Monthly Archives: August 2016

Rivers in art : images from India’s kaleidoscopic canvas

A river is a flowing water-body, a symbol of movement, a goddess, a nourisher of life and a harbinger of culture and civilisation. A river finally mingles with the ocean. Every major river flowing through India has been captured in sculpture, painting and literature. Rivers are worshipped and songs sung in their glory; civilisations have sprung on their banks,thrived and evolved.

Indian rivers  originate from the Himalayas and Karakoram range in the north,the Western ghats or Sahyadri in the West, Vindhyas and Satpura in central India. Important rivers in India are Ganga, Yamuna, Chenab,Beas, Kaveri, Godavari, Tungabhadra, Narmada and Tapti to name a few. Saraswati is a mythical river which flows underground and meets Ganga and Yamuna at Sangam, in Allahabad.

Rivers have been spectators of human history and even influenced course of events in history across millennia, all over the world. Rivers are ecosystems and sustain many forms of life.Their depiction in art whether in factual form or as mythical goddess, is fascinating to behold. Rivers are an important part of Indian mythology and folklore.

The Ganga originates in the Gangotri glacier, the Yamuna in Yamunotri glacier in Uttarakhand, north of India. The river Yamuna merges with Ganga at Allahabad. The Brahmaputra originates in Tibet but merges with Ganga and ends in the Bay of Bengal. The Hooghly river is a tributary of Ganga in West Bengal. The Indus river originates in the Tibetan plateau and enters India in Jammu and Kashmir and merges into the Arabian Sea. Chenab river originates in the upper HImalayas in Himachal Pradesh; Jhelum is at tributary of Chenab river. The Beas rises at Himalayas in central Himachal Pradesh and joins Sutlej river in Punjab. Kaveri originates in the Western Ghats and Krishna at Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, also in the Western Ghats. Godavari starts in Maharashtra passing through seven Indian states. Tungabhadra is a large tributary of Krishna in Karnataka; ending in Bay of Bengal. Narmada starts from Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh and ends in Arabian Sea.

Some river depictions in art include the sculptures at Ellora, miniature paintings, watercolours, oils and drawings by various artists at different points of time.

Ellora is the epitome of rock-cut architecture in India. It is to the north west of the city of Aurangabad in present day Maharashtra.Built and carved between 5th and 10th century under patronage of the Rashtrakutas and Yadavas. There are 34 caves in all, out of which 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jaina caves.



 Goddess Ganga at Rameswar Cave, Ellora, Maharashtra.

 By Chinmaya Panda – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

File:Goddess Yamuna. Delhi National Museum ni01-10.jpg

Goddess Yamuna. Gupta period, 5th Century, Ahichchhatra, UP.,National Museum, New Delhi.

By G41rn8 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Goddess Yamuna, seen with an attendant holding a parasol.

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The depictions of Indian rivers in artworks and sculpture are stunning as images and showcase the beautiful partnership between human beings and nature.

A folio from the Isarda Bhagavata Purana painted in 1560-65 from Agra-Delhi area of North India, watercolour and ink, manuscript painting shows Krishna with gopis. The Bhagavata Purana is one of the eighteen great puranas of Hinduism. It lauds devotion or Bhakti to Lord Krishna, incarnation of Vishnu and discusses many subjects including mythology, cosmology,yoga, music , dance and geography. It was probably composed between 6th and 10th century.


Gopis seen bathing in the Yamuna,asking for their garments from Krishna, from the Isarda Bhagavata Purana, 16th century.

By Unknown – Metropolitan Museum, Public Domain,


Gopis ,Radha and Krishna next to the Yamuna during a thunderstorm.

Miniature painting depiction.

By Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain,


Along the Ghats, Mathura ; Yamuna river, Uttar Pradesh

By Edwin Lord Weeks – Image: Museum Associates/LACMA, Public Domain,


On the river, Benaras, 1883

The ghats at Varanasi,Uttar Pradesh

By Edwin Lord Weeks –, Public Domain,


Musi river, tributary of Krishna, Hyderabad

 By Anburey, Sir Thomas (1759-1840) –, Public Domain,


A  drawing of an island on the Narmada river,1813.

By James Forbes (1749–1819) – Oriental Memoirs, Vol. III, by James Forbes, 1813., Public Domain,



Udaipur, woodblock print,1916

By Charles W. Bartlett – Honolulu Academy of Arts, Public Domain,

Raja Ravi Varma is a celebrated artist from Kilimanoor, Travancore(1848 – 1906) who combined European and Indian techniques, who made available lithographs of his works at reasonable prices to people, which made him very popular. His depiction of Hindu deities and episodes from Hindu epics and literature made him legendary, yet very close to the  common man.


Lord Rama crossing the Sarayu river with Sita and brother Lakshmana at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

 By Raja Ravi Varma –, Public Domain,


Looking down over Dharmasala and Beas river,1980

By Alfred Hallett – uploaded on 15 February 2005, en:User:John Hill, GFDL,

References :


Posted by : Soma Ghosh

Bygone splendour : a history of the Adil Shahis of Bijapur

The Adil Shahi kingdom is one of the Deccan Sultanates, one of the five offshoots of the Bahmani kingdom. The kingdom ruled from from 1489 to 1686 A.D with Bijapur as their capital. The Adil Shahis were immigrants from Iran and had brought with them Oriental traditions which reflected in customs and ceremonies,court culture,dress,etiquette,art and architecture.

A  composite culture evolved out of the synthesis with local sensibilities as can be seen even 500 years later from the art,architecture,paintings,jewellery and costume,arms and armour,calligraphy and inscriptions left behind by them. Turko-Iranian/Persian synthesis is evident in their designs and style. The splendour of the Adil Shahis depicts a secular mindset, life of affluence and appreciation for the refined and sophisticated.

The founder of the kingdom was Yousuf Beg. He belonged to the Aq-Quyunlu or white sheep tribe of Diyarbykir in Southern Anatolia(Asia minor). After the death of his father Mahmud Beg of Sawa in Iran,he came to the Deccan being brought by Khwaja Imamuddin who is believed to have sold him as a Georgian slave to the minister Mahmud Khwaja Gawan for the service to the royal bodyguard. Yousuf impressed the Bahmani emperor with his bravery and he rose rapidly to become the governor of Bijapur. Some sources his full name was Yousuf Adil Shah Sawa, while some say Nizam-ul-Mulk procured the title Adil Khan for him, when he was governor of Berar. He soon consolidated his position and acted with authority and autonomy. He was a man of refined taste and culture who invited poets and artists from Persia,Turkey and Rome. He built the Ar-killa and the Faroukh Mahal. Though Yousuf’s authority stated in 1489, he was still loyal to the Bahmani throne. He ruled upto 1510. The dynasty came to be known as Adil Shahi from the title Adil Khan which had been bestowed on Yousuf Beg.

Yousuf’s son Ismail succeeded him with Kamal Khan as regent,because he was a minor.Kamal Khan became ambitious and wanted to oust Ismail; however he was assassinated and Ismail ascended to the throne. Ismail Adil Shah recaptured Raichur from Vijayanagar kingdom in 1519. However hostilities continued for few years. Between the Deccan states too there were hostilities during this time. Ismail was a just ruler, prudent and kind who patronised poets, musicians and was fond of Turkish and Persian. He died in 1535. Ismail Adil Shah built the Champa Mahal in 1521 and established a new town Chandapur in 1520. His son Mallu Adil Khan,an unfit ruler, ruled for six months and was replaced by his younger brother Ibrahim.

Ibrahim Adil Shah I fortified the city of Bijapur and the built the old Jami Masjid. He introduced the Deccani Language in public accounting systems in place of Persian. He also dismissed many afaqis or foreigners from service and appointed people from the Deccan including the Marathas and Habshis. He ended Shia domination and brought Sunnis to power. However his anti-afaqi policy made weakened his kingdom, as the removed personnel joined neighbouring rulers. His reign lasted for over 24 years. During his time Asad Khan was prime minister and commander of his army. Ibrahim Adil Shah I adopted the title of Shah after the death of Kalimullah, Bahmani ruler in 1538. During his reign inter-state hostilities continued and alliances were the order of the day. Bijapur conquered Bidar but lost out Sholapur and Kalyani to Ahmednagar. Bijapur reached upto south of Goa. Ibrahim Adil Shah died in 1557. He established the town of Ibrahimpura and built  a mosque there. He is responsible for the Solah Thami Mahal and built the Ghalib mosques which has 1303 niches for lamps. The fort wall of Raichur was also built by him. He also built a Jami Masjid.


Ibrahim Adil Shah I,Sultan of Bijapur

Public Domain,

He was succeeded by Ali Adil Shah I who reinstated foreigners/afaqis. He aligned his forces with Golconda,Ahmednagar and Bidar. Together they scored victory over Vijayanagara kingdom at the Battle of Talikota, which actually took place at Banighatti in 1565.

Ali Adil Shah I thus ruled from 1557;had no children and so nominated his nephew Ibrahim, son of his brother Tahmasp as his successor. He was assassinated soon after in 1580. During the reign of Ali Adil Shah, diplomatic relations had been established between Mughal emperor Akbar and Bijapur. The city wall of Bijapur was constructed in his reign. He also improved water supply. He built the Gagan Mahal.


 Ali Adil Shah I , Sultan of Bijapur

By Unknown –, Public Domain,

Ibrahim Adil Shah II ascended the throne at the age of nine with Kamil Khan Deccani as regent and Chand Bibi was to educate him. But he was later replaced by Kishwar Khan by Chand Bibi (widow of Ali Adil Shah I). During his time Ahmednagar invaded Bijapur but did not succeed.However owing to the murder of Mustafa Khan,there arose differences between them and Chand Bibi was confined.He grew unpopular due to his acts and Ikhlas Khan became regent. However after many intrigues and conspiracies Dilawar Khan became very powerful, who also established Sunni faith in Bijapur. Dilawar Khan lost to Ahmednagar at Dhaserao in 1591. He left Bijapur and entered the service of Burhan Nizam Shah II. However when he came back to Bijapur, Ibrahim  confined him in the fortress of Satara and assumed charge of the government. He established better equation with the Mughal court and formed matrimonial alliances with them.Bijapur invaded Ahmednagar again and during battle Nizam Shah lost his life; and Bijapur retreated. In 1596 the Mughals invaded Ahmednagar, Chand Bibi requested Ibrahim to help which he extended. However the kingdom could not be saved. But overall Ibrahim Adil Shah was an able and intelligent politician who protected the Deccani kingdoms from Mughal effort to conquer them totally. He also annexed Bidar and ended the Barid Shahi dynasty in 1619. In 1623 an alliance was formed with Mughals against Ahmednagar. However Malik Amber(prime minister fo Ahmednagar Sultanate) formed an alliance with Golconda and won in the battle of Bhaturi. Ibrahim Adil Shah II changed the official religion from Shia to Sunni but was extremely tolerant. He appointed Marathas and Brahmins to various departments.  He was called Jagadguru and a great patron of the arts, architecture,music and painting. Deccan school flourished under him. He built Saat Manzil in 1583 and Anand Mahal in 1589. He also built Nauras Mahal, Dilkhusha palace and Haidar burj in the fort. He died in 1627.


Chand Bibi, regent of Ahmednagar and Bijapur

By India, 18th century Deccan School – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=””>Sotheby’s</a&gt;, Public Domain, <a href=”″></a&gt;


Ibrahim Adil Shah II

By Indischer Maler um 1595 – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

 Muhammad Adil Shah, younger son of Ibrahim ruled between 1627 and 1656, who became ruler at 15.He ruled for 30 years. He maintained friendly relations with Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and made a peace treaty in 1636, received the title of Shah in 1648 and got assurance of security for Bijapur. He extended his domination to Konkan, pune,Dhabul, Mysore,south Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. His reign was peaceful, which witnessed development of painting and poetry. He introduced fresco painting and portraits on walls of Asar Mahal and at Saat Manzil. His mausoleum is at Gol Gumbaz.


Muhammad Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur

By Unknown – Portrait of MUHAMMAD ADIL SHAH (1627-56) of Bijapur. British Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Muhammad Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur 

 By Deccan, India –, Public Domain,

He was succeeded by his son  Ali Adil Shah II. However he could not rule well and lot of strife and disorder followed. Prince Aurangzeb was the Viceroy of the Deccan as per Mughal diktat, at this point of time. He invaded Bijapur with the consent of Shahjahan on the pretext of disorder and lack of an able ruler. The Mughals bribed a number of Adil Shahi officers, entered Bijapur and laid siege to Bidar and Kalyani. However the entire operation was called off and a peace treaty was concluded by which  Ali Adil Shah II has to pay an indemnity to the Mughals and Shah Jahan ceded Bidar and Kalyani. During his reign , Nayaks tried to reclaim their territories and Shivaji acquired areas of Bijapur to form an independent Maratha kingdom. Ali Adil Shah ruled from 1656 – 1672, struggling against the Mughals and the Marathas. Persian and Deccani literature, fine arts flourished in his reign. Two memorable works Gulshan-e-ishq and Alinama were produced during his tenure as Sultan of Bijapur. He built Hussaini Mahal with a mosque, Ali Mahal and Arsh Mahal.He is buried at Ali ka Rauza, Bara Kaman in Bijapur.


Ali Adil Shah II, Sultan of Bijapur

 By Unknown –, Public Domain,

image011.pngAli Adil Shah II, Sultan of Bijapur

By India, Deccan, Bijapur – Sotheby’s, Public Domain,

Sikandar Adil Shah succeeded his father Ali Adil Shah II, but was a minor. Khawas Khan became prime minister and regent. He ruled for three years, but in 1675, the Abyssinian nobleman  Abdul Kazim Buhlul Khan seized power and became prime minister, who promoted his own men who which the Deccani nobles did not like. This led to lot of internal conflict and strife. Anarchy prevailed; Siddi Masud became prime minister followed by Aga Khusrav in 1684. However after many attempts by Sikandar Adil Shah to satisfy the Mughals failed. In 1685, the Mughals laid siege to the fort of Bijapur. After a prolonged effort, Bijapur was occupied and Sikandar Adil Shah surrendered in 1686. He died prematurely while in captivity,at Daulatabad fort. He is buried in the New Market place of Bijapur. Thus ended the Adil Shahi rule.




Asar Mahal, Bijapur

By Akshatha – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur

By Ashwatham at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain,

image023  Ibrahim Rauza,Bijapur

 By Sanyam Bahga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Bara Kaman, Bijapur

By Unknown – Henry Cousens’ book “Guide to the town Beejapor” published in 1889, Public Domain,


Gagan Mahal, Bijapur

By Cousens, Henry –, Public Domain,


Bijapur Fort, Bijapur

By Hinton, Henry –, Public Domain,


 Jami Masjid, Bijapur

 By Cousens, Henry –, Public Domain,


Mehtar Mahal, Bijapur

Public Domain,


Sangeet Mahal, Bijapur

 By Raghu Jorapur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Dish with inscription and solar design from Bijapur, 1600 A.D.

By Daderot – Daderot, CC0,

References :

Nayeem,M.A/The heritage of the Adil Shahis of Bijapur,Hyderabad: Hyderabad Publishers,2008.

 Hyder, Navina Najat and Sardar,Marika/Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700,opulence and fantasy,London : Yale University Press ,2015

Posted by : Soma Ghosh

Fauna in Indian art : depictions through time

Man is as much a part of the earth as is the nature around him. The best of nature exists as rocks, trees and animals. Some animals have played a big role in man’s life. He has captured them in art in sculpture,painting and even on coins as symbolic depictions. Fauna is a term used to represent animals in general. Various representations of fauna can be seen in different works of art, mythological story depictions, Buddhist and Jaina relics and rock shelters from prehistoric times. Mughal emperors have left behind hundreds of animal and bird depictions in miniature paintings for posterity.

In Madhya Pradesh, in present day India, rock shelters in Bhimbetka has paintings which depict the early life,beliefs and thoughts of early human populations. Rock art is found in all five continents of the world, two third of India’s art is found in Madhya Pradesh alone. Rock shelters depict many aspects of society and life of the earlier times they were made in; the hunting scenes,scenes of dancing,types of animals,costumes and tools used etc. Many drawings were pictographic representations and connected to the ecosystem of the group or individuals who made them. The paintings at Bhimbetka are most likely from the mesolithic period. Paintings were often made to appease deities,chase away diseases or to ensure fertility.image001

Animal figures at Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

By Michael Gunther – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Horse and man,  Bhimbetka caves,Madhya Pradesh

By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

At Amaravati in Guntur district ,right of the Krishna river of present day Andhra Pradesh, erstwhile capital of the Satavahana dynasty  from 2nd century B.C to 3rd century A.D., is a stupa site.Founded by an emissary of emperor Ashoka, Amaravati is an important Buddhist centre, identified as Dhanyakataka and a place of origin of Tantric teachings especially Kalchakra. The stupa was originally a simple structure with limestone crossbars and simple carvings.The Satavahanas renovated and embellished it with superb and intricate carvings depicting Lord Buddha’s life and teachings. Acharya Nagarjuna’s efforts have also gone into the construction of the stupa which was also called Deepaladinne, Mahastupa and Mahachaitya. The slabs of the stupa are famous for its Buddhist inscriptions.  The stupa is believed to have stood taller than the Great Stupa at Sanchi. The important remains of the stupa are at The Government Museum, Chennai.


Horse depicted in Amaravati art, Andhra Pradesh

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Gazelles in sculpture, Amaravati art,Andhra Pradesh

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Madhubani paintings, an age old folk art form of Mithila region , in present day Bihar, literally meaning  ‘forest of honey’, portrays images of gods, goddesses and various objects from the animal and plant world. These paintings vibrate with life and hold a very unique place. One of the avatars of Lord Vishnu of the Hindu trinity, as the fish or Matsya avatar, from the Dasavataras or his ten incarnations is depicted in Madhubani art.


Lord Vishnu in a fish, depicting Matsya avatar, Madhubani painting

By – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Hoysala dynasty built  ornate, richly carved grand temples at Halebidu and Belur,  in present day Karnataka in the 12th and 13th centuries. Built on stellate platforms with chloritic schist, a grey-green stone,these temples had high domed towers with many shrines in the temple complex. Temples of the time were educational centres, musical centres and courts of justice. The outside of the temples are covered with sculptures, the lower friezes include animals and plants and scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana.The term Hoysala means ‘a young man fighting a lion’ and their royal emblem depicting this idea is seen at their Chennakesava temple at Belur.


Elephants, Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu, Karnataka

By Pushkar V – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


The royal Hoysala emblem, depicting man and lion, Belur

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Kakatiyas ruled Andhradesa including the areas of Telangana, from Warangal, in present day Telangana during 1150 A.D to 1323 A.D. Great builders, they  built many temples. They also built an impressive fort at Warangal whose ruins can be seen today, depicting beautiful sculptural work. The fort’s four impressive gateways called the Keerthithoranams are grand and has been adopted in the logo of the state of Telangana. Among other sculpture depictions, animal motifs, kirtimukha(gargoyles), floral designs have been used  to enhance the charm of the creations.


Frieze of lions, Kakatiya sculpture, Warangal, Telangana

Pic : Isha Vatsa

The shalabhanjikas,alasa kanyas and madanikas and  are an important idiom in Indian sculpture. A young maiden holding the branch of the sala tree, or holding a mirror, or playing a musical instrument, or as huntress or seen holding a parrot are frequently depicted. The Chennakesava temple at Belur (already mentioned) has around 40 such shalabhanjikas in different moods. Mentionable here is the one with the parrot, ornately carved, with the maiden wearing a serene expression and  in harmony with the bird in her hand.


Madanika holding a parrot, Chennakesava temple, Belur ,Karnataka

By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France – Madanika (Temple de Chennakeshava à Belur, Inde), CC BY 2.0,

The Virabhadra temple at Lepakshi, in Anantapur district of present day Andhra Pradesh is a marvellous example of Vijayanagara art and architecture. It is believed that sage Agastya visited this place on his sojourn to the Vindhya region. The area where Lepakshi is appears to have been under the Mauryas, Satavahanas,Gangas, Chalukyas of Badami,Nolambas and the Chalukyas of Kalyani. The Vijayanagara kings ruled this region between the 14th and 17th centuries. Built by Virupanna, treasurer under King Achyutaraya, the temple is dedicated to Virabhadra.  The temple has a rangamandapa, ardhamandapa, a kalyanamandapa and garbagriha. The temple has beautiful mural paintings on its walls and ceilings. The pillars are ornately done in the temple.The great sculptures of the temple are the Nagalinga and Basavanna, a huge monolithic bull, beautifully carved,15 feet high and 27 feet wide, some distance away from the temple.


Monolithic bull at Lepakshi, Anantapur,Andhra Pradesh

By Vinay332211 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


The Mughal empire in India started in 1526 with emperor Babur, after the decisive First Battle of Panipat. During the 16th,17th and 18th centuries Mughal painting emerged as a combination of Persian, Turkish and Indian styles. It grew and developed  under different emperors. Emperor Akbar commissioned the painting of Persian and Indian epics. Under Emperor Jahangir, the scenes were mostly from his own life and included flowers, animals and birds. Emperor Shahjahan encouraged painting of palace scenes, gardens, lovers and ascetics.


Emperor Babur on a rhino hunt near Peshawar,from the  Baburnama

By Unknown – Painting from the Babur Nama reproduced with the kind permission of the National Museum, New Delhi in pg 127 of Treasures of Natural History (2005) eds A. S. Kothari & B. F. Chhapgar, Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press, Mumbai., Public Domain,


A Mughal tournament, Mughal  painting

By Payāg, Indian style –, Public Domain,

image024Ganjifa playing cards. Mughal style, 19th century.

By Jainamishra – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


References :

Chakravarty, K. K,ed./Rock art of India;New Delhi : Arnold Heinemann,1984.

Thakur,Upendra/Madhubani painting;New Delhi ; Abhinav Publications.

Rao,Amancharla Gopala/Lepakshi;Hyderabad: A.P.Lalit Kala Akademi,1969.

Knox,Robert/Amravati;London: British Museum,1992.

Posted by : Soma Ghosh

Flora in Indian art : depictions in sculpture

Nature has always inspired man and his creations.He has embellished them by things he has seen around him. Flora like flowers,trees,foliage,fruits,lotuses,creepers,honeysuckles and fauna like elephants,horses,camels,bulls,birds like swans,parrots have all been depicted in scenes and decoration on religious shrines, temples and other monuments across India, over centuries. In Buddhist art the bodhi tree, the jambu tree ,the sala and the asoka tree are very significant as they are part of Lord Buddha’s life. He was born in a sala grove under an asoka tree, mostly meditated under jambu trees and attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree.

Sculpture depictions on religious monuments using flora and fauna was as per the relevance of the subject and artistic convention of the time and region. Trees, flowers et al. were used decoratively to enhance the sculptural composition for  a more splendid effect. Palm trees, kalpavrikhshas, some fruit trees like sita-phal(custard apple), coconut,mango and banana have all been used as motifs. Kalpavriksha (wish-fulfilling divine tree)with rectangular fruits is found at Aihole and another one at Ellora datable to 10th century. Floral depictions use the roundel  frequently in sculptural art which has a common motif .

The roundel could have another decorative motif within. A naga is depicted inside the roundel on ceiling sculpture of 8th century Alampur temples in Telangana.

Lotus is the national flower of India and is the most popular motif. It is associated with poornaghata or pot of plenty. Plenty includes health, wealth and a long life. Lotus represents abundance, purity and fullness of life.

Sculptors used various motifs from nature to decorate pillars,ceilings,borders,facades and pilasters.The creeper,honeysuckle,scrolls have all been used as motifs.

The Great Stupa at Sanchi, in the Raisen district of present day Madhya Pradesh was built in 3rd century B.C, contains the relics of Lord Buddha.  It was initially commissioned by Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty. It has a hemispherical brick structure for the relics and four elaborately carved toranas. Floral motifs have been  used to decorate the stupa at various places.image001.jpg

Sculpture at The Great Stupa, Sanchi Madhya Pradesh

By Travel Miles With Smiles – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sculpture at the Great Stupa,Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

By Travel Miles With Smiles – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The Chennakesava temple built by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a commander under Hoysala king, Narasimha III. Built on stellate platform or jagati, it is a trikuta ie. having three shrines dedicated to Kesava, Janardhana and Venugopala, various forms of Lord Vishnu of the Hindu trinity. The shrines are connected to a hall or mantapa by vestibules which have their own towers called Sukanasi. The ceiling of the mantapa is supported by pillars and is ornately decorated with multi-petalled lotuses, banana bud motifs along with snake like knots.


Ceiling of  mantapa at Chennakesava temple,Somnathpura, Karnataka

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Ceiling of  mantapa at Chennakesava temple,Somnathpura, Karnataka

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Amrutheswara temple at Karikere in Chikmagalur district of present day Karnataka was built in 1196 A.D by Amruteswara Dandanayaka, a commander under Hoysala king Veera Ballala II. The temple is a single shrine with a closed mantapa connecting to a larger mantapa. Pillars support the ceiling which has inner ceiling structures in floral designs.  The mantapa walls have decorations inspired by foliage patterns.


Decorations at Amrutheshwara temple, Karikere,Karnataka

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Rani Rupavati mosque at Mirzapur at Ahmedabad in present day Gujarat  was built between 1420 and 1440 A.D during the reign of Ahmed Shah I ,by Mahmud Begada who married Rupavati. The mosque is an amalgam of Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture with a high central arch with three imposing domes connected by a flat roof.Intricately carved foliage and creeper inspired designs can be seen on  minarets at the mosque.


Decorative detail on a minaret at Rani Rupavati’s mosque, Gujarat

By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Adhai din ka jhonpda is a mosque in Ajmer city in present day Rajasthan built between 1192-1199 A.D under orders of Mohammad Ghori, by Qutub-uddin-Aibak ;futher beautified by Iltutmish in 1213 A.D. The structure has amazing Indo-Islamic architecture and shows both Hindu and Jain features. It was built on the remains of a Jaina Sanskrit institution after the original building was partially destroyed. The orders were to build the mosque in two and a half days hence its name. Only a brick screen could be completed in that much time. Another opinion holds the name is to signify the temporariness of human life on earth. The word jhonpda started being used when fakirs gathered there to observe annual death anniversary of their saint-masters.

Designed by Abu Bakr of Herat, the structure has 10 domes and of the total 344 pillars, 70 remain. Arabesque floral and foliate patterns are seen in geometric symmetry in window details, gates,niches and minarets.image013.jpg

Window at Adhai din ka jhonpda, Ajmer, Rajasthan

By Varun Shiv Kapur from New Delhi, India – Window detail, CC BY 2.0,

The Red Fort was the residence of the Mughal emperors and the political centre of the Mughal government. It was constructed by Shahjahan in 1648 in red sandstone, hence its name Lal qila or Red Fort. Among its many structures, Diwan-i-aam is the public audience Hall which the emperor used for address and for state functions. Its columns and arches show amazing craftsmanship. Floral patterns are used profusely to create a brilliant effect with the jaali .


Jaali decoration at the Diwan-i-aam at Red Fort, Delhi

By Royroydeb – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


References :

Suresh, K.M./Temples of Karnataka; Delhi :Agam Kala Prakashan,2003.

Srivastava,A. L./Life in Sanchi sculpture;New Delhi : Abhinav Publications,1983.

Ansari,Amir/A complete book on Mughal architecture history;New Delhi : Cyber Tech Publications,2010.


Posted by : Soma Ghosh


Monolithic in Indian art : Kailasa cave at Ellora

Ellora is located 28 km from Aurangabad in the present day Maharashtra, India. The caves were carved out of the Charanandri Hills between 5th and 10th centuries by the Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasties. Out of the 34 caves 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jaina Caves. Ellora is a UNESCO world heritage site.


Exterior of Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By G41rn8 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Kailasa is  Cave 16 among the Ellora caves, also known as Kailasanatha temple. It is carved out of single rock.  This temple aspires to recall and replicate Kailas Parvata or the abode of Shiva. Kailas is described as the centre of the world and Shiva’s lingam is the navel of the universe. The temple has lot of metaphor, symbolic message and meaning at all levels. The stepped pyramidal tower is thought to be a stairway to heaven.image003

Exterior of Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By Y.Shishido –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Rock-cut architecture predates structural temples.  The caves display well developed architectural design. It required great wealth and access to lot of resources. It was a very labourious and time consuming process to make these temples. The rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram built by King Narasimhavarman I in the seventh century has a feel of timelessness and the monuments look like they have grown out of the earth. They were built around the same time as Kailasa temple. Kailasa temple shows traces of Pallava architecture.


Courtyard view, Kailasa temple, Ellora

By Rashmi.parab – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Ellora’s 34 rock-cut temples and viharas or pillared halls are excavated and sculpted side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff extending to over 2 kilometres. The sculpting took place during mid 8th century under King Krishnaraja I of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, which ruled from Manyakheta of present day Karnataka. About 200,000 tons of rocks were scooped out to sculpt the temple. The Kailasa temple covers an area of 60,000 square feet and the vimana is 90 feet in height and has a large courtyard. The exterior of Kailasa is carved out of a hill and surrounding the temple is narrow passage. The narrow passage has two storeys of halls and galleries. The features of the temple are Dravidian. The sculpting started at the top and at each level detailing was done. The  lions to all cardinal directions and the elephant on the roof of the mandapa  are noteworthy.The vimana of the temple  is pyramidal. The shrine has pillars,pilasters,niches inner rooms, outer rooms, a large lingam carved at its centre. There are carved images of many deities, erotic couples(mithunas). Nataraja is carved on a square panel on the roof of the mandapa. The trenches on either side of the temple serve as a pradakshinapatha (circumbalutory)and passage into the nandimandapa and mukhamandapa. On either side of the nandimandapa are two monolithic pillars dhwajasthambhas which have beautiful sculpture on them. There is a monolithic elephant carved in the courtyard. The whole temple looks as if elephants on the plinth are holding the entire structure aloft. A bridge connects the nandimandapa and the porch of the temple. The vertical surfaces have  mythical animals and kirtimukhas(gargoyles).


Mythical figures, Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By Suresh Bharathan – Own work, all rights released (Public domain), Public Domain,

The gateway to the temple is two-storied which leads to the courtyard, 180 feet long, 160 feet wide and 106 feet deep. The sculptures are at different levels in the courtyard and the main temple. Gajalakhsmi is seen while entering the complex.The monolithic elephants are connected to her. Marriage of Shiva to Parvati, Kala Bhairava are other impressive carvings. The carvings at Ellora is believed to have been done from top to base and looks like a multi-storied mansion to the onlooker.


Lord Shiva, Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By No machine-readable author provided. QuartierLatin1968 assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5,

The Ramayana and Mahabharata figures are also depicted in small niches in the two stories of corridors on three sides of the temple. Shiva-Parvathi seated together on Kailash is another important sculpture with Ravana trying to lift the mountain. Mahisasuramardini is seen on the north wall of the entrance gopuram. Ramayana scenes are depicted on the southern side. Shrines to  mother Goddess are on the southern side and the Lankeswara temple is towards northside. The shrines of river goddesses Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati are a part of the Kailasa  complex, as detached temples.


Ramayana panel, Kailasa Temple,Ellora

By G41rn8 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Sculpture on pillar,Kailasa Temple, Ellora

By Ekta Abhishek Bansal – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,



Posted by : Soma Ghosh



Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi/A handbook of Verul- Ellora Caves, Bombay : D. B Taraporewala and Sons,1929

Sengupta, Arputha Rani/Kailasanatha temple, Delhi : Agam Kala Prakashan,2009.