The present publication, Encyclopaedia of Indian Iconography, is intended to focus attention on the traditional details concerning images and heir worship. The details given in these volumes are taken entirely from the traditional texts of Agama and Silpa – sastra, like Brhatsamhita, Manasara, Ksyapa – silpa, Isana – siva – guru – deva – paddhati, Silpa – ratna, Padma –samhita, Hayasirsa –samhita, Vaikhanasagama and Rupa – mandana. The entries include not only the gods and goddesses of popular so –called Hinduism, but also the divinities of Jaina (both Digambara and Svetambara divisions) and Buddhist (Mahayana) religions. The deities worshipped in Nepal and Tibet are also included. Sadhana – mala has been used for descriptions of Buddhist deities, and Rupa – mandana for Jaina deities. Most of the entries are illustrated by line – drawings of images in temples, monasteries, basadis and in museums. Topics of peripheral interest (like temple – construction, image – making worship rituals and Agama divisions) have also been included here.
The volumes follow the Sanskrit alphabetical order (akaradi) to facilitate translation into Indian languages. The first volume begins with the words beginning with vowels in Sanskrit alphabet. Followed with mute consonants and the rest of the consonants in the subsequent volumes.
Among various an synonymous names of the deties, the better known ones have been selected for entry, while cross – references also have been indicated. Wherever necessary, background stories for particular iconographical representations have been given.
Vidyalankara, Sastra – Chudamini, Sangita – Kalaratna, Professor Saligrama Krishna Ramachandra Rao, is a well – known scholar who combines traditional learning with modern research. Well versed in Sanskrit, Pali, Ardhmagadhi and several modern Indian languages and acquainted with Tibetan and some European languages, he has written extensively on Vedanta, Buddhism, Jainism, Indian Culture, Art and Literature.
In his professional career, however, he was a Professor of Psychology. He has headed the Department of Clinical Psychology in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience’s, Bangalore and the Department of Indian Culture in the Collision College Study Centre of the University of the Pacific (U.S.A) He was the senior associate of National Institute of Advanced Studies (Indian Institute of Science), Bangalore, and Guest faculty, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and member of the Governing Council of TTD (SVCL Research Center), Tirupati. He has been member of Karnataka State Lalitha Kala Academy and Sangita Nritya Academy and Sangita Nritya Academy; he has served on the Agama Board (Govt. of Karnataka). He is President of Silpa – Kala Pratisthana. The Govt. of Karnataka has honored him with the 1986 Rajyotsava Award. He has received awards from Lalita – kala Academy and Sangita Nritya Academy.
Among his numerous English Publications are three Vols. Of Encyclopaedia of Indian Medicine, Tantrik Tradition of Tibet, Consciousness in Advaita, and a series of six Books on Indian Temples Origins of Indian thought; Kalpatharu Research Academy has published his Agama Kosha in Twelve Vols. Art & Architecture of Indian Temples in Three Vols. He is presently engaged in a project on Rgveda – Darsana (Eight Volumes of which have appeared). He is also Musicologist, a Sculptor and Painter, and has held some one man shows.
Polytheism is the characteristic feature of Hinduism. But no Hindu seriously believes in a multiplicity of Gods. He is aware that each of the many gods that he worships is merely an aspect of the one God, who is also the God of other religions. Sectarian strife is thus a non – issue with the Hindu Population, which is divided into an almost infinite variety of sects, creeds, castes and cults. It is not merely a question of tolerance; but a positive conviction that God is one, whatever the name or form in which he is conceived or invoked, underlies the religious life of a Hindu.
But the devotee revels in multiplying the images of the one God, who, he knows, is really beyond imagination and above all images. He invokes in a thousand names the one God whom speech cannot reach. He makes icons of the One God, who can never be adequately represented. And he houses in a temple the One God who envelops the entire universe and rises above it by ‘ten inches’. The God that transacts with man intellectually and emotionally is never mistaken for the God who is the abstract source of all existence, animate as well as inanimate.
The god that the devotee chooses to worship is an approach to the God who has need neither for worship, nor for the devotee. The god is worshipped for material gains, health, security, and happiness; the God is also worshipped to cleanse the human constitution so that the light of God may shine through it. The latter worship, of course, is the highest form of worship. But it appeals but to a few; the larger section of the population is content to seek from the gods this or that benefit.
When human beings are in need of gain or comfort, they invent gods according the their own needs, and temperaments. The group – mind then stylizes the forms as well as the rituals connected with these several gods who are but creatures of human need. This is the framework of polytheism. There are gods of diverse shapes, moods and modes of appearance; they are specifically related to the variety of human needs.
The devotee knows that the image of a god is a mere artifact and toy, unless it is properly consecrated. And consecration involves the investment of the devotee’s devotion and passion, and getting the devotee effectively related to the particular god invoked in the image. Rituals are naturally important for transforming an artifact into an icon. The icon is meant to accommodate the rituals, so that human devotion can flower out in the light of God that is reflected through the icon.
Rituals are acts done by the devotees’ body, speech and mind. The icon is seen and handled. But it is the first step. The icon must evolve into a verbal image, a concept. This is aided by descriptive hymns, mnemonic words strung into an articulated garland or repetition of power – laden epithets of god. God as a verbal concept (mantra) is subtler than the material icon (murti). But subtler still is the thought – complex (yantra) in which speech is transformed into essential ideas that ultimately into essential ideas that ultimately merge in a ‘point’ (bindu), where God’s presence is focused.
Thus the icon by itself is incomplete; it should be accompanied by its effective verbal counterpart (mantra) as well as the appropriate ideational representation (yantra). This is an important detail of Indian iconography that is often ignored by writers on the subject. The god suitable for worship is both iconic and graphic; what binds the two aspects is the involvement of stylized articulation.
The craftsman whose job is to fashion icons to fulfill the needs of devotees must naturally be acquainted with the relevant mantras and yantras. But more importantly he must be familiar with the descriptive mantras, known as dhyana – slokas, which specify the posture, the mood, the number of hands, the weapons, decorations and other formal details of the particular icon meant for worship. Many of these mantras are mnemonic in character. The training of the traditional sculptor necessarily included committing of these dhyana – slokas to memory, so that he would be ready to translate any stylized verbal image into an equally stylized icon in stone, metal or wood.
The ideal procedure is claimed to be this. When a sculptor is claimed to be this. When a sculptor is commissioned to fashion the icon of a particular temple, he prepares himself elaborately and meticulously by rituals and regimen. He undertake to give up the ordinary routine, eschew common company, and withdraw into a sort of serene isolation. He continuously contemplates on the dhyana – sloka of the deity (the image of which he is to fashion) so as to crystallize the image in his mind. He eats his food with this preoccupation, goes to sleep with this thought, and allows no distraction to interfere with this constant and intense contemplation. When the image in the mind is perfectly and enduringly formed, he takes up his tools and gets ready to translate this image into an icon. It is only then that the icon becomes worthy of worship.
The sculptor pours into his work not only the skills of the craft he has acquired, but his spiritual fervour in a sort of penance immediately before he undertakes the work. During this period of preparation he is so constantly absorbed in the descriptive hymn of the deity that he begins to see the deity around him and all the time. He cam vividly discern the form of the deity in the block of stone or wood that he has selected. He has only to free this form from the block by chopping off the unwanted and obscuring masses, and by chiseling the finer details. The form occurs to him as a revelation, and he as a revelation, and he is but an instrument in its hands to get itself materialized.
There are incorporate texts in Sanskrit which incorporate such descriptive verse relating to several deities. The Tantrik manuals of Vajrayana Buddhist persuation are especially replete with dhyana – sloka, for they are props for visualization during sessions of contemplation. They serve the purposes of the meditator as well as the icon – maker. And, true to the intent of the verses, the meditator or icon – maker tends oftentimes to identify himself with the form that he can readily and vividly project. There is a familiar saying that the devotee who is not a deity himself must never worship the deity (‘na – sivo – bhutva Sivam pujayet’). This applies equally well to the icon – maker: unless he becomes one with the form of the deity, he can never fashion the form well enough.
This phenomenon explains why some icons exude a compelling power about them, even when their aesthetic quality is not considerable. There are, on the contrary, icons which are very pretty are nevertheless spiritually flat. Icons acquire power to the extent their makers pour themselves into their handiwork. Texts insist that making of icons for worship must always follow a period of ritualistic preparation of the icon- maker as well as the material chosen for making the icon. Convention again insists that the icon – maker (silpin) must be ceremoniously hnoured before the worship for the icon begins for he is in a sense the parent of the deity.
The custom of manufacturing icons for sale is also an old one. Even in the centuries before Christ icons were being made as commercial propositions. Panini (5, 3, 96) mentions “pratikrti” in this sense; Patanjali, the great commentator on this remarkable grammarian, records that Mauryas (?) manufactured icons (‘archa) only for procuring gold (hiranya) (Mahabhasya, 5, 3, 99). But the ancient grammarian also knew that all icons were not made for money (5, 3, 99). Some were not meant to be sold (apanya), but they served as a means of livelihood (jivikarthe). Some icons that were e especially well – made and contained some power, were exhibited before the devotees, who made gifts to the owners of these icons. Sometimes, the priests carried such icons from door to door, collecting fees from the householders for viewing them.
These were obviously small icons, possibly metallic ones, not designed for installation in a temple. The later expressions, used for these ‘worshipful ones’ (archas), viz. ‘body’ (vapu, tanu, vigraha) and ‘form’ (rupa) indicate that the icons were no longer regarded as just symbols or reflections (pratika, pratikrti, sandrs), but as divinities in their own right, A mere look at them was own right, A mere look at them was believed to confer great benefits. The owners of such icons would also arrange to get copies made of them, of course for a consideration.
Mathura, which was situated on the trade routes of the country and therefore a busy commercial metropolis, became the place where icon – makers also gathered. Traders and political agents, who belonged to different religious groups (Buddhists, Jains, the Bactruian bhagavatas, sun – worshippers, Saivas and the followers of folk cults) visited Mathura and dwelt there for protracted periods. Icons – makers carried on a flourishing business, catering to their religious needs. There was need to manufacture icons and ritualistic implements and utensils on mass basis.
Art, pressed for a commercial end, naturally departs from the traditional norm, and seeks to adapt to the prevalent fashion. The aesthetic quality also degenerates to an extent, when duplication becomes the frequent need. The craftsman involved in this enterprises can ill afford to devote his time for ritualistic preparations or for visualization of the dhyana – sloka; his motivations are different. The icons that he made thus were no longer ‘spiritual products’, but pieces conforming to a dull and stereotyped convention. A large number of icons that we find now in the country belong to this class of uninspired artifacts. And most of them are very faint and distant reflections of the relevant dhyana – slokas, because the acquaintance of the craftsman with the textual prescriptions was meager or second – hand.
If the craftsman was clever and the need of the patron unusual the craftsman would evolve his own style of making an icon entirely outside the framework of dhyana slokas. And numerous minor divinities and folk deities which became popular in course of time and in different parts of the country did not have dhyana slokas any way and the craftsman had to follow his own genius and inclination. The custom of making the icons altogether independent of the dhyana slokas has continued to this day. The craftsman do not feel the need to be guided by the canonical texts any more.
There is however a provision made in the texts that the icons should conform to the regional styles of dress and decoration. It is also laid down that the craftsman must bring into play his own taste and skill while making an icon within the broad traditional framework. The dhyana sloka specifies the number of hands and the nature of the weapons held in them but it leaves the artist free to mould the hands portray the weapons and invent the manner of the hands holding the weapons in the way he chooses. The dhyana sloka of a deity may indicate that the icon must be represented in a dancing posture but is does specify what the precise posture should be like. The artist has to decide should be postures depending on his own familiarity with dance postures.
Simplistic stylization which obviated the necessity of dhyana sloka is best illustrated in the images of Buddha and the Jina. While both Buddhist and Jains icons conform in general to the traditional framework in which the classical deities were represented there were some unique features about them. The icons of the Buddha and the Jinas are to be found only in two postures sitting and standing. Seated icons of both persuasions are in the conventional lotus posture. The Buddha images are shown entire as engaged in contemplation as teaching, as offering comfort, or as calling the earth below as witness for his own integrity. The positions of the hands vary in these situations while rest of the body remains rigidly alike. While standing the Buddha is represented either as preaching or as on his begging round.
The images of Jinas are always shown as absorbed in contemplation whether seated or standing in an upright posture known as khadgasana. While seated his hands are poised on his locked legs the right palm over the left but while standing his arms hand down on the sides. The standing posture is commonly known as kayotsarga or pratima yoga which expression actually refers to a practice undertaken by the Jain ascetic for heightening the rigor of his austerities and for abandoning the effects of karma.
The images of Jinas are altogether nude whereas the Buddha is invariably shown as wearing an upper cloth in addition to the normal under robe. Neither the Buddha nor the Jina however is shown as wearing any ornaments whatever.
The differences among the Jina icons becomes important in view of the fact that twenty four Jinas are recognized the last of whom was Mahavira contemporaneous with the Buddha. The simplistic stylization would represent all the tirthankaras as exactly alike. But they are differentiated by the emblems appropriate to the Jinas carved on the pedestal.
The Bahubali or Gommata images which are usually huge monoliths are invariably free standing with no shelter over them. They are similar in posture to the standing Jina images except of course for the emblems which are absent in the images of Gommata. On the other hand the Gommata image in identified by the madhavi creeper that gracefully entwines the legs thighs and arms ant hills are also shown about the legs.
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