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Temple Architecture Devalaya

Vastu Part Six (6 Of 7)

Sreenivasarao S / Blog / 6 yrs ago /

Temple Iconography

Continued.. Please read from the last page:

Since the very purpose of the temple structure is the image residing in it; and the temple is
regarded the virtual expansion of the image, let us talk for a while about temple iconography.

Iconography, in general terms, is the study and interpretation of images in art. But, in the
context of this discussion it could be restricted to the study of icons meant for worship and
the images used in temple architecture. The temple iconography is more concerned with the
concept, interpretation and validity of the icon in terms of the themes detailed in the scriptures
or the mythological texts; and with the prescriptions of the shilpa shastra. There is not much
discussion on the styles of architecture or the art forms, per se.
[A short explanation about the term iconography. We are using it for want of a better term in
English. The word icon is derived from Greek eikon; and it stands for a sign or that which
resembles the god it represents. In the Indian tradition what is worshipped is Bimba, the
reflection or Prathima, the image of god, but not the god itself. Bimba means reflection, like
the reflection of moon in a tranquil pool. That reflection is not the moon but an image
(prathima) of the moon. In other words, what is worshipped in a temple is an idea, a
conception or the mental image of god, translated to a form in stone or metal or wood; but, it
is not the god itself. The Indian term for Iconography is therefore Prathima lakshana, the
study of images.]
Besides the agamas, there are several texts that detail the processes involved in practicing the
art; and specify the rules governing iconography and iconometry. The Brihat Samhita of
Varahamihira (6th century AD) is an ancient text that provides descriptions of certain images. It
refers to one Nagnajit, as the author of a contemporary work on Silpasastra but not much is
known about him or his work. Shukranithisara is another treatise which discusses aspects
such as the proportions and the measurements recommended for the images of various
classes and attributes. The subject he dealt with has since developed into Iconometry.
Someshwaras (a 1th century western Chalukya king) Abhilashitartha Chintamini contains
interesting iconographical details of many important deities. And, Hemadri (13th century AD)
who hailed from Dakshina Kannada region authored Caturvarga_chintamini, which deals with
temple architecture and construction. He is credited with introducing a method of construction
that did not use lime.

In addition, there are the major and authoritative texts that deal comprehensively with all
aspects of Devalaya Vastu. These include Kashyapa shilpa
samhitha, Mayamata, Manasara, Shilpa
rathna,Kumaratantra, Lakshana_samuchayya, Rupamanada; and the Tantrasara of Ananda
Tirtha (Sri Madhwacharya) , which contains sections dealing with the study of images
(iconography and iconometry).
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Among the puranas, the Agnipurana details the Prathima_lakshanam (the characteristics of
images),Prathimavidhi (the mode of making images), and Devagraha nirmana (the construction
of places of worship).

Similarly, the Matsya Purana (dated around second century AD) has eighteen comprehensive
chapters on architecture and sculpture. This purana mentions as many as eighteen ancient
architects (vastu_shatropadeshkaha): Brighu, Atri, Vashista, Vishwakarma, Brahma, Maya,
Narada, Nagnajit, Visalaksa, Purandara, Kumara, Nanditha, Shaunaka, Garga, Vasudeva,
Aniruddha, Shuka and Brihaspathi. Many of these names appear to come from mythology; but
quite a few of them could be historical. Sadly, the works of most of these savants are now lost.
The Mathsya purana says that the best aspect of karma yoga is the building temples and
installing deities; and therefore devotes several chapters to the subject of temple construction
and image making.

The Vishnu purana (dated about 3rd century AD) too contains several chapters on the subjects
of architecture and sculpture. Further, it includes the Vishnu_dharmotthara_purana (perhaps
an insertion into the Vishnupurana at a later period), which is a masterly treatise on temple
architecture, iconography and painting. This work which is in the form of a conversation
between the sage Markandeya and the King Vajra is spread over 42 chapters. In part three of
the text there is virtually a catalouge of the various deities with descriptions of their features,
stance and gestures (mudras) apart from their disposition and attributes.
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In addition to the Sanskrit texts, the Tamil works Mandalapurushas Chintamini Nigandu and
SendanarsDivakara nigandu, are well known and widely accepted. Besides, there is an ancient
work by an unknown author, Silpam (perhaps a translation of an ancient Sanskrit text), which
is popular among the shilpis.

A special mention needs to be made about iconography s (prathima lakshana) relation with
The Shilpa and Chitra (painting) are closely related to Natyasastra (ca. second century BCE).
The rules of the iconography (prathima lakshana), in particular, appear to have been derived
from the Natyasastra. The Indian sculptures are often the frozen versions or representations of
the gestures and poses of dance (caaris and karanas) described in Natyasastra. The Shilpa
(just as the Natya) is based on a system of medians (sutras), measures (maanas), postures of
symmetry (bhangas) and asymmetry (abhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga); and on the
sthanas (positions of standing, sitting, and reclining). The concept of perfect symmetry is
present in Shilpa as in Nrittya; and that is indicated by the term Sama.

The Natya and Shilpa sastras developed a remarkable approach to the structure of the human
body; and delineated the relation between its central point (navel), verticals and horizontals. It
then coordinated them, first with the positions and movements of the principal joints of neck,
pelvis, knees and ankles; and then with the emotive states, the expressions. Based on these
principles, Natyasastra enumerated many standing and sitting positions. These, demonstrate
the principles of stasis, balance, repose and perfect symmetry; And, they are of fundamental
importance in Indian arts, say, dance, drama, painting or sculpture.

The demonstrations of those principles of alignment could be seen in the sama-bhanga of

Vishnu, Shiva,abhanga of Kodanda-Rama and tribhanga of Nataraja; and in the vibrant
movements of dance captured in the motifs carved on the walls of the Indian temples
depicting gandharvas, kinnaras, vidyadharas and other gods and demigods. If the saala
bhanjikas (bracket figures) recreate the caaris(primary movements) , the flying figures recreate
the karanas (larger movements).The representations of about one hundred and eight of
the karanas described in the Natyasastra find expression on the walls of temples spread
across the country.
It is as if the rich and overpowering passages of Natyasastra are translated in to stone and
published on temple walls.

For the purpose of creating an image , initially, a square grid is divided into sixteen equal
squares . These squares are grouped into six segments : Brahma -bhaga ( the central four
squares) ; Deva -kesha or Deva shiro-alankara -bhaga ( two squares on top of Brahma-bhaga
for depicting the crown or elaborate hair arrangement) ;Vahana-bhaga or peeta-bhaga ( space
for pedestal - two bottom squares , below the Brahma-bhaga);Bhaktha -bhaga ( two bottom
sqares on either side of Peeta -bhaga for locating images of the worshipping devotees); Devibhaga ( two squares each on either side of Brahma-bhaga for the accompanying female
deities) ; and Gandharva-bhagha (two squares in the top on either side of Shiro-bhaga for
depicting the gGandarvas).
The image of the main deity along with that of the consorts and subsidiary figures are located
within the square grid. The central part of the main deity is accomodated in the Brahma-bhaga;
its head or crown or hair-do is figured in the Deva-shiro-bhaga, while the f eet of the deity, the
pedastal and the mount (vahana) are in the lower vahana-bhaga.
The verticle and horizontal axis of the square as also its diagonal axis of the square pass
through what is known as the Brahma-bindu right at the centre of the Brahma-bhaga. It is at
the Brahma-bindu the navel (nabhi) of the deity would be located. All other image parts are corelated to the Brahma-bindu.


Dhyana shlokas

One of the main resources for a practicing shilpi is the collection of Dhyana shlokas.
Before a shilpi starts on a project to sculpt an image, he needs to be clear in his mind on its
form, its aspects, its countenance, the details of its physiognomy, its facial and bodily
expressions; its posture, details of the number of arms, heads and eyes; and details of its
ornaments, ayudhas (objects it holds in its hands) etc. For this purpose, the Shilpis generally
refer to a wonderful collection of most amazingly articulate verses called Dhyana Shlokas, the
verses in contemplation. These verses culled from various texts of Shipa Shastra, the Agamas
and the Puranas; and also from Buddhist and Jain texts, describe, precisely, the postures
(dynamic or static, seated or standing), the Bhangas (flexions - slight, triple, or extreme
bends), Mudras (hand gestures), the attitudes, the nature, the consorts and other vital details
of each aspect that provides the deity with power and grace. it is said that there are about 32

aspects or forms of Ganapathi, 16 of Skanda, 5 of Brahma, 64 of yoginis, and innumerable

forms of Vishnu, Shiva and Devi .Each one of those forms has a Dhyana shloka illustrating its
aspects and attributes.

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Dhyana shlokas are more than prayers or hymns; they are the word-pictures or verbal images
of a three-dimensional image. They help the Shilpi to visualize the deity and to come up with a
line drawing of the image. It is said that there are more than 2,000 such Dhyana shlokas. How
this collection came to be built up over the centuries is truly amazing. These verses have their
origin in Sanskrit texts; and the scholars who could read those texts knew next to nothing
about sculpture. The Shilpis who actually carved the images had no knowledge of Sanskrit
and could not therefore read the texts or interpret the shlokas. This dichotomy was bridged by
the generations of Shilpis who maintained their own set of personal notes, explanations and
norms; as also references to shlokas; and passed them on to their succeeding generations
and to their disciples.

Thus, among the many traditions (parampara) inherited in India, the tradition of Vishwakarma
is unique. The mode of transmission of knowledge of this community is both oral and
practical. The rigor and discipline required to create objects that defy time and persist beyond
generations of artists, has imbued this tradition with tremendous sense of purpose, and zeal
to maintain purity and sensitivity of its traditions; and to carry it forward. This has enabled
them to protect and carry forward the knowledge, the art and skills without falling prey to the
market and its dynamics.

With the emergence of the various academies of sculpture and organized efforts to collate and
publish the old texts with detailed explanations, there is now a greater awareness among the
shilpis of the present day. Yet, the neglect of Sanskrit and inability to read the texts in Sanskrit
is still an impediment that badly needs to be got over.

Please look at the summary of a few Dhyana shlokas.

The image of Lord Narayana must be made with eight, four or two arms. His head should be in
the form of an umbrella, his neck should be like counch, his ears like sukthi, he should have
high nose, strong thighs and arms. His breast must bear the Srivatsa mark and be adorned
with the Kaustubha gem. He should be made as dark as the Atasi (Linum usitatissimum), clad
in yellow robes, having a serene and gracious countenance. He should be wearing a diadem
and ear-rings. Of the eight hands the four on the right side must have the sword(nandaka),
mace(kaumodaki), arrow and abhaya _hastha, mudra of assurance and protection (the fingers
raised and the palm facing the devotees), and the four on the left side, the bow(saranga),
buckler, discus (sudarshana) and conch (panchjanya).

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In case the image is to have only four arms, the two

hands on the right side will display the abhaya mudra
or lotus; and discus respectively. And, in his hands in
the left, he holds the conch and mace. And, in case he
is made with only two arms, then the right hand
bestows peace and hope (shanthi-kara-dakshina
hastha) and the left holds the conch. This is how the
image of the Lord Vishnu is to be made for prosperity.
When Vishnu is two armed and carries discus and
mace, he is known as Loka-paala-Vishnu.

Yogasana_ murthi (yoga Narayana) is Vishnu seated in yogic posture on a white lotus, with
half-closed eyes. His complexion is mellow bright like that of conch, milk or jasmine. He has
four hands with lower two hands resting on his lap on yogic posture (yoga mudra). ; And the
upper two hands holding conch and discus. He is dressed in white or mild red clothes. He
wears modest but pleasant ornaments. He wears an ornate head dress or a coiled mop of hair.
[Yogesvara is sometimes shown with four faces and twelve hands.]

Surya, the Sun-God should be represented with elevated nose, forehead, shanks, thighs,
cheeks and breast; he should be dressed in robes covering the body from breast to foot. His
body is covered with armor. He holds two lotuses in both of his hands, he wears an elaborate
crown. His face is beautified with ear-rings. He has a long pearl necklace and a girdle round
the waist. His face is as lustrous as the interior of the lotus, lit up with a pleasant smile; and
has a halo of bright luster of gems (or, a halo that is made very resplendent by gems on the
crown). His chariot drawn by seven horses has one wheel and one charioteer .Such an image
of the Sun will be beneficial to the maker (and to the worshipper).
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The dhyana shloka preceding the middle episode of Devi

Mahatmya gives the iconographic details of the Devi. The
Goddess is described as having eighteen arms, bearing string
of beads, battle axe, mace, arrow, thunderbolt, lotus, bow, waterpot, cudgel, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine-cup, trident,
noose and the discuss sudarsana. She has a complexion of
coral and is seated on a lotus

The Mahakali is "Wielding in her hand the sword, discuss, mace, arrow, bow, iron club, trident,

sling, human head, and conch, she has three eyes and ornaments decked on all her limbs. She
shines like a blue stone and has ten faces and ten feet. That Mahakali I worship, whom the
lotus born Brahma lauded in order to slay Madhu and Kaitaba when Hari was asleep


Pancha bhera

The images in the Hindu temples can be classified into three broad groups: Shaiva, Shakta
and Vaishnava, representing the three cults of Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu, respectively.

The images in the temple could be achala or dhruva bheru (immovable) or chala (moveble).The
dhruva bheru is the immovable image of the presiding deity of the temple and resides in the
sanctum; and it is usually made of stone. The chala bheru, usually made of pancha loha (alloy
of five metals), are meant for other forms of worship and ceremonial services.

A major temple, apart from the Dhruva bheru, would usually have four or five representations
of the principal deity (pancha bheru).They are: Kouthuka (placed in the sanctum near the main
idol and connected to it by a metal string or silk thread. It usually is a mini replica of the main
idol and to which the other modes of worship, including those of tantric nature, are
rendered).The next is the snapana (to which ceremonial bath is offered). The third is the
shayana (to which the services of putting the Lord to sleep are offered).The fourth is
the Uthsava (for being taken out of the temple premises on ceremonial processions) and the
fifth is theBali (to which the food offerings are made).All the chala bherus (moveble images)
are regarded the representations of the principle deity.
[One of the few cases (that I am aware of) where the principal deity is taken out of the sanctum
for procession, is that of Lord Jagannath of Puri. Such images are
regarded chala_achala (both movable and immovable)]
According to Vyuha siddantha of the Agamas, the dhruva bheru is para, the transcendent one
(Vishnu). The kouthuka is bhoga (worship idol) representing purusha (personification of the
Supreme), Dharma and Vasudeva. The snapana is ugra (fearsome aspect) represented by
Pradyumna or Achutha. The uthsava bheru is vaibhava (the resplendent) representing Jnana
(knowledge), truth (sathya) and Sankarshana. And, the Bali bheru is antaryamin (one who
resides within) representing Vairagya (spirit of renunciation) and Aniruddha.
Let us, for instance, take the case of the idols in the shrine on the hills of Tirumala. The
practices at the Tirumala temple are slightly at variance with the standard procedures, perhaps
because the temple predates most of the other temples in South India and that it has a
tradition of its own.
The dhruva bheru at the Tirumala shrine is of course the magnificent and most adorable image
of the Lord made of hard-black-stone; and has a recorded history of about two thousand
years. He is addressed as Sri Venkatesgwara, Sri Srinivasa and by host of other names. (Lets
talk more about the dhruva bheru, towards the end of this post).

It is said that around the year 966AD, the Pallava Queen, Devi Samavai, donated an almost (but
not exact) replica of the dhruva bheru, made of silver. In terms of the Agama texts, this image
is called kouthuka bheru; but in the Tirumala shrine it is called Bhoga Srinivasa., In Tirumala ,
the kauthuka serves assnapana bheru too (that is, the one to which ceremonial bath service
is rendered). This image has come to be known as Bhoga srinivasa; perhaps because the
other services such as the daily ceremonial bath and ekantha seva that are due to the dhruva
_bheru are rendered to it. There is a six cornered Vaishnava chakra (mandala) placed at the
foot of the kauthuka, representing the six virtues of knowledge (jnana), abundance(Aishvarya),
power (shakthi), strength (bala), resplendence (tejas) andvalor or virility (veeerya). The
kauthuka is placed right in front of the Lords foot stool (paada pitha) and is linked to the
dhruva_bheru through a string with strands of gold, silver and silk. It is ever linked to the
dhruva bheru and is never brought out of the antarala (bangaru vakili). For that reason it is
also addressed as sambhandha-sutra-kauthuka-murthy.

The Uthsava_bheru at Tirumala shrine is named Malayappan, the

earliest reference to which is found in an inscription dated 1369 AD.This
idol might have entered into the temple regimen with the rise of the
Pancharathra School of worship. Malayappan is a very skillfully crafted,
beautiful image, made of panchloha, standing three feet tall on a
pedestal of fourteen inches. It does not greatly resemble the
dhruva_bheru. Yet, it has a very pleasing disposition and is modestly ornamented. His
consorts Sridevi and Bhudevi (of about twenty-nine inches height) are on his either side. All
services, processions and celebrations conducted outside the sanctum are rendered to

The Bali bheru in Tirumala shrine is addressed as Koluvu srinivasa. After the rendering the
ceremonial food service to the dhruva_bheru, offerings are made to the bali_bheru who
accepts it on behalf of the basic elements in nature , the host of spirits guarding the temple

and other minor deities. A unique feature of the bali_bheru in Tirumala shrine is that it presides
over the formal court summoned at the commencement of the day, where the days almanac is
read out, and where the accounts of the previous days collections at the Srivari hundi are
submitted. The traditional distribution of the daily remuneration, in the form of food grains and
provisions, to the temple priests and attendant staff takes place in the presence of
koluvu_srinivasa. It is not clear how this practice came into being at Tirumala.

The other beru in the Tirumala temple is the Ugra Srinivasa, which apart from the dhruva bheru
is perhaps the oldest idol in Tirumala shrine. But, it has a rather sad history. The earliest
reference to this idol is in an inscription dated 10th century. Ugra Srinivasa was used as the
Uthsava murthy till about 14th century, when a fire broke out in the temple; and thereafter it was
replaced by Malayappan. The Ugra Srinivasa no longer serves as the uthsava bheru and it is
never bought out of the temple after sunrise; except on a single occasion in a year (utthana
dwadasi in karthika) that too well before the sunrise. It is feared that if the sunrays touch the
idol, it would spark fire in the temple premises.


For the purpose of this post let us confine the discussion to the Dhruva bheru images.

The Dhruva bheru, iconically, is classified according to its posture; which depicts its
attributes, its dispensation or attitude or Bhava. The Shipa Shastras mention four basic
postures of the idols. They are the sthanaka (standing), Aasana (seated), shayana (reclining)
and yanaka (relating to deities like Hanuman or Garuda who serve as the ride for other deities).
Each of these postures has its sub classifications.

A. Sthanaka

The Sthanaka posture ( standing posture) of the image will be in accordance with its nature
(sattvic, rajas or tamasic) and its attitude of benevolence or otherwise. That expression of
benevolence, grace or the other attitude depicted on the face of the image is enhanced by the
manner and style of its stance. The standing postures are named Bhanga, which involves
appropriate stance, position and bent of the neck (greeva), shoulder (bhuja), waist (kati),
knees (janu) and feet (paada).
The basic styles of the standing postures are five in number. They are, briefly:

Samabhanga is standing erect, with the head, neck and torsos in a line, radiating peace,
fulfillment and benediction, as in the case of Sri Venkateshwara, Chenna keshava or Jina.

Abhanga is a stance with only a slight bent of head or waist, or

with a hand on the waist as in the case of Dakshinamurthy,
Velayuda or Vatu the boy Subrahmanya.

Dvibhanga is a posture with a bend at the waist, while the

parts from waist to the head and from waist to feet are
otherwise in samabhangha, as in the case of Sri Rama
holding a bow, Shiva or bracket images of damsels.

Tribhanga is when the body is in three distinct delicate and

graceful bends - at the neck, the shoulder and the waist, as
in the case of female deities, Krishna dancing on Kalinga
serpent and Ganapathi in dancing poses. This is essentially a classic dance pose.

And, athi bhanga is the one with several twists in the body and arms. This bhanga brings out
anger and ferociousness as in the case of Durga slaying the demon; and Ugra Nrusimha
slaying and tearing apart the demon; or to bring out wonder and amazement (adbhuta) as in
the case of Trvikrama; or fearsome or grotesque attitudes as in the case of sculptures of
kailasanath temple, Kanchipuram.

The idols in the standing posture, sthanaka, are also classified according to their nature:
dhirodaatha, the sattvic type; dhira lalitha (rajasa) and Ddhiroddatha (tamasa).
B. Shayana
Shayana is the idol of the deity in reclining or sleeping position. Only Vishnu and the Buddha
images are represented in this position. Apart from this, the baser elements such as the
demons are shown lying under the feet of Nataraja or the Devi.

Sri Ranganatha or Anantha shayana is the most celebrated form of Vishnu in reclining posture.

Vishnu is represented in three forms of Shayana. In the Yoga shayana posture, Vishnu, with
two arms and without his ayudhas, is depicted in yoga nidra, Yogic sleep, contemplating the
unfolding of the universe. Vishnu is reclining on the coils of Anantha the serpent who
symbolizes time; and Brahma the divinity responsible for creation is seated on the lotus
emerging from Vishnus navel. The Yoga shayana images are installed in temples located in
forest region or in forts on top of hills. Yoga shayana Vishnu symbolizes his creation, shrusti,

Bhoga shayana Vishnu is similar but is adorned with four arms, auspicious signs of srivatsa,
kausthuba on his chest; and with his usual set of ayudhas. Vishnus gaze is fixed on his
consorts serving at his feet. He has a very pleasing disposition. The temples of Vishnu in
Bhoga shayana form are located in the midst of a populous city or town. Bhoga shayana
Vishnu symbolizes his well-being, sthiti, his preservation aspect.

(Line drawing by Shilpi Shri Thippajappa)

The veera shayana form of Vishnu is adorned with four to eight arms. He is holding his
weapons. He is represented as if he is just about to wage a battle. He is surrounded by the

rishis, the gandarvas and his entourage including Garuda, his ride. Brahma is as usual seated
atop the lotus from Vishnus navel. The demons Madhu and Kaitaba are shown at his feet.
Veera shayana Vishnu symbolizes his absorption, samhara, aspect.
There is also an unusual form of Vishnu in shayana posture. The Abhicharika shayana does
not have the serpent bed or the Brahma. Vishnu is reclining on the floor; he looks emaciated
too. Such an inauspicious form of Vishnu is employed in Tantric worship; and it should not be
located where people especially where women and children dwell.

C. Aasana
Aasana class is when the deity is in sitting posture. There are several modes and styles of
sitting; and among them about eleven or twelve postures of sitting are usually depicted in
temple architecture. These are again classified into sattvic, rajasa and tamasa.

The images depicting the deity in a peaceful, happy and benevolent disposition; radiating
peace and joy; and blessing the devotees are the most common forms of sattvic class of idols
in sitting posture. The deity, in such cases, is sitting in padmasana (lotus position) or
yogasana (yogic posture, as in the case of Yoga Nrusimha or Ayyappa).Dakshinamurthy, the
Buddha and Mahaveera being the other well known examples.

Sukhasana is sitting with one leg bent at the knee and across; and the other leg down and
almost touching the ground. The deity is in a relaxed position looking happy, peaceful and
joyous. Images of Padmapani , Vishnu, Shiva or Devi in Sukhasana are the most common

The images of the deity sitting with its one foot down, almost touching the ground, radiating
majesty and authority are the rajasa type of idols in Aasana posture ; Vishnu , Rajarajeshwari ,
Chandikeshwara( a form of Rudra ) are the common examples. In some cases, the deity rests
his foot on an asura (demon) lying on the ground, as if displaying authority and power.

The images of goddess Durga, Chamundi, Mahisha mardini and such other forms of the Devi,
sitting or mounted on a beast, with her one foot almost touching the ground are the tamasic
class of idols in Aasana posture.

D. Nruthya bhanga: The deity is depicted in a classic dancing posture. The images of Krishna
dancing on the Kalinga, Nataraja, nruthya Ganapathi and Sarawathi are some of the well
known examples of this genre.

In the Yana, the postures of Hanuman, Garuda and Bhuvaraha are depicted.


Ayudha generally translates to weapons; but, in shilpa sastra, the term indicates whatever
objects the idol holds in his or her hands. The Ayudhas delineate the nature, character and
functions associated with the idol. In a way of speaking, they are the symbols of a symbolism.
For instance, Saraswathi holds in her hands a book symbolizing the Vedas and learning; a
Kamandala (a water jug) symbolizing smruthi, vedanga and shastras; a rosary symbolizing the
cyclical nature of time; and the musical instrument veena symbolizing music and her
benevolent nature. All these objects are not weapons in the conventional sense, but the shilpa
employs those as symbols to expand and depict and interpret the nature of the idol and its

Each of these Ayudhas signifies a certain aspect or it stands for a concept. For instance, the
mirror signifies a clear mind and awareness; the flag signifies victory or celebration; the
Ankusha (goad) signifies exercising control over senses and baser instincts, Damaru in the
hands of shiva signifies creation and origin of sound and learning; and, the scepter signifies
authority and rule of law.

The Dhyana slokas associated with each deity specify the Ayudhas to be held in its right or left
or upper or lower arms. The Ayudhas held by auspicious deities are in even number.

Apart from the weapons a variety of objects are employed as Ayudhas. These include
instruments of various professions (pen, chisel, hammer, plow, sickle etc.), musical
instruments (flute, veena, drums, pipes, trumpets etc.), plants and trees (ashvatta, bilva,
seedlings of paddy, grass etc) and miscellaneous objects (mirror, bell, book, flag, lamp, vase,
umbrella etc.)

Mudra means sign or a seal. It is a symbolic gesture or position usually of hands and fingers.
They are commonly used in tantric worship, yoga, dance and music. The Shilpa shastra has
however its own use for the mudras ; and it has developed its own set of mudras .There are in
general two types of mudras, those with one-hand and those with two-hand. The one handed
mudras (asanyuktha or kevala) number about 28; while the two hand mudras (sanyuktha) are

about 23.The mudras give an expression and eloquence to the attributes of the image and to
its message.
All these symbols and mudras form the pool of Indian art language. They are commonly
employed by the Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina traditions.

According to Tantrasara Vishnu has 19 mudras (shankha, chakra, Gadha, padma etc.), which
mean attributes; Shiva has 10 mudras (yoni. Trishula, linga tc.); Ganesha has 7(ankusha,
dantha, modaka etc.); Saraswathi has 7(maala, pusthaka, veena, etc.); and Agni has 7 (flames,
horns etc,) and so on. The Tantrika also include Jata, Tilaka, Bhasma, Chandana etc.

Mudras are again classified into those that convey a message (sankethica), which are mostly
single hand mudras. The next are the vastu rupa mudras which suggest as if the diety is
holding in his or her hands some object. And, the third is ayudha grahana , where the diety
actually holds an ayudha.
Among the Sankethica mudras, the better known are the Abhya mudra with right palm fingers
pointing upward assuring protection; Varada mudra with the fingers pointing down ward in act
of giving; Vyakhna mudra as if teaching or explaining as in images of Dakshinamurty and the
Buddha; and ala_padma with raised palm conveying happy welcome as in the images of
dwarapalakas, the guards at the sanctum.

The common examples of Vastu rupa mudra are those of Saraswathi or Dakshinamurthy with
hands in such a position as if the deity is playing on the veena. The other examples are those
of Rishba_rudha Shiva as if Shiva is reclining against his ride the bull; of Sri Rama as if he is
holding the bow; and of Shiva as if he is holding the damaru, a sort of drum (damaru hastha).

Vrishbharuda shiva - as if reclining against Nandi

The Ayudha mudras are those where the deity actually holds an object such
as pasha (rope), ankusha(goad or hook) as in the case of Ganapathi; Danda , a staff in the
hands of Skanda(danda hastha)

In Hindu Iconography, Paada mudras the position of the lower limbs and the feet are as
important as the hand gestures (hastha mudras).It is the paada mudra that suggest movement
or stillness of the image. The samarangana Sutradhara lists six paada mudras: Vaishnavam
(one leg straight and another slightly curved- adidaivatha form of Vishnu); Sampadanam
(standing erect with legs joined and body weight distributed evenly); Alidanam (Standing like
an archer, with right leg drawn forward); Prathyalidanam (opposite of Alidanam- left foot in
front); Ardhasam or Mandalam (one leg is thrown out and the other remains stable as in
Nataraja or Vishakadeva); and there are the legs folded in sitting postures as in
Udarabhandam (as in Ganesha) and in paada-patta or Yoga patta (as in Yoga Nrusimha )

Kirita, makuta and Jatamakuta

The headgear is a distinctive feature of the Indian

icons. The kiritas or the makuta (crown) or the
jatamakuta (coiled mop of hair atop the head)
emphasise the nature (sattva, rajas or tamas) and the
nobility of the image. The Hoysala School of
sculpture in particular adorns its images with
elaborate and highly ornate crowns, rich in design.

Usually, highly ornate kirita, makuta adorns images of Vishnu and his aspects. A simpler
crown of the Karanda class is meant for lesser deities. The female deities such as Saraswathi
and Savithri have kesha_bandha or Kuntala type of crowns. The divinities such as Rathi and
others are given crowns of Jataa, mauli, makuta and kuntala type.

Jataa_makuta, coiled hair mopped on top of head is for the images of Shiva, Brahma, the
Buddha and the sages.
Natarajas hair is flying in the wind as he swirls in his tandava dance. His hair is prasarith jata,
the flying hair.

Agni has a special hairdo called agni_kesha with his hair spreading out like tongues of fire.

Alankara -ornamentation:

The shilpis took great delight in adorning the image with rich and finely carved ornaments.
While the other segments of the carving are regulated by the prescriptions of the Sahastras
and the tradition, the Alankara element offers the artists abundant scope to exercise their
imagination and to display their ingenuity. Therefore, the amazing varieties, the patterns and

the desingns of ornaments that one comes across in the Indian sculpture are virtually
The major deities, both male and female, are adorned with rich ornaments; the minor deties
and humans are provided modest ornaments. Often, the ornaments serve as the costume of
the image.
The term used for ornamentation is Alankara which encompasses forms of beauty and visual
appeal in all forms of Indian art including poetry and music. Alankara is not merely bejeweling
but it also implies enhancing the grace and beauty of the image and to enchant and please the
eyes of the beholder. Alankara also conveys the nobility, the grandeur and the lovely nature of
the adorable image. The Hoysala sculptures in particular are rich in ornamentation.

Specific names are given to the ornaments that adorn various body- parts of image. The
ornaments below or around the neck are Kanti (like a collar), Skandamaala (necklaces)
and manihara (strings of precious stones or beads).

In the abdomen region, are the Yajnopavitha (sacred thread), Kati bandha or kati sutra (waist

Katakas are bangles made of gold or precious stones.

The feet are adorned with paada jalaka (ornament made of strings), nupura (the bells) and
rings that decorate the toes.

The iconography of Sri Venkateshwara in the Tirumala temple needs to be discussed
There are no known descriptions or specifications of the iconography of the Sri
Venkateshwara idol in any texts of the Shilpa shastra. Till about the Vijayanagar period there
were no temples of Sri Venkateshwara, out side Tirumala, Tirupathi and Mangapura regions.
The idol does not also fall within the interpretations of any of the known schools of
architecture such as Pallava, Chalukya, and Chola etc. That might be because the image of Sri
Venkateshwara predates all such schools.
The sanctum at Tirumala is eka murthy griha a sanctum housing a single deity; Sri
Vekateshwara is standing alone, not accompanied by his consorts. The icon is made of hardblack - polished stone (often described as saligrama shila) .Though the precise measurements
of the image of the deity cannot be ascertained, it is said, it stands more than six feet in
height, with the Kirita , the crown, measuring about twenty inches high; and the idol is
mounted on a pedestal of about eighteen inches. The pedestal with lotus motif is almost at the
ground level. The total height of idol is estimated to be a little more than eight feet (A person of
normal height with arms raised just falls short of reaching the top of the idols crown) .

The idol, crafted with great skill, is wonderfully well proportioned and is very pleasing to look
at. It has four arms though its two upper hands are always kept covered (for whatever reason).
Of the other two hands, the right hand is in Varada mudra, in a posture of benediction,
blessing the devotees. The left hand is almost near the left knee in Katyavalambita mudrawith
the thumb almost parallel to the waist, as if to assure that the mire of the samsara , the
mundane existence , is only knee deep for those who submit to him and seek salvation.

The face of the idol has exquisite features. The forehead is prominent and wide with no visible
signs or insignia. The expression on its face is beatific and adorable; the eyes are wide open,
looking straight ahead with a calm delight (Sama dristi); the eye brows are arched; the cheeks
are full; the nose tends to appear a bit flat; the full lips are just about to break into a smile; and
the chin is strong.
The crown adorning the head of the image measures about 20 inches to 2 feet. Its shape is not
that of a traditional crown; but resembles a heap of twisted coiled hair (ushnisha jatadhara)
and with a few strands of curly hair resting on the back of his shoulders.
The chest (surmised to be about 40 inches) is adorned with armaments (haara) in three strings
and another necklace. The sacred thread is coming down and across from the top of its left
shoulder and is extending below the waist band (udara bhandha). It is said there are insignia
of Lakshmi installed on his right chest area; and for that reason he is also addressed as

Sri_nivasa. The girth at the waist is estimated to be about 27 inches. (There has never been a
formal measurement of the idol. These measurements are merely suggestive.)
The arms are adorned with ornaments. The flowing robes are tied into ornate bunches at the
waist. The feet are decorated with finely crafted rings and bracelets.

The idol radiates a sense of great beauty, peace, fulfillment and joy. It beams with a certain
calm and majesty. It is aptly described as divya_mangala_vigraha, the all auspicious
representation of the Supreme Being.

Shilpa Soundarya By KT Pankajaksha
The Lord of Seven Hills By Prof. SKR Rao
Line drawings of kirita and ornament By the renowned Shilpi and Yogi Sri Siddalinga Swamy Of
Other pictures from internet

Line drawings from

Shilpa Soundarya
Links for Previous posts
Agama and Temple architecture
Temple and Township
Vastu Purusha Mandala
Temple layout
Some essential aspects of temple structure

Next posts
Norms and Measurements in temple architecture

TalamanaDevalaya VastuCreativeIconographyTemple Architecture

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Post a Comment
All Comments
Sreenivasarao S / / 6 yrs ago

dear shri sampath,
thank you for the comments.
1. sudarshana
no. the sudarshana is itself addressed as chakrathalwar. the srivaishnava sect
has a tradition of personifying the divya ayudhams (the potent weapons) of

narayana; and addressing them as alwars. accordingly, sudarshana too is

addressed as charathalwar. this practice stems from the faith that the ten
alwars reincarnated as divya ayudhams and divya abharananams of the lord.
the sudarshana has a special position. it represents mukthi - as it is said to have
the power to destroy ones ego and leading to awakening; and realization. it also
represents the power of the lord to destroy the evil.
sudrashana is considered a representative of lord vishnu and therefore
worshipped with equal reference. sometimes, sudarshana is placed on a
separate altar within the vishnu temple.
this symbol has the sudharshana chakra on one side and narasimha on the
reverse side (narasimha being the ferocious aspect of vishnu). it is explained
that both represent the power to destroy the evil.
customarily , sri sudharshana precedes , as a vanguard , in the procession
of vishnu ; because it is believed that sudharshana has the power to clean up
all the negative forces and impediments on the procession route and to ensure
a safe passage for the lord. the chakrathalwar is given a ceremonial bath in
swami pushkarini at the conclusion of the procession.
according to ahirbhudniya samhita, sudarshana has the power to protect the
devotees from the afflictions caused by incurable diseases, sorcery or enemies.
it is believed that sudarshana homa will alleviate the sufferings of this nature.
2. matrikas
matrikas, the mother like figures, usually, are seven in number but in tantra
and certain other traditions in india, nepal and tibet they might be eight or nine.
sometimes there is variation in the names of these mother-like deities.
the reason for such variations appears to me, might be that the matrikas were
essentially of folk origin; and each tradition had its favorite set of female
another explanation is that, their number is determined in the structure of the
devanagari alphabet. first is the (a) group which contains the vowels, then the
(ka), (cha), (ta), (ta), (pa), (ya) and (ksha) groups. the seven mother goddesses
(saptamatrikas) correspond to the seven consonant groups; when the vocalic (a)
group is added, the eight mother goddesses (ashtamatrikas) are obtained.
there is also a theory which suggests that the group of seven females depicted
on indus valley seals, represents saptha matrikas.

it was perhaps during the era of puranas and the age of the guptas that the
matrikas were associated with skanda.the powerful images of seven motherslike figures start appearing as saptha matrikas who sucked and brought up
two kinds of representations were made during the gupta period - in groups as
benevolent or menovelent; and individually as only benevolent.
the matrikas assume great importance in shaktha sect and in sri vidya too;
where they are seen as assisting the great mother in her fight against demons
and evil influences.

the tradition of the matrikas is particularly strong in the villages of tamil nadu
where they are the forest dwelling shakthis called saptha kannis living in trees,
crossroads, caves and funeral grounds; and they are terrible as well as
beautiful.( i think , there is a big temple for varahi in tanjavur.)

brihat samhita of varaha mihira (6th century) mentions that the mothers are
to be made with cognizance of gods corresponding to their names. thus, vishnu
comes along with his counterpart in vaishnavi, maheshwara in maheshwari, and
brahma in brahmi; and so on. they are depicted as protectors and benevolent
mothers. they are armed with the same weapons, wear the same ornaments, and
ride the same vahanas and carry the same banners as their corresponding male
they became quite popular by the sixth century and a standard feature in devi
and shiva temples from the ninth century onwards. there are as many as four
depictions of the saptamatrikas in the kailasanath temple at ellora (sixth
century).the matrikas are depicted as benign, sensuous, elegant, tender,
beautiful yet haughty and grand. kumari is depicted with child skanda on her lap
and varahi is depicted with a human head, rather than the usual boar one. varahi
enjoys a special position in sri vidya. she is the commander-in - chief and also
the confidant of the mother goddess.
the saptamatrkas are generally carved in relief on a rectangular stone slab in
the sequential order of brahmani, maheshvari, kumari, vaishnavi, varahi, indrani
and chamunda, being flanked by two male figures - a terrible form of shiva
virbhadra and his son ganesha, on either sides (first - on their right and last -

on their left). that might be intended to control and subdue the menovelent
aspects or influences of some the matrikas.
3. ugra
the idols are depicted as shanta murthi, yoga murthi, kalyana murthi and ugra
murthi.the ugra is the wrathful or the ferocious aspect of a particular divinity.
such temples should be situated outside the town and the idols should be facing
away from where people live. the temples of such nature include those of
narasimha and rudra.
the ferocious nature is sought to be placated in a number of ways. the
simhasana of ugra narasimha might be carved with the benevolent and calming
images of vishnu and lakshmi and bhgudevi. it might also carry the image of
narasimha himself with lakshmi on his lap.
sometimes, the pillars facing the sanctum are covered with oil.
in the temple at namakal, the narasimha in ugra form is flanked by sri jankan on
his left and sri sanadhan on to his right and tap pealing the lord about world
peace "lokashama". sri devi is also present. further, on to his left siva, and on to
his right brahma is seen pleading with the lord to mellow down. this temple is
known as trimurthi sthala'.
another major temple of narasimha is the temple at ahobalam in ap. the
presiding deity of the temple is ahobila nrisimha, appearing in his fierce aspect,
ugra narasimha. but, perhaps to counter that fierce aspect or as you said to
absorb the force, the temple, spread over several layers, has eight other forms
of narasimha in benovelonet form. the nine forms of narasimha are, collectively
known asnavanarasimha:
5. rigors of shilpis
i am sorry i could not quite get the question. would you kindly amplify it?

thank you for asking.

wish you and your family a very happy ugadi new year


Temple Architecture Devalaya

Vastu Part Six Continued (Second
Half Of 6 Of 7)
Sreenivasarao S / Blog / 6 yrs ago /


The ancient Indian art of sculpture, Shilpa Shastra, developed its own norms of measures and
proportions. It is a complex system of iconometry that defies rigid definitions .It is
called Talamana paddathi, the system of measurements by Tala, the palm of hand (from the tip
of the middle finger to the wrist). It plays a central role in the creation of temple icons and

Iconometry (the doctrine about proportions) was an integral part of the Murti shilpa, creation
of the idols.

As explained in the earlier part of this post, the Dhyana shlokas, the contemplative hymns,
delineate the spiritual quality of each deity and its forms and attributes, the lakshanas.
The Dhyana Slokas also provide the details of the flexions - slight, triple, or extreme bends;
the details of the number of arms and faces that endow a super-human quality to the idol; and
also the descriptions of its ayudhas the weapons, the ornaments etc. They also specify
whether the image should be dynamic or static, seated or standing; and they also detail the

hand gestures and poses.

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But, it is the elaborate rules of the traditional iconometry that guide the practicing Shilpi in
sculpturing the image and realizing his vision. These rules specify thevarious standards to be
adopted for ensuring a harmonious creation endowed with well proportioned height, length,
width and girth. These rules also govern the relative proportions of various physical features of each class and each type of the deities.
The standards of iconometry are of immense use for other reasons, as well. For instance, the
iconometry of an image helps the sculptures of a later period in restoration work; in checking
which of the known canons of iconometry were followed by the sculptors; in deducing which
methods of sculpting were employed; and in hypothesizing how many sculptors were involved
in executing the work. It also helps the art historians in dating sculptures; and the art
in studying the iconometric values of different Schools, across different periods and regions;
and to ascertain the variations within a given set of stipulated proportions.


Two systems of iconometry seem to have existed; and both were called taalamana.
In the first system, the tala, measured by the length of the palm (from the wrist to the tip of the
middle finer) of the shilpi or the yajamana, the one who sponsors the project, is taken as an
absolute unit of measurement (and the image-face is made equal to that length). That tala is
subdivided into twelve angulas; and such an angula becomes a fixed-length. In practice, the
angula (literally finger) is a fingers width and measures one quarter of the width of the
shilpis fist (as explained in the earlier posts). The value of the angula so derived becomes a
fixed length (manangulam). And, all other measurements of the image are in terms of that unit.
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The second is the system of derived proportions (deha labdh angulam). Let me explain. The
stone or the block of wood selected for carving is divided into a number of equal parts. In case
the selected piece is divided into ten equal parts, the division is known as dasatala (ten facelengths) or in case it is divided in to nine equal parts then the division is known
as navatala (nine face-lengths) and so on.

The shilpa shastra normally employ such divisions on a scale of one (eka tala) to ten (dasa
tala).Each tala is subdivided in to 12 angulas. For instance, if the intended height of the image
is nine tala (which is regarded the standard height for images of certain deities and celestial
beings), the texts mention that the selected piece of material should be divided into 108Its
own angulas .The expression its own angula is explained thus: divide the total length of
the selected stone or wooden piece, which will cover the entire height of the idol from head to
foot, into 108 equal parts. One of the parts would then be its own angula.

There are obvious differences between the two systems. The manangulam system relies on a
fixed set of measurements; while the deha labdh angulam is a system based on derived
proportions. In the former system, the measurements are related to the size of the palm of the
shilpi; and if the image is navatala, it would mean that the height of the image is nine times the
size of the tala or the palm of shilpi; and the size of the image-face is one tala or one-ninth of
the total height of the image.

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In the second method, the unit of measurement is derived from the divisions marked on the
stone piece. If the image is said to be navatala, it means that the height of the image is 108
times its own angula. This system is more flexible.

In Shilpa Shastra, the multiplicity and relative sizes take precedence over the absolute specific
sizes of the units. Therefore, the proportions of the head-trunk-arms-legs of the image; and the
finer specifications of nose, nail, ears and their shapes are always discussed in terms of their
proportions and in relations to the other organs and particularly to that of the size of the face.
Similar logic is extended to panels where more than one variety of images have to be
accommodated harmoniously.

Gift Siromoney and his team who have carried out remarkable Iconometric studies based on
measurements made by anthropometric instruments says, In Indian art the important figures
in a group are often represented as taller figures and inferior beings are represented as
smaller figures. To such smaller figures a lower tala is often prescribed. However, if both the
larger and the smaller figures were to represent deities of equal rank (say Siva and Vishnu)
then strictly speaking they should be made in the same proportion, or in other words in the
same tala.

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I think this needs some explanation .Let us assume that three types of figures of three
different statuses are to be depicted on the same panel. The sculptor, in such a case, would
adopt the image of mid-status, as the standard; and relate the proportions of the other two
images to that of the standard image.Those two images would then have to be made in
different sizes; but in same proportions as that of the standard image. Assuming that the
standard image was made by adopting the nava tala, the image would then have a height of
108 angulas; the angulas being its own angulas. The image with least status, among the
three,would be made to a shorter height, say, of 96 angulas; but by borrowing the angula value
from the image of the standard size. Similarly, the image with the best status, among the three,
would be made to a greater height, say, of 120 angulas; but here again the angula value is
borrowed from the image of the standard size.

In the two cases, other than the standard one, the basic unit of measure is not its own
angula; but it is a unit borrowed from the standard Image. In other words, the proportions of
these two images are derived from that of a third image. Such instances, perhaps, explain the
need for adopting the second system; the flexible system of derived proportions.
Over a period of time, the two systems got mixed up ; and in some texts it became rather
difficult to make out , which system the text was actually referring to. The confusion got
compounded with both the systems carrying the same title, talamana paddathi. The practicing
Shilpis do therefore have to check carefully whether the specifications mentioned in a given
text belong to the first system or to the second system. In case they belong to the first system,
the image- face length will have to be 12 fixed-angulas; irrespective of its total height.

Despite the differences, there are certain features common to both the systems. The first is,
the face length, in either case, is divided in to three equal parts: the fore-head, nose and
nose-to-chin. Secondly, the pubis (base of the male organ) is the midpoint of the height of a
nude figure. In other words, the distance from the sole of the feet to the pubis is equal to the
distance from the pubis to the topknot. Thirdly, the celestial beings are assigned a
higher tala compared to human figures. And, fourthly, children are represented in a
lower tala like the chatusra tala (four tala). The face length will be comparatively large for
children and dwarfs.

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The Indian system makes use of the fact that persons with disproportionately larger faces
appear short and those with smaller faces appear tall. Dwarf figures were therefore made by
adopting the four "taala" system where the total height is only four times the face length. This
demonstrated that the figures of different sizes can be made while following the same set of
proportions. For instance, the height of a nine tala image might be the same as that of a
tentala image; but, the ten tala image with its smaller face-size looks taller than the ninetala
As mentioned earlier, the shilpa shastra normally employs a method of division of the imagebody, on a scale of one (eka tala) to ten (dasa tala). Each tala is divided in to 12 angulas. There
are variations within each type of tala. That is, each type of tala is sub-divided into three subtypes: The standard or the mean height is the madhyama tala; while the extended height
is Uttama tala. The diminished height is adhama tala. Accordingly, along with the height,
certain other dimensions of the latter two images are duly modulated, depending on the nature
and the status of the image; and the importance assigned to it in the overall context of the
theme of the sculpture.

For instance, the madhyama navatala (standard length of nine-face lengths) is normally used
for images of celestial beings such as Yakshas, Apsaras and Vidhyadharas. Here, the height of
the image would be nine talas (with each tala divided in to 12 angulas) or a total height of 108
angulas. And, the face length - from the chin up to the root of the hair on the forehead would
be 12 angulas or one tala. The length from throat to navel would be two tala; from navel to top
of knee would be three tala; from the lower knee to ankle would be two tala making a total of

eight tala. One tala is distributed equally between the heights of foot, knee, the neck and
topknot. The nava tala thus has a total of nine tala units, in height (108 angulas).

The texts also mention that the images of the devas such as the eight Vasus, the eight
Dikpalas and the eight Vidyeshwarsa are to be depicted in Uttama navatala. Whereas, the
images of Rakshasas, Siddhas, Gandharvas and the pitris are to be depicted in adhama

In such cases, the images in uttama nava tala type are rendered four angulas taller and the
images in theadhama nava tala type are rendered four angulas shorter. The said
four angulas are to be distributed, evenly, between the heights of the foot, the kneecap, the
neck and the topknot. These two variations are in effect, the deviations from the standard
values of the image.

It is said that The uttama dasatala is built on the values of navatala ( regarded purest in terms
of the proportions) by systematically adding one angula to each section of navatala ; the
thighs and legs being , as usual, twice the height of the heart etc. The uttama dasatala aims
to project the majesty of the higher divinities.


There is no uniformity among the various Shilpa texts. Some texts describe a system of one to
twelve talas. There is even a mention of a twenty-one tala image of Bhirava; but that measure

is hardly in use.
Some texts mention that human figures and gods at rest, or while involved in some pleasant
activity, should measure ten talas. And, when performing heroic deeds, their height increases
to twelve talas. Further, in their fearsome aspect, they even grow to fourteen talas.
But, the Shilpis in South India do not, generally, go beyond ten talas (dasatala).Thus, in effect,
only ten types of divisions from the eka tala (single tala) to dasa tala (ten tala) are in use.
These ten talas correspond to 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, 108 and 120 angulas, in sequence.
The series is built by adding 12 angulas for each successive tala.
These talas have their three variations, as state earlier. The standard or the mean height is
the madhyama tala; while the extended height is Uttama tala; and the diminished height
is adhama tala.

Uttama dasatala(124) and nine other talas - by Shilpi Shri Siddalings Swamy

As per the norms that are commonly in use, the animals and birds are depicted in four or less
talas. For instance, tortoise and fish are depicted in one tala; crocodile and rabbit in two tala;
and the dwarfs, the kinnaras , the birds and the vahanas of the deities are depicted in three or
four talas.

Humans and demigods are depicted in five to eight talas; Vamana an incarnation of Vishnu in
seven talas.
The relative height of goddesses is eight or nine talas, while children are six talas high. The
consorts of the deities and minor goddesses are depicted in eight talas.

The talas from nine to twelve are meant for images of deities. But, again, there is no unanimity
among the texts in this regard. Nine tala (nine face-lengths) is largely taken as the height of
certain gods and celestial beings.

According to some texts, the Uttama dasatala is applied to major deities like Vishnu, Shiva,
Brahma, Rama, Buddha and Jina; so that they might look tall and majestic..

The madhyama dasatala is applied to the images of Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Uma and other
major. The rest are depicted in Adhama dasatala, in accordance with the importance assigned
to them.

The extra ordinary deities like Trivikrama or Narasimha or the huge demons are at times
depicted in twelve talas.

Out of the ten varieties of talas mentioned above, four varieties are in wider use. The
iconometry of these talas are briefly indicated in the following table.
Vertical proportions of four main types of Images
(Figures in angulas)

Type of the image/


7* Tala 8 Tala 9 Tala 10 Tala

Neck to the horizontal line connecting the nipples(heart)
From there to navel(belly, udara)
From navel to genitals(lower belly, vasti)





Total height in angulas





(One Tala = 12 angulas)

Stella Kramrisch explains in her Hindu Temple: the rules are that the proportions of the trunk
are the same in all the four types. The distance from the root of the neck to the genitals is
divided in to three equal parts, in each case: neck-heart; heart-navel; and navel-genitals. The
length of the thigh and that of the leg are twice as long as each of the three earlier mentioned
sections. Further, the knee and the foot are of equal height. The actual lengths of these lengths
might vary, but their proportions are maintained. As regards the size of the face, it is 12
angulas (except in the case of dasatala).

Sometimes, the height that is not included in the texts is added to the image by enhancing the
height of the parts above its hair, starting from its forehead. Such height, at times, is quite
considerable. Because, the gods of higher hierarchy are adorned with elaborate crowns in
order to emphasize and enhance their majesty and grandeur. The height of the crown might
often exceed the height of the face. The head together with the crown atop would form one
sculptural unit. The elaborately crowned gods thus exceed the proportions of the human body
and standout with a super natural appearance.

Apart from defining the relative height of the various gods, the tala also serves as a module for
all representations of each separate figure. In addition to the norms concerning the height,
there are extensive specifications for horizontal measurements such as the width of the
shoulders, the waist, the head, the neck, the nose, the distance between the eyes, and so on.
This is also the case with the measurements for depth; such as the distance between the back
of the head and the tip of the nose, the back and the nipples, etcetera. There are
measurements for the figure in the frontal position, in profile or in three-quarter profile. For
such measurements, a central axis line or a plumb line is used, brahmasutra, which runs from
the crown of the head through the navel to between the heels.

The position of the body (standing, reclining, seated, dancing, and so on), of the arms and
legs, also plays an important role in the iconographic determination of the images. (please see
the earlier part of this post)


Dr.Gift Siromoney and his team of researchers applied computer analysis methods to study a
large sample of South Indian sculptures; those included the sculptures of the Pallava, Chola,
and Pandya and Chera periods. It is said that anthropometric instruments were used for the
analysis of facial proportions of the carvings;cluster analysis was used for collating the
sculptures into groups that contain very similar features.

The team came up with the conclusion that there existed two systems of proportions which
had run into each other.The average values of the facial proportions of the sculptures that
were studied were at variance with the proportions prescribed in the canonical texts.

The sculpture seemed to have enjoyed a certain degree of artistic freedom within the
framework of the Shilpa texts. The shilpis innovated or improvised their working methods for
creation of well proportioned images.

Please visit Dr.Siromoneys home page and other study



Cannons of Icometry by Dr. Gift Siromoney
Line drawings
By Shilpi Sri Siddalinga Swamy,
By Dr.Jnananada
And from Shilpa Soundarya.

Links to Previous posts in the series

Agama and Temple architecture

Temple and Township
Vastu Purusha Mandala
Temple layout
Some essential aspects of temple structure
Temple Iconography

Next post
Norms in temple architecture

TalamanaDevalaya VastuCreativeAngulaTala

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Post a Comment
All Comments
Sreenivasarao S / / 4 yrs ago

Dear MalaSJCE, I am glad you read it closely.

1. I think some confusion might have been caused, because I mentioned that
the inside length of hastha= 7a. That should in fact have been hasta-tala (inside of
palm). I am sorry

2. The inside length of hastha (palm + middle figure) is of course 12a as you
said. That is, inside palm (hasta-tala) 7a + inside length of middle finger 5a; of a total
of 12a = One Tala. The inner length is from the base of the palm to the tip of the
middle finger.

3. As regards the digits I got mixed up with Kannada numerals 6 and 9; 2 and 7. (It is
a longtime since I used these numbers; I have been away for sometime) I am sorry.

Please take the following and check to see if it works out:

These are outer measurements

(Starts from the base of the fingers knuckles to the tip of the fingers
which include the length of nails;
And, would therefore be longer than the inner measurements)

Middle finger = 2a, 4y + 1a, 7y + 2a, 1y = 6a, 4y

Index = 2a, 1y +1a, 4y+1a.5y=5a, 2y
Ring = 2a, 0y+1a, 4y+1a, 6y = 5a, 2y
Thumb+2a, 2y+2a, 0y = 4a, 2y
Little = 1a, 4y+1a, 3y+1a, 3y= 4a, 2y

Let me try to put it a little more clearly: The total length from shoulder point to the
tip of the middle figure is taken as 63a 4y (63 a). The length is accounted in this
manner: arm= 27a + elbow= 2a + forearm = 21a + outer hasta-tala (from wrist to
beginning or knuckle of middle finger) = 7a + middle figure =6a, 4y (6 a).

3. Dont attempt to convert Uttama Dasatala or Dasatala to Navatala values, at this

stage. Now, take each Tala values independently- as given in the text .Once you get
the right picture then it might be easier for you to convert or to juggle.

5. I am correcting the table and other narration. Please take out a fresh printout of the
revised Doc attached. That might help to work with little difficulty.
6. The Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram is written and published by Dr. Gnananda. It is
in Kannada; and you may not find it on the net. Please write to Dr. Gnananda at the
address I gave you in my earlier mail. Please also mention about the project you are
working. He might of good help. And, he might also correct some of the incorrect
information I might have passed on to you. He is an expert in the field; therefore go
by his views and opinions. BTW, I do not know him personally. He may not even be
aware of my existence. I just have read some of his books. OK?

Sreenivasarao S / / 4 yrs ago

From: MalaSJCE on 03 Aug 2010

Hello Sir,
I am going through the document. I am having some confusion now. That is from

various sources including your blog and Dr. Gift Siromoney's papers I had got the
middle finger length happens to five angulas. Palm length = 7 angulas and total
length of the hand from mid finger tip to wrist is one tala = 12 angulas.
Now in the document you have mentioned as
Middle : 6a,4y which is 6.5 angulas.(1 angula = 8 yuva)
And you also mentioned that they are proportions and not absolute values. Then I
tried converting from dasatala to navatala as
(108/120)*6.5 angulas = 5.85 angulas. (which is still higher than 5 angulas)
I have collected geometric features of 200 hands and compared with my predicted
results. I am getting almost 95% matches.
Is finger length inclusive of nail length?
I did not understand digits length.i.e if I sum up (2a,2y+1a,7y+1a,6y) I get (5a, 7y)
which is not matching with that of the middle finger length.
Please sir, also give the details of the place where I can get the book you suggested to
Book Five of Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram by Dr. Gnananda
I tried searching the Net I did not find any place to purchase from.
Sir please help me in locating the book suggested by you sir.
With Regards,


Sreenivasarao S / / 4 yrs ago

Dear MalaSJCE, I am sorry . I think I messed up my comment.I dont know how

else to post it especially the table. Read it for whatever it is worth.Regards

Sreenivasarao S / / 4 yrs ago

Dear MalaSJCE, Thats interesting. The Talamana I posted is rather too general and
very elementary. It was written as a part of a series and was meant for general
reading. The subject of measures and proportions of a sculpture is very detailed and
very specific. The texts on Shilpa Shastra carry elaborate details of
the gatra (length+breadth+thickness) giving its absolute measurement as also its
proportion in relation to its genre part and to the whole body-volume (gatra). Each
class of texts carries its own measure-system. I am not familiar with all or even most
of those texts. I can only mention about one text that I read sometime back.
I am referring to Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram a rare text of the Vaishnava Agama
dated around fifth or sixth century. The text divided into four major divisions
(adhikarana), twenty-three chapters has in total about 1115 verses (sloka).The third
Adhikarana of the text titled Maanadhikarana Kaanda (chapters 16,17 and 18 of a total
of 357 verses). ThisAdhikarana relates to the subject of your study, I presume. This
provides various types of units of measurements and proportions
of dasatala and Uttama dasatala image (I mentioned only two of those in my postmanangulam and deha labdh angulam).It specifies with precision the measure and
proportion of the gatra of each body part.
Since you mentioned fingures, let us see briefly whatSarvatala Vibhagaha - the
chapter 18 of the text says about fingures, figure joints, nails etc, among others.
Before that, lets get familiar with the units of measure.
The measures and proportions given under are in relation to Uttama Dasatala of 120 +
4managulam. That is, the height of the proposed image is divided equally into
120 mana-angulas and providing for another four additional angulas distributed at
different body-parts for corrections/ extensions at joints etc. A standard unit of
a mana-angula is reckoned according to the following table:
Paramanu is the least and incredibly tiniest unit. And, it is described as:when the
suns rays pass through a close knit lattice (jaala) the minute breadth of a beam of
light (anu-gatra) isParamanu. Human eye, of course, cannot make out a Paramanu.
8 Paramanu=one anu

8 anu = one renu (a speck of dust)

8 renu= one romagra or valagra (tip of a single brand of hair)
8 romagra = one likhya (it is not clear what it is; perhaps the egg of la very small
8 likhya = One Yuka (a minute insect, perhaps)
8 likhya = One yuva (a standard grain of barley)
8 yuva = one mana-angula.
[In practice, an angula is taken as 1/12 of a tala. A tala in Dasatala is one-tenth (1 /
10) of the image height or the length from tip of the middle finger to the wrist of
Shilpis or the Yajamana palm. The subdivisions of a Tala follow the above table.]

Now we can get back to the fingures. Summarized forms of the fingure-dimensions
are as under:



Digits- length





6a, 4y




















1a,6 y


1a,5 y
















L= Length; B= Breadth: a= Angula; and y=Yuva

The width of a fingure at its root and its end are not the same. The fingure end is
one-half of a yuva less wide than the width at the fingure-root. [A yuva = 1/8 of an
angula; and, angula = 1/12 of a Tala.]
It is said; the breadth of a finger end should be divided into three parts of which two
parts are for the nail .If you add back one-fourth of the nails width to the width of
the finger end you get the length of the nail on that figure.
The length of the last digit on a fingure is equal to twice the breadth of its nail.
The thickness of the palm is related to the thickness of the thumb at its root (In the
example, thickness of the thumb at its root is 2a, 4y). The inside length of hastha the
palm is said to be 7a. The palm in turn is related to the proportions of
the dimensions of the forearm and which in turn is related in a similar manner to
the arm, and to the shoulder , torso and so on.

Each body part of the image has to be proportionate within itself and also be in
proportion and in harmony with other body parts. All are constituents of one single
rationalized, well proportioned, harmonious unity.
Therefore , if you start at a finger nail or a digit or for that matter any other body part
, and steadily work backwards, you may arrive at the dimensions of other body
parts ; and finally of the whole body structure and form of the image.
The texts of the Shilpa Shastra have each their own measures and ratios. The details I
gave above pertain to Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram . It may slightly vary in other
Note: all these are not absolute measures; but are suggested proportions. In the
illustration we have picked up, an angula is taken as 1/120 part of the image
length. In Shilpa Shastra, the relative sizes take precedence over the absolute sizes of
the units. Therefore, the proportions of the head-trunk-arms-legs of the image; and
the finer specifications of nose, nail, ears and their shapes are always in relation to
other organs and particularly to that of the size of the face.
You need to study texts of the Shilpa shastra. You may start with Book Five
of Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram by Dr. Gnananda. You may also consult experts
like him and others. It is also very important that you talk to practicing Shilpis. The
measures and proportions I indicated are as per the texts. It is however essential to
understand how these principles are observed in practices. It is also likely that each
school of Shilpis may have derived their own set of measure-units in tune with the
modern-day units of measure. I am sure there are knowledgeable Shilpis in Mysore.
Please do talk to them. You may gain more from them.
I am not sure all this meets your requirement. In any case, Im posting this on the net
as it might help other readers too.


Sreenivasarao S / / 4 yrs ago

From: MalaSJCE on 30 Jul 2010

RE: Help reqd : Talamana

Thank Sir for the early reply.
I am actually working constructing any part of the human body when only fractional
part is available. For example if part of the finger tip image is available then I should
be able construct complete finger and then palm and then hand. In order to achieve
this I need to know the measurements employed by our ancient sculptures. In this
view your bolg posts were useful.
I am basically looking forward for a book which can give me these measurements/
proportions. I am also looking at Golden Ratio/ section/ mean.
So, Sir if you can suggest the best book which caters to my specific needs I will be
grateful to you Sir.
Looking for an reply,
With regards,

Sreenivasarao S / / 4 yrs ago

From: MalaSJCE on 29 Jul 2010

Help reqd: Talamana
I read the blogs at Sulekha regarding Talamana system. I am very much impressed.
Indeed it has helped me for my research. I am working in the area of image
processing. I would like to know how I can get a copy of Talamana book written by
Gopinath. Thank You Sir. Mala SJCE

Dear MalaSJCE, Welcome. I am glad you found the posts on Devalaya Vastu useful.
Please let me know whether you found the series readable; or did you have
When you said Talamana book by Gopinatha I presume; you were
Gopinatha Rao The book is available on net for about. `. 750. You may to use a
credit Card. Please try the following link, among others :

In case you are interested in Iconography you may also refer to Three Volumes on
Indian Iconography by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao (that may cost about ` .4, 000).
In case if you could read Kannada I suggest, you may refer to Dr. G Gnananandas
Brahmiya Chitra Karma Sastram (five books).
I case you could let know your specific area of interest and study, I reckon, that
might be a bit more helpful.
Good Lock and Godspeed in your endeavors.

Sreenivasarao S / / 6 yrs ago

dear shri sampath,

thank you for the comments.
there are some misconceptions about classic shilpas of india. many, wrongly, hesitate to
recognize the shilpi as an artist; they would rather classify him among the skilled
craftsmen. this appears to spring from the notion that a shilpa and its creator are
regulated by the requirements of shastras and the regimen of priorities and proportions ;
and therefore there is not much scope for display artistic freedom , which a modern
abstract sculptor say like henry moore enjoys.
any classic art, be it poetry or music, has to be appreciated within its context and
paradigm. the modes of expressions, the symbolisms and the overall sense of beauty;
either in poetry or classical music or classic dance are defined by the grammar of each
art. these help to preserve the identity and the purity of their structure, and to carry

forward their artistic traditions. they convey the spectrum of emotions and expressions in
a manner that their enthusiasts can relate to and derive enjoyment in the form they
expect. for that reason, the classic poet or musician or dancer cannot be said to be
starved of artistic freedom. there is scope for,virtually, an infinite array of modes to give
expression to ideas and emotions; and most of it within the accepted framework.
the shilpi has an added responsibility. the image or the icon he creates has not merely to
satisfy the requirements of the shastras but should invoke in the heart of the devotee the
tangible form of his devotion. the devotee has necessarily to find and recognize in it the
deity of his worship; he has to relate image to his deity; else the entire exercise of
worship and its related concepts become pointless. and, yet the shilpi has to display his
skill and originality.
as regards the size, that depends on a number of factors; such as the status of the deity
in the hierarchy of gods, its nature, its attributes etc. the fact whether the image of the
deity is independent or it is depicted along with other deities also matters. if the image is
independent, it could be of any size that is appropriate in the context of the temple-size.
if it has to be carved along with other deities then its size and importance are defined in
relation to that of other figures on the panel. the skill of the shilpi is truly tested in
cases where the deities of equal status (say shiva and vishnu) are to be depicted on the
same panel or even in case of the ardhanarishwara image.

the disciplines of lakshnas, talas and proportions are meant for shilpis guidance. but it is
left to the genius of each shilpi how he epitomizes the soul, the spirit and the quintessence
of the deity. the shilpi gives expression to his individuality and creative imagination
through the excellence in his depiction of the essential power and the grace of the
image symbolized by the delicate expressions on its face; the manner of its stance , the
postures of its hands , fingers and limbs; its costumes, ornaments and crown etc.
all sculptures of a particular deity (say saraswathi) are not therefore identical, as if they
are rolled out on an assembly line. even in those formalized modes, each shilpi had his way
of giving expression to his originality. the images of a deity even within an artistic school
say chola or hoysala- carry the individual stamp of the shilpi. take for instance the
intricately carved bracket images of the belur or halebeedu temples; no two images are
alike. each image displays the characteristic skill of the artist. the mood of the image:
be it either fun or mischief or erotic or grace or pain of separated love or the plain old
devotion; it is depicted with skill and creative imagination.
in some other instances, the image carries more than one meaning/interpretation. one, the
obvious visual meaning; the other esoteric meaning. as in the case of a damsel, in belur
temple, engrossed gazing in to the mirror, with a bemused smile and looking rather lost in
her own beauty. at one level, it indicates the vanity and the unreality of the image in the
mirror. but, for the onlooker the unreality is twice-over, he is looking at the unreality of

shipa in many ways tries to reflect the human experiences, emotions and aspirations .when
those ideas are immortalized in form of sculpture they exercise a more lasting influence.

the stapathis, the super architects, of course, enjoy a greater artistic freedom in
designing the temple structures and layouts; and in depicting the inner details. as i
mentioned earlier, the temple is a huge symbolism. sometimes the sthapathis and shilpis
delight in display of symbolism within that overall symbol of the temple. the examples of
the artistic skills and imagination that the shilpis employ to demonstrate the grandeur of
the temple and the sublime nobility of the lord, who resides in that temple, are rather too
many to recount.
let me cite one example; that of the brihadishwara temple at tanjore (11 th century), built
to be the royal temple to display the emperor's vision of his power and his relationship to
the universal order.the temple was conceived as the personification of magnificence and
loftiness. this was delineated through the sheer size of the temple layout and structure,
its towering and uniquely styled gopura, its unbelievably massive vimana, and the size of
the dhruvabhera the linga, the presiding deity of the temple. the lord himself was named
the sthapathi and the shilpis employed one more symbolism to drive home the point. the
dvarapala, the gatekeepers at the temple-entrance are massive and their details are
interesting too. the proportions of the dvarapala panel are basically related to that of an
elephant, the largest land-animal. one has to work backwards to gain an estimate of the
size and power, which the dvarapala represents. at the bottom of the panel is the image
of an elephant which is being swallowed by a serpent which in turn is coiled around the
mace held in the hands of the dvarapala. the serpent looks quite tiny in comparison to the
mace on which the dvarapala has planted his foot. the mace looks like a toy in the hands
of the dvarapala. you can work-back the size and power of the davrapala, staring from
the elephant.
the dvarapala in turn looks modest in comparison to the temple and its tower. the lord who
has in his service a gigantic gatekeepers and who resides in such a magnificent temple must
truly be mighty and powerful. the linga too is huge and it is named brihadishwara.

thank you for asking.



DSampath / / 6 yrs ago

the dasatalas
and the madhyama uttma and the adhama are very interesting..
in a sense the higher the scale better the evolution it looks...
i also found it interesting to note the two systems and
the confusion that rises for the shilpi...
the proportinality and the norms of profile etc shows a very definitive system. where are the leeways
given to a shilpi...
in terms iof shapes and sizes... i wonder whether you can throw some light on this....

Sreenivasarao S / / 6 yrs ago

dear shri gopal,

thank you for the comments.
i tried to write about certain aspects of temple architecture, the devalaya vastu; and i
think i covered most major areas. i, however, consciously stepped aside three areas: the
astrological relevance and interpretations; the rituals and religious ceremonies to be
performed at each stage; and the long list of beliefs, superstitions and omens-both good
and bad.
there is hardly a major work that brings together all aspects of shilpa shastra. as i
understand, there surely is a need for a comprehensive text.
i do not think my blogs are truly up there, to be put in a book form. i believe, a practicing
shilpi or a scholar well versed in all its aspects would be better qualified for the task.

thank you for reading.