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Introduction to Early Pandya, Seventh to Ninth Century A.D.

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 10:24 PM
Royal Portrait, early Pandya, ninth century A.D.
Like the Pallava king Mahendravarman, who was converted by Appar, the older contemporary of Tirujnanasam-bandar, Arikesari Parankusa, the Pandyan king, was re-claimed from Jainism by the saint, Tirujnanasam-bandar, in the latter half of the seventh century A. D. This king with the zeal of a new convert and with the enthusiastic support of his queen advanced his faith.

During the time of Simhavishnu, who overcame the Pandyas, his son Mahendravarman and grandson Narasimhavarman, who dominated in the South during his time, as the vanquisher of even Pulakesin of the Western Chalukya dynasty, Pallava influence was dominant in the South. The Pandya king Maravarman Rajasimha, also known as Pallavabhanjana, found it a favourable moment to attack the Pallavas during the time of Nandivarman Pallavamalla. His son Nedunjadayan had a minister uttarantantri Marangari alias Madhurakavi, who excavated a temple for Vishnu in the Annamalai hill in the neighbor-hood of Madurai and recorded it in an inscription. It is this history of the early Pandyas which should help us under-stand why both the cave temples and the rock-cut free standing temples of the Pandyas so closely resemble and recall those of the early Pallavas.

The Pandyas, like the Chalukyas, were frequently fighting the Pallavas, but nevertheless were struck with the beauty of the Pallava cave temples and monolithic shrines.

They had also a matrimonial alliance with the Pallavas as in the case of Kochchadayan, the father of Maravarman Rajasimha, and the aesthetic taste of a princess of the Pallava line would not have gone without self-expression, specially when we remember that Rangapataka, the queen of Pallava Rajasimha, associated herself with her husband in the construction of lovely temples at Kanchipuram, and this artistic taste was inborn in their family. It is no wonder therefore that, considering the proximity of the Pallava country, with the Chera power practically eclipsed at the time, the Pandyas adopted the ideas of the Pallavas in architecture, sculpture and painting.

In the Tirumalaipuram cave temple, there are fragments discovered by Professor Jouveau Dubreuil to show specimens of the painter's art in the early Pandyan period. The cave closely resembles the Pallava caves of Mahendravarman. Though most of the paintings here are obliterated, the few that remain show the dexterity of the painter in portraying such themes as the swan or the duck and lotuses in bud and bloom in pleasing patterns covering the ceiling and on the pillar brackets.

There are also themes like hunters and their wives, one of whom is shown carrying a wild boar after a hunt. This theme of bacchanalian orgies suggests traces of foreign influence, which is explained by the fact that the Pandyan kingdom was a rich commercial centre, with contacts all over the civilised world, specially with Rome, from the early centuries of the Christian era. The pearls of the Pandyan fisheries were greatly in demand in Rome and a regular colony of Yavanas existed at Madurai.

To Professor Jouveau Dubreuil, we owe the discovery of paintings similar to those at Ajanta in Sittannavasal. These are in the best tradition of classical art and were originally believed to be Pallava. It is now found that there are two layers of paintings, an earlier one and a later one, as also an inscription which proves that what were originally reckoned Pallava are really Pandyan paintings of the ninth century A.D.

Dancer, early Pandya, ninth century A.DThe ceiling of the cave contains a picture of a magnificent lake with beautiful buffaloes, geese and fish frolicking amidst lotuses in bud and bloom, in the gathering of which some youths are shown engaged. The figures are drawn with great care and delicacy of feeling. The most magnificent of the paintings, however, are the king wearing a lovely crown and accompanied by his queen, with an umbrella raised over both, and two female dancers of exquisite grace and proportions, all presented on the cubical parts of the pillars of the mandapa. Much of this has been ruined by weather and vandalism. There is still enough left to help us judge the skill of the painter during the early phase of Pandyan rule. The coiffure of the dancers, the lines composing the face, the contour of the body in beautiful flexions, the attitude of the hands in rhythmic dance motion is the work of a great master. The grace of the crown with minute details of workmanship and the dignity of the royal figure in the company of his consort cannot be praised too highly.

Writer – C. Shivaramamurti

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