The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram

The Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram

by T. Wignesan

The mirtangist may never willingly hear
        may not want to hear
the multaiyam announcing his cue
       nor the melodist aware of the flautist's right
to the change in the raga
the plucking of the yal strings
to the goatskin drummed bleats
                                              and pleas
of mindless fingers
                  for out there
on the receding promontary's rising granite mounds
               of three-tiered edifices
                                 held up
by the Pallava's view
                    of the Descent into the Ganges:

rishis crosslegged contemplate yakshis or apsaras' unharnessed      
attenuated waists commodious backs buxom breasts
where mantra-chanting brahmins bathe drink and contort themselves
through puzzling demeaning rites
where Hanuman's emissary mounts guard
where the wizened Ganesha
                                   with Buddhic lobes
       his tusks bent inward
    the noble crown and forehead
higher than the top-heavy octogonal coupole

The yal's graveness guiding the scorched chiselling hand
through all the buffeting splash and spray
the taste of briny sand in jasmin-scented rounds
of hand-pressed rice
               till the sun roots out vision
          from botched corneas
      deaf jabs of moulting faltering hands
on damp sand

Thus would prideful devotees heedlessly later claim :

« This is a monument to Pallava vision
                           Pallava faith
                 Pallava fortitude
See how the obedient ocean dutifully recedes
from Pallava wrath and glory ! »

Even the hardest rock wears with the winnowing wind
Little by little a decade of centuries later

To whose glory must this monument testify
the servile sudra mixer of sand and stone
the poor flabbergasted feckless porter
never knowing why the bother
about effigies of mythic figures
the spurned sculptor
whose fingers now and then falter
the endlessly silhouetted nubile lines of near-naked damsels
balancing sandstone blocks on wicker-work troughs
on lean but sturdy necks
                          the overseer
                                              the mandore
yelling through hoarse parched out throats
so many curses to stem the rising tides
to keep them from soiling the temple’s wicket-gate
the carpenter called to mind the scaffolding
hugging the walls with his spindly legs
                                             and trailing loin cloth

and then the women-folk huddled in the windy hutless hinterland
around myriad swishing swirling wood fires
hoisting earthen pots of gruel
and culled gourds of well water
on thick matted hair
                      their infants slithering on hips

all who on pinching stomachs and broken backs
         graft their unwritten signatures
in the howling cavernous dirges of the Coromandel ocean breath

Mahabalipuramor Mamallapuram, situated some sixty kilometers south of Chennai
(formerly Madras), where sculpted rock temples, dedicated to Shiva worship, abound.
mirtangist(or mritangist) : the mirtangam player (the mirtangam is a hollowed out jackfruit tree trunk with three-fold animal skin (water buffalo, goat and heifer) of different sizes stretched on either side. Drummed with bare hands.
multaiyam : is the pre-arranged signal between players in a musical group to announce
the change in rhythm or tone.
ragas : modes and rhythms in Indian classical music which total 216 in all and which are
intended to evoke certain specific emotions.
yal : a legendary multi-stringed veena (to the tune of some 108) ancient instrument first refered  to in the Tamil épic : Silappatikaram.
Descent into the Ganges : a sculptural motif recounting the tortuous sacrifices made by Bhagiratha, King of Kosala of the Sun Dynasty (Suryavamsa) in order to save the souls of some 30,000 sons who were cursed by Kapîla, a holy sage. Ganga, the proud daughter of Brahma (one of the Hindu Trinity of Gods) was then ordered to flow down to earth, and fearing a destructive deluge, Shiva (also one of the Trinity) breaks the fall from heaven by receiving the great Himalayan river on his head.  And that’s how the Ganges flows gently today.  Another motif at Mahabalipuram is « Arjuna’s Penance ».
rishis : holy sages reputed to be in possession of great mental and psychic powers.
yakshis and apsaras : mysterious dark beings and beautiful nymphs « come in from the waters », the playthings of the gods.
Hanuman : the mythical figure of the King of the Army of Monkeys in the epic poem : Ramayana ; he saved  Sita, the hero Rama’s epouse who was captured by the villain Ravana and taken to Lanka, by bounding in one leap from the Himalayas to the island of Lanka and there setting it on fire.
Ganesha : the eldest son of Lord Shiva, represented by the elephant headed God of Wisdom.
Pallava : one of several Tamil dynasties (the others having been : Pandyas, Cholas and the Cheras in Kerala) with their capital in Kanchipuram and a probable port at Mammallapuram, between c. 550 and c. 750 CE.
sudra : the so-called menial caste in the hierarchy of castes established by the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Brahminic religious compositions.
mandore : the head-labourer in charge of a working group.
Coromandel : the name given to the southeastern coast of the Indian sub-continent,
derived from the Chinese word refering to produce from the region.            




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