4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD witnessed a tremendous
resurgence of Hinduism when it became the official religion
of the Gupta Empire. Consequently, this era was also
marked by the emergence of innumerable images of popular
Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Images of Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna,
the Sun-God and goddess Durga evolved in this period.
The Udaigiri caves in Madhya Pradesh house a colossal
image of Vishnu. Here he is presented as the great savior
who rescued 'mother earth' from the depths of the ocean,
in his incarnation as a varha (boar). Other statues
of this period found in various temples and museums
are indicative of the various dimensions of early Hindu
art and sculpture.
The link between dance, drama, literature and art became
crucial to aesthetic expressionism in centuries to come.
This new era in art and sculpture witnessed a unique
fusion, a synthesis embodied in the caves at Ajanta
and Ellora and the temples of central and South India.
Ajanta and Ellora
North-east of Bombay, near Aurangabad are two astonishing
series of temples carved out of living rock over the
course of fourteen centuries. During the 4th century
AD. in a remote valley, work began on the Ajanta caves
to create a complex of Buddhist monasteries and prayer
halls. As centuries passed, numerous Buddhist monks
and artisans excavated a set of twenty-nine caves, some
cells, monasteries and Buddhist temples. All of these
were carved from the rock cliff at Ajanta. These caves
are adorned with elaborate sculptures and paintings
which have withstood the ravages of time.
The sculptures are finely wrought images of animals,
guards and deities while the paintings tell ancient
tales of courtly life and depict hundreds of Buddhist
legends. Amid the beautiful images and paintings are
sculptures of Buddha, calm and serene in contemplation.
Work started on the Ellora caves in the seventh century
AD where another set of caves were created from living
rock. Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism inspired these
sculptors to create these elaborate rock carvings. The
Buddhist and Jain caves here are ornately carved yet
seem quiet and meditative whereas the Hindu caves are
filled with a divine energy and power.
The most impressive and majestic creation at Ellora
is the Kailasa Temple, a full-sized freestanding temple
flanked by elephants carved out of solid rock. Pillars,
podiums, spires and towers combine to produce an awe-inspiring
representation of Shiva's Himalayan abode.
The tranquil town of Khajuraho, in the central state
of Madhya Pradesh boasts of the best medieval temples
in India, known all over the world for their erotic
sculptures. These glorious temples are the state's most
Amid green lawns and brilliant pink flowers is a complex
of temples, glowing with the warmth of sandstone and
ornamented with the sinuous curves of sculpture unparalleled
in their beauty. Out of the 85 temples built originally,
only 22 survive today. These temples were created by
the Chandela rulers in the Indo-Aryan style. The site
was forgotten for centuries before it was rediscovered
in 1838. The temples were restored and attract visitors
from all over the world.
The sculptures include statues of gods and goddesses,
warriors, celestial dancers and animals, besides those
of couples in erotic poses. The Hindu philosophy of
Yoga and Bhoga (physical pleasure), the two paths leading
to final liberation, seem to be the underlying theme
of these sculptures. These temples celebrated a Hindu
faith exuberant in its love for the divine. All life
was seen as an expression of divinity, including human
love. The union between man and woman was viewed as
the culmination of devotion, symbolic of the union of
the devotee with god and divinity. The other sculptures
in these temples depict the daily lives of the people
in the 10th and 11th centuries AD.
The famous temples at Khajuraho include the Lakshmana
Temple and the Kandariya Mahadeva temple. The latter
is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has a shikhara or spire
that is 38 metres high. Here we see an attempt to reconstruct
the image of Shiva's home in Mount Kailasha. Giant reliefs
also portray various manifestations of Shiva, who is
both a destroyer and a savior. Of the many statues found
in this temple, the most fascinating is that of an ascetic
performing the shirshasan (a yogic posture where the
yogi balances himself on his head).
The temples of Khajuraho display a wealth of sculptural
beauty, evoking the grandeur of the snow-capped Himalayas
as well as the earthly pleasures of life.
The most profound aspect of the mighty Shiva is in evidence
at the Shiva temple in the Elephanta caves. Situated
near Bombay, these caves present an introduction to
some most exquisitely carved temples. One can witness
a symphony in stone in praise of Lord Shiva, created
by India's expert stone carvers of the sixth century.
The central attraction here is a twenty-foot high bust
of the deity in three-headed form. The Maheshamurti
is built deep into a recess and looms up from the darkness
to fill the full height of the cave. This image symbolizes
the fierce, feminine and meditative aspects of the great
ascetic and the three heads represent Shiva as Aghori,
Ardhanarishvara and Mahayogi. Aghori is the terrible
form of Shiva where he is intent on destruction. Ardhanarishvara
depicts Shiva as half-man/half-woman signifying the
essential unity of the sexes. The Mahayogi posture symbolises
the meditative aspect of the God and here Shiva is shown
in his most quiet and serene form. Other sculptures
in these caves depict Shiva's cosmic dance of primordial
creation and destruction and his marriage to Parvati
and Shiva as half man/half-woman . The Elephanta sculptures
meaningfully convey the oneness of the human and the
divine and the images transcend the scope of human imagination
to achieve a grandeur that remains undiminished by time.