The iconographic development in India has been continuous at least for about seven thousand years. The iconic specimens found in the sites of the Indus Valley civilization, the proto historic phase of Indian history and the descriptive hymns dealing with iconic conceptions in the Rig Veda provide the background for the nation–wide iconographic tradition that has held the field till date.
Choodamani, in her Arts and Crafts of Indus Civilization, writes, “The sculptural forms which blossomed then are considered to be the primary sources for studying the major streams of Indian art history.” The images that were found in the Indus Valley are well-defined human and animal forms, flora, fauna, and ritualistic figurines. The animal figures include those of bull, dog, horse, ram, pig, and rhinoceros. The birds and other living creatures include doves, parrot, The term “Indus Civilization” is generally applied to all the phases of the Harappa culture
Some Basic Aspects in Iconography
Iconography has several integral elements in it. They include the classification of images, textual principles of making images, mode of casting, materials employed in making images, the accessories, and the characters of gods and goddesses.
Classification of Images Since prehistoric times worship of gods and goddesses exists in Tamilnadu. Worship of god must have been coeval (having the same age or date of origin; contemporary) with people’s knowledge of gods.
The ways of worshiping gods have differed from age to age in Tamilnadu. They suggest the different aspects of the Supreme Being.
The three main forms of worship are
uruvam vaḻipādu உருவம் வழிபாடு(image worship), aruvam vaḻipādu அருவம் வழிபாடு(spirit worship) and aruvuruva vaḻipāduஅருவுருவ வழிபாடு (worship of formless form). Of these, 80 image worship is of much later origin than the other two. The history of image worship has been traced by many historians in Tamilnadu. The people had a custom of worshipping stones in honour of the valiant heroes who sacrificed their lives in the battlefield. It is said that without images one cannot imagine, one cannot remember, and one cannot think. The word sandrśe means objects visible to the eye, that is, images proper. Thus, each god has an existence in two forms: one is the concrete and finite form and the other is the abstract and infinite form. "The Supreme Spirit has two states of form: the [one, the] Nature of the World (prakṛti) and [the other,] its transformation as appearance (vikṛti). Prakṛ ti is His invisible form. Vikṛ ti is the aspect (akara) in which He pervades the Universe.
Worship and meditation can be performed in relation to His aspect (sakara) only."
Ganapati Sthapati believes that God is one; He is the beginning, the end and the intermediate substance. He is not without qualities (nirguṇa), nor is He nirakara or formless. He has a form and is contained within reality, and all reality contained within Him. Therefore, there are numerous forms of the deity and they are classified according to the form, quality, and the material used in making images. Lord Kriṣhṇa says in Bhagavat Gita that the Supreme God is one. All the other gods are aspects of him. When any devotee worships any one of the various forms of the Lord with faith, he is bestowed with what he yearns for, because the path he takes from any side leads to the Supreme God. Thus the multiplicity of the forms of images arises from various causes, all ultimately referable to the diversity of the need of individuals and groups
There are numerous forms of images. The images are classified into
Hindu Puranic images,
Buddhist Puranic images,
These images are classified into various types. In general, the images are of three types, namely ‘bodily’, ‘tactile’(tangible) and ‘visual’ images. The imagination is largely made up of images deriving from and corresponding mostly to sensations. One may seem very ‘real’, another ‘fantastic’, another ‘distorted’, and another ‘abstract’. One may emphasise visual quality, another tactile, another bodily, and another seems to draw impartially on all kinds of sensory experiences.
Hinduism has different sects such as Śaivism (the followers of Śiva), Vaiṣṇavism (the followers of Visnu), Kumāryam (the followers of Murukaṉ ), Gaṇapathyam (the followers of Ganapati), Śaktism (the followers of goddess) and Sūryam (the followers of Sun God). Each sect has numerous images in various forms.
Mūrtiis the deity of the temple. The deities differ according to the religious faith of the people. Each sect has a philosophy and religion of its own. The main deity of the Vaishnavites is Lord Viṣṇu. As a philosophy, it bases itself upon the Upanishads, and as a religion it reaches its roots into the Tantra. Its religious ritual, in general, is of Āgamic or Tantric in character. The history of Vaishnavism in northern India is traceable in its main lines at least from the 5th century BC and the history of Vaisnavism in South India is said to have gained popularity since the 13th century AD.
- 1. chala (movable),
- 2. achala (immovable), and
- 3. chalāchala (movable-immovable).
The moveable images are easily portable and are made of loha (metal). The images that come under this category are the kautukaberas, meant for arcana (dedication); the utsavaberas are meant for festive occasions in processions; the baliberas are meant for the purpose of offering sacrifice to the parivāras; and snāpanaberas are used for holy bathing. In short, the bhoga mūrti or utsava vigraha that are carried in processions are the best examples for chala.
The immovable images cannot be moved from the particular place where they are installed. They are made up of mṛnmaya (terracotta) or sārkara (laterite), and sauyaja (stucco). That are permanently established in a shrine come under this category. The movable and immovable images are made of stone, wood, dhātu (mineral, possibly jade) and gem.
There is another classification of images into three kinds –
1. Chitra (depiction of a painting –two dimensional),
Chitra denotes images in the full round representation with all their limbs completely worked out having all its parts visible.
2. Chitrārdha/ ardha–chitra (high relief sculpture) Chitrārdha is an image in which half the body is not seen. It is to be done with mineral colours .
3. Chitrabhāsa (relief sculpture).
Chitrabhāsa refers to images painted on walls and cloth, and such other objects. It is referred to as a vilekhanaṁ (painting) and lekhyaṁ nānā-varṇ ānvitaṁ (painted with the use of many colors)
The images are again classified into vyakta or manifest form, vyaktāvyakta or manifest and non-manifest form, and avyakta or non-manifest form.
There is another classification of images based on their terrific (raudra or ugra) and pacific (śānta or saumya) nature.
Images are classified into five forms, namely
PARAMA, : Parama means the ultimate or the highest
VYŪHA, : Vyūha stands for formation or line of arrangement. It denotes the state in which the supreme power gathers its qualities together.
- VIBHĀVA, This is the state where the creation of the universe begins.
- ANTARYĀMI: Antaryāmi is the name given to the inner image held in intense worship within the beings of devotees. And
- ARCĀ. Arcā stands for images that are worshipped, which have been fashioned according to the specifications and methodology of the sculptural tradition
In short, parama, vyūha and vibhāva stand for the subtle states in which the paramātman exists everywhere and eternally.
Antaryāmi is the essentially subtle state of existence of the Divine within our consciousness and within the beings of all substances.
It is only through the arcā state that He becomes perceptible and manifest in a form which can be identified and worshipped by all.
Textual Principles of Making
Images Strict and most elaborate rules were laid down for the measurements of the various parts of the body and their relative proportions and the different postures. In course of time, representations of gods and goddesses were made. An impression of their power and personality was created by the sthapatis (the metal workers or the sculptors).
Elements of Hindu Iconography.
In the Indian value of measurement of length there are two different kinds of units, namely, the absolute and the relative. Of these, the first is based on the length of certain natural objects, while the second is obtained from the length of a particular part or limb of the person whose measurement is under consideration.
This is obtained by dividing the whole length of the body of an image into 124,120 or 116 equal parts. Each of this division is called a deha-labdhāṅ gula or shortly dehāṅ gula. The relative measure is used in the construction of temples or in the making of The Icons and Images in Indian Temples,. The different tāla measurements prescribed for the various images are given below: 1. The Uttama-daśatāla (124 dehāṅ gulas) is prescribed for the images of the principal deities Brahmā, Viṣ ṇ u and Śiva.
The Mode of Casting Images In the Rig Veda there is reference to the hollow casting of images. But the people in the Rig Vedic period did not have so many images of gods. Nor were they made for the purpose of worship. In the later texts there is very little instruction on the casting of metal figures, or on making icons of wood, clay and stone. It is only after the Christian era that one finds proper instructions for working in metal. The art of making images has survived over the centuries in Tamilnadu with relatively little change either in the norms of making the image or in the technique of casting. The present day use of metals is the culmination of a long path of development extending over approximately 6,000 years.
The first metals known to humans were gold, silver, and copper which occurred in the native or metallic state. Such native metals became known and were appreciated for making ornaments and images during the latter part of the Stone Age.
The mode of casting are two ways of casting metal images, the hollow method and the solid method –
The casting of metals began about 3500 BC and there was an interval of about 2,000 years between the making of crudely wrought metal articles and the earliest castings.
During the Bronze Age the Egyptians introduced the lost–wax process. In this method, an exact model or pattern of the article to be cast is made in wax, and then covered with a claylike material to form the mold.
Casting is a process practiced by foundries all over the world as a basic method for the production of shapes, using in one form or another almost all of the metals known to human. Important processes among these are plastic mold, composite mold, investment, permanent mold, and die casting.
One of the earliest examples known of the lost–wax art is the statue of the Pharaoh Pepi I and his son, dating from about 2600 BC.70 In India, images are moulded in two ways as mentioned earlier.
“Iconometry” means the measurements of the icons. Iconometry is the use of relative units and in the field of image making it is the most interesting part. The measurements used for making images are the basis for perfection. Proportions of images are ruled by complex iconometrical canons. The accuracy in measurement is the criterion of perfection. The sthapatis have always produced their images according to prescribed measurements. In the making of the images, the sthapati follows two types of iconometry, the tālamāna and the aṅ gulamāna. The word tāla refers to the length of the palm, which is considered to be equivalent in sculptures, as in human beings, to the length of face from forehead to chin. Generally, images are made according to the navatāla measurement. That is, the length of the image is nine times the length of its palm or face.
The nine-face length is distributed thus:
face, one tāla;
throat to navel, two;
navel to the tip of the knee, three;
lower knee to ankle, two, and
the remaining one tāla is divided among the height of foot, knee and top knot.
iconometry are inhibitive factors in that scheme.
· Ideally the chest of a man should be broad and flat as the face of a charging bull;
· the female torso should be slender and long like the face of a horse.
· The male hand should be strong and tapering like the trunk of an elephant;
· that of woman, smooth and round like a bamboo stem.
· The mature trunk of a teak tree is usually the model for a man’s thigh,
· while for a woman the model is the firm, pale-green inner core of a banana tree.
· The gloriosa superba lily with its long petals was often the sculptor’s favourite guide for fashioning female fingers.
Different attributes, weapons, and postures that are special for each deity must be present in the image for it to be worthy of worship. Such details are described in the various śilpaśāstras, treatises on sculptures, generally considered to have been compiled between the 8th and the 12th centuries AD
In the last two decades, innumerable artists from Madras and Kumbakonam have branched out on their own creative instincts and some of them have made it to the national and even to the international art scene. Talented sthapatis (sculptors) have also been produced by the Tamilnadu Institute of Architecture and Sculpture at Mamallapuram.
THE ATTRIBUTES HELD IN THE HANDS OF THE DEITIES
The technical terms of the attributes relate to the objects which the images of Hindu gods and goddesses are shown as bearing in their hands, such as weapons, musical instruments, animals, and birds. The attributes also relate to the various attitudes in which the hands of images are shown and the postures which the bodies of the images are made to assume. The attributes include the costume, ornaments and head gear in which they are represented.
Even though art, particularly the three-dimensional form, is capable of translating the subtleties of the philosophical principles by way of the posture, flexions, ornamentations and facial expressions of the image, there are some aspects which can only be communicated through the employment of specific symbols which are attributed meanings. The artist has had to take recourse to symbols, which have clearly understood social meanings. The śilpa tradition has made use of many symbols like implements of war; musical instruments, work tools, flowers, plants, trees, fruits, animals and birds, and some articles of daily use. Artists have also brought into use several kinds of imaginative symbols. On the whole,
there are about 120 symbols and accessories, which are explanatory tools in sculptural compositions. The śilpa texts have classified the various accessories under the broad heading of āyudha or karuvi (implement), including even flowers, animals, and musical instruments. The following list of accessories comprises various items and articles, which may have one or more meanings, to be understood according to the context. Some of these symbols have been mentioned in the śilpa and Āgama texts, some others in the philosophical works. Some of the implements of war mentioned are – śakti (ornamental blade), śula (trident), śaṅkh (conch), cakra (discus), vajra (two-headed śūla), daṇ ḍa (staff), udaivāḷ (sword), kathi or surikai (knife), kēḍaya (shield), vil (bow), ambu (arrow), maḻu (axe), gadā (mace), sammaṭ ṭ i (spade), īṭṭi (javelin), vēl (spear). Śaṅkh – Śaṅ kh is the ordinary conch, which is almost always found in one of the hands of the images of Viṣhṇu.