Princess Kundavai

I wanted to take my appreciation of Tanjore Painting to the next level. I learnt the art by creating gods and have tried to improvise on the second and third one. Next step is I wanted to work on a unique project. Kundavai and Maniam’s illustrationsin Kalki crossed my mind. I talked to my guru, Premalatha aunty in my own style for 20 minutes about Kundavai and she was hooked on to it. For the benefit non-Ponniyin Selvan readers… Kundavai is the elder sister of the king Rajaraja Cholan I who has played various roles like a legal advisor, philanthropist, and a king maker. A legendary wise woman from 10th century to show it takes more brains than beauty to save a small imprint in the colossal books of history. The 5 volumes that I own have 10 illustrations out of which two were Kundavai. I resorted to surfing the net to get a sculpture of Kundavai by Ilayaraja.V and links to repositories of scanned pictures from Kalki by Shiva. These were helpful, but not enough.

Kundavai is a real persona. I wanted authentic fashions for her instead of conjured up ones. For example, saree the traditional wear of Indian women has come to today’s form only by 19th century. Most of the Hindu Goddesses are depicted in recent saree wrapping style after Raja Ravi Varma. Why Hindu Goddesses alone? I have seen even Mother Mary in a neatly tied up saree in Saint Mary’s Basilica, Bangalore. Ancient fashions are tough to find out. Murals of Brihadeeswarar Kovil are dominated by gods and men except for like two or three pictures. Sculptures of goddesses until 12th century is consistently depicted with bare breasts and wearing a sacred thread. Saree is draped around the waist until 5 to 6 inches above the ankles. Bare breasts were considered as a mark of divinity in ancient India whereas clothes symbolized earthly attachments. Tamil literature talks about “kachai” (கச்சை) a cloth covers the breasts and tied at the back for modesty. Kundavai would be styled with a kachai and a saree drape of 10th century. I did not want her to be very sensual and glamorous and hence be covered partially in a transparent dupatta kind of cloth.

Now that basic styling was done, we thought about the posture and background. Making Kundavai in a sitting posture might turn out to look-alike of Hindu Goddesses. 10th century Chola sculptures in standing is made in a triple-bend (tribhanga) pose with a pronounced sway and holds one arm up and another down in a dramatic fashion. Her hair would be done in a raised chignon – conical bun/crown with karandamukuta (mountain like) tiers adorned with flowers and jewels. What could I possibly give her in the hand that is up? Not a sword. She did not participate in any wars – not a physical person. No flowers – too feminine. She’ll be holding a palm leaf (பனை ஓலை), the ancient form of paper. She could be devising strategies for Arulmozhivarman or it could be a special olai from Vanthiyadevan 😉 That would be left to viewer’s interpretation.

All left is the background now. She would be standing in the backdrop of a palace – Palayarai?? Palayarai is all in ruins. There is not even a map of it. It will be pulled out from my figment of imagination of old Chola temple with Chola Architecture pillars. That’s it.

I’ve all these ideas but have no clue how it is going to turn out. Almost everyone in my painting class knows about Kundavai and Rajaraja Cholan now 🙂 Very ambitious project for an amateur 😦 Special mention for the enthusiastic support to Thamba for printing sketches, Bala for calling before he got into the train to Tirupathi with his suggestions [I just talked about Maniam’s illustrations of Kundavai and before I could complete the sentence, he asked me, “you wanted to do it Tanjore style?” 🙂 ], and Cholargal book by K. A.Nilakanta Sastri.

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3 Responses to Princess Kundavai

  1. Let me see if we can get anything from library for any old depection of the women!

  2. Imagination says:

    Cool…I can't wait to see this painting too…
    Your planning and research for the painting is really good. I'm sure it would be awesome…

  3. Nandri, makkale 🙂

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