a european on tanjore temple?

the Tanjore big temple has its own mysteries and holds it close to its chest.

yes its true

a carving of a face distinctly caucasid in features and european in attire finds a place on the gopuram.
when was it done? and who modelled for it?
we have no clear answer.

local legends say it is a replacement for a sculpture that fell down from the gopuram. the story goes that it is the face of a danishman from tranquebar- an european trading post set up with a long lease from the serfoji dynasty of tanjore in 18th century.
but then there is one event in the 1000 year old history of the temple that could provide possible leads.

around 1800 Colonel William Lambton was entrusted with the job of measuring and mapping british india. Lambton decided to have a mathematical and geographical survey that would cover the whole of india with a network of triangulation. when he was through with his job he would have a meridian arc right up the centre of India from the southern tip as far as the Himalayas.
Precision was rigorously maintained and even today, despite more sophisticated mapping equipment and survey methods, the values arrived at by lambton cannot be disputed. Lambton’s contribution is significant not only for mapping and measuring but also for geography. in his work he measured the arc of the meridian near to Equator and his measurement was used to deriving the ellipsoid of the earth.
When surveying Tanjore district, in 1808 Lambton mentions that the country was so flat that he had difficulty in locating any natural prominence for sighting. He therefore used the gopurams of the temples that dotted almost every village and completed the land survey.

On one occasion, the giant theodolite, which he was using, fell from the top of the Tanjore Big Temple and was badly damaged.
He had to spend months repairing it under a tent pitched in open country, before he could restart his work.” or was he held by the locals till the gopuram was repaired?
did the half ton heavy theodolite instrument damage the temple sculptures and did the replacement sculpture denote this incident where a cheeky sculptor indicated european presence in the temple?
and does the bust have a double cheek like lambton himself?

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10 Comments on “a european on tanjore temple?”

  1. SPS Says:

    This is a very valuable point of view and some Scholar should go into detail atleast even to negative it. Interesting blog. sps

  2. Mouli Says:

    Hi Venkat,

    This is a revelation. I will bet that there are only a few who would have noticed this.
    We will need to delve more into this. And thanks for bringing this to our knowledge.

    Regards,
    Mouli


  3. Hi Mr. Venkat,
    Very good interpretation, I thought it might be some foreigner visited thanjai during the period of RRC. I wonder half a tonne theodolite??!!! I have handled only around 2 kgs, though I had seen the photographs of old theodolites I couldn’t imagine the weight of half a tonne!!!

    Regards,
    Satheesh kumar R

  4. Palaniappan Vairam Says:

    I remember the question why it was easier to do survey in south India than in north India in one of the Landmark quiz!

    Regards,
    Vairam

  5. vijay Says:

    Lovely venkat

    rgds
    vj

  6. sivaparkavi Says:

    Very Nice.. Gentle men…for more information

    sivaparkavi

  7. Kathie Brobeck Says:

    fascinating, thanks for the reference on the Trigonometric Survey

  8. Meena Says:

    Hi, My husband’s a bit of a Rajarajan afficionado and he had this to say: no way was this figure a European! He says it is a Bodhisattva; and that Raja Rajan (from his SE Asian / Sri Lanka connections had a great affinity for Buddhism). The flower motif around the figure is typical for Buddhist iconography. What is seen as the European Bowler hat is in fact a lingam – this must have been to make Saivite a Boddhisattva figure: you can see a small Nandi just below this figure which will confirm the lingam. What we perceive as the collar is the neck ornament; and what we perceive as a shirt is nothing but the smooth finish of the bare body which again was how all Buddist icons were finished. For one, Europeans did not dress like this with a Bowler hat etc in Raja Rajan’s / Thanjavur temple’s time.

  9. injamaven Says:

    Doesn’t look at all Buddhist to me. If it’s a Boddhisatva, where are the earrings? Looks like there were Nandis on both sides, but one’s now missing. Could be a Lingam on the head, but the figure w its crossed hands is just strange.

  10. eramurukan Says:

    This European may be a later addition (if not Victorian, the early Nayak period). Madurai Meenakshi temple has a ‘Coronation of Goddess Meenakshi’ centuries old, with Mahatma Gandhi shown as one of the participants! It so happened when the renovation of the temple took place during the height of the national fervor, a over enthusiast painter morphed a sage in the original painting to become Mahatma!

    Pl check this URL
    http://www.madurai.com/meenakshi.htm


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