Friday, March 17, 2023

Reading Women

It just occurred to me that March is Women's History Month and coincidentally I have been reading a lot of women writers. In fact this year it looks like my reading pile was filled mostly by women. Of course I am still working through Ulysses (have the final two chapters to go) and it has been very rewarding, but will come to that later when I am actually done. For now I wanted to share my thoughts on 4 books by 4 women writers.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton: After The Luminaries which made Catton the youngest Booker winner, the expectations for Birnam Wood were very high. Luminaries is one of my all-time favorite books in the last 15 years, so I have been waiting for Birnam Wood from the time the book was first announced many, many years back. I read this one in two days. It is an action and ideas packed novel and is a commentary on contemporary conflicts. At the heart of the novel is a cash-strapped guerilla gardening group called Birnam Wood whose path crosses with a billionaire setting up a survival bunker in New Zealand. The eco-idealists are led by Mira who is a modern Austen's heroine Emma-like character and the tech billionaire Lemoine is a Mission Impossible-villain + Peter Thiel type. Can eco-idealists and techno-capitalists forge a happy union for the betterment of the planet? Well, the title of the book is from Shakespeare's Macbeth and you know how that ends! But it is how the whole thing unravels that makes it a gripping thriller. Catton shows how even the most well-intentioned ideals can be ruined by petty fights, poor communication, and power struggles. The key message seems to be 1) We are all Macbeths 2) We are all complicit 3) We need to communicate better instead of just virtue signalling and blaming each other if we want to bring about changes to how the techno-capitalists treat the planet. 

My thoughts: I loved the writing and the plot. The dark comedy had the right tone to it. However, I felt disappointed in the end. We are all in collective despair and understand that we are complicit and the novel captures that beautifully while managing to be a great page-turner, but there are no deeper insights here. It seems to suggest that all the mix-ups could have been avoided if the misguided idealists just communicated better - seems too simplistic to me. The Luminaries is a novel that has many layers which lends itself to re-re-reading. Birnam Wood while a gripping thriller and a page-turner lacks those layers that I have come to expect from Catton.

Magnificent Rebels by Andrea Wulf: Andrea Wulf's previous work The Invention of Nature brought Alexander Humboldt to life and it was an amazing read that totally deserved the Royal Society's Prize for Science writing.  During the pandemic I read a biography of Wordsworth by Jonathan Bate and I learned how instrumental the German intellectuals from Jena were to the English Romantics. So when I heard that Wulf's book was going to be about the "Jena Set" I was very eager to read it. The Jena Set comprises of  Schiller, Schlegels (3 of them including Caroline), Schelling, Fichte and Novalis with a cameo appearance by the Humboldt brothers and Hegel at the very end. Goethe was the older, wiser mentor who connected all these young philosophers and worked hard to preserve unity among them. Jena is a small University town in the middle of Germany which saw an explosion of new philosophical ideas between 1794 to 1806 that led to the invention of the self. The rebels were mainly the women - especially Caroline Schlegel (later married to Schelling) who had a fiery intellect and can be credited with making Shakespeare cool again! They came up with a new way of communal thinking called "symphilosophising" and brought to the forefront the "I" - not in a selfish way but in a way of communing with nature. As Wulf says "At the heart of the Magnificent Rebels is the tension between the breath-taking possibilites of free will and the pitfalls of selfishness." Germany (not the country but referring to the region as a whole) was very fragmented in those days where there were many regional rulers and therefore rules which meant that a number of different ideas could develop without the fear of an outright ban across all regions. Germany also had more universities per capita unlike in England which had two main ones. All this led to Jena becoming a birthplace for many interesting ideas that are still relevant. 

My take: This book was a good read just not as great as her book on Humboldt. After a point it became a book about who slept with whom and who had an open marriage and who had kids out of wedlock - I guess it contributed to the chief characters becoming rebels, but I wanted to learn more about the philosophy. Goethe is my favorite character and I would love for Wulf to do a book just about him. 

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich: Louise Erdrich's previous works especially The Plague of Doves, The Roundhouse, The Painted Drum are all some of my favorite novels. The most recent one I read was The Nightwatchman which was also wonderful. The Sentence unfortunately did not work for me. The main character Tookie works in a bookstore not unlike Erdrich herself and so there are a lot of references to other books which I loved! The novel is highly contemporary and incorporates the pandemic, George Floyd, and the 2020 elections. Maybe because these things are so immediate and am still processing these incidents it probably felt a bit odd to read about it in an Erdrich novel. The writing was also not very lyrical to me. I appreciated the appendix of the book which lists all of "Tookie's" favorite books. I will use that list to discover more writers for sure.

A Tip for the Hangman by Alison Epstein: This is not a book I would have read on my own, but I participate in the Folger Shakespeare Library's online book club and this was their selection for last month. This was a great read for anyone interested in Tudor times and the life of Kit Marlowe. Was Marlowe a spy for Walsingham? Was he killed in a barroom brawl or was he assassinated by his political enemies? Epstein uses this as her background to give us a colorful portrait of Marlowe's life with Shakespeare playing a small cameo. Overall a good book but not as good as the choices for previous book clubs (Booth by Karen Joy Fowler or Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor) or the one I am reading now for next month's book club - Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. 

So that's 4 of my reads for these past two months from 4 very talented writers who happen to be women. 3 of them were known to me and these are writers whose books I will pick up irrespective of their reviews. The fourth writer is very talented and I will keep an eye out for her other books. Now it's time for me to get back to Ulysses as he is returning to Ithaca finally.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Portable Magic - The Joys of Bookhood

Emma Smith's Portable Magic has been on my reading list for months and I finally got hold of it this past week. I have listened to her podcast on Shakespeare many times and so I was eagerly awaiting this book and it didn't disappoint. Just like her lectures she raises thought-provoking questions about books for the reader to ponder over. The subtitle for this wonderful book says "A History of Books and their Readers" and that in a nutshell is what the book is about. It borrows the title from Stephen King's famous statement "Books are a uniquely portable magic" and as Emma Smith elaborates it is not just the content but the form that makes books unique - a form that has remained practically unchanged for millennia. In the introduction she says that her goal is to help her readers appreciate "book giss, the bookhood of (y)our own life and library" and I can certainly say it did for me! The book is a collection of essays and they are full of interesting facts and anecdotes.

Smith opens her essays with Gutenberg as it seems like a very good place to start but she is quick to point out that, "seen from a global perspective the question about Gutenberg seems less, "How did you do it?" and more "What took you so long?"." Chinese and Korean print pioneers preceded Gutenberg by many centuries but the Gutenberg myth is firmly enshrined in our minds and is said to mark a turning point for book culture at least in the western world. It was interesting to note it wasn't the Bibles but his anti-Turkish material following the wars with the Ottomans that opened the floodgates and drove the demand for print technology across Europe.

Another war a few centuries later provided a boost for popular books. During the Second World War American infantrymen were given books to take along with them into the battlefield to read in the trenches. This created a new format called the American Services Edition which served as a forerunner for the modern paperback - cheap editions of non didactic, non controversial books. Apparently without this edition, The Great Gatsby would have never become the classic it is today. Following the end of the war, books became a tool of Cold War, Anti-Communist propaganda - to spread western values of freedom and democracy in Germany and France. 

A novel fact: Wartime – and the U.S. military – boosted sales of “The Great  Gatsby” from good to “Great” – The Denver Post
ASE The Great Gatsby

Books have always been part of a “strategic self-presentation” and while this was true for countries it is also true for us as individuals. Smith talks about the pandemic trend of using bookcases as zoom backgrounds to signal erudition. She has an interesting piece about “shelfies” and uses three women as examples. Unfortunately she didn’t have any images in her book but here are the three images and they say a lot about the person and how they wanted to be perceived by the world. In the painting of Lady Anne Clifford we see her with books at different stages of her life and every book is painted in detail and is not simply a filler. 

File:TheGreatPicture AnneClifford 1646 ByJanVanBelcamp.PNG - Wikimedia  Commons
The Great Picture by Lady Anne Clifford

In Boucher’s painting of Madame Pompadour we see how the mistress of Louis XV is portraying herself as an intelligent woman, a true reader with an impressive collection of books and then we have the photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading perhaps the most difficult modern book ever. What is she trying to communicate? Is she like those celebrities who have had their zoom backgrounds curated by professionals or is she truly reading Molly’s soliloquy? Maybe what you infer says something about you rather than her.

Madame de Pompadour, 1756 - Francois Boucher -
Boucher's Madame Pompadour

Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce's Ulysses at the Playground (1955) | Open Culture
Monroe reading Ulysses

Another fascinating essay was about books as diasporic objects and what happens when objects are removed from their place of origin and should they be repatriated. From Bacon’s Essaies that drowned along with the Titanic to the Kennicott Bible that traveled along with expelled Jews from Spain to Bibles carried by modern migrants documented by Tom Kiefer’s magnificent photographs, books seem to be quintessential diasporic objects with portability being a primary factor for that. One of the key innovations towards portability was the development of the codex which was a huge improvement over scrolls and codex made the Bible truly portable. She describes the conflict surrounding the Codex Sinaiticus (331 CE) which was taken from its monastery by a German scholar and ended up with Stalin who sold it to the British Library to raise funds for his 5 year plan. Does the Codex need to be repatriated? A successful case of repatriation happened when Denmark returned the Poetic Edda Saga to Iceland. 

Tom Kiefer El Sueno Americano

There are a number of other interesting essays that focus on how books are anthropomorphized and even a section on anthropodermic binding which is the practice of using human skin for binding (??!!). She also discusses book burnings and how they are associated with the Nazis and the May 1933 burnings. However, book burnings did not start or end with the Nazis. People have always been burning books in their private homes or in public as in the case of Cardinal Wolsey burning Luther’s books during the reign of Henry VIII. Following WWII the US issued a ban on a number of books including Mein Kampf and found itself in a tricky position. On the one hand the Nazis were portrayed as anti-freedom, book-burning fascists and on the other the Allied countries were banning books that didn't align with their values. We see this in modern America where a vocal minority is calling for banning books that don't align with their cultural values. What shocked me was also the publishing industry’s habit of pulping returned books. Unsold books all meet the same fate and apparently the British M6 highway’s noise absorbent layer is made from 2.5 Million copies of Mills and Boons novels!

The section on Empire Writes Back deals with colonialism and its impact on non-English cultures. Specifically she discusses Puritan New England and the zeal of John Eliot who arrived in the 1650s to spread the gospel among the Alongonquin tribes. Working with a native who was a first-language convert he created the first Wopanaak Bible. These Bibles were used to establish praying towns in New England which led to the elimination of Algonquin cultures. One such Bible owned by a native man named Ponampam shows how he straddled his indigenous culture with that of the settlers. These Bibles are now used by the Wampanoag linguists to aid their language reclamation project.

Finally Emma Smith asks us to consider what a book is and why we have an attachment to this object. As I type up this blogpost I look around my own room and see books everywhere. Some of them I have read multiple times and some have not been opened at all and haunt me in my nightmares! I love the kindle and find it convenient when on travel and to read in bed but I still long for the physical book especially if it is beautifully illustrated or if the subject matter is too complicated. I lost nearly all of my late father’s books during a move but managed to salvage his copy of A History of Modern Times which he received as an award during his B.A. - one of the very few objects of his that I own, but have never read.

 I recently calculated that at my current rate of reading 30-40 books per year I probably can only read about 1000 books in the next 30 years which is not much given the number of books that get published every year. It was fitting that I read Emma Smith’s ode to books while making my way through Joyce’s Ulysses, a book that is challenging and rewarding at the same time and reminding me of the pleasures of bookhood!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Periya Kovil (Big Temple) - Scaling New Heights

 I have now come to the crowning jewel of the Chozha temples - Periya Kovil. The name says it all. It is Big! It is said that Rajaraja was inspired by the Pallava temples, especially the Kailasanathar temple (to which he donated considerably) in Kanchi and decided to take that form to new heights. Once again, I recommend that people watch this interview with Dr.Kudavayil Balasubramian (in Tamil) as he is the source for pretty much every piece of info in this blog. His book titled "Thanjavur" is hard to find but worth hunting down a copy. 

There are so many myths about the temple and its construction but I am not going to do myth-busting here as Kudavayil has done it many times in his lectures. The temple as it stands today has only certain portions of the original construction as is. The rest has become a palimpsest of sorts as the Pandyas, Nayaks and Maratas have all left their mark. I will focus on things I saw and loved. I should have taken a pair of binoculars with me and for anyone planning a visit I strongly recommend carrying it so you can admire the sculptures on the vimanams and gopurams up close.

It was raining on the day we traveled from Kumbakkonam to Thanjavur and it made the greenery of the landscape pop-out even more - paddy fields on either side of the road, lots of sugarcane harvest (as it is going to be Pongal in a few days). On a side note, these were the scenes I was looking for in the PS-1 movie and found lacking. This is the food-belt of Tamil Nadu known for its rivers and fields and greenery and even in 2022 it did not disappoint. Maniratnam's movie missed an opportunity here!

Back to the temple. While Rajaraja I oversaw the temple building there were at least 10 other people who were instrumental in executing the king's wishes. I am going to list a few of them here (most likely my spellings in English are going to be wrong): Kuncharamallan (the chief architect), Mathuranthagan (Second architect), Kundavai (his sister), the General Krishnan Raman, Esana Sivapandithar (Rajaraja's Guru), Rajendra (his son), Moovendha Vellan (the temple's revenue officer). The reason I list these people is that Rajaraja is famous for giving credit where credit is due and all these people have their names inscribed. Even common-folk who contributed single boulders, the 400 dancers associated with the temple, the 1000+ permanent workers, the people who washed the workers' clothes, the ones who did hair and makeup are all named and inscribed in the foundation stones of the temple. Says something about the king and his governance.

Keralanthakan Entrance Gopuram

The first gopuram is called "Keralanthakan Entrance" and was built by Rajaraja to celebrate his victory over the Chera kings. It has 5 stories and must have been the tallest structure in the Tamil kingdom when it was first built. Made mainly from Black stone (granite), it is also covered in Sudhai (Lime mortar). There are a number of interesting sculptures of the pantheon at the first level. Here is a zoomed in version and you can see Shiva & Uma, Vishnu, Brahma, Kali, Ganesha etc

Kudavayil calls out a special sculpture of Shiva in Padmaasana called Sadasivamoorthy. Rajaraja had commissioned this for his guru who belonged to the Pasupath sect. I think it is this sculpture but I could be wrong - this is where I missed taking my binoculars.

Much better view of Sadasiva Moorthy (not sure if I saw this one in the Rajarajan Gopuram)


Once you go through this first entrance you see the next gopuram called "Rajarajan Thiruvayil" (Rajaraja Entrance). It is smaller than the Keralanthakan entrance and has only 3 levels. This one is particularly famous for its guardian figures.

Rajarajan Entrance

Guardian Figure on the Left
These guardian figures are legendary. On close inspection you can see a snake devouring an elephant under the feet of the figure. Normally snakes are shown devouring rats. Here, the artist is trying to give you a sense of scale - imagine the size of the snake if it has to devour an elephant. Now, note that such a mammoth (devouring) snake is being trampled easily by the guardian figure which shows how powerful he is. And he is pointing you the way to the God inside who must be all-powerful to be guarded by these guardians.

As you go through this entrance you see the giant Bull built by the Nayak kings. Then you get a glimpse of the main Vimanam also called Dakshina Meru. Here are some breathtaking views of the same.

From the ground to the Kalasam on top it is 60.4m

There are 21 niches that house amazing sculptures surrounding the garbagraha. Here are some of the sculptures. You can now see how these are the forerunners to what are seen in Darasuram and GKC.

Vishnu with consorts



I loved the riders on the Yali-like figurines at the bottom of each niche. Nice touch!

Kalakala Moorthy

Also note the narrative sculptures to the side of the Kalakala Moorthy above. It tells the story of Markendeya escaping from Yama. Yama is shown wielding his death lasso on the left while Markendeya hugs the Shivalinga on the right



Umai Oru Paagan (Ardhanadheeshwar)



The Original Bull

There was a major ceremony going on that I couldn't get close to the Bull, but shown here from a distance is the original bull built by the Cholas. The Bull is to the side of the vimanam and Kudavayil has a beautiful explanation as to why nothing blocked the sun rays hitting the main sanctum in the morning and evening. There is a closed room in the main temple which houses a dancing sculpture of Shiva and during sunrise and sunset it is supposed to be beautifully illuminated.

I missed seeing the 81 dance sculptures and will have to go back for those. Also the most beloved image besides the dancing Shiva was that of the Victor of Three Forts - Tripuravijaya where Shiva is shown with a bow and arrow. This icon was adopted by the Cholas as their most beloved image as it symbolized their own victories in wars with the other kingdoms. If I am correct, the vimanam has a number of sculptures of Shiva as Tripuravijaya

Inside the temple complex are numerous shrines. The Ganesha shrine constructed in 19th century by Marata kings, the Subramanya shrine built in the 17th century by the Nayak kings and an Amman shrine constructed in the 14th century by the Pandya kings.There are a number of paintings by the Nayaks and Maratas that I am not going to go over as I am not very familiar with those.  I loved the Subramanya shrine which also had some amazing sculptures. Just one example here - Valli's marriage to Muruga as the hunter.

Valli's Marriage

I haven't written much about the Lingas in all 3 temples because there is already a lot of information out there. However, for those who haven't watched Kudavayil's lectures here is a snapshot of the view from the inner sanctum and the effect that Rajaraja was going for in constructing his temple this way. He is making the connection between the form and the formless as the linga reaches out to the Universe.

Pic Courtesy: "Thanjavur" by Kudavayil Balasubramanian

One final sculpture before I close - this is the famous hat man. It took me 3 rounds around the temple before my brother spotted him!

The Hat Man of Thanjavur

Who is this mysterious Man in a Hat? Here is a link to Kudavayil's 6 min short on the mystery man. For those who don't speak Tamil - here are some quick notes: He is European, this statue is not made from stone, it was added during the Nayak time, According to Kudavayil this is an emissary from Holland. There are other theories too but I am going to go with Kudavayil's theory.

Final thoughts:

This is a temple that has a lot more treasures than I covered here. I did not go over the other shrines and walkways, the paintings etc as I don't know much about those and will need another visit to cover all that. However, I did go to the Palace Art Museum to see more missing sculptures and the Bronze statues. Unfortunately my brother and I had both left our wallets at the hotel and the Museum did not take google pay and only accepted cash. We borrowed Rs100 from our driver and went in. Since we didn't have cash to pay for the camera I didn't take any pictures. There are some amazing bronzes that are worth seeing and many more stone sculptures too. For Chozha bronzes I recommend Vidya Dehejia's books and lectures on Youtube. The 6-part lecture is completely worth your time.

One can spend a lifetime looking at Chozha temples and exploring the Tanjore/Kumbakkonam area. Someday I will go back and look at other temples. For now I came back happy and satisfied that I was able to visit these heritage sites and took the time to learn more about them. It felt like I time-traveled to the 11th and 12th centuries for those 3 days. Now I plan to re-read Ponniyin Selvan before PS-2 hits us!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Gangai Konda Chozhapuram - A Pinnacle of Prowess

Since my last post a few people have asked me about Kudavayil Balasubramanian. He is a well known scholar and has numerous, very engaging talks on Youtube (in Tamil) that I recommend people watch. Here are the links to some of his best lectures (3 Chola templesRajaraja & Rajendra). The books I have are the following. Most of the information in this blogpost are from his book "Rajendra Chozhan" (middle of the bottom row below).

The books I have - yet to read the one about the Nayaks

Back to my trip report. Although we did Gangai Konda Chozhapuram (GKC) temple (aka Peruvudayar Temple) on the third day I am writing about it before I write about the Big Temple as I am going backward in time. GKC was built by Rajendran I (1012-1044) the son of Rajaraja I (985-1014) and is perhaps the greatest of the Chozha kings. In the Chola tradition the crown prince always ruled alongside his father for a few years and hence the reigns overlap. He expanded the empire and the temple / water works of his father and is famous for sending his general to bring the waters of the Ganga (specifically Hoogly/Bagirati river) from Tribeni in Bengal in golden pots  to bless his new capital and the temple he built at the same location. GKC is about 40 km from Kumbakkonam and 80 km from Tanjavur. 

Rajendra shifted his capital from Tanjavur to GKC almost overnight. GKC at that time was an unpopulated region so the king built a city from the ground up after having blessed it with the waters of the Ganga. Kudavayil has a detailed overview of this shift as documented in a stone inscription. He states that everyone from all walks of life including traders, sculptors etc all immigrated from Tanajvur to GKC.

Let me start with the pictures of the gopurams and vimanam.

First View

The destroyed second Rajagopuram in the front

As you enter the site you see two pillars (not shown in my pictures) which are the remnants of the first Rajagopuram which seems to have been destroyed by the British Public Works Dept back in 1836. As you go through that you see a partially destroyed second Rajagopuram. There is a photograph in the British Library from the 19th century which shows this Second Rajagopuram with 3 levels before it was damaged to its current state.

View of the Vimanam from the Second Rajagopuram

I loved the Bull in this temple! The big black one in the Big Temple was not built by the Cholas. This one also does not seem to be the original (built by a Zamindar). It is built from many stones and covered in what is called as சுதை (Sudhai) which is lime mortar.


 Now for the views of the Vimanam

 Before I go into the sculptures there are two other structures called North Kailayam and South Kailayam. I can't find a picture of the South in my photo roll, but here is the North Kailayam which houses the Goddess known as Brihan Nayaki

North Kailayam - Now the Abode of Brihan Nayaki

There is also a small temple for Durga / Kottravai/ Mahishasuramardhini. I didn't get a picture of the idol as I was not sure if we were allowed to take a picture but she is a sight to behold. Rajendra I got this statue from the Chalukyas and the Goddess has 20 hands. Instead of a Buffalo at her feet to symbolize Mahisha, here he is shown in human form. 

Picture Courtesy: Kudavayil Balasubramian's book "Rajendra Chozhan"

Now let me move onto the sculptures!

According to Kudavayil the move to GKC and the construction of the city and temple necessitated that the sculptures were worked on not just by experts but also by their trainees and novices. While most sculptures show the perfection that one expects from the Middle Chola period, there are some discernible differences in the details and that helps differentiate the expert from the novice. The guardian figures at each entrance show this difference.

Dwara Balaka Figures (Guardian figures similar to Lamassu)

See if you can spot the differences between the R and L figures

I will write a separate note about the guardian figures when I do the post on the Big Temple as I have better pictures. In general the guy on the right points to the direction of God and one can see the story of a snake devouring an elephant at the bottom of the left figure. More on this in the next post.


This sculpture is important for many reasons. For one, above the niche you can see the sculpture of Rajendra I worshipping a Shiva Linga and is probably the only image of the king in the temple. I am attaching a close-up here

In addition this form of Lakshmi, with two elephants with their raised trunks showering flowers, Lakshmi with two lotuses in her two hands while seated on a lotus herself has been in sculptural practice in Tamil Nadu for apparently two thousand years and references to this form are found in ancient Sangam literature like Civaka Cintamani

Bikshadanar (The Lord who Begs)

 One can spend hours analyzing this one. I will ask people to read Kudavayil's book on the backstory as to why Shiva took this form and Vishnu took the form of Mohini to teach the sages and their wives a lesson. What is shown here is how the womenfolk are rushing out to see the handsome beggar and feed him (see the sculptures on the side - the bottom row with 2 women on one side and 3 on the other). The sculptures on the side and bottom are original Chola, but the main sculpture has suffered some damage in the past and has been restored with Sudhai but is still seeing some damage. 

Umai Oru Paagan (Ardhanadheeshwar)

This sculpture shows the differences between the male and female side in terms of the clothes, the poses and the body structures beautifully. While Uma holds flowers, Shiva holds weapons.

Dancing Ganapathy

This is another sculpture that was simply joyous to look at as you see Ganesha dancing to the music made by all the Boothaganam (Bhutas) on the side and bottom. If you can zoom to the top of the niche you can see a circular inscription that is not very clear. It should show the sitting lion + two fish + bow (Chola+ Pandya+ Chera) symbol of Rajendra which is seen in coins from that period.

Alangadu Dancer

Perhaps the most famous sculpture of this temple is the one above which shows Shiva dancing joyfully in Alangaadu (Banyan Forest). The Forest is indicated by the carvings of trees above Shiva's head. He is performing this dance at the request of Karaikal Ammai (seen in the bottom row to the left of the 4 sculptures) who is singing for him. Uma is watching her husband dance from the side while the Sun, the Moon and all the Devas and Rishis have gathered on the side. A gentle smile is seen on Shiva's face and in contrast you can see Durga dancing at the bottom right behind Shiva. Unfortunately the sculpture broke at some point and a stone support has been provided to the raised leg. This is the one sculpture that I saw most people actually look up and enjoy at the temple. Kudavayil provides more detailed analysis of the posture, Shiva's accessories etc. One thing he mentions is that this is the only place where the Banyan tree is portrayed as part of the dancing Shiva sculpture and if you look closely you can see a bag hanging from the tree which holds the sacred ash.



This is one of my favorite sculptures at the temple and I apologize for my very poor picture. I couldn't get another one as it started to rain soon after. The story here should be familiar to most who know the story about how Ganga came to the earth and how Shiva caught her in his locks. While that is seen in the top left corner, the focus of the sculpture is on Uma's jealousy and how Shiva sensuously tries to stop her from leaving him.

Now I am going to do a quick run through of other sculptures

Hari and Haran together in one form

See if you can tell the differences between Hari and Haran based on the clothes and what they hold in their hands.

Vishnu with his consorts


Shiva bestowing the Chakra to Vishnu - see Vishnu worshipping Shiva on the right side bottom row

Kalakala Moorthy


Brahma with his consorts



Here is one final sculpture 

Sandeeshwar being blessed by Shiva


Unfortunately it was very crowded here so I couldn't get a proper picture of the side sculptures. The entire left side is cut off but you can see something of the right side sculptures - especially the cows and an old man kicking the milk bucket. The left side sculptures would have shown the old man hiding in a tree in the top row and a boy hitting the old man in the bottom row. The story is described in Periyapuranam and I am providing a wikipedia link here. If you know the story then you can appreciate the sculptures even more. I especially love how the sculpture showcases Shiva crowning Sandeeshwar with the garland.

I am going to wrap up now as this has already become a bit too long. Of all the three temples I saw, this one was my favorite. Maybe it was because I had read more about this one than the other two and could appreciate what I was seeing having known the backstory. Also, unlike Darasuram which was just an abundance of riches, this one was a bit more measured and so you could actually spend time with each one. Rajendra had been involved in the construction of the Big Temple too, so I believe he knew exactly what he wanted when he worked on GKC. While paying tribute to his father he managed to forge his own identity and has truly left a monument that is a testament to his prowess as a supreme ruler.