A Vegetable Motif in Central Indian Art [Part 6]

Posted: 07.05.2012
Updated on: 22.05.2012

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§ 7. A.D. 900-1100: The banana plant in medieval art

In medieval art we find invariably the calyx formula. The way in which it is employed marks a clear departure from the earlier and somewhat casual renderings. The motif is now included in the iconographic programmes of the steles as an element with a clear status. It is, however, no longer primarily connected with images of the Śaiva cycle. There is less morphological variety than before and whenever two banana plants of the calyx type are shown on an image they are identical so that the general trend towards symmetry is also reflected in these motifs. One could expect that there is now a tendency to show invariably two banana plants, one to the left and one to the right, but that is not the case. According to our chronological definitions (§ 6: A.D. 600-950; § 7: A.D. 900-1100), the two ad hoc periods overlap only between A.D. 900 and 950. The overlap will be longer if sporadic deviations from our model (§ 6: after 950; § 7: before 900) are also taken into consideration.

Since even the study of a minor element may have more general implications we take this opportunity to offer two (tentative) comments on the method of P. Stern,

  1. As the specimen to be mentioned below will demonstrate, the calyx is, in its new form and context, an innovation. This is, however, not to say that the motif as such is new. We thus notice that one and the same element may demonstrate continuation in one respect and innovation in another respect. The same applies to the niche type with round pillars and vyālas (TIC pp. 106-07) which was an innovation in architecture but existed already in sculpture (compare TIC 221 with JID 7A).
  2. We notice a changed situation in medieval art in so far as variety in the rendering of the banana plant decreases in this period if we draw a comparison with the earlier periods. This is what we would call a taxonomic break. Similarly, in spite of enormous variety and richness in other respects, we notice in later architecture (e.g. in the case of the Bhūmija temples: Deva Bh) a tendency towards standardization in some respects. As a consequence, we can surmise that a treatment of the architecture after A.D. 950 along the lines of P. Stern would produce a type of investigation which differs in its method to some extent from the treatment of the periods before A.D. 950 as undertaken by O. Viennot.

We shall now proceed to a discussion of the various specimens. We arrange our material according to sites.

  1. Badoh-Pathari. Fragment of a stele showing Kubera (Neg. no. 2848). A calyx appears behind the god, indicating that he was one of the subsidiary figures flanking the main deity.
  2. Budhi Chanderi. Fragmentary Viṣṇu stele amongst the debris of the Hindu temples (Neg. no. 3287). Only the portion to the proper right of Viṣṇu is preserved. The banana plant on this side is highly stylized and consists of a double-whorl with bud.
  3. Gwalior Museum. Viṣṇu from Padhavli in the Museum (Dir. of Arch, and Museums, M.P. Govt., no. 715). Vi?nu with avatāras. Calyx to the left and to the right. - Viṣṇu from Gwalior Fort in the Museum, head missing (no. 716). Viṣṇu with avatāras. Calyx to the left and to the right. - Viṣṇu from Suhania in the Museum (no. 1706; Desai Vi 44). Composite Viṣṇu with calyx to the left and to the right. The specimen to the proper left (not visible in Desai Vi 44) is obviously shorter than the one to the proper right. - Vāmana from Narwar in the Museum (no. 89). Calyx to the proper right.
  4. Kadbaya. Devī in the interior of a Hindu temple (Neg. no. 2652). Calyxes with very prominent buds to the left and to the right.
  5. Kannauj. Fragment of a mātṛkā frieze, showing (from left to right) Vaiṣṇavī, Vārāhī, Indrāṇī, and Cāmuṇḍā (Chandra Wa p. 108). Indrāṇī has a calyx to the left and a calyx to the right. This image is earlier than A.D. 900.
  6. Khajuraho. Harihara in the Museum. Calyx to the left and to the right (Deva Kh 2). - Colossal Pārvatī image in the Museum. Description: Deva/Nayal Kh p. 15; partial photo: Zahn/Fischer Ku p. 34. The goddess is flanked by two large calyxes, each formed by two whorls (a photo showing both calyxes is in the collection J. Bautze).
  7. London. Viṣṇu with avatāras in the British Museum (de Mallmann Ag 1). Viṣṇu is flanked by two calyxes, the one to the proper left being damaged.
  8. Rakhetra-Gadhelna. Series of three rock-cut panels (Patil Li p. 115). From left to right: Nṛvarāha (Neg. no. 3444), Naarāja with bull (AIB 6, pl. 25c), and Brahmā (fig. 10). Naṭarāja and Brahmā are flanked by calyxes with prominent buds.
  9. Terahi. Devī with calyx to the left and to the right (Neg. no. 2509).
  10. Vārānasī. Kalyāṇasundara stele from Etah in the Bharat Kala Bhavan (Singh Br 16). Calyx to Śiva's proper left.
  11. Provenance unknown. Two niche images showing respectively Durgā with lion and Indra with elephant (Heeramaneck Ma 81 and 82). Both images must have belonged to the same temple and both show colonnettes rondes of the later type. Both deities are flanked by calyxes.
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Makaranda - Essays in honour of Dr. James C. Harle

Compiled by PK

Revised online edition by HN4U 2012