Peroor Temple, near Coimbatore. Third carved pillar in centre aisle
Photographer: Lyon, Edmund David
Medium: Photographic print
Print from an album of 44 albumen prints by Edmund David Lyon. Perur, near the Noyyal river, is 7 kms from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. It is famed for its Pattiswaraswami temple dedicated to Shiva. The temple is said to date originally
from the Chola period and is attributed to Karikala Chola (2nd century AD), but most of it was completed in later centuries. This is one of the Tandavasthalas or Dancehalls of Shiva and has a gold-plated statue of Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. Lyon's 'Notes to Accompany a Series of Photographs Prepared to Illustrate the Ancient Architecture of Southern India' (Marion & Co., London, 1870), edited by James Fergusson, gives the following description of this photograph of a carved pillar: 'This view ...represents Shiva in the hide of an elephant. One foot rests on its head, the tail is seen above, and the legs two on each side. What the legend is which this sculpture represents, is by no means clear, but it frequently occurs in temples of the South of India. It is not apparently known in the North'. The elephant is regarded as a special beast in Asia and features in various myths. Although Lyon was unaware of the legend behind this particular carving, it illustrates Shiva performing his powerful Tandava dance of victory wearing an elephant hide. According to Hindu mythology, when goddess Durga (a fierce form of Parvati, the consort of Shiva) was battling the buffalo-demon Mahishasura, he assumed different forms to avoid annihilation. At one point he took the form of an elephant and in a version of the myth, Shiva made this beast Gajasura dance with him till it fell down dead. Shiva then flayed the demon and wearing his dripping skin performed his terrifying dance, shaking the cosmos.