So even 900 years ago optical illusions still existed?

Optical illusions are the internet sensation of the moment. We can spend hours watching the latest brain teasers on TikTok and Instagram, and some of the best optical illusions generate thousands of views. But while they’re the most popular online right now 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’ve seen so far dates back as long as this one — one so old it’s carved in stone.

Airavatesvara Temple is a Hindu place of worship in Kumbakonam in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is a jewel of the Chola dynasty, built almost 900 years ago. And amongst the stunning 12th-century Dravidian architecture and carved decorations of chariots and avatars, there’s this beauty that would be at home in our pick of the best optical illusions for animals. It shows what looks like two merged creatures with one head. But which animal do you see?

optical illusion with an elephant and bull carved in stone

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

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