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Principle of Hoysala Art

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:41 AM
Some time in the eleventh century A.D. the Hoysalas, who were then feudatories of the Later Chalukyas of Kalyani, became independent and founded a dynasty of their own, with their capital at Dvarasamudra, now called Halebid. There, in the Karnataka region, they built many temples, the best known being the Hoysalesvara temple at Halebid, the chenna Kesava temple at Belur, and the Kesava temple at Somnathpur.

The Hoysala temples are not noted for their architectural merit, although some innovations were introduced. But for their sculptural craftsmanship, the exuberance of their plastic art, they are unrivalled.

Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple Wall (Outside)

The Basic Concept of Indian and Hoysala Art

TO UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE Hoysala art, it would perhaps be better to give first a short account of the political history of the Hoysala dynasty, followed by the main socio-religious trends of the time which influenced this art; and also some permanent aspects of Hindu art, such as, unity, diversity, music, dance, structural concepts, etc., and the continuity of the age-old tradition which has great significance in their art products.


It is traditionally believed that the founder of the Hoysala dynasty was Sala who killed a lion (or tiger) with an iron rod on the orders of a saint. This circumstance is said to have been the source of the family name Poysala (or Hoysala). According to another tradition, the Hoysalas, like the Yadavas, claimed descent from the ancient family of Yadu. They were at first feudatories ruling under the Western Chalukyas or the Cholas. They had a very small kingdom in Mysore (modern Karnataka).

Vishnuvardhana (c. 1110-1152 A.D.) was the first notable ruler of the Hoysala dynasty; he was also a great conqueror. His military successes established his authority over a large tract of land, comprising almost the whole of Mysore (Karnataka) and some adjoining districts. He claimed to have defeated the Pandyas, Cholas, Kadambas, and the rulers of Malabar and South Kanara; and his victorious campaigns reached as far as the river Krishna. It is, however, difficult to accept the historicity of all his exploits. Moreover, the Western Chalukya king, Vikramaditya II, claimed to have checked his further advance. Vishnuvardhana was a great builder; he founded the city of Dvarasamudra (modern Halebid) and transferred his capital there from Velapura (modern Belur). He came in close contact with the great religious teacher, Ramanuja, and was attracted towards Vaishnavism.

His grandson, Vira Ballala II (c. 1173-1220 A.D.) renounced the suzerainty of the Western Chalukyas and defeated a General of Somesvara IV. The Yadava ruler Bhillama V, was also defeated by Vira Ballala II. But he was defeated by Singhana who extended the Yadava power beyond the Krishna. The royal power of the late. Hoysala rulers was weakened by continuous warfare with the Pandyas and Cholas. The last great king of this dynasty was Vita Ballala III who maintained the intrigity of the Hoysala power in Mysore (Karnataka). In A.D. 1310, he was defeated by Malit Kafur and his final defeat was at the hands of Muhammad Bin Tughluq. He was succeeded by his son who ruled for a short while only, and then the Hoysalas disappeared from the scene of history, but the Hoysalas are still remembered as great builders of temples with profuse ornamentation.


Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple The tradition of Indian art from the days of Harappa till the end of the creative age of Indian art was a continuous one, in the course of which it assimilated new elements, rejected old ones, evolved new styles and conventions, and even inspired the ordinary, toy-makers with this living tradition. The architects were learned in the Shilpa-Shastras and shared in the common heritage of the country of their time. The artisans who worked under them belonged to certain caste guilds which were patronised by kings and nobles. And they all belonged to a traditional heritage that in spite of changes retained a marvellous continuity through the ages.

Indian art can be traced to the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages and was well advanced (in the Chalcolithic period. The Harappan art, the first nature-expression of Indian art, has had probably close contacts with the art of ancient Sumer. A. K. Coomaraswamy suggests that India possibly was the birth place of art which later found expression in the richer art of Western Asia. It is equally possible that the early arts of India Sumer, and Babylonia, were regional variations of the early Chalcolithic culture which extended over a wide area from the Adriatic to Japan during 4000 to 2000 B.C.

Indian image-cult must have begun long before the days of Harappa, by which time the images were .already stylised. But the end of the Harappan period did not mean a break in the continuity of this art. It survived in the succeeding Vedi period. Although the Aryans were worshippers of the sacred fire and of cosmic forces, a fusion of Harappan and Vedic cultures led to the appearance of many Harappan deities under different names and different associations. Sculptural remains indicate that the Harappan culture was in this way indirectly related to the Mauryan period through the Vedic period and the Shiva-Shakti cult was very primitive in its origin.

One persistent feature of Indian sculpture from the earliest times is the theme Shiva and Shakti. Even in the Neolithic period, men looked upon the Linga and Yoni as symbols of creative power, and this was the early beginning which later changed into the Shiva-Shakti cult. Iconographically, the Pashupati and the Mother Goddess of the Harappan culture are the parents of all sculptural divinities in India, though it is difficult to say whether in the beginning they were associated with one another. In the next three thousand years they inspired Indian art, literature, religion and philosphy in innumerable ways.

Shiva and Shakti gradually emerged as the highest, noblest and most powerful in the Indian pantheon. They came to symbolise cosmic unity, creation and destruction, terror and benevolence, beauty and sublimity. Time and again the Shiva-Shakti theme, in its innumerable variations, has inspired Indian art in many ways. In course of centuries, Indians have ascribed to these two deities such qualities as to make them at once so human and to appear to be within our easy reach; and so supremely sublime as to look like remote unattainable ideals. Many stories are associated with them which have provided us with magnificent art themes, like the union of Hara and Parvati and the birth of Skanda, the swallowing of the Kalakuta by Shiva, the descent of the Ganga, the Cosmic dance of Shiva, the marriage of Parvati, the domestic life of Shiva and Parvati with their four children and the triumph of Durga over mahishasura. Shakti as the Mother and Shiva as the Father of the Universe have received the awe-struck devotion of Indians through the ages in art and literature, religion and philosophy. They are the most abiding force of Indian culture and, as such, have dominated Indian art which is sometimes the catalytic agent of Indian religion.


Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple The priestly class based their strength on the knowledge of the sacrificial hymns (Mantras). By the power of such hymns, the gods (Devas) are made to come down from their heavenly abodes, accept the food and drink offered by the devotees, and grant their prayers. Even the king, the centre of all earthly power, is a supplicant at the priest's door and the priest is often found to make the royal power totally subservient to him. Above all, the worst fear is that the name and fame of the royal forefathers and of himself and his family, lie at the mercy of the priest. If the priest is not appeased, all his glory goes down with his last breath. Again, the priests used to conduct great sacrifices (Ashvamedha, etc.) lasting over a very long time. The kings showered count-less wealth on them and thanks to the mercy of the priests, their names glorify the pages of history.

The priestly class, thus, wielded great influence on society, primarily because they were the depository of Mantras (incantations) which were believed to be essential for invoking the help of the gods, for their indispensibility in religious sacrifices, and for their ability to immortalise the exploits of kings. In course of time, however, Hindu rites and ceremonies became rigid and a large section of people, like Vaishyas, Shudra: and outcastes were treated with contempt by the priestly class. This led to protes, movements. The most outstanding leaders of such protest were Mahavira and Gautam Buddha, the founders of Jainism and Buddhism respectively.

Buddhism derived its strength and vitality from the monastic orders and to des-troy the monastic order was to practically destroy the religion. The monasteries were, so to speak, the garrisons which kept the banner of Buddhism floating high in the neighbourhood. As soon as they fell, Buddhism almost vanished from that area, and on account of the central situation of the monasteries, their splendour and magnificence, they always proved to be targets of attacks by foreigners. Thus, whereas the Huna incursions and the later Islamic invasions, spelt utter ruin to the Buddhists, other religious sects were not so much hard hit. To these may be added the internal dissensions caused by the rise of numerous sects, the spiritual decay brought about by the spread of abhorrent, licentious practices in the Buddhist Church, and the renovated vigour of its rival Brahmanical Hinduism. Unlike Buddhism, Jainism made considerable progress under the patronage of the Early Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Gangas and the Kadambas in the Deccan plateau. But from the seventh century A.D. Jainism began to decline in South India under the onslaughts of Shai-vism and Vaishnavisui. Thus the priestly power again revived in the form of Neo-Hinduism by Kumarilabhatta (c. 700 A.D.), Shankaracharya (c. 788-820 A.D.), Rama-nuja and others. They tried to rebuild its structure on the fall of Jain and Buddhist adversaries. They laid stress on Faith (Shraddha), Knowledge of Reality (Jnan) and Devotion (Bhakti) as a prime mover of religions. Again, for the elaborate ritual prac-tices, simple structures were built for propitiating the gods and gaining their favour. It opened the gates of personal worship of the images of the Supreme Deity (Vishnu or Shiva) in temples dedicated to them. And there arose hundreds and thousands of Hindu temples, which in grandeur and magnificence far surpassed even the sacred structures associated with Jainism and Buddhism. Moreover, there was a great swing back to ancient lore. Commentaries on the Vedas, translations of the Epics, dramatizations of the many Puranic themes and heroes became the fashion of the day. There was a tremendous urge to revive and popularise the ancient literary and religious legacy in new literary forms. Treatises on the ancient Hindu heroes like Rama, Lakshmana, Krishna, Venu-Gopal, Balarama, Hanuman, Yudhisthira, Karna, Arjuna, Bhima, and a host of others,were to serve as models for the people to emulate.

Thus a growing and renewed interest was shown to reassess the values of the classical exploits of the Epic and Puranic heroes, to revitalise the Hindu population against the socio-religious challenges and threats from external cultures and religions. And this great urge to revive and popularise oid Epic and Puranic myths and legends seem to have animated the sculptures and paintings of the Pandas, Pallavas, Hoysalas,' Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Cholas, ChandeIlas, Gangas, and many others in South and Northern India. Never before was the plastic art dominated so much by Epic and Puranic themes except perhaps under the Hoysalas.


Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple Wall (Outside)
We must say a few words in connection with the erotic sculptures of Belur, Halebid, Somnathpur, and many other temples of South India. But they are not so prominently displayed as in the Khajuraho or in the Orissa group of temples. They are very small in size in the Hoysala temples, of about 12.5 cms. (five inches) in height and are on the eye-level occupying a very limited space in the temples. If one wants to have a view of them, one can see them after some searching. In the opinion of R. Narashimhachar, some "ugly sculpture" of Belur temple have "marred the beauty of the temple." But other art-critics have expressed altogether different views.

"Sex as conceived in Hindu mysticism has three aspects: the Passive and the Dynamic and the Emotional. The phenomenal world is said to be born of the Union of the inert Male Principle and his Shakti (Energy). Before the union took place, there was Kama (Desire)." A peculiarity of Hindu mystic conceptions is that the static is always conceived as male and the dynamic as female. Shiva without his Shakti (consort) is said to be Shava (corpse), yet the static Shiva is the main stay (core) of all dynamics. As there is a static point at the centre of the axis of a rotating wheel without which the wheel cannot move, the main principle inspires all movements which remain unaffected by the motion. The core is of the wheel though not sharing its motion. Similarly, both the static and dynamic principles are of the same reality, though appearing contradictory. The two principles are unemotional, merely representing the forces of becoming or regeneration which in itself is a moral. What relates the two is Karna (Desire) and this emotional principle appears in the world as sex-love. The static male principle is represented in sex cults as the Lingam (the phallus), the female principle as Yoni (the female organ) and the emotional principle as the sex-love that unites the two.

This highly idealistic conception supplies the philosophic background for sex-worship in India. It manifests itself in different forms among the various castes, sects and tribes. Among certain aborigines and lower castes, it assumes crude forms such as fertility rites with their attendant vulgar and obscene practices, while among others, it takes the form of sacramental Maithuna ( sexual union), and is a transcendental mysticism. The idea is no doubt linked with the Sankhya philosophy in which the Purusha (Male) is conceived as positive and Prakriti (the female), as dynamic. In the Advaita philosophy too, the Atman is conceived as Nirguna (without attributes), while the attendant Maya (illusion) is active and feminine.

The conception of sex as god is also responsible for the religious art of some of the temples which depict Maithuna figures in various poses of love-making. This art should be viewed against the background of these conceptions in which sex appeared to its devotees not only as a natural function but also the tangible expression of those mysterious forces of creation that operate in the Universe. After its worship was incorporated into Hinduism, the Lingam became the most popular symbol of Shiva. Not only in India, but also in all countries to which she sent out colonists and trans- planted Hindu culture, the cult of the Lignam flourished extensively. Thus, in Champa and Cambodia, on the islands of Java, Sumatra and Borneo, Shiva was worshipped in the form of the Lingam just as in almost all Shiva temples in India.

 Another explanation can also be given for erotic sculpture. The values of human life and society were fully realised by the early Indians in their art, literature and religion. They had accepted all the socioreligious and cultural norms in their gross physical and metaphysical aspects. Thus, they did not pretend to hide amorous relationship between men and women but expressed it through the numerous Maithuna figures on the temples. They had the courage to accept the facts of life without importing any extraneous moral principles into them.

Unlike the sophisticated moderns, early Indians gave recognition to the importance of sex in human life, and consequently they preferred early marriages. 'They expected many children during their life-time. The birth of a child was welcomed by all, who used to share in the joy of the parents and join the festivities. This is quite different from the social practices of the modern age, when the world is suffering from over-population and food shortage. As a result of this, the behaviour pattern of adult men and women has changed remarkably and unguarded sex behaviour among adults is treated as a social crime. But the modern socio-economic factors were not present in ancient India. There was a general cry for "empty and hungry land", and the growth of population was very much encouraged by the state and society through religious and secular literature.

Another social concept was the idea of a complete and full man with masculine vigour and energy and life; he must have a spouse having equal health and energy. All the social and religious rites must be performed jointly with his wife. Hence the numerous art expresssions of men and women together, gods and goddesses, and other exhibits of health and energy; and they are all equally matched together. The popular concept of "health is wealth" was just rooted to the idea of health and mind; they enjoyed their lives to the fullest degree through their unsophisticated sex-behaviour and in that way they could attain Chaturvarga, i.e. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Based on that concept, all the Hindu gods, goddesses, and hermits in the hermitages had their wives and children.

The basic concept of human life was, thus, a family life. In ancient India, the husband was greatly venerated and the old Hindu ideal of husband was "Shivam-Satyam-Sundaram" and the wife was the very soul of domestic life and happiness, "Grihini-Griham-Uchchate (the lady is the house). The birth of a child was recognised as the perfection of the wife's womanhood. But men with their diverse activities in and outside domestic life, without any such supreme centres of affection, were not recognised as capable of attaining such perfection.

We can further add another explanation here. A sanctuary and its environment are altogether a separate socio-religious world complete in itself. A popular deity  dwelt in it, surrounded by both good and evil; but the emphasis was always on the good. The worshippers have to choose between the two alternatives.  If one chooses the evil and thereby goes astray, he becomes spiritually incapable of worshipping the deity. And the idea behind a religious establishment is that by rejecting the evil one should follow the noble path and worship the deity. Thus, the erotic sculptures on the outer walls of Hindu temples have their own justification.

 Moreover, most of the Hindu temples were constructed out of the funds donated by wealthy people, for a lot of money was required to build them. Then, besides many wives, the rich also had a good many concubines. They, thus, preferred Maithuna figures on the outer walls of the temples, at least for their visual satisfaction. It is a fact that from time to time they used to sit before the temple for idle gossip, along with their soothsayers and flatterers. And those so-called obscene sculptures served as an additional stimulus to their chatter and enjoyment.


Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple
Music and dance played a very significant part in the temple life of the Hoysalas and a large number of secular and religious figures including Mahanata Shiva create an atmosphere of dance and music in all their temples. Here it is necessary for us to evaluate music and dance in this context.

Among oriental countries India has a great heritage of a well-developed musical system extending over two thousand years. Besides interesting and varied examples of music pertaining to Art music, sacred music, dan­ce music and folk music, there are many operas and dance dramas in India. India possesses about five hundred musical instruments and the concept of Raga in Indian music is quite interesting Every Raga (or Ragini) has an aesthetic personality and any person with a trained ear can perceive it. For instance, in the Vasant Ragini of Dipak, milk-maids enjoy Holy (colour-festival) with Radha and Krishna. The spring season is intoxicating. The mango grove is in full blossom. The spring has sparked a feeling of dalliance. The colour-festival is in full swing with a rapturous sway; and such is the Ragini of Vasant. In the Gunakali Ragini of Malkos, the heroine converses with her maid about her loving hero. She can think only of him and converses about him with her maid. She displays a taste for art, is dressed daintily in perfumed garments and is bedecked with golden jewellery, and such is the Gunakali Ragini of Malkos. Again, in the Madhumadhavi Ragini of Hindol, the heroine is frightened by lightning. The youthful handsome heroine, gaily dressed in sky-blue garments and a yellow blouse, is standing on the terrace, biding the charms of love. Scared by the flashes of the lightning, she enters the palace, casting a searching look behind for her lover; thus is the Madhumadhavi Ragini of Hindol expressed. Another interesting note is the Lalit Ragini of Bhairav which has the tone of a departing hero and the grief-stricken heroine. As the hero gets ready to depart at sunrise, the heroine is struck with the pangs of separation. She grieves and sighs and has eyes full of tears. Noting her condition the departing hero casts a longing look behind. Connoiseurs recognise this as Lalit Ragini of Bhairav. Thus, the basic concept of Indian music is that only the love-laden soul can infuse life and spirit into the permanent melodious note.

Moreover, within the framework of a strict melody system, India has utilised all the subtleties of musical note, inclusive of semi-tones, quarter-tones, one-third tones, delicate tonal shades, nuances and curves. Each composition in Indian music lays bare the various facets of a Ragini (or Raga) which is carefully expressed through the lips of numerous singing and dancing Madanikas.

Besides music, dancing played an important part in the temple life of the Hoysalas. There are a good number of images of the Mahanata Shiva along with his dancing and singing attendants; there are also numbers of Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Gandharvas and Kinnaras in different dancing and singing poses. But the most remarkable are the dancing Madanikas in large numbers at Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur. Especially under the direction of the queen Shantaladevi, who was herself a famous dancer and singer; she had some abiding influence on her husband for the figurisation of the Madanikas on the above temples. In order to understand the rhythm and pose of dancing of the Hoysala sculptures, we must say a few words about the Indian concept of dancing which is as old as the Himalayas.

Bharata in his Naoashastra has given detailed analysis of the Angika-Abhinaya Rasa, Karanas, Tandava-Lakshanam along with the entire theatrical performance (from Prasthavana to the Jahanika). But A.K. Coomaraswamy has popularised the subject of Indian dancing in his publication, The Mirror of Gesture. Independently, Rabindranath Tagore inspired many scholars and artists to revive forgotten schools of dancing. Vallathol through the Kerala Mandalam revitalised the old tradition of Kathakali dance." Thus, the age-old traditions of dancing are symbolized through he temple sculptures of Belur, Halebid, Somnathpur and many others in southern and northern India.


Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple (Outside)Most of the Indian temples including Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur are based a) the trabeated System of construction, that is, the use of columns and beams in a hort span's A stone beam, the basic structural material, could not span more than distance of about 4.6 meters (15 feet). As such, we find the interior space is crowded with many columns. The Navaranga, the central spacious hall, is supported by four massive columns with the largest span of beams for musical and religious performances. It was expected to accommodate a large number of devotees and others.

The roof of the Navara.nga is formed of stone corbels turned into a domical shape. The square roof supported by four columns has been given an octagonal shape by means of eight secondary beams over the main beams; and then it was turned into a sixteen-sided formation to support the magnificent dome over it. Here, it is important to note that during the time of Hoysala architecture the use of concrete domes was unknown. The corbels have however been used very elegantly in a circular succession gradually reducing the opening in every layer and ultimately terminating into a central keystone. The keystone, which has been beautifully carved as a banana flower (in Somanathpur temple), lotus, Narasingha, etc., acted as a vital structural support of the corbelled dome. Again, after the rough completion of the domical structure ornamentation work was carried out in situ, so that the total dome looks like a monolithic unit.

Moreover, the brackets supporting the corresponding beams have been carved into human figures, as if the figures themselves were holding up the beams with their hands or shoulders. This is one of the unique features of Indian architecture, where we find a perfect synthesis of a structural system and the sculpture.

The circular columns are so regular that it is difficult to believe that they have been carved out by human hands. At first glance, one can say that some mechanical means have been used for making them, perhaps a crude lathe. As J. Vergusson rightly points out, "they were in fact, set vertically in a sort of pit and turned, probably in water, giving them a very smooth surface and chasing out the very fine mouldings with an accuracy and uniformity that could hardly have been otherwise attained. However, the use of a mechanical device did not produce identical structural members; no two columns of these temples arc similar, and that was another beauty concept of the Hoysala artists.

Regarding the structural system, Fergusson makes a comparative study of the Greek and Hoysala architecture. The Parthenon is the best example we know of pure refined intellectual power applied to the production of an architectural design. Every part and every detail is calculated with mathematical exactness; and executed with a mechanical precision that never was equalled... The Halebid temple is the opposite of all this. It is regular but with a studied variety of outline in plan, and ever greater variety in detail. All the pillars of Parthenon are identical, while no two facets of the Indian temple are the same; every convolution of every scroll is different. This dissimilarity, thus, totally breaks the monotony of the structural system and the ornamental decoration of Hindu temples which look so graceful and sober to the eyes of the beholder.


Hoysala Temples - Belur Temple (Outside)
The whole of the Deccan plateau is crowded with temples and a casual visitor is at once attracted by the glamorous sites of the temples. But when he goes to a temple, he is surprised by the variety of images in all sorts of incongruous postures and is generally puzzled to know what they mean and what they represent, and how they serve to evoke the religious feelings of the people worshipping them. Elaborate rules have been laid down in the ancient Agamas and Shilpa-Shastras as to the place where temples are to be built, the kinds of images to be installed therein, the materials with which such images are to be made, and even the dimensions and proportions of various kinds of images, to vary which would result in untold calamity to the maker and worshipper alike. The formalities of the Agamas and Shilpa-Shastras are meticulously followed in the case of Belur, Halebid, Kedareshwara and Somnathpur temples; every day rituals were followed in those temples in Rajopachara—befitting of royal prestige.

On many occasions in olden days the royal dignitaries and their ladies with a host of attendants used to visit the temple on elephant backs, in chariots, palanquins or by other vehicles with their appropriate paraphernalia, accompanied by a troupe of dancers and musicians. A host of other temple servants used to, and still do, wash the god, anoint him with sandal paste and decorate him with the flowers, clothing and jewellery which were presented by the royal guests, chieftains and other rich devotees. But the most important duty was performed daily by the chief priest of the temple. He first used to purify himself with baths and prayers early each morning. He then had to open the doors of the sanctum and gently awake the deity (of Aditum), who was supposed to be in sleep, by chanting hymns in praise of him. After worshipping the guardian deities, he would wash the feet of the deity, bathe the image, clothe it properly, decorate it with jewellery, sandal paste and flowers, waving incense and lamp in front of him and then would offer cooked food (Naivedyam) with betel leaf and nut. And in the evening he was similarly worshipped with fruits, flowers, incense, etc. On my last visit, the caretaker and Curator of the Belur temple told me that even today they have kept up the age-old tradition of worshipping Vishnu (Vijaya-Narayana) and I also witnessed the above rituals and partook of offerings along with other devotees., biggest online store of handicrafts, paintings, jewelry and many more...

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