Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pune Street Scenes IV: Pune Trishundiya Ganapathi Temple Interior

This is the second part that follows the earlier blog. It is an attempt to understand the story of this strange temple in terms of the gods within. I might as well forewarn at this stage that I found out nothing about why and when it became known as the triple-trunked trishundiya Ganapathi temple. It was sufficient for me just to see and speculate.

What I do not know about temple architecture and sculpture will most likely fill all the books written on it. One of the things about temple sculpture is that it is living worship that has been metamorphosed into stone. What the living culture is or was we do not know. We know now how quickly a traditional culture can disappear when faced by compelling social changes, such as invasion of the unnecessary kind (armies, fashion, multi-media). The records that survive are the ones of the approved kind, if not of the popular kind. The kinds approved by governing authorities are the ones which last longer. The builders of these architectural records may have little association with the ordinary people even in spirit. There are more temporary records written on the mind and the soul, or on paper or carved from wood which decay faster than the basic sentiments that they have been built on and continue to be associated with. An analysis of these records then is as inconsequential as a so-called “scientific” discovery of the material money-making kind can be in the long run (celestial time scales, as one would say).

One can make an effort nevertheless. One owes it to those who chipped away for the sake of a god of daily things who filled their bellies and perpetuated a basic happiness that lingers and that we thank god for. This, after all, is the symbolic necessity of a temple. Worship at a temple is not always necessary. Study of an unstudied temple may serve as a futile speculation on a dead past. But study we must, if only for an unstudied blog.

We came as early as we could to have a look at the interior of the trishundiya ganapathi temple. The temple was open. It was around 11.30 in the morning (see clock in Fig 2) and the temple would close at noon. We had to hurry. Devotees were going in and out without any constraint. They spent a little while sitting and meditating, went clockwise around the temple from outside (see Fig 1 right for the plan of the temple, click on picture to expand). We expected to see an old wooden statue of ganapathiji with the wooden grains of the sculpture showing somewhat --- probably hidden under layers of oil accumulated over centuries?. As it happens in India, there was indeed a trishundiya, but there was so much else!

Among the first things that hits you when you enter through the eastern portal is the signs of daily life inside the structure. As mentioned in the earlier blog there is a hall with a dome when you enter. On either side of the hanging temple bell two ceiling fans also hang with ill concealed electric cables. On both walls are signs (Fig 1) of daily living --- washed vessels after tea or some other hot drink has been made, or a plastic bag with the days requirement --- in niches made originally perhaps for equally holy gods of big or small things. The hall under the dome is not well lit. It is sufficiently lit to take pictures without using a flash what with all the camera gadgets we have nowadays. I did use a flash, however, apologizing to the gods (including my wife) several times. By the way, as a sign of regular and popular usage, there is a small black-board on which the timings for the next chathurthi (fourth day of the moon) is displayed.

The rough plan of the temple is given in the extreme right of Fig 1. There are some sculpted pieces (Fig 2) on wall 1 which separates the outer hall with the dome and the interior of the temple. The entrance to the interior is through a decorated wooden door which I forgot to examine in detail. The entrance to the sanctum sanctorum is through a raised step on which there are two conches indicating a connection to Vishnu.

There is a gajalakshmi-like structure resembling that in the front at first glance but very different in actual content. Although the outer sculpture (left of Fig 2) may have been touched up with plaster later the basic style of the sculpture seems to be similar so that they were constructed at the same time or by similarly trained craftsmen. The elephants to the right are distinctly seen to hold pots from which water is being poured to bathe the figure.

Instead of a lady sitting between the elephants the figure seemed to be that of a man. This figure with two hands was not holding anything that looked like lotus that Lakshmi would normally hold. Instead the figure seemed to hold a bell in the left hand and a small vessel in the right. In the rituals for worshipping Vishnu it is proscribed that one rings the bell with the left hand and make an offering with the right hand. Apparently the figure is not that of a deity. I could not get a ready reference to this posture. Instead I found that bells and vajra or dorjes are used in many Tibetan Buddhist rituals (see inset) with bell symbolizing a feminine principle and the vajra, which is the thunderbolt that destroys ignorance. For some reason this is considered the masculine principle while the bell suggests the emptiness of the feminine principle. Tantriks and other ladies would know what this means (?). In any case, the union of these two principles gives the enlightened mind --- the Buddha.

There is another aspect of the figure on the right of Fig 2 that is interesting. The feet of the figure are joined together against each other as they are in baddhakona asana pose. In the poses given by yoga practitioners on the internet, however, the hands usually hold the toes on the feet and the body is bent downwards. Interestingly a lady from New York pointed out in her site that the name of the asana is also given as Lakshmi. So I looked up the gajalakshmi poses on the internet and the only book I have on Early Buddhist Rock Temples (by Vidya Dehejia, Cornell, 1972) as well as the internet to get at the origin of the Gajalakshmi pose. As put down on rock, the so-called Gaja Lakshmi pose actually has Buddha’s mother being bathed by elephants (see the previous blog). I first heard of this pose from Lalitha (everybody believes I could be that ignorant) and I assumed from Ravi Varma’s famous paintings that the elephants used a garland. A quickly finished wooden panel by Andhra craftsmen that decorates the entrance to my flat has the elephants garlanding Lakshmi (Fig 4 top left) with her right foot down.

I found from Dehejia’s book that the early Buddhist temples had, Maya, the mother of Buddha being in the Laksmi asana pose (feet pressed together) as in the reconstructed pieces (Fig 4 left bottom, I have reconstructed the photograph some more) in Dehejia’s book and (fig 4 right top) in the arch above the entrance to Nadsur’s vihara VII. These figures clearly show that the elephants are pouring water, so that gajalakshmis bathe and do not garland. I found on the internet an amusing engraving on the pillars of the North gate of the Sanchi stupa two ladies bathing a child (fig 4 centre left down, North Gate Sanchi) with the composition of the figures (hands instead of trunks, for example) resembling that of the Gajalkshmis at first glance.

The Lakshmi asana pose with the feet being pressed together is not a necessary ingredient for the figures being bathed. Maybe human bodies were more supple in earlier times to take up the lakshmi asana pose without bending their bodies? In images from Sanchi stupa (railings of Bharhut stupa from the railing of Stupa II) the ladies could be standing (fig 4 right) or have their left foot down Fig 3 in the middle).

After all this one could conclude, I guess, that the figure in (what may be identified as) the Lakshmiasana pose on Wall 1, just represents that of a devotee being welcomed into the interior of the temple. Now for the trishundiya!?

The sanctum sanctorum is visible through a grilled door (see Fig 9, see later). On top of the grilled door on wall 2 (see Fig 1, right) that separates the sanctum sanctorum in which the main idol is kept there are sculptures (Fig 5 right). The nature of the sculptures seems to be similar to that in Fig 2 except for the central figures and there are no elephants of the gajalakshmi kind. There is also a plaque (Fig 5 left) with engraved scripts on Wall II on top of the grilled door is made from harder rock and must have been placed later on the original wall.

The plaque with scripts seemed to be in a place meant for it. There are three scripts (Fig 6). Two of them on the left are probably in Devnagari script. The script on the extreme left is raised and seems to be Sanskrit (though Sanskrit scholars I know did not seem to have the patience to go through it and read it and translate it). The second Devnagari script (middle of Fig 6) is engraved into the tablet on which the scripts are written. Both the scripts on the left begin with invoking Lord Ganesha which is normal in the temples here usually classified as Hindu temples. The way the scripts are written they could be slokas which are part of a prayer to Lord Ganesha. There may be two scripts on the right. I have no idea what they could be as yet. It could be a simple puzzle for all ye learned scholars.

There is apparently a sitting Vishnu with bhudevi and sridevi on his lap and seated below the head of what looks like a garuda head in the sculpture on top of the door to the sanctum sanctorum. There are two bearded rishis standing on a lotus flower on either side of the door way (left and right of Fig 7) in the usual guardian style. The jats of Punjab, so the legend goes, owe their origin to Siva’s matted hair; it is also said that the jats of Punjab settled in the region around Pune-Satara in the eighth century. and his followers are usually described as wearing jataa or "twisted locks of hair" as in dread locks in a manner similar to that of the catai worn by Dravidian.

In the centre of the piece above the door I thought after a first glance that it was Vishnu with sridevi and bhudevi on his lap. The main figure(Fig 7 centre) had a varada hasta (boon-giving hand; Lalitha said that the boon-giving comes only after sufficient obeisance is made) pose of his right hand typical of Vishnu. In the dark light (Fig 5 right) one could not make out assimilate and analyze the details quickly. With the help of digital photography and a flash one could analyze later with the internet and google. Thanks to the flash and Lalitha, one noted several things: the figure was not sitting on a Garuda so it need not be Vishnu: there were obviously a nandi and a variation of a lion (not a tiger because there were no stripes to rank it as such) which are the vahanas of Siva and Parvati or any of Siva’s consorts; there were snakes of the cobra type around the neck and the waist of the main figures not usually associated with Vishnu even in his wildest days. The problem was that Shiva in a seated posture is rare especially with a varada hasta hand unless he is in the nataraja pose (search internet) when the left hand is in the varada hasta pose and vertical on top of the big toe of the raised left leg (that’s how you are supposed to make out a genuine nataraja from a quick-buck one, anyway).

One of the things I noticed last but liked best was the lying sprawled out lion at the base of the central figure. This was a lion completely at ease. It was not like the lion in the crouching-lion-sitting-bull pose of the vahanas on either side of the central figure. To add to my confusion was the figure of the garuda spreading its wings that was discernible on the top of the structure that is expanded processed and shown in the top right of Fig 7. Ask any garuda and he would swear that he appears only on Vaishnavite temples. So what was Siva doing there? A quick search through the internet did not give anything special about Siva with a lion at his feet and a garuda above his head. It would have seemed that the sculptor had missed out on a few rules.

Missing out on rules in art should always be encouraged. The followers of Vishnu at some stage may not have thought of temple sculpture as art but as a discipline. There were Agamas (see Tirupati as Buddhist Shrine by K. Jamandas of Dalit E-Forum, Chapter 11 for a sufficiently “biased/learned” version) which described the norms for Vishnu images as existing at that time based on what some may call empirical images of Vishnu imagined from some folklore or harikatha. Dravidian rock cut shrines such as those at Mamallapuram in Chennai or the 7th - 8th century Kailasa caves at Ellora seem to have followed some sort of earlier rules (Vaikhanasagama). There is a contention that these Agamas (“for people who have no other purpose on Earth but to worship Lord Vishnu”) were formed around the 9th century AD so that sculptures earlier than this date may not have been as per the present Siva-Vishnu distinctors. The Siva-Parvathi sculpture (shown in negative in Fig 7 bottom right; click to enlarge) from Kailasa temple of Ellora in Plate XXVa of Havell’s Handbook of Indian Art (1920) (available on Internet) is similar in the style of the hair and the face to that in our own Trishundia. The Dravidian people who sculpted Kailasa probably strayed away from those caves to find their Punya in Pune and carved part of these temples as a time-pass (?). Who said no? and who says yes?

There is another line of thought that occurs to some devious minds especially when one is brought up in the atmosphere of plagiarism current in today’s (today could mean from any time) minds of scientists and bureaucrats, the present day avatars of kings and other less pedigreed royalty. This line of thought would suggest that there was a pre-existing Vishnu idol with sridevi and bhudevi on his lap which was then changed into Siva. If one looks casually at the image one can imagine the remnants of Vishnu’s symbols such as the conch and the chakra. In this case Vishnu could have been saddling a garuda, which itself would have been resting on a sprawled out lion. The head of the Garuda would have been transformed into the head of a cobra. The two animals by the side would have been carved out from elephants in the Gajalakshmi pose (compare with other structures). All this speculation may have been inspired by Jamandas’s suggestion that the Vishnu in pre-agama pe-9th century Tirupathi was actually a Buddhist shrine and the extra arms carrying weapons were added later. Or as the some Iyers insist, Tirupathi was a Siva temple that was turned into a Vishnu temple.

Searching through the internet for the role of lion in sculptures or images I came across a gang-of-4 hari (god) reference in hariharihariharivahan Lokeshvara of Nepalese origin. This is a reference to a god-on-god-on-god-on-god vehicle which is Avalokiteshwara (ava means “down”, lokita means lok or “people”, svara may not be from isvara as we would think but a sound perceiver, the Buddha of compassion or Padampani the holder of the Lotus incarnated in the Dalai Lama among others) on Vishnu on Garuda on lion. A figure of this kind is shown in Fig 8 (left, after suitable processing; key word hariharihariharivahan lokeshvara). It is compared with a processed image of Fig 7 centre (Fig 8 right, with suggestions about garuda head). In the centre of Fig 8 is an ancient tribal image of Parvati with a different posture on her lion from the hills around pune (referred to in Part I blog of trishundiya exterior).


As one looks at the sanctum sanctorum there is a warm and peaceful scene. One always finds a devotee sitting peacefully (Fig 9 left) in front of a grilled door separating the sanctum sanctorum from the inner chamber (see Fig 1 right). There is a gold-coloured stylized representation of a tortoise (Fig 9 left) which seems to be characteristic of old temples around Pune. The present tortoise seems to be of more recent fabrication. I (shamelessly, sorry about that) took a shot of the Ganapathi (painted ochre like most old Ganesha idols in Pune) through the bars on a third day (garlands were changed comparing figures on the left and right) to get a more focused picture. There was no way to say whether ganapathiji was made from wood or plaster and mortar or rock. Both the tusks seemed to be of the same size. Legend requires that one of his tusks be broken off. Two of the three trunks were hidden behind a garland; the central trunk hung in the centre curled towards Ganesha’s right. His left trunk tickled the chin of a lady on his left lap whom he held with his hand (Fig 9 left below). It must be his mother gauri. He wore a snake as his head-band. A shaivite symbol of horizontal lines made in (what looked like) steel was placed on his forehead. The peacock’s head was visible. Ganpathi baba can be loved in many ways but he is always beloved. Behind trishundiyaji there is a niche (Fig 9 bottom right) of the same style as those in nearby temples. The wall inside this is bare except for some brass-like carved plate whose origin is not clear. A head is barely visible. There is a wooden almirah painted blue which is visible and which may be holding some god-clothes and utensils or those of his servants.

It was rather dark behind the main idol. The curse of the digital camera is that one can image process and get more information (valuable or otherwise) even at an amateur level. So behind trishundiyaji I found on image processing two features. The first of these is a reclining image of what seemed to be Vishnu and the other seemed to be David’s star.

The reclining Vishnu has been discussed in the previous blog. The snake on which Vishnu is reclining is similar in some way to that of the Vishnu sleeping on Shesha in Aihole’s 7th century Hucchappaya temple, now resting in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai. The distinguishing feature of this model of the coiled snake is that the coils stretch out in u-turns on a plane like a bed instead of coiling like a helix vertically to form a cushion. One can discuss the nature of coiling later when there is more evidence accumulated (on my part). At present it could be sufficient to point out that there is some resemblance between the two snakes in Fig 10. The head-gear of Vishnu is less elaborate in the trishundiya temple (Fig 10 right) and could suggest an earlier (more primitive) origin. There is no lotus or Brahma appearing (as far as the image could be processed) from the navel of Vishnu, so that this is an image of Vishnu taking rest (if the agama rules were available then).

The second aspect is that on top of the reclining figure is (Fig 11 centre) what seems to be a David’s star (Fig 11 left, 3rd century seal of Solomon from a synagogue in Galilee) that is said to be typical of Jews. So you ask “How did Jews get into this?” But that is only if you have a Western mindset. You don’t ask if you are convinced that David’s star has interlocked triangles which the symbol in the centre of Fig 11 does not have. You also don’t ask this if you are an older day Bengali--- of the tantrik kind. So was this a tantrik temple? One entry in the internet writes one line about this temple being a 4th century tantrik temple! The walls of the temple behind this tantrik work has two faces on either side carved on the wall. They could be more ancient. On coming out of the temple while looking up to see whether you are clearing your head you see Tantrik signs (Fig 11 right; click on figure to enlarge) more clearly. What we should have noted first, we noted last!

In tantrik yantra tradition, the triangle is a feminine symbol of creation. Before one creates one requires a mind. So within the first triangle is a dot, the Bindu which is said to symbolize intense concentration. In tantra the bindu represents Siva. When two triangles are superposed in opposite direction they symbolize Purusha (or Shiva Kona, pointing upwards to represent the element of fire which is always upwards) and Prakriti (Shakti Kona, triangle pointing downward is the feminine yoni symbolizing the flow of water which is always downwards), who participate in the process of creation. This is the Shatkona and not David’s star. The external limit of the Yantra is the Bhupura which is the square. If Siva can be associated with tantrik yantra designs, the Sriyantra is usually associated with

The overlapping squares the vertices of which gives a regular octagon is sometime known as the star of Lakshmi. It is also known as the Rub el Hizb (with a small circle in the centre), an Arabic character associated with Islam which may account for the preponderance of the octagon in Islamic architecture. In tantrik worship the octagon is sometimes referred to as an Ashtar and is the prime form of Shakti or Parvati. The Ashtar also has an important place in Shree Yantra which is usually associated with Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort, especially when it is a matter of accumulating wealth. There are sixteen- and eight-petalled lotuses as boundaries in this yantra, all enclosed in a square with four doors one on each side.

From beginning to end this temple should be a tantrik structure! Tantrik traditions come from shamanism of which the pre-buddhist bon religion originating in Tibet is one aspect. In shamanism as in Judaism or islam god does not have a shape. That is soul of the spirits we worship. When we give it a shape we freeze our understanding. The trishundiya temple is then a record of a series of frozen beliefs. These frozen moments may still come to life when seen (reflected upon) in rapid succession even though different sequences may give a different story. It is then that your mind becomes alive again. Trishundyaji has many purposes. This could be one of them.
As I come to the end of this post, I realize that I did not look back to see what is on the wall behind nor did I peek over trishundiyaji to see what was directly behind him. I did not speak to the inhabitants of the temple about their thoughts on it. I also did not ask them about the water tank with a maze beneath the temple that is open only on Gauri Pornima day. After all, in the Pune Gazeteer of 1881, mention is made that the “…chief objects of note in Somvar ward are Nageshvar's … and Vishnu's temples …, the latter with a water-lead and a public cistern.” Could they have been to what is now the trishundiya temple?

1 comment:

tony said...

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