Friday, March 7, 2008


Idol of Calicut in Varthema's Itineraio
Calicut idol reciving scarifice
Hindu idol in the Dutch edition of Bernier
Idol of Calicut in Munster's Cosmographia
Indian gods in Cartari's Images
In recent years there has been a growing interest among nationalist art historians on the topic ‘the western view of Indian art and culture’. There is no doubt that the Europeans were credited for introducing Indian history as a case of scientific enquiry, yet some of the early travelers had viewed Indian gods as ‘monsters and devils’. Why and how?

From the earliest date the Christian Church had taught all Pagan religions were invented by the devil. Originally this attitude had grown up in connection with classical gods. As a result of this belief demons instead of idols had been frequently shown standing on antique columns.
Many of the fathers had agreed not only that the Pagan gods were demons, but these demons were the forces still alive and active in the Christian sublunary world, that attacked souls and tempted them.

In early Christian iconography the devil commonly appeared as a serpent or a beautiful man. It was around 1000 AD, hideous and frightening characteristics of the devil began to take shape. Since Pagan gods had already been reduced to the levels of evil spirits, there was nothing to prevent artists from borrowing some of their features in order to create a more convincing image of the devil, such as goat-beard, cloven hooves, and shaggy lower limbs.

Although the early Church tradition had interpreted these images as a human agent of the devil and the devil himself, in popular imagination in the middle ages the Church views had been considerable ignored. Thus, by the late medieval period an elaborate and in many ways frightening imagery of demons and hell had grown up, consisting of elements from diverse sources, including the classical monsters and gods, Biblical demons and Indian Gods.

Against this tradition and beliefs some of the early travelers from Europe had put forth their perspective on Indian gods as devils and monsters.

Ludovico di Varthema was an Italian traveler to South India during 1503-08. Varthema’s description on Calicut was that, while the King ultimately believed in God, the ruler paid respect to the devil, known as Deumo in these parts.

In his writing: “The King of Calicut is a Pagan, and worships the devil in the manner you shall hear. They acknowledge that there is a God who has created the heaven and the earth and all the world, and they say that if he wished to judge you and me, a third and fourth, he would have no pleasure in being Lord; but that he has sent this his spirit, that is the devil, into this world to do justice: and to him who does good he does good, and to him who does evil he does evil. Which devil they call Deumo, and God they call Tamerani. And the King of Calicut keeps this Deumo in his chapel in his palace, in this wise: his chapel is two paces wide in each of the four sides, and three paces high, with a wooden door covered with devils carved in relief. In the midst of this chapel there is a devil made of metal, placed in a seat also made of metal. The said devil has a crown made like that of a papal kingdom, with three crowns, and it also has four horns and four teeth, with a very large mouth, nose, and most terrible eyes. The hands are made like those of a cock; so that he is a fearful object to behold. All the pictures around the said chapel are those of devils, and on each side of it there is a Sathanas seated in a seat, which seat is placed in a flame of fire, wherein are a great number of souls, of the length of half a figure and a figure of the hand.”

With the publication of Varthema’s report the western images of Indian gods received an entirely new and sharp definition. The 16th century witnessed a sudden increase in Indian travels as well as the publication of travel reports. Varthema’s report affected both literature and the pictorial tradition relating to Indian Gods.

Five years later in Germany an illustrated version of Varthema was put out. In the matter of popular prints on topical subjects or illustrations accompanying travel reports the Germans were the undoubted leaders in the 16th century. The publishers, moreover, had the services of outstanding artists. For his illustration of the idol of Calicut, the Augsburg artist Jorg Breu turned to a stereo type that closely corresponded to the description in Vathema, since he did not have access to an actual Indian image. His task was made very simple by Varthema’s substitution of a European devil for an Indian God. Dutifully he produced a wood cut which was no different from the popular wood cuts of the devil.

The Deumo of Varthema set the tradition of demons in India in literary accounts and in illustrations. His particular portrait of Indian gods thus made its way into the works of subsequent travelers, most of whom were either directly or indirectly indebted to him.

While the picture of anti Christian demons posing Indian gods continued to haunt the pages of travelers, each traveler began to enrich the tradition by adding elements from his own experience in India as well as from his knowledge of the medieval demonological iconography.
From the end of the 16th century to the beginning of 17th century the group of British arrived in India. Some of them have left us their impression of Hindu gods.

Ralph Pitch, travelling between 1583 and 1591, was the first Englishman to report that Hindu idols look like Devil. About Benaras: “Here…they have their images standing, which will be favoured, made of stone and wood, some like lions, leopards, and monkies; some like men and women, and peacocks; and some like the devil with foure arms and 4 hands.”

The learned priest Edward Terry came to India as a chaplain to Sir Thomas Roe. Terry pointed out that the notorious idolaters, the Hindus, were divided into many sects. He also agreed with the prevailing view that Hindu images of worship were made in monstrous shapes.

J.H. Van Linschoten arrived in India in 1853 and lived there for five years. His report on Salsette (in west coast of India near Mumbai) says: “The pagodas and images are many and innumerable throughout the Orientall Countries…By the town of Bassayam…there lyeth an island called Salsette. There are two of the most renowned pagodas, or temples, or rather holes wherein the pagodas stand in all India…Images therein cut out of the (very) rockes of the same hill, with most horrible and fearful (forms and) shapes…all the chambers…are all full of carved pagodas, of so fearful, horrible and devlish forms that it is (an abomination to see).

Linschoten came across another monstrous Indian god in a village in the south was ‘so misshaped and deformed, that more monstrous was never seene, for it had many hornes, and long teeth that hung out of his mouth down to the knees, and beneath his navel and belly it had an another such like face, with many horns and tuskes…upon the head there of stoode a (triple crown) Myter, not much unlike the Popes triple crown, so that in effect it semed (to be like the monsters described) in the ‘Apocalips’.

Three Frenchmen who visited India in the second half of the 17th century achieved great fame in contemporary Europe. The jeweler, Jean Batiste Tavernier, who made six voyages to the East, had met the other two Frenchmen, Thevenot and Bernier. Tavernier gave a detailed description of Puri, Benaras and Matura, three of the greatest Indian temples in his book dated 1676. In the Jagannath temple in Puri he found ‘Niches filled with…idols; the greatest part whereof represent most hideous monsters, being all of different colours.” Similarly he found in Mathura ‘Round of Dumo’s (dome) are niches filled with the figures of demons…Some with four arms, some with four legs, some with men’s heads upon bodies of Beasts, and long tails that hang down to their thighs: There are an abundance of Apes; and indeed it is an ugly sight to behold so many deformed spectacles’

Monday, March 3, 2008


We all know Mumbai, the financial nerve centre of India was erstwhile Victorian city, yet do not know how incredible was its beginning. Mumbai’s origin can be traced a specific location to a modest Manor house, which was built by a Jewish-Portuguese physician and botanist Garcia de Orta. Born in 1501, Gracia’s parents were Spanish Jews. They had been forcibly converted to Chrstianity in 1497.

Garcia studied medicine, arts and philosophy at the Universities of Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca in Spain. After graduation he returned to Portugal in 1523, two years after his father's death. Due to the fear of the increasing power of the Inquisition, and fortunately evading the ban on emigration of New Christians, he sailed for India in 1534 as Chief Physician aboard the fleet of the Viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa. He travelled with the Viceroy on various campaigns, then, in 1538, settled at Goa, where he soon had a prominent medical practice. He was physician to Burhan Shah I of the Nizam Shahi dynasty of Ahmadnagar, and concurrently to several successive Portuguese Viceroys and governors of Goa: one of these granted him a lease of the island of Bombay.

The island was known Bom bahia, the good way and was surrounded by a spaciaous garden that perhaps served as a botanical laboratory for his research. The Manor House was probably built by Garcia. The large H-shaped island of Bombaim formed one of the eight administrative divisions of the Portuguese capital at Bassein or Vasai. The Portuguese called Bombay ‘A ilha da boa vida’ – the island of good life. It was on this island that Garcia Da Orta built his Manor House amidst a few thatched huts and mud flats.

In 1661, Arab marauders partially destroyed the house, leaving only the walls intact. In the same year, the King of Portugal gifted the islands to King Charles II of England when he married the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. The Portuguese authorities in India, however, refused to deliver the islands of Salsette, Mazagaon, Varli and Parel, which the English claimed as part of the marriage treaty.

The evidence of the marriage treaty was the dowry map, in which it was mentioned that ‘the English King was to receive the port and island of Bombay in the East Indies, with all the rights, territories, and appurtenances whatsoever there unto belonging; and together with the income and revenue, the direct, full and obsolute domination and soverginity of the said port, island and premises’.

The map was put on display at the home of the Earl of Southampton, when the Privy Council sat there, but then it seems to have disappeared. As the struggle with the Portuguese continued there was a diligent search for this important document, but no trace of it could be found. It may well have been pasted on cloth, perhaps put into a frame, and then taken home by one of the clerks when it no longer seemed to be useful.

In the maentime, the Council of Plantations, one of the new bureaucratic organisations set up to handle the growing English possessions abroad, tried to sort out the problems of Bombay. One of the most active on the Council was William Blathwayt, and when he retired from office many years later, he took home with him an atlas of maps acquired by the Council, which appeared to be out-of-date. As a result of this we have a large of Bombay dating from not later than 1685. It was perhaps the exact copy of the original Portuguese map, with some addition and corrections.

Anoter interesting map had been drawn by Antonio Bocarro, bound in Pedro Baretto de Rescende’s ‘Historical and Topograpical account of the Portuguese settlements in the East Indies’, Pavia, 1646. In this map we see that Portuguese were better established on the island of Caranja (right) than on Bombay itself, shown on the left, with part of Salsette above. Possibly this is why they were prepared to offer Bombay to the English, hoping to maintain control of the harbour from their forts on Caranja and at Bassein.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Hatigumpha - distant view
Hatigumpha - closer view
Ranigumpha - cells
Dwarapala - Rani Gumpha
Hunting Scene - Ranigumpha
Verandha - Ranigumpha
Ganesh Gumpha
Ganesh Gumpha
Julius Caesar of Rome was assassinated in 44 BC and Kharavela, a scion of Mahameghavahana dynasty was anionted as King of Kalinga (Orissa) in circa 40 BC. In the history of then world, Kharavela might not have earned the rank that Caesar had but he was certainly one of the great luminaries among the rulers of ancient India. His career, although meteoric, was eventful and glorious. He ranks very high in the annals of history as a conqueror, a benevolent ruler and as a patron of religion, art and culture. Kharavela being a Jaina priests and for their peaceful meditation and rest, he had caves excavated.

The famous inscription of Kharavela, which is engraved on one of these caves, known as the Hatigumpha, is a unique historical document that throws considerable light on the early history of Kalinga and India in the 2nd century BC.

Sterling, who visited the caves in the early part of the 19th century, records a legend which says that the isolated hills formerly constituted a part of the Himalayas at which time they were inhabited by numerous rishis (ascetics) who dug the caves now found in them. They were taken up bodily - masses of rock, ascetics and all - by Mahavir Hanuman to build a bridge to Lanka for Rama but by some accident they were allowed to drop in their passage through the air and they fell in their parent position.
There are in all three dozen chambers cut out of the coarse sandstone hills, there are little rock-cut hermitages - cells in which a single ascetic could dwell and do penance. The caves were excavated not by following any systematic plan but in places of most convenient approach and were connected with paths still traceable. Although the workmanship of these caves are not of the class of Ajanta and Ellora, these caves have many unique features. One such feature is the water supply system by cisterns to each cave dwelling. The other architectural feature of these caves are the open courtyard in front of the pillared verandah which could be the earliest known amphitheatre of India. The pillars have simple sqare shafts with braket capitals. Some chambers have stone benches, perhaps used as stone seats or beds.
The famous Rani Gumphas (Queen's Cave) in Udayagiri is a double storied monastic retreat and the chambers are situated on three sides of an open quadrangle. Some of these were meant for open religious gatherings. This is proved by the discovery of the throne of stone on the second storey which was perhaps meant for the chief priest. At both the storeys there are sculptural friezes depicting many scenes such as the king with a woman fighting elephant herds, a man and woman in a fight with the man conquering and lifting her. This scene, according to the legend on the East Coast depicts King Ashoka carrying Karuvaki, the princes of Kalinga after the Kalinga War. Besides, there is a scene of royal hunt. In the lower storey there are interesting life-size figures of dvaparapalas (guards) resembling Sythian soldiers armed with spears. All in all, the carvings show popular legends, historical scenes and religious functions as well as many dancers. The panels in this multistoreyed cave depict various mood of performing dance and music.

Among other noteworthy gumphas (caves) is the Hatigumpha (Elephant cave) with its famous inscription of Kharavela. From the inscription we learn much about Kharavela's military exploits and also that his royal city had gate towers, bathing and drinking water tanks and was the scene of formally organized music and dance performances as well as sporting and social events. The city, according to the inscription, "was made to dance with joy". Kharavela was evidently a skilled musician and it seems as if created a remarkable centre for the arts.

The Ganeshgumpha is also a very important cave of Udayagiri and is named after the figure of Ganesh.
There are about fifteen small and big caves in Khandagiri such as Tatwa, Navamuni, Tentuli and many others which are in a damaged condition. But the best specimen is the Ananatagumpha, which has a pillared verandah. The sculptural decorations on the verandah wall include railing designs., vidhyadhara, three-headed naga figures, rossets and various animals like lions, tigers and elephants. There are also celestial beings like the representation of the Sun God on a two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses. There is a Gajalaxmi holding a lotus.
The Jainas believe that Rsabhadeva, the founder of Janinsm and Adinatha, the first Jaina tirthankara visited the hills. The Hatigumpha inscription shows a reference to the fact that a Nanda King carried Kalinga Jina away from Kalinga. Scholars associate this Kalinga Jina with Rsabhadeva who might have been designated as Kalinga Jina, a well reputed and established deity of Kalinga long before the 6th century BC when, Mahavir, the last tirthankara of the Jaina tradition appeared. For the unusual importance of the deity, it was possible that a Nanda later took away this image as a war trophy to pronounce the victory of Kalinga. It was brought back by King Kharavela after defeating the King of Magadha.