Wheels in art : some chariot images


Chariots have been an important aspect of warfare and have been used from very remote times. The Rigveda cites chariots and so does the Atharvaveda. Initially the fighter and charioteer used to be the same. Later the Brahmana texts mention the rathakaras ie. the chariot-keepers. The great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana mention charioteers accompanying the kings during combat. The most well known charioteer was Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Kurukshetra war of the Mahabharata. Charioteers needed  certain skills and were referred to by various names like the sarathi,rathin, suta etc. His duty was to manage and lead a chariot during war and obey the warrior on the chariot. He needed amazing skill in being able to advance quickly, turning and wheeling quickly and making circles.

Chanakya’s Arthashastra mentions a special officer to supervise the chariots and train the warriors. Chariots were also drawn by ox,mule and asses in case horses were not available. Chariots were of different types. Chariots which were used during war, chariots for training, chariots in daily life for conveyance etc. Chariots could be two-wheeled,four wheeled and eight wheeled. Chariots had their banners, flag-pole with dhwaja or ketu having symbols of animals, trees, flowers etc. The chariots had umbrellas and fans too. The use of chariots declined by the 7th century A.D as evident from the literary sources; not mentioning the chariot any more.

Some chariot depictions from Indian and Thai art are showcased ; the Great Stupa at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, temple built by the majestic Cholas in Tamil Nadu, the grand Surya Deul built by a Eastern Ganga dynasty king at Konark, Odisha, paintings on paper from Rajasthan,mural from Bangkok etc.

The Great Stupa at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh was originally commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. and more structures were added to it over time. The stupa is a hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha.The stupa has four toranas. Scenes from Lord  Buddha’s life and Jataka tales are carved on the toranas and the stupa complex.


Carvings on the west pillar (chariot can be seen) of the North torana or gateway at Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India.

By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

Subhadra is a character from Mahabharata who is the sister of Lord Krishna and Balarama. She was suggested as bride to Duryadhona by Balarama but Krishna wanted her to choose Arjuna. Being unsure that she would choose Arjuna, Lord Krishna urges Arjuna to kidnap her. Balarama though annoyed initially , later agrees and the marriage is conducted, as per the legend.


Subhadra, half sister of Lord Krishna driving away in a chariot with Arjuna,lithograph, India.

By Original uploader was Sridhar1000 at te.wikipedia – Transferred from te.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:Fatbuu., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18636394

The Kurukshetra war is a part of the Indian epic Mahabharata, between  two groups who are cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas over agame of dice, for the throne of Hastinapura. They belonged to the Kuru clan. The war is said  to have lasted for eighteen days. The Mahabharata is dated to probably  around 3000 BC. The use of the chariot is evident from the art works created about the war. Lord Krishna was the charioteer to Arjuna; the Bhagavadgita being the advice given to him on the battlefield.


Painting depicting the Kurukshetra war from the Mahabharata. Arjuna who is one of the Pandavas is in the chariot behind Krishna facing Karna, commander of the Kaurava army, painting from Kashmir or  Himachal Pradesh, India.

By Artist/maker unknown, India, Himachal Pradesh or Jammu and Kashmir – http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/70158.html, Public Domain,



Bundi or Kota opaque watercolour and gold on paper painting, depicting the battle scene between Arjuna and Karna from the Mahabharata, 18th century, Rajasthan, India.

By Indian, Rajasthani, about 1740 –

http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/obverse-the-slaying-of-the-demon-pralamba-reverse-the-fight-between-arjuna-and-karna-149742, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18851070

Dronacharya or Guru Drona was teacher to the Kauravas and Pandavas; son of sage Bharadwaja who trained them in advanced military arts. His favourite pupil was Arjuna, who was most dedicated and talented; to him he taught the use of special astras or weapons.


Illustration from a book ,Dronacharya riding in a chariot, scene from the Mahabharata, India.

By Ramanarayanadatta Sastri – http://archive.org/details/mahabharata04ramauoft, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21170710


Illustration from a manuscript of the Kurukshetra war from the Mahabharata, probably 18th century, India.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=619546


Gods look down upon the battle of Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and Kauravas, painting,16th century, India.

By Unknown – http://www.warfare.altervista.org/Moghul/16thC/Arjuna_vs_Kauravas-Bhagavad_Gita-large.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18636412

The Ramayana, a great epic of India written by Sage Valmiki which narrates the life of Lord Rama. The epic is divided into seven books called kandas. The characters of Rama, Sita, Lakhman, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are central to the story. There are versions of Ramayana in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and also Buddhist and Jaina adaptations.


Hanuman , scene from the Ramakien(Thai Ramayana) depicted on a mural at Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, 1800, Thailand, Bangkok.

By Jpatokal – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=662542

The Rigvedic Gods Surya and Agni ride in chariots. Chariots have been depicted and documented not only in literature but alos on stupas; example as in Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh. Chariots used by the Magadha king Ajatashatru had blades extending horizontally from each end of the axle during 475 B.C . Chariots were called ratha in India and can be seen in paintings and temples across India.

As mentioned ratha or chariots were of different types; the sangramik ratha for wars,deva ratha for the Gods, the Karni ratha for queens, the Vainayik ratha for training, the pushya ratha for royal processions and the kreeda ratha for races and competitions.

The temple at Konark; the sun temple or Surya Deul was built by the Eastern Ganga dynasty by King Narasimhadeva I in the thirteenth century. The entire temple complex is in the shape of a chariot  of the sun God Surya, having 24 carved wheels, being pulled by seven horses. The temple is known for its exquisite carvings.


Sun temple at Konark, in the form of a chariot, Odisha, India

By Anshika42 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21548009


One of the wheels of the Sun temple, Konark, Odisha

By Asitmonty, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31965266

The Cholas have built great temples like the ones at Thanjavur, Gangaikonda, Cholapuram and Darasuram between the 10th and 12th centuries. Darasuram near Kumbakonam at Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu has the Airavateswarara temple built by Rajaraja Chola II. As per legend Indra’s elephant Airavata worshipped Lord Shiva at this temple. Yama is also said to  have worshipped the deity Airavateswarar who cured him of a curse of a sage. The temple is rich in art; the main mandapa is called Raja Gambira as the elephant draws the chariot. Other beautiful carvings include a  ceiling carving of Shiva and Parvathi inside an open lotus and dance postures of Bharatanatyam.


An exquisite chariot carved onto the mandapa of Airavateswarar temple,Darasuram, 12th century, Tamil Nadu, India.

By User:Ravichandar84, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26052023


References :



Posted by : Soma Ghosh






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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s