The goat headed attendants of Karthikeya ( Ellora)

The caves of Ellora are a sculpture enthusiasts delight. Not only for the sheer effort but also the detailing for the relief sculptures. Today we are going to see a very unique sculpture from Ellora Cave 21.

Its that of Karthikeya

Photo credits:

This is a fantasitc sculpture of Karthikeya – he is depicted standing in Samabhanga ( straight profile) with his right hand resting on his hip ( a pose that is called Katyavalambita )

Originally the sculpture was four armed, but has sufferred much damage. The second right hand ( upper) is totally gone. While the second left hand ( upper) is gently holding his peacock mount. The lower left hand seems to be holding a kind of pot or vessel. He wears the Yagnopavitha and some heavy jewellery across his neck – his elaborate crown is also a sight to watch.

His mount the peacock has lost its head to time, but identification is easy with its wings clearly being displayed, though the legs are a bit stout ( to be strong enough to carry his Lord ??)

There are two sets of Clesestial couples depicted flying above the panel on its two sides. The couple to the left of the image seem to be in awe of the splendor of Karthikeya ( both their right hands held up in vismaya pose), while the male on the right is holding his hands in prayer ( anjalai pose) – the lady seems to be quite non chalant !!

Now, we come to the two attendants. Very unique to see two Goat headed attendants.

The one to the left of the image, is a bit feminine in its stance and general build ( sadly the sculpture is much worn) and is smelling a flower ( lotus?) in its right hand while left hand is resting on its ( sorry for the usage – dont know if i can use his or her) hip. There is a certain shyness associated with the twist of the head etc, so i would take it as a her.

The right side attendant is definitely a male, but his hand pose is quite unique. If you notice closely, the right hand is coming into an angali pose but the left hand is holding his right elbow – almost like how a Kung Fo student will salute his master ( master – teach me Kungfo type !!!)

Who could these two represent. There is one eligible candidate for the lady goat head – Ajamukhi, the sister of the Surabadman and the daughter of Maya and sage Kasyapa ( they are said to have taken the form of goats and gave birth to Ajamukhi)

For more read here on this legend.

That leaves the right side attendant. The only other Goat headed person ( though not directly associated) is Dhaksha whom we had seen earlier in the panel in tanjore. Could it be he ?

Leaving on a two week break – with big plans of covering Chidambaram, Tanjore, trichy, madurai and coimbatore – to bring you more rare beauties. Till then we bid adieu and wish all readers a Merry Xmas and a happy, prosperous and rewarding new year 2010.

The mis-matched earrings of Shiva

The beauty and intricacy of sculpture lies in its detailing and form. It doesnt reveal itself easily though the free flow does captivate you on first instance, it continues to hold you in its sway every time you revisit …

I quote Sri Aurobindo to correctly capture its essence

A great oriental work of art does not easily reveal its secret to one who comes to it solely in a mood of aesthetic curiosity or with a considering critical objective mind still less as the cultivated and interested tourist passing among strange and foreign things; but it has to be seen in loneliness; in the solitude of one’s self in moments when one is capable of long and deep meditation and as little weighted as possible with the conventions of material life.”

The problem is just sitting in penance in front of a sculpture is not going to get you going at the start – the initiation has to be done and for that you need an expert guide or a guru to take you on your journey of discovery, unfortunately not many are privileged to have that. So we turn to the next best – books. Problem with books especially on sculpture and those that are authored by experts, is that they don’t start from the basics or rather, they expect you to have reached a certain stage before you pick them up. So how do you bridge that gap, from zero to a plane where you can confidently pick a work and start reading.

One good work, i would recommend is Sri Gopinath Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography. He has wonderfully illustrated much of his works which help novices like me to pickup what he is saying easily. for eg, lets take something as simple as an ear ring. Does Makara kundala and Patra Kundala sound latin to you. You do find repeated references to these in any description of a sculpture. What are these.

Take this fantastic chola bronze on exhibit at the National Museum, Delhi.

One can go into raptures, just describing the image but am restricting the narrative to the ear rings alone.

You can see obviously that he wears different ear ornaments for each side.

The one he is wearing on his left is called a patra Kundla – literally patra or leaf – is a circular ornament which was inserted in the lobes and made ( atleast originally of the leaf of a palm tree).

The right ear has more complicated equipment on display. Its the mythological Makara Kundala. We have seen the Makara in depth earlier but chanced on this fantastic sculpture from Java

( btw, Makara is a marine creature – mythological – with the trunk of an elephant, the feet of a lion, the sears of a pig, the body of a fish, sabre like teeth turned outwards, eyes like a monkey and the list goes one – the best however is it fantastically elaborate tail)

Why did he come to wear this on his right ear – well got to do some searching for that. ( well there are more macabre ear rings – which we will see later)

So, that my friends is just an intro for the two earrings of Shiva.

Why loot a Door Guardian and bring it as a war trophy

War Trophies are always controversial. There have been many such famous trophies – the Vatapi Ganapathy by Narasimha Pallavas commander Paranjothi, The Srivijayan Victory arch brought back by Rajendra chola – Today we are going to see another such. The famed Chalukya door guardian of Darasuram currently housed in the Tanjore Art Gallery. ( images courtesy Satheesh and Sriram)

Its indeed a very beautiful work of art, but why would a Chola King want to bring back a Door guardian as a war trophy ? Well one this is for sure, it was a war trophy for he himself inscribed it in its pedestal

The Tamil inscription at the base of this sculpture, seized by the imperial Cholas in 1045 from their Chalukya enemies, reads: “This is the door guardian brought by Lord Vijayarajendradeva after burning (the Chalukya capital) Kalyanapuram.” Institut Francaise d’Indologie, Pondicherry. Courtesy of Richard H. Davis.

its features are characteristically chalukyan

But there are some intriguing depictions near its base.

The first is a monitor lizard, but what is a mouse doing underneath the uplifted feet of the door guardian. What is it that is next ( to the left of the mouse as you view the image) – like a tail ??. and what is the animal to the extreme left.

Thanks to for the closeups

Well, its a cat toying with a rat !! and what is the other??

Well well well, its a snake eating a mouse. This does remind us of something which we have seen earlier connected to the big temple

Big temple intro post

Lets refresh our memories

Zoom in

Now, we have Raja Raja Chola’s masterful edifice in stone portraying a prancing lion, a snake swallowing an elephant ( see the earlier post and the interesting hypothesis to visualise the Vimana as Mount Kailash itself) and a crocodile / large lizard.

Against this, the chaluykan version has a cat playing with a mouse, and a snake swallowing a mouse plus a mouse underneath the door guardian’s feet. Was this an attempt at ridiculing Chola’ sculpture and as an act of retaliation, was this brought back as a war trophy !!