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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39414027

image003

Horse and man,  Bhimbetka caves,Madhya Pradesh

By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33749834

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.

image005

Horse depicted in Amaravati art, Andhra Pradesh

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22568696

image007

Gazelles in sculpture, Amaravati art,Andhra Pradesh

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22568681

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.

image009

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

By Mithiart.com – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30977311

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.

image013

Elephants, Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu, Karnataka

By Pushkar V – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19050536

image015.jpg

The royal Hoysala emblem, depicting man and lion, Belur

By Dineshkannambadi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4609444

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.

image017

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.

image018

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37213510

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.

image011

Monolithic bull at Lepakshi, Anantapur,Andhra Pradesh

By Vinay332211 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21123320

 

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.

image020.jpg

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3217018

image022

A Mughal tournament, Mughal  painting

By Payāg, Indian style – http://www.iranica.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12223783

image024Ganjifa playing cards. Mughal style, 19th century.

By Jainamishra – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47578537

 

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.

culturalindia.net

Posted by : Soma Ghosh

Advertisements

About historyreads

Book lover, art history buff !
This entry was posted in art history, fauna and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fauna in Indian art : depictions through time

  1. Vinod says:

    Representations of fauna in temples and other places in Indian art is indicative of the inclusive outlook of our culture. ‘Whole world is one family’ is an expression to declare that we coexist with nature and can never do in isolation.
    The Hoysala, Jakarta and Lepakshi works are particularly beautiful.

    Like

  2. another brilliant post! I posted a comment on this post… wonder what happened to that!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s