Yogini at Patan

A yogini

Rani ki vav has several sculptures of Vishnu and his avatars and other Gods. However, there is also an abundance of female figures in the form of Apsaras, naga kanyas and yoginis. This yogini appears between the panels of Balarama and Srirama.

She has a bowl (kapala?) with a fish in her right hand held above her head. The left-hand holds a mace with a skull head (Khatvanga?). She appears to be in a dancing pose. She has ornaments including necklaces, waistband, anklets, bracelets, eardrops, etc.  She seems to be wearing animal skin on her waist. At her feet, there is a bearded man beating a drum.

Interestingly, she is wearing sandals on her feet. This is distinct from the apsaras and naga kanyas, who were barefooted. My interpretation of this is this: The apsaras are celestial beings and they fly from place to place. The naga kanyas slither their way. The yoginis are earthlings and they need to walk. Hence the sandals.

The figure is framed by a series of mini panels depicting deities. Varaha and Narasimha are easily discernible.

Durga at Rani ki Vav

Durga Mahishasuramardini at Rani ki vav stepwell

One of the most exquisite and intricate high relief sculpture of Mahishasuramardini is at Rani-ki-Vav,Patan, Gujarat. This 11th century sandstone sculpture is well preserved, probably because it was covered with sand and mud for many decades and was excavated fully in the 1980’s.

The whole panel is in high relief – almost full relief, making us wonder how the entire carving was done with the limited tools and technology available in the 11th century.

Though in battle mode, the Goddess looks very elegant and the posture is graceful. The ornament details are easily discernible in the crown, earrings, neckbands, necklaces, girdle, bracelets, armbands, anklets etc.

She has 10 pairs of hands. In the right hands she holds the trident, vajra (thunderbolt), arrow, gadha (mace) ankush (prod/goad) spear, chakra like weapon, lotus, dumroo and sword.

The left hands hold the hair of the demon trying to escape in human form, lower shaft of the trishul, a hooded weapon, pasha (rope/ noose), a bow, war horn, three headed-cobra, and skull cup with fish, a bell and a shield.

The lion is assisting in the annihilation of the demon. The main figure is framed at the back with 4 mini panels on either side depicting female deities and crowned by a torana with a female deity and assorted figures.

What is the chakra on the buffalo’s body? Is it the clone of the Sudarshana Chakra given to Maa Durga by Mahavishnu? Did she use this first before the trident?

Vishnu in Ananthasayanam

Ananthasayi Vishnu on the Eastern side of Kund

Vishnu in Ananthasayana pose.

As I entered the Sun Temple complex in Modhera, I was overwhelmed by the imposing sight of the Kund, the Sabhamandapa, and the Gudhamandapa all in a row. I did not know where to begin. Logic prevailed and I started with the kund (pushkarani). This had many niche shrines at every level and every corner. The access was through narrow and steep steps. I struck gold in the first niche itself on the Eastern side.

Here I came across the miniature, yet iconic image of Vishnu in Anantha sayi pose in bas relief. Unlike Perumals in South India who have the head on our left,* this Vishnu is reclining on Anantha with his head on our right (South). The seven hoods of the serpent form a canopy over His head. His lower left-hand rests on his thigh. The left lower arm is broken. The upper right-hand carries the mace and the left one the chakra.

Lakshmidevi sits at his feet. The usual Padma from the nabhi with Brahma is absent. Above the deity, there is a strip of small figures. Indra on his elephant Iravatha, a lion, and a demon are clearly discernible.  Above the relief, there is a frieze of demonic figures with arms. There are three niches with deities who are not identifiable. Below the hood of the serpent, there is a horse-like animal.

Below Anantha, there is a separate frieze of human figures which are not identifiable. There is a horizontal line or rope connecting the figures which makes me believe that this could be the ‘Sagar Manthan’ scene.

This image is precious for another reason. I knew I had seen this bas relief but could not locate its image in my camera, hard disc, or memory card even two weeks after returning home. Finally, I remembered that I had taken some pictures with my Samsung Galaxy phone. Lo and behold, this iconic image popped out of the phone!

Reference: The Sun Temple at Modhera – A Monograph on Architecture and Iconography by Wibke Lobo

(*) except in Sonna Vannam Seitha Perumal (Yadothkari Perumal) temple in Kanchipuram where He has his head on our right. There is a story behind that.

Lord of the Oceans: Guardian of the West


Varuna at Sun Temple, Modhera

Varuna, the Lord of the Oceans, stands in a niche on the Northwest corner facing West. His face is badly eroded and the arms are broken but the kirita appears in partial glory. His pasha (rope/noose) is partially visible. Some ornaments like girdle, armband, etc are still visible.

A graceful female figure is by his right leg. On his left side, a male figure sits cross-legged on a pedestal. The head of the male is broken but some ornaments and an angavastram like sash are visible. Part of the pasha graces his shoulder. Only one Gandharva/ vidhyadhara is visible. Varuna’s vahana – makara –crocodile is conspicuous by its absence.

The lower two sub panels depict apsaras and the upper two have some deities.

Ashta dik palakas of Sun Temple – Nirrti

Nirrti of South West

Nirrti rules the South West.

Sometimes Nirrti is depicted with demonic features. However, here he is shown with a benign face but devoid of any clothing except for serpents coiling around his body. He has ornate makuta, neckbands, and a chain that looks like it is made of bones and skulls. Two of his arms are missing. His lower right-hand holds an object like a dumbbell or a Vajra. Some experts say it could be the hilt of a sword blade of which is broken. His left-hand rests casually on his thigh.

His vahana is a human being lying near his right leg. Another male figure is on his left side but damaged except for the torso. He too is naked but has coiled serpents around his body.

The two vidhyadharas have fierce facial features, unlike other panels.

The two lower sub-panels have apsaras as usual and the upper left subpanel depicts a bearded deity – probably Brahma,. the upper right relief is a female deity.

Please also see Ashtadikpalakas of Raja Rani Temple from my earlier posts.

Reference: The Sun Temple at Modhera – A Monograph on Architecture and Iconography by Wibke Lobo

Dikpalakas at Sun Temple Modhera – Agni

Agni at Sun Temple Modhera

The Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat predates the Konarak temple by 225 years. It was built by Bhima I of the Chalukya/Solanki dynasty in c.1026 CE probably to commemorate the successful defence of the town against the first assault of Mohammed Ghazni.

The temple complex consists of a Kund (Pushkarani – tank) , a Sabhamandapa, and the Gudha mandapa. The temple is dedicated to the sun god Surya. There is no idol now in the sanctum sanctorum.  There are exquisite carvings of deities, apsaras, and scenes from everyday life and from the epics. Different aspects Of Surya are depicted in the panels: So also those of Vishnu, Shiva and ashta dik palakas.

A typical panel consists of a main panel bounded by two pillars and crowned by a stepped triangular pediment. The main panel has on either side 2 smaller panels one above the other. The lower sub-panel is slightly bigger than the upper one.

AGNI: In this South East panel we see Agni, one of the dikpalakas. In his upper left hand, he holds a kapala. His lower left-hand holds another object. Both his right hands are damaged. He has a pointed and well-groomed moustache and beard. His belt is heavy and highly ornamented. His yanjopavitam and necklaces are very clearly seen.  The chains like festoons come up to the knees. He has doughnut-shaped earrings on both ears. The crown is also very ornamental.

Near his right leg, there is a female attendant with a whisk. Between the leg and the attender there is a figure of an animal which can be presumed to be Agni’s vehicle – a ram. A male attender is near his left leg. There are two celestial beings (vidhyadharas?) on either side of the crown.

The supplementary panels also are interesting. The lower subpanels depict apsaras as usual. The upper left relief is a deity – probably Brahma. The right upper subpanel shows Shiva in the Andhakasura vadha pose.

More will follow.

Please also see Ashtadikpalakas of Raja Rani Temple from my earlier posts.

Reference: The Sun Temple at Modhera – A Monograph on Architecture and Iconography by Wibke Lobo

Another Apsaras of Rani ki Vav

Apsara at Patan

This is one of the most popular apsara sculptures at Rani ki vav. She appears between the panels of Kalki and Buddha. She is heavily bejewelled. Her hair is combed back and held in place with a brooch and ends in a large bun.

Earring is large. The necklaces are heavy and cover the chest. The cummerbund is also elaborate and covers the waist and lower parts.

In her right hand, she holds close to her mouth an object which appears to be a lipstick, or a toothpick, or a rolled betel leaf. In her left hand, she holds a fish-shaped object – maybe a cosmetic container.

Both her feet are bare. A bearded dwarf is caressing or tickling her left foot. She is either unaware or enjoying it. A cat-like figure is near her left leg. She has anklets on both her legs. While the one on the right leg has four bands, the one on the left has only three.

Serpent Damsels of Patan

Naga Kanya

Naaga kanyas – literally serpent damsels- are women from the underworld. Here is naga kanya at Rani ki vav. She flanks the panel of Varahamurthy. The other side is flanked by an apsara.

Her facial features are similar to an apsara but she is devoid of any clothing. Her earlobe is pierced and long. The hairdo is simple. There are very few ornaments- a necklace, armlets, and bracelets, all made of pearls. A serpent coils around her body and she seems to be comfortable with it. She has a bowl on her right hand with a fish like object and the serpent is feeding itself from it. Her left hand is above her head and the fingers are in prana mudra (tarjani mudra, according to some) there are three owls above her head and a peacock at her feet.

While naga kanyas are normally benign, there are stories in Indian folklore about ‘Visha kanyas’ – poison damsels. These are specially groomed women with venom in their bodies. They can – and are used to – entice enemies and kill them on intimate contact. Let us hope this figure is not something as macabre.

Apsaras of Rani ki Vav

An apsaras at Rani ki vav, Patan

The Rani ki Vav at Patan, has many exquisite sculptures of apsaras, yoginis, and naaga kanyas representing the heaven, earth, and nether worlds. In this series, we will look at some of these in detail.

This apsara is flanking the panel of Bhirav. She has a sharp nose, an ornate hairdo, and earrings. The jewels too are so elaborate it covers almost the entire body.

With her left hand, she seems to be holding the beard of a dwarf who is clinging to her right leg. She is admonishing him with the right hand. Her left leg has a three-layered anklet while there is none on her right leg.

Varaha Avatara at Rani ki Vav, Patan

Varahamurthy at Rani ki vav

Exquisite Varaha Avatara at Rani Ki Vav, Patan

The Rani ki Vav is a UNESCO recognized site at Patan, Gujarat. It is about 125 Kms from the state capital, Ahmedabad. The step well was built in the 11th century by Rani Udayamati in honour of her husband Bhima of the Solanki / Chalukya dynasty. The well situated on the banks of river Saraswati was completely covered by sand and was discovered only in 1940. It was restored by the Archaeological Survey of India in the 1980s.

The 7 level well has several beautiful sculptures covering many avatars of Vishnu, celestial maidens, river goddesses, etc.

We will try to cover some of the prominent sculptures in this series.

We start with the Varaha avatar which is the 3rd avatar of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu took this form to rescue Bhoodevi from the clutches of Hiranyakshan.

This fiery episode is so gracefully presented in this panel. Varaha is lifting Bhudevi with his left elbow. The right hand hangs nonchalantly on his side. Bhudevi gratefully caresses the snout of Varahamurthy. Murthy carries his conch (Shank – Panchajanya, to raise the sound of the pranava mantra), and the Sudarshana Chakra. While the right foot is firmly on the ground, the left leg is bent and the foot is placed on a platform supported by two snake figures, probably Nagaraja and his Rani of the netherworld, with their bodies entwined like a reef knot. The slant of Varaha’s limbs and the body seems to give the required leverage. The overall effect is that of a moving picture. The picture is complete with the gada – the mace and the Padma chatra – the lotus like umbrella.

The figure is framed by smaller figures depicting some avataras of Vishnu in smaller frames topped with flaming torans. I could identify Kalki, Parasurama, Vamana, and Narasimha.

This panel is flanked by a naaga kanya and an apsara. More about them in another post.