Devaratham ( A Study of Temple Cars of South India)

Devaratham ( A Study of Temple Cars of South India)

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Dr Susil Pani
VAK Trust

Devaratham ( A Study of Temple Cars of South India)- Dr Susil Pani 

Dr. G.Vijayavenugopal, M.A., M.Litt., Ph.D.

(Formerly Professor and Head, Department of Art History & Aesthetics Madurai

Kamaraj University, Madurai), Researcher, Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, Puducherry


First of all I am extremely happy to notice that a person who is a professional Doctor taking interest in the making and use of temple cars called deva ratham in religious festivals.

I congratulate Dr. Susil Pani, for not only undertaking this laborious work, but successfully completing it.

A significant feature of this work is collecting information regarding the production etc., of temple cars from those who actually produce them. As such this is a work combining technical details and intelligent interpretations. The book consists of thirteen chapters neatly describing the components of temple cars and the process of their production. The introduction traces the origin of temple cars described in ancient authorities like Mayamata and other literary works including the Vedas. Rathas were used by the ancient kings as part oftheir army as well as a vehicle for travel by kings and other nobles. In ancient Tamil literature we get a number of references stating how the chariots were used by the heroes to meet their lady loves. The word tēr "car/chariot" is used in Tamil to refer to both viz, the temple car as well as chariot. The religious significance of this custom is very well described by the author. The author also refers to the varieties of rathas like deva ratha, sangramik ratha, karni ratha etc., Information found in agamas and sāstras are collated and explained here. Then the history of deva ratham is traced and explained.

Chapter II deals with the relationship between temple and ratha. The author postulates an hypothesis that the ratha is in many ways a replica of a devālaya or temple. The components of a temple vimāna is explained first and correspondingly the components of a temple ratha are explained later. Similarly the gopura of a temple and a ratha are compared and contrasted. Then the relation between ratha and human body is explained.

Chapter III - Deals with the structure and classification of the deva rathas. Caṭṭat tēr, Vaira tēr are explained briefly. Then follows the classifications on the basis of wheels, shape, size etc.,

In chapter IV another important topic is dealt with i.e., "measurement" in rathas and vāhanas. The ancient measurement concepts of the Tamil and other Indian people are elaborately described. The concept of kōl in Tamil tradition is very well explained.

Chapter V deals with the rituals connected with rathas. These rituals include both while making the ratha and during the ratha festival. Ratha prathista or consecration of a ratha is explained with the help of references found in works like kumāra tantra, silparatna samhita etc., Sometimes ratha utsava "car festival" is also called rathayātra as in Jagannāth Temple at Puri.

Chapter VI speaks about the arrangements of images in the ratha. This section is really important in understanding the concept of ratha which many people may not know. Many images like vāsuki, ratha mukha " face of ratha" and their significance are all brought out very impressively.

Chapter VII deals with the dancing figures in the ratha. The author rightly points out the importance of the images telling the stories of Rāmayana ,Mahābhāratha and other purāas finding a place temple cars. Herein lays a rich source for not only the students of art history but students of literature as well. This will be also a richsource material for tracing the history of danceIn the following chapters the author takes up individual deities like Siva,Visnu and their various representations in wooden sculptures in the ratha. Wood art historians have a mine of information in the temple rathas. A useful comparative study is also possible by comparing the wooden sculptures with the bronze images and stone sculptures found abundantly in temples and museums.

The author has to be congratulated for taking up this important study. Another laudatory feature of this book is the rich illustrations, diagrams and excellent photos. By the photos the author has proved that he is an excellent photographer too. I hope and trust that this importantcontribution is well received by both laymen and scholars.




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