Apsaras in Hoysala Art A New Dimension

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Item Code: IHG002
Publisher: Aryan Books International
Author: Rekha Rao
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788173053795
Pages: 162 (Illustrated Throughout In Full B/W)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.1” X 8.8”
Weight 1.20 kg
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Book Description

From the Jacket

This book on Apsaras in Hoysala art with particular reference to the Belur Chennakesava temple is dealt in two parts, viewing apsara as a dancer and a philosopher. Part viewing apsara as a dancer and a philosopher. Part one is about the dance of apsara, while part two is about the psychological states of awareness levels that are depicted. It is like exploring the external and the internal world of apsaras. Part I deals with the apsara’s skills in dance and dramaturgy, precisely a study of the depiction of Rasas-the sentiments in sculptures, that are viewed through the medium of Natyasastra and Dasarupaka - a treatise on Indian dance, music and dramaturgy. Part I is a study of the superficial aspects like the theme, the posture, the accessories used, the actions of the attendants and so on. Apsaras are viewed as dancers, who deserve to be elevated to the status of permanent guides for the aspect of rasas.

Part II is not complementary to Part I, but comes out with a different approach of seeing apsara from a philosophical perspective. The author has tried to view the logic behind the actions are taken for the behavioural pattern, in reality (and not viewed as a dancer’s). The actions are related to her thought process, the Gunas, (like Rajoguna or Sattvikguna), the psychological state of the soul or the ‘Avasthas’, and the level of her self-awareness. Hence, the focus here is on why she is in that particular action or state of mind. The psychological behaviour of an unevolved mind under Rajoguna and how she transforms to a sattvik personality through the yoga, of oneness with sound or ‘nada’ - called nadayoga, is the central theme of Part II. The gradual inward progress, that silently unfolds the personality traits, bringing about a refinement in the awareness and how this silently guides the ego to its eternal resting place are analysed through her actions in Part II. The approach and conclusions are an inspiration from the books by Swami Chinmayananda, his explanations on the quality of thought and actions as discussed in Bhagavad Gita and Swami Sivananda’s explanations on Nadayoga.

Rekha Rao has a masters degree in Indology from the University of Mysore, India. Her interest in the temple sculptures has made her visit and study various temples in India. She has presented three research articles for the “Visvakosha” - the encyclopaedic work on ancient history and archaeology by the University of Mysore (forthcoming). She has also participated in subject related seminars and is the author of the book Therapeutics in Indian Sculptures - Ranki Vav, Patan. Rekha Rao is an accomplished dancer in Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Kuchipudi styles and is well trained in Karnatic instrumental music. She has given several performances and choreographed dance items in India and abroad. She has the honour of ‘Natyaratna’ from The Academy of General Education, Manipal.

Rekha Rao is widely traveled and enjoys studying historical monuments.


I have great pleasure in writing a foreword to the book Apsaras in Hoysala Art: A New Dimension with reference to Belur Cennakesava temple authored by the reputed dancer and scholar Mrs. Rekha Rao. She has taken great pains to study the physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of the dancing figures in Belur Cennakesava temple with special reference to the ancient texts on dance.

Before referring to the special features of Rekha Rao’s monograph, I deem it fit to trace the role of Hoysala art in the general context of Indian art and architecture.

The Hindu ideal of art was to give expression to the inner self or Atma, purified and exalted, holding communion with the Universal Soul, Paramatma. Hence details the physical body were not of much importance to the Indian artist so long as he could bring out the spiritual greatness of his subject. But the emphasis on spiritualism did not hinder the artist from maintaining standards of art with an eye for proportions, depth, curve and lines. For instance, the dancing couple of Karla, the mithuna figures of Badami caves and Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal, the bracket figures of Mallikarjuna temple, Kuruvatti, the Apsara figures of Kesava temple, Belur, and the folk dancers in the Vijayanagar monuments are excellent examples of realism in Indian art. So far as the representation of divine and semi-divine beings is concerned, the Indian artist tried to depict the subtle body. While the Greeks had the athletic physical body as their ideal, the Indians had the subtle body pulsating with energy (sap of life) and serving as a vehicle for realization of a state higher than the physical state. The Sarnath Buddha, the Vishnu on Ananta in Badami caves, the Yogisvara Siva of Ellora and the Gomatesvara of Srvanabelagola are striking examples of this subtle body.

The Chalukyas of Badami who carried out major experiments in temple building were influenced to a very limited extent by the Gupta and Pallava traditions. While there are a few missing links in the evolution of temple architecture of the post-Gupta period in the north, there is no such missing link in the experiments of temple construction and embellishment carried out by the Karnataka dynasties beginning from the Badami Chalukyas (6th-8th century) and ending with the Vijayanagar rulers (14th-18th century). And their feudatories, Nayakas of Keladi, Tanjore, Madurai and Wodeyars of Mysore (16th-18th century). The archetypes evolved in the 8the century became the models for temple construction in Eastern India.

Similarly, certain experiments in Indo-Islamic architecture carried out by the Bahmani kings and their successors resulted in a new school of Islamic architecture in Karnataka.

One may wonder how such a long tradition of art and architecture was fostered in Karnataka. The reason is not far to seek. Karnataka has a long tradition of royal patronage for art and literature and shared the common heritage of monumental culture with the Indian subcontinent. According to Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara, the king was himself expected to be a poet, artist, not for parading his intellect or aesthetic qualities, but for adjudging the literary equipment and artistic skill of his subjects and the need for preserving and enriching the monumental culture of the kingdom. He should convene the assembly of poets and artists as was done by Bhulokamalla Somesvara (AD 1126-38) The Kalyani Chalukyan king who refers to the Sabha or assembly of lovers of art in his famous work Abhilashitartha Chintamani or Raja Manasollasa. Besides this monumental work on art, Karnataka has to its credit two more major works on art, namely, Sivatattvaratnakara of Basava Bhupala of Keladi (17th century) published by Keladi Museum and Sritattvanidhi produced under the patronage of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar III of Mysore (1799-1868). With so much of encouragement it was but natural that even poets could speak of the technique of painting and sculpture, as for instance, in Kavirajamarga of Arcvijaya and Mallinatha Purana of Ranna.

An outstanding royal patron of fine arts was Somesa or Somesvara (AD 1126-28), the author of Abhilashitartha Chintamani, which contains details of fine arts and pastimes besides throwing light on social and cultural life of the times. This work has five parts (prakaranas), each divided into 20 chapters. The first and second prakaranas deals with architecture and painting. The fourth prakarana deals with amusements and the fifth with sports and pastimes. The attainments expected of a cultured person (nagarika) in those days were very high. It is interesting to find that Nrttaratnavali of Jayapa (1253-4), the Kakatiya General refers to the fact that during the Bhalu Matrdevata, Somesa witnessed with curiosity a girl singing and dancing in Bhilla Vesa and was so pleased that he arranged the dance into proper sequences and brought it into use. In some of the Kalyani Chalukyan and Hoysala sculptures, dancing damsels are in the costume of Bhils or Gondals. Somesvara was not only an exponent in dance but also in music. The minute details of music, dance and architecture are discussed by the author in three chapters. He refers to the assembly or court of art lovers and the musical instruments Vina and Kinnara. His treatment of the subjects is practical. The Jaina poet Ranna’s Gadayuddha (AD 990) based on Pampa-Bharata was a very popular Champu, the Karuna and Raudra sentiments of which seem to have caught the imagination of the Chalukyan and Hoysala sculptors. They have chiseled beautiful narratives in stone. During the Kalyani Chalukyan period Chandraraja wrote in AD 1030 Madanatilaka, a work on erotic, which was relied upon by sculptors for carving erotic scenes, with some exaggeration, on the temples of Amritesvara at Amritapura and Kallesvara at Bagali. But Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra too had abundant material for eroticism in Indian art.



Hoysala rulers evolved a new style of temple architecture in which sculptural art played as important a role as architecture itself. The evolution of the Hoysala style from a simple to a sophisticated one becomes apparent when the Late Chalukyan temple at Doddagaddavalli is compared with the Cennakesava temple at Belur and the latter with the Kesava temple of Somanathapura. In the early stage, the Vimana (shrine and sukanasi) was attached to the navaranga through a vestibule and finally to a large pillared hall, which is often uniform in plan. In later Hoysala style, the pillared hall is small and directly connected to the shrine. But in both the phases the unity of the structure is not disturbed; the pillared hall also formed a part of an organic whole, which is further emphasized by the friezes running continuously on the plinth Kalyana Chalukyan temples wherein the hall was separated from the Vimana, the Hoysalas integrated the two.

In plan and elevation, the Hoysala temples show a departure from the Kalyana Chalukyan temples. The ground plan of the Vimana is laid out a series of points to produce a star shape obtained as if by rotating the square on its common centre, the number of angular displacements built closely follows the stellate plan. The high plinth is ornamented with successive bands of floral designs and figure running around the Vimana and two round the hall (navaranga). The upper tendency of the superstructure is indicated by the fluting effect of the tower produced by carrying the stellate plan through the eave up to the finial (Kalasa), but the introduction of the horizontal courses in the sikhara makes it less northern in style. Some Hoysale temples are single-celled, but there are others in which two, or even three cells, each with a sikhara are attached to a common hall. The Kesava temple at Somanathapura is the most complete, while the Cennakesava temple at Belur is the most ornate. The latter is unparalleled for its enchanting bracket figures and minute details of carving in the ceiling and doorways.

The moulded courses of the plinth are embellished with successive friezes of elephants, scrollwork, dancers, musicians and rows of female figures standing under bowers. Some ladies in the act of dressing evoke admiration for details and delicacy of carving.

According to the author, the Patras (exclusive dancers) who took part in a ballet (dance drama), are represented as Apsaras. They were held in high regard as servants of God and therefore first to receive the prasada.

I congratulate Mrs. Rekha Rao for a thought-provoking interpretation of the concept of Apsara as a dancer. I am sure that both experts and general art lovers will benefit from reading this book.




  Foreword v
  Appreciation ix
  Preface xi
  Acknowledgements xix
  Abbreviations xx
  List of Illustrations xxi
Part - I
I Introduction 3
1. Technological Advancement 4
2. Dynastic Greatness 4
3. Religious and Social Developments 5
II General Description of the Belur Cennakesava Temple 8
  The Structure of Belur Cennakesava Temple and Its Relation to the Mandala 10
III Apsaras 15
1. Apsaras in Ancient Indian Literature 15
2. Historical and Socio-Religious Aspects of Dancers - The Patras 16
3. Sculptural Evidences in Karnataka 18
4. Textual Reference 25
IV The Attendants of Apsaras 30
  The Identification of the Type of Dasi Present in the Apsara Sculptures of Belur Cennakesava Temple 31
V A Brief Note on the Standing Postures Commonly Observed in Apsara Sculptures 33
VI Rasa - Sentiments 37
VII Apsara in Srngara Rasa 39
1. Srngara Evoked in a Beautiful Place (Ramya Desa) 40
2. Srngara - Through Art (Gandharva Kala) 41
A. Stringed Instruments (‘Tata’ Vadyas) 43
B. Percussion Instruments (Avanaddha Vadyas) 44
C. Wind Instrument (Susira Vadya) 47
D. Metallic Instrument - Cymbals (Ghana Vadya) 47
E. Graceful Dancing Postures 48
3. Srngara in a Pleasant Time (Ramya Kala) 50
4. Srngara through Dress (Vesa Bhogadi Sevanai) 52
A. Apsara in ‘Kesa Srngara’ (Hair Decoration) 53
B. Abharana Srngara (Decoration with Ornaments) 54
C. Srngara Avalokana (Admiring her Charm in a Mirror) 54
VIII. Apsara in Vira Rasa 57
IX Apsara in Bhayanaka Rasa 59
X Apsara in Raudra Rasa 62
XI Apsara in Adbhuta Rasa 64
XII Apsara in Hasya Rasa 65
XIII Apsara in Santa Rasa 68
  Epilogue - Part I  
  Musical Instruments Used by Apsara in Belur Cennakesava Temple 73
Part - II
I Introduction 79
1. The Four States of the Soul - The ‘Avasthas’ 80
2. ‘Gunas’ - The Texture of Thoughts and Actions 81
3. Manifestation of Rajoguna in Jagrut Avastha 82
4. Analysis of Apsara Sculptures in Jagrut Avastha - A Restless State of Mind 84
A. Ambition to Look Good 84
B. Passion 85
C. Pride and Vanity 85
D. Haste and Anxiety 86
E. Superficial Lifestyle 86
F. Fluctuating Moods (Pleasure) 86
G. Fluctuating Moods (Pain) 87
H. Scheme for Pleasure 87
I. Anger 87
J. Fear and Anger 88
II. Svapana Avastha - The Process of Transformation 89
1. Analysis of Apsara Sculptures in Svapna Avastha 89
A. A Parade of Thoughts 90
B. Manonigraha (Capturing the Mind) 91
C. Destruction of Avidya (Ignorance) and Maya (Illusion) 91
2. The Kosas 92
III. Susupti Avastha - A State of Calmness 95
1. Apsara in Susupti Avastha 95
2. Manifestation of Sattvikguna in Susupti Avastha 95
3. Nadayoga 97
4. Ahata Nada - The Power of Sound 99
5. Anahata Nada - The Vibrations of Soul and Music 100
6. Control of Mind through Nada 102
7. Kundalini Chakra 103
8. The Four Stages of Sound 106
9 Depiction of the Four Stages of Nadayoga in Apsara Sculptures 110
10 Analysis of Apsara Sculptures in Susupti Avastha and the Stages of Ahata Nadayoga 111
A. First Stage of Nadayoga - Focussing the Mind on Para Nada 111
B. Second Stage of Nadayoga - Pasyanti: The Visualisation of Knowledge - Svadhyaya 113
C. Third Stage of Ahata Nadayoga - Madhyama: An Exploration 114
i Tuning of the Body 114
ii Tuning of the Mind 115
iii Exploration of the Melody - Nadanusandhana 115
iv Absorbing the Intricacies of Rhythm Pattern - Laya yoga 116
v Dance - An Expression of Joy 117
D. Fourth Stage in Nadayoga - Vaikhari 119
11. Contemplation on Ahata and Anahata Sounds 119
IV Analysis of Apsara Sculptures in Turiya Avastha - A State of Bliss 121
  Epilogue - Part II 123
  Glossary of Sanskrit Terms for Part I 125
  Glossary of Sanskrit Terms for Part II 129
  Bibliography 133
  Index 135

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