Wonderments of Yalis at Iraivan Temple Carved to last a 1000 years

Dragons, Phoenixes, and Yalis (pronounced Yāḷi (Tamil: யாளி [jaːɭi]) share the common illusive wonderment question. Did they really existed at one time? Unlike the Wooly Mammoth and Dinosaurs, the myth and mysterious existence of Yalis will always stoke curiosity and imagination.

In its iconography and image the yali has a catlike graceful body, but the head of a lion with tusks of an elephant (gaja) and tail of a serpent. Images or icons have been found on the entrance walls of the temples, and the graceful mythical lion is believed to protect and guard the temples and ways leading to the temple. - Wikipedia

Yali Pillar

Throughout India, Sri Lanka, and anywhere a South Indian temple exist and being built; the ferocious Yali is embodied as the gate-keeper, usually carved onto temple pillars or landing doorways.

Yali on Temple pillar at the Keerimalai Naguleswaram Temple in Sri Lanka

Though prominently present, the Yalis may often get overlooked as just another structure or a stand-alone symbolism at the Temple. Whether shaped in cement, carved on soft stone or painstakingly sculpted onto the dense granite, Yalis are here to stay throughout the twenty-first century and beyond.

The creation of the all-granite, Iraivan Temple in Kauai incorporates the 16th century Hindu Temple architecture, by including the Yali's presence in the most exquisite way. Iraivan means “He who is worshiped,” is one of the oldest words for God in the ancient Tamil language.

Two Yali pillars already exist and stand tall at the entrance of Iraivan Temple. The second set of smaller Maha Yalis, already installed, flank the entry stairway step into the main sanctum.

Yali Pillars are special elaborate columns, created when the span of a temple is extensive.

"Images or icons have been found on the entrance walls of the temple, and the graceful mythical lion is believe to protect and guard the temples and ways leading to the temple." - Ar. Meenal Kumar (Research Article) - Pillars [Stambha] - The supportive Elements of Hindu Temples.

The Maha Yali also known as Yesti is being created in a makeshift tent in front of Iraivan Temple.

When the Maha Yali or Maha Yesti gets finalized, it will frame both sides of the base stairways leading up to the Temple's Nandi Mandapam, where the Temple’s Kodimaran (flagpole) sits.

Miracle tools: Iraivan Temple’s carbide tip carving chisels on display. The initial set of iron chisel used at the carving site in Bangalore is made out of Iron. They were used for various styles in cutting, carving, and finishing granite stones.
Marking the carving lines
After the carving takes shape, the senior most Silpi (craftsman) draws additional carving lines to define the figure more into shape.
Intricate details rendered slowly, brings the Temple guardian creature alive-like.
Sharp and keen Temple architectural design
Shaping the Maha Yali one chip at a time
Adaikalam Udaiyappan, from Karaikudi, India is one of the members of the fifth working team onsite in Kauai. The team works on incredibly intricate works and fine tuning adjoining surfaces to achieve a high level of workmanship throughout the structure. Adaikalam has spent half of his life on this ancient stone carving trade.
High-caliber craftsmanship in motion
Shade and Shadow
Descriptions of and references to yalis are very old, but they became prominent in south Indian sculpture in the 16th century. - Wikipedia

It takes pure dedication to devote over 25 years of one's life on a single project. Murthi Gangayalliah qualifies as that person. He is yet another first generation stone carver onsite in Kauai. He began his journey in this noble trade since 1995 as a helper working in the Iron Forge. There, he assisted and mastered the chisel sharpening techniques and worked diligently in various capacity with very little supervison.

Pulverizing the granite, one molecule at a time

Having the keen interest in learning the trade and to be sculptor, he observed and then mastered the stone carving techniques within three year. That earned him the confidence and trust of Jiva Rajasankara, the key figure in the construction of Iraivan, and site Manager in Bangalore. Jiva is also the Founder of Artha Enterprises.

Gnanavel Marimuthu is a highly skilled sculptor and excellent ornamental carver. He has a knack for learning to expand his skills into more challenging intricate works including markings of drawings.
Coconut husk is used to remove granite dust from carving
Siva bhuta ganas (inner world helper dwarfs) hold to support the Yalis stairways stone.
Back stroke precision
Aiming right in refinement. “No hurry. No worry. No sorry.” - Yogaswami

Karuppaiya Magali is a highly skilled sculptor of the ancient silpi tradition with 45 years of steadfast experience. His vast knowledge complements the variety of stone works in a project including the assembly of large delicate carved stones to its finish form.

Ancient architecture in its finest flow
Picturesque design
Expressive motif
One end of the Yali stairway, next to the landing.
Drawing and carving in granite is not an easy feat. It takes attention, concentration and some form meditation to see and create the end result.
Slowly defining the mythical creature into form. The Maha Yali will be the guardians of the temple warding off external energies of the outside world.
Satguru Bodhinatha with members of the fifth team onsite at Iraivan Temple. From left: Murthi, Manikandan, site Sthapathi (chief), Adaikalam, Gnanavel, Murugesan, Karupaiah and Chinnu the general helper and outstanding cook for the crew

Meticulously carved in granite, Yalis will remain ‘alive’ for yet another 1000 years together with the Temple’s white granite edifice of the pacific.

Created By
Raj Manickam


©️2020 Raj Manickam | ©️ Himalayan Academy | ©️At. Meenal Kumar (Research Article) | Wikipedia - Italicized Source | Temple Project Details: Artha Enterprises