The Temple Raga

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As you leave the sprawling complex behind, and prepare to enter the main building of the temple called Vittala, intricately carved structures mesmerize you instantly. Everywhere you look, divine and royal figurines adorn pillars in this Vishnu temple. It is mind-boggling to think that something like this could have been made using just hands and chisels. But don’t worry this is just the beginning of an unforgettable experience.

The Temple of Vittala, the undisputed highlight of the Hampi ruins in Karnataka, is a perfect fusion of spiritual devotion and musical brilliance. Vijaynagar kings and artisans in the 16th century gave birth to intricate sculptural marvels that have now become famous across the world.

This temple is known for something quite extraordinary. You can often find deities and other carved figures portrayed as dancers or musicians, but it is very rare to find structures, where the stone structure themselves make music. As many as 56 pillars, all carved out of a single stone and situated in the Vittala temple’s courtyard, produce seven notes of music when tapped. These musical pillars were constructed to produce sounds of 81 Indian musical instruments.

Their mystery has fascinated people from across the world. During the British Raj, two rulers got two of the pillars broken into halves to figure out if something was hidden inside them. They were unsuccessful of course, because they couldn’t find anything. The severed pillars are still kept inside the temple campus.

Vittala is just one example. Originating from the third Veda, the Samveda, music is an integral part of vedic sanskriti, often associated with divinity. No wonder the South Indian Kings built temples that boast of their own ragas…Today, these temples are important pilgrimage and archaeological sites.

Probably one of the more well-known is the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. Dedicated to goddess Parvati, this temple has a whopping1,000 musical pillars situated inside the complex. It is astonishing to find that each pillar produces a different musical note. The temple is an architectural marvel. Apart from the pillars, the carving on the entire temple is awe-inspiring.

It is not astonishing that today hardly anyone produces the kind of expertise and knowledge that ancient artisans had.

Situated in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli town is another such marvel. Known as the Nellaiappar Temple, this structure dedicated to Lord Shiva, has 161 pillars that produce music. Each carved out of a single piece of stone, stands testimony to the fact that ancient Indians had a deep understanding of the science of sound. Two equally impressive musical pillars adorn the shrine dedicated to Goddess Gandhimathi Ambal inside the same temple complex, which is spread over nearly 14 acres.

Thanumalayan Temple, Adhinathar temple and Dharmapur are a few other temples that have such musical pillars. All of these are situated in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Author: Seema Singh

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