Virgin Mary Dressed in Sari: DAY THREE
Virgin Mary dressed in a sari! Jesus Christ standing on a fully blossomed lotus flanked by peacocks! A wonderful surprise!
On the morning of our third day, we were in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Our first stop was Saint Thomas’ Basilica in Mylapore. This minor basilica was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers over the tomb of Jesus’ apostle, St. Thomas, and rebuilt in 1893 in Neo-Gothic style by British. A beautiful building in which a surprise awaited us. In the apse stood culturally befitting image of Jesus and outdoors an image of Mary. An unexpected pleasure!
After a sumptuous lunch we were driven to the rock-cut monuments of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the shores of Bay of Bengal the monuments were sculpted by Pallava sculptors during 7th to 8th centuries. Originally there stood colossal rock cropping of pink granite.
The rock was carved and scooped from top to bottom and outside in into monolithic structures, life size human figures, divine images, animals and birds, and a structural temple, the Shore temple.
One of the monuments called The Descent of the Ganges, is a bas-relief on a boulder that is the best rock cut bas-relief not seen anywhere else in India. The scene depicts the story of the fall of the River Ganges from the heavens to the parched earth. The river, believe to have supernatural powers, water and nourish the earth reviving old and bringing forth new life.
Shanti, the protagonist of my novel The Immigrant Wife, (forthcoming March 2016) stands in front of the boulder measuring 96x 43 feet with a multiform bas-relief carved all over it; she is awestruck. As an art student she must observe and copy the scene. “She saw a stream of water flowing through the middle of the boulder in a two-foot wide cleft. The water, representing the River Ganges, was collected in a pool below. Behind the rippling water were the relief carvings of half-human and half-serpent naga princes and princesses, reenacting the myth of the earthly descent of the heavenly Ganges. Life-size figures of deer, monkeys, elephants, dwarfs, ascetics, minor gods, royal personages, sages performing austerities and flying couples all populated the surface of the pink granite and converged toward the cleft. “
She copied what she saw using white of the paper and the deepest of black; she left subtle white highlights as her skillfully drawn lines emerged in pencils and charcoal. The mythic characters depicted on the boulder slowly transferred to her drawing pad; but these were her ascetics, Brahmins, gods, heavenly nymphs, elephants, deer, and her monkeys.
There are two worlds, she thought, the three-dimensional world in which I’m grounded, and the world of imagination and creativity that has enabled me to express how I feel about the masterpiece in front of me. Both beautiful! Both magical!”