SOME IMAGES OF BRAMHA OF THE CHOLA PERIOD.
By Ordhendra C. Gangoly in RUPAM. Number 35-36, July-October, 1928.
ВRAMHA, the first member of the Hindu Trinity to be clearly distinguished from Bramhâ, the all-pervading Eternal Spirit, is regarded as the Creator of the Worlds, of which the other members of the Trinity are regarded as Preserver and Destroyer.
In popular worship, Bramha has been practically superseded by Visnu and Siva, and temples dedicated to Bramha, of which only four have survived, * show that at one time the God was regularly worshipped. That special temples were erected, dedicated to his worship, as late as the 10th century is proved by the remains of the triple shrine at Pram-banan, Java, where a temple with the image of Bramha has survived. Though regarded as the Creator and the Lord of Beings (prajapati), the iconography of the image does not emphasize the creative function.
Bramha, as pictured by the iconographer, is the personified and ideal Brâmhana sage and seer, a yogi with matted locks, incessantly chanting the four vedas through his four mouths (hence four-headed), carrying the Śruva the ladle, symbolising the ritual of the bead homa libation, the rosary (aksa-mala), the bead of prayers, and the water-vessel (kamandalu), the necessary implement of sacred rituals. He is in fact an idealised Bramhin ascetic, typefying vedic culture, learning and rituals, in all their aspects. He is also seated on conceived as a lotus (padmasana), but this may indeed mean the technical mystic pose of a yogi, though it is interpreted by the iconographer, physically, as a figure seated on a lotus. Another of his iconographic peculiarity is the kurcha or the kusa grass, the important item for all vedic rituals.
Yet another symbol is the lotus itself, suggesting the origin of Bramha, who, according to ancient myths, was born out of a lotus (padma-yoni). Though Bramhâ has long ceased to receive homage in a specially dedicated temple, his image is, by no means, unrepresented in the plastic arts. To indicate his place in the trinity, the God is frequently represented as an avarana devata or “covering deity,” generally occupying the niche on the northern wall of a Siva temple.
In these representations, he is pictured not as a yogi engrossed in his own meditations, with his eyes closed (dhyana sammilitekshana); but, as a gracious divinity, in an attitude of attentive pose, ready to listen to the prayers of the devotees and conferring boons (varada) and chiding away fears (abhaya). He is not, therefore, seated in the locked up cross legs of a meditative pose (vaddha (padmasana), but seated in an easy pose sukhasana) with one leg hanging down on a stool of lotus (pamkajāsāna). Not being engaged in rituals, the symbols of ladle and the jar are eliminated. The rosary and the lotus remain the only indications of the identity. Indeed, this is the picture that is suggested in the early Chola sculpture of Bramhâ, of which a very fine and typical we are able to reproduce (Fig. A1) by the courtesy of the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
This form is not a speciality of the Chola sculptors, but is derived from late Pallava conceptions as will appear from our Notes published elsewhere in this (p. 62-64). As indicated in the Notes, there has been a distinct tendency in the late Pallava periods, to develop the plastic arts from the earlier architectural reliefs, executed in situ on the façades of temples, to free and independant statuary cut away from all support. This must have been accomplished early in the Chola period (9th century).
The Chola images of Bramhâ, which may be studied in three distinct groups, follow a clearly differentiated stylistic convention, with a strong affinity to the style of the bronze figures. This is very well illustrated in two close parallels, the example in the image (Fig. A1) being closely followed by another fine example of the same period, recently acquired by the Buffalo Art Gallery (Fig. A).
They represent not only identical iconographic conception in all details, but offer a singular unity of plastic style. In their consummate apotheosis of static serenity and dignity, in the depth and profundity of the facial expression in their wonderful sensitiveness, coupled with singular restraint, and, above all, in their accomplished execution, both the examples uphold the claim of Chola sculpture in the height of its glory.
The fact that these images are not, and could not have been, the main image of a temple but a subsidiary deity, having a place in a niche outside the main sanctum, did not make any difference in the sculptor’s homage; for he has not spared his skill and devotion which have vied with each other, and combined to produce such worthy masterpieces for the Southern school.
The two examples, though very closely related, are yet separated by a little distance of time, though belonging to the same epoch. In minor details, there is an evident attempt to elaborate and ” improve.”
The lotus in the front right hand offers quite a new distinction in treatment. In the first example (Fig. A1), the lotus bud is quite crude and simple; in the other, the lotus receives a long rhythmic stem, petals open out in delicate curves. The more obvious “improvement” is the somewhat exaggerated elaboration of the ornament of the necklace (hara), which receives a row of hanging “waves” of pearls which somewhat tend to distract attention from the meditative faces. The long coronet of matted locks are also elaborated and emphasized in detail and receive a flat “cubic” form in contrast with the conical shape in the first example.
In the second example there is an indication of the line of the muscle below the breasts, which somewhat breaks up the graceful descent of the torso. Somewhat midway between the two specimens stands a third example (Fig. C) from Kandiyur, identical in style and conception, slightly different in iconographic detail.
It is a two-handed image in which the two other hands are omitted. The type is not noticed by Gopinath Rao, though Mr. Sastri reproduces it, but does not relate the type to the texts (“South Indian Images,” 1916 (Fig. 9).
Stylistically, two points are worth noting. One is the shape of the matted locks; the sharp cone of the first example is in process of a gentle curve to form the almost square shape of the second specimen. The second detail is the length of the upavita, the sacred cord across the triple cord of chest, suggested by a triple cord of pearls.
In the first example, it descends and reaches the fringe of the robe; while in the second and third, it keeps near the jewelled belt of the chest (udarvandha). The stylistic details hold the examples of (Figs. A and C) together; while the one in the (Fig. A1) stands somewhat apart, that is to say, a little earlier than the other two. The distance in date could not be more than a quarter of a century.
The three examples, notwithstanding minor variations, are closely analogous, and represent the style of a definite epoch which may be characterized as mid-Chola (10th to 12th century). Yet a third example (Fig. B) is worth considering here. It is a much later specimen from the famous shrine of Siva, as Panchanadisvara at Tiruvadi. Both stylistically and iconographically, the example stands quite apart from the group of the three considered above. Though adhering generally to the earlier style, it is certainly poor in depth of conception and somewhat formal and unconvincing and evidently weak in its presentation of the theme. The torso is somewhat thick and squatty, and lacks the dignity and balance of the earlier examples. The “dhoti” has descended below the knees, thus encumbering the effect of the modelling of the limbs.
The rim of the lotus-seat receives unnecessary ornaments, which do not, in any way, help to improve the general effect. The piece may unquestionably be attributed to a late Chola or a post-Chola period (13th to 14th century). Though lacking in the depth and restraint of Chola Art at its best, it is as yet far from the ostentatious vacuity of Nayakka sculpture.
* One at Puskar near Ajmere, Rajputana, one at Dudahi in Bundelkund, one at Khed Bramhâ in the Idar State, and one at Kodakkal in Malabar.