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Iconography of the Door Guardians of South India (Dvarapalas)

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Item Code: NAL720
Publisher: B.R. Publishing Corporation
Author: Myneni Krishnakumari
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789350502037
Pages: 228 (62 Color and 38 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.0 inch x 8.5 inch
Weight 840 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The religious monuments in India irrespective of the religion to which they belong to i.e., either Hinduism or Buddhism or Jainism share one of the most common feature in placing the door guardian figures in pairs at the entrances to the temple and also at the doorways leading to the God of the temple, besides making their appearance on the gopuras and sikharas of the South Indian temples. The figures of the dvarapalas either male or female at the entrance not only adds beauty to the temples but also serve the religious functions such as the protectors of the gods of the temples and the 'mediators' between the God and the devotees. The iconographical study of the door guardian imagery of the South Indian temples presents a comprehensive and coherent picture of the iconography of the dvarapala images which are semi-divine in nature, in different parts of South India through the ages. The developmental changes in their iconography can be attributed to the region, period and the religious aspirations and beliefs of the people besides the interests of the patrons of the temples. The religious symbolism of the multiple hands, attributes in the hands, hasta-mudras, body stances, ornamentation, clothing, facial expressions and the associated river goddesses sculptures are interpreted in relation to the textual references as well as through comparison with the dvarapala figures of the other area under the patronage of different dynastic rulers. Based on field study the volume throws a welcome light not only on the gradual evolution of the dvarapala images but also on the ayudhapurusha dvarapalas and the dvarapalas with trisulapurushas as their attendants. The religious meanings and the symbolism of the figure sculpture on the doorways and the expanded dvara-sakhas of the temples are interpreted. The book is illustrated with 120 line drawings and 100 photographs which are only representative to the themes discussed in the work.


About the Author

Prof. Myneni Krishnakumari has so far authored thirteen books and edited two volumes. Several research papers written by her are published in the leading academic journals and books. She specialises in art history, iconography, epigraphy and Andhra history. She has delivered several keynote addresses in the national seminars and workshops on the subject History and Archaeology and presented several papers at History Conferences. She has obtained her Ph.D and D.Litt degrees from Andhra University in 1979 and 1999. She has received several honours and distinctions in her career. She has received the Best Researcher Award in 1991 (A.U.) and Best Teacher Award in 2002 from the A.P. State Government. She has served the Andhra University in different capacities as the Member of the Executive Council, Dean of Faculty of Arts, Member of the Academic Senate and also as the Principal of the College of Arts and Commerce. She has visited Armstrong Atlantic State University (US) as visiting Professor; Leiden University and Cambridge University to attend the International Seminars and workshops. She has completed successfully six research projects funded by the UGC, Delhi.



'Dvarapalas' or 'the door guardians' (door keepers) appear on the door frame (torana) or portal leading to the deity within the shrine. In Indian sculptural art they are shown on the entrances of the Hindu religious monuments, whether they are rock cut or structural shrines besides the Jain and Buddhist faiths. Besides being decorative, the figures of the dvarapalas serve the function of the protection of the shrine and it is interesting to note that the male door guardians generally outnumbered the female door keepers (dvarapalikas). In the North Indian iconographical texts the male door guardians are referred to as Pratiharas with distinct names and iconography when they are referred to as associated with the Gods like Siva, Vishnu, Surya, Brahma, Subrahmanya and Ganesa. On the other hand we find textual references to the names of the female door guardians (Pratiharis) and their iconography as they flank the doorways of the shrines dedicated to Gauri, Chandi and Lakshmi. The dvarapalas as they are included under the group of divinities called as parivara devatas are attributed with divinity and this is well demonstrated in their iconography as they are provided with a halo behind their heads, attendant figures and additional pair of hands to hold different kinds of objects or weapons or hasta mudras. The door guardian figures are carved in pairs and positioned on either side of the doorways and sometimes they can be differentiated as pacific and terrific forms. In South India, quite often we find the similar type of dvarapala figures as mirror like images. One significant feature of the South Indian dvarapalas is that sometimes they are shown as ayudha-purushas, mostly as trisula-purushas and in certain cases as attended by the ayudha-purushas.

This volume explores the theme of the dvarapala imagery in South Indian temple art by focussing on the aspect of religious Significance of the inclusion of the dvarapaIa and dvarapalika images at the entrance of the religious institutions of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu from the ancient period and its continuation through the medieval period in South India. The emphasis laid on the dvarapala imagery in the structural monuments can be gleaned through their size as well as their frequency of occurrence by way of placing them at the entrances of the enclosure walls, maha mandapas, antarala and sanctum and on each storey of the gopura dvaras. Although the dvarapala images are considered merely as stereotyped and serving the protective function to the temples this work investigates and interprets the new dimensions such as dvarapalas as ayudha-purushas of Saiva and Vaishnava sectarian faiths and dvarapala images being carried away as war trophies by the successful kings during the medieval times demonstrating the political power and authority. Further the study focuses in the iconography of the dvarapala and dvarapalika images with an intention to interpret the function and meaning of the dvarapala imagery in the South Indian art.

Based on field research and the collection of digital photographs of the dvarapalas collected from the Photo Archives of American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), Indira Gandhi National Culture and Art (IGNCA) and other Art History resources this study documents and examines the dvarapala images as well as the associated images found on the dvarasakhas and lintels and explores the nature of their association with the temples and its entrances. Through this investigation, I have traced the development of the dvarapala images particularly in the Hindu iconography in South India and the role of the dvarapalas as protectors of the temples and as the mediators between the devotees and the god besides adding beauty to the temple complexes. So far, no special focus is laid by the art historians on the study of the dvarasakhas, dvarapalas and their associated images such as Ganga and Yamuna etc., covering the Hindu temples of South India built under the patronage of different dynastic rulers through the ages. This study brings to light certain ignored and little discussed aspects such as dvarapalas being personified as ayudha-purusbas and the dvarapalas named differently in the texts for different Gods and goddesses, their body stances and attributes in their hands in the process of drawing some plausible conclusions on the basis of the data collected.

I express my deep sense of gratitude to University Grants Commission, New Delhi for providing financial assistance by awarding me Emeritus Fellowship for two years with which I am greatly benefitted in conducting field survey and collection of the data by visiting several places and temples. I am thankful to the authorities of Andhra University, Visakhapatnam for providing me all the necessary physical facilities and internet facility which enabled me to prosecute my research activities after my superannuation. I express my thanks to the American Institute of Indian Studies for providing access to the online Photo Archives of its collections and its usage for research purpose. Photographs in black and white are mostly from the AIIS collections and the rest of them in colour are taken by me.

I am also thankful to my friends and colleagues for their constant encouragement and support. My special thanks are due to my son Sanjay and my daughter-in-law Radhika for accompanying me in my field visits to several temples in Tamil Nadu and helping me in taking the photographs of the temples and its sculptures.

I thank Sri Praveen Mittal, B.R. Publishing Corporation Delhi for accepting my work to publish through their agency and bringing out the volume very attractively.



Dvarapalas as the term suggests are the guardians of the entrances or the door keepers. The images of the dvarapalas are placed on the door frames or near to the entrances of the religious monuments since early times. Pairs of dvarapalas, either male or female are carved on either side of the threshold with some religious meaning and symbolism. On the religious monuments of different faiths one can notice their presence in different stances, attitudes, moods and poses. They are shown at different places in the major temple complexes, ie., gopura dvaras, sikhara of the temple towers, entrances of maha mandapa or mukha mandapa or jagamohana of different cardinal directions, antarala and garbhag iha. The size of the door guardians and their facial expressions suggests the terrific as well as the benign aspects of the Hindu divinities and subscribes to the ideology of destruction of the evil and protector or provider of blessings to the devotees.

The antiquity of the door keepers in architectural lay out of the temples goes back to the village guardians in ancient times which go straight to the Yaksha cult. In the early Buddhist monuments, in the reliefs carved on the gateways (toranas) and on the stone railings around stupas, dvarapalas are depicted either purely in mortal form as two armed or in the form of a naga or yeksha on the toranas and vedikas and the oldest of them can be dated to 1st century B.C. The naga and yaksha dvarapalas are known from at least the 2nd century A.D. and they are placed not only by the inner doors leading to the shrines, but also by the outer doors of the halls and by the entrances to the verandahs. Gradually, more human forms began to be depicted at these dvarapala locations and represented the members of the Hindu or Buddhist pantheon. In course of time we find the development of architectural plans and layout of the rock-cut and structural temples where in the main sanctum was built in sarvatobhadra type, in which the god could be visualised in four cardinal directions. Consequently the number of the doorways to the garbhag iha had been increased from one to four. In the temple complexes of South India the door keepers are found by the entrance to the actual shrine where the main deity is located and also by the entrances into the pavilions (mandapas) which are either free standing in front of the garbha g iha or adjoining it, The form of the mandapas supported by the pillars depends on their function as either entry hall or assembly hall. Further the dvarapalas are placed by the gopuras (entrance gateways) on the outer wall of the compound either in clearly defined niches or around the doorways . In the structural monuments of Northern and Southern India, the dvarapala is usually shown in human form, unlike those on the railings of the stupa and the early rock-cut temples. The figures of the dvarapalas are carved totally as reliefs with three dimensional perspective or as low reliefs on rectangular stone slabs with a halo (siraschakra) around their heads.

Generally the figures of the dvarapalas are shown as tall, well-built, muscular and broad shouldered carrying different kinds of weapons and attributes based on the principal deity of the temple. But there is no uniformity in the size of the bodies of the dvarapalas despite the fact that they may either belongs to Saiva or Vaishnava faiths. Often they are sculpted as soldier like and larger than life-size carrying the weapons of a warrior. On the other hand, we can also notice the door keepers in diminutive size occupying 1/4th of the length of the door frame on the lower bases of the dvarasakhas. In the Saiva temples-both rock-cut and structural, built approximately during 6th-12th centuries A.D. under the patronage of the Chalukyas, the Pallavas and the Cholas the size of the dvarapalas reached enormous proportions and emphasise the terrific nature of the door keepers. On the other hand in the temples of Northern Andhra and Orissa we find the dvarapalas as carved in moderate proportions occupying the small niches in the lower part of the door frames. The literary texts including the Silpa texts, Vastu texts, Agamas, Samhitas, Puranas and Tantra literature narrate the list of the names of the dvarapalas and their iconographical features. Accordingly, some dvarapalas are carved with either two or four hands reflecting the nature of the God to whom the temples are dedicated. They are always carved in pair and mostly as mirror type of images holding the same weapons and attributes on either side of the entrance. Sometimes, they are accompanied with one or two male or female attendants at the bottom of the doorway. Either being integrated with the group of images such as the dvarapalas and their attendants or as separate, the figures of Ganga and Yamuna are carved on the doorframe or near to it in separate niches. The door frames of the temples had been evolved from the simple form to richly carved and decorated dvarasakhas and its development can traced out both geographically and chronologically. The highly evolved door frames of the Gupta period placed greater importance to the decorative sculptural art on the door frames rather than to the carving of the figure sculptures, particularly of the dvarapalas. However, there are some exceptions to this kind of general observation. On the other hand one can notice the wide gap and difference between the Northern and Southern temples in the developments of the dvarasakhas of the temples that includes the sculptures of the dvarapalas.

In the field of art history among the earlier scholars J Fergusson, A.H. Longhurst and J Burgess have made a methodological study of the architecture and sculpture of the rock cut caves and Hindu temples of Deccan and South India. By studying the archaeological data through comparative method they have at- tempted to understand the Indian architecture in a global context. They have documented and studied all the details of the monuments they have visited and their observations form the reliable sources for the interpretation of the history of Indian culture. In their studies special focus was laid on Indian mythology, religion, regional style, artistic values and technical process of making the images besides their chronology. The methods adopted by Fergusson in Indian art historical studies such as racial and religious classifications for art and styles had a great impact in making further progress in the subject. The distinct approach of Fergusson was carried out by James Burgess, Henry Cousens, R.D. Banerji, Alexander Rea, H. Longhurst and others. The reports published by them with line drawings and photographs besides the descriptions of the monuments revealing the temple doorways, the position of the dvarapalas and their iconography are highly useful in drawing out some generalisations and inferences since some of them are now either in ruined condition or in a poor state of preservation. By interpreting the Vastu and Silpa texts as well as religious literature, the scholars have attempted to analyse the empirical evidence of monumental and sculptural data with reference to the texts, inscriptions and the living traditions of architects and sculptors. Stella Kramrisch has interpreted successfully the Hindu temple art and architecture with the help of the texts in the study of the meaning and religious symbolism. More particularly she has discussed in her work, "The Hindu Temple" thoroughly, 'the symbols of entry and exit, the door and its images', the structure, function and meanings of the doorway besides the figures of the guardian divinities of the door. She has also focussed on the symbolism of the threshold, presence of the figures of Ganga and Yamuna standing on their mounts on the dvarasakhas: both upward and downward and the mithunas on the doorways. In the writings of K.R. Srinivasan (1964), M.A Dhaky ( 1961 & 1983) C. Radcliffe (1981) and Bruno Dagens (ed. 1994) one can find the integrated approach to the analysis of texts in relation to the temple art and architecture. They have also achieved an important task of deriving an authentic technical vocabulary for temple architecture that not only defines the components of Hindu temple but also helps in a better understanding of the structural, symbolic and functional origins and meanings of the terms and their usage in practice.

Deccan, covering the area between the rivers Narmada and the north Pennar and from the Arabian coast to the Bay of Bengal ruled by different dynasties in the periods between 6th and 10th centuries A.D. had witnessed the tremendous development in the excavation of rock-cut temples that pertained to Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain religious faiths. The region had witnessed the rule of various dynasties such as the early Western Chalukyas of Badami, Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi and the Rashtrakutas. The Chalukyan and Rashtrakuta art and architecture has been studied by several Indian and foreign art historians. Under the temple survey project of Archaeological Survey of India K.R. Srinivasan and K.V. Soundera Rajan studied the cave temples of the Pallavas (1964) and the cave temples of Deccan (1981) respectively and provided the first hand information to the researchers through their well-documented monographs. K.V. Soundera Rajan's study on the cave temples of Deccan has brought to light the cave art of Eastern Deccan with a chronological frame work that differs from the assumptions of the earlier scholars. His contribution in this connection is very significant as he has combined and compared in his study the Karnataka and Andhra wings of the cave art during the period of the Chalukyas and their successors.

The studies of Aschwin Lippe, Carol Radcliffe Bolan on early Chalukya temples and sculptures throw a welcome light on the chronology of the temples based on the stylistic analysis besides revealing the close resemblances between the sculptures of the Durga temple at Aihole, Badami cave temple II of Karnataka region and those found in the Sangamesvara Temple at Kudavelli. The dvarapala sculptures of the Chalukyan period studied by Aschwin Lippe noticed at Badami cave III, Lad Khan, Durga Temple, Malegitti Sivalaya at Badami and Virupaksha Temple at Pattadakal brings to light the cultural integrative that could be seen in the, adoption of some Pallava and Eastern Chalukyan artistic traditions in depicting the attributes, body stances etc, of the Saiva door guardians. M.S. Mate has made significant contribution to the study of the dvarasakhas in which the dvarapalas are generally integrated. The nature and course of formal evolution of the entrance doorway of the Hindu temples with different siIkhas and its important elements such as door jambs, lintels and lalata bimba are traced out by him with historical perspective. He also studied the whole complex of motifs and designs of the dvarasakhas and analysed the underlying symbolism and the significance of the motifs.

C. Sivaramamurti has referred to the iconography of the dvarapalas very briefly but suggested the flow of the art traditions travelling from Vengi region to the Pallava area through Bhairavakonda (Nellore region in Andhra Pradesh) and further South to the Tiruchirapalli caves with regard to the 'horned dvarapala'. J.C. Harle has studied the sculptures of the door guardians of Pallava, Pandya and early Chola shrines and those found in the temples of the later phase of Early Western Chalukyan architecture with horns and analysed the stylistic relationships between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Gift Siromoney had successfully identified the dvarapalas of Mandagapattu, Vallam and Kaveripakkam with horns as the ayudha-purusha of Siva with empirical evidences. B. Rajendra Prasad has discussed in his works (1976;1980) and also in the chapters contributed to the Comprehensive History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh volumes III and IV 14 the stylistic development of the dvarapalas in the cave temples and structural temples. The dvarasakhas and its evolution have also been traced out while discussing the development of temple architecture in Andhra Pradesh. Heinrich Von Stietencron has studied in his work entitled, Ganga and Yamuna River Goddesses and Their Symbolism in Indian Temples the sculptures of the river goddesses adorning the doorways of Indian temples mostly recognizable from the Gupta period onwards. In this work he probed into how these gracious and purifying riverine deities have been conceived in human form and discussed in detail the Puranic myths and legends construed around these goddesses and traced their Vedic roots to show their evolution since then. By considering the Hindu temple as the body of the deity, the hidden meaning, functions and symbolism of the goddesses that are located on the door frames or by the side of the dvarapalas, their positions on the 'Left and Right' of the entrance are interpreted besides providing the sculptural data of these goddesses in the Appendix with regard to their location on the Right and Left side of the entrance of the temples, which is highly useful for the further probing on these issues. Steven Darian has dealt with the images of river Ganges and makara in literature and art and focussed on the symbolism and their association with the dvarapalas as well as the river goddesses as the dvarapalas of Hindu temples. Likewise, the studies of Stephen Markel and Adalbert Gail on Indian planetary deities, their genesis and iconography as gleaned through art and literature are highly interesting and useful in understanding their location on the lintel of the temple doorway.




  Preface v
  List of Illustrations ix-xvi
  List of Line Drawings ix
  List of Plates xiii
Chapter I Introduction 1
Chapter II Dvarasakhas (Door Frames) and its Symbolism 8
Chapter III Textual Descriptions of the Dvarapalas and Dvarapalikas 25
Chapter IV Yaksha, Naga and Bodhisattva Dvarapalas in Buddist Context 42
Chapter V Dvarapalas and Dvarapalikas in the Brahmanical Temples in South India(5th to 10th CENTURIES A.D.) 63
Chapter VI Temple Doorways and Door Guardians in South India(9th to 16th CENTURIES A.D.) 127
Chapter VII Conclusion 162
  Glossary 167
  Bibliography 170
  Index 181
  Plates 189
Sample Pages


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