Sunday, August 17, 2008


When we took photographs of the terracotta panels of Shyam-Rai and Jor-Bangla temples of Bishnupur during our visit there in December,2007, certain panels with depictions of animals ( real and imaginary) Palace and Street scenes struck us as quite different from the 'usual'. I created a folder called 'Anokhi', meaning 'Strange & unique' translated in English , where I stored these photos for future reference.

The first one was that of an animal which has wings, beaks eating elephants and a feline body. It was flying and trampling elephants. This was a panel from Jor-Bangla temple .A similar panel was there in Shyam_Rai too, but with a difference in shape and nos of limbs.

In my Tale about the terra cotta artists of Bishunur , I attributed Shyam_Rai panel to 'Aalam' : and

(from Shyam-Rai Temple)

All the while, I wanted to find out if this 'image' has its root in Hindu mythology or imported from outside. History says that there was migration of artists from West Asia to India during Muslim rule and Indian art was influenced by the painting skills and imageries of West Asia.

Based on this clue, I searched and found that the fire-spewing animal of Bishnupur has considerable similarity of image of 'Griffin'.

13th Century bas-relief of Griffin. Picardy,France.

The griffin is a legendary animal with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. The lion is the king of animals and the eagle is the king of birds.Combining the two, human imagination gave birth to a majestic 'creature' which 'lived' through centuries as a symbol of power with appearances in heraldry too.The idea of Griffin was known to artistes of Greece,Egypt and medieval Europe. In Persia, this creature is known as Homa

Heraldry Griffin.15th Century, Italy.

One can read about this subject in more details from :

I have posted two photos from my album here which are close to Griffin's image.

The one from Shyam-Rai temple is a big winged bird, has two leonine hind limbs with talons and two ears. It is about to gobble an elephant and tramples nine others. One elephant has escaped its wrath and stands staring at the herd from the rear.

The one from Jor-Bangla is closer to the Western concept of Griffin. Its open beaks eat up two elephants, tramples four elephants by its four talons while one elephant, again at the rear, has survived the assault. It has wings and two rather small ears. A child Griffin is watching her mother's action from the top.


lokenrc said...

I am taking out a print to read through slowly.

Shyam-Rai picture HTML defective - needs re-copy. Pl send me an email when done, so that I can come back again.

Anirban said...

If I am not very wrong, the griffin appears in north Indian archaeological remains from the common era, and probably in Harappan sites also. Post-islam, when the cultural transfer you mention supposedly took place, griffins seemed to have vanished from West Asia!

William said...

Hello! I was delighted to read your post on the griffin sculptures at Shyam-Rai and Jor-Bangla. I have just acquired a small bronze of the same subject: a griffin trampling and eating elephants, which I am sure is Indian and related to the terra-cottas you depict.

I have not yet photographed it, but I soon shall. If you are interested, I'll send you a copy. I would very much like to see higher-resolution copies of your, if that's possible.

I'm writing now just to check whether you are active and interested. My email is - My name is William Paul, and I'm in Melbourne, Australia. Please do get in touch, and in the meantime I'll take some good photos of the bronze.

Best regards