Monthly Archives: November 2016

Palanquins in art : depictions from India

The word palanquin is derived from the Sanskrit word Palanka meaning couch; and a palanquin is also called palki. A palki is a covered sedan chair on four poles and carried by two four or more men. Referred to as litter, palkis have been in use since ancient times and have been mentioned in the Indian epics like the Ramayana (c 250 B.C). A beautifully decorated covered cart; it sheltered its occupant from the heat and dust, sometimes richly plated with gold and silver, the covering and cushions inside made of fine silk. In ancient times, a chaudol was a palki carried by four persons, its four sides covered with khus, roots of the Indian poppy plant.

The persons  who carry a palanquin are called kahaar. Travelling by palanquin has always been costly and so the emperors,nobles and some travellers have mostly used this mode of conveyance. The dhooly,dhoolie or doli of the Indian bride was a cot suspended by the four corners from a bamboo pole carried by two or four men. Smaller palkis could be open chairs carried by two or more carriers. Spacious ones were mostly used by royalty during ancient times for longer travel and could carry the necessities for the journey. Palkis are still used  but only at ceremonies and in arduous mountain zones.

The palki was well-used in India during Mughal and colonial times. The best palkis were made at Thatta, Sind. (now in Pakistan)


Scene from the Ramayana, Lakshmana and Sugreeva conversing in a palanquin carried by four monkeys, Ink and opaque watercolour on  paper, 1710-25.


Palanquin depiction : Gopuram at Amritaghateswarar-Abirami temple at Thirukkadaiyur, Tamil Nadu. The gopuram depicts legends associated with the temple and is made of mortar. The temple has been in existence since the Chola time of 10th -11th century in South India.

By Portvp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah on a palanquin being carried by women, painting, 1735, from the collection of Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Ahmedabad.

By Anonymous (scan from book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Emperor Muhammad Shah with falcon in his garden at sunset in a palanquin, painting,1730,from Metmuseum, New York.

By Chitarman II [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commonsimage002.png

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb on a palanquin, Garhwal painting, watercolour on paper,1775.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Palanquin image, engraving by J Shury.

By, CC BY 4.0,


Aquatint with a palanquin by J Wells.

By, CC BY 4.0,


Aquatint of a scene with buildings, people and a palanquin in Calcutta (now Kolkata), published by Francis Jukes in 1795, a part of King George III’s Topographical collection, Based on an original drawing made for James Steuart, who was head of a firm of coach-makers. The premises of his farm is seen here, located behind the Old Court House where they remained from 1783 to 1907.The Old Court House was demolished in 1792 and the Old Court House Street could get a clear view. The roads were not very suitable for coaches and the company made palanquins and elephant harnesses. Most likely Francois Solvyns, the artist from Antwerp who was in Calcutta from 1791 might have made the original drawing as he is known to have painted palanquins for Stueart and Company.

By Francis Jukes –, Public Domain,


 A scene from Srirangapatna during Tipu Sultan’s period in 18th century,palanquin can be seen, painting from Mysore. ‘Dhoolies’ were used to carry the wounded from the battlefileds.

By Jrsanthosh – Own work, Public Domain,


Fateh Raj Singhvi carried in a palanquin by his attendants, Marwar painting,Rajasthan, 1820-40.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Wooden palanquin at Mehrangarh Fort Museum, Jodhpur, Rajasthan.

By Gili Chupak (IMG_1738  Uploaded by Ekabhishek) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

One excellent depiction is an empty covered sedan or palki  for the queen, carried by nine men and three other attendants, one holding a sun shade. Built for the Eid festival at end of the holy month of Ramzan. The illustration is a company painting which were paintings produced by Indians mainly for the British working in East India Company. The style incorporated both Indian and western elements. These paintings were usually specially commissioned , though some were mass produced too.


Company painting, gouache on paper, depicting a palki from Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ceremonial Eid procession, Delhi,1840. 

By Khan, Mazhar Ali (possibly, maker) –, Public Domain,


Bridal doli  during British rule in India.

Thomas Metcalfe, 4th Baronet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sarojini Naidu, poet and freedom fighter (1879 – 1949) from Hyderabad, India has composed a beautiful poem capturing the movement and emotion of  palanquin bearers of a bride in a poem by the same name :

Lightly O lightly we bear her along

she sways like flower in the wind of our song

She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream

She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream

Gaily o gaily we glide and we sing

We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

Softly O softly we bear her along

She hangs like a star in the dew of our song

She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide

She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride

Lightly O lightly we glide and we sing

We bear her along like a pearl on a string!


References :

  • Parihar, Subhas/Land transport in Mughal India, New Delhi : Aryan Books International,2008.
  • Archer, Mildred/Company paintings : Indian paintings of the British period, London: Victoria and Albert Museum,1992.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh


© author

Bygone splendour : a history of the Satavahanas

       The Satavahanas were a South Indian dynasty who ruled for four and a half centuries. They were next to the Mauryas in authority and managed to ward off invaders and ensured peace in Dakshinapatha (southern region of the Indian peninsula) Their age had high economic prosperity, Puranic theism became prominent, Mahayana Buddhism which was more universal became prominent than Hinayana Buddhism. Prakrit flourished as the official language though Sanskrit too gained importance. Their sculptural and aesthetic brilliance can be gauged by their contributions at Amaravati, Bhaja, Nashik, Pitalkhora and Sanchi.

         The sources of the age are scanty and sometimes not reliable and there seems to be difference of opinion between historians. Numismatic evidence is found and the record at Nashik are considered the most important. The Kathasaritsagara is believed to be based on the Prakrit text Brihatkatha from Satavahana times.The Yugapurana of the Gargisamhita and early Jain literature contain information about the Satavahana kings. The times are also reflected in Hala’s Gathasaptasati and Kamasutra of Vatsyayana.

          The inscriptions found of the Satavahanas are around 25 out of which only few are royal records and the others are of private individuals. Most of them are Buddhist in content. The Junagadh inscription of Rudraraman notes the last Saka-Satavahana war. Neighbouring Kalinga King Kharavela mentions their conflict with the Satavahanas in the Hathigumpha inscription at Udaigiri Odisha. Satavahana time coins have been found at places like Nevasa, Kondapur, Maski, Tripuri, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. These coins validate the historicity of the rulers as mentioned in the Puranas. However though sometimes unclear, numismatic evidence helps in finding the racial affinities and how the empire disintegrated etc. The Matsya Purana says that altogether 30 kings ruled for 470 years. Vayupurana says 17 rulers and 270 years of rule. The early historians identify the Satavahanas with the Andhras and that they flourished in the Krishna-Godavari region of Eastern Deccan. Their seat of power was Srikakulam or Dhanyakataka. Later historians differ saying they were servants of the Andhras as they are mentioned as Andhrabhrityas in the Puranas. However the Satavahanas is the name of a family and they ruled Andhra, who were vassals of the Mauryas. They inherited the Prakrit language from them. The Puranas indicate that Sirimukha was the founder of the dynasty. He has also been called Sisuka,Srimukha, Chismoka etc.The inscriptions on the relievo-figures at Nanaghat refer to him as Sirimukha Satavahana. This could be interpreted as : son of Satavahana. Satavahana ruled from Paithan, as a vassal of King Asoka of the Mauryas and later consolidated the position for declaring  independence in the Deccan with his son Sirimukha as successor; around 230 B.C. Punch marked coins are attributed to him. He ruled for 23 years; built stupas and viharas for Jainas. He changed his religion during his last days. He was succeeded by his brother Kanha(208-198 B.C) because his son Satakarni was of a young age. He ruled for ten years and his minister or mahamatra got carved a cave for monks at Nashik.

         Satakarni I succeeded him who was most illustrious among the early Satavahanas. His queen Naganika described him as virasura in the Nanaghat inscription recorded after his death. He ruled for 18 years and tried to expand his kingdom; came into conflict with King Kharavela of Kalinga but managed to keep his empire intact. He conducted many sacrifices and worked for the welfare of the Brahmin community. He conducted many sacrifices. He died leaving behind four young sons;Kumara Hakusiri, Sati Srimat, Kumara Satavahana and Vedisiri (the eldest) or Purnotasanga (179 B.C- 161 B.C) who succeeded him and ruled independently.The sons partitioned the empire. Rani Naganika was regent with her father Maharathi Tranakayiro who assisted her in guiding the empire

         Satakarni II was another great king who ruled for 56 years and who restored unity in the split dominions of the empire. Many kings ruled between this king and Gautamiputra Satakarni. Some names include Apilaka, Meghasvati,Kuntala Satakarni,Pulomavi,Hala Satavahana etc. The kingdom went into eclipse between King Hala and Gautamiputra Satakarni, the 26th ruler of the dynasty. This was due to the invasion of the Sakas from the Indus region. The famous work Periplus of the Erythrean Sea  by a Greek sailor, notes these conflicts.

          Gautamiputra Satakarni revived the empire (106 A.D to 130 A.D) and is remembered as one of India’s greatest monarchs. Number of coins found in the Deccan area along with the Nashik Prasasti recorded by his mother Bala Sri give a picture of his reign. As per the Nashik Prasasti, the Satavahana kingdom was limited to the region east of Paithan, parts of Andhradesa and Kalinga, at the time he ascended the throne. However, he undertook many campaigns and destroyed the Kshaharatas defeating Nahapa and recovered regions upto Malwa. His empire extended between Aravalis to the Nilgiris from Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. He was a skilled archer, learned in the Vedas, a dutiful son and a benevolent king.


Gautamiputra Satakarni celebrating his victory on Nahapa, a satrap of Gujarat in Western India,artist’s impression.

By Ambrose Dudley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

        Gautamiputra Satakarni was succeeded by his son Vasistiputra Pulomavi II. He came into conflict  with Chastana and lost Malwa and Saurastra to the Kardamakas. But as per the Nasik and Karle inscriptions Pulomavi retained his control over Maharashtra. He was succeeded by Sivasri or Vasistiputra Satakarni; many coins found in Andhra region bearing his legend have been found. He was most likely a brother of Pulomavi II. He attempted to recover same Satavahana dominions from the Kardamakas.

        As per the Puranic sources Sri Yajna Satakarni is the last great king of the Satavahana dynasty. He had a reign of 29 years and flourished in the last quarter of 2nd century. He is known from inscriptions at Nashik, Kanheri and a large number of coins from all over Deccan, Madhya Pradesh, Berar, Baroda etc. He conquered Central and Western Deccan and the Narmada valley. He patronised Acharya Nagarjuna for who he built a mahachaitya and a mahavihara at Sriparvata (Nagajunakonda). Acharya Nagarjuna built the stone railing around the great stupa at Amaravati. Vijaya Satakarni succeeded him. The process of disintegration of the empire had started in the reign of Pulomavi II and speeded up as subordinate ruling families such as the Kuras of Kolhapur, Chutuis of Banavasi and Ishkavakus of Vijaypuri became formidable and got greater powers for themselves. Vijaya was succeeded by Chandra Sri followed by Puloma and is the last king as per the Puranas. After Sri Yajna the kingdom got divided into independent units under the collateral branches of the dynasty.


Vashistiputra Pulomavi inscribed on coin.

By PHGCOM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

          The Satavahanas followed Kautilya’s Arthasastra and manavadharma sastra and was a     hereditary monarchy; the king was called called raja or maharaja. There were autonomous units, though the main empire was under the direct rule of the king who had officers like viswasamatyas, rajamatyas and mahamatras who were officers on special duties. Land revenue was the main source of income for the king’s treasury.


Royal ear-rings from 1st Century BC India.

By PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Indian ship on lead coin of Vasistiputra Pulomavi.

By PHGCOM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commonsimage009

Vasisitiputra Satakarni inscribed on coin.

By Uploadalt – Own work, photographed at British Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Coin of  Sri Yajna Satakarni.

By The original uploader was Per Honor et Gloria at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Common.


Satavahana empire.

CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

     The Satavahanas carried on internal trade and external trade and Nashik, Paithan, Tagara, Govardhana were market towns. They encouraged maritime activities and had ship-marked coins. The Satavahanas imported wines from Rome. They also imported tin, lead,coral and topaz. They exported ivory, agate, carnelian, pepper,silk etc.

       All religions flourished during their rule. The Satavahanas used Prakrit, Sanskrit and also Telugu and Kannada.


An aniconic depiction of Mara’s assault on Lord Buddha, Amaravati, 2nd century.

CC BY-SA 3.0,


Panduleni caves, Nashik, Maharashtra.

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


Images of Jain Tirthankaras at Panduleni complex ,Maharashtra

by Raama – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The artistic achievements of the age can be seen from the remains of stupas, chaityas and viharas. Buddhism flourished during the Satavahanas. At Amaravati a renowned centre of Buddhism, a unique school of art evolved. The stupa ia monument built on the remains of the Buddha or an eminent Buddhist monk. The stupas were built of brick; Jataka tales and scenes from Lord Buddha’s life were sculpted.


Mahastupa relief from Amaravati at museum in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

By Soham Banerjee [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commonsimage023

Remnants of Mahastupa at Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh.

By Adityamadhav83 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Donor couples, Karle caves, Maharashtra.

By Amitmahadik100 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

      Chaityas was a Buddhist temple with a stupa as the object of worship. They were covered out of rock at Nasik, Kanheri, Karle, Bhaja, Junnar, Mahad etc. Chaityas have a rectangular hall and divided into nave,apse and the side aisle. The apse has a solid stupa.  Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda had brick stupas. Viharas cut out of rock with an open verandah and a hall surrounded on three sides by rows of cells having benches made of stone.; monks resided in them.

      The Ajanta chaitya can be dated to around 1st century B.C. The Pandulena chaitya is of 1st century A.D. Motifs are carved around the arch and above the entrance are seen sockets and grooves most probably for the musician’s gallery. At Karle, the early Hinayana chaitya is a gift of a merchant of Vaijayanti (present Banavasi). At the front are two huge lion pillars, the hall having a vestibule with three entrances. Exquisitely carved donor couples are seen on the front wall. At Kanheri, rock cut activity began during Yajna Sri Satakarni’s reign during second half of 2nd century A.D. The 3rd chaitya is attributed to him.


Chaitya at Karle, Maharashtra.

By Amitmahadik100 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

         The art of the Satavahana era was affected by the state of polity. The art  at Bhaja and Amaravati was mostly during the reign of Satakarni I. The early caves at Pitalkhora and Ajanta were executed during  reign of Sirimukha and Satakarni I, so also the earliest sculpture at  Amaravati. Sanchi, located 9 km from Vidisha, an important ancient town during Maurya and Sunga empires, the gateways or toranas were erected during the reign of Satakarni II in 1st century B. C. The Satavahana creations are very grand. The rock-cut temples are in a good state in Maharashtra; the Sanchi stupa has been reconstructed; the Amaravati stupa remains can be seen in museums. Some sculpture examples include a yaksha from Pitalkhora, the Bhaja Vihara caves decorated with carvings and pillars with a lotus capital crowned with mythical animals. Some ivory objects found at Begram(ancient Kapisha) in Afghanistan show  clearly the influence of Satavahana art, both Sanchi and Amaravati styles.


Great Stupa with torana, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh.

By Suvro Banerjee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Lord Indra, Bhaja caves, Maharashtra.

By Amitmahadik100 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Begram ivory, Afghanistan.

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

References :

  • The age of the Satavahanas/Dr. B. S.L. Hanumatha Rao, Hyderabad: P.S.Telugu University, 2001.
  • Satavahana Art/M.K. Dhavalikar/Delhi : Sharda Publishing House,2004.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh