Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ramayana Miniatures of Nageshwara!

Nageshwaraswamy temple (not to be confused with Thirunageshwaram) in Kumbakonam, referred to as Kudanthai Keezhkottam by Thirunavukkarasar in his hymn is found to the east of the Kumbeshwara Temple.

This temple constructed over 1500 years ago is a treasure trove of architecture. The Lord Nageshwara Swamy  is a Swayambu Moorthy, is said to have been worshipped by Lord Surya and Nagaraja. I had the opportunity of visiting this magnificient and unique temple recently along with members of REACH foundation. After coming back with loads of great pictures, I was in a dilemma about how to present this temple in Aalayam Kanden.

On one side, there was the huge temple with fascinating mythology and awesome murthis. On the other, the Ramayana Miniature panels needed an entire post about themselves! So after great deliberation, I have decided to write two posts - One focused on the miniatures and the other focused on the temple mythology.

The temple is a visual delight. We were lucky to visit at a time when it was not too crowded. Apart from a few other foreign tourists crouched near the panels, the temple was practically empty. What you see above is a whole wall of inscriptions with idols of women in the alcoves. If one lowered their eyes to the feet of these idols, what would they see?

Can you see the three panels below the feet of the statue in the picture above? I have deliberately increased the size of the picture so that you are able to appreciate the number of figures in each one of those miniatures and the level of detail that has gone into this magnificient work of art.

Let us now look at a close up shot of one such panel.

This is the first scene in the panels. What do you see? Sage Rishyashringa performing the Putra Kameshti Yagna. King Dasaratha and his queens look on anxiously. See the person emerging from the fire carrying the pot of "Payasam" for the King. Almost ten people with complete features and symmetry in a panel so small. Look at the actual size of the panel in the picture above. Isn't it amazing?

We were lucky to be in the presence of Prof. Sivaramakrishnan of the College of Arts, Kumbakonam. He is an authority on the Ramayana Miniatures and watching him explain the various panels made them come to life. The glow in his eyes, the ethereal expression on his face and the passion with which he took us around the temple, jumping into the narrow ditches to get better access, and climbing out with agility, transported us to another world. We could actually visualise how these panels would have been created, what actually ran in the minds of the great artisans who had produced these beautiful pieces of art.

My sincere thanks to Shri. Ashok Krishnaswamy for allowing me to use his videos in this post.

The four part video clearly explains each panel. Just look at the size of the panel. You can get an understanding by comparing it with the size of the pen that the professor is holding.

Watch the Soorpanaka episode. It is absolutely mindblowing!

I would strongly advice watching these videos on full screen so that the complete panel can be better appreciated along with Prof. Sivaramakrishnan's narration.

Although this is one of the Devara Paadal Petra Sthalams, there is limited awareness about this temple, especially about the unique Ramayana Panels. You can see even in the first screen above, lamps lit very close to the panel causing soot to be deposited on the miniature. The miniatures are placed like a band around the temple. In some places, these have been damaged during plastering for civil works undertaken during recent times. But most of the panels are intact.

As I wrote earlier, this temple has many other interesting features that one post would not be sufficient to talk about it. Therefore, I conclude the post on Ramayana Miniatures at Nageshwara here. The sequel will be about the other unique features and mythology of this wonderful temple.

This temple is very close to the Kumbeshwara Temple and Mahamaham Tank. It would be definitely worth visiting during the next trip to Kumbakonam.

Temple Timings:

6 am to 12 30 pm
4 30 pm to 9 30 pm


  1. Nice sculptures and beautifully described.

  2. Ok, how can I visit temples with you along? The same place becomes so much more interesting with your write up. I go to Kumbakonam regularly because of work. Now I will go to the temple and carefully observe what you have described. But still, nothing like going with you:)

    1. Dear Bhavana,

      That is the whole purpose of Aalayam Kanden. I learn from someone and pass it on and you can do the same too :) The objective is that many many more people out there must know about these wonderful lesser known temples and patronize them. Watch out for the sequel! I m sure you would be delighted to learn more about this wonderful temple!

  3. Hats off to U Priya! God Bless U & Your Family!
    Dr V Thanumoorthy

    1. Dear Sir,

      Delighted to see a comment from you after a while! Hope you and Mami are doing well.

      Warm regards

  4. you can see 'portrait' Nayanmars here at Kathie Brobeck's Picasa web gallery - 3 some sculptural masterpieces of South India