Archives by Month: September, 2009

An interesting conversation ensued from the previous post on the Ardhanari iconography, not as a direct question from Sri Dev, but as an offshoot. I thought of developing the same and presenting it here. The sculptures have endured considerable damage and hence have tried to present them as line drawings using simple traces.

At the outset, the objective of this post is not to show the differentiation between the male and the female portions of the sculpture, but to reflect the evolution from the shoes of the sculptor ( well he wouldn’t be wearing shoes then anyway !) and how he had ingeniously solved a complicated problem.

The anatomy shows certain basic differentiations between the male and the female forms of the human species. Without getting into the details, the sculptor was posed with a problem when it came to the Ardhanari form. He had to fuse the male and female forms into a single composite image, maintaining the differences between the two sides, while at the same time, making sure the sculpture doesn’t look grotesque but rather as an appealing image. To illustrate this I have chosen a few random samples and focused just on this question or rather just the solution ( for otherwise each of these images need a full post for themselves)

Lets see an early version of the Ardhanari form from the Pallava period ( not stating that this is the earliest form but more for ease of study). This sculpture is from the Dharma Raja Ratha of the Five Ratha complex in Mamallapuram.

dharmaraja ratham mallai

To make it easier have traced it, so that we may study it in detail.

ardhanari dharamaraja ratha

You can see the characteristic Pallava touches, in minimal jewelry and simple formation (predominantly linear structure), but what it lacks, is the life, which we usually feel in a Pallava sculpture - This shows this is a early Pallava sculpture, as we see in later Pallava styling, in most cases the subjects are shown in profile and highly fluid forms, they almost seem to be able to give the viewer a sense of movement though cut into stone. This form however, is very rigid and resembles ( for want of better examples) a fly that’s been swat or a toad thats run over on a road. I am a great fan of Pallava stone sculpture and have argued with many about their superiority over even later cholas, but this particular one,I have to put my hands up. Why? was it because the sculptor was trying this composite form for the first time. It does look so. The differentiations between the two halves except for the breast is not much. Below the waist, its so flat that it leaves you quite disappointed.

So, what could the sculptor do? It was obviously not the same sculptor, but lets imagine a school of sculptors who start refining the form.

Lets look at the next sample - please bear in mind that we have not spent time in dating these sculptures to be sure that this is the evolutionary road but just presenting a series for discussion sake .

agastyesvara temple perungudi

once again a trace to highlight or focus just on the key aspects of the sculpture.

ardhanari perungudi

You see that the sculptor has realised the need to highlight the gender differences and is focusing on aesthetics. He has given the waist on the female portion a good bend and tried to move that side into a tribanga pose. But this causes problems on the male side, so he had had to flex the right knee a bit. He has tried to bring in subtle changes in the hands, the left hand is more graceful while the right hand is more manly - resting on his hips. He has also brought in changes in the apparel, the saree wound around the legs in the lady side compared to kind of tight boxers for the man portion.

Lets progress a bit more into Chola land and see the perfected form.

vridhagirisvarar vriddachalam

A trace again to savor the beauty more

ardhanarai vridhachalam

You can see the female portion in full triple flexion ( tribanga) and to compensate for it, the right leg of Shiva is bent fully. This causes the male torso to lean at the awkward angle and though the sculpture would look pleasing it would not be aesthetically appealing. So he comes up with an ingenious solution. Make Shiva rest or lean on to something and the readily available option is his mount or vehicle - Nandhi. Presto, problem solved. Add lots of beautiful ornamentation, develop the differences in the dressing style and this perfected model becomes a standard for all Ardhanari images henceforth.

Lets check out our theory, rushing to Elephanta Caves


What a wonderful sculpture, such grace and you can hardly see the two forms merge - the combination is seamless. And our bull is there to give balance as well. Check out the trace. Ofcourse, there are some differences in the ornamentation and styling but the basics stand.

ardhanari elephanta

so how sure are we of this, meaning how do we test this theory. Ok, the male and female portions occupy the right and left sides by default, but then there is one particular sculpture which is an exemption, where they switch sides ( why ? need to find out)

vadapurisvara tiruvedjudi tjore 3

What does happen when this inversion happens and how does it support our theory. Watch the bull behind…

ardhanari transposed trivetkudi

He too has been turned around to face left, to support the male half. What do you say about this ?

We must follow this study with a study on bronze figurines and test the concept. Ofcourse the structural engineering side of the image, the volume of stone which would need support, could differ from the raw strength of metal. But thats another post…..

Photographs are from the American Institute of Asian studies archives

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