Monday, 22 December 2014

Ayyanars - Village Guardians

We've travelled from Bangalore to Coimbatore frequently  in the past two years. Small villages go by in a flash but I've noticed large masonry forms of fearsome looking men on the outskirts of villages.
These massive figures are the Aiyanar or village gods. They are the guardians of the village.
The Ayyanar figures are flanked by figures of dogs and horses. The horses transport the Ayyanars  around the village at night. This shrine is right beside the six lane highway in Toppur.

To give you an idea of the scale of these Ayyanar figures, you can catch a glimpse of a man between the figure of the horse and the pedestal on which the Ayyanar is seated.
Board on the side of a temple.
Ayyanar shrines are built on the outskirts of the village usually in a small grove of trees.
Each set of Ayyangar statues is unique. They are created by the village potter who also doubles as the officiating priest for the pujas conducted.
These Ayyanar have beards in addition to mustaches and luxuriant hair which grows past their shoulders. Bits of mirror used to highlight the jewellery and other adornments.
Here's one more picture to understand the scale  of these Ayyanar figures.

This Ayyanar shrine is more of a temple. The profile of Karuppasamy is just about discernable in the centre. Behind the statue is draped a piece of cloth and arranged on three sides are a mix of mythical beings and ordinary folk or devotees. Can you spot the snake charmer?
Weathered figures of guardians in need of a lick of paint. 
Women devotees dressed in the manner contemporary women dress, with flowers in their hair carrying offerings of fruit and a pot of water and on the opposite side are larger than life seated figures with swords in one hand wearing clothes and ornaments from another era. Have you noticed the potter has made each of them just a bit different - they have individual facial features. Was that intentional I wonder.
Outside the shrine is this large figure in mid stride carrying a club accompanied by a dog. The elephant being led by a man is the first I've seen. Quite unusual.
The other thing I've noticed is that most Ayyanar shrines are located under or near one or two neem trees. Which begs the question which came first the trees or the shrine? I wonder and why the neem tree?
Most of these shrines are deserted must see if I can visit one when a puja is on or when there are people there worshipping so I can get answers for all the questions I have.