Pallava period (Social and Cultural History)

by S. Krishnamurthy | 2017 | 143,765 words

This study examines the Social and Cultural History of the Pallava period (as gleaned through the Sculptural Art). The Pallavas (6th-9th century A.D.) mainly ruled over the Tondaimandalam (Tondai Nadu) region in the Northern part of Tamil Nadu (South-India). The Pallava dynasty ensured a golden age of architecture, arts, and spirituality and while ...

Vaikakshaka or Chhannavira

An ornament of most intriguing nature is the chhannavira, the exact meaning of which is “protect-warrior” . Scholars like C. Sivaramamurti[1] and K. Krishna Murthy[2] regards that this ornament had a military origin and views that its portrayal in early sculptures retains its literal meaning, as it refers to the vaikakshaka of the warrior, whose torso it protects. Sivaramamurti[3], in his study on Amaravati (Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh) sculptures illustrates soldiers wearing such cross-straps. He also shows the legacy of such cross-straps in the military dress of the Europeans as late as 19th century A.D. Later, it seems to have acquired an ornamental value and came to be known as suvarnna or hema-vaikakshaka, suggesting at the material of its manufacture (i.e. gold) and color. Indeed contemporary literatures like Harshacharita[4] and Kadambari[5], authored by Bana, the court poet of Harshavardhana of the Pushyabhuti dynasty, describes vaikakshaka of cloth, flower-wreath or pearl strings. The difference between a hema-vaikakshaka[6], which is ornamental in nature and a vaikakshaka203 or chhannavira worn by a soldier, could be seen clearly in the sculptures from Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.

Manasara[7], the treatise on Hindu architecture and sculpture, describes a channavira as an ornament which passes over shoulders and hips, crossing and fastening in the middle of the breasts and the back of an image. T. A. Gopinatha Rao[8] refers to it as a double yajnopavita and describes it as “two yajnopavitas thrown one on each shoulder, pass through the middle of the chest, where they are connected with the urassutra or the chest-band, and reach as far below as the pubic region, from which they turn to the back and thence to the shoulders”. Pramod Chandra[9] has interpreted it as “an ornament consisting of two strands, which cross on the torso and pass one over each shoulder”. The antiquity of this ornament in Indian scenario can be traced back to about 2nd –1st century B.C., of the Sunga period in North India. For example the Chulakoka-devata[10] carved on one of the the uprights of the Bharhut stupa railing, can be seen wearing a chhannavira, in the form of pair of thin strands with floral plaques at the crossing as well as at the either ends, on the shoulders and hips. Similarly examples of about the same period can also be found from the Deccan, viz., the female figure and dvarapalaka at Pitalakhora (Aurangabad district, Maharashtra)[11] and the Kharamukha-yaksha at Pauni (Bhandara district, Maharashtra)[12].

In the sculptural art of the Pallava period a chhannavira can be seen worn by not only gods and goddesses like Skanda, Durga and Sri, but also by the kings as can be seen in the various coronation scenes depicted in the historical panels of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. The earliest depiction of this ornament in this period can be seen in the Avanibhajana-pallavesvara-griham at Siyamangalam. Here an image of Srivatsa[13] (fig. 310) seated on a lotus at the centre of the makara-torana spanning the two central pillars of the facade, wear a chhannavira resembling a pair of intersecting ribbon like bands. Fine examples of this ornament in the early Pallava art, can be seen worn by Durga in the Trimurti and Adivaraha cave temples, by Brahmasasta in the Trimurti cave temple and by Sridevi in the Gajalakshmi panel of the Varaha-mandapa and in the Adivaraha-mandapa at Mamallapuram. Sometimes, the vaikakshaka also has a few ornamental tassels hanging from its middle as can be noticed in the panel of Gajalakshmi, carved on the inner side of the prakara wall in the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram.

It is interesting to note that in all the sculptural representations, wherever a chhannavira was shown, yajnopavita is conspicuous by its absence. This is more evident in the depiction of the kings in the panels of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram. Here they are shown wearing a chhannavira only at the time of coronation and in all other cases, it was replaced by a yajnopavita. Such a selective portrayal of this ornament on specific occassion itself indicates its association with chivalry and warfare. Just like the yajnopavita symbolizes the wearer as initialized into education and made them eligible for the performance of religious obligations, a chhannav=ira was perhaps adopted by the Pallava monarchs as a ritualistic or symbolic ornament worn, while getting initiated into the responsibilities of ruling the kingdom. The presence of this ornament on goddess Sri in the Gajalakshmi panel of the Varaha-mandapa in Mamallapuram facilitates her identification as Rajyasri or Rajya-Lakshmi. These cross-bands worn by the goddess and the kings, seems to serve pure ornamental purpose and can be rightly identified as suvarna or hema-vaikakshaka type.

The chhannavira or hema-vaikakshaka worn by the kings during cornonation ceremony as depicted in the historical panels[14] of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram consists of an ornamental floral clasp at the intersection of the two bands, with a tassel hanging from the joint and a pair of similar clasps on the straps near the shoulders (fig. 311).

A different type of chhannavira formed of beads or rudraksha can be seen adorning the image of Brahmasasta (fig. 312) in the Trimurti cave temple at Mamallapuram. Perhaps the intended significance of such a depiction is to convey the meaning that Brahmasasta was both a warrior and a preceptor. A similar, but more ornate variety can be seen worn by him in the Muktesvara temple at Kanchipuram. Here the chhannavira appears with a disc shaped clasp in the centre with alternating drum and circular shaped bead like designs on the string.

Siva (fig. 313) in the guise of a kirata depicted on the wall of a angalaya in the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram is wearing a cross-band, with an additional horizontal band passing through its middle. Even though here the cross-band is worn in the style of a chhannavira, yet in this case, it served the functional purpose of holding the weapons, which were suspended at his back.

Footnotes and references:


C. Sivaramamurti, Amaravati Sculptures in the Chennai Government Museum, Chennai, 1942, Reprint, 1998, p. 115 and 119.


K. Krishna Murthy, “Chhannavira Vaikakshaka in Early Indian Art”; Journal of Andhra Historical Research Society, Vol. 35, pp. 285–288.


Sivaramamurti, op.cit, p. 128, pl. viii, fig. 13 and 33.


Harshacarita -by Bana with the commentary of Sankara, Bombay, 1918, p. 101.


Kadambari -by Bana with the commentaries of Bhanuchandra and Siddhachandra, Bombay, 1912, p. 148.


Sivaramamurti, op.cit, p. 115, pl. viii, fig. 23 and pl. iii, fig. 4b.


Urdhva-kaye cha haradi parsvayor bala-lambanam? | Madhye dama cha lambanam syach channa-viram iti smritam? || (Manasara, l. 35–36)


T. A. Gopinatha Rao, Elements of Hindu Iconography, Madras, 1914, vol. 1, part-1, p. xxxi.


Pramod Chandra, Stone Sculpture in the Allahabad Museum, Poona, 1970, p. 176.


Alexander Cunningham, The Stupa at Bharhut –A Buddhist Monument, London 1869, Varanasi, Reprint 1962, pl. XXIII.


Deshpande, “The Rock-cut caves of Pitalkhora in the Deccan”, in Ancient India No. 15, pls. LVII -B; LX -A and B; LI -A.


S. B. Deo and J. P. Joshi, Pauni Excavations, pl. XXX, no. 1, p. 47.


K. R. Srinivasan, identifies the dwarfs as ganas or yakshas, and suggests that the two figures portrayed in the makaratorana of the niches may represent the two nidhis, viz., Sankha-nidhi and Padma-nidhi (Cava temples of the Pallavas, New Delhi, 1964, p. 91).


Wall no. 1 (lower row), panel no. 5.

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