Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Mahishasuramardini at Mamallapuram: A Symbol of the Integrative Oikos

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Mahishasuramardini at Mamallapuram: A Symbol of the Integrative Oikos

Article excerpt

Introduction

Sculpture

. . . moulded her with the accuracy of sculpture. (Stevenson 2013, 4)

If one could borrow and transform Pilate's question sans the jest, one could perhaps ask, "What is sculpture?" The answer probably would be that sculpture refers to the interpretive recreation in a medium, such as stone, of the natural appearance or ideal features of objects, or of ideas in the mind corresponding to these features (Carter 2005, 639). Carter's definition can scarcely be improved upon, so he commences with description. He states that sculpture is both visual art and tactile art; it is experienced primarily through the visual sense (Carter 2005, 641). Perfect beauty and grace, demanded of sculpture, are a product of an a priori notion of beauty that exists latent in the mind and is activated through the artist's perception and judgment of the details (Carter 2005, 643).

Sculpture is expressive when the material is employed in a process that fuses inner experience with objective conditions, giving both a form that they did not previously possess (Carter 2005, 646). A sculpture does not magically materialize (Mitter 1992, 13). After Carter's eloquence, Mitter's statement does come as a splash of cold water, but he makes a valid point. A sculptor methodically toils away in an attempt to recreate his ideas. These ideas may or may not undergo a change during the sculpting. If so, the final sculpture can be very different from what was conceived originally. Unlike a painting where if a wrong hue is applied, it can be covered with a dash of paint, a sculpture is more permanent and thus requires much closer, conscious attention during the sculpting process. This consciousness may rob sculpture of spontaneity, but it does add a degree of perfection in permanence, which is perhaps why

Sculpture selects for emphasis the recording and monumental aspect of architecture. It specializes, so to say, upon the memorial. Buildings enter into and help shape and direct life directly; statues and monuments, as they remind us ofthe heroism, devotion, and achievement of the past. (John Dewey, quoted in Zeltner 1975)

Pallava Sculpture

The origin of Indian sculpture can be traced back to around 300 BC, to the reign of Emperor Ashoka. However, this date is not accurate as sculpture down South may have a longer history (Gravely and Sivaramamurti 1952, i). The Pallavas, who ruled from Kanchipuram, during the seventh century AD, considered themselves the descendants of Ashvathama, the son of Dronacharya, the guru of both the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Mahabharatha (Kapur 2010, 563). The Pallavas are reputed to have first developed the stone sculpture. Their style is unique, not connected to any influence (Gravely and Sivaramamurti 1952, ii). Two names that stand out in the Pallava lineup are Mahendravarma Pallava I (600-630) and his more famous son, Narasimhavarma Pallava I, who ruled during (630-668). The construction of the rockcut temples in Mamallapuram was begun during the reign of Mahendravarma I, and it was continued by Narasimhavarma I.

From the fifteenth century, temple building appears to have slowed down in Northern India, but continued unabated in the South (Pal 1988a, 17). This, of course, helped hone the art of stone sculpture, first developed during the Pallava and the later the Chola period. The Pallavas and, later, the Cholas were masters in the art of temple sculpture. The Pallavas were more interested in rock-cut temples than in structural buildings (Pal 1988e, 230). This facet of theirs is best revealed in the magnificent sculptures at Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram), a UNESCO World Heritage site near Chennai, India. The Pallavas were the pioneers of South Indian temple architecture. Their style was to become the basis of all styles ofthe South. The temple architecture ofthe Pallavas can be divided into two groups: rock-cut and structural. The rock-cut temples are further divided into two subclasses: excavated, pillared halls and monolithic shrines known as rathas (Rao 2007, 29). …

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