THE DECORATIVE FEMALE FIGURES ON THE WALLS OF THE SUN TEMPLE AT KONARAK: AN APPRAISAL – PART II

There is a headless figure of a drummer playing on her mridanga, placed between her thighs. In the intensely graceful posture of the jewelled feet, the artist skillfully suggests the rhythmic movements of the dance. Another drummer is playing on the drum with both of her hands. The rapt expression of the face is indicated in the delicate cantons of the cheeks. A magnificent torso of another drummer complete with her well-poised head, richly decked with a jewelled crown and her ornaments and all kinds of pearl strings and breast pieces which hang down between the busts. The expression of the face is one of deep immersion in the depth of the music, emphasized by her half-closed eyes and an aquiline nose.

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Among the cymbal players, there is a beautiful female figure with cymbals in a characteristic pose of supreme grace and dignity. Another cymbal player gracefully handles large discs held in her sensitive fingers. There is another magnificent close up of a cymbal player where we find all the majesty of her expressive figures of her arms, the various curved lines of the coronet, the bundle of her heavy-tresses and the emerging shoulder of the rims of the cymbals. The expression of her face emerging in a ravishing appeal, between the pair of large earrings, stamp the piece in the scale of a great masterpiece. The silk end with which the disc is held is skillfully made to cross the wrist, to emphasize the beauty of fingers. There is another flute player who stands in a stately pose, holding a long pipe-like instrument. As a portrayal of a celestial musician, it is a veritable masterpiece of great distinction and power24.

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Orissa was one of the important seats of the Tantric as well as of the Sakti cults that gave much importance to females. These cults might have influenced the artists of Konarak temple. The result was the abundant depiction of beautiful female figures like surasundaris and yoginis (women of gods) in yoga style. Surasundari which means celestial beauty, is but one of the names and types in which the image of sakti is carved on the walls of the temple25. Here in the temples of Orissa, the supernatural character of the figures is proved by the fact that most of them have been represented as standing on lotuses, and sometimes with lotuses serving as canopies over their heads26. By their appealing activity, they usually attract a large number of devotees. The figure of yogini is another form in which the great Sakti is expressed and carved on the temple walls. They are maids and messengers, the ‘angels’ of the transcendental power and as such are depicted in all directions of the temple. In Orissa, the celestial beauties are generally known as alasa-kanyas and have found their best expression in the Sun temple at Konarak. They are shown as wringing water from the wet hair, waiting by the side of a half-opened door, standing under a tree, holding the branch of a tree, caressing a pet bird, adjusting her ear-stud, plucking flowers, alluring a child or children with her forefinger placed below her mouth, carrying a sword, with a bowl, and the like. The amusing plight of a woman disconcerted by a band of prankish monkeys, hankering after the bowl of delicious food which she is carrying on her head, is depicted several times in several places.

One of the group compositions27 is particularly touching. Carved on the south face of the central projection of the west side of the deul, it depicts the leave taking of an old mother, presumably on the eve of her departure on a pilgrimage. The mother, bent with age, tenderly blesses her son. The prostrate daughter-in-law is taking reverently the dust of her feet, while the grand child fondly clings to her.

The beautiful woman has been the theme of various artists in many places like Ajanta, Amaravati, Khajuraho and Bhubaneswar. The beauties of Konarak have an air of vitality and zest for life, vigour and sensuousness which makes them worthy of heroes28.

The women and the tree motif or the salabhanjika (etymologically meaning, the women breaking the sal bough) has been very popular in Indian art since the days of Barhut. As Vogel shows, originally the term denoted a “popular festival celebrated at a time when the sala trees are in full blossom. In Sanskrit literature, however, the word was used in the sense of a ‘female pillar figure’ but ultimately it came to signify any carving of a female seizing the branch of the tree”29. In Orissa temples, especially, in Konarak, we find some excellent specimens of this charming motif. The idea that the ashoka tree blossoms at the touch of the feet of a beautiful damsel is conveyed by sculpture where a young lady places one of her feet on the tree and seizes its branch which has blossomed forth at the stimulation given by the touch of her foot30.

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The upright slabs of the temple are boldly relieved with nude, semi-nude and amorous female figures. These mythical beings are carved beautifully in various roles: playing on musical instruments like drum and flute, with two palms joined as in anjali-mudra (sometimes with a flower in the folded hands), with flowers, garlands, rosaries, and bowls of offerings and sometimes with arms crossed on the chest. Besides these female figures, there are countless women, partly or fully engaged in sexual activities with their male counterparts31. These sensual sculptures constitute the real attraction as well as puzzle for the present generation. The setting of ornaments on their bodies is neither too little to ignore the importance of the ornaments nor too much to ignore their natural beauty”.

Coomaraswamy said of Konarak, “It is a hymn to life, frank and exquisite glorification of creative forces where one symbol is love”. The same reaction has been echoed also in the words of RabindranathTagore, when he said, “This is a merry mark of eternal youth”. Konarak is indeed, a magnificent lyrical epic in stone, narrating the uninhibited joys of love and victory. Few poets have sung in words more sweet and divine, of the beauty and charm of women, the symbol of joy and victory on earth, as did the poet­-builders of Konarak in hard stone.

References 

  1. Das, H.C., Cultural Development in Orissa, 1985, p. 267.
  2. Ramassamy, N. S., Indian Monuments, 1979, p. 16.
  3. Misro, R.C., “he Female Figures in the Temple Art of Orissa”, The Journal of Orissan History, vol. X, 1990, p. 21-26.
  4. Donaldson, T., The Hindu Temple Art of Orissa, Vol. III, Leiden, 1988, p. 1151.
  5. Acharya, P, A., Architecture of Manasara, Oxford, 1933, p. 59.
  6. Cf. Vidya Dehejia, Early Stone Temples of Orissa, 1979, p. 69.
  7. Misro, R.C., op.cit., pp. 21-26.
  8. Das, A.K., Mysterious Konarak, 1984, p. 68.
  9. Adris Banerji, “Orissan Culture – A Synthesis”, Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol. XIII, no. IV, 1961, p. 36.
  10. Basham, A, L., The Wonder that was India, 1969, p. 373.
  11. Saraswati, S, K., A Survey of Indian Sculpture, 1957, p. 193.
  12. Charles Fabri, “The Sculpture of the Sun Temple: A Study in Style”, Marj, Vol. XII, 1, 1958-59, p. 33.
  13. Mansingh, M., The Saga of the Land of Jagannath, 1962, p. 73.
  14. Rajas, K, V, S., Early Kalingan Art and Architecture, 1984, p. 177.
  15. Pattanaik, D, N., “Nayikas in Orissan Sculpture”, The Illustrated Weekly of India, 80, 1959, p. 34.
  16. Adris Banerji, op.cit., p. 35.
  17. Bhavan’s Journal, Vol. 27, no. 17, April 1-15, 1981, p. 39.
  18. Shanti Swarup, 5000 years of Arts and Crafts in India and Pakistan, 1968, p. 60.
  19. Charles Fabri, Discovering the Indian Sculptures, 1970, p. 3.
  20. Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple, II, 1986, p. 25.
  21. Quoted by Das, A, K., cit., p. 72.
  22. Mathur, N, L., Sculpture in India, Its History and Art, 1976, p. 44.
  23. Rustam J. Mehta, Konarak, The Sun Temple of Love, 1960, p. 7.
  24. Mathur, N, L., op.cit., p. 44.
  25. Stella Kramrisch, op.cit., p. 338.
  26. Panigrahi, K, C., Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar, 1961, p. 111.
  27. Debala Mitra, Konarak, 1986, p. 46.
  28. Das, A, K., op.cit., p. 73.
  29. Behera (ed.), Folk Art & Craft of Orissa, Vol. III, 1978, p. 71.
  30. Ibid.
  31. For more details see, R.C. Misro, “Erotic Sculptures in Orissan Temples”, in: Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society, Vol. XXXIX, 1995, pp. 141-156; Also see, R.C. Misro and N. Nayak, “Eroticism in Orissan Temple Art: A Study”, in: The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, Vol. LXXXIX, no. 3, 1998, p. 9-27.
  32. Das, M, N., (ed.), Sidelights on History and Culture of Orissa, 1977, p. 476.

Dr. R.C. Misro
Reader, P. G. Department of History,
Berhampur University, Orissa

&
Mr. N. Nayak
Former Research Scholar of the same department

 

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 2002.

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