Thursday, September 29, 2011


               A CRITIQUE of  WALL RELIEFS on  'VAMANA AVATAR'  - 

A view of the access to 'MahaVishnu' Cave.
It is I  climbing up the steps. 'Trivikrama' in the far end.

At Badami, we find four Cave temples - 1st one dedicated to Siva and Shakti, 2nd and 3rd ones to Vishnu  and the 4th  - the topmost one - to Jain Iconography.For the purpose of distinguishing one from the other,the two caves are called 'Vishnu Guha' - 2nd one from bottom - and 'MahaVishnu Guha'-  3rd one from bottom by the local guides .

A discussion on  'VAMANA AVATAR'  need be done  in  three parts, before we move into the two wall-reliefs of Trivikrama, that we find at the Cave temple of Badami.

The 1st is the mythological tale - which might have started during rule of  the Gupta  dynasty. Gods' reign over the Heaven was threatened by growing influence of  King Bali. He was invincible in battles - yet a generous and kind person.  To protect gods' interest, Vishnu agreed  to their entreaty of neutralising Bali. On a particular day, when during  the ritual of 'Ashwamedh Yagna' - a big ceremony taking place around a sacrificial horse - Bali had organised a big event of granting donation to whoever came to his court seeking the same. Vishnu appeared incognito as a dwarf brahmin in this congregation.  Bali received the dwarf brahmin with adoration, ignoring his mentor Shukracharya's warning that the brahmin was  no ordinary person. Vishnu  asked for land just enough for his  three strides . When the king granted the same, Vishnu stood in front of the king in his full cosmic form  filling  the world . Vishnu's right foot covered the earth , his body filled the sky in all directions and  the left foot reached the heaven .  Vishnu then he asked the king: where the third step can be taken. King offered his head. Bali was then tied up and ready to be banished . Brahma pleaded for a benign treatment for Bali reminding Vishnu of his noble nature. Bali's wife Vindhyabali and grandfather Prahlada - great devotee of Vishnu - pleaded for Bali. Each in her/his way.Vishnu sent Bali to his own hermitage first and later to 'Sutal' - definitely a territory away from the heaven , Indra's kingdom . Vishnu also assured Bali  of  sovereignty of 'Sutal' after a while. ( based on 19th - 23rd chapters of 8th Canto, 'Srimadbhagabat Gita').

'Trivikrama' in the 'Vishnu' cave temple.Compared to the more well-known depiction of 'Trivikrama' in the next level, it appears to be a 'Draft' work.
This 'Trivikrama's'  stance is somewhat static. The celestial portion is incomplete.

Next is a discussion on the appeal of  the myth of Trivikrama - Vamana Avatar.  This myth combines in it both the 'vibhava' or 'avatar' - incarnatory - and 'vibhuti' - manifestational aspects of Vishnu. To prevent  Bali from getting control of the heaven, the domain of Indra, Vishnu incarnates himself as Dwarf  in the womb of Aditi. the mother of gods.  To generate awe in the heart of Bali, he manifested his cosmic form - 'Viratrupa' . Thus, in one myth, devotees of Vishnu find both the 'vibhava' and   'vibhuti' aspects of their Lord amalgamated.( based on 'Vaishnava Iconology of Nepal' by Prataditya Pal).

3rd point in this discussion - was Vishnu fare to Bali ?  His army, as expected, reacted adversely . They felt, Vishnu came incognito and usurped all that Bali acquired in his life , though he was a religious person, a ruler of high moral standing.  Their resistance was neutralised by Vishnu's companions - 'parshadas'. Bali's son Banasura caught hold of Vishnu's right foot and pleaded Vishnu not to banish his father . However, all these efforts made no impact on Vishnu. Only later, Brahma's pleading in favour of Bali and very carefully worded statements made by Vindhyabali and Prahlad brought a somewhat positive conclusion of this episode . Well, according to many, Vishnu was not fare to Bali!

 'Trivikrama' wall-relief is divided into sections, depicting the major events. 
Here we find 'Adoration of 'Vamana Avatar' by King Bali . Queen Vindhyabali, 
Shukracharya ( not separately distinguishable ) and  his courtiers look on.

Among all the major wall-reliefs on this manifestation of Vishnu,  two at Badami, one each at Mallapuram and Ellora are very well-known. So are the several ones found in Nepal. The characters in these wall-reliefs, placed around the huge figure of Trivikrama, tell the story of King Bali and adoration of Vishnu. Not all the characters are identical.  In the wall-relief at 'MahaVishnu' cave temple at Badami ,we find Namuchi  clasping left foot of  Trivikrama , same way as at Changu Narayana of Nepal , while in  the other wall-relief at Badami, this person   is  obese and cannot be young Banasura.

'Trivikrama' in MahaVishnu Cave temple is artistically much improved compared to the previous one. Trivikrama's face is  turned slightly towards his left - a stance very much unlike that at floor below and also at Mallapuram or at Changu Narayana,Nepal.Only at Cave 15 of Ellora, Trivikrama's face is turned towards his left , but that wall-relief carries much less details than this one.

We  find here the sacrificial  horse in the right-hand corner top, gods,the Moon , Rahu  , Namuchi kicked up and away in the other half at the top. In the lower half, we find adoration of Vamana Avatar below the left foot of  Trivikrama and persuasion of Trivikrama   by Banasura and hostility of Namuci around his right-foot. In the portion 'Adoration of  Vamana Avatar' we find eroded 'Vamana with his umbrella', thus robbing this portion of its beauty.

I have given copious notes under the pictures I have posted here . Hope my friends will enjoy the same.

Sacrificial horse - 'Ashwamedh Yagna'
'MahaVishnu' Cave temple, Badami

Upper half of Trivikrama in his full cosmic grandeur.  
As his head touches the sky where Ganesha and gods , 
the Sun, the Moon and Rahu adore him.
We can see some of Vishnu's divine weapons here -
discuss 'Sudarsana', bow 'Sharnga' and sword 'Vidyadhara''.
'MahaVishnu' Cave temple, Badami.

 One of the artistically finest depiction of 'Trivikrama'  .
 It is sad the 'Vamana Avatar' has been eroded.
The wall-relief has been so crafted that 
a section of the same hides under the drooping pavilion.
The details are astounding.
'MahaVishnu' Cave temple, Badami.

1 comment:

Ramjee Nagarajan said...

Nice in-depth assay on the sculptures. Would like to receive e-mail updates from your blog please, do the needful!