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The Metaphorical Concepts and Rules in Indian Sculpture

Part - 3

In the case of more than two hands, it was the command of that author that other hands should build conjointly with the same shoulder. Artists can make more extensive the breadth of the shoulder, but making more than one shoulder is not allowed. According to Hindu Puranas, sculptures depicting Gods or devils with more than two hands symbolize their spiritual power accumulated for a specific purpose. While this is a metaphorical representation, Gods or their offspring can have more than two hands for a particular reason. These additional limbs are not physical but instead created through the power of Yoga. While traveling through the Himalayan valley, I once encountered a saint in a remote area near Kedarnath mountain of Uttrakhand who was deeply engrossed in chanting with his beads. I was transfixed as I watched his body floating in the air from a certain distance above the ground. 

If it is possible to float the human body in the air, inserting additional body parts to fulfill some requirements is also possible. Of course, those will not be as normal as we see. Therefore, In Indian sculpture, including multiple hands and heads, serves a purpose beyond artistic expression. These elements carry significant meaning and echo the powerful words of the Vaidic chant, reminding us that we are the children of an immortal father and, hence, are full of optimistic power.

indian sculpture Durga battle against Mahishasura
Maa Durga battle against Mahishasur.

In the story of Chandi, Maa Durga is described as having ten hands during her battle against Mahishasur. She used her strength to defeat him and bring an end to his kingdom. These ten hands symbolized her immense spiritual power, which Mahishasur could not overcome.

Throughout history, India has been attacked multiple times by exotic enemies, which resulted in the destruction of valuable sculptures and paintings

in Northern India. There have been instances where individuals who identify as Muslims have destroyed images and artworks as they perceive them to be against the teachings of Allah(God). They did this before they established their rule.

While the southern region suffered less damage, there is still an opportunity to appreciate the remaining outstanding sculptures.

In ancient times, a sage named Agastya ( Agastya was an ancient Indian sage known for his supernatural powers. His influence was extended even to non-living beings like stones, mountains, rivers, and air!) crossed the Vindhya hills of northern India. Using his immense talent and significant activity, he conquered southern India. Historians view this as a victory for the Aryan civilization, profoundly impacting the region.

Agastya, a 9th century sculpture
Agastya, a 9th century sculpture

Agastya saved many ancient Hindu scriptures related to painting, sculpture, and music and formalized them in Sanskrit. He also constructed numerous temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Indian art includes painting, sculpture, and gothic art as its primary segments. Thanks to Agastya's efforts, many valuable scriptures have been restored to their rightful place. I want to highlight some ancient texts that were brought back to life, with a few still available in southern Indian temples. Agastya focused on reviving essential gothic art books such as Mansara, Shilparatna, and Mayamat. Additionally, the painting section saw the restoration of Chitrarnava, an ancient text authored by sage Atrri, regaining its grandeur.

Some notable books in Indian art include Saraswatiyam, Mulstamvhya Nirnaya, and Vishnudharmottara. Although Vishnudharmottara, which is considered the oldest among these scriptures, has been lost. It is still highly revered in South India and considered as important as the Vedas.

Chidambaram temple
Chidambaram temple

For art enthusiasts worldwide, the Chidambaram temple is a marvel in sculpture. The temple's outer walls showcase all the body gestures of the Indian classical dance, Bharatanatyam, leaving visitors awestruck. This could serve as a valuable tutorial for classical dance students.

Emperor Virchandra Chol established the temple during his dynasty between 907 and 951. Sadly, he passed away before its inauguration, leaving it incomplete. His successors finished the temple and also added all the related sculptures. It serves as a remarkable example of Indian sculpture. On the preceding page are images of some sculptures from the temple depicting a dancing gesture.

The temple is well-known for its world-renowned statue of Lord Shiva in an angry form, commonly called Nataraj. This sculpture is also famous for depicting the dancing gesture of Bharatanatyam. I'll discuss this statute later.

Another significant temple in Madurai is the Sundareswarar temple, located close to the Meenakshi temple. Every inch of this temple is adorned with beautiful sculptures! The renowned anthology, "Shivaleelarnavam," penned by a sage from King Tirumala's royal court, is brought to life through the statues adorning the temple's walls. The exceptional artistry displayed in these sculptures is so divine that one may easily mistake them for the work of heavenly beings rather than mere mortals.

Meenakshi temple is also a great example of Indian sculpture. By visiting here, you will have a lifetime experience.

It is against the rules in South India to remove a god's statue from the temple where it is worshipped every day. Therefore, it has been a tradition to create a similar sculpture as a subsidiary statue and include it in religious processions. These subsidiary statues are made of metal and are not meant to be destroyed by the rule. As a result, all sculptures are considered a part of the temple and contribute to its grandeur.

This magnificent metal sculpture perfectly embodies the ancient Indian sculpture principles outlined in their oldest scriptures. The guidelines emphasize that bronze is the ideal material for creating sculptures. To achieve this, the scriptures recommend using 85% copper, 12% tin, 2% silver, and 1% gold, thus totaling 100%. Furthermore, the scriptures suggest using a combination of eight metals, namely gold, silver, iron, brass, tin, bronze, bell metal (made with copper and zinc), and copper, to create a truly remarkable metal. In India, the name of such metal is 'Ashtadhatu.' It's a popular metal in India, among other recommended metals. Still, in most temples, statues of the Lord are made with this metal.

India has many temples adorned with intricate sculptures that amaze visitors. It would be challenging to cover all the temples and statues within a short space. The Nataraja sculpture has a fascinating history. I will delve into the history behind this remarkable work of art.

Image Resource - Agastya

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