the god Indra in an 11th-century rock-cut temple at Ellora

Until the 7th century Hindu images were hidden away from public view in the inner sanctum of temples. Their purpose was primarily religious and ritualistic. They were not made to be looked at by art scholars and tourists. After the 7th century, beginning in southern India, ordinary worshipers were allowed to view the art and art works were displayed “dressed in processions. This meant that the art could be enjoyed by all and that ordinary people were allowed to enjoy something that once only kings and priests could enjoy. Julian Raby, a director at the Freer gallery of Art in Washington wrote, religious art “would only have been seen in their naked form by an initiated few, principally by priests whose task was to purify their statues, transmitting them into an embodiments of the divine. Enlivened, dressed and garlanded they were the numinous presence of the deities themselves.”

The is not shortage of images of human, animal and human-like and animal-like deities in Indian art. Hinduism never condemned the use or images as idolatrous as was the case with Christianity and particularly Islam. A lot of Hindu art is images are Hindu deities. Sometimes they are featured with a particular mount—Shiva riding a bull; Vishnu flying with his divine eagle, Garuda; and the goddess Parvati riding a lion—that helps identify the god. Sometimes just the mounts are depicted. Their presence signifies the god. Certain poses, implements, actions and accompanying figures are also associated with certain gods and these also help identify them.

See Separate Article on INDIAN ART

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs ;

Darshan and Hindu Art

Vidya Dehejia, a Smithsonian curator and professor at Columbia University said, that the concept of darshan (also spelled darsan, Samskit for “seeing”) is important to understanding Indian art. “By presenting himself or herself for darshan, the deity bestows blessing upon the worshippers.”

Darshan refers to viewing an image of a deity. "A Hindu goes to a temple," writes historian Daniel Boorstin, "not to 'worship,' but rather 'for darsan ” ...Darsan is a two-way flow of vision. While the devotee sees his god, so too the god sees the devotee, and the two make contact through their eyes. In the building of a new temple...when the images of the gods are made, their eyes are the last to be completed...The bulbous or saucer eyes that make Indian paintings of gods seem so bizarre to us are clues to the dominance of vision in the Hindu's relation to his gods. Many gods, like Shiva and Ganesh, have a third eye in the center of their foreheads. Brahma, the Thousand Eyes, regularly has four heads, to look in all directions at once, and sometimes he has leopard-spot eyes all over his body."

The importance given darshan can be appreciated by the attention that is sometimes lavished on images that are worshiped. In large temples where there are a large number of attendants, the image is woken up in the morning and washed, fed and prepared with flowers and incense before it is placed on its throne in the shrine room. In some cases the images are fanned and entertained with music throughout the day. In the old days many temples had their own troupe of dancers that entertained the images and could be enjoyed by worshipers for a fee.

Darshan is also associated with people of great holiness. Great leaders like Gandhi are also believed to possess darsan. When Indians glimpsed the Mahatma through the window of trains on his travels across India they were "taking darsan" and Gandhi was giving it. The importance of eye contact between the gods and humans helps explain why Hindu disdain eye contact in public, even between husband and wife.

Boorstin wrote: “The Hindu is dazzled by a vision of the holy, not merely holy people but places like the Himalayan peaks where gods live, or the Ganges which flows from Heaven to Earth, or countless inconspicuous sites where gods or goddesses or unsung heroes showed their divine mettle. The Hindu pilgrims trek hundreds of miles just for another darsan...Each of the cities sacred to each of the thousands of gods offers its own special darsan.”

Images of the Hindu Gods, Shiva and Vishnu

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ Buddhist deities, Hindu gods are identified by the attributes they hold, their attendants, their color, and their adornment. Many wear the lavish jewelry and elaborate hairstyles of Indian royalty, and most wear the “sacred thread.” (Bodhisattvas are also sometimes depicted wearing the sacred thread.) Often male gods have female goddess consorts, and most gods and goddesses have an animal or a bird (called vehicles or mounts) upon which they travel about the universe. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

Shiva and Vishnu

“Shiva has many roles and guises, each identified by particular attributes and poses. He is sometimes depicted with two arms but more frequently four, and he often carries a trident. In the center of his forehead is a third eye, shown vertically. His hairlocks, long and matted from his ascetic practices, are piled up in a tall chignon. Some of Shiva’s most common attributes are: 1) the third eye, indicating divine omniscience; 2) damaru, a hand drum, indicating the primordial sound of creation; 3) a crescent moon in his hair, representing the cyclical nature of time; 4) agni, the consuming fire of destruction; 5) an antelope, representing animal fertility (Shiva is lord of the animals); 6) a trident and battle ax, symbols of Shiva’s militance. <*>

“Vishnu is usually depicted with four arms and wears a tall conical crown. Typically, one of his hands makes the fear-allaying gesture. His animal mount is Garuda, a man-bird and ancient solar symbol of power. In Vishnu’s nine previous avatars, he appeared as a fish, tortoise, boar, man-lion, dwarf, the ax-bearer Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha. Vishnu’s tenth appearance, yet to come, will be Kalki. His two most popular avatars are Krishna and Rama, both of whom, like Vishnu, are portrayed with dark blue-gray colored skin.Vishnu’s usual attributes are: The Great Goddess Devi.

Images of Hindu Goddesses: Devi and Her Incarnations

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The Great Goddess Devi appears in myriad forms. As Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and beauty, she is one of the most popular deities in India and is sometimes shown flanked by two elephants who honor her by pouring water over her head with their trunks. Devi, in the form of Lakshmi, is Vishnu’s wife. Devi also appears as Vishnu’s wife in two of his incarnations: when he is Rama she is Sita, and when he is Krishna she is Radha. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

Parvati and Ganesha

Parvati is another form of Devi. In Hindu mythol- ogy, she is the reincarnation of Shiva’s first wife Sati, who killed herself because of an insult to her husband. (The traditional custom, now outlawed, in which a Hindu widow throws herself upon her husband’s funeral pyre is called suttee, a word derived from Sati. As the name implies, suttee recre- ates Sati’s final act of loyalty and devotion to her husband.) Beautiful Parvati was born to lure the mourning Shiva into another marriage, thus taking him away from the life of the ascetic into the more active realm of husband and father. Like Lakshmi, Parvati represents the ideal wife and mother. She is portrayed as a perfect balance between purity and sensuality. <*>

The militant Durga, another incarnation of Devi, was created by the gods to kill a demon that the male gods, even combining their powers, could not vanquish. Durga holds in her multiple hands the weapons lent to her. The conch shell, a war trumpet which in spiral form symbolizes the origin of existence The war discus, a wheel-shaped weapon with a sharp cutting edge A club or mace, symbol of authority and the power of knowledge The lotus, symbol of transcendence and purity 31 her by the gods; for instance, Shiva’s trident and Vishnu’s war disk. She also holds a sword, bell, and rhyton (drinking vessel) shaped like a ram for drinking the blood of demons she has killed. Despite her awesome powers, when she kills the demon Mahisha, her face is serene and beautiful and her body is the female ideal. Violent, ferocious images of the goddesses Chamunda and Kali symbolize the darker side of the Great Goddess, who in these forms kills demons, repels evil, defeats ignorance, and protects the devotee and the temple. <*>

Images of Ganesh and Hanuman

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “With his elephant head and chubby, childlike body, Ganesha is the most beloved of all Hindu deities. He is the remover of all obstacles and so is called upon before the start of all kinds of ventures. But Ganesha has a deeper significance, made clear in a Hindu prayer that begins, “Lead us as a tusker would out of the forest of false ideas to the path of truth.” His animal vehicle is the rat, which, though small by contrast, can gnaw through any obstacle. This comparison suggests that there are two ways to remove obsta- cles: to be like an elephant who tramples everything in its path, or, like the rat, to find a way through small openings to achieve the same goal. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“Ganesha is usually shown with four arms. With his trunk he reaches for a bowl of the sweets he so loves and holds a string of prayer beads, an elephant goad, sometimes a snake, and his broken tusk. Sculptures of Ganesha are usu- ally found at the beginning of a sequence of deities on the exterior walls of a Hindu temple, placed there to eliminate obstacles faced by the worshipper in his or her religious quest. <*>

“Hanuman is the chief minister to the monkey king. Together with the king and his army of monkeys, Hanuman helped Rama battle against Ravana, the evil demon king who had abducted Rama’s wife Sita. Hanuman was so agile, clever, strong, and loyal to Rama that he symbolizes the ideal of loyalty and service.” <*>

Krishna Battling the Horse Demon Keshi

Krishna Battling the Horse Demon Keshi

Describing a 53.3 centimeter-high, 5th-century Gupta-period terracotta relief from Uttar Pradesh, India, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Early Hindu temples were built of brick and decorated with terracotta reliefs. On this plaque, which probably comes from a temple exterior, Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, displays his supernatural powers. The evil king Kansa had dispatched several demons to kill Krishna, but Krishna had easily slain them. In a rage, Kansa summoned one of his most powerful demons, named Keshi, who changed himself into a huge, powerful horse and raced to the place where Krishna dwelled. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“Everyone who saw Keshi coming was terrified—except Krishna. With a loud roar, Keshi charged. Krishna, smiling and seemingly fearless, stood his ground and, upon impact with Keshi, thrust his left arm deep into the horse’s mouth. His arm became fiery hot, so Keshi could not bite it with his huge teeth, and it expanded, so that Keshi could not breathe. “Discharging balls of dung” (as the story traditionally goes), the evil demon fell dead. <*>

“The sculptor of this plaque compressed the episode into one action-filled scene. The figures’ curving forms swell outward from the background. Krishna’s extraordinary strength is emphasized by the diagonal thrust of his body and by his flying hair as he stops Keshi cold. The heads of Krishna and Keshi are enlarged to dramatize their eyes, which bulge from their exertions: Krishna’s from the intensity of battle, Keshi’s from the realization that he is near defeat.” <*>

Vishnu as Vaikuntha Chaturmurti

Describing a 104.5 centimeter-tall, 8th century stone sculpture of Vishnu from Jammu and Kashmir, “As creator and preserver of the universe, Vishnu is called upon to restore order when calamities threaten. Consequently, most of his attributes are martial, such as the conch shell used to call signals in battle. He holds the shell in his upper left hand, and with his lower left hand touches the head of a male personification of the chakra (the flaming war disk), which appears behind the figure’s head. It is known from other, more complete sculptures of Vishnu that his missing lower left hand would have touched the head of a female personification of his mace, and the upper h and would have been raised in the fear-allaying gesture. A small figure of the earth goddess Prithvi arises between his legs. Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“Vishnu is shown here as the supreme being with four heads, that of a lion to the right, a boar to the left, a benign central human head, and on the back of the halo, a grimacing emanation with fangs and a vertical third eye on its forehead. He wears the luxurious adornments of royalty: the garland of flowers draped over his shoulders and falling below his knees, the necklace, sacred thread, ear ornaments, and armbands. <*>

“The artistic traditions of the kingdoms of northwest India, of which Kashmir was perhaps the most important, grew in part out of the classi- cally inspired, naturalistic representation of the human body that had been favored in Gandhara. This tradition can be seen in the muscular chest and sturdy legs, which convey physical strength. However, the con- ception of the body inflated by prana is Indian, as are the eyebrows shaped like an archer’s bow and the eyes resembling lotus petals.” <*>

Linga with One Face of Shiva (Ekamukhhalinga)

Describing a 57-centimeters-high,9th-century, Shahi period, white marble linga, with an image of Shiva, from Afghanistan Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In the Indian subcontinent, worship of the linga (phallic emblem) goes back to remote antiquity. There and in other countries influenced by Hindu theology, to worship the linga is to worship the great generative principle of the universe, conceptualized as one aspect of Lord Shiva.[Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

The linga, the most sacred object in a Shiva temple, is housed in the innermost sanctum. It can be plain or carved with one to four faces, each portraying different powers of Shiva. This linga shows just one face of Shiva as he begins to manifest himself out of the linga. Three of Shiva’s attributes can be seen here: his third eye, placed vertically on his forehead; his long, matted, piled-up hair, which refers to his role as an ascetic; and a crescent moon on the left side of his double-looped chignon. <*>

The forms of this sacred sculpture create a sense of harmony and vigor: harmony, because of the repetitions of round and curving shapes; and vigor, because of Shiva’s broad shoulders and the way his face projects boldly into the viewer’s space. Yet his half-closed eyes and calm expression suggest this great god looks far beyond the world immediately before him. <*>

Chamunda (The Horrific Destroyer of Evil)

Describing a 113-centimeter-high, 10th–11th century sandstone image of Chamunda from Madhya Pradesh in India, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “This is a fragment of a sculpture portraying the ferocious Hindu goddess Chamunda, an emanation of the goddess Durga. She is shown as a cadav- erous old woman who scowls and bares her teeth. Her hair is piled up into a chignon decorated with a tiara of skulls and a crescent moon, and her enormous eyeballs protrude menacingly from sunken sockets in her skeletal face. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“ She wears a snake as a necklace whose coils echo the rings of decaying flesh sagging beneath her collarbone. Just above her navel on her emaciated stomach is a scorpion, symbol of sickness and death. Originally her twelve missing hands must have held such threatening objects as a scimitar, sword, trident, thunderbolt, cleaver, noose, mace, and skull cup. <*>

“Chamunda is naked except for a short dhoti partially covering two tiger skins. The heads hang down almost to her knees. Such horrific images of the Great Goddess, often depicted as striding upon a small human figure, were set in niches on the exterior walls of temples to symbolize Chamunda’s terrifying powers to destroy the demons of evil and ignorance, and thus aid the devotee toward spiritual release.” <*>

Stela of a Four-armed Vishnu

Stela of a Four-armed Vishnu

Describing a 110.5-centimeter-tall, 10th–11th century sandstone Vishnu image from the Punjab, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “This elaborate stela of the god Vishnu shows him at its center holding his usual attributes (from upper right clockwise): a chakra (war discus), a conch shell (trumpet), and a gaddha (mace). He holds his raised hand in abhayamudra, the gesture that allays fear. He typically wears a tall miter and a long garland of flowers (vanamala), which here looks more like a chain. His head is surrounded by an ornate nimbus with bands of lotus petals, flames, and abstracted triangular floral motifs. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“Flanking his legs are six figures: the personifications of his discus and conch trumpet (who also hold them), his two wives, and two attendants. On each side above them are two vertical panels. The innermost contains foliate scrolling and a pot from which plant life emanates. The left one is topped by a figure of Brahma seated on a lotus, and the right by Shiva in a similar attitude. Brahma can be identified by his four heads (three of which are shown), and Shiva by the trident and snake he holds. The outer- most panel shows the typical pile-up of elephants surmounted by fantastic composite lion-goats (vyalis) and makaras (elephant-crocodiles). <*>

As the main object of devotion, Vishnu is not only shown in the central position and by far the largest figure, he is also flanked by much smaller images of the other two principle Hindu male deities, Brahma and Shiva. A subtle rhythm and joyous feeling created by the expressions and poses of the small standing figures relieve Vishnu’s static pose. The god’s extraordinary ornaments, the graceful movements of his hands, and his gentle expression reinforce these sensations and communicate to the devo- tee a feeling of well being and power. Like the Pala-period seated Buddha, this sculptures shows the prominence of ornate decoration and linear detail that is a post-Gupta style.

Shiva Seated with Uma (Umamaheshvaramurti)

Describing a 28.3-centimeter-high, 11th century, copper alloy image from Nepal, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In this intimate portrayal of Shiva and his wife Uma (a form of Parvati), the ultimate oneness of all things is represented with great tenderness and elegance by their intertwined male and female figures. Shiva and Uma are not only the divine lovers but also symbols of cosmic totality. Their union is essential to the orderly working of the universe. Befitting their cosmic status, both figures are adorned with lobed tiaras, luxurious jewelry, and elegant sashed and belted dhotis.” [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

Shiva Seated with Uma

“The divine couple is seated on an oval double-lotus pedestal, each resting in lalitasana, the pose of royal ease. Their physical and emotional insepa- rability is conveyed by their serene, joyous expressions and by the subtle way their sensuous, curving poses relate to each other. In contrast to Shiva’s erect upper body, Uma’s torso is pulled in a gentle curve by her lover’s hand, so that she leans toward him with her right forearm resting on his thigh. She holds a lotus bud, and perched on her arm is a parrot, symbol of passion, who pecks at the lotus. <*>

“Shiva displays several of his attributes: a vertical third eye incised on his forehead and a lotus bud and prayer beads in two of his hands. He probably once held a separately cast trident in his upper left hand. This sculpture was most likely the centerpiece of a larger ensemble, the other elements of which are lost. The entire group originally would have been gilded.” <*>

Chola Sculpture

The golden age of Indian sculpture was during the Chola Dynasty (10th to 13th century). Works from this period included beautiful carved granite Indian goddesses and multi-armed bronze gods. The Chola rulers came to power at a time during the Hindu Restoration, when Hinduism was reasserting itself after a long period when Buddhism and Jainism were strong. Part of the revival was the production of images of Hindu deities. During the early years of the Chola dynasty granite was the favored material but it was heavy and difficult to transport. Bronze then became the material of choice because it could be be crafted into smaller, lighter objects and metal was one of the five elements of nature.

Favored images were the gods Shiva, his consort Parvati, Durga, Ganesha and Lord Rama. Describing a late 10th century bronze Shiva statue called “Lord Crowned with the Moon,”Souren Melikian wrote in International Herald Tribune: it “has a smile of ineffable contentment on its closed lips. It invites and at the same time defies scrutiny.” A Vishnu bronze he wrote, stands “with one arm steadying his club while another peacefully salutes and the other two arms hold up symbols. Here, the deity, smiles with irrepressible glee.” On a Durga made in 970 he wrote it “must have been inspired by a young woman in her teens. She stares with a soft almost timid expression at odds with the character of a goddess that tramples demons. Yet the longer you look at the masterpiece, the more you suspect something in eludes the profane.” [Source: Souren Melikian wrote in International Herald Tribune, February 22, 2003]

Describing a 69.5-centimeter-tall, 10th-century Chola period, copper alloy statue of Parvati from Tamil Nadu in India Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Parvati is portrayed here as the ideal consort of Shiva. She stands in a tribhanga pose, with her elegantly shaped left arm echoing the curve of her left hip. Her other arm is raised with her hand gesturing as if she were holding a flower. Images of Parvati in this position often accompany Shiva in his role as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), suggesting that this sculpture may once have been placed on the left side of an image of the god. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“Parvati wears a tiered tiara, luxurious jewelry, the sacred thread, and a diaphanous and form-revealing dhoti draped around her body and secured with a heavy jeweled belt. Her hair falls in elegant curls across the nape of her neck. These details emphasize the sensual volumes and outlines of her body, which are conceived as a series of graceful and flowing curves. The total effect is perfection, an ideal combination of realistic detail and abstract form.” <*>

Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)

Describing a 64.5-centimeter-tall, late 12th–early 13th century Chola period, copper alloy statue from Tamil Nadu in India, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “If one had to select a single icon to represent the extraordinarily rich and complex cultural heritage of India, Shiva as Nataraja would come immediately to mind. It is a brilliant iconographic invention that is closer to being a summation of the beliefs and genius of Indian people than any other single image. Nataraja’s eternal dance is performed at the center of the universe in the presence of all the gods. Through symbols and ges- tures, Shiva as Nataraja visualizes his powers as creator, preserver, and destroyer. A skull adorns his crown, and a snake coils around his shoulders. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“As he dances, he holds in his upper right hand a damaru (hand drum), from which issues the first primordial vibrating sound of creation. With his lower right hand he makes the fear-allaying mudra, which not only removes fear but also protects and preserves. In his upper left hand is agni, the consuming fire of destruction. With his left foot he tramples a small human figure who symbolizes illusion, the fault that leads humans astray. Yet as he dances this eternal cycle of creation and destruction, Nataraja raises his left leg and points to it with his lower left hand to symbolize refuge and release for the faithful. <*>

“The image teaches that through devotion to Shiva, a person’s soul can be released from the bondage of illusion and the endless cycles of birth and rebirth to which the ignorant are doomed. The belief that he is the still point beyond cycles of time is emphasized by the fact that, although his flying hair indicates his dance is wild and swift, his face is absolutely calm, and although his legs and arms are in motion, their positions are balanced. <*>

“Additional details in this depiction further elucidate Shiva’s ultimate powers. According to legend, Shiva agreed to bear in his long matted hair the weight of the great outpouring of water when the celestial river Ganges fell from heaven to earth. Riding in his locks on the left is the tiny figure of the goddess Ganga, who personifies the sacred river. Shiva’s tall crown represents the stylized peaks of the Himalayas, from which the holy waters of the Ganges flow down to the sea.” <*>

Dancing Celestial

Dancing Celestial

Describing a 85-centimeter-tall, early 12th century, sandstone image from Uttar Pradesh in India, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The contours and richly ornamented surfaces of this celestial attendant to the gods exemplify a stylistic shift away from earlier Gupta-influenced forms. Here the linear play of surface decoration and dramatic contours replace the earlier emphasis on seamless volume and subtle balance. The sculptor has twisted the figure into an extraordinary pose that captures the essence of her dance and seems absolutely believable until one imag- ines actually trying to turn this way. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“The jewelry sways and emphasizes her movements, both in the way the necklaces and sashes follow the curves of her body and in the upward thrust of the spiked tips of her crown. The crisp carving of her adornments makes a pleasing contrast with the smooth and rounded surfaces of her flesh. Images of dancing semidivine attendants often appear on the outer walls of Hindu temples. They are placed near the figures of gods to honor the deity, just as actual female dancers honored the gods’ images within the temple.” <*>

Yashoda and Krishna

Describing a 33.3-centimeter-high, early-14th-century Vijayanagar-period copper image from. India (perhaps Karnataka), Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The Krishna legend is told in books 10 and 11 of the Bhagavata Purana, the great Hindu epic. Stories about Krishna’s infancy and youth are especially beloved by the Indian people. This sculptural group shows the baby Krishna being nursed by his foster mother Yashoda who, with her husband, a cowherd, hid the protected Krishna from the evil tyrant Kansa. Kansa had planned to kill Krishna because he had been told by a sage that if he did not, Krishna was fated to kill him someday. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“The great god Vishnu instructed Krishna’s family to secretly spirit Krishna away to the countryside to be raised by Yashoda and her family. In this representation of the story, baby Krishna hugs Yashoda with one arm and plays with her nipple with his other hand. Yashoda’s selfless adoption of the infant, who unbeknownst to her was a god, earned her the status of a saint. <*>

“Here, darshan, the act of receiving merit by viewing a deity, is made especially poignant as Yashoda’s eyes meet those of the viewer while she performs the tender and selfless act of feeding her baby. Her steady gaze and the prana-filled volumes of her body suggest great inner strength. The image is a particularly successful sculpture in the round, revealing new and unexpected massing of curving forms as one examines it from various angles. From every viewpoint, a sense of richness is created by the way the smooth metal surfaces glow with reflected light.” <*>

Goddess Durga Killing the Buffalo Demon Mahisha

Describing a 13.5-centimeter-high, 12th-century Pala-period, argillite statue from Bangladesh or West Bengal in India, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “This small sculpture portrays the sixteen-armed goddess Durga as the slayer of a buffalo inhabited by the fierce demon Mahisha. A threat to the whole world, Mahisha was so invincible that even the Hindu gods who had challenged him could not kill him. In desperation, they created the goddess Durga to be their champion and gave her their weapons. A miss- ing right hand held the spear with which she is about to kill Mahisha. In her other right hands she holds an arrow, sword, chisel, hammer, thunder- bolt, elephant goad, and war discus. The objects in her left hands are a shield, bow, bell, mirror, and noose. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

Durga has just severed the buffalo’s head with her many weapons. Mahisha, in the form of a tiny chubby man, emerges from the buffalo’s decapitated body and looks up admiringly at the warlike but beautiful Durga, even as his toes are being bitten by Durga’s lion. Durga smiles serenely as she hoists Mahisha by his hair and treads gracefully on the buffalo’s body. All of these narrative details are skillfully composed and placed on a double-lotus base in a carving no larger than one’s hand. Such miniature sculptures, mainly Buddhist, were important in transmitting the Pala style throughout East Asia.” <*>

Seated Ganesha

Describing a 14th–15th century ivory image of Ganesh from Orissa in India, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Elephant-headed Ganesha is one of the most popular gods in India. He removes all obstacles, so devotion to him is important to assure auspi- cious beginnings in such ventures as starting a business, getting married, beginning a new school year, creating a work of art, or taking a long trip. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

seated Ganesh

“How Ganesha came to have his unusual head is the subject of several short stories. In the most popular one, Parvati, who becomes lonely in Shiva’s absence, creates a human son from her own body and asks him to guard her door while she bathes. Shiva returns unexpectedly, and when the young boy refuses him entry, Shiva cuts off his head. Parvati becomes so distressed that Shiva promises to replace her son’s head with the head of the first living creature he sees—which happens to be an elephant. <*>

“Due to his fondness for sweets, Ganesha’s body is corpulent. He sits on a lotus pedestal and in his four hands holds an elephant goad, two entwined snakes, a pot of sweets which he tastes with his trunk, and his broken tusk. The latter is a reference to another well-known tale about Ganesha in which he hurls the tusk at the moon in embarrassment after the moon sees his stomach nearly burst from overeating. An elephant-headed human being could be an ungainly and monstrous sight. However, the sculptor has so skillfully made the transition from elephant head and ears to human body that Ganesha seems to be believable and very approachable. <*>

“Ganesha’s jewelry is finely carved, as are his headdress ornament, the veins in his ears, and the curly strands of his hair. Such an adeptly created piece made in valuable material was probably a household image belonging to a rich, perhaps princely family.” <*>

Hindu Painting: The Gopis Beseeching Krishna to Return Their Clothing

Describing a Muslim-Mughal-era 19.2-x-25.7-centimeter ink and opaque watercolor on paper from a page from “Isarda” Bhagavata Purana (Life of Krishna, 1560-65) from India (probably Delhi-Agra, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In popular stories, the Hindu gods are often portrayed with human frail- ties. Thus, the young Krishna is often mischievous. In this episode, Krishna spies the Gopis, young female cowherds, bathing nude in the river, having hung their clothes (here, their blouses) in a tree. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

Gopis beseeching Krishna to Return Their Clothing

Krishna climbs the tree and teasingly announces that he will not return their clothes until they come out of the river and embrace him. At first the shy Gopis try to hide in the water and beg Krishna to return their blouses, but gradually they turn toward him. This story is a metaphor for the necessity of standing naked before God, not hiding anything, in order to receive divine grace.

“The red area around Krishna’s dark blue form marks the scene’s center of energy. Smaller areas of red lead one’s eye to the Gopis, whose gestures express surprise and then gradual recognition of Krishna’s identity. Black outlines emphasize their large eyes and lively poses. The deep-blue river, its surface rippling with curving patterns, rushes in a broad diagonal across the page, ignoring the painting’s borders. This thrust is balanced by the angle of Krishna’s pose, the gaze of the Gopis, and the two small cows who prance toward Krishna. Bristling and spiky trees push into the borders, reinforcing the sense of excitement and energy. <*>

“This style of painting, with its flat planes of solid color, shallow picture plane, and highly decorative effect, is part of a group representing the indigenous Indian painting style of the sixteenth century. Here, the only trace of Mughal influence is the way the river breaks the picture space into a clearly defined foreground, middle ground, and background.” <*>

Leaf from a Harivamsa Manuscript,The Legend of Hari (Krishna)

Describing a Muslim-Mughal-era 28.9-x-20-centimeter ink and opaque watercolor on paper from an illustrated Detached Folio (1590–95), Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu, grew up among a group of forest- dwelling cowherds. One year he convinced them that they need not continue making offerings to Indra, god of rain, since unlike farmers they were not dependent on rain. Instead, Krishna argued, their offerings of food and milk and their prayers should be directed toward the nearby Mount Govardhan. Infuriated by this turn of events, Indra ordered his storm clouds to flood and destroy the cowherds and their land. Realizing what was happening, Krishna uprooted Mount Govardhan and held it high like an umbrella to shelter the cowherds and their animals. There they all stayed for seven days and nights. At the end of that time, Indra recognized he was facing a divine force much greater than his own. So he dispersed his storm clouds and came down from the sky to worship Krishna. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

Legend of Hari from the Harivamsa Manuscript

“This miniature from a Mughal manuscript of a Hindu religious text was translated into Persian and illustrated by royal court artists for the emperor Akbar. Akbar wished to know as much as possible about the beliefs and philosophy of other religions, particularly Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism. He is known to have called holy men of these faiths to his palace for all day and night discussions about the differences and similari- ties in their religions. <*>

“The animals on the uplifted mountain, the people of various ages and types who gesture and look up at Krishna’s miraculous feat, and their animals patiently standing by are all recorded with accuracy and humor. In contrast, Krishna is clearly a great supernatural force. With his saffron robe, lavish jewels, and flower garlands swirling about his traditional deep blue skin, he stands at the center of the action, holding up the mountain with one hand.” <*>

Shiva and Rama Images from the Punjab Hills

Describing a Muslim-Mughal-era 17-centimeter ink and opaque watercolor, with silver and gold, on paper from a page from the Rasamanjari (Essence of the Experience of Delight, 1694-95) by Devidasa of Nurpur from the Punjab Hills in Bashohli, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “This picture’s bold conception mirrors the charged nature of the event it portrays. Shiva and Parvati have just been playing charpar, a game similar to Parcheesi. He has just cheated her of her necklace, and she is pleading for its return. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“The deities sit flanking the game board on a tiger skin tilted upward toward the picture plane. On either side are stylized trees whose pendulous heads, nodding inward, mimic the posture of the figures. Shiva, his face partially turned toward the viewer, glances slyly across the field of brilliant yellow, while Parvati stares resolutely at her husband. In the late seventeenth century, court painters in the Punjab hills of northwest India produced illustrations like this with vivid, unnatural colors, shallow space, and a decorative inventiveness that hark back to the indigenous Rajasthani painting tradition. <*>

Describing a Rajput-style 62.2-x-82.9 -centimeter ink and opaque watercolor on paper from a page from Siege of Lanka series, fifth book of the Ramayana (Stories of King Rama, 1725-30) by Manaku of Guler Punjab Hills, Guler, Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In this scene from the Ramayana, Rama and his brother Lakshmana sit with the kings of the monkeys and bears, who have brought their armies to join Rama in laying siege to the fortress of the demon king Ravana, ruler of Lanka (Sri Lanka) and abductor of Rama’s wife Sita. Ravana’s evil powers are symbolized by his ten heads, twenty arms, and twenty hands, each of which holds a different weapon. On the fortress roof in the upper right, Ravana, who is suspicious of his brother’s loyalty, instructs two monstrous assistants to spy on his brother and Rama’s forces. In the scene below, they leave the castle, unaware that Ravana’s brother is already telling Rama about places where his armies can break through the fortress walls. As the two spies arrive upon the scene, they become so impressed with Rama’s valor and goodness that they join in the plans to rescue Sita and destroy Ravana. <*>

painting by Manaku of Guler

“Areas of red, white, and black lead the eye from one episode to the next as the narrative unfolds from left to right. The monkeys and bears in delight- ful formations of tan and black encircle the culminating scene. Patterns dominate in the way trees, flowers, and architecture are portrayed. A river with frolicking fish and a curious red creature flows across the bottom, and shades of mustard and green tones further unify both halves of the narrative. Close examination yields wonderful details such as the jewelry—especially the pearls—and crowns, sashes, claws, fangs, and tails.

“This unusually large Indian painting made for a Hindu ruler was part of an unfinished series describing the siege. It was probably designed to illus- trate the story in a reading before a large court audience. The painting has text on the back, which suggests the narrator would hold it up in front of him while reading the story written on the back.” <*>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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