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Iconography of Ganga and Yamuna

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Item Code: NAN868
Publisher: B.R. Publishing Corporation
Author: Myneni Krishna Kumari
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9789386223708
Pages: 182 (38 Color and 35 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.5 inch X 9.0 inch
Weight 1 kg
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Book Description
About the Book

In Hinduism the rivers Ganga and Yamuna are personified as female deities and the rivers as well as their icons are worshipped as one with the belief that they will purify the devotees by their mystic powers while one enters into the temples in this earthly world or the soul after death in the other world. The rich artistic tradition of positioning the figures of the river goddesses at the entrance of the temples followed from the Gupta period onwards is fully explored through the sculptures found intact with the temples and those preserved in the museums. It discusses the divine origin of the river goddesses and their association with the Hindu Gods particularly Siva based on the myths and legends contained in the Hindu mythology as well as the narrative content of the relief sculptures. The changing roles of the river goddesses, their association with the dvdrapalas (door guardians) and the historical and regional influences in the development of their iconography is the main essence of the book. The volume brings to light some new and fresh data that has not been subjected to rigorous analysis earlier and discusses the different views and approaches of the art historians on the images of Ganga and Yamuna in Hindu temples. By piecing together the old and new materials as well as the textual references to the river goddesses the study throws a welcome light on the religious symbolism and the development of the iconography of Ganga and Yamuna. The volume fills the need in the growing literature on the art and iconography of the Hindu goddesses and will be useful to the researchers.

About the Author

Dr. Myneni Krishna Kumari is formerly a Professor in the Department of History & Archaeology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam and she has authored fifteen books and edited two volumes. She has received several honours and distinctions in her long academic career. She has received D.Litt degree from Andhra University in 1999 and received the Best Researcher Award in 1991 (A.u.) and Best Teacher Award in 2002 from the Andhra Pradesh State Government. She specializes in art history, iconography and medieval Andhra History. She has delivered several keynote addresses in the National Seminars, workshops and History Congresses. Several research papers written by her are published in leading academic journals. She is a visiting Professor to the Armstrong Atlantic State University, US and visited several universities in UK. She has successfully completed many research projects on the history and culture of Andhra Pradesh funded by the University Grants Commission, Delhi and published the outcome of the projects in the form of monographs and research papers.


Along with the figures of the door guardians or dvdrapalas or pratiharas at the entrances of the Hindu temples, one encounter frequently with two standing female figures positioned on the Right and Left sides of the thresholds of the temples in association with a crocodile and a tortoise. Their frequent occurrence in pairs at temple entrances baffled the minds of the archaeologists, art historians and indologists with regard to their proper identification and the issue was finally resolved with the help of two Sanskrit inscriptions noticed in the Baijnath temple in Kangra valley wherein they were referred to as the figures of the deities of Ganga and Yamuna in 1892. Since then it is widely accepted that the female figures at the entrances of the temples were the representations of the two important rivers of North India, i.e., Ganga and Yamuna, which are considered as the sacred rivers associated with fecundity. The practice of carving the reliefs of Ganga and Yamunaat the entrances of the Hindu temples is widespread covering several temples all over India with some exceptions carrying the symbolic meanings of purity, removal of the sins from the worshippers and the protection of the gods residing within the temples. Although I have briefly studied the iconography of the river goddesses in my book on Dvdrapalas (2015), I wish to make an in depth study of the iconography of the river goddesses sculptures of Andhra Pradesh to highlight the changes in the iconography resulted through the historical process that has not been subjected to rigorous study. As the inter regional variations and inter regional impact in the creation of the images deserve scholarly attention I have endeavoured to examine the evolution and changes in the creation of the images besides probing into the religious and symbolic meanings of the images as well as the pairing of Ganga and Yamuna with reference to Right and Left positions at temple entrances. To fulfil my objectives I have extensively travelled to document the archaeological evidences besides collecting the data from the art historical resources available in the digitalised Photo Archives (AIIS).

In pursuing my research study of the Ganga and Yamuna sculptures I have received academic support from various persons, research institutions, museums and libraries. I express my thanks to AIIS, Gurgaon, Internet Archives and British Museum for providing the research materials. The project is funded by the University Grants Commission, New Delhi under Emeritus Fellowship for two years for which I am grateful to the Commission. I owe my gratitude to the Authorities of Andhra University for providing me all physical and infrastructural facilities in conducting my research work. I wish to place on record the help and support I have received in visiting the temples from several people from time to time. I express my deep sense of gratitude to B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi, for publishing my research work and bringing out the volume in a very attractive manner.


The two major rivers Ganga and Yamuna originate from the mighty Himalayas passes along a long stretch of land join at Prayaga and continue towards East and joins finally with the waters of Bay of Bengal. It is believed that the rivers represent purifying and mystic powers in which the pilgrim drowns his sins, his self and is considered free and enlightened. The river Ganges can be viewed as an embodiment of life, purity, and power. It maintains its place as a dominant entity in Hinduism from its use in daily tasks to more ritual and spiritual applications. In Hinduism the rivers Ganga and Yamuna are personified as female deities and the rivers as well their iconographic forms are worshipped as one. In India Rivers are commonly associated with certain worldly religious values: wealth, beauty, long life, good health, food, love and the birth of children. By watering the lands and bringing fertility to the soil and nurturing the people of the country, Ganga and Yamuna have become a symbol of eternity and a theme of art, legend and literature. Although there are many books and learned articles on the Ganga and Yamuna focussing on its religious symbolism, art, literature and mythology, still there remains more to be studied on the development of its iconography in South Indian art in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular. In view of the scattered pieces of sculptural evidences and more information that has been brought to light through the documentation of temples located in remote areas as well as the digital images available in the Photo Archives the present study has been pursued to unravel the regional specificities in the development of Hindu iconography by choosing the theme of the river goddesses in sculptural art with special focus on Andhra Pradesh.

It is generally considered that the images of the goddesses in Hinduism had achieved a standardised form after a long process of evolution. The art historians have also suggested that the standardised artistic construction of the images have, however occurred in gradual process through various assimilation and alteration. The religious imagery is created based on theology, philosophy and metaphysical systems and some social dynamics. While discussing the purpose of the creation of the images it is viewed that the iconic image is one which is representational and it has a recognizable likeness to its mythic subject. 1 The main objectives of the present study are sculptures of the goddesses Gangii and Yamuna that flank the entrance to Hindu temples either with or without the figures of the door guardians from the Gupta period onwards. According to the Silpa Sastras and other Sanskrit texts placing the visual forms of the two major rivers of India, i.e., Ganga and Yamuna have a specific function in the temple as the temple is considered as the body of the God. Until the end of the Gupta period, the sculptures of the river goddesses were positioned at the upper corner of the door jambs and it was only at a later part of the Gupta age they began to appear also as dvarapalas at the ground level of the temple entrance. Association of the sea animal makara for Ganga and tortoise for Yamuna with dwarf attendants, mostly female has become more prominent and regular part of the Hindu temple architecture. Gradually, at a later date the anthropomorphic representations of the two rivers are displayed in pairs and they have almost occupied the place meant for the door guardian figures i.e., the lower bases of the door jambs of the entrance and they remain there throughout the medieval and later periods.

The growth and development of images as a part of historical process has been scarcely undertaken so far and the earlier studies of the scholars in this connection are mostly focussed on the major Hindu divinities rather than on the minor deities. Further it is also viewed that "a single image suffices to show how these gracious and purifying deities have been conceived in human form.'? Considering the iconography of the river goddesses as stereotyped, the iconography of the river goddesses is rather neglected. Since inter-regional variations and inter regional impact as well as the time span have a great bearing on the creation of the icons and particularly on the anthropomorphic forms of the rivers its study needs some attention. Therefore, it is intended to analyse the iconographical development of the river goddesses and more particularly on the changes in the creation of the images of river goddesses in Andhra Pradesh and their religious significance.

The images of the river goddesses were presented in two distinctive forms in Indian art: solitarily and composite. Ganga is shown in narrative art in association with Siva in the aspect of Siva as Gangadharamarti or Ganga Visarjanamurti. The legend of the descent of Ganga is elaborated in the stone sculptures of Mahabalipuram and Pattadakal. The river goddesses appear at the entrances in the brahmanical cave temples-Ramesvara (cave XXI), Dhumer Lena (cave XXIX), Ravan-ka-Khai (cave XIV), Dasavatara (cave XV) and Kailasa at Ellora. Although the figures of the river goddesses found place in Early Chalukyan and Rashtrakiua art, the concept of placing the images of the river goddesses along with the dvarapalas did not gain much popularity and thereby we do not find the sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna in the temples built by the Eastern Chalukyas (with one exception at Bikkavolu), Pallavas, Pandyas, and the Cholas. On the other hand, we find them in the temples of Northern Andhra, particularly in the Madhukesvara and Samesvara at Mukhalingam; Narayanapuram, Gallavalli, Bendi and Jayati etc., where the temples were built in Kalingan style of architecture. With regard to Western Andhra we can notice the penetration of the art and architectural idioms of the Chalukyas of Badami and the Rashtrakatas since some of these areas fell under their hegemony for some period of time. The independent figures of the river goddesses along with their accessory figures are noticed in the temples of Alampur and Bhavandsisangam, on the doorways of the entrance. Further in the temples of 10th century A.D. built by the Nolamba Pallavas at Hemavati and again in the temples built under the patronage of the Vijayanagara kings at Lepakshi, Tadipatri, Ghandikota, Ontimetta, the river goddesses appear at the entrances of the temples. In the case of the Vijayanagara sculptures they are carved as life-size figures on the gapura dvdras with elaborate floral scrolls above them as part of the dvara Sakhas. Thus the history of the sculptures of the Ganga and Yamuna images in the temples of Andhra Pradesh presents a complex picture as we find the omission of the images of the river goddesses in the temples built by the Eastern Chalukyas and Kakatiyas and its re-introduction after several centuries in the Vijayanagara temples which worth some detailed investigation.

The study will focus on the sculptures of the river goddesses of Andhra Pradesh with an intention to make an iconographical study to present the stylistic and iconographical changes and to compare them with the sculptures of the goddesses known from the neighbouring regions such as Karnataka and Odisha to find out their influences, if there are any. Their location on the temple doorways, gopura dvdras and in the niches located on the walls of the temples and its religious significance will be interpreted, The study also probes into the issue of the position of the pair of river goddesses, just like the door guardian figures on either side of the entrances has any fixed assignment of Ganga on the Right and Yamuna on the Left or vice versa or their location is completely arbitrary. This will be examined in relation to the Saivite dvarapalas Nandi and Mahakala usually accompanying the Ganga on the Right and Yamuna on the Left. To make any kind of generalisations on these issues it is essential to survey the vast data so that a picture will emerge to show any pattern or otherwise. Although some spade work has been done by H.von Stietencron and others earlier in this direction it is needed to study the iconographical forms at regional level as it will help in deriving any kind of patterns to understand the inner religious and ritualistic meanings.


List of Illustrations 1
Introduction 2
Myths and Legends of Ganga and Yamuna in Hindu Mythology 4
Iconography of Gangiivatarana and Gangadhara in Narrative Art 6
Iconography of River Goddesses in Indian Art 7
Ganga and Yamuna Motif in the Temples of Deccan and South India11
with Special Reference to Andhra Region 14
Inner Meanings and the Symbolism of the Sculptures of River Goddesses 15
Conclusion 15
Index 18
Plates 20

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