Elegantly carved historic (puranic) stories are common in Tamil Nadu temples. The stories of Kannapa Nayanar are very easy to spot among the other puranic stories. This is probably the only depiction that most of us could make out, even without the help of someone. The story of Kannapa Nayanar (incident that happened in Kalahasthi) has been carved out delicately in the outer wall of the Thanjavur Periya Kovil and this blog post describes the story carved out in detail, as narrated to us by Sasi from “Walkwithus” during our visit to Thanjavur.
The Kannapar story carved in the Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple reveals the passion of a king to narrate this story to future generations with the most intricate details. The video below shows Sasidharan explaining us the stone carvings of Kannapa Nayanar in Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple.
The first part of the story carved in Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple will show a temple set up in the midst of the forest (few trees) and the Kannapar offering prayers to the Shiva Linga. A sharp eye cannot escape the most intricate details in this figure – A typical Chola ekathala vimana temple structure, the balipeedam, nandi, the front facing tree with a lizard, monkey and owl alongside the leaves, thin depiction of another tree behind the temple to show its set up in the middle of the forest, Kannapar with his hair tied in a big kondai offering prayers to the Shiva Linga inside the temple. As the legend goes, Kannapar was an ordinary hunter and he had accidently come across a Shiva temple while he was hunting in a forest. The depiction in Thanjavur temple shows the surprised and delighted face of Kannapar signifying his happiness after coming across a temple of Lord Shiva in the middle of a forest.
Sasi added that Kannapar started offering the animals hunt down by him to the lord on a daily basis as a mark of his devotion towards him. The second stone carving of this story in Thanjavur Brihadeeswara shows Kannapar offering the உடும்பு (wild lizard) that was hunt down by him to the Shiva linga. Also, notice the hunter’s dog, the flower garland of Kannapar adorning the Shiva linga carved out so delicately. As per Sasi, the temple priest who used to visit the temple to perform rituals used to get shocked with the flesh lying in the temple during his entry. So, he decided to come early one day and hide behind the tree to see what has been happening in temple everyday during his absence.
As per the legend of Kannapar, he would offer his eyes to a bledding shiva linga. The third and the last portion of the Kannapar story in Thanjavur Brihadeeswara shows that a hand appears from Shiva Linga to stop him as soon as Kannapar gets ready to remove his eye with an arrow . The third portion is a pictorial depiction to the fact that the mere action of Kannapar to offer his eyes to Shiva Linga without any second thought, moved the Lord and a hand emerged out of Shiva Linga to stop him and that a person need not necessarily remove his eyes to show his deditation towards the Lord. A closer look at this figure will also reveal the temple priest hiding behind the tree and watching the incident.
As Sasi explains in the video shown in this blog post, these carvings in Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple clearly convey the fact that the story of Kannapar till the 10th century revolves around the fact that Lord Shiva was moved by the show of devotion when Kannapar got ready to remove the left eye. The later forms of the Kannapar story may possibly be an exaggeration to this version. Thanjavur Brihadeeswara has hundreds of such puranic stories carved all over its walls and even an entire day will not suffice to study the intricate carvings in every portion of Thanjavur Brihadeeswara temple. This temple is a legacy left behind by the Cholas, and it’s in our hands to retain this glory and maintain this temple for all the future generations.
Reaching Thanjavur Big temple:-
Brihadeeswara temple is about 320 kms from Chennai. Thanjavur is well connected by road and train with ample buses/trains from Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Nearest airport is Trichy, which is 70 kms from Thanjavur.
Temple darshan timings: 6 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm.
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