Lost Cities Part 2

Lost Cities, Part 2

Here's the much delayed contiinuation of the previous post about our trip to Thalakadu and Somnathpur.

Our second stop was Somnathpur, a small but beautiful and well preserved 12th century temple. The ruins at Thalakadu were impressive for their antiquity and the fact the entire city was buried under sand for centuires. On the other hand, Somnathpur impresses for its artistic quality: it's graceful proportions and the amazingly detailed sculpture covering the temple inside and out.

This time, we were lucky to hire Mr. Ramakrishna, a very knowledgeable guide who also spoke excellent Englsh.


He explained that the temple is dedicated to the god Vishnu, but it is no longer an active temple since it was attacked by islamic armies from the north of India.

This huge stone inscription near the entrance, written in the old Kannada script, records details of the construction of the temple.


The first thing one notices when entering the temple compound are the building's graceful shape and proportions.


Only as we near the temple do the small and amazingly detailed decorations become visible:


Mr. Ramakrishna explained that there are over 5,000 statues decorating the temple, which took many artisans about 60 years (if I remember correctly) to make. The statues are made of soapstone, which is soft and easy to carve when it is freshly cut, but after drying becomes very hard. Most of the stonework at Thalakadu was granite, which is a very hard stone, this is probably one of the reasons that the sculpture at Somnathpur is much more detailed and sophisticated.

Many of these statues are of Vishnu, but there are also statues of the other two princiipal gods, Shiva and Brahma, and their spouses Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati. After giving us a brief course on how to identify these 6 gods, Mr. Ramakrishna took us around the temple, pointed out many interesting details, and also quizzed us by asking us to identify the gods shown in many of the statues. I'm pleased to say that by a group effort, we correctly identified them all!

Here are some close ups of the statues:

The first is a lion, one of the symbols of Vishnu:


Here is an incarnation of Vishnu with a lion's head and a man's body; he has killed a demon and is pulling out the demon's intestines and wearing them as a necklace:


Our guide explained that the temple also served as a school for the community, and had to teach people about all ascpects of life. Here are some scenes from the Kama Sutra:


A happy, dancing Ganesha:


And finally, Budda, considered by Hindus to be another incarnation of Vishnu:


The inside of the temple is just as impressive. First, there is the main hall, with very detialed carvings on the ceiling, showing banana flowers, etc., and several large columns, all hand made and each having a unique design.


There are three chambers or sanctums, which house statues of the three different incarnations of Vishnu. Although they are made of stone, these statues shlne like metal; Mr. Ramakrishna explained that the priests washed them with coconut oil every day, and because of this, over the ages, the stone becomes shiny.


Unfortunately, the statue of the main god was taken by the British when they controlled India, and is now in the British Museum, so we were unable to see it; in its place, the Archaeological Survey of Inida has placed a statue excavated from the temple grounds.


by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 18:50 | Lost Cities 2
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