Fauna Reverence In Art Of India & Pakistan  (Spiritual World: Gods & Goddesses in Animal Forms)

Throughout India’s rich history animals are revered and depicted in god forms. The Hindu sacred belief of animals is a dominant aspect of Indian culture.  This art gallery reflects just a small sampling of fauna reverence in the spiritual world of India and Pakistan during the Chola and Chandela dynasties and the blending architecture styles of the Vijayanagara Empire.


In Hindu, many of the deities as shown with specific vehicles or medium, referred to as vahana.  These vahana are in the form of animals.  Deities are also shown in the animal form.   Ganesha is depicted as an elephant with a large rat being its vahana.   The six-headed Hindu god of war, Skanda, is often shown seated on a peacock while holding a spear. Other gods take many forms.  For Vishnu, with his great Garuda bird as his vahana, is also shown transformed into a boar-like figure.  He is also shown in reclining pose under a serpent.


Durga, the Slayer is shown on or with her lion as she destroys the powerful buffalo demon, Mahishasura.   Nandi, the sacred bull is not only the devoted companion and guardian of the great Shiva and Parvati but an object of worship in his own right, especially in communities where dairy farming and herding are important.


Yali, vahana of Navagraha Budh, has the body of a lion with the head and trunk of an elephant, and tail of a serpent.  This body combination denotes ferociousness and strength.  Yali were sculptured on the entrances and pillars of South Indian temples to keep away evil.


Also temple pillars often have engravings of charging horses or hippogryphs (another form of Yali) — horses standing on hind legs with their fore legs lifted and riders on their backs. The horses on some pillars stand seven to eight feet tall. On the other side of the pillar are usually carvings from Hindu mythology. The Vijayanagara davida-style palaces in India that were built on raised granite platforms with multiple tiers of mouldings decorated with carved friezes.  The Pattavirama and Chandikesvara temples in Hampi with its carved balustrades depicts hippogriffs and elephants.



This gallery presents examples of the aforementioned gods, goddesses, and their vahana forms: 


GANESHA, THE ELEPHANT GOD, 13th Century, Mysore region. Chloride schist. Freer and Sackler Galleries.

GODDESS DURGA SLAYING THE BUFFALO DEMON [DURGA MAHISASURAMARDINI], 12th-13th century, stone, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

THE SIX-HEADED SKANDA [KARTTIKEYA], 12th century, basalt, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

VISHNU AS VARAHA, 10th-12th centuries, Candella Dynasty, sandstone, University of Michigan Museum of Art.

THE HINDU GOD VISHNU ON HIS MOUNT GARUDA, 14th century, stone, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

ANANTHA SAYANA VISHNU, 1101-1199 AD, stone, Salar Jung Museum.

THE SACRED BULL NANDI, VEHICLE OF SHIVA, 11th-12th centuries, granite, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

PARVATI, 10th century, Kashmir, Copper alloy with silver inlay, Rubin Museum of Art.

THRONE LEG WITH AN ELEPHANT-HEADED LION (GAJASIMHA VYALA), Odisha, c. Mid- 13th century, ivory, Philadelphia Museum of Art

PATTAVIRAMA (PATTABHIRAMA) TEMPLE, 1529-1546 AD, Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi (Balari District), Archeological Survey of India




::: "Pattabhirama Temple, Hampi." Ed. Madur. 7 Nov. 2014. Web. <http: / /www.karnataka.com /hampi /pattabhirama-temple>

::: Maxwell, Robyn. “Artonview”. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010. Web. Issue 59.

::: “Yali – Animal with Lion’s Body and Elephant Trunk - The Vahana or Vehicle of Budh or Mercury”. Abhilash Rajendran. 5 Mar. 2015. Web. <http: / /www.hindu-blog.com /2010 /11 /yali-animal-with-lions-body-and.html>.

::: Yali Pillared Entrance to Mantapa at Pattabhirama Temple in Hampi.JPG. 2012. Hampi. Web. <https: / /commons.wikimedia.org /wiki /file:yali_pillared_entrance_to_mantapa_at_pattabhirama_temple_in_hampi.jpg>.

::: Vishnu.  Web. <https: / /en.wikipedia.org /wiki /vishnu>

::: Garuda.  Web. <https: / /en.wikipedia.org /wiki /garuda>

::: “Why does Lord Vishnu rest on a snake?”. 2015. Web <http: / /blog.onlineprasad.com /why-does-lord-vishnu-rest-on-a-snake /#sthash.1wpqqitr.dpuf>

Ganesha is known to Hindus as the remover of obstacles and is often invoked at the initiation of new projects or at the entrance to temples. His blessing brings good fortune and insures prosperity. Several legends explain in different ways the presence of an elephant's head on a man's body and suggest that Ganesha represents the survival of a pre-Hindu folk cult. As these tales were absorbed into developing Hindu mythologies, Ganesha came to be seen as the son of the god Shiva and his consort Parvati.
The Great Goddess appears in many different forms. This sculpture depicts her as the beautiful and voluptuous yet fierce Durga Mahishasurmardini, the Slayer of the Buffalo Demon. Durga was created to destroy the powerful buffalo demon, Mahishasura, who threatened the cosmic order. Unable to defeat Mahishasura individually, the male Hindu gods combined to fashion Durga from parts of their own bodies and empowered her with their weapons. Here she holds the trident of Shiva in one hand and Vishnu's discus in another. Riding a lion, Durga appears in a threatening pose with tongue extended, wearing a necklace of human skulls. She brandishes the sword of Kala, God of Time, with which she conquers the demon. She grasps its human head as it emerges from the decapitated corpse of the buffalo. (Durga)
Skanda is the Hindu god of war and the son of Shiva. According to one of numerous legends about his birth, Skanda was born of Shiva’s seed and nurtured by six celestial nymphs of the Krittakas constellation (the Pleiades). The child developed six heads to satisfy each of the mothers who cared for him. In another account Agni, the god of fire, and Ganga, goddess of the river Ganges, produced Skanda to act as a substitute general for the gods while Shiva was away performing penance. Skanda is known by many names, reflecting the history of the god as an amalgamation of different deities from older cults. This twelfth-century Chola-period sculpture shows the six-faced god seated in the position of royal ease (lalitasana) upon his vehicle, the peacock. Skanda has twelve arms, which hold attributes including a sword, a mace, a thunderbolt (vajra), a shield, a trident and a lotus. Skanda wears an elaborate crown and heavy circular earrings, several necklaces and a beaded cord that winds across his torso. Holding a snake in its beak, the peacock stands on a lotus pedestal, which also supports an arched, flame-edged aureole with a stylised lotus at its apex. (Maxwell)
Vishnu's mount (Vahana) is Garuda, the eagle. Vishnu is commonly depicted as riding on his shoulders. Garuda is also considered as Vedas on which the Lord Vishnu travels. Garuda is a sacred bird in Vaishnavism. Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle's beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun. (Vishnu)
The body of Vishnu’s boar-headed incarnation, Varaha, forges a diagonal bolt through this sculpture. His right foot is planted decisively at the corner of its projecting base; his left is flexed for leverage on a lotus pedestal. Against these rooting forces his body surges upward, culminating in an acutely raised snout. The magnitude of Varaha’s gesture and his relative scale suggest a superhuman strength, and his feet are splayed apart in a position that defies human physiology. In Hindu image making, the remarkable form of a god’s body reveals his or her boundless capacities. In this case, Varaha’s distinct posture depicts a well-known Hindu episode in which Vishnu took the form of a great boar to rescue the world from a demon who had imprisoned the earth beneath the cosmic ocean. (Maxwell)
Here Ananta Sayana Vishnu is lying or reclining on a serpent with Garuda and Lakshmi at his feet. Hood of the serpent is prominently carved. Ten incarnations (dashavataras) of Vishnu starting from Matsya (fish) avatar are carved on top of sculpture. Sankha, Chakra, Gada and Padma are also seen. Vishnu's supremacy is attested by his victories over those very powerful entities. It is further attested by the accepted iconography and sculptures of Vishnu in reclining position as producing Brahma emerging from his navel. Brahma the creator is thus created in turn by Vishnu out of his own person. Instead Vishnu takes various avatars to slay or defeat those demons. Most people consider Garuda to be the vahana of Vishnu, and that is accurate to some extent, but there is some underlying importance regarding Sheshnag, the snake. Sheshnag is an expression of Lord Vishnu himself, which forms a coiled seat for Vishnu to rest on. The label of Ananta-Shesha or Adishesha signifies the moving forward of time. (Vishnu)
Recently installed at the entrance to the Indian gallery, a newly acquired sculpture of Nandi, the sacred bull, is already proving very popular with audiences of all ages. The charming 11th–12th century image has been carefully located near the striking bronze dancing figure of Shiva Nataraja, purchased only last year (artonview no 54 winter 2008). Both are superb examples of the creativity of artists of India’s Chola dynasty (9th–13th centuries), arguably the pinnacle of sculpture in Asia. Nandi is one of the most adored of the vehicles. The sacred bull is not only the devoted companion and guardian of the great Shiva but an object of worship in his own right, especially in communities where dairy farming and herding are important. In the form of a humped Brahman bull (a breed of zebu cattle), a granite sculpture of this type graces the courtyard of a Shaivite temple or serves as the gatekeeper at the entrance to a temple’s inner sanctum, where Shiva is depicted symbolically in the form of the phallic lingam. In southern India, where Nandi is still popularly worshipped, such images of the bull can stand many metres high. The large sculpture is very appealing. With legs tucked under and tail wrapped around its smooth round body, Nandi gazes serenely back at the viewer with soft melancholy eyes. As in nature, its tongue licks the end of its snout. The animal’s head, neck and torso are draped in ceremonial finery: the sumptuous necklaces, headdress, girdles, earrings and horn covers of decorative bells and beads evoke the prestige of precious metals while his ornamental harness suggests rich brocade. Nandi’s alluring presence reaches out to the visitor. As his name—giver of delight and joy—suggests, the adoration of the sacred mount of Shiva is an important ritual in its own right. The acquisition of this early south Indian Nandi has been made possible through the generous support of one of the longest standing members of the National Gallery of Australia’s Council, Roslyn Packer AO. Ros Packer has assisted in the purchase of a number of key works of art in the national collection, including the magnificent 3rd-century sandstone Mathura Buddha from northern India. We are very grateful for her continued support in building Australia’s finest collection of Asian art. (Maxwell)
Parvati, sometimes called Uma, is a Hindu goddess and the daughter of Himavat, the embodiment of the Himalayan Mountains. She is also the consort of Shiva, one of Hinduism's most important gods. In this sculpture her role as Shiva's wife was emphasized by including many visual references to the god. In her left hand she holds Shiva's primary attribute, a trident; like Shiva she bears a third eye on her forehead and has his snakes and a crescent moon in her hair; and she is seated on Shiva's bull mount, Nandi. This small sculpture is an excellent example of early metalwork from the northwestern Indian area of Kashmir. It includes many characteristic features of that art, including eyes of silver inlay; an inset chin; a small waist and fleshy abdomen; a linear, pointed, flaming halo; a plain geometric base; and the depiction of a small worshiper on the side of that base.
Ivory carving brought intricacy to the art of Indian sculpture. This composition of an elephant-headed lion seizing a pot-bellied demon in his trunk is animated by an abundance of stylized detail: the curled locks of his grooved mane, repeated on his thighs and legs; his beaded chains with pendants or bells; the bristling hair of the upside-down demon and his dagger and shield; and the trees, boars, antelope, ram, and mounted rider hidden in the dense, craggy landscape. Mountain, beast, and demon constitute one tightly carved volume, its slight forward tilt dictated by the natural curve of the elephant tusk from which it was carved. The hollows between head and chest and tail and back were calculated to give a clear profile to the composite figure of a lion, a royal symbol, which once formed one leg of an ivory throne. (Yali)
This temple is a beautiful structure that stands in the ruined city of Hampi. Hampi, a UNESCO world heritage site in Balari district, Karnataka state, India. The temple was constructed during the reign of King Achyuta Raya (1529-1546 AD) and was built in memory of his queen Varadarajamma. The temple is known for its intricate architecture. It is dedicated to the Hindu deity, Lord Rama. It was a prominent destination for devotees during the period of the Vijayanagara Empire. The main mantapa is a beautiful structure that has pillars with intricate designs of hippogryphs and liongryphs. Archeological Survey of India (Yali)
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