Gajendra Moksha Of Krishnapuram

Krishnapuram’s history is pregnant with faded memories of a bygone era. This unpretentious village near Kayamkulam was once the abode of the heirs apparent of the Kayamkulam royal house.

Near the old temple of Krishna from which the area got its name, is an old but well-kept palace. Though much smaller in size than Padmanabhapuram palace, this is a much more typical example of Kerala’s architectural style. This palace was constructed in the reign of King Marthanda Varma who annexed Kayamkulam to Thiruvithamcode in 1746 AD.

The double-storeyed palace incorporates the salient features of Kerala’s architectural individuality. The rooms branch out from several courtyards. Dormer windows and narrow passage-ways are among the other characteristic features. Wood is used with abandon as in all other old palaces of Kerala.

This palace also contains one of the largest mural panels in Kerala. The famed Gajendra Moksha mural that measures fourteen feet by eleven feet is on the ground floor of the palace on the west, from where one can walk down to the palace pool.

The Bhagavata describes Gajendra Moksha as one of the most important exploits of Lord Vishnu. A great devotee of Vishnu, King Indradyumna, was cursed by the sage Agastya to be reborn as an elephant. The sage’s words proved true and Indradyumna was reborn as Gajendra, or the king of elephants. One day, as he stepped into a lake to drink his fill, he was caught by a crocodile. Though he fought with all his might to shake it off, the crocodile only tightened itsgrp. The legend goes that Gajendra remained thus for many years. Finally in great despair, he cried out piteously to the Lord to help him. Hearing his entreaties, Vishnu descended expeditiously from heaven on the back of Garuda, his celestial transport.

This is the dramatic moment that has been immortalized in Krishnapuram palace. Garuda’s wings fanned out in flight dominate the panel. This mythical bird with human attributes carries his divine master with great devotion. At the same time, their expressions are a study in contrast. If Garuda’s eyes smoulder with rage at the stubbornness of the crocodile, Vishnu’s countenance is filled with mercy and compassion as he puts an end to the agony of Gajendra by killing the crocodile.

The mural also depicts several celestial beings including rishis, birds, beasts and goblins of the forest hailing the Lord. Adjacent to the main subject, on the top right corner of the panel, is a picture of Vishnu seated in Vaikuntha surrounded by celestials. Constrained by lack of space perhaps, the picture of the crocodile lacks conviction. A line of female figures worshipping Balakrishna form a border panel at the bottom. These female figures, like those of the later paintings of Panayannar Kavu, display a post-Vijayanagara or Nayak influence.

The lines of this wall painting are comparatively weak. But t is noteworthy for its composition, which seems to incorporate the hallmarks of good art. The painting has linear rhythm, a harmony in the choice of colours, a certain proportion and balance in perspective. But what holds our attention more are the angular convergence of the lines of vision of Vishnu, Gajendra, the crocodile, and Garuda. Among the colours used, ochre, red, and blue-green predominate over white, black, green, and red.
Gajendra Moksha was a favourite theme of Indian sculptors and artists. Excellent sculptures on the theme with minor deviations are to be found at Barhhut and Deogarh (Uttar Pradesh) and at the three Pattadakkal temples of Karnataka.

In Kerala, this theme appears as the subject of frescoes in the temples of Karat (Kozhikode), Shornoor, Vaniyankulam (Palakkad), Kidangoor (Kottayam), and Kadumon (Kollam). But as works of art, the wood sculptures at Kaviyoor and Chathankulangara are superior.

The popularity of this theme was probably due to the great emotional appeal of the story. When any devotee in distress turns to the Lord for help, he will surely be rewarded. It also brought home succinctly the fact that faith in God was stronger and greater than physical strength.

[From the publication Murals Of Kerala by M G Shashibhooshan, Dept. Of Public Relations, Kerala State. Reproduced here without permission, please advice if this information may not be carried here.]

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