Trichy Srirangam Temple Pillars

Trichy Srirangam Temple Pillars
TA2006HR, 27 x 32 inch
Photographer: Samuel Bourne, Circa 1869

In 1869 and early 1870, Samuel Bourne travelled to Southern India and took many images of the grand Srirangam temple complex near the city of Tirucherapalli. Superlatives abound to describe this temple: the most revered of 108 shrines of Lord Vishnu, the tallest temple tower and the largest temple complex in India. The grand hall features 1,000 granite pillars ornately sculpted. This part of the temple was constructed in the Vijayanagara period (1336–1565).

The vintage photo captures the exquisite carvings on three of the pillars. They are rich in symbolism. In the foreground, a mythical creature is depicted with a cat-like body and the head of a lion. It symbolizes the primitive forces of nature and often features on temple columns. The equivalent in Medieval church and cathedral architecture would be the gargoyle. The wild horse with its tongue out rises up in a frenzy while the rider looks sublimely towards the heavens and dispassionately lancing. A lotus is portrayed above his head. The middle pillar also features a wild horse but this time with a child shrouded below its hooves by a womb-like structure. The child is being borne on the shoulders of a man.

About the photographer: Born in 1834 in England, Samuel Bourne is widely regarded as the most influential topographical and architectural photographer to portray India in the 19th century, when photography was still in its infancy. There was a public mania at the time about this new exciting way of portraying reality and Bourne was a prime exponent of the new art with an eye for the picturesque and grand. He spent seven years photographing in India from 1863 to 1870. Part explorer, part photographer, Bourne journeyed into the Himalayan Mountains three times from 1863-1866 becoming the first person to photograph at such high altitudes. He worked with albumen prints made from wet plate collodion negatives and his negatives were carefully numbered. Samuel Bourne, who left India in 1870 and died in England in 1912, has only been recognized as a great photographer of India in the last few decades. Certain images from his travels in India have become iconic and collector’s items. Self Enquiry Life Fellowship has an extensive collection of Bourne’s images of India in its archives.

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