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A 'sthala purana' narration on a chariot in Karnataka

The sthala purana in visual form creates more impact than a verbal narration. The uniqueness of the narration lies in its conception and depiction.

Published: 24th November 2021 11:33 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th November 2021 12:45 AM   |  A+A-

The sthala purana narrative that has been carved on the) Agasthyeshwara Temple’s ratha.

The sthala purana narrative that has been carved on the) Agasthyeshwara Temple’s ratha.

Local legends or sthala puranas are very important components of Indian religious places. Even today when we visit any historical or religious location, locals tell us many stories associated with the place. A good number of them have been associated with some stories connected with the Ramayana or Mahabharata. For instance, the Rameshwara Siva Linga is said to have been installed by Sri Rama. Ayodhya as the birthplace of Rama, and Brindavan and Dwaraka associated with Krishna are famous examples. Likewise, many places across India are also identified with the Pandava brothers. 

There are also certain areas associated with rishis. In southern Karnataka, a place called T Narasipura in Mysuru district has been associated with sage Agasthya and Hanuman. Interestingly, a good number of places in peninsular India have sthala puranas linked to Agasthya. 

There is no idea when exactly the name of sage Agasthya entered southern India. Badami, the erstwhile capital of the Chalukyas, has a local tradition directly associated with the sage. He is said to have visited this place where he vanquished two demon brothers, namely Vatapi and Ilwala. The large pond in the town is named after him as Agasthya Teertha. The origin of Kaveri is also linked to Agasthya. In the most popular legend delineated in Kaveri Mahatmye, Agasthya is said to have married a lady called Lopamudra, which led to the creation of the river Kaveri. 

T Narasipura or Tirumakudalu Narasipura is situated on the banks of Rivers Kaveri and Kapila. It is considered a holy place as it is the place of confluence of both the rivers and another hidden river—making it a triveni sangama. Habitation in this place dates back to prehistoric periods. There have been archaeological excavations in the 1950s that have revealed the remnants of Neolithic and Megalithic cultures.

T Narasipura is closely associated with an Agasthya sthala purana. The tradition is that the sage had visited this place in time immemorial and wanted to install a Siva Linga. He had fixed an auspicious day and time. He requested Hanumanji to get a suitable Linga stone from river Narmada, which is considered very holy even today. Hanuman could not come back within the auspicious time. So Agasthya is said to have collected fine sand from the river and created a Siva Linga, which he installed here. When the installation rituals were about to get completed, Hanuman arrived with a stone for the Linga. There arose a conflict. Hanuman became angry and is said to have punched the sand Linga with his fist. Where the punch landed, a small cavity was formed. The sage calmly appeased Hanuman’s anger and promised to install the Linga that he collected from the Narmada. Agasthya installed the Narmada stone Linga and named it after Hanuman as Hanumanteshwara. The sand Linga was named after the sage as Agasthyeshwara. 

The legend is very popular even today. The temples of Agasthyeshwara and Hanumanteshwara were built during the rule of the Gangas of Talakad in about 900–1000 CE. The temples are simple square structures with Dravidian architectural features. The Agasthyeshwara temple was renovated during Hoysala and Vijayanagara rule. Epigraphs connected to the temples shed light on the donations and legend briefly. 

The temple chariot made out of wood consists of beautiful carvings of the narration of the sthala purana. A majority of south Indian temples have artistically built wooden rathas, with nicely carved sculptural themes. Here, at present the ratha is in a very bad state of preservation, but the sculptural narratives found on it are quite intact. There are carvings depicting Ganesha, Siva Parvati, seers worshipping Siva Linga, Gaja Lakshmi and others. The most interesting one is the narrative that depicts the sthala purana

In the narrative plank, the central theme is the depiction of Hanuman punching the Siva Linga. The narration delineates Sage Agasthya worshipping the Linga, which is decorated with a garland and also depicted with eyes and nose and mouth, making us recall the ancient Mukha Lingas dating back to the third century BCE. The narration depicts the seers in the process of worship: it may be seen that one seer is bowing down, another is busy performing aarathi and yet another is busy presenting vastram. Amidst the entire rituals, Hanuman is depicted as an angry person hitting the Siva Linga. The force and anger of Hanuman is realistically carved in his bodily posture by the artist of the ratha. The figures depicted here are all adjusted within the horizontal space, as it is mandatory to make the wooden planks fit into the structure of the ratha

What is interesting is the narration of sthala purana in synthesised structure on the temple chariot. The architect and sculptors could have easily chosen to depict the same on the temple body. The sthala purana in visual form creates more impact than a verbal narration. The uniqueness of the narration lies in its conception and depiction. 

R H Kulkarni
Professor, Dept of Art History, College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath 

(rhkulkarniarthistory@gmail.com)



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