Category Archives: Ancient Indian history

Jatayu’s story – a tale of sacrifice

      A place in Kerala, south of India originally called Jatayumangalam has an interesting legend behind it. It is now called Chadayamangalam named after a bird Jatayu from the Indian epic Ramayana whose wings were clipped off by Ravana. Jatayu did the ultimate sacrifice by trying to stop Ravana, when Sitadevi was being carried off to Lanka by him. The rocks here hold striking carvings of Jatayu’s beak mark during his last breath and footprints of Lord Rama. The illustrations depicted capture the story and illustrate the bird’s devotion and supreme sacrifice to his object of worship !

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Jatayu fights Ravana, Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, 15th century.

       The India epic Ramayana which is the story of Lord Rama, narrates the story of the sacrifice of Jatayu, the bird-vulture who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and knew that Lord Rama was his incarnation in human form. When Sita was found missing, Rama was highly aggrieved and he along with his brother Lakhsmana started searching the forests for her. She had actually been abducted and Ravana was waiting to avenge the humiliation of his sister Surpanakha by Lakhsmana.

As Sita was being carried off by Ravana in his flying chariot, she gave out loud wails for help to the forests with its all its flora and fauna. Nature heard her cries but no one could really help. At this time Jatayu was resting on a tree top. He heard the appeals of Sita and immediately flew off the tree and came close to Ravana’s aerial chariot. He tried to reason with him but Ravana was very angry and in no mood to listen. Jatayu then attacked him with his powerful beak and talons.

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Jatayu fights Ravana, painting, Illuminated Ramayana manuscript, Jammu, Punjab Hills, 1820.

In order to foil the evil act of abduction by Ravana, a fierce battle followed between Jatayu and Ravana. Ravana was way much stronger to him, but Jatayu managed to offset some of Ravana’s weapons and bring him down to earth with his chariot. But this enraged Ravana further and he shot arrows at the bird and slashed his wings with his dagger. Jatayu could no longer fly and hit the gound too. Sita rushed to his help but Ravana carried her off again in his aerial chariot.

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Jatayu with Lord Rama and Lakhsmana, painting, a local variation of Ramayana, Marwar, Rajasthan, 1820-40.

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Jatayu’s attempt to foil Sita’s abduction, folio from a Vaidehisha-vilasa, Kalighat painting, LACMA, USA, late 19th century.

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Jatayu-vadha, painting, Raja Ravi Varma, 1906.

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Book illustration, Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists, Ravana fighting with Jatayu” by K. Venkatappa, 1914.

       Sampati was Jatayu’s brother. On hearing of his sibling’s predicament from one of his tribe he rushed to his side. The sun was very scorching on that fateful day. Jatayu was lying wounded and would soon die; Sampati covered him with large wings so that he would be comfortable in his last moments. Rama and Lakshmana soon arrived on the  poignant scene. With great difficulty Jatayu related his tale and informed Rama of the abduction and the route that Ravana was taking. This was of great help to him to understand Sita’s whereabouts in order to bring her back. Jatayu was thus the first informer. It is believed that Sampati’s wings got so scorched that he could not fly again. This is one version of the story. However Jatayu died and got liberation (moksha or mukti)  from rebirth by the touch of Rama. Thus ended a saga of devotion and sacrifice in glory !

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Jatayu sculpture, Jatayu Earth Centre, Chadayamangalam, 20th century, Kerala.

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Ravana fights Jatayu, depiction at Bhabanipur Chandranath Chatterjee Lane Sarbojanin Durga Puja pandal, South Kolkata. Bengal School of Art. 2011.

 

References :

 

  • Myths and legends in India Art/S.D Trivedi and Atul Jairath, Delhi : Agam Kala Prakashan, 2009.
  • wikipedia.org
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

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Soma Ghosh

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Kaliyamardana – a story from the Bhagavata Purana

          Lord Krishna is a much loved deity in Hinduism. His childhood as Balakrishna, youth as a cowherd; later revered as the mentor and charioteer of Pandava Arjuna in the Indian epic Mahabharata who advises him on the battlefield in which he has to fight his own cousins. His actions, words and feats including his Rasaleela at Brindavan with his beloved Radha and other has been captured in art, poetry and narratives. Find the story behind a celebrated feat of Lord Krishna – the Kaliyamardana in which he slays a multiple hooded serpent of astounding strength who is tormenting people and been depicted in many artworks found all over India and outside India.

    The details of the story is found in the Bhagavata Purana, one of Hinduism’s 18 great Puranas.

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Krishna dancing on the head of Kaliya, Mughal School, India, 1590-1595 A.D, illustration from the Harivamsa, an appendix of Razmnama, Balarama and people watch from the riverbank.

        The story is very interesting and takes us to the banks of the Yamuna flowing through Brindavan in the north of India. Lord Krishna as a young lad who also lived nearby, played here along with his cowherd friends. The tenth canto of Chapter 16 describes an amazing feat of a young Krishna of subduing a serpent called Kaliya and the episode is referred to as Kaliyanaga-mardana. The depictions in art range from narrations in miniature paintings, stone sculpture, metal works and book illustrations.

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Episode of Kaliyamardana, page from a dispersed Bhagavata Purana Series, late 18th century, Brooklyn Museum, U.S.A

     Kaliya the serpent was originally from Ramanakadwipa and driven away from there because he was mighty afraid of Garuda the enemy of snakes. Garuda had been cursed by Sage Saubhari that if he ever came to Brindavan he would meet his end there. So Kaliya made Brindavan his home and lived there with his family. The giant serpent was residing in the river Yamuna and scared people away and nobody could go near to the site where he lived. He was also spilling deadly venom into the Yamuna which was frothing and bubbling over. One day Krishna and his cowherd friends were playing a game of ball. While playing the ball fell near the spot where Kaliya resided. Krishna’s friends urged him not to go after the ball. But Krishna jumped into the river and on seeing Krishna, Kaliya curled around his legs. Krishna’s mother Yashoda was very frightened of the serpent and asked Krishna to just come home. However Krishna stomped on his tail and warned Kaliya not to trouble anybody. Kaliya was a very strong serpent and pulled Krishna into the river. People gathered on the bank. Kaliya has got Krishna ensnared in its coils. However Krishna expanded himself forcing Kaliya to release him. After he was thus released, Krishna started dancing on the head of Kaliya which released the poison of the snake. Krishna took the weight of the whole universe and started beating him with his feet. Kaliya started to die and began vomiting blood. Kaliya’s wives came and begged Krishna to spare his life. Kaliya too  surrendered and promised not to harass anybody again. Krishna did a final  dance on his head and asked him to go back to Ramanakadwipa and assured him that Garuda would not trouble him again.

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Kaliyadamardana, Krishna ensnared, Brooklyn Museum, U S A, painting, created between 1750 and 1780 A.D.

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Image, Dharmshala, Khatu Mode, Mumbai.

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Kaliya’s wives praying to Krishna to release their subdued husband serpent Kaliya, Kangra, Pahari painting, 1785-90 A.D, National Museum, New Delhi.

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Carving of Lord Krishna subduing Kaliya, Sri Lakshminarayana Temple, Hosaholalu, Karnataka, 13th century.

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Krishna subdues serpent Kaliya, – lintel over the main door of the outer East gopura,  Prasat Muang Tam, Thailand, late 10th century.

    Krishna rose from the river while dancing on Kaliya’s head. People too on seeing Krishna danced on his head and Kaliya was finally pushed into Patala where  he stays to this day as it is believed.

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Book illustration, Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists (1914), Nivedita, Sister, Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish,  University of Toronto Digital Collection.

 

 

References

  • wikipedia.org
  • Memories of Childhood tales
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

Happy Diwali – Lord Rama comes home

         Diwali is celebrated with great excitement and festivity in India. The day marks the return of Lord Rama to his capital Ayodhya with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and Hanuman, the leader of his vanarasena or monkey army after his win in battle over Ravana, the lord of Lanka.After the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana, Ravana was ultimately killed by Rama and Vibhishana, his brother was made the king of Lanka. It is recalled that the city was lit with thousands of lamps on his return.

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Every year this day is commemorated across India. This is as mentioned in the epic Ramayana, the part of the story from Uttarakanda, the final chapter in the epic tale by Sage Valmiki. Lord Rama comes back in his Pushpakvimana to be coronated as king to Ayodhya. Presented here are some amazing depictions of the return of Rama and his coronation which led to his rule of thousand years also called Ramarajya, a glorious rule.

 

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Lord Rama starting to return to Ayodhya, Kangra miniature, late 18th century, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, U K.

       The Pushpakvimana has been described as a self-moving painted car, which was large with two storeys and few chambers in it, also with flags and colourful banners, and gave a melodious sound as it made its way across the sky.

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Shri Ramachandra or Lord Rama seen on Pushpakvimana with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana, Hanuman and others, print, Modern Litho Works, Bombay , early 20th century.

The Uttarakanda narrates that Lord Rama reached the kingdom of Ayodhya along with Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana and the host of monkeys.  After he reaches his kingdom, his brother Bharata who has waited from him to come back restores the kingdom to his elder brother. After that the preparations for the actual coronation begin;  royal barbers are called and Lord Rama and Lakshmana are bathed, shorn of their matted locks and dressed in splendid robes; Dasharatha’s queens deck Sita with  jewellery  and the priests give orders for the coronation to take place.

 

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Return of Lord Rama, miniature painting, Sahib Din, 17th century, British Library, London, U.K.

”Making use of Ravana’s flying chariot, the exiles have left Lanka and flown swiftly northwards, the directional imperative now being from right to left. Reunited with Bharata and Shatrughna, who have kept Rama’s kingdom for him during the fourteen years of exile, they enter Ayodhya in triumph. They drive through the bazaars with their festive hangings to the palace where they are received by their mothers. Even Kaikeyi is forgiven. The monkey king Sugriva, his minister Hanuman and the other chief monkeys have assumed human form. Rama’s coronation begins his auspicious reign, a truly golden age for mankind – Ram-raj , Rama’s rule”…The British Library.

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Return of Lord Rama in a pushpaka vimana and preparations for his coronation, miniature painting,  Mewar, Rajasthan, 17th century.

      The Uttarakanda further narrates that Lord Rama as king was visited by many sages from far and near,they came from east and west and north and south, led by Sage Agastya, and Lord Rama venerated them and provided them with seats of sacrificial grass and gold-embroidered deer-skin. Then the sages praised him as he had won the battle and also slain  Ravana, the sons of Ravana, and had delivered men and gods from fear.

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Lord Rama’s as King of Ayodhya, artwork, 1940s.

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Woman holding sparklers, India, 19th century, Honolulu Museum of Art, U S A.

 

References:

  • vyasaonline.com
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons, freepik.com (lamps image)

 

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

 

Decorative book covers : some Indian images

         Books have always been an important part of human culture used to  communicate, inform and entertain. There are different types of books, some printed and some in manuscript form. The decorative element in book covers and book binding has been important in bindings of yore. Combining beauty and strength has been a historical practice.  One  of the definitions of book binding states it as a term applied to any process for making a book by fastening together printed or un-printed sheets of paper and providing them in this compact form with a suitable covering. Book covers can be made of paper, cloth or leather. Around 100 B.C in India religious sutras were bound together which were written on palm leaf  which were numbered, had a hole and a twine passing through them. From then on book-binding travelled a long way, with the introduction of the codex, leather tooling, wood covers giving way to pasteboards, dust jackets, cloth covers, case bindings, gild bindings, glass bindings and ornate bindings using ivory.  In India, writing was done on stone, metal, shells and earthenware.  Also wooden board,  birch-bark palm-leaves, cotton cloths and paper was used. Engraving, embossing, painting and scratching methods were used for writing. Showcased are some book bindings from the Indian subcontinent.

      This pair of wooden covers protected the palm-leaf folios of a Buddhist sacred text. One cover has the nine Buddhist goddesses, each holding a staff surmounted by the wish-fulfilling jewel or chintamani, while the other cover has the five transcendental Buddhas flanked by four bodhisattvas. Painted on the interior, the iconography offers a protective field to the holy text within, in this case likely the Perfection of Wisdom text, the Ashtasathasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra.

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Wooden cover of manuscripts, Met Museum, New York , Public Domain image.

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Palm leaf manuscript, Bhagavat Gita, Grantha script, 18th century, Public Domain image.

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The middle figure is “an Indian scribe” who is writing on palm leaves, engraving from F. J. Bertuch’s ‘Bilderbuch fur Kinder’, Weimar, 1790-1830, Public domain image.

      The book cover is of lacquer binding with central floral design of an illustrated and illuminated copy of the collection of poems or divan by Shams al-Din Muḥammad Hafiz al Shirazi (flourished during 13th century AH / 14th century,  produced in India, most probably Kashmir, in the 19th century.

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Book cover, Divan of Shiraz, Kashmir, 19th century.

Source : Walters Art Museum, Public domain image.

     The image below depicts a binding from most probably the 13th century AH/19th century. The binding is composed of lacquer and is decorated with a floral design covering the whole surface of the boards.

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Book binding, 19th century, India.

Walters Art Museum [Public domain or Public domain]

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Wooden Covers of palm leaf manuscript and with symbols of sixteen pilgrimage sites, Sri Lanka,19th century, LACMA, U S A , Public Domain images.

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Seen above is the end board of a Sinhalese palm-leaf manuscripts transcribed in 1874. This example is of a lac-worked Kandyan book cover comprising the traditional motifs of a string knot at either end with a single vine scroll between the punched holes and a flower around each hole with a diamond chip motif  border, Sri Lanka, 19th century, Wellcome images, Public domain image.

 

References :

 

Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

©author

Saptamatrikas in art : some depictions

      The concept of the Saptamatrikas or Seven mothers have existed since the Indus valley civilisation. Seals have been found with seven feminine deities. The seven mothers find mention in the Rigveda, the Puranas and the Mahabahrata.

         By the fifth century they came to be called as Tantric Goddesses. The Mahabharata describes them as dark in colour and staying in ”peripheral areas” and that they are associated with Skanda or Kumara, son of Lord Shiva. They later came to be associated with the sect of Lord Shiva himself. Their sculptural representation in the 1st to 3rd century happened in stone. During the Gupta period(3rd to 6th century C E) folk images of the matrikas were made. Later rulers made Skanda as their model and the foster mothers became”court goddesses”. Many dynasties devoted rock-cut sculptures to the matrikas. Like at Parhari in Madhya Pradesh. Temples of the Western Ganga dynasty (350-1000 A.D) and sculptures of the Gurjara-Prtiharas (8th to 10th century A.D) and Chandella dynasty (8th to 12th century), Chalukya dynasty (11th to 13th century A.D). Initially the matrikas were considered dangerous but later took on a protective role. They are mostly depicted in lalitasana posture.

       According to a legend the matrikas were created to assist Lord Shiva in a battle agianst Andhakasura as per the Isaanasivagurudeva paddhati. The matrikas are the powers of the associated devas. In Shaktism they are believed to have assisted the Devi in her fight against demons like Raktabija.  The saptamatrikas are Brahmani,Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Indrani.

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Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda, National Museum, New Delhi.

By Nomu420 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32743578

Brahmani : She is four-headed and has yellowish complexion with vahana or vehicle of a hamsa/swan. She represents the power of associated deva Brahma. She holds a rosary or noose and kamandalu (water pot) or lotus stalk or a book.She is also shown seated on a lotus with the hamsa on her banner. She wears various ornaments and is distinguished by her basket-shaped crown called karandamakuta

Vaishnavi : From Vishnu; is described as seated on Garudaand having four or six arms. She is depicted holding Shankha (conch), chakra (Discus), mace and lotus and bow and sword or her two arms are in varada mudra (Blessing hand gesture) and abhaya mudra (“No-fear” hand gesture). Like Vishnu, she is heavily adorned with ornaments like necklaces, anklets, earrings, bangles wearing a cylindrical crown called kiritamukuta.

Maheshwari : From Shiva; Maheshvari is depicted seated on Nandi (the bull) and has four or six hands. The fair complexioned, Trinetra (three eyed) goddess holds a trishula (trident), damaru (drum), Akshamala (A garland of beads), panapatra (drinking vessel) or axe or an antelope or a kapala (skull-bowl) or a serpent and is adorned with serpent bracelets, the crescent moon and jatamakuta, a crown formed of piled, matted hair.

Kaumari : From Skanda or Kumara;the god of war. Kaumari rides a peacock and has four or twelve arms. She holds a spear, axe, a shakti (power) or Tanka (silver coins) and bow. She is sometimes depicted six-headed like Kumara and wears the cylindrical crown. In Tamil Nadu, Karumari Amman is a favored deity.

 

Varahi : From Varaha; the boar-headed form of Vishnu or Yama – the god of death, has a boar head on a human body and rides a ram or a buffalo. She holds a danda (rod of punishment) or plough, goad, a vajra or a sword, and a panapatra. She wears a crown karaṇḍa mukuṭa with other ornaments.

Chamunda Chamundi and Charchika is the power of Devi (Chandi). She is very often identified with Kali and is similar in her appearance and habit. The identification with Kali is explicit in Devi Mahatmya. The black coloured Chamunda is described as wearing a garland of severed heads or skulls (Mundamala) and holding a damaru (drum), trishula (trident), sword and pānapātra (drinking-vessel). Riding a jackal or standing on a corpse of a man (shava or preta), she is described as having three eyes, a terrifying face and a sunken belly.

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Chamunda, sculpture.

By Daderot – Self-photographed, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11384120

Indrani : From Indra; the Lord of the heaven. Seated on a charging elephant, Aindri, is depicted dark-skinned, with two or four or six arms. She is depicted as having two or three or like Indra, a thousand eyes. She is armed with the vajra(thunderbolt), goad, noose and lotus stalk. Adorned with variety of ornaments, she wears the kiritamakuta.

     Another eighth Matrika is Narsimhi or NarasimhikaPrathyangira, and Atharvana Bhadrakaali, is the power of Narasimha (lion-man form of Vishnu). She is a woman-lion goddess who throws the stars into disarray by shaking her lion mane. Ashtamatrika is revered in Nepal.

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Saptamatrika panel, National Museum, New Delhi.

By Rohini (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Matrikas Temple, Aihole, Karnataka.

By Benjamín Preciado Centro de Estudios de Asia y África de El Colegio de México (Trabajo de Campo 1977) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Vaishnavi and Varahi fighting asuras (demons),folio from a Devimahatmya,Sirohi, Rajasthan, 1675-1700.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Saptamatrika, Ellora (Cave 21),Maharashtra.

By Leon Yaakov from Tel Aviv, ISRAEL – Ellora Caves, May 2012, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37357560

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Mantra ratnakara decipting Matrikas, Wood and multi-layered paper,Nepal.

By NA – Freer Gallery [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2804473

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Saptamatrika, Nepal, 11th century.

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12403566

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Saptmatrikas,terracotta, Maurya period, National Museum, New Delhi.

By Nomu420 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32740370

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Saptamatrikas flanked by Shiva on the left and Ganesha on the right, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, U.S.A, 9th century.

By Ms Sarah Welch – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44761691

Goddess Durga leads the eight Matrikas in battle against demon Raktabija. Folio, Devi Mahatmya, Nepal, 18th century.

By Unknown Nepali – Source: LACMA[1]. Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons. Original uploader was Redtigerxyz at en.wikipedia Transfer was stated to be made by User:Giggy. 2007-07-11 (original upload date), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3351664

 

References :

 

Posted by :

 

Soma Ghosh

 

©author

 

Panchatantra in art : some depictions

           Panchatantra literally means five treatises. It is an ancient collection of animal fables. The animals have human virtues and vices. The original text is believed to be in Sanskrit prose and verse.  It has been dated to 300 B.C  and attributed to Vishnusharma, an octagenarian Brahmin who is mentioned in the prelude of the text of many translations that are available. Some sources mention Vasubhaga as the creator of the inter-related animal fables. The illustrations depicted below show some fables from the sub books of the Panchatantra.

Panchatantra manuscript, The Birds Try to Beat Down the Ocean, watercolor on paper, Rajasthan, India, 18th century. 

By Artist/maker unknown, India (18th century) – Philadelphia Museum of Arts: http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/results.html?searchTxt=panchatantra, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61455723

        The Panchatantra has been widely translated into as many as 50 languages across the world. Most European versions of the text are derivative works of the 12th-century Hebrew version of Panchatantra by Rabbi Joel. In 550 A.D it was translated into Pahlavi by Burzoa. In 750 A.D an Arabic translation Kalila wa Dimnah was done by Abdullah Ibn-al-Muqaffa. In the 12th century a Persian translation by Rudaki was titled  Kalileh-o-Damneh. In the 15th century Anwar-i-suhayli in Persian by Kashefi was done which was known as The fables of Bidpai in European languages. It was translated into English by Arthur Ryder in 1925.

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Panchatantra manuscript, The elephants trample the hares, watercolour,18th century.

By Artist/maker unknown, India (18th century) – Philadelphia Museum of Arts: http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/results.html?searchTxt=panchatantra, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61455729

     The Panchatantra is for the learning of niti or appropriate moral conduct by three ignorant princes. The Panchatantra consists of five parts, each having a main story. Each story contains sub-stories. The titles of the sub-books are Mitrabheda, Mitralabha, Kakolukiyam, Labdhapranasam and Apariksitakaram.

Mitrabheda is the story of Damanaka who is an unemployed minister in a lion’s kingdom. Along with Karataka he conspires and breaks up aalaiances of the king. The book has over 30 fables.  Mitralabha is a collection of the adventures of a crow, a mouse, a turtle and a deer. This book focuses on the importance of friendship and alliances. It has ten fables.

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Panchatantra reliefs, Mallikarjuna temple, Pattadakal, Karnataka, 8th century.

By Ms Sarah Welch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

     Kakolukiyam is  a treatise which focuses on war and peace. It points out that a battle of wits is more powerful than a battle of swords. it has 18 fables. Labdhapranasam is a compilation of ancient fables full of moral teachings. It is a guide on what not to do. It has 13 fables in the translation by Arthur Ryder.  Apariksitakaram  is acollection of moral filled fables. The characters are human beings. It has 12 fables in the translation into English by Arthur  Ryder. The stories are titled The loss of friends, The lion and the carpenter, The unteachable monkey, The monkey and the crocodile among many others in the five sub books.

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Panchatantra panel, Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal, Karnataka, 8th century .

By Ms Sarah Welch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 ‘Panchatantra’ relief ,Mendut temple, Central Java, Indonesia.

By Original uploader was BesselDekker at nl.wikipedia – Transferred from nl.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Shreevatsa using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5836212

A page from the 18th-century Panchatantra manuscript, Rajasthan India.jpg

Panchatantra manuscript, Rajasthan,18th century.

By Artist/maker unknown, India (18th century) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

References:

 

 

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

Art history of Bengal : early terracottas

   Terracotta or baked clay has been used as a medium to create objects of beauty and utility and votive objects for rituals since ancient times. Clay is available in abundance in the Gangetic valley. The history of using clay goes back to 2nd century B.C.  Excavations at Pandu Rajar Dhibi, Chandraketugarh and other sites have revealed interesting figures made from terracotta. There have been evidences of the art from the Mauryan period from the excavations at Chandraketugarh, Tamluk and Bangarh. The figures are of folk origin made by hand using applique technique; the mother goddess and animal figures continue to be made and used for rituals in rural Bengal, having an ageless quality about them.

     Different types of figures have been found relating to the pre-Mauryan times. Beak-headed mother goddesses with pin-holes and large breasts, fertility goddesses with wide hips, wearing girdles with pin holes. Bull front with fan shaped shaped hump too has been found. During the Mauryan times, the torsos were modelled by hand, faces were moulded, dress and ornament were made separately and fixed. The women were portrayed with full breasts, heavy hips and resembling a fertility goddess. Different historical evidence as gleaned from the Indian epics and archaeological findings are indicative of Aryan settlements in North and south Bengal. but the Aryan culture took centuries to gel with the indigenous culture of Bengal. The excavations undertaken all over Bengal revealed that the maximum objects were made out of terracotta which tell us the story of Bengal from yore. Bengal temples find mention in the travelogue of Fa-Hien and Hieun Tsang, Gupta period inscriptions and the illustrations of Buddhist manuscripts.

Male figure, Chandraketugarh, India, 2nd-1st century BC, terracotta - Ethnological Museum, Berlin - DSC01682.JPG

Male figure, Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, 2nd-1st century BC, Ethnological Museum, Berlin.

By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

   Terracotta has been a material abundantly found during excavations and clay seems to have been a popular medium used by common folk to express themselves. Clay objects from 1st-2nd millennium B.C have been found at Pandu Rajar Dhibi. Excavations at Tamluk, Bangarh and Chandraketugarh  have resulted in terracottas which include male figures, fertility goddesses and yaksha/yakshi figures. the women figures are depicted wearing elaborate head-dress,knob-earrings,heavy bangles and neck-pieces. the dress and drapery have been done on these figures using applique technique. The terracotta art found at the ancient sites also reveal nagas, naginis, apasaras and kinnaras. The other art objects are toys, animals, birds, erotic motifs, narrative plaques and pottery with designs. Gupta period terracottas have been found at Birbhum district of West Bengal.

SungaFecondity2.jpg

Sunga fecondity deity or fertility goddess, Chandraketugarh, Sunga 2nd-1st century BCE. Musée Guimet,Paris. 

By No machine-readable author provided. World Imaging assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Winged female deity, Chandraketugarh, India, 2nd-1st century BC, terracotta, view 1 - Ethnological Museum, Berlin - DSC01683.JPG

Winged female deity in terracotta , Sunga dynasty, Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, 2nd-1st century B.C, , Ethnological Museum, Berlin.

By Daderot – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45206173

 

    Yakshas and Yakshis resemble human figures but cannot be clearly identified as divine beings or ordinary mortals. They are associated with emblems, animals, birds and mounts.  During the Mauryan and Sunga period their images were frequently made and have been found at various sites. Kubera, the leader of the yakshas has been depicted too. Yakshis outnumber yakshas and are seen with hairpins, common in both West Bengal and North India. They wear heavy jewellery like ear kundalas, sirastraka, necklace and bangles.

Yaksha (Chandraketugarh).jpg

Terracotta yaksha, Sunga dynasty, 1st century BC, Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

By Shakti – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14898695

          Toys  and animal figures in terracotta were made for children. Clay carts were most common usually the two or four wheeled chariot type cart. The animal depicted would be a ram or horse. Plaques depicting Jataka tales have been found at Chandraketugarh. Amorous couple have been found at Tamluk and Chandraketugrah.

Boy Feeding a Parrot LACMA M.85.35.1.jpg

Boy feeding a parrot, Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, 1st century B.C,  LACMA, USA.

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

File:Rattle in the shape of Kubera, India, West Bengal, Chandraketugarh, c. 200 BCE, terracotta, HAA.JPG

Rattle in the shape of Kubera,terracotta, Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, 200 B.C,  Honolulu Academy of Arts. U.S.A.

By Hiart (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Terracotta plaque of a yakshi (female nature spirit),  Bengal, 3rd-2nd century B.C, Honolulu Academy of the Arts, U.S.A.

By Hiart – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17609527

 

References :

 

 

Posted by

Soma Ghosh

©author