Thyagaraja Temple, Thiruvarur – Sculptures & Reliefs
Thiruvarur is the only ancient shrine in India that instantly reveals so many different styles expressed over successive centuries of stone art and sculpture in India. The countless Chola, Pandya, Pallava, Hoysala, Maratha, and Nayaka sculptures and paintings make the study of the evolution of form, line, image and theme in traditional art a possible study through this one temple complex alone. Mahendra Pallava, the greatest patron, artist and critic of all the 64 forms of artistic expression recognized and patronized at the time was conferred the title “Vichitra Chittan” for his ability.
He patronized the art created in and for this temple and oversaw the finest expressions of the artistic forms appreciated at the time. There are sculptures of the 64 karnas (postures) and the abhinayas (expressions) of Bharathanatyam (the dance of India) depicted in the finest detail on the Gopurams and the Mandapams. Narasimha Pallava, the son of Mahendra Pallava, was a famous warrior king and like his father, a great and knowledgeable patron of the arts. His campaign against the Chalukya King Pulikesi II in revenge for the latter's invasion of the Pallava country during his father's reign is a well-established historical event.
Paranjothi, his Commander-in-Chief who led the campaign and ultimately destroyed the capital Vataapi in a single night's encounter, was a devout Shaivite who desired nothing more than to retire in the service of Shiva. Inscriptions reveal that Paranjothi deinstalled and brought back a popular and much venerated image of Vinayaka, Ganesh that was revered and held in great esteem by the people of Vataapi. There are two theories as to where he installed this Vinayaka, this trophy of war commemorating a landslide victory against the Chalukyas.
One theory goes that he installed the "Vatapi Vinayaka" in Thiruchenkattukudi, his birth place. The other theory is that he installed it in Thiruvarur. Subsequent investigations have conclusively proved that Kulothunga Chola installed the idol at Thiruchenkattukudi and the one in Thiruvarur is the original “Vatapi Ganapathi”. Several centuries later, Muthuswami Dikshitar created his famous song "Vatapi Ganapathim Bhaje" in Hamsadwani Raaga before this diety.
The presence of rare, ancient musical instruments, inscriptions copper plate inscriptions, artistic bronze and stone sculptures, the dated historical antiquity of the temple car, and the unbroken tradition and power of the temple as a sacred and historical site makes the Thyagarajaswami temple at Thiruvarur probably the largest repository of Tamil cultural values and traditions.
A very endearing sculptural marvel here is in the sanctum sanctorum itself. A woman stands beside Ambal and she’s essentially the friend of Ambal and she carries Lord Muruga aka Lord Subramaniyar on her hip. Lord Ambal’s left hand is on Muruga’s head. The whole scene is so endearing and loving. And this scene is depicted both as the Moolavar (Stone Sculpture) and Utsavar (Bronze Sculpture). Such a depiction is seen nowhere else. The sculptures & relieves on the pillars are beyond words. They are so intricate and fabulous.