, which was believed to elevate Siva to the position of Supreme Diety. As Siva usually resides upon Mount Kailasa, or Northern World-Mountain, Rajaraja believed that by building this imperial temple he was giving Siva a home in the south, equal to his northern abode (Davis 6).

However, the main purpose that the temple was devoted to Siva was that the Colas believed in Bhakti Saivism. During the Colas’ rule many shrines were built or remodelled to unmistakably show their devotion to Siva. “Through the adoption and patronage of the cult of linga, the Colas universalized a new aspect into the worship of Siva” (Vasudevan 101).

The temple was erected with two sets of outer walls – the most outer wall serving a defensive purpose. The Big Temple is the first temple in southern India that was built with any defensive apparatus (Vasudevan 44). The temple is made mostly of granite – a stone which was not indigenous to Thanjavur – had to be obtained from outside the kingdom making acquiring the building materials a difficult task. The temple sits on the side of a river that was specifically re-routed as to allow a moat to form around the temple. The temple tower is composed of 16 stories and stands an unprecedented 63 meters high and is was claimed to be among the tallest in the world (Vasudevan 153). The tower is topped off with a single spherical block of granite, which is known in Southern India as a vimana (Vasudevan 44). Pillars, piers, and pilasters are placed all around the sikhara. Inside, entire wall spaces and ceilings were covered in exquisite paintings. Unfortunately, most of the original artwork has been obstructed since the time of original conception.

The primary icon in the temple is the gigantic Siva-linga, said to be the “the largest such linga in existence” (Davis 5). The Siva-linga is the principal icon because in its highest form Siva is said to inhabit it. The linga is the geographical centre of the shrine and is considered to be the generative source of the entire temple complex (Davis 7). By installing the massive linga in the royal temple, Rajaraja wanted to identify the linga with himself. The considerably large “linga, enshrined in the most majestic temple, built by the mightiest emperor of the south, bore a direct comparison to the glory and might of the Cola monarch” (Vasudevan 159).When Rajaraja’s subjects bowed to the linga in the temple they were indirectly showing their commitment and obedience to Rajaraja. By implementing the indirect action of showing dual allegiance and submission to Siva and Rajaraja, he was able to use the spiritual aspect of the royal temple to unite Cola control over his large empire.

To serve Siva and the other gods of the temple, Rajaraja and his royal entourage made extensive donations. Among Rajaraja’s personal donations were: gold artefacts, silver objects, Myriad jewels, and land. Dancers were also supplied from other temples throughout the empire to entertain Siva.

Even in a time where Hindu kings were trying to surpass each other in the lavishness and size of their temples (between 700 and 1200 CE), no temple comes close to the Brhadisvara Temple’s opulence (Vasudevan 44). Vasudevan states that, “compared to [the Brhasdisvara], other temples were like little churches before a cathedral” (43).

Rajaraja’s son and successor, Rajendra I (reined in 1012-1044 originally with his father) extended the Cola Empire when he took power. He instigated a successful military mission that reached the Ganges. Rajendra I built a new capital city, Gangaikondacolapuram (“the city of the Cola king who took the Ganges”), and, replicating his father, he created another imperial scale Siva temple with a linga that is the largest monolithic linga in the Tamil country (Davis 6) (Vasudevan 46,106).

The Great Temple was not solely used for the purpose of worship and devotion. Personal and communal activities, the performing arts and the literary arts all took place there. The temple also functioned as an employer, a landlord, and a money lender. By these acts the Brhadisvara Temple turned into a major economic institution for Southern India.

Another difference between royal and non-royal temples is the way the administration staff was appointed/ hired. The administrative staff of the royal temple of Tanjavur worked within well-defined powers and responsibilities and were appointed directly by the government from anywhere in their territory. However, in bhakti temples the administrative workers were vested with local bodies. There were more than 800 personnel on the pay-roll of the temple (Vasudevan 93). Rajaraja was able to incorporate everything and everyone into the temple. He made the temple the centre of his empire. He brought in people from every corner of his kingdom. An example of this is that Rajaraja did not bring in resources that were close to the capital. He had material brought in from remote areas of his empire with the underlying idea that this would bring the kingdom closer together. By bringing in resources from all over the kingdom, and not just from the capital, allows different parts of his empire to come into closer interaction with each other.

A large portion of the Temple’s administrative work was done to administer grants and monitor services within the temple (Vasudevan 155). Since the administration employees were chosen by the government it was easy to obtain support of other government agencies, therefore allowing the administration of grants to occur flawlessly.

The Brhadisvara Temple had a large amount of wealth attached to it. No other temple had property, gold, and cash as much as a royal temple did. This is because King Rajaraja lavishly applied his wealth to the temple. Rajaraja used the Temple to unite the existing territories under Cola rule to the acquired territories. He combined his power by granting villages from these newly acquired regions as devadanas (gifts to the gods) to the temple. Religion had a powerful appeal to the people and Rajaraja translated this appeal into an organization that influenced and controlled various regions (Vasudevan 157). Rajaraja wanted to link every part of his realm to his temple. He made the royal temple a great organization that was worthy to be associated with his subjects. It is because of the temple’s ‘worthiness’ that his temple is a symbol of his grand empire (Vasudevan 158).

Bibliography

Davis, Richard H. (1991) Worshipping Siva in Medieval India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Vasudevan, Geeta (2003) The Royal Temple of Rajaraja: an Instrument of Imperial Cola Power. Delhi: Shakti Malik.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Siva

Bhakti

Vimanas

Linga

Devadana

Gangaikondacolapuram

Rajendra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sarasvatimahallibrary.tn.nic.in/Thanjavur/Bridadisvara_Temple/body_bridadisvara_temple.html

http://www.asiarooms.com/travel-guide/india/temples-in-india/brihadisvara-temple.html

http://www.cultural-heritage-india.com/world_heritage_sites/brihadisvara-temple.html

http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chola_dynasty

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajaraja_Chola_I

Article written by: Kimberly Oliverio (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Vijayanagara

The four aspects of Vijayanagara that this paper will discuss are: its geographic context, its historical significance, its religious history, and its archaeological history. The city of Vijayanagara, more commonly known as Hampi, was the capital city of the Vijayanagara kingdom. It became the capital because it was built in a strategic area and it was powerful because of its positioning (Verghese 2004:421). It was constructed on a rocky area that opened up into wide valleys that further opened into fertile flat lands (see Verghese 2000:8-9). There is evidence that rulers were concerned with agriculture, and improving it. The available fertile lands of the region suggest why agriculture would have been such an important part of the ruler’s concerns (Sinopoli and Morrison 92). Another major physical feature was the Tungabhadra River because it provided water for the people and for agriculture. The placement of the city near the waterway and the fertile land allowed it to grow into an important and powerful.

Temple Courtyard with Hanuman relief, Vijayanagar

Historically the kingdom of Vijayanagara along with the capital city had been greatly influential. In 1328 CE South India was controlled by one common force but eventually independent states started to appear as a result of the successful revolts that were taking place (Verghese 2000:1). These independent states included the Vijayanagara kingdom and the Bahmani Sultanate (Verghese 2000:1). With the Vijayanagara kingdom emerging as a powerful kingdom the dominant and strategically placed city Vijayanagara, was named as the capital. Three dynasties ruled the Vijayanagara kingdom. They were the Sangama, Saluva, and Tuluva dynasties (Verghese 2000:1). The Sangama dynasty expanded the kingdom southward through a number of conquests and it was the first king, Harihara I, who built and expanded the kingdom from coast to coast (Verghese 2000:1). At the same time the Bahmani kingdom was emerging on the other side of the Krishna River. The emergence of this kingdom created an epoch of constant warfare between the two (Verghese 2000:1). When Harihara II took the throne he continued with the success of Harihara I and expanded the Vijayanagara kingdom over all of Southern India (Verghese2000:1-2). Throughout the kingdom’s existence it was ruled by many different kings, but of them all Krsnadevaraya was the greatest. He was a very good monarch and his armies were successful in every feat they took on (Verghese 2000:2). He and his brother Achuytadeveraya expanded and strengthened the kingdom (Sinopoli and Morrison 85). The great kings that headed the Vijayanagara kingdom were the reason the kingdom was so successful. One of the last kings to rule, King Ramaraya made alliances with the Deccan Sultanate which allowed the kingdom to expand even further. The kingdom’s increasing power made the Deccan Sultanate uneasy and a battle soon broke out (Verghese 2000:3). The Vijayanagara army was defeated in January 1565 at the battle of Talikota, which resulted in the sacking of the capital city (Verghese 2004:417). This defeat led to the desertion of Vijayanagara along with the loss of the northern territories eventually causing the collapse of the kingdom because it was not able to recover (Verghese 2000:3).

The capital city was established in the fourteenth century and was similar to the kingdom because it became a very large and wealthy city relatively quickly. It is known as the “city of victory” which was named after the fabulous city that was built by Bukkha I (Sharma 1255 and Verghese 2000:42). The city eventually reached an area of three hundred and fifty square kilometers, which included everything from city houses to farm land. The city served as a major population center, a marketplace, a sacred place, and a military center (Sinopoli and Morrison 92). There were many temples found within the city; in fact most monuments were religious, civil, or military. There was also evidence of some Islamic influences found on these buildings and monuments (see Sharma 1255). The temples, upper class houses, and fortifications were subsidized by the king or other upper class individuals (Sinopoli and Morrison 86). After the defeat at Talikota, Vijayanagara was looted and occupied by the enemies. The city was then sifted through by vandals and finally natural forces took over, leaving the city in a state of ruin, as it is today (Sharma 1255).

Temple Ruins at Vijayanagar

Religiously the city has numerous connections. The city contains numerous Hindu temples but also contains three Jaina temples (Sharma 1255). The most important Hindu temples are the Vaishnava Ramachandra and the Shaiva Virupkaksha (Sharma 1255). The towers, pavilions, and stables contain the evidence of Islamic influence. Evidence also shows that for over one thousand years there was a lot of religious activity (Verghese 2004:416). [For more on religion within the kingdom see Verghese (2000)]. It is evident that public rituals were practiced in the city because processional routes and platforms were found (Sinopoli and Morrison 87). Concerning the history of the city, local beliefs tend to deviate from scholars’ beliefs. This is seen in the belief that Vijayanagara is Kishkindha, kingdom of the monkey kings, from the great Hindu epic the Ramayana (see Verghese 2004:421).Locals believe this story and although there is a strong tie to Rama within the city there is no actual evidence that proves Vijayanagara is tied to the epic in any way.Along with a strong tie to Rama, Vijayanagara also has closely related sacred ties to Siva (Sinopoli and Morrison 85).There are a great number of opinions on the religious aspect of Vijayanagara but not all of them are proven.

Archaeologically the site is magnificent because it is rare for archaeologists to be able to study an entire city; usually they only get to study bits and pieces. The earliest archaeological documentation is from 1800 and by the 1970s there were some systematic research and documentation projects initiated (Sinopoli and Morrison 87). It was not until the 1980s that major excavations started to occur. These excavations included surface mapping and documentation by the Karnataka Directorate of Archaeology and Museums and the Archaeology Survey of India (Sinopoli and Morrison 87). Archaeologists used two techniques: excavation and surface archaeology (Sharma 1255). In 1987 the Vijayanagara Metropolitan Survey studied unrecorded items and tried to look at the broader environment by looking at roads, irrigation networks, shrines, and temples (Sinopoli and Morrison 87). They provided a wealth of new information that could not be found in texts. Archaeological evidence proves that the city dates back to Neolithic times, based on the neoliths and handmade pottery found (Verghese 2000:9). Archaeologists also found that a number of the remains were burnt or heat cracked proving that the city or at least parts of it were burnt (Verghese 2004:417). Processional paths along with platforms were also discovered proving that there were ritual procedures occurring within Vijayanagara (Sinopoli and Morrison 87). Although the site was not really excavated until around 1975, it is fairly well preserved. The good preservation is a result of the capital’s abandonment because there were no people left to change, modify or destroy buildings. Therefore, it is mostly natural forces that have affected the site. The city was robbed of all its treasures but the buildings are still in good shape and an archaeologist can find a lot of information from the remaining structures, soil, and debris. The city was important in antiquity and that importance carried on to the present as it is currently seen as a World Heritage Site.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Anila, Verghese. (2000) Archaeology, art, and religion : new perspectives on Vijayanagara. New Delhi; New York: Oxford University Press.

Anila, Verghese. (2004) Deities, Cults and Kings at Vijayanagara. Oxfordshire: Taylor and Francis, Ltd.

Michell, George. (2008) Vijayanagara: splendor in ruins. New Delhi: Alkazi Collection of Photography.

Morrison, Kathleen D. (1995) Fields of victory: Vijayanagara and the course of intensification. University of California, Berkley. Archaeological Research Facility.

Sharma, Jagdish P. (1986) Where Kings and Gods Meet : The Royal Centre at Vijayanagara, India. Tucson: University of Arizona Pr.

Sinopoli, C. M., and K. D. Morrison. (1995) Dimensions of Imperial Control the Vijayanagara Capital. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Stein, Burton. (1989) Vijayanagara. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Venkata, Ramanayya N. (1990) Vijayanagara: origin of the city and the empire. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Ramayana

Rama

Siva

Ayodhya

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

www.vijayanagara.org

www.archaeos.org/html/vsite.htm

http://hampionline.com/

Written by Lindy Holthe (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Ellora Caves

The historically and archaeologically significant Ellora Caves are located near the city of Aurangabad, in the Maharashtra state. The Ellora Caves site is comprised of thirty-four temples and monasteries cut directly from the vast cliffs that surround the caves. The site exemplifies the Dravidian tradition of rock-cut architecture and art. The Ellora Caves were given UNESCO World Heritage site accreditation in 1983 (UNESCO). There is also evidence that the various caves have been used throughout history for Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu worship (Heston 219). The site culminates at the centre, where the vast Kailasanatha Temple sits in the middle of the courtyard area. Although the other thirty three caves are similarly intricate and interesting, the most is known about the Kailasanatha, or Kailasa Temple.

The caves are an excellent example of the Dravidian architectural tradition. The gopura, or gateway, at the Kailasa Temple [as well as at several of the other caves] is monumental to the study of Hindu religious architecture (Heston 219). In particular, the Kailasa gopura features numerous figural images that are extremely important to the Hindu tradition. The gopura is often seen as an indication to the worshipper as to what kinds of themes they may wish to consider upon entering the temple. Gopura sculptures typically depict guardian gods and goddesses, whereas depictions of other more important deities are reserved for the inside of the temple (Heston 220). This is an example a hierarchy within the Hindu tradition, where images such as one of a river guardian may be present at the gopura, but important imagery such as the linga, representing Siva, are present inside the temple. At Ellora, several lingas adorn the inner niches of the Kailasa Temple, along with other depictions of Siva, Visnu, and Brahma.

The use of several Hindu [as well as Buddhist and Jain] deities throughout Ellora, and particularly Kailasa, represents a certain unity present in many elements within the Hindu tradition. For example, one image in the niches of Kailasa depicts Harihara, a composite of Siva and Visnu together (Heston 223). Another example is a male and female fusion of Siva and his divine consort. This image is called the Ardhanarisvara, and represents the union of powers, or sakti, and could be based on the purusa-prakrti doctrine (Heston 225).

The Ellora Caves offer great insight into the development of Indian architectural traditions throughout the county, but particularly on the Indian subcontinent. There are other rock-cut cave sites that exist in India. Sites such as Elephanta and Kanheri offer additional insight into the realm of ancient architecture, but Ellora remains one of the more important sites (Chakrabati 327). Despite its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the knowledge surrounding Ellora is still somewhat patchy. It is an immense challenge to try to piece together the historical context within which the Ellora Caves were constructed. From 1830 to 1861, excavating megaliths in southern India became very popular (Chakrabati 328). Many images and relics at Ellora [and other sites] were supposedly damaged during this time due to over-enthusiastic excavation (Chakrabati 328). After 1939, Indian universities became more interested in archaeology, the preservation of historical information, as well as pre-historic research endeavours. This contributed to existing theories about the history and context of the Ellora Caves.

The Ellora Caves are renowned for their exemplary rock-cut architecture. The caves and the images within were carved directly from the rock face of the staggering cliffs that surround the site. The time it must have taken the ancient architects to design and execute such a massive feat can only be imagined, especially when the dimensions of the site are taken into consideration. The Kailasa Temple alone, stands at the centre of the Ellora site, and measures 200 feet long, and 100 feet wide and high (Goetz 85). The entire site stretches even further towards the faces of the cliffs, making the feat of creating such a masterpiece very impressive. The Kailasa Temple, although it is not technically a cave, is one of the most important examples of ancient Indian art. Also carved directly from the rock face, Kailasa is a freestanding structure that sits in the middle of the enormous court surrounded by the wall of cliffs (Goetz 89). The Kailasa has been generally accepted to date back to the middle of the eight century of the Common Era (Goetz 89). This assertion is based on inscriptions present in Kailasa that indicate the temple was erected in honour of Krishnaraja (757-772 CE) of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty (Goetz 90). The courtyard walls surrounding the Kailasa Temple are generally accepted as being carved out later. These ties to the Rashtrakuta Dynasty are what help make Kailasa so important to Indian art history.

Although Kailasa is mainly credited to the Rashtrakuta Dynasty, scholars have accepted that it would have been impossible for the entire temple to have been finished under one ruler (Goetz 92). Not only would the construction of such a marvel be extremely time-consuming, but there is also the issue of the non-uniform nature of much of the imagery throughout Ellora. Due to India’s rich history of rock-cut architecture and other art, it is also near impossible to cross-reference the Ellora Caves with other sites such as Elephanta. The fact that few monuments survive from the time of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty suggests that it was a violent period in which temples were constantly changing hands, and therefore were re-appropriated over time. [By the tenth century of the Common Era, the Ellora site seems to have been occupied by the Jains (Goetz 92)]. It is currently accepted that Kailasa could not have been completed during the reign of Krishnaraja, even though he is the ruler who is thought to have commissioned the temple, and maybe even the entire site (Goetz 92).

Another important factor in determining the historical context within which the Ellora Caves were constructed is that rock-cut structures were built backwards. Normal temple construction began with the gateway, or gopura, and progressed into the rest of the temple afterwards. Rock-cut temples began with the construction of the inner rooms and builders would have worked towards the mouth of the cave, finishing with the gopura (Goetz 94). This concept is very useful in analyzing another of the major structures at Ellora, the Dasavatara cave. This cave houses fifteen inscriptions about Dantidurga (735-757 CE), who is thought to have been the founder of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty (Goetz 97). This would mean that Krishnaraja, although he had previously been credited with Ellora, could not be the mastermind. The chronology of the Dasavatara cave, along with the inscriptions and general styles of the images contained within, may prove that Dantidurga, not Krishnaraja, was the planner behind the Ellora Caves. Despite this evidence, Krishnaraja I is still credited with completing the Kailasa Temple, although his contribution to Ellora as a whole is still somewhat questionable. There are implications that Krishnaraja killed Dantidurga’s two sons, who would have been the rightful heirs to the Rashtrakuta Dynasty, and took power by force. This may be why Dantidurga’s contribution to the Ellora Caves seems somewhat covered-up, and Krishnaraja’s contributions glorified (Goetz 99)

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Chakrabati, Dilip K (1982). “The Development of Archaeology in the Indian Subcontinent”. World Archaeology. Vol. 13, No. 3 – Regional Traditions of Archeological Research II. 326-344.

Goetz, H (1952). “The Kailasa of Ellora and the Chronology of Rashtrakuta Art”. Artibus Asiae. Vol. 15, No. 1/2. 84-107

Heston, Mary Beth (1981-1982). “Iconographic Themes of the Gopura of the Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora”. Artibus Asiae. Vol. 43, No. 3. 219-235

Markel, Stephen (2000). “The ‘Ramayana’ Cycle on the Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora”. Ars Orientalis. Vol. 30, Supplement 1: Chachaji – Prof. Walter M. Spink Felicitation Volume. 59-71

UNESCO (2002). “Ellora Caves: Description”. 2 February 2009. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/243>

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Purusa-Prakrti Doctrine

Linga

Siva

Visnu

Guardian Deities

History of Indian Philosophy

Rashtrakuta Dynasty

Elephanta

Kanheri

Megaliths

Dravidian Architecture

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

whc.unesco.org

www.majavidya.ca

www.sacred-destinations.com/india/ellora-caves.htm

www.mtdcindia.com/Ellora/Ellora_Caves.htm

www.ajantaelloracaves.in

www.kamat.com/kalranga/deccan/rashtrakutas/7528.htm

www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/309775/Kailasa

Article written by: Evelyn Hickey (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Jagganatha Temple

The Jagganatha Temple is a major Hindu temple and religious shrine located in Puri. Puri is a city in the eastern Indian state of Orissa on the Bay of Bengal. Puri is the modern name of this holy city, yet a large number of pilgrims call it Jagganatha Puri. Jagganatha Temple is the most famous temple in Orissa, and one of the most famous in India (Fabri 103). The word Jagganatha refers to Natha (master) of Jagat (universe). The origin of the Jagganatha cult has been traced back to time of the Veda (Pasayat 5). The city and temple is considered by Hindus to be one of the four dhams in India. The dhams are believed to be the abodes of Hindu gods, and the holiest places of pilgrimage (Patnaik 1). The building of the temple was started by the Ganga king Chodagangadeva, but scholars are not unanimous regarding the period of its construction (Satapathy 46). Although the exact date is debatable, construction began sometime in the 11th to 12th century. The temple construction was finished by Chodagangadeva’s descendant Raja Ananga Bhima Dev III (Pasayat 5).

Jagganatha Temple is a huge building that dominates the seaside town, and the tower can be seen from seven miles away (Fabri 148). The temple has a flight of stairs with 22 steps and measures 63 meters in height. The temple complex covers an area of over 400,000 square feet, and is surrounded by a high fortified wall. The outer wall is heavily decorated with carved divine figures and other floral and geometrical motifs and measures 202.7 x 196.3 meters (Patel 72). The complex contains at least 120 temples and shrines. The main temple is a curvilinear temple and on the top is the srichaka (an eight spoke wheel). The temple tower is on an 8 meter elevated platform (Patel 71). The temple has four gateways at each cardinal direction. The Singha Dwar (lion gate) is the eastern gate, the Aswa Dwar (horse gate) is the southern gate, the Vyaghra Dwar (tiger gate) is the western gate, and the Hasti Dwar (elephant gate) is the northern gate. Centuries of whitewashing the temple has obliterated almost all evidence of its antiquity and art. The whitewashing has built up a layer of surface coating estimated at over a foot in depth which hides the facade (Fabri 103). The temple is built of Khondalite stone without the use of mortar; instead iron dowels have been used to keep the stone blocks in position. There has been profuse damage done to the temple structure overtime caused by the iron dowels oxidizing, water seepage and structural pressure (Patel 72). There have been a lot of conservation efforts in the recent years to repair damages to the temple. During the process of conservation the original look of the temple was maintained, nothing new was added nor was the original look disfigured at any time.

The Jagganatha Temple in Puri, renowned for its chariot festival, known as the Ratha Yatra; Odisha, India
The Jagganatha Temple in Puri, renowned for its chariot festival, known as the Ratha Yatra; Odisha, India

The temple is revered as the home of Lord Jagganatha, the Lord of the Universe; his origin and worship is shrouded by myths, legends and traditions (Mahalik 1). Lord Jagganatha is a revered and ancient deity, who was originally worshiped by tribes (Mahalik 1). In the temple there are wooden images or statues of the worshipped deities that exhibit strong tribal influences. The deities Jagganatha and his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, are carved out of wood and are peculiarly handless. The legend goes that a carpenter Vishwakarma carved the deities out of a log. He instructed everyone not to disturb him while he was in the temple carving. Unfortunately the queen got impatient and went in the temple before Vishwakarma was finished. He was so upset that he left without finishing and that is why the statues are unfinished. The deific images are carved out of wood from the specially-grown Daru (Neem) trees every 12 to 19 years according to the lunar calendar (Patnaik 4). When the old statues of Jagganatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra are replaced with new ones the brahmapadartha (the life substance) is taken out of the old statues and is placed in the new statues (Satapathy 159). The three deities are kept in the Garbhagrha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple unless they are taken out for a festival (Barik 19). The persons entrusted with the Sevapuja (ritual services/activities) of the deities are known as Sevakas. The tradition plays a pivotal role in the temple and the Sevapuja rites are not only numerous but also remarkably varied (Pasayat 6).

It is said that there are twelve important yatras (festivals) celebrated at the Jagganatha temple, but there are many more observed at the temple. The temple is most famous for the Ratha Yatra. The Ratha Yatra is one of the holiest rituals in Hinduism; it is also known as the Car or Chariot Festival. It is an annual festival held in Puri at the Jagganatha temple on Asadha Sulkla Dwitiya, which is the second day of the bright fortnight of Asadha (June-July). On this day, the three deities are taken out of the temple and loaded onto very large wooden rathas (chariots). The deities are carried to their rathas in a traditional ceremonial manner called Pahandi when Lord Jagganatha and Balabhadra are swung back and forth. Tradition states that Lord Balabhadra comes out first, followed by Devi Subhadra and then Lord Jagganatha (Barik 20). Lord Jagganatha’s ratha is known as Nandighosha; it has 16 chakras (wheels) and the colors of the fabrics that cover it are red and yellow. Lord Balabhadra’s ratha is known as Taladhwaja; it has 14 chakras and the fabrics that cover it are red and green. Devi Subhadra’s ratha is known as Debadalana; it has 12 chakras and the fabrics are red and black (Barik 20). Four small brass statues of the deities Sudarsana, Madanamohana, Lord Rama and Lord Krsna are also put onto the rathas. Once all the deities are placed on their respective rathas the floor of each ratha is swept by the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri. “This signifies that even the highest sovereign power of the state is only a sevaka (servant) before the almighty” (Barik 20). The rathas are then each attached to four horses and ropes are tied and then pulled by devotees irrespective of caste, creed, sect, religion or sex (Patnaik 4). The rathas are taken to Sri Gundicha Temple, which is about three kilometers away from the Jagganatha Temple, along the Bada Danda (Grand Road). The festival ends once the deity statues have been brought back to the Jagganatha temple; the festival lasts for nine days. Another Jagganatha festival, the Chandana Yatra begins the construction of the rathas. It starts from Akshya Trutiya which is the third day of the bright fortnight of Baisakha (April-May) (Barik 18). And Niladri Mahodaya is celebrated on the eighth day of the bright fortnight of Baisakha (April-May). The festival is to celebrate the day Lord Jagganatha was first worshipped in this Kshetra (holy precinct). For this festival, an abhisek (bath) is performed and 108 pots of consecrated water are offered to the deities (Barik 19).

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Hindu Pilgrimages:

Allahabad

Ayodhya

Shri Badrinathji

Barsana

Gangotri

Goverdhan

Shri Kedarnathji

Mathura

Varanasi

Vrindavan

Yamunotri

Hindu Yatras (Festivals):

Amarnath Yatra

Chardham Yatra

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra

Vaishno Devi Yatra

Diwali

Holi

Hindu Temples:

Angkor Wat

Varanasi

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Toronto)

Gurmandir Temple (Toronto)

Noteworthy Websites Related to Jagganatha Temple

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagannath_Temple_(Puri)

http://www.hvk.org/articles/0802/85.html

http://www.jagannathtemplepuri.com

http://www.templenet.com/Orissa/puri.html

http://www.iskcon.com/culture/holy_places/j_puri.html

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,892784-2,00.html

http://www.indialine.com/travel/orissa/puri/jagannatha-temple.html

http://jagannath.nic.in/

http://www.veda.harekrsna.cz/encyclopedia/rathayatra.htm

References and Further Recommended Reading

Barik, Sarmistha (2007) Festivals in Shri Jagannath Temple. Department of Information an Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Bhardwaj, Surinder Mohan (1968) Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India. University of California

Fabri, Charles Louis (1974) History of The Art of Orissa. London: Longman Group Ltd.

Michell, George (1977) The Hindu Temple. Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd.

Patel, Dr. C.B. (2005) Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri and Its Conservation Scenario. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Patnaik, Jitendra Narayan (2008) The Four Dhams. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Patnaik, Lalmohan (2008) The Holy City Puri. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orissa.

Pattanayak, Pramod Chandra (2008) The Unique God, Lord Jagannath. Department of Information and Public Relations Government of Orrisa.

Satapathy, Niranjan (2000) Religious Life in Orissa. Calcutta: R.N. Bhatacharya Antiquarian Booksellers, Publishers & Exporters

Written by Jacinda Foulkes (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Angkor Wat

In 1861 Henri Mouhaut , a French naturalist, was trekking through the jungles of northwestern Cambodia when he stumbled upon the ruins of the ancient Khmer civilization and a great temple, Angkor Wat (Fujioka 7). Located just east of Siam Reap, Angkor Wat was one of the main temples of the Khmer empire which ruled much of what is now Cambodia and Thailand, and parts of Vietnam from the 500s C.E.. until 1431 (Srivastava 20-30, Stone 1364). Angkor Wat was built during the reign of Suryavarman II (1114-1163) and dedicated to the Hindu god Visnu (Fujioka 14). It was only after Mouhaut’s discovery that Angkor Wat was made known to the West, but he was not the first to “discover” it after its decline in 1431. In the 17th century both the Chinese and Spanish have records indicating that they had come upon this ancient kingdom (Fujioka 7). Angkor Wat is a place surrounded in mystery and magnificence not only it its aesthetics, but also in its history and religion.

The history of the Khmer people is full of myth and legend. One legend (Reed 210-212) states that Prince Cambu, who was forced out of India after a severe drought had overcome his land and people, had made his way to the mighty Mekong river. Here he met a local man who has found a grain of rice, and the Prince had a vision of how this rice will conquer the jungle, and how a new race would be “raised up for the glory and worship of the gods” (Reed 210). Prince Cambu went back with the local man to meet the ruler, The King of the Cobras, in order to set up a space in his land. Prince Cambu married the King’s daughter, the serpent princess. The princess was immortal, so when Cambu died, she married each successor in order for her to look after her children, the Khmers. The sons of Prince Cambu were called Camboga, and they ruled the land called Cambodia.

The serpent Queen in this legend, as Reed points out, plays an important role in both Hinduism and Buddhism (212). The cobra, or Sacred Naga, is featured in many of the carvings and sculptures found in the temples, especially Angkor Wat, and also in Hindu and Buddhist literature.

While the beginning of the Khmers may not be clear, it is thought that Indian culture and language, in the form of the Vedas and Sanskrit, were introduced around the 1st century C.E. (Srivastava 19). While the nobles and aristocracy embraced the new Indian beliefs, the peasants were less inclined to do so. This could be because a king would claim devotion to a particular deity, Siva, Visnu, or even the Buddha, in order to secure power by this divine ruling (Srivastava 15). The first Khmers to come from India were followers of Hinduism, and when they arrived to Cambodia they encountered other religions such as ancestor worship, totem religion, and Theravada Buddhism (Fujioka 16-17). Instead of wiping out the other religions, the Khmers incorporated aspects of the other religions into their own therefore not alienating one group because of differing religious views (Fujioka 17). One of the aspects of Hinduism which was not adapted in Cambodia was the caste system which plays a prominent role in Hinduism in India. Southeast Asian historian John F. Cady notes that this could be due to the fact that Hinduism has a complex cultural basis in India and it is very difficult to transfer as a whole, and therefore only select parts were transfered to Cambodia (Srivastava 37-38).

While the Khamer style of architecture is similar to that of India, Angkor Wat has its own unique design to it (Fujioka 25). It is considered a “precious gem of the Khmer art” and a “masterpiece of architecture” (Srivastava 55). Angkor Wat can be called “Temple of the Royal Castle,” as angkor means “town” and wat means pagoda or temple (Fujioka 22). What was first noticed of Angkor Wat was its five towers. The five towers are said to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, the abode of Visnu, to whom the temple was dedicated (Srivastava 26, 55). The use of the five towers is not unique to Angkor Wat as many Hindu and Buddhist temples in India and other places around Asia use the same pattern (Fujioka 26-27). The layout of the Angkor Wat has many other Hindu features such as multiple corridors and terraces which are laid out in a explicit geometrical configuration, and displays its “true greatness” (Fujioka 30). Another unique feature of Angkor Wat is the direction of its orientation. All the temples around Angkor face east, but Angkor Wat faces west (Srivastava 59, Fujioka 31). Many explanations have been given for this, one being “it was situated on the east side of the road leading to Angkor Thom” (Fujioka 31), but the exact reason for this may be left with the mystery that is Ankor Wat.

The temple itself is made of laterite and sandstone. The foundation and internal structure is comprised of laterite, a relatively soft stone, but when exposed to sunlight becomes extremely hard (Fujioka 32-33). The laterite was then covered with sandstone which was easier to carve.

Angkor Wat is said to be the greatest Visnu temple (Fujioka 18). Visnu is the Hindu “protector” god, and is often depicted with 4 hands carrying a shell, a club, an iron band, and a lotus stem (Fujioka 17-18). Carvings of Visnu are found all over the temple walls and along the corridors, as are his many incarnations, Rama and Krsna, from the great Hindu epics the Ramanyana and Mahabharata (Fujioka 18).

One of the most detailed reports of the Khmer empire comes from a Chinese traveller, Chow Ta-guan, who visited the region in 1296 (Reed 214). He gives a detailed account of what the ancient empire was like during its most prolific period. Chow Ta-guan notes that the population of Angkor, the main city, was over one million people with many more in the surrounding cities scattered among the rice fields (Reed 214). He observes that while the houses of the people were made of wood harvested from the encircling jungle, the temples were made of stone and delicately decorated with gold and intricate carvings (Reed 214-215). The ornate designs in the stone suggest a background in woodworking, and not masonry; the use of stone in the same manner as wood suggests the same (Reed 215). Chow Ta-guan also mentions that the king had five wives: one chief wife, and four others representing the four cardinal points of a compass (Reed 216). One of the things that strikes him is the amount of times the Khmers bathed, and the frequency of illness, and particularly leprosy. Chow relates the concepts when he says, “excesses in love and abuse of baths is what bring on the illness” (Reed 216). Chow reports of many lepers among the Khmer, and that those with the disease still lived and ate amongst the others, and that the disease was not contagious because the people were habituated with it (Reed 216). The prevalence of disease may be one of the reasons for the downfall of the great empire.

One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Khmer people and Angkor Wat is what happened to this once great empire. Many have speculated that the Khmer were overtaken by one of its tributaries from Siam after they had been weakened by disease (Reed 229-231). This would not be that far fetched as diseases such as malaria and yellow fever have crippled some of the worlds largest and most powerful empires like that of the Romans and Greeks (Reed 231). What we are left with today is a mystery hidden among the ruins of this great temple surrounded by overgrown jungle and a multitude of monkeys.


REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Chandler, David (2008) A History of Cambodia. Boulder: Westview Press.

Coe, Michael D. (2003) Angkor and the Khmer Civilization. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Fujioka, Michio (1972) Angkor Wat. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.

Reed, Alfred C. (1939) “The curse of Angkor.” The Scientific Monthly 48(3), 210-231.

Srivastava, K M (1987) Angkor Wat and Cultural Ties with India. New Delhi: Books & Books.

Stencel, Robert, Fred Gifford, and Eleanor Moron (1976) “Astrology and cosmology at Angkor Wat.” Science, 192, 281-287.

Stone, Richard (2006) “The end of Angkor.” Science, 311, 1364-1368.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Angkor

Angkor Thom

Cambodia – History

Devaraja

Khmer civilization

Khmer Rouge

Krsna

Mahabharata

Henri Mouhaut

Ramayana

Sacred Naga

Siva

Visnu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sacredsites.com/asia/cambodia/angkor_wat.html

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668

http://www.terragalleria.com/asia/cambodia/angkor-wat/angkor-wat.html

http://www.angkorwat.org/html/history.html

Article written by: Jeremy Koot (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.