NINE PLANETS TEMPLE AT KONARK

The nine grahas were placed over doorways of temples to ward off evil influences. At Konark the planets appear in their fully developed iconography. The Navagraha slab which was originally placed over the eastern doorway ofthe jagamohana is now kept in a separate shed erected by the Archaeological Department.

By: Diksha Sharma

Posted on: 8/10/2020 View : 41

NINE PLANETS TEMPLE AT KONARK

Navagraha

The nine grahas were placed over doorways of temples to ward off evil influences. At Konark the planets appear in their fully developed iconography. The Navagraha slab which was originally placed over the eastern doorway ofthe jagamohana is now kept in a separate shed erected by the Archaeological Department. The monolithic slab is divided into nine pillared pavilions, inside which the nine grahas have been carved. Beginning from the left the grahas are Surya, Soma, Mangala, Budha, Brahaspati, Sukra, Sani, Ranu and Ketu. Except Rahu and Ketu, the planets are seated in padmasana over the padmapitha. Surya, as graharaja, is depicted first, and he holds two lotus flowers in his two hands; his feet do not wear boots. Soma, Mangala, Budha, Brahaspati, Sukra and Sani, each carry a water pot in the left hand and aksamala in the right. Rahu is depicted as a ferocious half-bust figure with a grinning face and protruding eyes.


He holds crescent moons in his hands. Ketu is carved with a serpentine lower body and holds a pot from which flames emerge in the left hand; the right hand is mutilated, but, on the analogy of other planet slabs from later temples, it can be said that he held a sword in that hand. All the grahas except Rahu have bejewelled high crowns on their heads. Rahu wears an ornamental tiara and his head is distinguished by the peculiar hairstyle which heightens his ferocious aspect. Brahasptati is distinguished by his flowing beard. Rahu too has beard, which is arranged in ringlet fashion. All the grahas except Rahu wear necklaces ofseveral strands, stylized yajnopavita, kundala in the ears and anklets on the right leg, this ornament being absent in the case of Ketu, who has on the right leg, this ornament being absent in the case of Ketu, who has no legs, Soma, Mangala, Budha, Brahaspati, Sukra and Sani each wear a garland of flowers which reaches to their feet. The Navagraha slab belonging to the Jagamohana, is the only set which exists at Konark. The fate of the Navagraha slab of the main temple and other slabs ofthe Jagamohana is not defmitely known. 

Dikpalas

The eight dikpalas are conceived as the guardian deities of the eight points ofthe compass. Beginning with the east they are Indra, Agni, (South-East), Yama (South), Nirrita (South West), Varuna (West), Vayu (North West), Kubera (North) and Isana (North-East). In Orissan temples, the dikpalas are carved in their respective directions. The dikpalas are depicted in deula, jagamohana and natamandira. The chlorite images of Agni, Yama, Isana etc. have been discovered from the debris. An image ofVarunani, the female counter part of Varuna recovered from Konark, is now in the National Museum, New Delhi. This shows that at Konark dikpalas were carved along with their consorts. In the natamandira dikpalas and their consorts appear in the lower and upper jangha respectively. The Saivite representations at Konark include Sivalinga, seated Siva, Batuka Bhairava riding on a dog, and Nataraja. An image of Ganesa was recovered from a well in the courtyard of the temple. The seated forms of the god could be seen in the natamandira. Representation of Mahisasurmardini, is depicted along with Sivalinga and Jagannatha in three panels. Vaisnava images representing a four armed Visnu, and Balarama, were recovered from the brick temple. Besides ipiages of Narasimha, Vainana-Trivikrama associated with the Vaisnava brick temple, representation of the avataras of Visnu, such as Varaha, Krisna (as Gopinath and Govardhan dhari and Rama” occur in the sculpture of Konark. There is a unique representation of Purusottam Jagannath in three sculptured panels. The depiction is very significant in the context or the development of the cult and iconography.

Figure Motifs

The male figures include king, courtiers, attendants, soldiers, dancers, ascetics, labourers, etc., depicted in several situations. Several scenes reflect the cultural conditions of medieval Orissa. The grace of women has always been a favourite theme in  Indian literature as well as in Indian art, and at Konark the artists took special delight in depicting them in a variety of graceful poses and postures. The loving hand ofthe artists was particularly fond of carving lovely female figures in eternal youth and often with vivid sensuousness.


The best specimens are so sensitively modelled, with such remarkable artistic feeling and loving care, that Coomaraswamy observes that ‘the sculptures of women are frankly the work of lovers”. Even in ruins the temple vibrates with life. The temple walls teem with youthful forms, delicately modelled and cheerfully smiling, they defy decay and mock at time. In the depiction of female forms a few popular types seem to have fascinated the artists. The “women and the tree motif’ or the Salabhanjika (etymologically meaning the woman breaking the Sal bough) has been very popular in Indian art. At Konark we find some excellent specimens of this charming motif. A woman usually stands in a graceful pose under a tree and pulls down a branch which, treated in a stylized manner, looks almost like a creeper. The conception of dohada, found in Sanskrit literature, has parallels in some sculptures. The idea that the Ashoka tree blossoms at the touch of the foot of a beautiful damsel is conveyed by sculpture where a young woman places one foot on the tree and seizes its branch, which has blossomed forth at the touch of her foot. Alasa Kanya : In this representation, the female figures, whether sitting or standing, bend their bodies in glamorous poses or raise their hands in a mood of laziness. Decked with elegant jewelery and with coiffure arranged in several artistic ways, the indolent female figures convey a sense of gay abandon and luxury. The variety of graceful attitudes, gestures and expressions, usual with these figures, afford ample opportunities to the artist to exhibit the grace and elegance ofthe female form to the fullest extent. Musician and dancing figures : Ladies shown as playing on musical instruments or dancing to the accompaniment of music, are numerous on the walls of the natamandira.

Among the masterpieces of this class, mention must be made of the free standing musician figures on the parapets of the Jagamohana,  which are most enchanting creations unparalled in Indian art. The mother and child motif is another favourite motif ofthe artists of Konark temple. The mother is depicted with the child in a variety of situations. The mother holds a child in the left or right arm. Often the child is held aloft with both hands and the mother affectionately looks at the child. Sometimes a mother is seen near a half-opened door with a plump child beside her. Often the mother is shown with two or three children. The mother is also shown as walking with her children. In one panel we find the mother with her child being carried in a round dola (palanquin). At Konark, female figures with their pet birds are shown in varied poses and actions. Sometimes the bird is perched on the right shoulder ofthe lady. It appears as though the lady is talking gently with the bird. In one scene, the bird pecks at the bosom of the lady. The toilet of the ladies provided a charming field for the artists to depict them in several graceful forms. The woman is shown as dressing her hair or is engaged in fixing her ear tops or removing the anklet from her leg. Sometimes the lady looks to the mirror to adjust the simanta or to put on vermillion, or simply to review her beauty. At times she is represented as wringing water from her long tresses while a hamsa looks on at her feet.

Animal Motifs

In Konark sculpture, animal figures constitute by far the most common theme of decoration, and Coomaraswamy points out, “It is perhaps the animals that are most impressive. The elephant friezes on the upana or the two colossal elephants on the north courtyard have no counterpart in any other temple of Orissa. Of the gigantic pairs in the northern courtyard, one holds a man in its trunk, while another is shown with a man under its body. Both elephants, impress us by their dignified bearing, and largeness of volume. The stone elephant of Konark holding a man in the trunk is imitated at a later time in a Roman Villa. The elephant friezes on the upana, executed with loving care by many hands, present a charming spectacle. The realistic treatment oftheir form shows the meticulous care bestowed on the study of their anatomy. Elephants are carved in a number of poses; they move in processions, carry their masters, trot in the jungle, sit, recline or go to the water to quench their thirst. The whole of the kheda operation has been shown. The elephants are shown in a herd in the jungle.

The jungle atmosphere is suggested by a lion in a foil or a peacock as in the upana below a wheel. The elephants are led into the kheda by the beating of drums and the sound of trumpets. The sculptures show wild elephants approaching the empty kheda, some friezes depict them inside the kheda; often the enraged elephants in the kheda are subdued by long bamboo poles. In several panels, the elephants are caught by nooses; persons are shown engaged in putting the noose around the neck ofthe elephant from above a tree and other persons are trying to fasten the legs with ropes. According to elephant lore, the eight elephants of the quarters were created out of the shell of the cosmic egg from which the Sun-god was created. Judged against this background, the depiction of elephant reliefs and placing them as guardian animals, were in keeping with the mythology. The horses are carved in the context of military scene or in the religious context. Ofthese, the seven horses that once adorned the eastern entrance are in broken fragments, but even in this state ofruin the fragments speak for themselves. In the strenuous task of drawing the gigantic chariot, they are considered by Coomaraswamy to “express a mood of sadness almost as profound as that of the Javanse Mahisamardini”. The horse is specially associated with the Sun-god and his son Revanta. The Sun god on the north raha rides on a horse and seven horses constitute an inseparable part of the Sun god’s chariot. The splendid war horses are characterized by a strength and dynamic vitality which lends them a monumental grandeur. Commenting on one ofthem, Havell remarks, “Had it by chance been labelled ‘Roman’ or ‘Greek’, this magnificent work of art would now be the pride of some great metropolitan museum in Europe and America.

Here Indian sculptors have shown that they can express  with as much fire and passion as the greatest European art, the pride of victory and the glory oftriumphant warfare; for not even the Homeric grandeur of the Elgin marbles surpasses the magnificent movement and modelling ofthe Indian Achilles, and the superbly monumental war horse in its massive strength and vigour is not unworthy of comparison with Verochhio’s famous masterpiece in Venice”. Among other animals, giraffe, camel, deer, tiger, boar, ram, monkey, bullock, etc. are represented in the context of different scenes. A giraffe is depicted in a panel on the upperjangha portion of the pitha wall of the temple on the south, and this is probably the solitary example of this alien animal in Indian temple art. How did it get to Orissa? Brought as a curiosity by Arab traders and sold to the king, perhaps the presence of the giraffe is an important evidence of commercial contact with East Africa. The depiction of camels on the Orissan temples is very rare, the animal being not normally found in this part of India. However, there are a few representation of the camel in Konark art. Tiger and boar appear in hunting scenes, while deer is shown in several postures and positions in the scrolls, besides being depicted in the hunting scene.

Birds

The birds represented in the temple art include peacock, pigeon, goose, parrot, crane, etc. In the conventional kadamba tree which serves as a background for the “Giraffe scene”, as many as five peacocks are shown perched on its branches. The parrot was kept as a pet bird by ladies, and even a lady going for worship carries a parrot on her shoulder; pigeon and crane are depicted in the roof of the jagamohana, on the edges of its cornices. Two birds placed on the roof line of decorative mandapa, is a familiar motif at Konark. On the walls of Konark, rows of geese, admirably carved in a continuous line, looking forward, backward and downward as they move, create a charming spectacle. Such representaton is seen at its best in the pitha-wall of the natamandira on the baranda-mouldings. Many of these geese are, however, are shown with stylised and flowry tails.


Conventional and composite Animals

The lion (simha) formed a popular item of decoration from a very early period. At Konark, the motif is impressive not only for its bold and imaginative treatment but also for its pleasing variety. The artists were fully aware of the structural significance of the iron motif, and utilised it in its dopichha form with one head and two bodies placed at right angles to support the ponderous crowning elements. Miniature representations of this form are, however, seen on the roof of the decorative pillared pavilions, where two such lions, separated by a kalasa, face opposite directions. At Konark, a variety of vyala (locally called vidala) figures are found on the platform ofthe temple, as well as on the Vimana and the Jagamohana. They are also shown on the interior pillars of the natamandira. The Aparajita pricha of Bhuvanadeva (12th Century A.D.) mentions sixteen types of vyalas, such as lion, elephant, horse, man, bull, ram, parrot, boar, buffalo, rat, insect, monkey, gander, cock, peacock and snake forms. At Konark a few ofthese types such as simha vyala, nara vyala etc. are found. Gaja-vyalas are seen in large numbers. It is an imaginative combination of lion and the elephant; the body, tail and paws are those of the lion but the face is ofthat the elephant. It stands on its hind legs, resting one leg on the waist and another leg on the head of a prostrate warrior who has sword and shield in his hands. The elephant face carries a man in the trunk which completes the composite pattern.

The nara-vyala is unique product of medieval Orissan art and has not been noticed in other parts of India. In this form, the lion is combined with a human face. The asva-vyala is shown over the elephant. It carries a rider on the back. The basic appearance is that a lion, but its rider and the bridle suggest that it is an asva-vyala. The motif of a warrior riding asva-vyala and trampling an elephant with rider as depicted the junction wall of the deula and jagamohan is monumental in scale and represents an imaginative development ofthe motif. The Gaja-Simha or the lion on a recumbent elephant motif is quite popular at Konark. Various explanations are given to explain this motif. KONARK : THE BLACK PAGODA 77 It is believed that the pattern of “the lion vanquishing the elephant” symbolises “the conquest ofspiritual power over wordly power”. To another scholar it was the “symbol of ignorance conquered by knowledge”. Benjamin Rowland thinks that these “possibly are allegories ofthe Sun’s (lion’s) triumph over the rain (elephant)”. It is also argued that the motif represents victory of Hinduism over Buddhism, the lion being fancifully taken to be the symbol ofthe former and the elephant ofthe latter. This theory is however, improbable in view of its use by the Buddhist image makers themselves, which shows that the motif had probably ornamental and not religious significance. The explanation that “the rampant lion on crouchant elephant” permanently embodies a political change in Orissa. The Kesari dynasty (9th11th century) over throwing the Gajapati dynasty (1435-1540) is equally improbable in view of the chronological position of the dynasties in Orissan history, and the occurrence of this motif outside Orissa. Literature and long tradition relate that the skull ofthe elephant contains a special kind of pearl. Therefore the lion takes a special delight in attacking the elephant with its claws to collect this pearl. The epithet “gajaraja” (lord of elephants) applied to the lion in literature shows its relationship with the elephant. To attack elephants is a part of his intrinsic nature, even from the time of its birth. The “lion standing on elephant” motif merely reflects this inalienable habit ofthe lion.

 The notion that the lion is the deadly enemy of the elephant and that the latter possesses a king of pearl in its head is to be found in the Raghuvansa of Kalidasa and in the inscriptions of Bhauma and Ganga period. The Dhenkanal plate of Tribhuvana Mahadevi mentions that her ancestors “like lions with fierce claws, crushed the elephant like formidable enemies”. In one type the lion is shown over a couchant elephant. The gigantic pair in front ofthe eastern entrance ofthe natamandira, is the best example ofthis type. The lion with open mouth, lolling tongue, flamboyant mane and protruding eyes stands just over the recumbent elephant with lifted paws in an attitude ofstriking the latter, which in its turn'also holds a man in the trunk. The majesty, vigour and strength of the stylised lions and the mood of helplessness of the elephants, are well brought out by the sculptor. The double gaja-simha motifis used at the bottom of pilasters with great skill and imagination, sometimes the lions face one another with uplifted paws. The variety, locally known dopichha gajasimha, shows the two lioness with only one common head. In another type the stylised lion stands over the elephant on its hind legs, placing one leg on the head and other on the rear part ofthe elephant. The makara in its mythical and stylised form, with a plump body and twisted proboscis, is found as the vehicle of goddess Ganga and makara serving as a gargoyle on the north of the Chayadevi temple is very impressive, and holds a fish in its open mouth. The Kirtimukha or face of the frame represents a stylised lion’s face with fanciful horns, bulging round eyes, upper jaws and absence of the chin, which creates a terrific countenance. The face is taken to represent that of Rahu, and when pearl strings are emitted from its mouth it has a typical Orissan name in Rahumukharamala. According to Dr. Panigrahi, “It is a symbolical representation ofthe builder’s or donor’s frame which is figuratively taken to be as white as,pearls”. * * i t * * ' x At Konark the kirttimukha design consists of the head of a vyala with strings of pearls issuing from its mouth though in some cases kirttimukhas merely represent the grotesque head of a lion with no pearl strings. In the natamandira a series of kirttimukha designs are carved on the upper half of the pillars, with pearl strings hanging from them. But the most popular, and perhaps the most charming, use of this motif is with the makara torana and the chaitya-windows, the two most familiar features in the repertoire of decoration ofthe time. On the upana ofthe temple, we find a series of chaitya-window at regular intervals which are crowned by kirttimukhas.


The chaitya-window often has a lotus finial, but in most cases it is crowned by the kirttimukha. The decorative arches, sometimes having makara-mouths at the points ofspringing, are usually crowned by the “face of glory”. Many examples ofthis combined motif integrating both the makara and the kirttimukha in a torana, may be seen at Konark. At Konark the serpent pillars are shown with Naga and Nagi either single or in embrace (Naga bandha). The Naga and Nagakanya figures are carved on the pitha of the temple in the portion ofthe lower jangha. The bada ofthe Jagamohana is also decorated with Naga and Nagi pillars, having double gaja-vidalas at the base. The proverbial beauty ofthe Nagakanyas inspired the artists to depict them in lovely forms and in pleasing variety. Decked in rich jewellery, with charming hairstyles or bejeweled crowns on their heads, their treatment is varied: they play on different musical instruments such as the vina, flute and the mrdanga, cany garlands, orjoin their palms in adoration to the god. The type showing the Naga and the Nagini in close embrace, invariably has a sweet expression on the faces. The coils of the two are elegantly entwined to form a Naga mithuna bandha. The Naga and Nagakanya figures were used to beautify and to emphasize the auspicious character ofthe temples. C.F. Oldham asserts that worship of the Sun and the serpent was closely interlinked and was once a universal phenomenon in the ancient world. In ancient Orissa serpent worship was fairly popular and Brahmans ofthe Maitriyaniya school were specially engaged for the purpose oftheir puja. In the Santiparvan ofthe Mahabharata mention is made of the Naga Padmanabha drawing the one¬ wheeled chariot of the Sun-god. The Visnu Parana says that the twelve Nagas attended the chariot ofthe Sun by turns, along with the Risis, Gandharvas, Apsaras, and others. But it is difficult  to attribute any sectarian significance to this decoration, which forms a very conspicuous feature of the decorative devices of temples bearing different religious affiliations. Among other semi-divine figures mention may be made of Yaksas, Gandharvas and Kinnaras. The Gandharvas are celestial musicians. They are shown as flying in the air with their female counter parts and carrying musical instruments with which to serve the deity.

Decorative Designs

The flower ornaments also have a place in the decoration of the temple. At Konark, of all flowers, lotus is depicted in great number and with great elegance - petals, buds and full flowers. Elaborated lotus pedestals are used for divinities. An elegant lotus design even formed the ceiling ofthe natamandira. The scroll-work offered a good field for the artists to show their skill and individual talent. At Konark the creeper and foliage patterns are usually used as the background. The scroll is known as dali or lata in the local language. In this field the Orissan artists made a distinct contribution by evolving a number of new artistic types. The scroll is not exclusively Orissan but as Stella Kramrisch points out, “It found its richest soil in Orissa particularly in the latter phases ofthis school, where its devices effect a final transmutation ofthe grain ofthe stone into the plastic texture of the temple wall”. The local artists coined special names to denote the varieties ofthis motif, phula-lata, patralata, vana-lata, etc. Sometimes as the creeper rolls on, it creates circles. Inside these circles, heads of animals or full figures of animals are carved with minute precision. The animals include elephant, boar, monkey, lion, deer, etc., Sometimes more than one animal is placed within the circle, which must have demanded endless care and patience to carve them in such an excellent form. The treatment of the foils are made according to the imagination ofthe artists. In some cases, we find small figure of lions fighting with elephants. In one interesting specimen a tiger is shown approaching a deer, while in another foil we find a monkey sitting over a crocodile. Birds are also used as insets. When the creeper scrolls carry  birds they are known as paksi-lata; with insets of wild animals (vana-jivas) it is called jiva-lata. Often a nice effect is produced by combining foliage with animals, birds etc. in one decorative composition.

Miniature temple motif: 

The architectural designs form an important element of decoration.When a niche is surmounted by pidha type of temples, it is called pidha-mundi; when it is provided with a crowning structure of khakhara type, it is called khakhara-mundi. Sometimes, it may be capped by an interlacing chaitya-window pattern, which is called the vajra-mundi.

Gavaksa motif:

The gavaksa or the window motif frequently occurs at Konark, as in other temples of Orissa and elsewhere in India. At Konark, chaitya-window motifs are varied in treatment and mark the final stage of evolution. The arch pattern of the earlier epoch has been converted into a full circle or medallion of concentric circles and the side wings have been replaced by arabesque like flourishes on the sides. The motif is usually capped by a kirtimukha or a lotus flower. We notice changes in the reclining figures; sometimes musicians, ganas, kinnaras, parrots etc. flank the pattern. The medallion in its innermost concentric circle also carries a lotus flower, human head or lion’s face. Often a bell hangs from the mouth of the kirttimukha. Sometimes two chaitya-windows are placed one upon the other; at times a complex pattern is obtained by interlacing a number of windows, of which we have excellent specimens on the natamandira.

Erotic Imagery

The erotic sculptures have earned fame or even notoriety, for Konark. G.F. Cockburn, a Commissioner of Orissa rejoiced at the dilapidation ofthe temple and wrote in 1858, “The beastly representations with which it is covered make it, I think very desirable, that the whole of the remaining building should be levelled with the ground’. Lowell Thomas described Konark as the “most beautiful” and at the same time “the most obscene building in the world”. C.S. Ross Smith writes, “Written and spoken there is no end to the list of explanations to the mithuna’s beautiful, mysterious, and unique presence of these sacred walls”. Various interpretations ofthose sculptures have been suggested. In a maze of explanations scholars have rarely been successful in making the problem more intelligible. The failure, we believe, is largely due to the fact that too much emphasis has been given on finding a “single cause” or a complete explanation. Benjamin Rowland in The Art and Architecture of India has suggested that “at Konark the function of these endlessly repeated pairs in dalliance must have had something to do with actual orgiastic rites conducted in association with a special cult of the Sun as a universal fructifying force”. Percy Brown goes a step further when he asserts that “in Orissa at this period the maithuna movement appears to have obtained a firm hold on a considerable section of the community”. He believed that the “temple was erected no such a remote site in order that the practices so wantonly illustrated might be ceremoniously conducted by its addicts in an underworld of their own”. It is difficult to agree with Percy Brown in his attempt to explain the erotic sculptures in terms of a “maithuna movement”. The Ksetra mahatmya of Konark to be found in the Sanskrit texts, shows that, as an important tirtha in the Hindu world, the place was frequented by pilgrims and was not meant to be an “underworld” for sex addicts. The Ganga epoch, in which the Konark temple was built, was followed by yet another brilliant epoch under the Suryavamsi Gajapati kings of Orissa and no “deplorable effects” could be detected because of such sculptures.

There is nothing to prove that “orgiastic rites” constituted an important element in the Sun-worship at Konark. H. Goetz held that the “very outspoken sexual sculptures” were “connected with the many dancing girls once dedicated to the Sun temples”. P. Rawson suggested that the erotic sculptures “merely served the mundane purpose of advertising the charms ofthe devadasis or temple prostitutes”. These opinions are open to dispute, as erotic sculptures are not generally found on the natamandira.The devadasis were the attendants of the god and were not meant for the pleasure ofthe people, though at times a  deviation was made from this ideal. The profusion of erotic sculptures at Konark need not imply the moral laxity of the devadasis, who were primarily concerned with service to the deity. It is often held that the purpose of carving erotic sculptures was mainly symbolic. A.K. Coomaraswamy observes, “The Indian sex-symbolism assumes two main forms, the recognition ofwhich will assist the student of art; first the desire and union ofindividuals, sacramental in its likeness to the union ofthe individual soul with god - this is the love of the herd girls for Krishna : and second, the creation of the world, manifestation, lila, as the fruit of the union ofmale and female cosmic principles - purusha and shakti”. The representation ofsexual union in sculptures according to Stella Kramrisch, is regarded as a “symbol of moksa” because the ecstasy in sexual love was compared to the religious ecstasy derived in the merging ofthe human soul with the ultimate reality. This philosophy finds expression in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad which declares: “As a man, fully embraced by his beloved wife, does not know anything at all, either external or internal, so does this Being (self), fully embraoed by the Supreme Self, not knows anything at all, either external or internal”. Coomaraswamy attributed the erotic sculptures to the “quickening power of the Sun”, but as such sculptures are not the monopoly of the Sun-temple of Konark, he also pointed out that the obscene figures on the exterior walls of the monument symbolize the illusory world of pleasure in contrast to the solemn character of the inner side of the sanctuary. The out side of the temple represents various activities that belong to the Samsara, beyond that and within the temple is the image of god. The worshiper must overcome the world of pleasure to find his god.


The Siprur stone inscription ofthe time of Mahasiva Gupta exhorts : “Oh kings, do not turn your minds to sin seeing what has been clearly described of this wonderful world (sansara) under the guise of the temple (i.e.) the diversity of acts of all creatures high and low-with cage like bodies (passing) through various stages of existence from the celestial being (down wards). Their depiction appears to be deliberate: their purpose is to  awaken a feeling of aversion for the earthly life for which they stand and lead the devotees to the calm atmosphere ofthe abode ofthe god. K.C. Panigrahi, believes that obscene figures were in all probability meant to test the self-restraint of a visitor before he was entitled to reap the merits of his visit to the god”. A real devotee can look unmoved at these emotional scenes, or his mind will be filled with disgust, he will enter the temple to seek salvation. A person without passion is an ideal person to attain salvation. In the Puranas we hear of beautiful apsaras who are sent to disturb the meditation of risis. The real saints were those who could concentrate in spite ofsuch attractions. Marco Polo (C.1293 A.D.) also tells how temple girls were utilised to test the moral purity of the naked ascetics before they were admitted to the order. Many of the erotic panels at Konark show bearded ascetics in the company of lovely damsels, forgetting their austere asceticism, such panels may be meant to ridicule the passionate ascetics. It is generally believed that the erotic sculptures are inspired by Tantric rituals which emphasize sensual elements as a means to salvation. The Tantric mode of worship, among others, recommends the use of maithuna (sexual intercourse). But all the erotic sculpture ofKonark cannot be explained as representing Tantric rites. The Chausat Yogini temples at Hirapur and Ranipur Jharial contain no sculpture depicting sexual rites, although, beyond any doubt, these two places were connected with tantric Saktism. The erotic sculptures do not appear in profusion on temples erected during the heyday ofthe Tantricism, while during the period of its decline these are seen on almost all the temples of Orissa. In the thirteenth century, when the Konark temple was erected, the form of worship was greatly influenced by the spread of Vaisnavism. The Trantic mode ofworship no doubt continued, but it was mainly connected with yantras, mandalas, performance of nyasas, mudras and uttering of mantras in which letters had Tantric symbolism. Another answer often given is that the erotic sculptures are meant to ward off lightning and thunder. The Skandapurana 


seems to suggest that such sculptures, are depicted as a prophylactic measure against thunderbolts. The Bhagavata purana tells a story that once, Indra being guilty of the sin of brahmanicide, distributed his sin among the earth, water, trees and women. Through sharing the sin of Indra, women became passionate and indulged in sexual pleasures. So it is believed that the Vajra of Indra cannot affect the temple where the love play is depicted in sculpture. Even if one admit such superstitious beliefs it is difficult to explain the abundance of such sculptures. If these obscene sculptures were intended to ward off lightning and thunder, they would have been carved on the upper part of the temple but in fact, they are not to be seen on the mastaka portion. The practice of carving erotic sculptures seems to have been sanctioned by texts dealing with architecture. The Brhastsamhita ofVarahamihira recommends that the doorjambs oftemples should be decorated with auspicious birds (mangalya vihaga), auspicious trees (srivrksa), full vessels (ghata), foliage (patravali), and amorous couples (mithuna). The Agni Purana enjoins that doorways should be embellished with mithunas (mithanair bibhusayed). These injunctions, have been followed in the decoration of the doorjambs of the Konark temple. Sarala Dasa (15th century A.D.) in his Oriya Mahabharata alludes to the injunctions of the Agni-purana for which in the Chandrabhaga tirtha, everything, including the Bhaskara purana has become obscene and there on the temple wall all the obscene episodes from the 18 Puranas have been told (carved) before the Sungod. The artists of Konark seems to have followed the ancient custom and tradition. In religion sex played an important role. In the Rigveda the cosmic desire is said to have been at the root of the creation. In the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad it is said that in the beginning the Primeval Person was alone and longing for companionship, he produced a wife by dividing himself. The significance of mithuna as a source of creation is more clearly set forth in the following passage of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. “He was not at all  happy. Therefore people (still) are not happy when alone.


He desired a mate. He became as big as man and wife embracing each other. He parted this very body into two. From that came husband and wife. Therefore, said Yagnavalkya, this body is onehalf of oneself, like one ofthe two halves of a spilt pea. Therefore this space is indeed filled by the wife. He was united with her. From that men were bom. She became a cow, the other became a bull and was united with her, from that cows were bom. Thus did he project everything that exists in pairs, down to the ants. The satapatha Brahman contains the statement that “birth originates from a mithuna”. Mithuna is defined as a “productive couple”. “A mate is one-half of one’s own self for when one is with a mate he is whole and complete”. This type of thinking is also to be found in the religious literature of subsequent epoch. The sankhya philosophy puts emphasis on the concept of Purusa and Prakriti. The Lakulisa Pasupata sects of Saivas had among the vidhis or rules of conduct, srngarana which implied exhibiting amorous gestures at the sight of a woman. The Kaula-Kapaliaka and Kalamukha sects were two extreme shoots of the Pasupat school and ascetics belonging to those schools observed rites which are far more outlandish in character. Some of the sculptures of Bhubaneswar temples were influenced by such religious practices. The erotic sculptures had a legitimate place on the temple walls, just as love and sex have a legitimate place in life. Commenting on the erotic sculptures, Ananda Coomaraswamy observes. “They appear in Indian temple sculpture, now rarely, now frequently, simply because voluptuous ecstasy has also its due place in life, and those who interpreted life were artists. To them such figures appeared appropriate equally for the happiness they represented and for their deeper symbolism”. The erotic sculptures of Konark reflect the life and vitality of the times; they are the expressions of a happy people who took delight in pursuit of pleasure. The art is connected with society and culture of the time. Inscriptions of medieval Orissa often mention amorous activities of upper classes especially ofthe royal family.


The erotic sculpture,  however, depict, among others, one aspect ofthat life. One notable feature of the erotic sculptures of Konark is their total frankness. Nihar Ranjan Ray aptly remarks; “what is remarkable at Konark...is the fact that even in those scenes that depict a sexual act there is a sort of delightful detachment in the actors themselves. They take it so easy and in such a nonchalant manner that there is not the slightest suggestion of a mischief being done or a shameful act being gone through”. Another feature peculiar to the erotic sculpture of Konark is the “mutuality of enjoyment” and the “intense humanism” ofthe scenes. Referring to these aspects Marie Seton observes. “There is something very extraordinary about the erotic art of Konark and that is that though there never could be greater realism, there is not a single scene where a man touches a woman against her will. Not one scene remotely suggests the idea of rape. Even the scenes which can be called orgiastic are by mutual consent. In consequence there is an expression of intense joy unbroken by violence between men and women... Konark makes all the other erotic art ofthe world appear grotesquely lewd and pornographic”. This “expression of intense joy and zest in life, are something unique to Konark. Coomaraswamy observes, “it is a hymn to life, a frank and exquisite glorification of creative force in the universe”. Abanindranath Tagore considers Konark, “a merry mart of eternal youth”. There is no single explanation for the erotic sculptures. They made their appearance and continued as decorations on the walls ofIndian temples through a combination of factors, notions about their auspicious character, influence of Tantrism, kamasastra literature, superstitions, canonical injunctions, long standing convention, and especially the inherent human weakness for earthly pleasures. Symbolic or mere ornamentation, meaningful or purposeless, such sculptures are in profusion which may be due to the fertilising or stimulating power ofthe Sun god.

Characteristics of Konark Sculptures

The Konark sculptures, representing the climax of a process, possess all the peculiar features ofmedieval Orissan art. Profusion, almost a strong prediction for dense decoration, is the keynote of this plastic art.A maximum of decorative devices have been compressed into the minimum of space, in complete contrast to the earlier emphasis on simplicity, modesty, balance and restraint, features to be noticed in the elegant imbellishments ofthe Rajarani or the Lingaraja temple. The contradictory qualities of the sculpture are evident in the blending of different scenes of war, worship, love, ferocity and the like, in an attempt to appeal to the senses, heart and the mind. The artist who depicted the coquettish languor on the face of the erotic couples, and the voluptuous beauty of the naked bodies, could also show the spiritual grace on the face ofthe Sun god. In fact here at Konark can be seen magical mixture of opposites, stupendous size made majestic by richness and delicacy of decorative details, spiritual grace side by side with debasing sensuality and display of light and darkness side by side. At Khajuraho the sculptures being independent of the flat base of the temple body, seem as though they have been applied on the temple surface, without any basic relationship with the temple walls. But at Konark, as in the case of other temples of Orissa the figure sculptures look as ifthey have blossomed forth from the temple wall. This organic relationship between the sculpture and the walls of the temple, contribute, to a very considerable degree, to the vitality and liveliness of the Orissan sculptures”. Coomaraswamy observes, “the best Konark figures are characterised by an exquisite smoothness and vitality”. The preference for massive body with more soundness of features is an important feature of Konark. The artist delights in revealing the beauty of form to the fullest extent, by modelling the human figures with the highest feeling and sensitiveness. The female figures adorning the parapets of the Jagamohana are endowed with an exquisite grace and elegance that justly give them a permanent place in the history of art.

The beauty ofthe different parts ofthe body, the tenderness ofthe flesh, the sweet expression of the eyes, the charm of the sensitive lips are well brought out by the superb modelling. Many of the sculptures are infused with a dynamic vitality and possess a unique charm oftheir own. In the eloquent words of Abanindra Tagore, “Here nothing is silent, nothing is motionless, nothing is barren or sterile. Stones are ringing with deep resonance ofthe Mridanga-drum, stones are running like frisky spirited horses pulling the car at the top speed; fertile stones have bloosmed out like the ever blooming plants of the bowers, embracing in their thousand arms ofshining green from all quarters”. A great many ofthe sculpture depict the society and the age to which they belong. The observation of Rabindranath Tagore with regard to the Bhubaneswar temples is also true in respect of Konark: “The great and little deeds of man, the good and evil occurrences of his daily life, his work and play, his war and peace, his home and the world, cover up the whole temple, through a series of wonderful pictures”. Here, on the walls of Konark, can be seen the king with all the regal paraphernalia, soldiers on the march, common labourers carrying loads or dragging stone, a host of gay people indulging in the legitimate pleasures of life, ascetics, dancers, hunters, and musicians along with many ofthe fauna and flora of India; here in fact may be found the depiction of life style ofthe people on the hard surface of stone.

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