Chandragiri on the Tirupati – Bangalore highway has an unusual address for an ASI Museum- Raja Mahal; a Nayaka palace located inside the Chandragiri Fort. The fort It is located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Unusual because down South, fort palaces are hardly converted into museums, yet it is the perfect setting for displaying the excavated remains from the archaeological sites of Yaganti and Chandragiri and also of the bronzes and stone sculptures that are remnants of the artistic splendor of the Vijayanagara period (1336-1565 CE ). The empire at its zenith ruled most of South India and was considered its rule was marked with artistic and cultural advances among many others.
The address was once the palace of Chandragiri Nayakas, those very Nayakas who came to the rescue of Vijayanagar Rayas after the battle at Talikota. Chandragiri became the capital of the Rayas. The fort has been attributed to Shivappa Naik of Yadava Naik dynasty and is more than a 1000 years old. Its most glorious period was under the Vijayanagara rule when it was made the capital of the mighty empire.
The Raja Mahal is architecturally akin to the Lotus Mahal at Hampi. It is a three storied palace crowned with towers in Hindu architectural tradition. Arches are used to bring in a feel of space and lightness. It is constructed with stone, brick, lime and mortar devoid of timber. The floors are supported by massive pillars. The central tower that covers the durbar hall rises through the two floors. The floors are supported by massive pillars while the walls bear fine plaster and stucco decorations. The six tiered pastel hued Raja Mahal, built in Indo – Sarcenic style, set amidst manicured lawns and surrounded by the Chandragiri mountains is an inspired setting to showcase the rich legacy of Vijayanagara art and architecture.
ASI at Chandragiri is a modern day avatar of the Nayakas. It is restoring the glory of regional architecture much like it did of the Vijayanagar empire!
The museum houses rich artefacts found in Andhra Pradesh. The findings displayed are from Gandikota, Yaganti, Chandragiri, Guddimallam, Cuddapah district and Kurnool district. The idea is to showcase the rich regional and material heritage of the area whose history goes back to thousands of years. Although most of the exhibits belong to the 16th and the 17th centuries and are in the artistic Vijayanagara style , yet the subtle local influences are discernible. Walking down the corridors, reading the tags , barely familiar with the sites the mind is suitably challenged and pleased at the same time.
The arched corridors along which the regally robed Rayas once strolled , discussing war strategies with their commanders, now house stone sculptures discovered in the region . Who can tell what secrets these mute stones have heard and hold , sealed , within themselves !
A single file of lovely stone icons salvaged from Gandikota and Renigunta is headed , auspiciously, by a Ganesha from Renigunta
Vishnu in lalitasana. Notice the fine details chiseled with perfection in stone. Pic credit – Jay Shankar
Above : Soma Skanda and Parvati; Below : Details of the upper body and clothes of Parvati. The Vijayanagara rule saw a gradual transition from Chloritic Schist to Granite for sculptures. Though soapstone was still preferred but granite was being increasingly used leading to sublime pieces like the above one. Pics credit – Jay Shankar
The Alwar saints sitting in calm repose.
The highlight of this floor is the Navagraha collection retrieved from the Uma Maheshwara temple at Yaganti
One of the Navagraha to help you understand the depth of sculptural beauty of this region.
Who else but Chandra, the Lord of Chandragiri
The scene stealer of the ground floor or rather of the museum is the Bronze gallery. The Vijayanagara bronzes follow the tradition set by the Chola bronzes. These are panch kula or five metal icons; Copper, tin, zinc, lead and traces of gold and silver were used in casting these icons with most of them being Utsav moortis that were cast using the lost wax process.
The bronzes displayed at the Chandragiri museum belong to the later Vijayanagar period. These are classified as lesser Vijayanagar and closer to later provincial Chola bronzes. Experts feel that these are more stylized, less natural and heavily cold worked as seen in the hatched designs.
But to the untrained, uncritical eyes all look sublime, sensuous and supreme!
Vishnu in his many forms. Pics credit – Jay Shankar
Although the Rayas patronized Vaishnavism, the local Nayakas were Shaivas. At Chandragiri we see this icono-eclecticism
Soma Skanda and Parvati. Pic credit – Jay Shankar
Poet King Krishna Deva Raya with his consorts. Pic credit – Jay Shankar
The reservoir at the base of the hillock collected rain water and made the fort self – sufficient. Today, it is used for pedal boating. There is a light and sound show in the evening that gives a general overview about the history and cultural significance of this place. For both history buffs and art connoisseurs, the corridors and halls of the palace are no less enthralling as they are enlightening and educative.
One long lingering look as you walk out of the palace thanking the ASI DG Mr. Tiwari who gave the timely permission to take photographs and the Senior Conservationist Mr G. Srinivasulu who made the visit memorable.
This too is a teertha, a place of pilgrimage, albeit of a different kind.
All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise. Cover pic credit – Jay Shankar
Author – Aparna Pande Misra
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org