Chengam Venugopala Parthasarathi Temple
Chengam is a small town some 34 km west of Tiruvannamalai which houses a small but very fine temple dedicated to Venugopala Parthasarathi, a form of Krishna. The temple was built probably towards the end of the 16th or in the early 17th century on the orders of a local chieftain, Dalava Nayaka, whose portrait appears on one of the front mandapa’s pillars.
The ceiling of this very ornate hall was once decorated with paintings depicting the Ramayana, the majority of which, but for those in its central part, have disappeared. Tamil and Telugu labels here and there bear the names of the main characters and/or identify the incidents depicted.
The scenes that have survived illustrate episodes from the Yuddhakanda, beginning with the duel between Lakshmana and Ravana’s son Indrajit, in which the former is wounded and eventually revived by the magical sanjivini herb brought by Hanuman.
What makes this set of paintings particularly interesting is that a number of the illustrated episodes are based on the local tradition rather than on the well-known Valmiki Ramayana. One of these is Ravana’s patala-homa, a special ritual aimed to ensure victory, performed by the Rakshasa king before fighting with Rama. Hanuman, Angada and their troops decide to disrupt the ritual in various ways. Ravana, however, is unmoved. Then Angada enters the palace and drags Ravana’s wife, Mandodari, by the hair and starts beating her. At this point, Ravana has to intervene. He interrupts the sacrifice, thus rendering it void. These incidents are described in the Telugu Ranganatha Ramayana dating of the mid 13th century.
The visual rendering of Rama’s return to Ayodhya on the aerial chariot, the pushpaka vimana, also has some noteworthy details. The divine couple are shown worshipping nine small shrines. There is a legend according to which Rama installed the images of the Navagrahas (the nine planets) in the sea and paid homage to them before crossing over to Lanka to fight against Ravana. This place, Navapashana, near Devipattinam (Ramanathapuram dst.) on the Bay of Bengal is a thriving pilgrimage place.
The series end with a beautifully detailed the Ramapattabhisheka tableau. Rama’s coronation is witnessed by a number of gods, sages, by his allies and his devotees among which is Dalava Nayaka.