Friday, 21 October 2016

The Mysterious European Statue In Brihadeeswara Temple


Please view the video above before reading further. Turn on the audio. You can also click on Ancient Indian Sculptures show International Connections - Brihadeeswarar Temple 




There is a sculpture of a European man carved on the gopuram (tower)  of Thanjavur's Brihadeeswara temple. Some people believe that king Rajaraja Chola had international contact with Europe and this is why there is such sculpture on the temple. I don't know if Rajaraja had any European contact but I doubt this was made by the Cholas.


If you look at the sculpture it is flanked by a pair of female attendants. Usually, female attendants are used for female deities and male attendants for male deities. So it is quite odd that the Cholas considered to use female attendants for a male European figure. This is the first hint we get indicating that the European image was not made by the Chola sculptors of the 11th century AD. 

It was perhaps done under the orders of a British officer who cared less about temple sculpture rules.

We can get some answer if we look at British records. There is something written by Clements R.Markham in his book A Memoir on the Indian Surveys which was published in 1871. He mentioned about an accident which happened at the Brihadeeswarar temple involving Colonel William Lambton.



The Colonel who was back then a Major, was given the task to measure and map British India. Measurement was done using an instrument called the theodolite.

The theodolite used by Lambton weighed over 1000 pounds. It was made by William Cary for the Great Survey of India. Lambton brought it to India in 1802 when he was a Captain.


The 3 foot theodolite made by William Cary for the Great Survey of India in 1802. It was later revised by Barrow, photographed on the gallery during the exhibition 'Science in India' at the Science Museum, London in 1982. Weighing over 1000 pounds, the theodolite was taken to India by Captain Lambton in 1802 and later used by Colonel Sir George Everest (1790-1866), Surveyor General of India, in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (1830-1843). The equipment's extreme solidity was needed to ensure that the readings were of the highest accuracy. In 1849, survey officer James Nicolson also used this theodolite to establish that a peak on Mount Everest, then known as peak 'b', was the highest in the world. In 1865, the mountain was named after George Everest by the Royal Geographical Society as a tribute to his pioneering work in mapping India. This tribute came in spite of Everest's own belief that mountains should be known by their local names. Source: Science Museum Photo Studio

Lambton made some workers to carry the theodolite up the Brihadeeswara gopuram. This was done so that he can get better readings. The theodolite broke away and fell to the ground dislodging a statue on the wall as it plunged down. 

This means the original statue was broken and the wall was damaged. Lambton probably then asked a local sculptor to repair the damaged portion of the wall with the image of himself. Even the hat on this image does not look like it belonged to the 11th century AD.

So now you know that the story in the video above about the European connection is after all a myth created in recent times.




Lambton. Photo: Wikimedia Commons