Rama is regarded as the seventh avatara of Vishnu. Rama is more human comparing to the other incarnations. His life is more earthly and of longer span.
On this wonderful bas-relief from Ramaswamy temple Rama and Sita are depicted on the three sides of the column - western, northen and eastern. Only on the southern side, which symbolizes the death, the image of Rama holding the hand of Sita is missing. Only death can brake this tender and firm grip and disconnect the lifes, once given to each other.
This temple was built by Tanjore king Raghunata Nayak (1600-1634 AD) who was great devotee of Sri Rama. It is said that Govinda Dikshitar, the minister of the king, was in charge for the construction of this temple. There is a story that once the king ordered to dig a tank in Darasuram and the idols of Rama and Sita were found here. Inspired by discovery, the king ordered to his minister Govinda Dikshitar to built three temples of Rama in three places - Kumbakonam, Srirangam and Rama Sethu.
Ramaswami temple is almost in the center of the town and faces north. There is large Raja-gopura, which leads to Mahamandapa, comprising massive columns profusely decorated with sculptures. Each pillar is a master piece of art.
The garbhagriha is built in accordance with Ramapanchayadana Sampradaya. There is unusual setting of the deities within the sanctum. Large black sculptures of Rama and Sita are sitting on the same peeta (pedestal) as during Pattabhishekam ceremony. This temple is the only place where they are installed together on the same pedestal. Bharata and Satrugna are standing on the sides. Bharata is holding a parasol, Satrugna is waving chamara (the fan). Lakshmana is staying at the right side from Rama with anjali hasta, as if waiting for the orders. Hanuman is sitting with veena in his hands as if singing Ramayana.
In front of the main images there are processional images of smaller size made of bronze. The composition of those figures is standard, when Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are standing in center, Hanuman is praying on the side.
Every column of Mahamandapa of the temple is decorated with massive sculptures narrating episodes from Ramayana.
Mahamandapa sculptures of Ramaswami temple represent very interesting amalgamation of Chola, Hoysala and Tanjore Nayak art traditions.
Comparing to small and modest figures of Chola period, elegant and serene in posture and expressions, Nayak sculptures are larger in size. Postures and gestures are more dramatic. Costumes and ornaments are elaborate. Serene and detached mood of Chola sculptures are in contrast with expressed sensuousness of human and even divine figures. Figures of Nayak period are grouped in large-scale compositions, in all three dimensions. The another feature is emphasis given to portraiture when royal and noble patrons and their families are depicted in natural way and installed inside the temple they helped to construct. Yali, a mythical beast adorns columns of every mandapa of the temples of this time.
Hanuman is portrayed with a vina and as will be shown Raghunatha mentions that Hanuman was a giver of School of music (Hanumath amtha). At the from near the entrance is a pillar showing a lady holding the Vina which obviously the Raghuanthendra vina he invented.
The portrait of Raghunatha Nayak can be also found on the comunn in Mahamandapa. This sculpture is in the human size. He worships God with the sward hugged to his chest. The images of his wifes Kalavathy and Senjulakshmamma are also placed opposite. The temple honors are provided for these statures as is done at Mannrgudi temple.
According to (2), Raghunatha Nayak had ruled during the period from 1600 AD to 1645 AD.
According to (3), the king Raghunatha was an adept in fine arts, particularly in dance, drama and literature. Sangita Suddha, a standard treatise on music and Bharata Suddha another such treatise on dance bear witness to his scholarship in there three disciplines. He dedicated his Sangita Suddha to Lord Sri Rama out of a belief that music is intimate to Lord Sri Rama. To enable even common people to understand and learn music and maybe to earn name and fame, he authored Sangita Suddha according to his own writings.
According to (1), the first chapter of Sangitasudha called "Caritra" or the history, igives the circumstances under which, the text came to the composed.
The way in which the "Caritra" chapter is given, it seems that the part of it might have been the composition of Govind Dekshita, the illustrious minister of Raghunatha Nayak. Several other texts speak in glowing terns of Raghunatha's mastery of music and dance and praise him as a master of grammar of music. Raghunatha composed many kavyas and dance dramas like Prabandkas, Parijatapaharana, Valmika Caritra Kavya, Achyutendrabhyudayam, Gajendramoksham, Nala Caritiam, Rukmini Krishna Vivaha Yakshagana. In the field of music he created new raga (Jayanta sena), tala (Ramananda), and melas (Sargita vidya, Raghunatha).
According to (4), Sangita Sudha and the Tanjavuri Andhra Rajula Charitramu give credit to Raghunatha for building the Ramaswamy temple at Kumbakonam. And the former adds that he also built temples for Rama at Rameswaram and Srirangam. The gopura of Lord Kumbhakoneswara (Kumbheswara) at Kumbakonam and a mandapa also are said to have been built by him. The temple was built in commemoration of his victory and of the anointment of Ramaraya as the rightful emperor.
In the North India the earliest literary evidences of identification of Rama as an avatara of Vishnu is found in the work of Kalidasa. In Valmiki Ramayana Rama is portrayed as human hero, but his avatarhood is not clearly identified. Cult of Rama as incarnation of Vishnu became popular only by 11th century AD.
In South India the story of Rama has been known from beginning of the Christian era. Rama is mentioned in Silappadikkaram as avatara of Vishnu. Episodes of Ramayana are often mentioned in the songs of Alwars (for example, the whole section of Periya Thirumoli of Thirumangai is narration of the episodes from Ramayana, Rama is praised in Nalayira Dviyaprabandham as Vishnu avatar as well).
Thus, in the period of 600-900 AD the cult of Rama was in the process of evolution.
In Hayasirsa Pancaratra Rama is described as having four arms and holding Chakra and Shankha, bow and arrow.
In Agni Purana Rama is described as having four arms which carry bow and arrow, sward and conch.
In Visnu Dharmottara it is said that Rama should be endowed with royal features, as also Lakshmana, Sita, Bharata and SAtrugna, but they should not wear the royal krita makuta (the crown).
Vaikhasana Agama gives elaborate description of the images of Rama and his brothers, as well as Sita and Hanuman, and pays down that the shrine of Rama should be built in the south eastern corner of the Vaisnava temple. The description is as follows: Rama may be represented with or without weapons. He should be of asta tala (eight tala) height, dark (shyama) in color and two armed. He should stand in tribhanga posture, carry the arrow in right and the bow in left hand, and should be adorned with all ornaments except krita-makuta. Sita should stand to the right of Rama, should be of golden color, profusely ornamented, should hold lotus in her left hand, right hand should be in dola hasta, left leg should be placed firmly on the ground and right leg should be slightly bent. Lakshmana should stand to the left side of Rama, be of asta (eight) tala height, hold the bow and an arrow. He should be of golden (reddish gold) color and fully ornamented. Lakshmana may also keep hands in anjali hasta. Hanuman should be represented ti the right without ayudha (or with ayudha) in the attitude of pure worship.
The sculptural images of Chola period and later on are following this description. The only exception is the scene of Pattabhisheka, when Rama and Sita are seated on throne, and other brothers, Bharata and Satrugna are present standing to left and right of the throne.
Illustration of the episodes from Ramayana are found in the Gupta temple of Deodarh (6th century AD) and Chalukya temples of Pattadakkal (7th century AD). A large number of sculptures depicting various scenes from Ramayana are found in Dhaulpur (Bharatpur, Rajasthan) and assigned to 10th century AD.
Inscriptions found in Jodhpur also testify popularity of Rama story and existence of the cult of Rama in 11th century AD.
The first images of Rama could be found in Pallava architecture. The figure with four hands holding the bow and arrow is seen on the first tier of Dharmaraja ratha at Mamallapuram, Assigned to the 7th century AD. Till the Vijayanagara period Rama was portrayed with four hands (holding chakra and shankha, the weapons of Vishnu, and bow and arrow, the weapons of earthly king). Another figure is found on the miniature on one of lion pillars in Vaikunta Perumal temple at Kanchi (8th century AD).
In Tamilnadu the first representations of Ramayana episodes are found in early Chola temples. Independent shrines dedicated to Rama appear from the 10th century AD onwards. During the Chola period building of separate shrines for Rama and consecration of the images of Rama. Sita and Lakshmana became regular feature of temple building activities. Some important images of Rama of the Chola period are as follows:
During 800-1300 AD sculptural representations of Ramayana are found in form of small reliefs of early Chola temples at Punjal, Pullamangai, Kandiyur and Kumbakonam.
The late Chola temple of Kampahareswara (Thirubhuvanam) contains bas-relief located on the base of the shrine depicting Ramayana scenes.
Small panel reliefs found in Nageswarar temple of Kumbakonam are more detailed and contain a few selected episodes from Ramayana.
A few panels from Punjal represent three scenes from Ramayana as well.
Depictions of Rama Pattabhishekam are found in the temples of the later period (14-16 cen AD). For example, the relief on the walls of the temple in Thirukkudi, Tirunelvelli district (Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrugna during Pattabhishekam) and relief in Ramaswami temple, Kumbakonam.
Incarnations of Visnu are seen in Vijayanagara shrines like Virupaksha temple and Vitthalaswami temple. Rama played important part in Vijayanagara iconography.
The Hazara Rama temple at Hampi was dedicated to Rama. Here many scenes of Ramayana are depicted.
Incidents from Ramayana are also seen in both the temples of Tadpatri.
In Konthandara temple, the reliefs of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are cut on the natural rock.
In Malayavanta Raghavatha temple on Malayavanta hill there is a natural holder attached to garbhagriha and antarala on which the sculptures of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman are carved.
There were three types of neck ornaments, upagriva, hara and kanmala. The ornament on the upper arm was called keyura. The forearm was adorned with kataka valaya near the wrist, which had to be circular in shape, the girth of the little finger in thickness. Finger rings and earrings were also very popular.
The women of this period wore several ornaments. The belt was called mekhala. Especially the queens wore this mekhala which had a square golden center piece with large precious stone embedded and smaller stones set in star-shaped golden ornaments. Two or three golden girdles hang down to knee level.
Ornaments of men and women were nearly the same.
All the inhabitants of the country, whether high or low, wore golden ornaments, earrings, neck chains, bangles on upper and fore arms, rings on the fingers. Jewels were decorated with pearls and precious stones. Interesting feature is, that nose rings are not seen on the sculptures.
The costume of Vijayanagara and Nayak women were described by a traveler Barbose, who visited the country in 1504. He mentions different types of women, queens, wives of nobles, common women and dancing girls. The women wore a cloth of very fine cotton or silk of pretty color which may be about six cubits long, they gird themselves with part of this cloth from the waist below, and the other end of the cloth they cast over shoulder and the breast, and one arm, and the other should remain uncovered. The costumes of dancing girls were sensuous. They wore nothing above the waist. The limbs below the waist they covered with something like pajama and a skirt over it.
The size and shape of head gears was not uniform. The women generally wore a flattened cap, its top was pressed at the back. Head gears worn by dancing girls was shorter one, with three feather like projections on the sides. A similar cap was worn by the common folk like the floated horn blower. Coiffures of the ladies were elaborate. Their hair were tied in a knot behind the head or gathered at the top.
The foot wear is also seen on some sculptures. It is like thick wooden platform with ties on fingers.