Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pune Street Scenes III: Pune Trishundiya Ganapathi Temple Exterior

I thought this will be a brief blog about a curious trishundiya (three-trunked) ganapathi. It turned out right from the beginning that the ganapathi could be said to be the least curious feature of the temple. It required considerable unbiased erudition to understand the structure. This erudition is a rare commodity in centres of learning mainly because they depend on non-controversial “soft drink” sponsor for their research funding. It may sometimes be preferable to take an unbiased view by satisfying the first requirement, which is not to be learned. That I am. I have taken some post observation (photography) learning through the internet. I have come up with something which I must now put on the blog so as to remain reasonably self-consistent. So here goes. It is twelve page long and has sixteen pictures. So take your time.

One of the first things that anybody says about the trishundya ganapathi temple in Pune, Maharashtra, India is that the Ganapathi in the temple has three trunks and is the only one of its kind in India. One can have a ganapathi with five heads and five trunks or three heads and three trunks. The trishundya ganapathi has one head and three trunks. The ganapathi is seated on a peacock instead of the rat that he is supposed to be carried by. That is indeed unique. The second feature is that the temple is unique because of the carving of a rhinoceros which is not usual for temples in Maharshtra or in the southern parts of India. Indeed, I have not found on the internet (as yet) an example of a rhinoceros sculpture on a temple anywhere in India.

The approach to the temple itself from the newer parts of Pune is not straightforward. It goes through gulleys and there is no premonition of things to come as you walk down the lanes. You finally see it (Fig 1 left; always click on picture to expand) between two nondescript residential buildings. Once you are seated there (on one of two newly provided benches) you can say you are looking at something pleasant (Fig 1 right).

What hits you, however, once you have got used to this strange manifestation of beauty --- for beautiful it is even if it remains ravaged by the passage of time and irreverent use of enamel paints --- you are struck by the uniqueness of it all. I will not be able to do it the full justice it surely deserves except to draw your attention to some details and make my usual un-refereed comments. Except that one does not know where to begin; and, more importantly, there is no external sign of it being a Ganapathi temple of the Shiva-kind.

We came looking for the unique sculpture of the rhinoceros. At first glance it was a “rhinoceros”. Further inspection made it a rhino of the most unusual kind (Fig 2 left). Then you ask yourselves “what on earth is it?” or more appropriately “what on earth is it not?” It is apparent that the sculptor had not done a rhinoceros before and indeed had no idea what it was. The rhinoceros had its front left foot chained for some reason. Apparently the sculptor used a faithful drawing of a rhinoceros in captivity. The sculptor was apparently familiar with sculpting bull elephant and garuda for temples. So the rhinoceros had the body of a bull, feet of elephants the head starts of as that of an elephant and ends up with the beak of a garuda and a horn is later stuck into the “beak”. Why on earth did they have to put the rhinoceros in unless it was purely for fancy? I must straightaway say at this point that I have no idea!

There is no external sign of it being a ganapathi temple. There were two happy looking Ganapathi-like elephant-headed tigers sculpted in the same manner as the lions in temples (Fig 2 centre from Devgaon mandir near Kittur that is supposed to be in the early Chalukyan style) There is also a figure on the door frame (Fig 2 right) of the Lakshmi Narayan temple nearby with a lion-like body and mane but with an elephant-like head which has teeth instead of tusks. Such a head is common in the temples of Bankapura, Gadag-Lakkundi and is a characteristic of the Hoysala/chalukyan temple sculptures (I really cannot distinguish between them) and will not be discussed further in this article. The creature on the right looks like a hybrid of the other two so I guess the unique feature of the figure on the left is that it is the last in their evolution.

The temple has two pairs of elephants on either side of the entrance (Fig 4 left). The style of the elephants, with warriors on them, resemble the dozen or so elephant pairs, each of different style, surrounding the Dodda Basappa temple in Dambal near Gadag (one of them in Fig 4 right). There are attendants of the elephants with sticks that could have come from any style including the style at Sanchi stupa. The same could be said for the two guardians of the temple (seen in Fig 1).

The most noticeable feature on the sculpture on top of the main entrance to the temple is a Gajalakshmi-like sculpture which is considered to be typical of Vaishnavite temples (Fig 5, click on figure to enlarge). On the other hand, the Sanchi stupa has on their panels Maya, the mother of Buddha seated on a lotus flower with elephants on either side bathing her from a vase held by their trunks. Since the figure outside is disfigured we wont be able to say now whether it is Maya being bathed (sprayed?) or Lakshmi being garlanded. The original story is that it was the Ushas maidens rising from the cosmic ocean when Brhama’s lotus unfolded its petals, that were bathed by Indra’s elephants, who were the rain clouds. It is also said that Ganapathi’s elephant head is the head of one of Indra’s elephants. Come round a full circle? No wonder, we Indians (in Hindus-being-Indians sense) don’t have the fear of Gods. We have no option but to love them!?

On top of this “gajalakshmi” is a structure reminiscent of a Kirthimukha origin indicating western Chalukyan influence? The elephant-like creature supporting this structure is also associated with this influence. It has two huge fang-like teeth instead of tusks. One can go on about this Chalukyan influence with its connection to the “elephant” head in Fig 2 right with teeth instead of tusks. It must await another day when I would have learnt some more. Crowning the centerpiece is a proud peacock flanked by two adoring peahens that only our gods (and James Bond?) seem to be successful with. There are monkeys with genuine monkey tails ascending this sturcture. By the way, it may have been noticed in Fig 2 centre that the “lion” seems to have two tails: a monkey-like tail at the back and a lion-like tail that juts forth between its legs. Which came first? the monkey? the tiger? the sculptor’s licence?

The figures on top and on either side of the peacock and peahens (click on figure 5 to enlarge) at the same level has a simple style which I cannot recognize. One of them (immediately to the right of the peacocks) would be a Madonna with a baby in modern terms (see Fig 6 left) although I cannot say what it is in temple terms. There is at least another “Madonna with baby” on the right. These figures seem to have huge ganesha-like ears. From ground level, I was not able to make out whether these ears were added later or not.

There is a genuine Ganesha figure (Fig 6 centre) on the top part of the back wall (just below the roof) of the temple. There is no rat vahana for this ganapathi. The trunk is moved to the left like some of the older ganapathis in Kasbapet or like the lady Ganapathy (Fig 6 right) in Bhuleshwar which I could write about, but later. I included the lady ganapathi also because I sort of imagine (especially after the Bhuleshwar trip) that the ganapathi of Fig 6 has a bikini top. The style of wearing the cloth on the ganapathi may be imagined to be similar to other vasihnavite figures on the walls of the temple (Fig 8). By the way, did you notice the naamam sign on the Bhuleshwar lady ganapathy's right ear? Wonder if it is a hearing aid?

The figures in Fig 7 look like vaishnavite figures either in their head gear or with their naamam-like symbols on their forehead. The guardians at the door (Fig 1) could be from any time except that the trishul or the naamam on the forehead could indicate a Vishnu origin. The so-called naamam sign appears on the hood of the snake of frontispiece picture of an 1889 book on Buddhism by Monier-Williams. It is a Brass Buddha idol (Fig 8 left) in the Mućalinda Serpent pose (serpent not shown) with five rays of light emerging from the crown head. The symbol (I could not get the Buddhist name for the symbol as yet) is similar (you require to be sympathetic and willing to agree some times) to the Persian script for Allah (shown on the top right of Fig 8 left). The naamam-like appears on a door carving in the neighborhood to the temple (Fig 8 centre) as well as on a pillar of a carving for a niche on the wall (Fig 8 right).

The design on the top of the pillars consist of dwarfs in a pose found, for example, in the sun-temple at Modhera (Fig 9, bottom centre) which was built between the 10th-11th century AD by Solanki Rajput kings (?) who were Suryavanshis or descendants of the sun god. The solankis ruled the western and central parts of India between the 10th and 13th centuries AD. Most of the figures in the trishundiya temple pillar tops have vasihnavite head gear. They are also holding bells of the type (without the chains) seen on the top of the walls in Bhuleshwar (about 45 km from Pune) built around the 11th century (so they say). The bells are also hanging from the mouth of a recognizable lion-like face (Fig 9 top left) unlike the stylized kind seen in Fig 2 centre. The lion face found below an urn is comparable to that found in the 10th-11th century Pataleshwar cave temple in Pune. The urn and the lion face are also found in the Modhera sun temple (fig 9 bottom right).

There are arched niches (Fig 10) on each side of the temple containing different idols. I have not tried to find out (as yet) the actual orientation of the temple. The styles of these arches are nearly the same so that one could assume that they were built around the same time. Taking a rough guess from the direction of the shadows, the arched niches from left to right in fig would be north, west and south so that the front of the temple would be facing the east (which is probably not correct, but we will continue with this orientation from now on probably because I am under the impression that vaishnavite temples should have one entrance facing east).

The pillars of these temple-like niches on the walls are shown in Fig 11 with the pillars from left to right being east, south, west and north. In this representation of the orientation the south and west sides of the temple show the most weathering. If the temple is weathered because of the prolonged activity of the south west monsoon in Pune one could expect the south and the west sides to be the most weathered. Its normal to get wrong answers when one is making calculated guesses. So we do not worry about the orientation?

The important feature of interest is the figures in the niches. On the west (right of figure ) is a nataraja of a northern style and on the east (left of figure ) is a Vishnu made in a southern (Trichy?) style. In the cenre is a lingam with a serpent coiled around it with a dove flying towards the top of the lingam and a boar-like creature going down it. This aspect of the lingam was not known to me and I thought that this feature is an unique aspect of the temple. . The connection of the serpent with the lingam would make it a shaivite temple. A search through the internet gave me the following “In tantric yoga kundalini is visualized as a female snake which represents the energies of the adept. … … Furthermore, the force which the snake signifies is female just as the transformative force signified by the opposition of the auspicious and the inauspicious, namely sákti, is a female.” from Purity and Auspiciousness in Indian Society by JB Carman, F Apffel-Marglin Brill 1985. This did not look satisfactory.

I took some time to find the story about this lingam from the internet but once I got the key search words (Vishnu, Brahma and lingam) I found the legend behind this figure easily. A typical story is as follows (Handbook of Hindu Mythology, G M Williams, ABC-CLIO, 2003):-
In the Śiva Purâna¸Brahmâ Vishnu and Rudra (Śiva) were arguing about creation. When Brahmâ and Vishnu told Śiva that he was the lord of everything and for him to create as he wished, Śiva dove into the cosmic waters for more than a thousand celestial years. Brahmâ and Vishnu decided not to wait for creation any longer; so Vishnu gave Brahmâ enough energy to bring everything into being. Just when Brahmâ had finished his creation, Śiva emerged from the water and angrily destroyed everything by fire. The frightened Brahma worshipped Śiva lavishly, whereupon the pleased Śiva granted Brahmâ a boon. Brahmâ asked that everything be restored. Śiva restored Brahmâ’s creation, discovered that he had no use for all the creative energy he had stored up, and tore off his linga. The discarded linga extended deeper into the cosmic waters than Vishnu (as boar) could dive and higher into the cosmos than Brahmâ (as dove) could soar. So they instituted worship of the linga with heart and mind focused upon Śiva, because all desires would be fulfilled by Śiva.

The top of the temple was visible when we went to the steps of the house in front. It is also visible from far away (Fig 1 left) but we did not notice it probably because the dome, being freshly painted, merged with the background of residential buildings. It looked at first (Fig 13, centre click on picture to expand) like a brick and mortar structure plastered with cement and was thoroughly uninteresting. Inside the temple (seen the next day, although Lalitha seems to have worn the same sari which is extremely unusual), however, this dome was surprising because we did not see it first from outside. There were obvious signs of leakage which must have been uncomfortable for those living inside during Pune’s four-month-long monsoon period. Any plastering work on top must have been done much later.

I looked up Sir Banister’s “History of Architecture: on the Comparative Method”, 16th Edition 1959, which had nothing on Indian or Buddhist architecture. The closest I could get to was the funerary Lion tomb of Cnidos (in Cyprus, ~ 350 BC) discovered by one Newton of the Dilettante Society (an amateur group of the not so idle rich and noble that was founded around 1740. The Cnidos lion (made from a single block of marble) itself was about ten feet long and six feet tall ended up in the British museum. The dimensions and design of the Cnidos tomb is not more than twice that of the trishundiya dome. If your imagination is unfettered by what could be facts, you could conclude (as would Watson to be corrected by Sherlock Holmes) that it could have been a Buddhist stupa with a Buddha figure on top (instead of the lion on the Cnidos tomb).

There are animal figures on the top of the walls supporting the roof. Elephants, horses and lions/tigers could be discerned as brackets. There are coconut coir ropes freshly tied to these animals and must have been used to tie poles for scaffolding for other work. Which will fall first? The rope? Or the sculpture? Below these brackets are carvings of what I think is a lotus flower which I refer to later (in the next blog?).

It took us a second visit to notice Vishnu reclining on a snake which accompanies him in every reincarnation. There seems to be a tortoise flanked by a fish and a crocodile (?) supporting the snake which in my (uninformed perhaps) opinion is strange if not unique. The snake itself is known as Ananta Shesha Naga. The snake is supposed to float on the cosmic ocean which could account for the fish and the tortoise. Like Atlas, the snake bears the earth on his head. When the snake shrugs, like when Atlas shrugs, earth quakes. The snake is without end in time and so the name Anantha Sesha. There are well eroded image of what must be Sridevi at his feet in the style of Fig 6 left. There seems to be (if you imagine or stare hard enough) Brahma being born from a lotus flower on Vishnu’s navel which awakens Vishnu. In this case the two standing human figures at the sides could be those of the demons Madhu and Kaitava whom Vishnu kills as the first thing he does on awakening. So this sculpture would signal Vishnu’s awakening. The way the coiling of the snake is represented gives some indication of the culture of the sculpture.

The much eroded nature of the Vishnu sculpture as contrasted with that of the peacocks below, for instance, which seems to suggest the use of some sort of plaster that resembles a rock. Such a plastering could have also been carried out on some of the portions of the sculpture in the front especially those with sharp edges. It is likely (un-refereed opinion) that such a work was carried out only to sharpen pre-existing features rather than impose new features. Examples of such plastering could also include the work on top of the niche in Fig 10 right. A temple niche in front of the temple (left of Fig 16; click on figure to expand) clearly shows sign of plastering on the right of the arch which has fallen off on the left. Similar plastering work is visible on the wall behind the unplastered living lady of Fig 16, right. It is said by the locals that the three “soldiers” on the left are carrying what looks like rifles and so must have been the work during British times. On the other hand it could have been a more recent dressing of an older figure once the plastering skill is taken into account. The plastering work resembles that in Bhuleshwar or Saswad, for example. The absence of such a plastering of Vishnu, suggests that the reclining Vishnu was part of the original structure.

So, the trishundiya temple is turning out to resemble more a Vishnu temple from its external appearance than a traditional ganapathi temple of Mahrashtra. The existence of a Vishnu temple in Somvarpet of Pune was recorded in the Pune Gazetteer of 1881. Local people tell us (reading from a notice outside the temple) that the temple was constructed in 1754 or so. I won't say “hogwash” to this. Instead, I think the temple was “renovated” or reconstructed around that time. I have to go back and confirm all my speculations but then it may spoil my images. I could say, for examples, that the trishundiya ganapathi (whch is seen inside the temple) was installed during some popular socially acceptable times such as Tilak’s ganapathi puja pre-independence movement.

In the meanwhile I certainly think that knowledgeable and sensitive people should take some time out and restore parts of the temple the way it deserves --- and deserve it certainly does. This temple seem to record the passage of time in Pune and must have existed for much longer than what is officially said. It could be from the 10th century when it pre-dates the official history of Pune. The early history of Pune is said to involve settlements on the banks of Mutha river when it started out as Punnaka - an agricultural settlement in the 8th century and is said to derive its name from Punya Nagari or the city of virtuous deeds. It was ruled first by Rashtrakutas and then by Yadavas before the Muslims and the British came into town. But long before that Buddhist caves at nearby Karla, Baja and Bedsa cave existed. Considering the number of rivers and streams flowing in Pune area it is difficult to imagine that truant or tired Buddhist traders would not have sought rest in this area and rested by a stream in wooden or bamboo shelters and built a more permanent adobe in stone to be later occupied and modified by various rulers and their cultures.

This temple could even be from earlier times if we want to examine the large ears of the figures carved on the top left of Fig 7. I have not found convincing examples as yet. In one entry in the internet there is a figure of Jivai mata in the Jivdan forts of the Shayadri range. This region is supposed to begin from the Satvahan era( see ajayglance of Jan 21 2008 in natureglow.blogspot.com)who participated in the Buddhist sculpture, say, at the Karle caves near Pune. The figure of the devi also has large ears similar to those shown in Fig 7. Maybe there was pre-satvahana structure in this spot?!

As a record of the history of the peopling of Pune, the maintenance of this "trishundiya" temple surely requires a little more sympathy from those who matter in Pune. To begin with, surely one can find a way to get rid of paint marks and painted faces on sculptures (Fig 1 right), vegetation on the sculptures (Fig 5) electrical cables and fittings (Fig 5, Fig 9 bottom left), ropes and other strings tied to figures for hanging things (Fig 14) and improper and obstructive locations of benches (Fig 16 right).


Ganesh Kumar said...


Could you give the exact location of this temple?


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