A European horse rider, Sriperumbudur Temple

On Wednesday, 17th of April, I was at Sriperumbudur. A meeting there got over earlier than scheduled and so I decided to go  to the Adi Kesava Perumal temple, Sriperumbudur. On a blazing hot weekday at 4.30 pm, the vast shrine was deserted and so I had a happy time wandering around.

Though I had read so much about the place this was my first visit. I came to know that there exists a Shiva temple as well, dedicated to Bhutapuriswara. Dr Chithra Madhavan, has written an article about that shrine in the New Indian Express. I should see the temple the next time I go there.

This time I just drank in the beauties of the Adi Kesava Perumal temple, where Ramanuja is given pride of place, this being the town of his birth. The processional icon of the seer here is one of three made in his lifetime. The Perumal here is in standing posture and is a tall idol. The Thayar, who has a sanctum at a lower level than that of Perumal and Ramanuja, goes by the name of Ethirajakulavalli. It must be remembered here that Ethiraja is also a name of Ramanuja and so She has taken his name as part of Hers. Rather curiously, the sanctum for Andal is bigger than that of Thayar.

The place is full of carvings and the ones that border the entrance to the Thayar shrine are small but exquisite. My personal favourite is of a woman standing with the support of a bow while the hunter, whose weapon she is leaning on, removes a thorn from her foot, using his mouth. The statues to the Azhwars that line the vestibule to Perumal’s sanctum are large and in the Vijayanagar/Nayak style.

For that matter, much of the temple is in the Vijayanagar style but not with the artistic refinement you see in Srirangam, Azhagarkoil, Madurai or Kumbhakonam. It is clear that this temple was built when the empire was in decline, post the battle of Talikota. At least that is what I feel.

One of the intriguing features was the number of statues to rearing horsemen. I just gave up counting after a while. Sculpted very much in the Srirangam style they feature Europeans riding well. All of these men have cocked hats, beards and buttoned shirts. Some are seen carrying horns. They are all strangely depicted riding barefoot. Since much of the work pertains to the 16th century, I presume these are Portuguese who, because of their control over the equine trade, were very important to the Vijayanagar rulers. They could also be Muslim mercenaries, several of whom worked for the Vijayanagar Empire just as many Hindus worked for the Sultans of the Deccan.