The Body of God - An interpretation of the panels of the Thiruparameshwara Vinnagaram - 1

After the visit to Kanchipuram and the Vaikunta Perumal temple, known in days of its glory as the 'Thirparameshwara Vinnagaram', came to know about a scholar who has done extensive analysis on this temple and its panels. So was trying to see whether to get the smaller guide book published by him named 'The Vaikunta Perumal temple' or the larger more extensive analysis of the temple and its history in the 'The Body of God - An Emperor's palace for Krishna in the Eighth century'.

The scholar, Dr.D.Dennis Hudson, was a religious scholar who focused on the study of the Bhagavatha tradition in Hindu theology. This temple has been his focus as having been built in the Bhagavatha tradition and hence he has done numerous papers on it. The body of God embodies all his research in the temple and gives a complete interpretation of the panels and the temple structure.

It is just a coincidence that I happened to get hold of a copy of this incredible book and at about 700 pages, it is going to take quite a bit of time to complete. I have read through only about 100 pages so far, but could not stop the excitement to share at least some of the details.

The book is divided into three parts, the panels on the outer prahara, the sanctum and the panels on the vimana. The history of the temple and the king who built it forms the introduction along with a discussion of the 10 poems of ThirumangaiAlwar's on this temple (Periya Thirumozhi - Pages 37-39 in the link given) . All these are neatly connected and the author weaves a very neat story inter-woven with all these above aspects. 

One of the things that was confusing after the visit to this temple (for me) is the interpretation of the panels. I went there with the knowledge that the prakara walls shows the coronation of Pallava kings. But there is no authoritative source to confirm the same. The photos I took shows the panels but the story was not forthcoming. The books solves this problem easily.

According to the author, the temple was built with the Bhagavatha tradition in mind. The entire temple represents this tradition elaborately. Whats more, the pasurams of  Thirumangai are written with this understanding and the chapter where he dissects the 10 pasurams line-by-line to map it with the physical temple is just mind blowing. As I read-along, I will try to post some of the pictures I took in the temple with explanation from the book.

Panel 10 - The unction of Nandivarma Pallavamalla  
The book is very clear that the panels in the outer prahara walls represent the official history of the King Nandivarma Pallavamalla, his ascension to the throne, his exile, his regaining the throne, his unction or the coronation as the emperor and his building the temple. The first 10 panels tell the story of how it came to be that after a line of Saiva Siddhantha kings, this Bhagavatha king ascended the throne as a boy. 

What is fascinating, to me, though is that we never had the official history of any Tamil king written or depicted during the King's lifetime come down to us. (This may be because of my limited knowledge but as far as I know, I cannot think of any such book/sculpture/paintings available now). So it is a unique temple in that it depicts the story of this King right from his ascension till the time the temple was consecrated.

Dennis also mentions that there are thirteen inscriptions available in the panels describing what they are and about 10 have been read and recorded. Thus, the King makes sure that there is no mis-interpretation of the panels. Though I don't remember seeing any inscriptions in the south walls. That may be due to my untrained eyes.

Coming back to the panel above, it depicts the unction or abhiseka of Nandivarma Pallavamalla. The panel is horizontally divided into 2 sections, with the upper portion showing 7 figures with four on the west and three on the east. They are identified as the agamika Brahmins divided between the Pancharatra and Shaiva Agamas.

The bottom portion is divided vertically into two halves with the western side has the figure of Nandivarma Pallavamalla, going through the unction ceremony. The two smaller figures near him has the unction fluids for the bath which will anoint him with the name Nandivarma and make him the emperor of the Pallava realms. 

The eastern part depicts the 'assembly' of the court, the ministers and the dependent rulers. The ritual objects are present as well. And the dress of Pallavamalla is described in detail in the book along with the elephant-headed crown he has and the significance of the same. 

The above panel depicts Nandivarma Pallavamalla seated as the Bhagavatha emperor with his Queen on his right with the royal umbrella emerging from his back. The man who sits a level below the queen with a large sword in hand is Udaychandra, the King's general, who killed the other claimant to the throne and thus ensured that Nandivarma's throne is not contested. There is the part of Nandivarma's acharya to the left of this which is not found in the pictures I took. 
To the left of the acharya is the model of the Vimana of the temple which probably was designed with the approval and guidance of the acharya himself. Dennis identifies the acharya as Jyesthapada Somayajin, to whom Nandivarma made a grant some time before the temple was built.

This is just the first 100 pages. I will try to update as and when I continue reading through the book. But the amount of details and work that has gone through to bring about a book with these much details just underlines the hard work Dr.D.Dennis Hudson must've gone through.

Disclaimer: I am just an amateur person, who is more fascinated to know that these panels are telling the story of a king who ruled 1500 years ago and am no expert in sculptures or the religious dogmas. These are purely my opinions and wherever mentioned, the opinion of the book this post refers to.

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