Torchbearers of Kumbakonam

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Torchbearers of Kumbakonam Worshippers in the Aadi Kumbeshwaram Temple

Spirituality is the secret of Art. Silpam becomes Sacrifice. Philosophical proposition becomes Architecture. -Silpavidya Rahasyopanishad

The religious side of Indian sculpture is intimately connected to the spiritual experiences of Indian meditation and adoration. Soul realisation is its method of creation and soul realisation must be our way of our response and understanding. The town of Kumbakonam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu was the seat of power during the rule of the Chola Dynasty in India. Under the patronage of their kings, numerous Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples were planned, designed and constructed. These temples were designed using principles derived from the Vedas and Upanishads about the cosmos and spiritual presence in our environment - the relationship of microcosm and macrocosm. The Aadi Kumbeshwaram Temple is the most significant Shaivite temple amongst the others in that area. Strategically located in the center of the town, it acts as a place where people come to worship, socialise, engage in business activities and celebrate festivals. The magnificence of the temple lies not only in its architecture, art and scale, but also in the zeal of the people visiting it; Devotees, priests and pilgrims keep the temple alive with their undying faith. This book is a journey through the Adi-Kumbeshwara temple. Through its colourful pages, one may experience the devout energy of the people there and the brilliance of the temple designers. Each page visually articulates a story taking place within its premises. Adorned with motifs, graphics and text, the conversation that the reader has with this book becomes much richer and meaningful.

Asato Ma Sad Gamaya, Tamaso Ma Joytir Gamaya, Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya, Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi. O Lord lead us from the Unreal to the Real, Lead us from Untruth to Truth, Lead us from Darkness to Light, Lead us from Death to Immortality, Oh God let there be Peace Peace Peace.

The devotee lights the Diya for the Lord. Folding her hands, she asks for permission to start a dialogue between her soul and the holy world above. She begins her prayer, her mind focussed solely on Him. The lamps gracefully glow wih small droplets of light. Silently, they send her wishes to the heavens above.

Kumkuma Chandana Lepitha Lingam Pankaja Haara Sushobhitha Lingam Sanchitha Paapa Vinaashaka Lingam Tat Pranamaami Sadaa Shiva Lingam I bow before that Sada Shiva Linga; Which is smeared with saffron and sandal paste; Which is decorated with lotus garlands and Which wipes out all accumulated sins.

The Poolayam’s sweet, delicate scent greets visitors at the threshold of the Temple gates. Women sitting at the doorway make and sell these stringed fragrant flowers to the people entering the temple. They also sell fruits, leaves and spice powders which are then offered to the Almighty.

Flowers subtly remind us of the bouquet of feelings that women are capable of understanding and sensitive to: from instinctive impulses to spiritual devotion. They are a symbol of beauty, prosperity, fertility and pride for women who wear them.

Why are most of His adorations set in song and poetry? Sound is a powerful communicator. There is no form to explain or express Him in any better way. People sing songs of His greatness and poems about his holiness. He appears before all of them in their own image.

A Yali sits attentive and watchful at the sanctum theshhold. Born out of myth and ancient tales, he is a creature who guards all places of holiness from bitterness and evil, so that only pure souls may enter.

Devotees walk along the huge, ornately decorated corridors. The big palace temple, infused with rich colour and exquisite beauty humbles all those who tread under its hallowed Mandapam.

Priests perform sacred rituals within this temple. They recite prayers, chants and hymns about the Lord’s benevolence and his fury. They speak of His place in the Cosmos and their (the devotees) duty on Earth. They talk about His doing (and undoing) and the future in which He will perform the Tandava (Dance of Death).

Prasadam is a mental condition of generosity, as well as material substances (sweets and food) that is first offered to God in thanksgiving. Once blessed, the food is then considered pure, karma-free and spiritually nourishing.

The musicians play the Thavil (drums) and Nadasuram (trumpets) in the corridor welcoming devotees. The music captures the heart and mind of everybody and pervades into the deeper realms of the soul.

At this confluence of rich visual imagery, steadfast architecture and rhythmic, melodious music, the mind is spellbound by the beauty around it. A tender smile appears gradually on the ponderer’s face, making him wonder; What is it about the place that is so spiritually refreshing? It’s the heart which answers: The environment outside reflects the beauty and sanctity within.

Designed by Ruchin Shah Photographs by: Anindya Biswas, Chinmayee Samant, Chitra Chandrashekhar, Lakshmi Deshpande, Prerak Mehta, Ruchin Shah Thanks: IDC, IIT Bombay

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