950 AD - 1625

Female Musicians in Temple Art

American Institute of Indian Studies

Devotion to Celebration

It is a common imagery in the Indian architectures to find male figures playing music to rejoice the arrival of their God or to sing in their praise while female figures are depicted dancing.

However there are certain regional temple architecture like that of Orissa and Karnataka that has ample imagery of females playing music alongside their male counter parts.

The archaeological site of group of monuments at Hampi with carved relief of women musicians. Karnataka

Musical instruments are primarily categorised in three different groups based on their nature: Wired, Wind and Percussion.

Instruments that make music by beating with hands or hitting with sticks are called percussion instruments. Drums, both single faced and double faced, and Shiva's damru come under this category.

Percussion musical instruments like drums are considered fit for male because it makes loud noise. But Nata Mandir in the Konark Temple complex in Orissa represents women playing double headed drums.

This facade of Vishnu Temple in Bilaspur, Madhya Pradesh depicts women playing drums long with two male (dwarf) attendants.

In Carnatic architectural design Mohini playing Natwangam/ ringing bells in both her hands. Bells can come within the percussion musical category.

Instruments like Sitar, ektara, santoor are wired musical instruments. Saraswati, the goddess of Knowledge is always depicted playing Veena. Female figure holding Veena are called Veenadharini.

Wired instruments are highly delicate and make soft sounds unlike percussion musical instruments. Mohini figure at the Kesava Temple at Belur is depicted playing Naga-Veena (snake shaped Veena)

The female figure from Nata Mandir in Sun Temple complex depicted at the extreme right lowest panel is playing a stringed instrument like Veena.

Nata Mandir at Sun Temple, Konark (Odisha) has some of the finest representation of humans, daily life and women musicians in deep relief.

Stringed musical instruments like Veena and Sitar are considered feminine. Male figures are not depicted playing these instrument. Relief dated to 10th century CE from Harshanatha Temple in Rajasthan.

Very distinct pillar relief of woman playing stringed musical instrument at lower level and a male figure dancing on second level of the relief at Ramlingeshwar Temple.

Musical instruments that make sound/ music by blowing wind in it are called wind instruments. Flute is the most commonly used wind instrument. It is popularly associated with God Krishna

Veena Dharni and Venu Gopala (Krishna) carved as part of Pillar relief at Ramaswami Temple in Tamil Nadu. At times Radha is shown playing flute of Krishna.

In almost all regional cultures of India till today women play drums, conch, and local variations of percussion, stringed and wind instruments to celebrate events of life and religious occasions.

Centre for Art and Archaeology, American Institute of Indian Studies
Credits: Story

Image Source : American Institute of Indian Studies.
Street View: Courtesy Archaeological Survey of India
Curator : Meenakshi J.

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