When one talks of Indian Sculpture – and South Indian Sculpture in particular – the top tourist destination that springs into the mind is, probably, the Pallava sculptures at Mahabalipuram and, secondarily, the Kailashanatha temple at Kanchi. One may then cast an eye at the Chalukyan Sculptures in Aihole/Pattadakal/Badami or the Hoysala sculptures at Belur-Halebidu in Karnataka. Hampi of the Nayakas may also attract attention.
South India is rich in innumerable temples dotting the
landscape with a veritable treasure trove of sculptures waiting to be explored.
It is, probably, this plenitude that seems to make the local populace totally
indifferent to the artistic richness that lies amidst them. This indifference
has, in turn, contributed to neglect and, thus, not only do these various
temples housing sculptural marvels remain obscure but the sculptures also tend
to be ruined by neglect.
In fact, the sculptural heritage of the Cholas and Pandyas is almost totally ignored – the major Chola and Pandya temples being visited mainly as grand temples or places of pilgrimage rather than for their sculptural heritage. Talk of the Cholas and the only thing of artistic merit that springs to the mind are the Chola bronzes. Yet, it is in their times that exquisite sculpting in miniature panels arguably reached their zenith. The panels of the latter age – the Hoysalas and Nayaks – do have lovely detail but they are normally larger and, thus, arguably do not give the same impression of intricacy that the Chola panels portray.
During my visit to Srirangam to explore the sculptural heritage of
India, I had the opportunity to visit a small temple – The Samavedishwarar
temple in Tirumangalam near Lalgudi. This temple set in serene surroundings is
an exemplar of the early Chola (8th to 10th Century AD)
Take a look at the sculpture of the ‘Bikshadana’ in one of the niches.
This is a portrayal of the Sankaranarayana in another niche.
Vishnu and Lakshmi in one of the pillar panels.
There was this lovely Ramayana series of miniature panels. You can see the Kabanda episode from the Ramayana in the miniature below. This was just above the basement and the sculptor does not seem to be afflicted by the so-called ‘chalta hai’ attitude considering his attention to detail in this miniature which is not in the most noticeable of positions.