In India, art was popularly based on the Hindu tradition. In accordance with the Hindu doctrines and texts, every individual should be directed by four goals throughout their lifetime, they are - dharma (righteous living), artha (wealth through a profession), kama (human or sexual love) and lastly, moksha (spiritual salvation). This view translates into the art of the region as well.
Indian deities are often represented with multiple arms, particularly in their interactions with evil forces. This feature stresses the boundless power that is inherent in these deities and their ability to do multiple things at once. This was an easy way for Indian artists to allude to the omnipresence and omnipotence of these spiritual beings. Occasionally, deities are showcased with more than one head in sculptures and artwork, this is reminiscent of the variation in a deity’s characteristics and showcases the complexity of their nature.
Representation of Hindu deities
Lord Shiva is showcased with a triple head, wherein his central face illustrates his most dominant traits and his other two heads are representative of his fierce and joyful aspects that are more submissive in nature. In Hindu temples, Shiva is usually seen in combat, to showcase his eminent power over dark forces, he is often showcased in images, along with his family. He is also shown carrying a trident, with a serpent wrapped around his neck like a scarf. The third eye in the centre of his forehead is representative of all-knowing/all-seeing nature. Shiva was also considered a yoga practitioner, he was actively seen meditating.
Another important deity often mentioned in Hindu scriptures and seen in Indian artwork is Lord Vishnu. He is usually depicted with a war discus (chakra) and a conch-shell trumpet (shankha). He is seen with a tall crown and adorned with rich, luxurious jewellery. He is believed to have ten incarnations that present themselves in different forms, the most popular being Rama and Krishna. Rama is represented as a warrior king and Krishna is depicted as a cowherd prince.
These deities are also usually depicted with vahanas/mounts. For instance, Shiva is most commonly seen riding a bull and Vishnu is seen flying with an eagle, Garuda.
Representation of Buddhist deities
The Buddha is commonly seen with a robe draped around either both of his shoulders or with his right shoulder left bare. It is believed that the Buddha has 32 marks of superhuman perfection. The ushnisha (a cranial bump) implies his spiritual knowledge, which was showcased by artists in the form of a hair knot on the top of his head. The elongation of earlobes represents divine or elevated status. This is not just seen in images of Buddha, but in visual depictions of Hindu and Jain deities as well. Jain deities have a similar depiction as well, with the minor detail, that they have the shrivatsa emblem instead.
Q1. Who is the artist that was influential in making the Indian deities known to the world?
The creative artist, Raja Ravi Varma, is an Indian painter who is known for giving Indian deities a classical representation of Hindu Gods.
Q2. What is the earliest depiction of Hindu deities in art?
The earliest depiction of Hindu deities is seen during the Mauryan age, in the carvings of coins that belonged to this period.
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