The Rangamantapa of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple is extremely beautiful and worth talking in detail and this post is almost entirely dedicated to it. This hall is currently being used for performing special rituals for the Lord. Each March, a great celebration of the Lord’s wedding is held in this hall. This Rangamantapa was commissioned by the great Vijayanagara ruler, Krishnadevaraya in whose time the Vijaya Vittala Temple of Hampi was also constructed. Both of them have their unique aspects and this mantapa is more detailed in its architecture.
The first look of this wedding hall from outside itself creates a lot of interest. We see amazingly carved pillars on the entire outer side. Each of the pillars are carved with either mythological figures or warriors on horses. For example, in the picture that you see here, the Gods of Love in Hindu Mythology Rathi Devi and Manmatha are carved on a parrot and a swan respectively. We see another long chain carved out of stone hanging here. You will find this chain at all the four corners of this mantapa. The most amazing part of this chain is that the rings can move freely within even though the entire chain is made of a single stone. The entrance of the mantapa is in typical Vijayanagara style with a crocodile head on both sides.
There are a hundred pillars in this wedding hall. Out of them 4 are made of wood and the remaining of stone. The four pillars are on the platform where the rituals are held. You will find nice creeper designs on the parapet which inspire the Kanchipuram Sarees. The architecture of the temple is a mixture of cultures. Where you find the stories of godly figures like Rama and Krishna, you will also find the concepts of Kamasutra at the same place. There are many sculptures with amorous couples in this hall. There are many amazing aspects of this mantapa and we shall talk about some of them.
There is this sculpture of a warrior on a horse carved on a pillar. He has two heads and a single body. He is depicted as a North Indian or a Mughal on one side in terms of the dressing. If you go to the other side of the horse, you will be amazed to see that the same person looks like a South Indian with his dressing and face. In Hindu mythology, there is a story of a fight between Lord Krishna and the bear Jambavanta. This is so well depicted here and the bear is carved with the minute detail including its teeth which are sharp. And all this is entirely monolithic.
Many parts and stories of the Ramayana are carved on the pillars. Various dance forms in India like Kathakali and Bharatanatyam are depicted here. Not only gods and goddesses, the then sculptors used to carve common people who come across in our daily lives. You can see figured of clowns and businessmen in the pillars of the South Indian mantapas and temples. There are beautiful sculptures of the 10 forms of Lord Vishnu, the Dasavatara. This is a very common art. The one thing where this pillared hall stands apart is the level of detail with which each of the pillars are carved. For example, in the picture that you see above, the way the saree is tied and the jewellery is also shown in detail.
The ten incarnations of Vishnu are also carved on one side of the platform, but in small size. If you see the corners of the platform, you will find beautiful flowers chiselled out of the stone and looks beautiful. It is a pity that this art does not exist today. But the time this temple was constructed, the Portuguese were already in India. We can see sculptures of Portuguese warriors and soldiers. You can see their guns and rifles carved too. The temple was originally built in the 10th century by the Cholas and this mantapa, a later addition by the Vijayanagara King Sri Krishnadevaraya.
There are four pillars in here which has three animals carved on them, a horse, a elephant and a Yali. A Yali as we know is a mystic animal with a lion body and with long teeth poking out of its mouth. There is one statue of Vishnu carrying a bow, conch, wheel and playing a flute. So this statue covers three aspects Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. One statue depicts the replica of the prime deity of the temple, Varadaraja Perumal. There is also a beautiful depictions of the Narasimha aspect of Vishnu coming out of a huge pillar and later killing the demon king, Hiranyakasipa. There are some interesting sculptures like three humans with six legs and six hands. The body in the middle is common to the other two on the left and right.
I met Mr. David from Australia in this mantapa and he enquired me about the temple history. I knew a surprising fact here. Foreigners are more interested and knowledgeable about our Gods and Goddesses than we Indians are. There was one priest in this mantapa who showed him figures of amorous couples and explained him about the various aspects of Kamasutra. It was real light moment when he asked the priest “You meant to be a holy man??”. We both laughed heartily at this question.
There is a pillar with an English soldier with a double barrel gun. I had to lean down and go near the temple tank to a have a view of it. There is one statue on which when you tap with a iron piece, produces three different sounds the same as when you tap a big Gold, Silver and Stone piece. And the view from the platform is too good. You will see the rows of warriors on horses on one side. The design on the platform is so intricate and delicate that we can actually pass a thin twig from within the holes. This art is extinct now. You can see big temples like the Birla Temple or the Swaminarayan temple which are costly and grand but they are nowhere comparable to these masterpieces. After spending almost an hour in this mantapa alone, i moved on to my further destinations.
In this blog, i discussed just the most important structures in Kanchipuram. Otherwise, there are numerous other old temples like the Sankupani Vinayakar, Yathoktakari Perumal, Deepaprakasa Perumal, Kachapeswarar. It is difficult to give an account of all these temples in detail. Each of them is as old as the temples i had written about and each are being maintained and the deities worshipped. Particularly, a lot of locals visit the Sankupani Vinayakar temple and a special ritual was being performed at the time i visited this temple.
Kanchipuram was in its glory during the Cholas, Pallavas and the Vijayanagara rule. Art and architecture were given a lot of importance by the people and rulers alike. Even the kings were lovers of art and artists themselves. We have a good example of Krishnadevaraya who was a writer and musician himself. The King was treated as a messenger of God and the people respected him. People were lot god fearing than they are today. That is the reason Kanchipuram once or even today is called as The Land of Thousand Temples.
As for the blog, watch out for my next series on Hassan District, Karnataka.
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