Thursday, August 21, 2008

INTERPRETING 'NINE BEAUTIES AND LOVE' : 'NABA-NAREE-KUNJAR' , the terra cotta panels of Bishnupur Temples.

'We do not get a full view of the Moon on the 2nd night
That happens only later during the night of Full Moon.
We make all these sweet efforts in touch (and embrace)
Later we feel so much pleasure.
O Hari,O (Lord) Hari, how can I tell You
Thou art an excited elephant ,(I) a lotus-like woman .
------- JnanaDas,a famous Vaishnav poet.

A pillar of Madan-Mohan Temple, Bishnupur.

What was the significance of NINE in context of the artists of terra cotta Temples of Bishnupur?

This question came to my mind when I saw this panel portraying 'Naba-Naree-Kunjar' in MadanMohan and Jor-Bangla Temples. Literary speaking,'Naba-Naree-Kunjar' means an elephant comprising of nine women. What we see in this panel that nine fiends of Radha in various postures have created the shape of an elephant and Krsna-Radha are sitting on the back of this 'elephant' in an amorous posture.

Nine is a number that has captured the imagination of the people around the world through the ages. There are numbers of articles in Internet on NINE !

Let us explore a few of them before I come to my interpretation of this imagery.
Hindu mythology refer to Naba-Graha - NINE celestial bodies.Among them , we find the Sun , Moon,the Venus ,the Saturn and several imaginary bodies too.
Hindu scripture says a human body has Naba-Dwar - NINE 'doors', : the eyes , the ears, the nostrils, the rectum and the urethra.
'Naba-Ratna' - NINE jewels - is the name of nine creative persons and intellectuals of An Indian king's court .This word was first coined at the time of Emperor Chandragupta's rule.
The Legend of the NINE Unknown Men dates back to the rule of Emperor Ashoka the Great. Wikipedia states : 'According to occult lore, the Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka c. 270 BCE. According to the legend, upon his conversion to Buddhism after a massacre during one of his wars, the Emperor founded the society of the Nine to preserve and develop knowledge that would be dangerous to humanity if it fell into the wrong hands. Some versions of the story include an additional motivation for the Emperor to conceal scientific knowledge: remnants of the Rama Empire, an Indian version of Atlantis, which according to Hindu scripture was destroyed by advanced weaponry 15,000 years ago.' One can read more about this in

The question remained in my mind : What was the significance of NINE in context of the artists of terra cotta Temples of Bishnupur?
But , I could not find any reference to NINE friends of Radha. She had eight close friends - referred as 'Asta-Sakhi'. Is this panel an allegory of 'Naba-Rasa' - NINE sentiments or emotions which define expressions of Indian visual art forms - be that painting, sculpture, drama and dance ?
These NINE emotions are :
  • Shringar - Erotic ,love.
  • Hasya - Laughter,comic.
  • Karun - Pathos,sad.
  • Veer - Valour,heroism.
  • Bhayanak - Terrible.
  • Veebhatsa - Detestable,horrid.
  • Adbhoot - Queer.
  • Shaanto - Calm,Tranquil .
We can compare 'Naba-Rasa' with the concept of NINE Muses. According to Greek Mythology, these Muses represent the NINE moods of creation process too.The Muses are :

( Source :

We can compare Erato with Indian 'Shringar', Thalia with 'Hasya' and Melpomene with 'Karun'. Muses have inspired numerous artwork : poems and sculptures and paintings. We see here a painting made by Baldassore Peruzzi, an Architect and painter (1481 - 1537 AD) from Siena,Italy:

'Kunjar' - elephant - is a favourite motif of Indian imagery. - specially in scenes of processions and battle-scenes . In the Tales of 'Jataka', there is story of a white elephant who is a noble soul. Here in Vaishnav 'padabali' ,i.e., verses,'Kunjar'/elephant has been used as a erotic symbol again and again, specially in context with limbs and gait of Radha. The verse of JnanaDas quoted above has compared acts of virile Krsna with that of an excited elephant.'Naree'- women- enhances the erotic motif of the imagery of this panel. Amorous and playful Krsna and Radha ride this 'elephant'.

This panel shows that the love between Krsna and Radha ( termed as 'Ujjwal Rasa by poets and Religious leaders....a divine manifestation of 'Shringer Rasa') is above all other emotions or 'Rasas' !

Viewer : Please click on this photo to see my 'guess' about which "Sakhi' represents which 'rasa'

I have assigned the nine 'rasa's to the nine 'sakhi's of this image.It was not easy, the faces of the women are nearly gone !I can explain a few of my choices ...may be some of my friends and readers will settle for a different allocation.For their benefit, I have uploaded a fresh image in Please view it @

At the end, I shall make one submission to those readers who have gone through this writing till this last paragraph.Krsna-Radha are worshiped among a very large cross-section of Hindus. Their story,over the Centuries, created best of the verses and songs of devotion in this sub-continent. Devotees believe Radha's love for Krsna is the love of human soul for Him ! Wonderful sculpture and paintings have been inspired by Krsna -Radha ..... as you would delve more and more into this subject, Beauty of this ancient Tales from Hindu scripture and mythology would pervade your mind and heart like divine fragrance.

1 comment:


My friend Loken 'sir', has made the following comment through googlechat on 24/08/08:

To enjoy yr expert advice, while u r on-line, hastiliy went thru yr Blog & Why is naba-nari interpreted as 9 women & not young women? Radha was 16 yrs at that time! Pretty daring teenager!!

August 24, 2008 11:07 AM