Tag Archives: ganga

Rivers in art : images from India’s kaleidoscopic canvas

A river is a flowing water-body, a symbol of movement, a goddess, a nourisher of life and a harbinger of culture and civilisation. A river finally mingles with the ocean. Every major river flowing through India has been captured in sculpture, painting and literature. Rivers are worshipped and songs sung in their glory; civilisations have sprung on their banks,thrived and evolved.

Indian rivers  originate from the Himalayas and Karakoram range in the north,the Western ghats or Sahyadri in the West, Vindhyas and Satpura in central India. Important rivers in India are Ganga, Yamuna, Chenab,Beas, Kaveri, Godavari, Tungabhadra, Narmada and Tapti to name a few. Saraswati is a mythical river which flows underground and meets Ganga and Yamuna at Sangam, in Allahabad.

Rivers have been spectators of human history and even influenced course of events in history across millennia, all over the world. Rivers are ecosystems and sustain many forms of life.Their depiction in art whether in factual form or as mythical goddess, is fascinating to behold. Rivers are an important part of Indian mythology and folklore.

The Ganga originates in the Gangotri glacier, the Yamuna in Yamunotri glacier in Uttarakhand, north of India. The river Yamuna merges with Ganga at Allahabad. The Brahmaputra originates in Tibet but merges with Ganga and ends in the Bay of Bengal. The Hooghly river is a tributary of Ganga in West Bengal. The Indus river originates in the Tibetan plateau and enters India in Jammu and Kashmir and merges into the Arabian Sea. Chenab river originates in the upper HImalayas in Himachal Pradesh; Jhelum is at tributary of Chenab river. The Beas rises at Himalayas in central Himachal Pradesh and joins Sutlej river in Punjab. Kaveri originates in the Western Ghats and Krishna at Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, also in the Western Ghats. Godavari starts in Maharashtra passing through seven Indian states. Tungabhadra is a large tributary of Krishna in Karnataka; ending in Bay of Bengal. Narmada starts from Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh and ends in Arabian Sea.

Some river depictions in art include the sculptures at Ellora, miniature paintings, watercolours, oils and drawings by various artists at different points of time.

Ellora is the epitome of rock-cut architecture in India. It is to the north west of the city of Aurangabad in present day Maharashtra.Built and carved between 5th and 10th century under patronage of the Rashtrakutas and Yadavas. There are 34 caves in all, out of which 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jaina caves.



 Goddess Ganga at Rameswar Cave, Ellora, Maharashtra.

 By Chinmaya Panda – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21790709

File:Goddess Yamuna. Delhi National Museum ni01-10.jpg

Goddess Yamuna. Gupta period, 5th Century, Ahichchhatra, UP.,National Museum, New Delhi.

By G41rn8 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Goddess Yamuna, seen with an attendant holding a parasol.

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16631979

The depictions of Indian rivers in artworks and sculpture are stunning as images and showcase the beautiful partnership between human beings and nature.

A folio from the Isarda Bhagavata Purana painted in 1560-65 from Agra-Delhi area of North India, watercolour and ink, manuscript painting shows Krishna with gopis. The Bhagavata Purana is one of the eighteen great puranas of Hinduism. It lauds devotion or Bhakti to Lord Krishna, incarnation of Vishnu and discusses many subjects including mythology, cosmology,yoga, music , dance and geography. It was probably composed between 6th and 10th century.


Gopis seen bathing in the Yamuna,asking for their garments from Krishna, from the Isarda Bhagavata Purana, 16th century.

By Unknown – Metropolitan Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20763794


Gopis ,Radha and Krishna next to the Yamuna during a thunderstorm.

Miniature painting depiction.

By Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18782323


Along the Ghats, Mathura ; Yamuna river, Uttar Pradesh

By Edwin Lord Weeks – Image: Museum Associates/LACMA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22882738


On the river, Benaras, 1883

The ghats at Varanasi,Uttar Pradesh

By Edwin Lord Weeks – http://hoocher.com/Edwin_Lord_Weeks/Edwin_Lord_Weeks.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18647327


Musi river, tributary of Krishna, Hyderabad

 By Anburey, Sir Thomas (1759-1840) – http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/other/019xzz000000657u00001000.htmlhttp://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1700_1799/hyderabad/drawings/drawings.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19107232


A  drawing of an island on the Narmada river,1813.

By James Forbes (1749–1819) – Oriental Memoirs, Vol. III, by James Forbes, 1813., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3265846



Udaipur, woodblock print,1916

By Charles W. Bartlett – Honolulu Academy of Arts, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6741323

Raja Ravi Varma is a celebrated artist from Kilimanoor, Travancore(1848 – 1906) who combined European and Indian techniques, who made available lithographs of his works at reasonable prices to people, which made him very popular. His depiction of Hindu deities and episodes from Hindu epics and literature made him legendary, yet very close to the  common man.


Lord Rama crossing the Sarayu river with Sita and brother Lakshmana at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

 By Raja Ravi Varma – http://www.coolmags.net/art-paintings/raja-ravi-varma-paintings-part-ii-paintings-based-on-hindhu-mythology.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14997213


Looking down over Dharmasala and Beas river,1980

By Alfred Hallett – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Looking_down_over_Dharamsala_and_Beas_River.jpg uploaded on 15 February 2005, en:User:John Hill, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=906196

References :



Posted by : Soma Ghosh

Descent of Ganga : images in art

The river Ganga has been personified as a Goddess and is worshipped by Hindus from all over India. She is depicted as a beautiful woman in art. Bathing in the Ganges cleanses us of all sins and she is considered holy and the water very pure. There are many legends surrounding Ganga. Ganga is mentioned in the Rigveda. The Bhagavata purana tells us the story of the birth of the Ganges. Lord Vishnu in one of his incarnations is Vamana. When Lord Vishnu as Vamana extends his feet to measure the universe, his big toe inadvertently pierces the end of the universe.  Through this hole pure water entered as the River Ganga which finally descended on earth after the request of Bhagiratha to Brahma, but held captive in the locks of Lord Shiva, in order to prevent destruction  of the earth by sheer force of Ganga. She was released from the head of Shiva and flows on the land.

A relief at Mahabalipuram depicts the descent of Ganga. It is a part of the  group of monuments at Mahabalipuram. An early sculpture of the 7th century, a legacy of the Pallava dynasty attributed to Narsimhavarman I (630 -668 A D.). The relief on stone faces east is skillfully carved. There is  a large perpendicular fissure which is in between two boulders. There are over 100 figures on the relief including Gods, Goddesses, humans, half humans, ganas, animals etc. This  great cosmic event of Ganga descending on earth is captured here. Its seems as if  everyone is watching this event. Mythical figures ganas, Kinnaras, Nagas are also present. Lord Shiva is seen near the Kinnaras. Bhagiratha is doing penance on one leg. Ganga is seen in an anthromorphic form of human and serpent. Nagas too can be seen swimming . the elephants both male and female and smaller ones too are prominent in the relief.


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


By en:Karl Siegfried Döhring (1879 – 1941) (Karl Döhring, Indische Kunst, Berlin 1925) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another legend maintains that a king named Sagara performed the ritual Ashwamedha yagna and Lord Indra who is the king of the heavens got extremely jealous and stole the horse and left it at sage Kapil hermitage. King sagar had 60,000 sons and sent them in search of the horse. Kapil got terribly angry when he opened his eyes after meditation and burnt the 60,000 sons of King Sagara to death. The souls of the sons wandered as spirits. Anshuman, the grandson of King sagara pleaded with the sage. He asked him to bring the sacred Ganga down from the heavens. Dilip, who was Anshuman’s son prayed to Lord Brahma but failed. His son Bhagiratha managed to appease Brahma who then ordered Ganga to descend to earth. She however felt insulted and vowed to crush earth with her force. Bhagiratha then prayed to Lord Shiva. Shiva trapped her in his matted locks  further sanctifying her and finally let her out as five streams namely Bhagirathi, Jahnvi, Bhilangana, Mandakini, Rishiganga, Saraswati and Alakananda. Following this Bhagirathi leads her to his ancestors to purify their souls and thus release them.


Sculpture of Ganga, Ellora

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

The figurines of Ganga and Yamuna are present at the entrance of Rameswara, the cave no: 21 of the Ellora caves.  Goddess Ganga’s left hand rests on the head of an attendant. Ganga and Yamuna represent the moon and the sun. Ellora is located 28 km from Aurangabad in the present day Maharastra. The caves were carved out of the Charanandri Hills between 5th and 10th centuries by the Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasties. Out of the 34 caves 17 are Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jaina Caves.

The Goddess Ganga stands on her mount, the makara or crocodile, with a kumbha/pot full of water. Her lady attendant is holding an umbrella over her. This image is from the Gupta period made in terracotta found in Uttar Pradesh, Ahichhatra, now kept in the National Museum, New Delhi.


“Teracotta made Ganga of Gupta era 01 at National Museum, New Delhi” by Nomu420 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://en.wiki2.org/wiki/File:Teracotta_made_Ganga_of_Gupta_era_01_at_National_Museum,_New_Delhi.jpg#/media/File:Teracotta_made_Ganga_of_Gupta_era_01_at_National_Museum,_New_Delhi.jpg

The other legend surrounding Ganga is the one relating to her being referred to as Jahnvi. When Ganga came to earth she disturbed the penance of Sage Jahnu. He got angry and drank all the waters of Ganga. The Gods then prayed for her release which pleased him and thus she came to be known as Jahnavi, daughter of Jahnu.

An excellent symbolic representation can be seen in the famous fort of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.The fort at Gwalior has a long history. It stands at 300 feet above the plain lands and it is believed to have been King Suraj Sen of the Kacchhappa dynasty who was cured of leprosy by being directed to a pond by Sage Gwalip after whom the town is named. Inside the fort’s courtyards one can see the kumbha  on top of the first tier of the pillar.


Courtyard, Gwalior Fort

Pic : Soma Ghosh


चित्र:Kalighat pictures Indian gods f.17.jpg

Goddess Ganga, 19th-20th century, Kalighat painting, Kolkata.

By Unknown – The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41948606

References :

Ganga and Yamuna : river Goddesses and their symbolism in Indian temples/Heinrich von Stietencron, Permanent Black, Ranikhet,2010.


Posted by : Soma Ghosh