Week VII: Part 1


Key Works:

  • Shiva (LaPlante, Fig. 6.1, 6.2, 6.8, 6.9)
  • Ellora (Ellura) (LaPlante, Fig. 6.10; Fig. VII.1)

    READING: LaPlante, Asian Art, pp. 44-53.




    TIME LINE: (8th century A.D.)

    FURTHER READING: NOTES: Who are the three main gods of Hinduism? How do they represent the basic tenets of the religion? How are they represented visually?


    Ellora is a site with thirty-four Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain rock-cut temples dating from the mid-sixth to the tenth century. Ellora's earliest temples were dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Siva and they include elaborate pillared halls that lead to rear-wall shrines housing lingams (stylized phallic symbols of Siva's procreative energies). By 600 the caves were a center for Buddhist worship, with Buddhist images carved both in the shrines of pillared halls and in the apsidal chaitya worsh ip hall, where the Buddha is carved on the front of a monolithic stupa. Later (c. 675-720), three storied Buddhist caves focused worship on multiple Buddhas and other deities. A second wave of Siva worship, included the building of the Kailasantha Templ e, carved to resemble a freestanding temple complex behind a high screen wall.(Fig. 1)

    The Kailasantha Temple (the popular name given to the entire eighth century complex) was begun under the patronage of the Rashtrakutan ruler, Krishna II (r. 757-783). Although some sections are dedicated to different Hindu gods, the monument is lite rally a "magic mountain" in living rock where the theme of the sacred mountain abode (Mount Kailasa) of Siva and his consort Parvati is repeated several times. The archotect and sculptor attempted to visualize the universe in this massive stone cutting a nd oriented the structure to correspond to the four cardinal directions, the world compass. In the cell of the temple, the unit for individual worship in the Hindu faith, was buried a box containing a "wealth of the earth, stones, gems, herbs, roots, met als and soils, tieing the temple to ancient fertility beliefs and emphasizing the vitality of the religion.

    It is an achievement of sculpture rather than architecture. The temple is composed of a court 276 feet long and 154 feet wide and a central tower reaching a height of 96 feet. The sheer physical problem of carving this tremendous temple from the l iving rock is awesome. The beginning of the carving was even higher than the finished tower, so the depth of the cut was actually about 120 feet.

    The plan reveals the layout more clearly than any view. At the entrance is a large stone screen marking secular from religious space, the Nandi Shrine, the two towers, three porches, a columned hall which functioned as a gathering place, the small s hrine proper.(Fig. 2) Five subsidiary shrines on a second story terrace outside the main sanctuary are also dedicated to various deities associated with Siva. The sides of the tremendous pit are carved to create subsidiary shrines in the vertical walls: the Shrine of Absolutions (or the Shrine of the Three Rivers) with representations of the three sacred rivers; a long series of sculptures at the rear; a second story temple carved in the rock with a set of reliefs relating to Siva; a series of reliefs o f avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu and aspects of Siva on the ground floor, surrounding the sides and completely enclosing the back end; and a two story complex on the right, once connected by a bridge to a porch, with representations of the Great Goddess (Devi) and the Seven Mothers. Numerous smaller shrines complete the group. Although some have argued that the building of this great complex took place over a long period of time, it does represent a single architectural and sculptural conception.

    Upon entering this massive complex, the contrast of the strong sun light and deep blue shadows cast by the surrounding mountainside dramatize the movement of space along the pathways and across the sculptural reliefs. The sculptural representations move and gesture wildly and enhance an overall sense of exaltation for the believer. The boldness of conception and the great skill exhibited in its execution, suggest centuries of tradition in which carving techniques and an understanding of the rock me dium were developed, enabling craftworkers to push this southern Indian type of rock-cut temple to its limits.

    Hinduism encompassed a broad variety of beliefs and practices, not all were shared by all Hindus and some even contradicted each other. In fact, the religion is unique in its tolerance of diversity. It is a completely decentralized religion, with n o hierarchy of clergy and no supreme authority, unlike Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. The roots of the religion can be found 4000 years ago in India, and as it developed it absorbed and reinterpreted many beliefs and practices of diverse groups of peo ple. Assimilation occurred differently in various parts of India and today, as in the past, the sub-continent is a great repository of heterogeneity of beliefs. Worship of deities is a very highly personal activity, and that aspect of Hindu practice is reflected in the plan of Hindu temples as well as in their sculptural reliefs. For instance, several of the shrines at the Kailasantha Temple do not have an inside sanctuary at all (Nandi Shrine and the main shrine are open only on the second level). Ev en when they are entered, the interior space is very small, requiring an individual approach to the sacred images. Hinduism is a religion with a personal approach to the gods, accomodated by including thousands of deities to choose from in the pantheon. This religion is vital to hundreds of thousands people today in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, East and South Africa, some islands in the Caribbean and several in Southeast Asia.

    FROM: Linduff, K.M., "Hindu Art:The Caves at Ellora," in Art Past/Art Present, by D. Wilkins, B. Schultz, and K. Linudff, New York, 2000,4th ed.