Category Archives: asian art

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

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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

 

 

 

Mandu : a city with a love story

            Mention Mandu and everyone recalls the famous love story of Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. Located in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, now in Dhar district. the place has some amazing history along with beautiful built structures which illustrate the romance. Rupmati is a shepherd girl who Baz Bahadur, met during one of his hunting trips. He was the last ruler of Malwa, son of Shuja’at Khan; he heard her singing and was smitten by her beauty.  He asked her to come to Mandu, to which she agreed but asked to live at place not far from him and the Narmada river. This led to building of the Rupmati pavillion and the Rewa Kund. It is believed that they married as per Hindu and Muslim rites.

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Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati, painting, Mughal (Murshidabad) school, 18th century.Rani Roopmati Mahal,MANDU.JPG

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Rani Rupmati Pavillion, Mandu.

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Rewa Kund, Mandu.

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Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace, Mandu.

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Inside Jahaz Mahal, Mandu.

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Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati hunting, painting, Nurpur, 18th century.

Unfortunately in 1561, the Mughal Emperor sent Adham Khan to conquer Mandu. Baz Bhadur fled to Chittorgarh to seek help. The army of Malwa was no match to the Mughal forces. Mandu was defeated in the battle of  Sarangpur. Rani Rupmati did not want to be captured and poisoned herself.

The story of Rupmati was written by Sharaf-ud-Din Mirza in the Persian language. He collected 26 poems of her; the original manuscript changed hands and and was translated by L. M Crump in 1926, under the title : ‘The lady of the lotusRupmati, Queen of Mandu, a strange tale of faithfulness.

 Excerpts from the translation :

……Her eyebrows are like unto the curves of the letter ‘Nun’ or unto rainbows in the heavens : to twin black fishes in the fountain of the sun, to the sword of that for the terror of infidels was sent down on earth : horns of the deer of sight are they or the sacred book of a temple of the idolaters : feathers of the wings of the falcon of vision or the invocation of the name of God. The painting of her eyebrows is as two crescent moons set each on other or twin daggers over twin swords : green  sheaths are they of the sharp falcons of her brows or two green leaves of the tree of Paradise. The tail of her eyebrow is the sting of the scorpion or the point of the sword of the executioner. The line of her knitted brows is a gleaming blade or a ripple in the wine-cup of her charms.

…..more often soon than late, for he neglected all things for her company, they would sing to each other the songs of love which they had composed, or, calling the musicians and the singing and dancing girls, listen to their songs of love and war. Fair was life to them evening after evening on the roof of the Ship Palace, in the heart of their dear city impregnable, looking out over mosque and tomb, dome and cupola of blue and green and yellow and of marble white, and beyond, to lake and wood, to hill and vale fair indeed, and all the fairer for the music in their ears and the love within their hearts. Yet was not Rup Mati slow to perceive that herein lay danger for Baz Bahadur. His nobles delighted to gather round him and ply him with wine, till he knew not night from day…..

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Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Mandu.

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Arcade, Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Mandu.

The songs and verses which are said to have been composed by Rupmati are dohas, kabittas and sawaiyas still sung in Mandu ! Also a part of  translated work by M.L Crump, The lady with the lotus.

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The defeat of Baz Bahadur, painting from Akbarnama, late 16th century.

 

References :

  •  wikipedia.org
  • The lady of the lotus – Rupmati, Queen of Mandu, a strange tale of faithfulness/ Ahmad -ul-Umari, tr. L.M Crump, London : Oxford University Press, 1926.
  • Images from Wikimedia Commons

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

Arabesque in architecture : glimpses from Mughal India

        The arabesque holds a special meaning. The Cambridge dictionary says that it is ‘a type of design based on flowers, leaves, and branches twisted together, found especially in Islamic art’.  The architecture of Mughal monuments in India offers many examples of arabesque art. The Taj Mahal, tomb of Emperor Akbar, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, the Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort, the Red Fort and several others. The arabesque has also been defines as a vegetal design consisting of full and half palmettes as an unending continuous pattern in which each leaf grows out of another. It is symbolic of the unity of faith of Islam.

         The beautiful and striking designs created on many Mughal monuments are actually a combination of the arabesque-vegetal, geometric patterns and Islamic calligraphy.  Islamic art is diverse and made up of stunning patterns, due to the absence of figures which could make it an object of worship, which is prevented in Islam. However the core of the art is symmetry and harmony. There is an effort to convey the structure of everything through pattern. Geometry is an important element, it is sacred geometry with an inner and outer meaning.

             Arabesque art depictions, mostly combined with geometry and calligraphy have two types, the first is about the principles that govern the order of the world. Geometric forms have a built in symbolism.The principles include the basics of what makes objects structurally sound yet pleasing to the eye. The square has equal sides and represents the important elements of nature, earth, air, fir and water. The physical world is symbolised by a circle that inscribes the square and would collapse upon itself without any of the four elements. The second type is based on the flowing nature of vegetal froms, representing the feminine life giving force. The third type is the mode of Islamic calligraphy. it is also called the art of the spoken word. Many proverbs and passages from the Holy Quran can be seen in arabesque art. The coming together of these three forms create the arabesque in its entirety. The art is not just mathematically precise but beautiful and symbolic. Many Islamic designs are based on squares and circles, interlaced to form complex patterns. A common motif is the 8 pointed star made of 2 squares, one rotated 45 degrees with respect to the other. Another basic shape is the polygon, mostly pentagon and octagon. Islamic artwork is found in jaali work or trellis tilings, woodwork, kilims or rugs, leather book bindings, metalwork, ceramics  and ceilings.

A glimpse into this fascinating world of visual art includes images from two important tombs in Agra, North of India, both from 17th century Mughal era.

Tomb of Emperor Akbar 

Emperor Jalalluddin Akbar was the third Mughal emperor, born in 1542 A.D, who ruled from 1556 to 1605 A.D. Akbar’s reign significantly influenced the course of Indian history. During his rule, the Mughal empire tripled in size and wealth. Akbar promulgated Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic creed derived mainly from Islam and Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. His tomb is at Sikandra, Agra, a structure with ornate and stunning Islamic art and architecture.

Tomb of Emperor Akbar, main entrance with  artwork, 17th century, Agra.

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Emperor Akbar, miniature painting,  17th century, MFA, Boston, U S A

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Detail, tomb of Emperor Akbar, 17th century, Agra.

Ceiling detail, ”muqarna”, tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Sikandra, Agra.

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Ceiling detail, ”muqarna”,tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Sikandra, Agra.

Inlay panels on South Gate, tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Agra.

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               Jaali work, tomb of Akbar complex, 17th century, Agra.

 

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah

          Mirza Ghiyas Beg also known by his title of I’timad-ud-Daulah  was a vizier in the Mughal empire, whose children served as wives, mothers, and generals of the Mughal emperors.He was the father of the famous ‘Nur-Jehan’ and grand father of ‘Mumtaz-Mahal’ of the Taj Mahal fame. He was made ”Vazir” after Nur Jehan ‘s marriage with Jehangir in 1611.

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I’timad-ud-Daulah, painting, 18th century.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Detail, 8-pointed star pattern, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Detail, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, a quarter of each 6-point star is shown in each corner; half stars along the sides, 17th century, Agra.

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Gate, arabesques on spandrelsTomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Jaali design with 6 point stars and arabesques on the sides, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Arabesques on exteriors, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

 

 

References :

 

 

 

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Soma Ghosh

 

©author

 

 

 

 

Ajanta Caves : some glimpses of sculptures

          Deep cut or excavated caves in the Aurangabad district of Maharastra in Western India are the now well-known Ajanta Caves. Made into a 75 metre wall of rock, between 2nd century B. C and 5th century A.D these caves are a marvel in art, sculpture and rock-cut architecture. The earliest caves are believed to have been excavated during the Satavahana period and belong to the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism. During the reign of King Harisena (r. 460-478 A.D)  of the Vakatakas, whose feudatories and minister supported the ”sangha”, the Mahayana Buddhists contributed to over 20 impressive cave excavations at Ajanta. These were embellished with mural art, sculpture and great architecture. The caves are cut into a mountain wall above the Waghora river.

Image result for ajanta caves art and architectureView of Ajanta Caves, 2nd century B.C to 5th century A.D, Maharashtra.

        The architecture of the caves were customised to the monastic needs of the Buddhists to include assembly halls, living quarters and spaces for meditation. A few caves are from the pre-Vakataka period. Some glimpses from sculptural marvels from the caves are showcased –

Cave 1 – Made under Harisena, this cave has an elaborate carved facade, with relief sculptures on the entablature and ridges, and most surfaces embellished with decorative carving. There are scenes carved from the life of the Buddha, animals, as well as a number of decorative motifs.

Frieze, Cave 1, Ajanta.

Cave 4 – This cave is squarish, with a large image of the Buddha in preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs hovering above. It consists, of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. This monastery is the largest among the Ajanta caves and it measures nearly 970 square metres.

Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 4, Ajanta.

Cave 6 – It is two storeyed monastery  made up of a sanctum, a hall on both levels. The lower level is pillared and has attached cells, the upper hall too has subsidiary cells. The sanctums on both level feature a Buddha in the teaching posture.  The Miracle of Shravasti  and Temptation of Mara is depicted in the lower level walls. Only the lower floor of cave 6 was finished. The unfinished upper floor of cave 6 has many private votive sculptures, and a shrine Buddha.

Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 6, Ajanta.

Cave 7 – a monastery of a single storey having a sanctum, a hall with octagonal pillars, and eight small rooms for monks. The sanctum Buddha is shown in preaching posture. There are many art panels narrating Buddhist themes. This cave has a grand facade with two porticos. The veranda has eight pillars of two types. One has an octagonal base with amalaka and lotus capital. The other lacks a distinctly shaped base, features an octagonal shaft instead with a plain capital. The veranda opens into an antechamber. On the left side in this antechamber are seated or standing sculptures, those of 25 carved seated Buddhas in various postures and facial expressions, while on the right side are 58 seated Buddha reliefs in different postures, all on lotuses.

Buddhas, antechamber, Cave 7, Ajanta.

Cave 19 –  This structure was completed during the Vakataka rule which which is grand chaitya hall. It has a courtyard with attached cells. It has an elaborate facade and a single entrance to the cave having a portico with pillars. It has a circular window  with lot of decoration around the opening. There are decorated pilasters and cornices. The grid has many sculptures, mostly Buddha figures. There is Naga group on the facade.

Entrance, Cave 19, Ajanta.

Naga group, facade of Cave 19, Ajanta.

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Entrance sculptures, Cave 19, Ajanta.

Cave 9 – This cave has a distinct apsidal shape. The aisle has a row of 23 pillars. The ceiling is vaulted. The stupa is at the center of the apse, with a circumambulatory path around it. The stupa sits on a high cylindrical base. It is a chaitya or worship halls from the 2nd to 1st century B.C, the first period of construction,  reworked upon at  the end of the second period of construction in the 5th century. Many sculptures adorn the facade, mostly Buddha images.

Cave 9, entrance, Ajanta.

Cave 9, Buddha with Ananda, Ajanta.

Cave 9, apsidal hall with stupa, Ajanta.

Cave 11-  It is monastery and the cave veranda has pillars with octagonal shafts and square bases. The ceiling of the veranda shows evidence of floral designs and eroded reliefs. The center panel is of the Buddha seen with votaries lining up to pray before him.

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Exterior, Buddha with a devotee, Cave 11, Ajanta.

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Elephant, Cave 16, Ajanta.

 

Cave 26 – It is  a worship hall or chaitya, with elements of a vihara design. The interior view of the cave gives a general appearance of a Mahayana vihara. An inscription states that a monk Buddhabhadra and his friend minister serving king of Asmaka, gifted this large cave. It has two upper stories and four wings of the cave were planned, but these were abandoned and only the carved Buddhas on the right and left wall were completed. The cave consists of an apsidal hall with side aisles for circumambulation . This path is full of carved Buddhist legends, three depictions of the Miracle of Sravasti in the right ambulatory side of the aisle, and seated Buddhas in various mudras. At the center of the apse is a rock-cut stupa with an image of the Buddha in front, 18 panels on its base, 18 panels above these, a three tiered torana above him. On top of the stupa is a nine-tiered harmika, a symbolism for the nine samsara in Mahayana cosmology. The walls, pillars, and brackets are intricately carved with Buddhist themes.

Entrance, Cave 26.

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Side shrines, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Reliefs, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Column designs, Cave 26, Ajanta.

Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

The enshrined Buddha is sitting in the pralambapadasana posture, with his legs down, maybe representing Maitreya, the future Buddha.

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View, Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Capitals, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Aisle, Cave 26, Ajanta.

100 Cave 26, Buddha in Parinirvana (34219037182).jpg

Pariniravana of the Buddha, Cave 26, Ajanta.

 

 

References :

  1. The art of ancient India/Huntington, Susan,L,New York : Weatherhill, 1985.
  2. wikipedia.org
  3. Images from Wikimedia commons

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

Ganjifa : playing cards from medieval times

       Playing games is an important part of many world cultures including India. Children play naturally and devise games of their own. Adult games have been devised using creative skills and artistic expression.  The word ”ganj” means treasure or treasury which went on to refer to granary in Persian. The term represents playing cards and card games in India, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and few Arabian countries. Card playing was and still is popular in India and many other countries. Ganjifa cards were circular or rectangular, and traditionally hand-painted by artisans. The earliest references are to the Mamluk cards from Egypt, first mentioned in Annals of Egypt and Syria by Yousuf ibn-Taghribirdi, an Egyptian historian born into the Turkish Mamluk elite of Cairo in the 15th century. The Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey has a set of Mamluk playing cards datable to 1500s. The set consists of four suits of 13 cards each; cups,swords, coins and polo sticks including one Malik or king, a Naib and Thani Naib – Governor and Vice- Governor. These actually depict the officers at the court of a Mamluk Sultan or Amir; the cup-bearer, the commander of the palace guard, the exchequer and the polo-master or jukandar.  Mamluk, Italian, Persian and Indian cards might have a common origin; the exact source is not clear. it might have originated in the West or the East. The pack of cards is sometimes believed to have its origins in the four sided chaturanga, a dice game and a precursor of chess. King Shah Abbas II of Persia had banned the game (1642-67).

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Mamluk playing cards  or kanjifah, from left to right: 6 of coins, 10 of polo sticks, 3 of cups and 7 of swords, 16th century.

     The earliest playing cards known in India were most probably introduced by early Muslim rulers. The game became popular at the Mughal court during the 16th and 17th century, and lavish sets were made, from materials such as precious stone-inlaid ivory or tortoise shell ; darbar-kalam, by court artists. The game later spread to the general public, and less expensive sets; bazaar-kalam by other artists would be made from materials such as wood, palm leaf, stiffened cloth or pasteboard.

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In the royal palace of Sawantwadi, skilled craftsmen hand painting Ganjifa cards, Maharashtra, maybe early 20th century.

     Mughal Ganjifa was similar to the Safavid game in terms of suits and ranks. In the 17th century ”Dashavatara” ganjifa was created to appeal to the Hindu populace. The main development of  the game of Ganjjfa happened in India. The Indian cards depict variety and the number of suits can vary from 8 to 10, 12 or 20. Ganjifa cards have coloured backgrounds, with each suit having a different colour. The compositions on many Ganjifa cards resemble small miniature paintings. Different types are found, the designs, number of suits, and physical size of the cards can vary considerably. With the exception of Mamluk kanjifah and the Chads of Mysore, each suit contains ten pip cards and two court cards, the king and the vizier or minister. The backs of the cards are typically a uniform colour, without patterning. Card players expect a constancy in design in packs. The Rajasthani cards show a Mughal influence, Mysore and Cuddapah depict Nayak styles and the cards from Odisha have folk patterns. It is called dashabatar taas in Bishnupur, West Bengal. The painters of the cards are called chitrakars. 

 

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 A king handing a ”Royal Document” to his minister, King of the Barat or Document suit, playing card from a Mughal Ganjifa set, Rajasthan, India, LACMA, U S A,19th century.

       Playing cards are put in painted boxes which are made of light wood and have different subjects painted on them ranging from flowers, women, mythological themes and animal figures. However, slowly by the end of the 20th century printed cards became popular. The modern printed packs made the older hand painted cards obsolete and so also the games associated with them.

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Ganjifa box with ornate designs, 19th century. Image source : Michael BackmanLtd, U.K.

File:Five Galloping Elephants, Number Six of the Gajpati (Lord of Elephants) Suit, Playing Card from a Mughal Ganjifa Set LACMA M.73.55.10.jpg

Five galloping elephants, Number six of the Gajpati or Lord of Elephants suit, playing card from a Mughal Ganjifa Set, Rajasthan, India, 19th century, LACMA, U S A.  

File:Krishna Preparing to Decapitate King Kamsa, King of the Krishna Suit, Playing Card from a Dashavatara (Ten Avatars) Ganjifa Set LACMA M.73.55.3.jpg

Lord Krishna preparing to decapitate King Kamsa, King of the Krishna suit, playing card from a Dashavatara ganjifa set, Sawantwadi,  Maharashtra, mid-18th century, LACMA, U S A.

File:Enthroned and Crowned Buddha Holding Lotuses, King of the Buddha Suit, Playing Card from a Dashavatara (Ten Avatars) Ganjifa Set LACMA M.73.55.1.jpg

Enthroned and crowned Buddha holding Lotuses, King of the Buddha suit, playing card from a Dashavatara ganjifa set, Rajasthan, India, 19th century,  LACMA, U S A.

       There are many variants of Ganjifa. The Mughal Ganjifa, the Dashavatara Ganjifa, the Ramayan Ganjifa, the Rashi Ganjifa, The ashtamalla Ganjifa, the Naqsh Ganjifa, the Mysore Chad Ganjifa. Ahli Shirazi wrote Rubaiyat-e-ganjifa’ for each of the 96 cards in a eight suit pack. The game is mentioned in Ain-i- Akbari, the record of Emperor Akbar’s reign. In fact there was a variety of Ganjifa called Akbar’s Ganjifa.

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Mughal ganjifa playing cards, early 19th century,  Wovensouls Textiles and Arts Gallery.

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Playing cards made with the traditional pattachitra technique from Puri, Odisha, India.

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A king in an elephant-drawn carriage, King of the Ghulam or Slave or Servant  suit, playing card from a Mughal ganjifa set, 19th century, LACMA, U S A.

File:A Woman with Seven Documents, Number Seven of the Barat (Document) Suit, Playing Card from a Mughal Ganjifa Set LACMA M.73.55.6.jpg

A woman with Seven Documents, number seven of the Barat or Document suit, playing card from a Mughal ganjifa set, Rajasthan,  19th century, LACMA, U S A.

 

References :

  • Ganjifa: the playing cards of India/Leyden, Rudolf Von, London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1980
  • wikipedia.org
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Posted by:

 

Soma Ghosh

 

©author