Vedic Roots of Hindu Iconography
Śrī Rāmāyaṇa in Tamilnadu: In Art, Thought and Literature
A perspective the Rāmāyaṇa as portrayed in art, thought and literature in Tamilnad through the centuries. A chronological perspective is attempted which shows a gradual growth, undergoing changes due to incoming new traditions. A few illustrations are also included. At the end a list of places where Rāmāyaṇa paintings and sculptures could be seen are added.
In Classical Works:
The story of Rāma, is mentioned in the earliest body of Tamil Literature known as the Sangam Classics assigned to the first two centuries of the Christian era. One of the verses in the Puranānūru collection, refers to the abduction of Śīta by Rāvaṇa, Sīta dropping her ornaments on seeing the monkeys, and the monkeys wearing them on the wrong parts not knowing how to wear them. One of the Ahanānuru verses refers to the council held by Rāma on the sea coast before invading Lanka. Episodes from Rāmāyaṇa are also found mentioned in the Paripāḍal collections. One of the celebrated poets of the Saṅgam age bore the name Vānmīki (Puram-358). The above references would suffice to show that Rāmāyaṇa had wielded considerable influence in Tamilnad from the beginning of the Christian era.
The post-Sangam classics Silappadhikāram and Maṇimekhalai carry many references to Rāmāyaṇa episodes.
A complete Tamil Rāmāyaṇa seems to have been written before the 8th century A.D. Perundevanar, a famous poet of the 9th century A.D. who sang the Mahabharata in Tamil refers to “Śrī Rāmakatha”. Another Tamil work, Yāpparunkalavṛtti assignable to 9th century A.D. refers to “Rāmāyaṇa and Purāṇa sāgara” written in Tamil Veṇbā metre.
The most outstanding Tamil work is undoubtedly the Rāmavatāra by Kamban who is assigned to the end of 9th century A.D. by some and to 12th century by others. Though it is difficult to be definite on this subject, a tradition giving the saka era, when this great work was composed, seems to suggest the late 9th century A.D. as a more probable date for this poet. Kamban himself explicitly states that he was following Vānmīki in his work and names his kavya Rāmavatāra Mahākathā. With subtle changes introduced at appropriate points, and reaching the highest pinnacle of poetic genuis, Kamban has eclipsed all other great poets of the Tamil horizon. There were many other works composed during the centuries, but Kamban continues to remain the brightest star.
Jain versions of the Rāmāyaṇa were also composed in Tamil in the early mediaeval period, from which verses have survived.
In Bhakti hymns:
The popularity of the Rāma-story in the south, also owes its inspiration to the Bhakti cult, spearheaded by Vaiṣṇavite Āḻvārs and the Śaivite Nāyanmārs of the 7th and 8th century C.E.
Particular mention must be made of the Vaiṣṇavite Āḻvārs who were great innovators in poetic diction and appealed to the elite and the common people, the women and children alike. The themes and the presentation they chose are so novel, that they would never fail to fascinate even the layman. The Āḻvār? conceives Rāma as a baby and had composed most charming poems in lullaby style that forms the fascinating poems in Tamil literature. Periyāḻvār chose the episode of Hanuman meeting Sītā, presenting the ring and recounting one evidence after the other to infuse confidence in her that he was an envoy of Rāma. Kulasekharāḻvār describes the pitiable condition of Dasaratha and his laments over Rāma's departure to the forest.
Kulasekhara also narrates the complete story of the Rāmāyaṇa in ten verses which include Rāma listening to the story of Rāvaṇa from Agastya and his own story from Lava and Kuśa. So the Uttarakāṇḍa of Rāmāyaṇa was quite popular in Tamilnad by 8th century A.D.
But somewhat more imaginative is the approach of Thirumaṅgai Āḻvār, who narrates the pathetic plight of the Rākṣasas of Lanka after Rāvaṉa was killed. They appeal to Sugrīva, Hanuman, Angada, Nala and other monkeys to spare their life. They weep, roll and say,
“Ye monkeys - We shiver at your sight - we now sing the glories of Rāma - we bow down, before you, pray kill us not”.
This approach of Thirumaṅgai is not only original but also dramatic.
The Śaivite Nāyanmārs also give us some glimpses of the Rāmāyaṇa. Being Śaivites, the Nāyanmārs repeatedly refers to Rāvaṇa shaking Kailaśa, receiving the name Rāvaṇa and pleasing Śiva with his Samavedic chants. It is while speaking of the city of Lanka, a detailed description of its location, fortification, the strength of Rāvaṇa's army, etc., are referred. Sīta's abduction, and Rāma killing Rāvaṇa are also mentioned in the Tēvāram hymns. Besides, Rāma installing Śivaliṅga and worshipping it to expiate the sin of killing Rāvaṇa, are prominently referred to. Jaṭāyu and Sampati, the two eagles, worshipped Śiva at Pullirukkuvelur. There is also the shrine Tirupputkuzhi where Rāma cremated Jaṭāyu.
Besides the classical Tamil works and the Bhakti hymns another group of literature, which has an important bearing on the cult of the Rāmāyaṇa in the Tamil country, is the Āgamic literature, particularly of the Vaiṣṇavite faith. Though it is difficult to assign a definite date to any of them, some like the Marīci Samhitā of the Vaikhānasa School, seem to be earlier than the 8th century A.D. They prescribe the installation of Rāma images in specific places of the temple.
According to the Bhṛgu Samhitā one desirous of attaining Vijaya, Prajā or Mokṣa may worship Rāma.
An apsidal or rectangular Vimāna seems to be suited for a Rāma temple.
According to the Marīci Samhitā, the ten incarnations of Viṣṇu are to be installed either in the first circle (āvaraṇa) or the second circle (āvaraṇa) and worshipped. Rāma is to be installed in Niṛṛti? (S.W.) direction. He should face either east or north. To his right should be placed Sīta and to his left, Lakṣmaṇa. Bharata and Śatrughṇa are to be shown to the right and left of Rāma respectively. Hanuman is to stand in front to the right.
Besides Vālmīki's epic, the Purāṇas have also preserved the story of Rāma in abridged forms. Paurāṇic versions, particularly of the Vaiṣṇavite branch, seem to have greatly influenced the temple movement. The temples portray various forms and incarnations of Viṣṇu as depicted in Purāṇas, and it is from this group that the Rāma story is also derived.
It is well known that the surviving temples in Tamilnadu could be traced back only to the Pallava period, 7th-8th century A.D. A continuous history of art could be gleaned from 7th century A.D. from the time of the Pallava ruler Mahendra Varman-I. In the early periods, temples dedicated to Viṣṇu in his Yoga, Bhoga, Vīra, or Abhicārika forms were most popular. Among the avatāras, the Narasimha, Trivikrāma and Varāha aspects have been the most favourites. No temple dedicated to Rāma as chief deity seems to have been erected or excavated in the 7th century, either in the Pallava or Pāṇḍya territory. No sculpture of Rāma or other heroes of the Rāmāyaṇa story has survived.
8th century A.D.-Kanchi:
In the 8th century the picture becomes more clear. In the Kailasanātha temple of Kāñchi, erected by Rājasimha, in the beginning of 8th century A.D., there is a representation of Vāli worshipping Liṅga and Rāvaṇa trying to disturb him. In the Olakkanneśvara temple on the top of the hill at Māmallapuram the northern niche of the garbhagrha carries the sculpture of Rāvanānugrahamūrti. An inscription at Māmallapuram also of the same period, refers to Rāvaṇa shaking Kailaśa.
yasyaa~NguShThabharaakraantaH kailaasaH sa dashaananaH
paataalaM agamat muurdhnaa shriinidhiH taM bibharti ajam ..
यस्याङ्गुष्ठभराक्रान्तः कैलासः स दशाननः
पातालं अगमत् मूर्ध्ना श्रीनिधिः तं बिभर्ति अजम् ॥
yasyāṅguṣṭhabharākrāntaḥ kailāsaḥ sa daśānanaḥ
pātālaṃ agamat mūrdhnā śrīnidhiḥ taṃ bibharti ajam ..
Rāvaṇa shaking Kailaśa is repeated in a number of Pallava temples at Kāñchi assignable to 8th century A.D.
In the Ādivarāha cave at Māmallapuram there is an inscription in Pallava grantha characters of 8th century A.D. It is generally held to be contemporary with the cave. It gives the ten incarnations of Viṣu.
matsya kuurma varaahashcha naarasimhashcha vaamanaH
raamo raamashcha raamashcha buddhaH kalki dashaaH smR^itaaH
matsya kūrma varāhaśca nārasimhaśca vāmanaḥ
rāmo rāmaśca rāmaśca buddhaḥ kalki daśāḥ smṛtāḥ
मत्स्य कूर्म वराहश्च नारसिम्हश्च वामनः
रामो रामश्च रामश्च बुद्धः कल्कि दशाः स्मृताः
The Vaikuṇṭhaperumal temple at Kāñchi, called Parameśvara Vinnagaram in inscriptions and literature, is assigned to Nandivarman Pallavamalla. It is a three storyed temple with a garbagrha in each story. It has preserved the earliest Viṣṇu forms in various aspects. Thought it is difficult to identify some of the representations a general distribution of the sculptures could easily be discerned. In the northern wall of the ground floor, the avatāra aspects of Viṣṇu are portrayed in an order. We can easily see Varāha, Narasimha and Vāmana aspects appearing in succession. There are three more sculptures without any distinguishing emblems, which probably represent the three Rāmas, Parasurāma, Kodaṇḍarāma and Balarāma. This would perhaps be the earliest representation of Rāma to be met with in Tamilnadu. This would perhaps be the ealiest representation of Rāma to be met with in Tamilnadu. Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sītā are shown on the north wall around the sanctum in the upper floor of the same temple. The panel is fairly big enough and Sītā is shown Śrī.
The episode of Hanumān meeting Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa in Kiṣkinda, the fight of Vāli and Sugrīva, with Rāma aiming the arrow at Vāli are portrayed on a pillar in the same temple in the front maṇḍapa immediately preceding the sanctum. The maṇḍapa was built as an integral part of the temple by the Pallava-Nandivarman II around 750 CE. This is the earliest representation of the Kiṣkinda theme in sculpture form surviving to this day in time.
The Sundaravarada temple at Uttaramerur, was also a foundation of the same ruler, Nandivarman Pallavamalla. Like the Vaikuṇṭha perumal temple, this has three storeys with a garbhagraha in each story. This however does not portray sculptures as at Kāñchi. But from inscriptions we learn that there was an image of Rāma in this temple. According to the inscription the image was called Rāghavadeva. Another inscription refers to it as Ayodhi-peruman. The village Uttaramerur was a Vaiṣṇava settlement of the Vaikhānasa sect, established in 8th century A.D.
The inscriptions of this village refer to a number of deities, the names of some, namely, Govardhanattupperumāḷ, Āypāḍi perumāḷ, Duvāraipperumāḷ (Dvāraka) and Ayoddhipperumāḷ being interesting. The deities being named after their place is a noteworthy feature. Rāma called after Ayodhya as Ayoddhipperumāḷ is the point of interest.
The presence of Rāma in both the Pallava temples, one at Kāñchi and the other at Uttaramerur, conform to the Vaikhānasa Āgamic code wherein Rāma should find a place in the three storeyed structure.
Citrakūṭa at Chidambaram:
We have mentioned earlier that in the 8th century, the Vaiṣṇavite Āḻvārs propagated the Bhakti faith vigorously. The famous Naṭarāja temple at Chidambaram is also known for its Viṣṇu shrine now called Govindarāja. But it seems to have been originally visualised as one dedicated to Rāma. The name of the temple according to the Āḻvārs was Citrakūṭa of Rāmāyaṇa-fame. Kulaśekhara sings the Lord of this shrine as Śrī Rāma. It is here that he recounts the whole of Rāmāyaṇa, Kulasekhara mentions that Rāma was seated with Māruti in Citrakūṭa at Chidambaram (Tillai).
He also states that Rāma was seated on maṇi-āsana at Citrakūṭa. Kulasekhara's verses specifically state that Rāma was in seated posture in the temple.
Thirumaṅgai-mannan who came 30 or 40 years later is not specific about the nature of the deity though he also calls the temple Citrakūṭa. He speaks of the deity in general terms, particularly in the Kṛṣṇa aspect. He also mentions that the deity was seated.
However the literature of the Chola period of the 12th century seems to suggest that the deity was the reclining form of Viṣu.
Kulottuṅga II, in order to expand the shrine of Naṭarāja, removed the Visnu shrine which was reconsecrated in the reign of Achyutaraya of the Vijayanagar dynasty in 16th century, when the present reclining image was installed. The point worthy of note is that in the 8th century Kulaśekhara conceives of the main deity of Citrakūṭa as Śrī Rāma.
The presiding deity of another temple namely Kaṇṇapuram, is also called Śrī Rāma by Kulaśekhara. Rāma is conceived as a child and the hymns are in the form of lullaby.
But it is not clear whether the original image was Rāma. Suffice it to say that in the 8th century A.D., the concept of Rāma as the chief deity of the temple had come into vogue.
Nandi as Hanuman:
As excavated cave at Kottukkal, in Kottarakara taluk, Quilon District, Kerala assignable to 8th century A.D. is of interest. It is a cave dedicated to Śiva but in the place of Dvarapāla, the figure of a monkey appears. According to the Rāmāyaṇa, Hanuman was an incarnation of Nandi. The monkey standing in the place of Dvarapāla is obviously Nandi-Hanuman. There is a tradition that Nandi had a monkey-face or face like that of a monkey and Rāvaṇa ridiculed him for this and Nandi cursed that he would be born as a monkey (Hanuman) and bring about Ravana's end.
Rāmāyaṇa Miniature Panels (9th century):
With the advent of the 9th century we enter into an important period in the artistic representation of the Rāmāyaṇa. It is seen more in Śaivite temples of the period than that of the Vaiṣṇavite school. The complete story of Rāmāyaṇa came to be portrayed in miniature panels in the adhiṣṭhānavargas of the Śaivite temples. This important trend is noticed, mostly in temples assigned to Āditya Chola in late 9th century A.D. He erected several stone temples to Śiva on the banks of the river Kaveri.
Representations of Rāmāyaṇa-episodes in miniature panels on the adhiṣṭhāna of the Śiva temples began even earlier, in the later Pallava periods. The Kadaimudi Mahadeva temple at Thiruchinnampoondi, bearing as inscription of Tellarerinda Nandi, shows some panels. So does the Tavatturai Mahaeva temple at Lalgudi.
But the continuous narration of the whole story is found in the temples of Āditya Chola I. Besides the Rāmāyaṇa scenes, manifestations of other Gods like Śiva, Devi and others also occur. The Nageśvara temple at Kumbakonam, and the Śiva temple at Pullamangai, are the best examples of this.
Why the entire story of Rāma found favour in Śiva temples is a question yet eluding satisfactory answer. But it is interesting to mention that the Chola ruler Āditya who ushered in this narration of the Epic in stone had a significant title Kodaṇḍarāma.
The portrayal seems to follow the narration of Vālmiki, for example when Hanuman met Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa for the first time, he carried them on his shoulders to meet Sugrīva. In Kamban a different version is recounted. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa do not go to meet Sugrīva but Sugrīva himself comes to meet them.
We have mentioned earlier that it was during this century Kamban wrote his Tamil Rāmāvatarakathā. The representation of Rāmāyaṇa miniature sculptures was continued in the reign of Aditya's son Parāntaka and his successors, till the end of 10th century A.D. The episodes of Vāli worshipping Liṅga and the Vāli-Sugrīva fight are found to be favourite themes in many temples.
Thirumangalam in Tiruchi District is another place where the entire seems from Rāmāyaṇa are sculpted on the base of the temple. The temple itself was built in the late 10th century.
The 10th century A.D. is significant from another angle. That Rāma-worship had assumed remarkable proportion is seen from excellent portrayal of Rāma, Sīta, Lakṣmaṇa and Hanuman in Bronze. The finest representations of Rāma-group in bronze, were made during this century.
The Rāma-group from Vadakkuppanayur, now in the Madras Museum, Rāma, Sīta and Lakṣmaṇa from Paruthiyur near Kumbakonam and the Thirucherai group are well-known examples. Śrī S.R. Balasubramaniam has published an excellent group from Kappalur.
There is an outstanding group of Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sīta in Thiruppattur, Ramnad district. The workmanship is not only of superlative degree, but also representative of a regional style probably influenced by the Pāṇḍya school of 9th century A.D.
In the 11th and 12th century A.D. the bronze images continue to occur conforming to the sculptural forms of the period. In stone they occur rarely while no painting of this period has survived.
An inscription of 11th century from Anbil, Tiruchi district, records the setting up of bronze images of Rāma, Sīta, Lakṣmaṇa and Hanuman.
In all these bronze images Rāma is shown with only two arms holding a bow in the left arm and arrow in the right. He is shown as a beautiful young king, wearing crown and other ornaments. His lower garment is shown only upto the middle of the thigh. Sīta is shown as a lovely young maiden wearing her hair in the Dhammilla fashion. Lakṣmaṇa is also shown with two arms, wearing a crown. The portrayal of Hanuman is expressive of serenity and submission. With the right arm, the monkey king is shown covering his mouth and with the left holding his dress. In some cases he is shown bare-headed while in others he is shown wearing a crown.
Hanumān, the scholar devotee:
The portrayal of Hanumān in this posture is of interest. During his coronation, Rāma made many presents to all those who helped him in his war against Rāvaṇa. When the turn of Hanumān came, Rāma could not adequately express his gratitude to the great hero. Narrating Māruti's great valour and help, Rāma said, “I can only offer myself as a present for your sincere devotion and service”. So saying he asked Hanumān to embrace him. Hanumān, the embodiment of wisdom, valour and heroism, stood modestly by the side of his master, with his head slightly bent Hanumān as the very incarnation of Vinaya, is a noteworthy feature of Kamban in his Tamil Rāmāyaṇa. That this picturisation of Hanumān is found in all bronzes of 10th and 11th century A.D. shows the impact of Kamban's concept of Hanumān on contemporary art and religious motifs. This also indicates that Kamban should have lived in 9th century A.D.
The representation of Rāmāyaṇa panels in stone receives a special impetus in the 13th century. The Kampahareśvara temple at Tribhuvanam was built by Kulottuṅga III. The story of Rāma is portrayed on the base of the maṇḍapa which seems to have undergoing rebuilding in later period. Śrī H. Sarkar has discussed these panels at length in his work on Tribhuvanam. He has pointed out that the version followed in these panels seems to be close to Vālmīki than Kamban with certain local adaptation.
The point of interest in these panels is Rāma, Sīta, and Lakṣmaṇa being shown worshipping Śiva probably at Rameśvara.
The Śiva temple at Dharmapuri, built in 8th century and enlarged in 13th century, carries the Rāmāyaṇa story portrayed on the base of the garbhagraha.
In the Flag:
Hanumān figures on the flag of the Kāḍavarāya family. Ālappirantan Viraśekaran alias Kāḍavarāya in 12th century had Hanumān as his lanchana? in his flag.
This is inspired by the tradition that Hanumān was on the flag of Arjuna (kapi-dhvaja) in the Mahābhārata battle.
The close of 13th century may be considered as the beginning of Kannada-Telugu tradition in Tamil country. The Hoysalas of Dorasamudra established a secondary Capital at Kannanur near Trichy. Narasimha, Someśvara and Virarāmanatha are three important rulers who had considerable sway in Tamil region and they adopted quickly Tamil as the court language, with the result that a happy blend of Kannada tradition began to occur. In Srirangam, a temple dedicated to Venugopala was erected in the Hoysala style in the reign of Virarāmanatha.
This shrine is a fine jewel in the Srirangam temple. On its walls are shown figures of Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sīta in the late Hoysala style. A maṇḍapa in front of the Tāyār (Devi) shrine is now called the maṇḍapa where Kamban is said to have expounded his Rāmāyaṇa. The maṇḍapa itself is a late 13th century structure. Even if Kamban's date as 12th century is accepted, the structure, cannot be considered to be contemporary with Kamban. The maṇḍapa is a Hoysala structure. But it is of interest to mention that Rāma sculpture is found on one of the pillars here.
The Vijayanagar rule was established firmly in 14th century and till the beginning of the 18th century, continued to hold sway. Though the Vijayanagar emperors held control over the Tamil country, they were principally represented by three Nāyak governors who had their seats of power at Gingee, Tanjore and Madurai. The Nāyaks were related by family and marriage to the Vijayanagar emperors. Besides encouraging Tamil and Sanskrit they brought Telugu traditions with them. Soon sculptures and paintings in Tamilnad assumed the Vijayanagar-Nāyak garb.
So far as Rāmāyaṇa was concerned this was the period when separate temples came to be built for Rāma as the main deity. In many of the Vaiṣṇavite temples the entire story of Rāma came to be painted on the ceilings with labels below each.
Independent shrines came to be built for Hanumān on a large scale. In some instances as at Nāmakkal, the stone sculptures of Hanumān were more than 16 feet in height. There is a huge Hanumān in Sucīndram temple. Each Nāyak contributed to the development of art and literature in his own region.
We will see a few outstanding contributions of the Vijayanagar-Nāyak dynasty. In the Varadarāja temple of Kāñchi, the celebrated 100 pillared hall, was built in the Vijayanagar reign in 16th century A.D. Besides the various Rāmāyaṇa episodes depicted on pillars and the base of this ornate maṇḍapa, the central pillars in the raised platform carry the image of Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa; the other pillars are empty but that originally they carried the sculptures is evident. Now this mandapa is considered a Kalyāṇa maṇḍapa.
In the Sundaravarada temple at Uttaramerur in the upper story, the antarāla has a beautiful painting of Śrī Rāma with Sīta. On the opposite wall is Kṛṣṇa. The temple underwent renovation in 16th century A.D. and these paintings belong to that period.
In the Arjunasārathi temple in Chengam, the Tamilnadu Department of Archaeology brought to light recently Rāmāyaṇa paintings. The temple itself was built in the reign of Gingee Nāyak, towards the end of 16th century A.D.
The central deity of the temple is Kṛṣṇa but in the front maṇḍapa where the portrait of the builder is seen, the ceiling was painted with the entire story of Rāmāyaṇa. The paintings in the central square alone have survived, the others have disappeared, but bear traces of panels. Telugu labels are seen on some of them, while in the inner court all the paintings bear labels in Tamil.
The scenes in the inner court, which have survived to this day begin with the Yuddhakāṇḍa, with Indrajit's fights with Lakṣmaṇa; Lakṣmaṇa swoons; Hanumān is sent for bringing Sañjīvini hill; Indrajit performs Nikumbhila Yāga and the death of Indrajit at the hands of Lakṣmaṇa are found on one side. The fight between Rāvaṇa and Rāma forms the theme on the other side. It is here that we find some interesting deviations from the well-known Vālmīki story. Rāvaṇa was not able to fight with Rāma. He performs pātala-homa. Hanumān, Angada and other monkeys disturb Rāvaṇa but Rāvaṇa was steadfast and could not be moved. Angada struck a new course. He went and dragged Maṇḍodari and started beating her. Even Hanuman beat Mandodari. The labels in Tamil read “Rāvaṇa performs Pātala-homa”, “Angada disturbing the Homa”, “Hanuman beating Mandodari”, “Angada dragging Mandodari by hair”, “Rāvaṇa being disturbed by the cries of his queen”, “fights with Angada” and “Hanuman leaves her”. This episode eventually unsettles Rāvaa's homa.
The episode of Rāvaṇa performing Pātala-homa is not found in Vālmīki's Rāmāyaṇa. Nor does it occur in Kamban's work but is found in the Telugu Ranganatha Rāmāyaṇa ascribed to 14th century A.D.
We have mentioned that the Nāyaks were of Telugu origin, and that some of the scenes here bear Telugu labels. So I am inclined to believe that the Rāmāyaṇa followed in this mural is a Telugu version. The scenes are said to occur also in Adhyātma and Amanda Rāmāyaṇas. But in all these versions only Angada is said to drag Maṇḍodari and beat her. Hanumān is not a participant. Hanumān as known to the Tamils as such a noble and divine character that it would appear rather strange to portray him dragging another man's wife. It would be interesting to see whether Hanumān dragging Maṇḍodari is actually found in any literature or is a folk tradition. Dr. Raghavan has in his book “Some Old Lost Rāma Plays” mentioned that Rāvaṇa performing a sacrifice, the same being disturbed by Angada draging Maṇḍodari by hair and thereby creating a commotion is found in an early Sanskrit Rāma play called Kṛtyarāvaṇa.
Rāma's return to Ayodhya with Sīta and the monkeys in the Puṣpaka Vimāna, which appears as the third part in the temple has also some noteworthy deviations. The depicted are Sīta taking bath, wearing new clothes, being carried in a palanquin led by a band of musicians, the fire ordeal and Agni returning Sīta. Rāma is then shown worshipping nine little shrines. This scene is not found in Vālmīki's version. But there is a tradition that Rāma worshipped the Navagrahas (at the sacred place called the Navapāsana near Rāmanathapuram). This scene might probably represent that tradition.
The last scene depicted is Rāmapaṭṭābhiṣeka witnessed by the celestials, monkeys and mortals. Among those witnessing the coronation is the Nāyak ruler, the author of the temple and the painting. The portrayal of the patron in the celestial coronation seems to be an age-old tradition. The Rāmapaṭṭābhiṣeka scene is an excellent depiction here. Rāmāyaṇa panels are also found in Gingee temple belonging to the Nāyak period.
In the Tanjore region, Raghunatha Nāyak was responsible for a great revival of Rāma cult. The Rāmasvāmi temple at Kumbhakonam built by him is perhaps the best temple dedicated to Rāma on a grand scale. The garbhagrha and the front mandapa are unique in many respects.
In the front maṇḍapa almost every pillar is carved with excellent sculptures, some of them being in life-size. The portraits of Raghunatha Nāyak and his queens are portrayed in one of the pillars. Almost all the pillars carry sculptures connected with the Rāmāyaṇa. Sugriva-paṭṭābhiṣeka, Vibhiṣaṇa-paṭṭābhiṣeka, Ahalyā-sapa-vimocana are such scenes depicted prominently.
The sculptures seem to indicate that a special version of the Epic seems to have been adopted here. For example, emphasis is laid on Hanumān who is repeatedly portrayed as a musician, playing Vīṇa. There is a life-size figure of Hanumān carrying a Vīṇa. Nārada and some sages are also ortrayed carrying Vīṇa. In music literature and tradition Hanumān (Āñjaneya) is mentioned as a music authority and his views are referred to as Hanuman-mata. The Sangitasudha written by Govinda Dikista for this same Raghunatha Nāyak describes Hanumān learning music with sage, Yaṣtika in a plantain-grove.
There is an important sculpture on one of the pillars in the central part of the maṇḍapa. In it are shown Rāma seated with Sīta. Rāma is holding his hand in Vyākhyana-mudra. Seated at his feet, is Hanumān listening eagerly to Rāma with a palm-leaf manuscript in his hand. On the side face of the pillar are shown sages. The whole scene is reminiscent of one of the famous invocatory verses recited before taking up the reading or exposition of the Epic.
vaidehii sahitaM suradrumatale haime mahaamaNDape
madhye puShpakamaasane maNimaye viiraasane susthitam .
agre vaachayati prabha~nchana sute tatvaM munibhyaH param
vyaakhyaantaM bharatadibhiH parivR^itaM raamaM bhaje shyaamalam ..
vaidehī sahitaṃ suradrumatale haime mahāmaṇḍape
madhye puṣpakamāsane maṇimaye vīrāsane susthitam .
agre vācayati prabhañcana sute tatvaṃ munibhyaḥ param
vyākhyāntaṃ bharatadibhiḥ parivṛtaṃ rāmaṃ bhaje śyāmalam ..
वैदेही सहितं सुरद्रुमतले हैमे महामण्डपे
मध्ये पुष्पकमासने मणिमये वीरासने सुस्थितम् ।
अग्रे वाचयति प्रभञ्चन सुते तत्वं मुनिभ्यः परम्
व्याख्यान्तं भरतदिभिः परिवृतं रामं भजे श्यामलम् ॥
The main point of interest is that Rāma is shown as a teacher of supreme knowledge and Hanumān appears as the disciple. Inside the sanctum, Rāma and Sīta are shown seated. Here again Rāma is shown as a teacher and Hanumān is seated in front holding the plam-leaf manuscript. Behind Rāma are shown his brothers. In Śrīmad Bhāgavata Hanumān is portrayed as a great devotee singing the praise of Rāma. Nārada also is said to sing the greatness of Rāma; Nārada considers Rāma as the embodiment of Yoga.
In his Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja, Dr. Raghavan has dealt with this tradition.
Rāma, the main deity, as installed in this temple is mainly a teacher of Ātmavidyā. It is interesting to mention that Tyāgaraja, the saint-camposer of Carnatic music, states in one of his compositions that Hanumān recited Purāṇa daily in the presence of Rāma.
In this connection an illustrated Rāmāyaṇa-manuscript in Sarasvati Mahal Library, Tanjore, may also be mentioned. There are only three cardboards, preserved with the paintings. In each board one Kāṇḍa is painted. It bears labels in Telugu characters. From a label it is seen that the paintings were done by a certain Venkataperumal Rajudu of Narikanti. The paintings show the use of golden colour which is seen for the first time. The painting is assigned to 17th century.
In Thiruvellarai, near Trichy, some parts of the Rāmāyaṇa are found painted on the ceilings of the maṇḍapa in the Viṣṇu temple. The paintings are fairly well preserved, and portray Vāli-Sugrīva fight, Vali's cremation, Sugrīva-Paṭṭābhiṣeka etc., The paintings are in late Vijayanagar style and may be assigned to the end of the 11th century or beginning of 17th century.
In the Śrī-Raṅganātha temple of Śrī-Raṅgam murals from the beginning of the Rāmāyaṇa to the end of Sītakalyāṇa are painted in the ceiling of the maṇḍapa near the dhvajastambha in front of the Venugopala shrine. The paintings seems to date from late 17th century A.D.
In the Śrī-Raṅgam temple a few ivory pieces of the period of Thirumalai Nāyak of Madurai (17th century) are preserved. They originally formed part of an ivory maṇḍapa and represent various deities like Viṣṇu, Śiva, etc.,
One of the pieces portrays Hanumān by the side, of Rāma and Lakṣmaa. It is an excellent piece of art.
A complete series of Rāmāyaṇa paintings, probably executed under the inspiration of the Madurai Nāyaks, is found in Śrīvilliputtūr. The paintings are labelled in Tamil. Besides these the Madurai Nāyaks have also carved large-size images of Rāma with other sculptures in temples like Śrīvilliputtūr. In the Thirugokarnam temple at Pudukkottai, the Tondaimans have painted the Rāmāyaṇa in the ceiling of the front maṇḍapa in 18th century.
A word may be said about the technique of these murals. Except in early phases, the Nāyak paintings are shown as small panels with labels below each, simulating the painted paper manuscripts the impact of which began to be felt during this period.
In considering the Rāma cult in the Vijayanagar Nāyak period, we find two main streams, one adoring Rāma as the supreme deity and the second worshipping Hanumān as an independent deity. We have mentioned the worship of Rāma.
Hanuman was conceived in the Chola period as the greatest scholar, full of Vinaya and devotion. He was the personification of an era of great learning and prosperity. The people of the Chola age visualised in him all that was perfect in a heroic, learned and at the same time a full and ideal devotee. Though himself divine, Hanumān was content to remain a servant of his Lord.
The Vijayanagar days witnessed a different political and social set up. They had to safeguard their religion, kingdom and society from the Muhammadan invasion. They had also to face and overcome bitter internal strife. What they wanted was courage and heroism. Their poems, their folk-songs, etc., were all tuned to this adoration of the heroic cult and so the Hanumān of this period was Vīra Āñjaneya who will bestow strength, energy courage, conquest, etc., He was portrayed as a warrior, with raised right arm, as if ready to strike. The Vīra Āñjaneya cult is so popular in Tamilnadu that it is not an exaggeration to say that every village in Tamilnadu has a Vīra Āñjaneya shrine or sculpture.
The impact of Rāma cult on the currency of the Vijayanagar period is also noticed in the coins issued by them and also the commemorative issues popularly called Rāmataṇkas. One of the coin issued by Venkatapatirāya bears on its obverse the figure o Hanumān advancing to the right and a Nāgari legend in the reverse Śrī Venkatapatirāya. Walter Elliot refers to a gold coin, weighing 58 grains, with the figures of Rāma, Sīta and Hanumān on the obverse and an inscription in old Canarese reading Īśvara on the reverse. (Coins of Southern India, Elliot, Fig. 108 and page 99.)
The Rāma Tankas were commemorative issues, bearing the Rāma Paṭṭābhiṣeka scene in which Hanumān finds a prominent place. These were probably issued by the Vijayanagar rulers for being gifted either during their cronations or during their Tulābhāra ceremonies, when large number of such gold issues were gifted as presents. Elliot also mentions a gold coin of smaller size, with Hanumān holding a flower on the obverse and two seated figures in the reverse. The Hanumān of the coin resembles the sculptural representation of the period.
A large number of small copper coins found frequently showing on the observe Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Sīta should appear as “Sīta” at all placess and Hanumān with portrait of a Nāyak king standing with his hands in Añjali. They show two or three phases of issues the earliest one showing the figures of Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sīta as beautiful figures found in bronzes of Vijayanagar period. They show the Rāma group of slender but attractive figures, resembling the bronze protracts of Krishnadevarāya and his queens. They were probably issued by the Emperor when he built “Hazara Rāma” temple at Hampi and may be assigned to early 16th cent. The second phase of issue seems to have been issued by Vijaya Raghunatha Nāyak of Tanjore when he built the Rāma temple at Kumbakonam. He is praised in his copper plate charters as “constantly engaged in listening to Rāma Kathāmṛtha” anavarata rāmakathāmṛta sevaka. The third phase seems to have been issued by several kings but shown with somewhat abstract Rāma group.
With the advent of the Marattas in Tanjore, Rāma-Paṭṭābhiṣeka scene became the most popular, one of the best being the one at Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal. The Rāma-Paṭṭābhiṣeka painting of the Maratta school is of common occurrence.
With the advent of the saint-composer, Tyāgarāja, the Rāma-cult became a part of Tamil life; particularly in the form of Bhajana in places popularly called Bhajana-maṭhas where the principal deity would be a picture of Rāma-Paṭṭābhiṣeka. An exhaustive study of Rāma as portrayed by Tyāgarāja in about 600 songs of his, in the background of the entire Rāma-epics, literature and cult is given by Dr. Raghavan in his Introduction to the “Spiritul Heritage if Tyāgarāja” The cult of Rāma in Tamilnadu as represented in art and thought is a gradual evolution, which has reached the present proportion in which peoples' aspiration to adore the perfect man, the God, is fulfilled.
List of places in Tamil Nadu where outstanding Rāmāyaṇa sculptures in stone are seen:
- Kailasanātha Temple, Kāñchipuram: Vali worshipping Linga and Ravana disturbing the Puja. Pallava-8th century A.D.
- Olakkaneśvara temple, Mahābalipuram: Rāvaṇa shaking Kailaśa, Pallava-8th century A.D.
- Mukṭeśvara and Mātaṅgeśvara temples, Kāñchipuram: Rāvaṇa shaking Kailaśa, Pallava-8th century A.D.
- Vaikuṇṭha-perumal-temple, Kāñchi: Rāma-Pallava-8th century A.D.
- Nāgeśvara temple, Kumbakonam: Complete Rāmāyaṇa-Miniature Panels-Early Chola Period, 9th century A.D.
- Kadaimudi Mahadeva temple, Thiruchinampoondi, Tanjore District: Rāmāyaṇa-Miniature panels, late Pallava, 9th century A.D.
- Śiva temple, Lalgudi: Rāmāyaṇa temple, late Pallava-9th century A.D.
- Śiva temple-Thiruppurampiam: Rāmāyaṇa panels, Early Chola-9th, century A.D.
- Śiva temple, Pullamangai: Rāmāyaṇa panels, Early Chola-10th century A.D.
- Amalīśvaram-Pachchur, Trichi District: Rāmāyaṇa panels, Early Chola-10th century A.D., Miniature panels are also seen in a number of other temples.
- Kampahareśvara temple, Kumbakonam: Rāmāyaṇa Story, 13th century A.D.
- Śiva temple, Dharmapuri: Rāmāyaṇa story, 13th century A.D.
- Śrī Rāmasvami temple, Kumbakonam: A temple solely dedicated to Rāma as a teacher. Nāyak period-17th century A.D.
- Rāma Group from Vadakkuppanaiyur: Now in the Madras Museum, early Chola-10th century.
- Rāma Group from Paruthiyur, Tanjore district: Early Chola-10th century.
- Rāma Group from Thiruchcherai, Tanjore District: Early Chola-10th century.
- Rāma Group-Thiruppathur, Rāmanad District: Pāṇḍya-early 10th century.
- Rāma Group-Kappalur, North Arcot District: Chola-11th century A.D.
- Rāma Group from Nathamangudi, Trichi District: Chola-11th century A.D. Also in a number of other temples.
- Eluttu Maṇḍapa, Tiruvannamalai, North Arcot District: Vijayanagar, 16th century.
- Viṣṇu temple, Chengam, North Arcot District: Nāyak School, 16th century.
- Viṣṇu temple-Gingee, North Arcot District: Nāyak School, 17th century.
- Viṣṇu temple, Athamankottai, Dharmapuri District: Nayak School, 16th century.
- Viṣṇu temple, Thiruvellarai, Trichi District: Vijayanagar period, 16th century.
- Ranganatha temple, Srirangam, Trichi District: Nayak school, 17th century.
- Viṣṇu temple, Srivilliputtu, Ramnad District: Madurai Nayak School, 17th century.
- Śiva temple, Thirugokarnam, Pudukkottai District: Tondaiman school, 18th century.
- Palace, Tanjore-Rāma-paṭṭābhiṣeka: Maratta School, 19th century.
- Sarasvati Mahal Library, Tanjore, Painted paper Manuscripts, Nāyak school, 17th century.