Tuesday, October 27, 2009


A collage from my collection of photographs
Source : Panels on temples of Bengal and Rajasthan

Many of the surviving temples of India , built during medieval ages , are adorned with sculptures and panels . There is one common point : gods , goddesses, ‘yakshas’ and ‘yakshees’ are positioned at a height and the devotees have to look up to view them. Most of them are in static postures .

At the lower level, are panels, often overlooked by the tourists in a hurry, where one can view portrayals from scenes from life . In many of these panels we find the incumbents frozen in time, yet dynamic in postures.These panels are often not done to artistic perfection, but, most of these panels tell viewers stories about lives of common people and aristocracy of those days. A serious student of terra cotta art would have read Zulekha Haq's book where she has made a powerful presentation on social scenes in terra cotta temples of Bengal.

There is another reason why we were serious about these panels, While the sculptures at the higher levels are regal and beautiful, the postures are often static and can be monotonous. Artists created the eventful panels in lower level where often we found energy and the flow of life.

Here is a selection from photographs of such panels Ruby and I have taken during our trips to temples of Hooghly and Bankura districts of West Bengal as well as of Rajasthan and created 'albums' during last 3 years.

‘HUNTERS’: View the dynamics of all the human and animal figures of this panel. One of the oldest from my collection. 1648 AD. ’Jor-Bagla’ temple, Bishnupur, West Bengal.

‘MARCH TO THE BATTLEGROUND’: Movement of human and animal figures depicted with careful details. The Foot soldiers have differing strides. ’Sameedheswar Shiva’ temple, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan.

‘TRAPEZE’ : A wonderful collage of 20 persons in various postures of acrobatics,The ‘zamindar’, in a crouching posture (LH bottom-most corner) watches the show. 1786AD.’RadhaGovindjiu’s temple, Aantpur, Dt –Hooghly, West Bengal.

‘COAXING’ : Woman sulks and looks away from his lover while their friends are in a mood of joyous revelry.1652 AD. ’Jagdhish’ temple. Udaipur, Rajasthan.

‘FESTIVITY’ : Ecstasy and abandon .11th (?) century. ‘Aadinath’ temple, Ranakpur, Rajasthan.

‘FERTILITY’ : Queen Devaki rests on a upturned cane container (‘dhaamaa’ in Bengali) as her attendant helps her to give birth to infant Krsna. In the neighbouring panel, Mahamaya looks on while the lone sentry of Kansa’s prison dozes off. Vasudev will escape the prison in a short while with infant Krsna to take him to Vrindavan. 18th century .Krsna temple, Bahirgarh,
Dt.- Hooghly, West Bengal.

‘SAILING ON THE BROOKS OF LIFE’ : 18th century. Temple at Kotalpur, Dt.- Hooghly, West Bengal.

The top panel has two parts from a well known sequence of Krsnaleela.Many songs....'kirtan' and folksongs...have been written and sung for centuries on the same. Secondly, according to Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyaya, a renowned scholar of Bengal , 'boat' has special significance in 'Caryapada',the earliest mystic poems in Bengali and repeated appearance of 'boat' in 'Krsnaleela' in terra cotta temples of Bengal has influence of 'Caryapada' theme too.
On the left-hand side, we find 4 milk-women of Vrindavan, stranded on the shore of Mathura,since Krsna has managed to disperse all the boatmen of the Yamuna river.2 women are seen to persuade Krsna to take them to take them to Vrindavan while the other two enliven the scene by song and dance.On the right-hand panel, we find Krsna in multiple manifestations.He is at the stern as well as at the centre of the boat,embracing Radha and another milk-woman.
On the lower level,we can see a large see a large boat, very European in its appearance. Damaged it is ..... but, it is not difficult to imagine how magnificent the panel was. Rows of sailors and revelers adorn the panel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009



Skyline of Chittorgarh.On the extreme left , Rana Kumbha' s palace. On the extreme right, 'Jayastambha'.

4th of the seven gates of Chittor's fort. In local language,fort's gate is known as 'Pol'.The first gate is known as Ram pol, named after Rama of Ramayana! The other gates are called : Padan Pol, Bhairon Pol, Hanuman Pol, Ganesh Pol, Jodla Pol and Laxman Pol .

My first visit to Chittorgarh was in 1971. A very memorable trip. My mother accompanied me to Udaipur and Chittorgarh and we together had a very memorable unhurried trip through the land of Mewar's glorious past. Before my visit , I did a bit of home work . Some of the monuments of Chittor's fort moved me in a way I still remember, even after lapse of 38 years.

For example, in the empty temple of Meeraa, a lone, old singer was singing Meeraa's 'bhajan' .....the melody still haunts me. I have visited this temple on several occasions during later years, but, never came across another singer like her.Now-a-days , Meeraa's 'bhajans' are played in a CD player and that old-world charm is lost.

122' tall 9-storied 'Jayastambha'( Victory Tower') was built by Rana Kumbha between 1458 and 1468 to celebrate his victory over Mohd. Khilji, ruler of Malwa in 1440. The tower sits on a 10' high pedestal and is 30' wide at the base. The tower is adorned with figures of gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology.

Rana Kumbha's 'Jayastambha (' Victory Tower') stands as glorious as ever. His dilapidated palace is now a site for soni-lumiere show. As I entered the Padmini's palace , I wondered if a time machine would tranport me to the fateful day in 1503 when Ala-ud-din Khilji was escorted by Rana to view the reflection of his beautiful queen Padmini in a mirror.

Queen Padmini sat on the steps of this building. Ala-ud-din sat in a hall on the 1st floor of a building opposite to this one, with his back towards a window through which a mirror caught her reflection . The lustful Sultan waged war to snatch away Padmini from Rana Ratansing, laid siege of this fort .... at the end, the soldiers of Rana fought to death and the women chose self-immolation to avoid capture .

A sculpture from the dilapidated temple on the west of 'Jayastambha'. The goddess has 4 hands, a 'chakra' and a string of beads on her right hands and a very likely a written page on her upper left hand while the lower left hand is stretched to offer blessing.She is fully clothed, wears ornaments and has her feet at right angles to each other. Is she a Jain goddess.

Ruby and I found time to take photos of 'Jayastambha', Samiddheswr Shiva's temple and of sculptures on a nearly broken temple in the western side of 'Jayastambha'. We could spend time inside the Shiva temple, marveling at the three faces of Shiva (I came across term 'Adbhutananda Shiva' in a blog on Iconography by Ms Kavitha) .Thanks to the priest, we could capture the deity's faces in nos of shots.

The three faces of Shiva. The front face has extra-ordinarily large eyes, often used in Jain sculptures ( Aadinath and others), side faces depicting 'Shantarasa' and 'Adbutarasa' (emotions : calm and queer).

What I regret is that I missed out taking a photo of the side faces from different angles. Outside, the sun was about to set. I could take much less photographs than I would have liked to as the light started to fade. When we visited Meera's temple and the Jain temple, it was quite dark.

A view of the skyline of Chittor beyond the 'Gopuram' of 'Samidheswar' temple.

The western sky was bright orange when viewed through the 'Natmandir' . The city of Chittor lay ahead of us, under the deep blue sky , bright after a shower and turning red as the sun started his climb down.We had to hurry as Kalika, Meeraa and Jain temples were yet to be visited before it turns dark.But, eventually , we were late. We knew we have come back at least once more for the son-et-lumiere show, a climb atop 'Kirtistambha' ( this 72' tower was built in 12th century) , a walk down the stairs of 'Gomukh' reservoir and another trip down the memory lane.

A poor shot of 'Kirtistambha' , taken from a distance. At its right, Digambar Jain Temple.

Sunday, October 4, 2009



Aadinath temple at Ranakpur , Rajasthan.Built in 1439 AD.Basement area 48,000 sq.ft.It has 1444 pillars.

Ranakpur is 98 km from Udaipur…. In many ways, our visit to Ranakpur was a revelation.
The journey through the meadows and hills was, as I have mentioned in the 1st part of my travelogue, enchanting. Ranakpur is a beautiful valley. The Temple complex is a large compound, dotted with trees, set up across a rivulet , with no shacks around the compound, very much unlike many other places of tourist interest in India. There are four temples within the compound, an Administrative Block, with two Dining Halls attached to it and living quarters for the men who work there and Guest rooms. The rooms are very affordable @ around Rs 100+ per night. Quite a Spartan accommodation , a large bedroom with two cots and a fan, plug-points for mosquito repellent, laptop and charging mobiles, a Store room and a court-yard with Indian WC, a big bathroom with western WC and shower. There is a large car park and moderate facility for the driver too.
Ranakpur has four temples. Principal deity of the main temple is Jain saint Aadinath . It is a huge temple, with no sculpture on the exterior. Inside this temple we find a treasure of rich and intricate carvings, statues of Jain gods and goddesses and Yakshis. A feast for the eyes and our cameras.

A view of one of many corridors created by 1444 pillars the Aadinath temple has.

Arabasque and knots created by snakes. Saraswati in centre.Knots are spreading concentric circles. The three circles have 8,8 and 16 knots one after the other.

The main temple was build around 1439 AD by Dharna Sha, a Jain businessman . The name Ranakpur has reportedly been derived from Rana Kumbha , who gave the plot of land to Dharna Sha. The basement of this huge temple covers 48000 sq feet. It has 1444 pillars . But, the beauty of this temple lie beyond such statistical data.

Sculpture in the Aadinath temple.The smiling male figure has 6 hands..His consort stands on his right and carries a small spherical container.

Aadinath's mother Manjudevi rides the elephant. A very prominent sculpture in Aadinath temple.

Yakshi , with a sword-like item in her right-hand.The sculptor has done a very bad job.Errors in proportion,shape of limbs. The combat-cum-dance posture,however, makes her unique!

Camera is allowed inside the main temple only after we buy a ticket from the ticket counter outside the same . Photography is allowed between 12.00 noon and 5.00 pm . Security personnel are quite strict about the timing. I arrived late and could not use the camera for more than 35 minutes , which was quite inadequate . We missed a good part of the work we would have loved to capture . Since the sun was to set in an hour’s time, we left for the other temples where photography was without restriction. Two of them were quite captivating . But, after the sun-down , the interior of the main temple was quite dark , since, no electric bulbs are allowed. Priests perform their duty in candle light only. So, we missed out viewing a part of the finer portions of this temple during this visit.

The visitors are looking at the ceiling at the entrance.... a motif that I missed out during my photography session.

The five senses of a human being. Figure on the ceiling near the entrance of Aadinath temple.

When I was sitting on the steps of the temple after the evening prayer ( sandhyarati) , the chamber and the pathway in semi-darkness, glow coming from the rays of the few lamps and candles lit, a priest and the wife of another struck a conversation with me . Sensing my disappointment at not being able to savour the work for longer hours, I was taken around to view the major work in candle light. This is an experience which words cannot describe. The bright eyes of Vairab and his Consort on the RH wall of Adinath’s chamber, the arabesque on the ceiling and couple of other plaques, the corridor with intricate work on the pillars, glow of a lamp in a far-away window-like opening. I carried the impression in my heart ……

View of Parshvanath temple , as photographed from the rear.The walls are full of sculpture and plaques.

This stone lion stares at the viewers and pilgrims , from his eternal crouching pose !

A four-handed Jain god , with very interesting details,in Parasvnath temple. His face shows no emotion.He is naked ( an enlarged view reveals more details!, ) , yet has ornaments dangling on his thighs.He is ferocious - somewhat like Hindu 'Rudra', with sword and a head of a dead man in his hands.His other two hands carry a small tabor and a contraption held between two fingers.He has a small moustache, a prominent beard and a snake worn as a necklace.He has a star in between the two nipples.

While the goddess in the centre sits with a child in her lap, very likely in a symbol of Fertility, couples around her are engaged in acts of coitus.

A couple engaged in coitus in standing position, the hands of these persons showing the extent of their engagement!.

I have little knowledge of Jain Iconography. Jain scripture has many gods and goddesses. Saraswati, Chakreswari Devi , 24 Lord Tirthankaras with 24 Yakshas amd 24 Yakshis,

We shall visit Ranakpur again , for peace and de-tox , for more of photography and enjoy the evenings of prayer amid the glow of candles and lamps and ringing of the giant bells..
A few important info. :
  1. Nearest railway station is Phalna, which is 35 km from Ranakpur.
  2. Airports of Jodhpur and Udaipur are nearly equidistant, but, the journey from the later is more rewarding.
  3. Nearest town - Sadri (8 km).
  4. Phone no of the Admin Office @ Ranakpur – 02934 285019.
  5. Avoid being in a hurry . You must relax to enjoy the spirit of Ranakpur.