An interesting Sculpture chat on some confusing sculptures

Friends, when we first introduced the chat widget in the site, it was more a tool to encourage more readers to participate ( since some were shy of leaving comments). Am sharing a interesting sculpture chat with a interesting follower of our site concerning some really confusing aka interesting sculptures and statues, and has the potential to raise a few eyebrows. So please feel free to share your comments and thoughts.

Name withheld to protect identity

voice 1: Hey, i came across your post on somnathpur in which you direct to another site for this photo

vj: sorry, which one please and may i know who i am chatting with ?

v1: Well i am ##### and am studying sculpture @…….. I am talking of the Hanuman holding the Bana Lingam sculpture from Somanthpur.

vj: Oh, Nice to hear. Yes, that one – was an interesting sculpture of Anand and he put this below note in his site.

A creative sculpture showing Hanuman with the baana lingam in his hand. He was asked to bring a shiva linga from the himalayas by Rama when they had to perform a pooja at Rameshwaram to clear the brahmahaththi dosham which had been caused due to killing of Ravana(a brahmin). Since it took a long time to get one and the auspicious time was nearing Rama and Sita devi made a lingam out of sand and started the pooja. When Anjaneya arrived he was sad to see that his efforts were fruitless. So lord Rama granted him a boon that thereafter, the lingam brought by Hanuman would be worshipped first and then only the bhaktas should worship his shivalingam. Thus there are 2 lingams in Rameshwaram till today and pooja is performed as directed by Lord Rama.”

v1: But as per my teacher, this sculpture is still a puzzle and cannot be clearly identified.

vj: Is it the Hanuman or the Lingam that he is holding. Take a look again at both ( Thanks Arvind for the closeups)

v1: Well, the confusion i think is due to the fact that he is holding the Conch and Discus.

vj: Why, its not uncommon to depict such.

v1: Is it so.

vj: Ok, let me ask you this way, have you been to the bronze exhibits at the chennai museum.

v1: Well not yet, we are going to study bronzes next.

vj: Ok, take a look at this bronze, Nandhi. ( thanks to flickr url given)

v1: Well, i understand what you are trying to say.

vj: But, let me confuse you more. Take a look at this stone sculpture from the Tanjore Big temple. ( thanks to arvind again !!)

v1: Oh, thats a stiff one.

vj: Yes, why is Hanuman shown as carrying the attributes of Shiva.

v1: You are not answering my question but posing more

vj: Ok, let me attempt to answer yours. Firstly, is the Somnathpur Sculpture Hanuman. Secondly, the legend of Hanuman bringing the Bana Lingam is popular and wouldn’t want to go into justifying legends.Thirdly, can vehicles or mounts carry attributes – Well you see Nandhi with the attributes of Shiva. Lastly, Hanuman is sung as a Avatar of Shiva and hence he is shown with his attributes !!

v1: Hmm, let me try explaining this to my teacher.

vj: Please note, we are novices with no formal training in art or sculpture. Just trying to explain and reason out with the information we have on hand. Dont get into trouble with your teacher arguing based on ours !!!

11 thoughts on “An interesting Sculpture chat on some confusing sculptures

  1. Is the 1st photo actually of Hanuman? Doesn’t look like an ape face to me. . .where’s his tail?
    Bottom figure is definitely ape-faced, but why
    the fangs? Can others please jump in and add explanations?

  2. அரட்டையை வெட்டியாக உபயோகிக்கும் மனிதர்களுக்கு நடுவில், அதை மிகவும் உபயோகமான வழியில் பயன்படுத்தியுள்ளீர்கள்.

    ஆக்கப்பூர்வமான அரட்டைக்கு வழிகோலிய “திரு”விற்கு தான் நன்றி சொல்ல வேண்டும்.

    பாவம் அந்த நண்பர் ஏதோ தங்களிடம் கேட்க வந்தவரை இப்படியா குழப்பிவிடுவீர்கள்…அவர் ஆசிரியரிடம் சென்று என்ன அவஸ்தை படப் போகிறாரோ 😉

  3. Dear VJ,

    here are my takes on this. The sculpture of Hanuman holding the Bana Lingam is of course part of scriptures as well as folklore and there are more than one versions of the Ramayana supporting the story behind that particular sculpture.

    But the question put forth by Kathie B is quite pertinent. To a lot many people this particular picture portrayed by you as Hanuman with Bana Linga is seen as Lord Vishnu in the Matsya-avataram (so to many if not most, the face of the deity seems not like that of an ape or monkey-alike, but rather fish). It is also believed that it is Vishnu’s Matsyavataram holding the mother earth, after rescuing it from Hiranyakshan (the elder brother of Hiranyakashipu). But having looked at the close-ups, this particular sculpture has eyelashes which are attributes of human faced apes unlike fishes whose eyes have to be perfectly round without eyelashes. Even otherwise, if it was Lord Vishnu as Matsyavataram holding mother Earth, then the shape of the earth has to be round, not oblong as coming out in that sculpture.

    In addition, the following I hope will be useful for the ‘background’ behind many such sculptures and the ‘stories’ behind them.

    Like you showed so kindly the Nandi and Hanuman having Shiva attributes.

    You see in the Vishnu Divya Desam of Thiruvelliyangudi temple on the outskirts of Thanjavur (it has Kolavilli Ramar in lying posture), on the outside of the Garbagriha (as is usual in a Vishnugriha) the Garuda stands facing the reclining Lord. This particular Garuda in Thiruvelliyangudi temple is special in the sense that while like other Garudas, he stands before the Lord, in addition to that, he has the benefeaction of standing the Shankha and Chakra in his hands.. which is a rarity. Likewise, you showed and spoke about the Nandi (unusually) with attributes of Shiva.

    What is the similarity between both examples? Quite easy to see, like at Velliyangudi, the Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu has in his hands the primary weapons of the Lord, similarly the vehicle of Shiva the Nandi, in the sculpture under reference has the primary weapons of his Lord.

    Similarly, my mother mentioned two more examples (I will talk to her and inform about the specific two temples) where (as in Garuda’s case in Velliyangudi) in another major temple, it is the Hanuman who has Shanka and Chakra of Lord Vishnu in his hands. In yet another temple, Goddess Laxmi is sitting alone (apparently, Lord Vishnu has gone away to earth on an Avataram with Laxmi’s role yet to be enacted) and she is missing his company. In the same sannidhi, close to her it is Parvati giving her company with Lord Vishnu having left his Shanka and Chakra close to Goddess Laxmi to remind of him. So to pacify Lakshmi, Goddess Parvati is shown as holding aloft the Shanka and Chakra of Lord Vishnu, thereby creating a likeness (or mirage) of herself, and resembling Lord Vishnu very closely.

    Others may also give their take on this.


  4. Dear Vijai: I’m not quite sure whether it is hanuman. A close up shows clearly that it is not a monkey face but of a pig (look at the two striking nose holes above the mouth). This sculpture is not Hanuman but Vishnu as Varaha murthi, naturally, holding mother earth. Sine, the depiction of the earth, like in many other sculptures, not round (speherical) it looks like a Linga. It could be an artistic mistake. By all probability it is Varaha murthi. This can be further vouched by the presence of Sri Devi and Booma devi by the sides. As you know Hanuman is a bachelor.

    It would be interesting to probe further on sculptures of Hanuman with Vishnu’s attributes.

  5. Dear VJ,

    I think to a large extent even Kannan’s synopsis looks correct. On a close up the face looks more like a pig (certainly it does not look like a monkey). On that analogy it is also tempting to see the figure as Varaha moorthy.. though for the short stature and height of the accompanying consorts.. I have a doubt if they are indeed Sri Devi and Bhoodevi, are they not chamara-beejayis – the ones who fan the Lord.

    But if they are indeed Sri and Bhoodevis, then nothing’s left to doubt.

  6. I saw the sculptures more closely and am reviewing my own opinion. Surely the accompanying consorts with the Lord are firstly women and secondly, both are not at all having Chamarams but seem to have the same Shankha and Chakra in their hands (if not lotus petals). So the sculpture in all probability is that of Lord Vishnu and not Hanuman.

    But VJ I would value your opinion also equally. You and Kathie may like to comment.

  7. Great Exchanges. kathie, yes i did search for the tail – which would have defn settled the matter.

    coming to Cheenu, wonderful explanations – i do agree that it cant be Macha ( fish)

    ( incidentally the last two images in that post are subjects for further arguments – as they are identified as hayagreevar – and i think they are right !!)

    Kannan sir – two things against Varaham – First is mouth – if i were to depict a boar ( usually the form is depicted with face turned sidewards – very rare to see front facing – but again given the earlier rare depiction of the Macha – even if it were the Varaha / Boar, the snout would have extended outwards – and presume when vandalised, it wouldn’t leave the mouth line in how it looks now.

    Again on the earth, its too early a sculpture to portray the earth as spherical – early varaha and varaha’s of this period show the earth only as the mother and not spherical. As regards artistic mistake – don’t think so, look at the detailing and perfection in fashioning the conch and the discus.

    but the point of the two ladies is something to think more about.

    There is one another sculpture of the same group / style which can give us some definite clues. will post as part 2.


  8. The nandi with Shiva’s aspects is called “Athigara Nandi”. but dont know about hanuman having the aspects of Shiva..may be even that was supposed to be the same nandi mentioned above and the sculpture is damaged in time..

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