So even 900 years ago optical illusions were a thing?

Optical illusions are the internet sensation of the moment. We can spend hours looking at the latest brain-twisters on TikTok and Instagram, and some of the best optical illusions rack up thousands of views. But although right now they’re the most popular thing online after Kyle Jenner, they’re hardly a new phenomenon. 

For decades artists and psychologists have played with images that can fool our brains or that can be interpreted in different ways. But none of the optical illusions we had seen so far date back as long ago as this one – which is so old that it’s carved in stone.

Airavatesvara Temple is a Hindu place of worship in Kumbakonam in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s a jewel of the Chola dynasty built close to 900 years ago. And among its stunning 12th century Dravidian architecture and carved ornamentations of chariots and avatars, there’s this beauty that would be at home in our pick of the best animal optical illusions. It shows what appears to be two conjoined creature with one head. But which animal do you see?

(Image credit: KARTY JazZ Wikimedia)

If you focus on the creature on the right, you should see an elephant, while if you cover the body and legs of the elephant, the animal on the left is clearly a bull looking up towards the sky. The bull, Nandi, is the vehicle of the Lord Shiva in the Hindu faith, while Airavat, a mythological white elephant, is the vehicle of Indra, the king of heaven. The video below separates the two creatures in the Airavatesvara Temple optical illusion to show how they would each look alone.

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