Category Archives: art history of India

Royal elephants – splendid images from miniatures

     Elephants have played a major role in the mythology and history of India. The use of the animal has been documented via sculptures, historical researches and miniature paintings. Though it is true that horses and camels were also part of  royal entourages to draw vehicles and carry goods, the elephant was used in warfare, hunting expeditions, for executions, entertainment, in  processions, for gifts and a display of prestige. Elephants have depicted in the Ajanta murals. The scroll decorations at the base of many temples in India using the elephant motif. Many fort remains of India still have the elephant stables intact. Discover the depiction of these awesome pachyderms in Indian paintings made during the  medieval and late medieval times !

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Battlescene from the Mahabharata, Kangra painting, 1800s.

The elephant is a beloved animal in India. Many schools of painting have depicted this animal which is symbolic of mountains, clouds,heaven, rainfall and prosperity. The God Indra in Indian mythology has the elephant Airavata  as his mount. Goddess Lakshmi as Gajalakhsmi also is associated with the elephant, gaja, meaning elephant. Lord Ganesha, a favourite deity from Indian mythology, has the head of an elephant. The events from the Indian epic Mahabharata have been captured by the Kangra artists, one of the Pahari school of paintings. The battlescene at Kurukshetra is depicted and can see the elephants as part of the cavalry.

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Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu of the Pandavas fights Dushashana of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata battle, Kangra painting, 1803 A.D.

However it was the artists at the Mughal atelier who celebrated the presence of the royal elephants. Persian painters trained the Hindu artists during Emperor Akbar’s reign (1556 – 1605). They captured them in action, as standalone depictions, in various stances like fighting which was a sport, with Kings on  their back and a mahout sitting on them.  The elephants had names like Khushi Khan was Emperor Akbar’s first elephant. Another elephant Dilsankar is associated with him. A elephant called Damodar was gifted to Bairam Khan. Emperor Akbar was a great lover of elephants who tamed the elephant Hawa’i  known to be temperamental. He had 101 personal elephants in his stables.  The Rajput courts like Kotah, near Bundi, were influenced by Mughal art and the rulers commissioned artworks by both Hindus and Muslims which depicted elephants. Emperor Jahangir had an elephant called Gajraj. Emperor Aurangzeb confronted Sudhakar in 1633. Bahadur Shah Zafar had an elephant Maula Baksh who fought in the war of 1857 A.D.  The Deccan courts had in their ateliers Mughal artists among others who have made remarkable paintings of the elephants of the Sultans.

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Emperor Akbar on his elephant Hawa’i, chasing another Ran Bagha, across a collapsing bridge of boats, 16th century, V and A Museum, London.

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War elephants, Chitranand and Udiya collide in battle, folio from Akbarnama, 16th century, V and A Museum, London.

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Prince Salim (later emperor Jahangir) with Emperor Akbar returning from a hunt, on an elephant, early 17th century, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.

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Elephants as depicted in the Padshanama, a chronicle of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, 17th century, British Museum, London.

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Prince Aurangzeb tackling elephant Sudhakar, Padshanama, 17th century, British Museum, London.

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Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur on his elephant,  Atash Khan, early 17th century, School of Ali Riza, Bijapur.

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Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur from the Deccan on his elephant Atash Khan, painting by Farrukh Beg, 17th century, Met Museum, New York, U S A.

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An elephant in battle, Kota, Rajasthan, mid 18th century.

 

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Fighting elephants, Kota, Rajasthan, 19th century. 

Elephants are actually massive pachyderms who show a certain grace as they move and have a unique intelligence with a charming playfulness; have been decorated with ornaments and embellished textiles over the ages. The jhul (saddle blanket) and seeri (head-dress) are commonly seen. Elephants are a part of religious and some other processions in India, even today in the 21st century. Their bodies are painted decoratively along with trappings like the jhul and tinkling bells. The use of elephants represent pomp and ceremony since yore.

 

References

  1. wikipedia.org
  2. sahapedia.org/elephant-regalia-living-tradition
  3. ranasafvi.com/mughal-elephants/
  4. Images are via Wikimedia Commons
  5. smb.museum/en/exhibitions/detail/elephant-stories

 

Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

 

Holi in painting – images from Modern art

           Holi is a well-loved festival of India and some other places. It has been well depicted in miniature and modern paintings. Beautiful and charming, abstract and mysterious, the images capture the essence of the celebration. Holi is a day of not just throwing coloured water and powder on each other but actually has a deep  cultural significance. It is a day of new beginnings. The day to end all past conflicts and rid oneself of past errors. A day of forgive and forget. Other than Hindus, Jains and Newar Buddhists also celebrate Holi, a festival of colour, a festival of love, the spring festival !

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Radha-Krishna playing Holi, modern painting.

       The festival of Holi denotes victory of good over evil, the end of winter and arrival of spring. It depicts a good spring harvest season. The festival lasts for a night and a day starting on the evening of the Purnima or Full moon day of the moth of Phalgun in the Hindu Vikram Samvat calender. The first evening or Chhoti Holi is Holika Daaahan, or burning of the demon Holika. She is the sister of Hiranyakashipu as per legend. People gather around Holika and sing and dance. Wood and combustible materials are used to make the bonfire, near temples and other open spaces.

The next day is Rangwali Holi. The day is full of fun and frolic, throwing of coloured solutions from pichkaaris. Groups sing and dance, playing drums and dholak. A drink Bhaang made from cannabis is consumed on this day, also thandaai. 

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Holi depiction, Modern art, Source : Pixabay

        In older days, washable natural plant derived colours from plants like turmeric, neem, dhak and kumkum were used. Nowadays, since the mid 20th century onwards, synthetic  colours are being used. Though in the 21st century organic colours are making a comeback! The festival of Holi is mentioned in the Puranas and by the poet Kalidasa during the 4th century reign of Chandragupta II. The festival finds mention in the Sanskrit drama Ratnavali. Many famous poets have written on Holi or made references to the festival. In Mughal India Holi was celebrated by the emperors as Eid-e-gulaabi. Grand celebrations used to tale place at Lal Qila.

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Holi, modern painting.

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Mughal royals celebrating the festival of Holi in Udaipur, image, City Palace, Udiapur, Rajasthan.

During the 19th century, Sikhs celebrated it as Hola-mohalla ,  an extension festival of martial arts, horsemanship, atheletics, archery and mock battles. Colonial British officials joined the Holi parties organised by Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Bilawal Garden in Lahore, previously a part of India.

A poem by Sarita Aditya Verma –

Let the evil within be annihilated
And grey be restored
Rejuvenated to vibrancy of colours of love

Dispersion of love and light
Through the prismatic heart
Every soul be washed anew
In colours of the rainbow in mirthful hues

Forgive and forget, past hurt
And in the beauty of love, regale
Let’s celebrate Holi
The festival of colours, harbinger of spring !

 

assorted-color hand painting

Holi depiction, modern art.

 

 

References :

  • wikipedia.org
  • hellopoetry.com
  • Images from Wikimedia Commons

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

Lord Shiva – images from miniature paintings

          Lord Shiva is one of the trinity of the Gods in Hinduism along with Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. Mahashivaratri is a festival celebrated every year in honour of Lord Shiva. It marks the day of the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. There is a Shivaratri every luni-solar month in the Hindu calendar on the month’s 13th/14th day but once a year is Mahashivaratri, the great night of Shiva which also heralds the summer season. The festival is celebrated at night and is a solemn time for introspection, fasting and all-night vigil by the devotee. The festival is observed by chanting and discovering the ”Shiva” within us, overcoming of darkness and ignorance. Mahashivaratri finds mention in the Skandapurana, Lingapurana and Padmapurana. Lord Shiva has been depicted in miniature painting schools across India.

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Lord Shiva, depicting ”Bhairava raga” and Shiva as Bhikshatana , Ragamala painting, Pahari, Nurpur, late 17th century.     

      Shiva  or the auspicious one is the supreme being within Shaivism. He is known as the destroyer. Parvati is the equal complementary partner of Shiva. He is depicted as an omniscient and ascetic yogi who lives on Mount Kailash, but he is also depicted as a householder with his wife and two children.  Lord Shiva in his fierce aspects is seen slaying demons; his iconography shows the river Ganges flowing from his matted hair, third eye on his forehead, the trident as his weapon, and the ”damaru” or drum with him. Nandi the Bull is his vehicle. Lord Shiva has both a benevolent and terrifying aspect as mentions the Yajurveda.  The name Rudra and Bhairava depicts his fearsome aspects.  Lord Shiva is also called ”Mahakala” or great time which ultimately destroys everything. The name ”Shankara” reflects Lord Shiva as beneficent. So does the name ”Shambhu”, which means self-lit !
    In fact, prototypes of Lord Shiva has been found at the Indus Valley civilisation sites, a seal found at Mohenjodaro, representing Pashupati, an epithet of Lord Shiva. The figure is also seen seated in a yoga posture. This is still being debated though !

A five-headed Lord Shiva and Parvati seated with Nandi, Kangra school,miniature painting, 1800, San Diego Museum of Art, U S A.

Lord Shiva mourning the demise of Sati, Kalighat painting, 19th century.

Lord Shiva with Parvati and their children Ganesha and Kartikeya, Kangra school, miniature painting, San Diego Museum of Art, U S A.

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Lord Shiva kills Andhaka, the demon, painting from an appendix of Persian Razmnama, Harivamsa, late 16th century, V and A Museum, U.K.

Lord Shiva and Parvati seated on a terrace. Jaipur school, 1800s, British Museum, U K.

 

References :

  • wikipedia.org
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons

 

Posted by –

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

Mughal glass – delicate images of elegance

           Ever laid eyes on a delicate piece of glass with floral motifs worked out in goldwork and other colours? Most probably it would be an object from the Mughal times. The Mughal empire has ruled India for a considerable amount of time (1526 to 1858 A.D) They have left an indelible mark on the country’s history. Their designs still fascinate and remain etched as part of Indian art and architecture. The art was included in objects of utility and function too. They had special karkhanas or workshops where artisans worked.

Though glass has been in use since prehistoric times in the Indian subcontinent the Mughlas seem to have taken it to another level. It was used mostly to make beads, bangles and trinkets. The opulent era of the Mughals changed that by using the medium to make luxury tableware and huqqa bases (hubble bubble).

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Mughal huqqa base, glass, Muisee Guimet, Paris.

     During the rule of Emperor Jahangir (1605 to 1627) and Emperor Shahjahan (1628 to 1658) and Aurangzeb(1658 to 1707), the fashining of Mughal glass and trade flourished. Paintings of the Mughal era depict the courts and royal spaces used by the emperors and the nobility. One can spot the vessels and cups for pouring liquids like sherbets and the wine cups and ”huqqas” or water pipes.

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 An enthroned Mughal prince with four attendants, glass objects and vessels can be seen, Walters Art Museum, Maryland, U.S.A, Mughal miniature painting.

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Mughal huqqa base, glass, LACMA, USA.

          Different varieties of glass were present at the Mughal courts. Venetian, Spanish, English,Persian et al. Other than imports glass items were manufactures in India too. The Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl mentions that glass was manufactured at Bihar and Alwar in Rajasthan. Glass bottles  were also made in English and Dutch factories in Patna and at Gujarat during the 2nd half of the 17th century. The early 18th century saw more manufactories being started. Mughal glass vessels are found in many museums and private collections across the world.

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Mughal huqqa base, clear glass with gilding,over shaped appliqué glass pieces and blue glass insets, 1700s, LACMA, U.S.A.

Mughal cups, cobalt blue glass with gilt floral decoration, early 18th century, V and A Museum, London.

Mughal gilt glass bottle, Gujarat, 18th century.

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India, Mughal empire, translucent glass with molded and wheel-cut decoration, 1700s, LACMA, U S A.

 

References :

 

 

Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

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

 

 

 

Posted by ;

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Rani-ki-vav – sculptural marvels in a step-well

           A astounding marvel in architecture of a step-well along with embellishments of 500 principal and 1000 other minor sculptural creations are waiting to amaze visitors at Patan in Gujarat, India. Built in the 11th century on the bank of the river Saraswati by Rani Udaymati, wife of Bhima I of the Chalukya dynasty. Hence it is called Rani ki vav or the Queen’s step-well.

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Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

         The step-well has seven levels of stairs with the panels embellished with sculptures. The themes are mostly religious or mythological. Udayamati was the daughter of Navavaraha Khangera and commissioned the step-well in memory of her husband Bhima I who ruled between 1022 and 1064 A.D. The step-well is well preserved because it was flooded by the Saraswati river and had got silted. This entire creation took 20 years to be made.

 

Ornamental pillars, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

         Art historians Henry Cousens and James Burgess visited the site when it was totally in mud. They thought it was ahuge pit. However in the 1940s the excavations carried out under the Baroda State revealed the stepwell. In 1980s the Archaeological Survey of India took it further by more excavation and in 2014 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Avatars of Lord Vishnu, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

         The entrance is located in the East while the well is located at the Westernmost end and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep. There is a compartmentalised stepped corridor with multi-storeyed pillared pavillions. The walls, pillars, columns, brackets and beams are all ornamented and embellished with carvings and scroll work, The niches too demand attention by their ornamentation with figures. There are 212 pillars in the step-well.

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Lord Rama, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Sculptures, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

          The sculptures depict Gods, Goddesses, celestial beings, men, women, priests, birds and animals. Lord Vishnu image is the maximum form depicted here as ‘Seshasayi’ and ‘Viswaroopa’ and also as ‘Dasavatara’. Hindu deities Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, Gods Ganesha, Kubera, Surya, Indra and Hayagriva are also depicted here. One finds Uma-Maheshwara, Lakhsmi-Nararayana, Ardhnarishwara, Chamunda, Mahisasuramardini, the Saptammatrikas and the images of Navagraha or nine planets as well. This step-well brings out the sanctity of water as a life giving force. This step-well is a form of subterranean water architecture and is like an inverted temple, a water management system symbolising the technological height of the step-well tradition in India.

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Lord Vishnu, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Scuptures, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Mahisasuramardini, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

There are also celestial beings like Apsaras and celestial dancers and a Naga princess. also common men and women doing their daily activities, women holding children. Every sculpture seems sublime and infused with a special quality. The expressions have beauty and balance to mesmerize the onlooker. The jewellery and hairstyles depicted are also unique and can be a study on its own !

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Apsara , Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Scuptures, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Scroll designs and lattice patterns, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Varaha avatar, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

          It is a fine and exquisite stepwell, classified as a Nanda type. It  is 65 m long, 20 m wide and 28 m deep. The fourth level is deepest and leads to a rectangular well. However at present the ground water levels have changed following the Saraswati river’s relocation.

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Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

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Avatars of Lord Vishnu, Rani ki vav, image, Patan, 11th century.

 

References :

 

 

Posted by:

 

Soma Ghosh

 

©author