AN ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE

The Kalyan Mantapa At The Jalakandheshwarar Temple, Vellore Fort, Tamil Nadu

Seen during a two-hour visit to this place on 18th October 2019 we were completely overwhelmed by the architecture at the Jalakndheshwarar Temple at Vellore Fort as a part of the Heritage Connect by the V- SPARC College of Architecture at VIT Vellore. The treatise in the following pages is a spontaneous outpouring of the many things that we measure the achievement of half a millennium ago. We feel there is much to re-

The use of miniaturised buildings as a recurring motif at the base of columns or top of the shaft of columns is a common detail used generously across the buildings. The grotesque faces might be the stylized gargoyles to let out rainwater.

THE  HISTORICAL  CONTEXT  OF  THE  ARCHITECTURE  :

Built-in the year 1550 by Chinna Bommi Nayaka, a Vijayanagar chieftain, who was controlling the fort had a dream where Lord Shiva asked him to build a temple at that location, the Kalyan Mantapa or marriage hall stands out as an exceptional piece of architecture in the otherwise underplayed ensemble of the Jalakandeshwarar temple. The temple was built during the reign of the Vijayanagaram king Sadasivadeva Maharaja (1540 – 1572 AD). The temple also has the statue of Sri Akhilandeshwari Amma, the consort of Jalakandeswarar. Those were the years just before the Muslim invasions into India reached the south but long after Alauddin Khilji’s invasions of 1399. The profusion of sculpture to embellish architecture in granite in this 17m x 26 m pillared hall is an architectural wonder that stands out in the 92 m x 94 m squarish enclosure for the temple. The generous eaves that project beyond the line of the columns and sculptures are largely intact except for a few breaks in some places surprising longevity despite 470 years of life.

THE SOUTHERN ENTRANCE:

The Gopuram or the western gateway of the temple is obviously the tallest structure rising to above 33 metres in height with its first two storeys built in granite and the upper seven storeys in brick with lime stucco finish consisting of miniaturised temple structures repeated several times over. The last storey is a miniaturised vault typical of the structures all over southern India with seven pinnacles flanked by the lion heads on each end of the vault. The openings at the north and south side are each flanked with guards, typically called Jay-Vijay proportionately reducing in size as the storeys grow smaller upwards. The mammoth entrance doorway that would make way for the royalty on mounted elephants is on axis with the gates of the second enclosure leading to the temple proper. The 372 m long enclosure wall has few openings besides the main gateway in the gopuram and the level of the entrance suggests the rise in the surrounding ground level over the 470 years of existence of the temple. The 8686 sqm enclosure has major structures at the four corners out of which the Kalyan Mandapam occupies the southwest corner. The concrete surfaced ramp, the tarred roads, the mild steel railings and the manicured lawns may not be the best of surfaces and details for presenting the site which needs more period landscape but that could be the subsequent aim for future ASI work.

GLACIS AND A TYPICAL PICTURE OF MILITARY ARCHITECTURE IN INDIA: 

The stainless steel signage of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASl)enlists 26 elements in the enclosure of the 3 km Fort Wall which is a virtual history of the various regimes of Vellore (Vijaynagara, Islamic and British) with about 17 bastions and a broad moat outside with the gateway and bridge at the east in the centre. Typically several state and local government offices are located in the fort and notably, the glacis marked in the plan towards the south­ east, southwest, north-west and northeast of the fort beyond the moat are places which could be easily reached by canon-fire from the fort and slope gently towards the fort. Most notable is the signage in Braille by the ASI at the entrance of the fort through the concrete pavers around it were avoidable.

GLACIS & A WELL PRESERVED LANDSCAPE OF MEDIEVAL MILITARY ARCHITECTURE:

The southeastern fort walls above and the northeastern fort walls below with the moat and the glacis sloping towards the fort walls are seen in the most pristine condition today. It is also amazing the step into the sixteenth century here with no intrusions of modern buildings or services seen anywhere in the picture. Pleasantly the lack of a number of shops and the solitary angry lady selling flowers and offerings to the deities is a delight very unlike the arrays of shops normally seen at popular pilgrimage places.

A SCHEME FOR THE SKY AND HEAVENS:

The relatively plain ceiling has very few and selected motifs and groups of carved stonework. A central feature of a three-tiered disc with 16, 16 and four (a total of 36) birds perched upside down surrounded by two rows of gods from the heavens makes the world of the blessed ceremony complete. Even if the couple to be married has very few or no friends and family the entire universe is virtually present to witness the holy ceremony. This is what makes the architecture and sculpture as an inseparable enterprise subservient to the larger theme of the union of two souls. The practical necessity of a preparations green room has also been provided in the south-western corner.

THE LANDSCAPED AMBULATORY AND ADJOINING  CLOISTERS:

As a unique space the ambulatory has arrays of flowering shrubs with the larger trees like palms and tamarind serving the skyline. Thoughtfully placed benches and aedicules alternating with bulls at the top of the cloistered spaces with well-maintained lawns complete the picture.

HAPPY MOMENTS SINGING GANDHARVAS AND LAKSHMI NARASIMHA:

Apart from the mandatory iconography on the pillars, there are moments that would be typical in a marriage ceremony. A couple in embrace watching a scene, an accomplished vocalist singing, a happy Narasimha with Lakshmi sitting on his lap speak about moments of bliss and enjoyment that are part of a happy occasion.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

The above work was possible due to the generous invitation given and hospitality extended by the Director, Staff and Students of the V-Sparc College of Architecture, Vellore to be able to share our work and visit the Vellore Fort and Jalakandheshwarar Temple on 18 and 19 October 2019. We profusely thank N Devi Prasad, Meenakshi, Kiriti Chandana and all others who were very generous and appreciated the presentations given despite their accreditation visits and engagements. The anonymous architects, craftsmen, labourers and animals who actually produced the architecture in 1550 deserve our complete and unreserved appreciation. Anjali Kalamdani & Poonam Verma Mascerenhas who accompanied me on the visit to the fort and temple shared the appreciation, took pictures and discussed many things that sustained the interest in the subject. The One Plus 6T mobile phone camera on which the photographs were taken and the Microsoft Windows Publisher and the Lenovo Laptop on which the technology is based.

THE PRAYING HANUMAN:

In a rare posture, this Lord Hanuman in profile with hands folded and tail overhead is also the work of an apprentice as the detailing of the hands and feet are mediocre, to say the least.

The above article is a joint effort by Ideasscape & Family Interiors Magazine to promote vocal for local. The content and images have been sourced from Family Interiors Magazine.

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