Category Archives: d. Some Noteworthy Temples

The Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple

The Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara temple of Madurai is one of the most beautiful examples of Hindu architecture. This temple is dedicated to the god Siva and the goddess Minaksi, and was built to honour their sacred marriage.

Madurai is a city situated on the banks of the Vaigai River in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Madurai’s skyline is principally characterized by the Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple’s four major gopurams (entry towers), since “Madurai Municipal code forbids construction of any building higher than the four temple towers” (Harman 101).

The Minaksi Temple has twelve gopurams in all, four of which are main entrance points into the temple. The four outer gopurams are placed in the cardinal directions and act as portals into the sacred building. The tower portion of a gopuram is built in pyramid like fashion that stretches nine stories high. Each tower is elaborately decorated with carved stucco images and figures of suras (deities).

At the peak of each gopuram there are four Kirttimukha figures, which are statues carved in the shape of lion-headed demons. The Kirttimukha figure acts as the temple’s spiritual guardian (Kollar 15). The relationship between the Kirttimukha and Siva, and consequently the reason for the Kirttimukha’s instalment as the temple’s guard, is revealed in the following myth as told in L. Peter Kollar’s book, Symbolism in Hindu Architecture. A great titan named Jalandhara had accumulated great power (15). He sent a messenger-demon, Rahu, to challenge Siva to give up his “shining jewel of a bride” to Jalandhara (15). Siva, in his fury, emanated an energetic burst from his spiritual eye, which instantly formed into a demon with the head of a lion (15). In terror, Rahu took refuge in Siva, who told the demon to desist (15). Since the lion-headed demon had an irrepressible hunger, Siva sentenced it to eat its own flesh (15). The demon eventually ate every part of his body except his face (15). Siva “declared [to the creature]: ‘You shall be known, henceforth as Face of Glory (Kirttimukha) and I ordain that you shall abide forever at my door. Whosoever neglects to worship you shall never win my grace’ ” (15).

Hindu temples are constructed with the intention that visitors will circle through the inside in a spiral and eventually make their way to the inner sanctum (garbha-grha). Circulating through the temple prepares one mentally and spiritually for worship (puja) in the garbha-grha. Circulating through the temple towards the garbha-grha represents a journey to the “primordial womb, [and] to the primordial substance, Prakrti” (Kollar 67).

Therefore, in the Minaksi temple, after demonstrating ones respect for the Kirttimukha, and entering from the east gopuram, one encounters the Thousand Pillar Mandapam (a pillared hallway). This hallway has 985 richly chiselled pillars that display the suras that are part of the Saivite family. Some examples of suras found in the Thousand Pillar Mandapam, and the temple’s six other mandapams, are a great statue of Ganesa and Nandi, Siva’s bull mount (vahana).

After circling the inside of the temple, and absorbing the atmosphere and the artistry of the sacred building, one is ready to enter the garbha-grha. The garbha-grha is the essence of the temple, and the abode of the god of the temple’s designation. There are two garbha-grhas in the Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple, one dedicated to Minaksi (the fish eyed goddess), and another dedicated to Siva, who is in the form of Lord Sundaresvara. Each of these sacred rooms is covered by gold roofing in pyramidal form; these golden pyramids symbolize Mount Kailasa, the mythical abode of Siva (Kramrisch 161). The interior of the garbha-grha has four plain walls; the only light that enters these chambers is through the entrance in the front wall (Kramrisch 162). The entrance to both Lord Sundaresvara and Sri Minaksi’s garbha-grhas face east, which indicates orthodoxy. Although it is usually dark, oil lamps are often used during ritual worship (puja). Inside these four plain walls stands a linga-yoni; this statue is the phallic and vulval symbol of Siva and his consort. It represents the erotic half of Siva’s bipolar character, creation, and Prakrti (the primordial substance).

The temple was constructed to honour the sacred marriage of Sri Minaksi and Lord Sundaresvara (Siva). Siva’s appearance, marriage, and exploits in Madurai are “narrated in a document entitled Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam” (The Story of The Sacred Games) (Harman 21). In his book, The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess, William Harman writes that the Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam describes that Malayadhvaja Pandya, the king of Madurai, has no sons and fathered only a daughter with three breasts (45). The distraught king receives orders from Siva to name his daughter Tatatakai, and to raise her as if she were a son (45). Siva also tells the king that when the woman meets her Lord, her third breast will disappear (45). After her coronation and the death of her father, Tatatakai rules as an unmarried queen, and attempts to conquer as much territory as possible (47). Her army is so impressive that even Indra fled at the sight of it in battle (47). Her army receives no resistance until an attempt to conquer Mount Kailasa goes awry at the appearance of Siva (47). When Tatatakai sees Siva for the first time her third breast disappears and she becomes bashful and passive (47). Her prophecy has come true, and she falls in love with the deity.

Siva orders her to return to Madurai, and await him there to be married; he arrives later with Brahma on his left side, and Visnu on his right. As Tatatakai’s father is dead, Visnu acts as the father of the bride during his absence (48). “Siva, who rules all the worlds, who is supreme among the thousands of deities, takes his place on the throne […] in the town of Madurai” (48).

The marriage changes the city, the Pandya Dynasty, Siva and Tatatakai; yet, “[h]er transformation is the most dramatic” (49). Her third breast disappears and she is deified as Minaksi, the fish eyed goddess (49). Her epithet of the fish eyed goddess is unflattering in western standards yet it is “complimentary in the Indian context: large, unblinking eyes with dark pupils are considered a mark of human beauty” (24).

On a superficial level, it appears that Siva possesses a more important role in Madurai than Minaksi, as his shrine in the Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara temple is larger than Minaksi’s and is located closer to the centre of the temple (23). However, it is important to note, “devotees concentrate their worship on the Goddess” (23). Her shrine is visited before Siva’s; “[i]n a strict sense, the Goddess is closer to the people” (23). “She represents qualities of nurturance, compassion, mercy, affection, and accessibility” (24). She is referred to as Mother, while Siva is addressed in less compassionate terms, as Lord (24). Another example of how Siva is subordinate to Minaksi in Madurai is in the designation of the festivals. There are twelve major parts of the annual Wedding Festival in the city; four of them are exclusively dedicated to Minaksi, while Siva enjoys no such exclusive honour (66).

The Citra Festival is the main annual celebration of Sundaresvara and Minaksi’s marriage. It is titled the Citra Festival because it takes place during Citra, a month which begins in mid-April and ends in mid-May in the Western calendar (64). The three main events of the festival celebrate Minaksi’s coronation, her conquest of the world, and her marriage (67). The celebration of her coronation occurs on the eighth day of the festival; on the ninth day, her conquest of the world is celebrated. The tenth day of the festival marks the commemoration of the wedding (66). This festival is not only the celebration of the sacred wedding; it “brings together deities and mortals, rural and urban, Saiva and Vaisnava in order to celebrate the goddess as royal monarch and the city as a sacred centre” (66).

REFERENCES

On Hindu Temples:

Kramrisch, Stella (1946) The Hindu Temple. 2 vols. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.

Michell, George (1997) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms. New York: Harper & Row.

On The Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple:

Harman, William P (1989) The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Kollar, Peter L (2001) Symbolism In Hindu Architecture: As Revealed in the Shri Meenakshi Sundareswar. New Delhi: Aryan Books International.

On the Goddess Minaksi and Hindu Mythology:

Dowson, John (1979) A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology. London: Roultage & Kegan Paul.

Related Topics

The Goddess Minaksi Hindu Temples

Lord Sundaresvara Madurai

Mount Kailasa, the mythical home of Siva Hindu Marriages

Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam The Citra Festival

Notable Websites

http://www.madurai.com/

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

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

http://www.indiaplaces.com/

Article written by Michael Stevens (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Temples Of Khajuraho

In central India, the temple city of Khajuraho is located in the Chhatarpur District of Madhya Pradesh (Deva 1990:1) [See Munsterberg (1970:258-259) for the location of Khajuraho]. The city of Khajuraho has a large group of medieval temples which depict a perceptible record of one of the most flourishing moments of India’s art (Deva 1990:1). These temples are categorized as the North Indian temple or the Nagara style, which are elevated mount type temples [There are mainly three types of temples in India. A Nagara type or the northern Indian style, a Dravida type or the southern Indian style, and a Vesara type or the middle region, mixed type, see Gupta (2002:13-14)]. On the walls of the temples, numerous deities, celestial beauties, dancers, animals and so forth are carved animatedly and vividly. Although these temples are well-known for their erotic sculptures and attract the common tourist, such categories are only a small percentage of the total aesthetic work (Deva 1986:7).

These temples were built during the reign of the Chandella kingdom, which rose during early tenth century as a powerful central Indian region with one of their capitals at Khajuraho (Deva 1990:2). According to a legend, the first king of the Chandella, Chandravarman, was born as a son of the moon-god (Chandra) and Hemavati, a young widowed daughter of a Brahmin minister. This strong half-divine king was told to build eighty-five temples with a tank and a garden attached to each at Khajuraho as a part of ceremonies with his queen (Deva 1986:13).

However, according to the historical epigraphs of Khajuraho, an influential king, Yasovarman (c. 925-950), built a spectacular temple of Visnu, the Lakshmana temple, which was the most adorned and developed temple of its age in Central India [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:417-441), Lakshmana Temple]. The son of Yasovarman, Dhanga (c. 950-1002), succeeded the reign and made the Chandella the strongest kingdom in North India (Deva 1986:14). During his sovereignty, the Saiva temple of Visvanatha, the Jaina temple of Parsvanatha, and an unidentified third temple were built (Deva 1986:15) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:442-450) for Parsvanatha Temple, and (451-458) for Visvanatha Temple]. Dhanga’s son, Ganda (c. 1002-1017), governed during a peaceful era and built the Vaishnava temple and a Sun temple, now called the Chitragupta [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:467-470), Chitragupta Temple]. Vidyadha (c. 1017- 1029), the son of Ganda, became the most powerful ruler in the history of the Chandella Kingdom, and built Kandariya Mahadeva temple, the largest temple of Khajuraho [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:471-485), Kandariya Mahadeva Temple]. Following Vidyadha’s death, the kingdom lost power by degrees. Vidyadha’s son and grandson, Vijayapala (c. 1029-1051) and Devavarman (c. 1051), were both feeble kings. Although the next ruler, Kirttivarman (c. 1070-1098), another strong king, built the Vaishnava temple and the Chaturbhuja temple, the Chandella dynasty began to decline in power [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:496-499), Chaturbhuja Temple]. Thereafter, mediocre kings prevailed and the political prestige of Khajuraho waned. However, Khajuraho remained the religious capital until the last days of Chandella’s kingdom, and new temples were continually built until the close of the twelfth century (Deva 1986:17). The original of eighty temples, only twenty survived to contemporary day (Craven 188).

By observing each category of sculptures, one can learn much about medieval Indian society and lifestyle. In the numerous sculptures, the architects and sculptors are often portrayed. Groups of them are carrying hammers or chisels and the master, or senior architects are shown drawing a design or supervising (Deva 1986:165) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:518), the image of architectural members]. Distinctive in their appearance, some of the senior architects have beards, which can be considered as the symbol of power as same as today in India.

Hunters are often depicted with men carrying their quarry on a pole. Although professional hunters were probably regarded as belonging to the lower castes or aboriginal class, pig-sticking and deer hunting were popular with princes or wealthy young men as an outdoor activity (Deva 1986:167). As an interesting depiction, deer are hunted by people with the help of tame deer (Deva 1986:165) [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:518), the image of deer-hunting].

Various warriors such as wrestlers, acrobats, gladiators and soldiers, are also popular depictions throughout the temples, (Deva 1986:165). While the hunters carry bows and arrows, warriors frequently carry swords and shields, or daggers and lances (Deva 1986:166). Horses and elephants are often depicted as vehicles for those warriors [See Deva (1990 Temples of Khajuraho volume 2:420), the image of soldiers]. According to Deva, there are mainly two types of elephants, namely those that serve as vehicles for people and other ferocious ones that trample people. The fierce elephant’s brutality was used for sport and punishment in medieval India. For instance, a criminal with handcuffs might be chased by fierce elephants. If he was able to escape the elephant, he was freed from his sentence; however, if he could not escape, there was no way to survive (1986:167).

Musicians and dancers are one of the most commonly portrayed categories in Khajuraho. As a feature of gender distinction, the drummers and musicians are males, and the singers and dancers are females (Deva 1986:166) [See Deva (1986:72-73), the image of dancers and musicians]. Although some of the performers are regarded as amateurs or belonging to the indigenous tribes, most of them would have been in the professional class. As a trait of them, in casual scenes are often depicted. One put on eye make up or set her hair with a mirror, and the other tries to pick a thorn out of her foot [See the picture, Munsterberg (1970:97)]. While a barbers comb one’s hair, the girl feeds a birds sitting on her shoulder. Barbers often accompany these women performers or their peers. Cutting the nails, painting the feet, or doing minor surgery were typical roles for the barbers. According to Chandella records, barbers were revered among the most prestigious professions and the occupation still exists in rustic areas in India (Deva 1986:166).

Parades are also common motifs at Khajuraho and there appear to be mainly two types of marches: the secular and the religious. The former illustrates gaiety and revelry, and often dance and music as well. By contrast, the religious type shows devotees accompanying a religious teacher or a deity with dance and music on a pilgrimage. In the parades, the important person is carried by litter on the back of elephant and an attendant sits outside. Usually, princes ride horses and an umbrella is carried over their head by a vassal to indicate their royalty (Deva 1986:166).

Due to its erotic sculptures, Khajuraho is renowned throughout the world. Their blunt, yet scintillating, erotic expressions attract visitors, but at the same time they also puzzle and confuse (Deva 1986:171) [See Deva (1986:170-201), the image of erotic depictions]. According to Deva, it is hard to find a temple that does not have at least some figures of “couples” (mithuna) as adornment, because contemporaries believed these motifs would protect them and bring happiness (1986:205) [Also check Gupta (2002:32), Mithuna and Maithuna scenes in art].

As regard to sexual portraits, there are several interpretations by scholars. According to the Hindu philosophy, sex represents the union of men and women and that is the symbol of non-dualism which designates the goal of Hinduism which is known as liberation or moksa (Deva 1867:171). Another explanation takes them as the perceptible text of the Kamasastra which is the doctrine of the second stage, or householder stage, which explores knowing kama (the pleasure of love), is considered as one of the goals of that stage. Thus, creating sexual depiction was part of their religious life, and probably there were few restrictions or inhibitions dealing with sex in medieval India (Deva 1986:171). However, in the erotic sculptures, one can see some women covering their face with their hands. This gesture may be interpreted as illustrating that although sex was not taboo, feelings of shyness or timidity still existed in the society.

Although the temples of Khajuraho are often focused on primarily for their erotic embellishment, the other enormous part of their depictions often represents significant aspects of the medieval India as vividly as the erotic sculptures. The amazing sculptural art of these temples conveys with great vitality, the sensitivity and lifestyle of medieval India to us today.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhatia, Gautam (2000) Eternal stone : great buildings of India. New York: Penguin Books

Campbell, Joseph (1995) The Art of Indian Asia. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Craven, Roy C. (1976) A Concise History of Indian Art. New York: Praeger Publishers

Gupta, S. P. (2002) Elements of Indian Art. New Delhi: Indraprastha Museum of Art and Archaeology & D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Deva, Krishna (1986) Khajuraho. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers Private Ltd.

_____ (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 1. New Delhi: VAP Enterprises

_____ (1990) Temples of Khajuraho volume 2. New Delhi: VAP Enterprises

Hitchcock, H.R. (1963) World Architecture: An Illustrated History. Italy: The Hamlyn Publishing Group LTD.

Munsterberg, Hugo (1970) Art of India and Southeast Asia. New York: Harry N. Abrams, INC.

Singh, Kavita (2000) Indian Art : forms, concerns and development in historical perspective. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Apsaras

Angkor Wat

Brhadisvara temple

Chandra

Darsana

Devadasi

Dravida

Garbhagrha

Jagannatha temple

Kailasanatha

Kama

Kamasastra

Kundalini yoga

Lakshmi

Madhya Pradesh

Mahabalipuram temple

Maithuna

Minaksi temple

Mithuna

Moksa

Nagara

Orissan temples

Ranganathaswami

Saiva

Sakti

Siva

Sura-sundaris

Tanjavur temple

Tantra

Vesara/Besara

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.kamat.com/database/pictures/corel/56047.htm

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/khajuraho/

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Culture/Archit/Khajur.html

http://www.mptourism.com/dest/khajuraho.html

http://www.mahoba.nic.in/chandella.htm

http://www.indiamonuments.org/Khajuraho.htm

http://0search.epnet.com.darius.uleth.ca:80/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=9409142174

Article written by Asako Okuyama (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.