Mythical Animals In Indian Art

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Item Code: NAD685
Author: K. Krishna Murthy
Publisher: Abhinav Publication
Language: English
Edition: 1985
ISBN: 8170171962
Pages: 120 (116 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 290 gm
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Fully insured
100% Made in India
100% Made in India
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Book Description

About the Book

This book entitled Mythical Animals in Indian Art. is the outcome of a comprehensive study of the kaleidoscopic variety of mythical animals known from the 2nd century BC to the 6th-7th centuries AD. This fascinating study is the first of its kind and offers an authentic account of such animals. ihamrigas, in ancient India.

Mythical creatures categorised under three heads-aerial. terrestrial and aquatic-depending on their locomotion and habitat, form the subject matter of this study.

The indigenous traits and foreign impact reflected in the animals are ably visualized To achieve this end, the sculptures of Barhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda and Mathura, and the murals of Ajanta, supplemented by literary data. have been brought within the compass of the study.

Written in a simple and lucid style, this book about ihamrigas is sure to become a standard indological text. Its fascination lies in the intense cultural interest the subject inevitably generates


About the Author

Dr K. (Konakondla) Krishna Murthy. MA. Ph D. D i.u, FRAS (London), is Professor and Head of the Department of History and Indian Culture and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Prasanthi- nilayam, Andhra Pradesh.

After his early collegiate education at Government Arts College, Anantapur, Prof Krishna Murthy took BA (Honours) and MA degrees from Andhra University and was a Research Fellow at the University of Madras.

He was awarded Ph D in 1970 by Nagpur University for his thesis Life under the Ikshvakus as depicted in the Nagarjunakonda Sculptures.

In 1983, for his treatise The Gandhara Sculptures- A Cultural Survey Nagpur University awarded him the degree Doctor of Letters. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1972.

Prior to his joining as professor in 1982, Dr Krishna Murthy was Superin- tending Archaeologist. Archaeological Survey of India, South Eastern Circle, with headquarters in Hyderabad. He joined the Archaeological Survey of India in 1954 and rose to become Superintending Archaeologist and was associated with the Archaeological Survey for almost three decades. He was actively associated with and was in charge of some of the most important archaeological explorations and excavations-the Indus Valley site excavation at Surkotda and Kalibangan and the excavation of Buddhist sites at Salihundam, Kotturu, Nagarjunakonda, Amaravati, Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

Dr Krishna Murthy, a dedicated scholar of eminence and a prolific writer. has so far contributed well over 100 research papers to various journals of international repute. He has specialised in Indian art and architecture, iconography. art history, archaeology and Buddhist studies. His forte is the material culture of ancient India, on which he has brought out a series of sketches.



The mythical animals as they are construed are the animals of fancy. The mythical animals revealed in the early Indian art are of amazing variety and lend a felicitous and fascinating study. The ingenuity of the composition in conjoining the head of the animal with the body of the human being or other- wise acquired for these hybrid representations a fore- most position among other depictions in the Indian art. A comprehensive and systematic study of the different varieties of the mythical animals as reflected in the early Indian art has not been done so far except for a few stray articles published in research journals. I have published a section on the mythical animals delineated in the sculptures of Gandhara, Sanchi and• Nagarjunakonda forming part of my books The Gandhiira Sculptures-A Cultural Survey, Material Culture of Sanchi and Niigarjunakonda=A Cultural Study respectively.

Some years ago, V.S. Agrawala in his introduction to the book The Vyiila Figures on the Medieval Temples of India written by M.A. Dhaky emphasized the need for attempting an exhaustive study of the Ihiimrgas of the early period, in view of the available abundant material. This has inspired me to work on this noble theme and the result is the present book.

In the present book entitled Mythical Animals in Indian Art, an endeavour has been made to give kaleidoscopic variety of thamrgas known to the period from 2nd Century Be to 6th-7th Centuries AD. In bringing out such study, the sculptural and mural data have been supplemented by the literary evidences from many sources. The sculptures of Barhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, Gandhara, Nagarjuna- konda, Mathura as also the paintings of Ajanta impeccably portray the variety of mythical animals known to the period under study. It is these sculptures and murals that form the basic data of the study.

In the preparation of this book I have received valuable help in various ways from many people.

Shri S. Sudhakarnaidu the artist has prepared the line-drawings incorporated in the book. Sarvashri S.C. Edwin and Sudhir Kumar of the Archaeological Survey of India, Hyderabad, photographed the illustrations.

I wish to express my thankfulness to Shri Shakti Malik, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi for neat and speedy printing of this book.

My son, K. Padmanabha, M.A., Research Scholar of the Mysore University, has gone through the typescript and made it press-ready.

I also express my thanks to my wife Vijaya Lakshmi for all her help.

Above all, I am fortunate enough to have this book blessed by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, to whose Lotus Feet I dedicate it reverentially.



The ordinary meaning of the word thiimrga is a kind of antelope, and this does not carry much con- notation. It is used in a special sense and is the compound of two words. It may be thanusarimrgab or ihiim anuristya krito mrgah. Taken in any way, it is an animal carved according to the fancy of the sculptor. However, the meaning of this in Indian literature is that there are so many' attendants of one Rudra (Ga'(ta pramada). Each individual although born as a human being carries in his face a physiognomy of a bird or an animal, the different forms being called thamrga, animals of fancy or fabulous creatures.

Literary Evidence
Indian literature abounds with references to thamsgas. The germs of the idea are met with in the Rigveda,' where the mythical forms are called yatu. We get ulukayatu (owl), susulukayatu (owlet), svayatu (dog), cocayatu (cuckoo), suparnayatu (eagle), grdhrayatu (vulture). These are associated with Indra in the Rigveda. Rudra-Siva best energises as Nataraja a conception going back to Nrtu of the Rigveda said for Indra. Dance implies adhering a brahmasutra or plumbline; wherever the vertical line of the dance wavers misshapen creation is the result. The material body may be either according to the normal mould or expressive of countless deformities whether the physical form is human or animal. In the Rigveda it is said that in the sacrifice, the gods secured to the stake the life principle as Man- Animal (abadhnan purusham pasums. A few typical forms conveying this idea were evolved, e.g. Ganapati elephant's head (elephant's head joined to a human body), Hayagrrva, horse head, Hanuman, or Vrkshakapi, monkey head, Nrsirnha, man-lion, Nrvarah, boar-head man. Later this aspect of man animal forms was greatly expanded.

Similarly, we get a reference in the Rigveda to four-horned bull with two heads, three feet, seven hands secured by a triple band. He has been iden- tified as Agni, the life force in each living creature. A four-horned bison is also conceived in the Rigveda. The Atharvaveda speaks of a ten-headed Brahmana (Dasa-srrsha Dasaya). Likewise, in the Sathapatha Brahmans 2 ten-headed calf and two-headed eagle are spoken of. It is apparent that in the early times the term Ihamrga connoted fabulous animals.

In Valrntki Ramayana there is a graphic description of the ihamrgas. They have been said to have been carved exquisitely on the pillars supporting the palace: Ihiaii mrga Samyuktaih Kartasvarahir .Anma- yaih Sukritair Achitam Stambaiali pradeeptam lva cha sriyah The Rarnayana, however, does not show how these motifs are arranged in beautifying the buildings and their positions can only be judged therefore from the sculptures. There are referencesto such rhamrgas in Sundarakanda of Ramayana. Such references to Ihamrgas can be had in the reference Niryuya Rakshasa vyagratiyuva Durasadaha Drukasimha Mrukairiktam Khraidi Kanakabhushanqdai' (Those excellent demons unassailable like tigers went by mules with elephantine, leonine face having trappings of gold).

In the Mahabharata also the terms like minavaji or Gajavaktrajasha are described" In one of the verses it is mentioned: Ishanam gajavaktranam mulakanam tataivach Minahvaji Swarupanam (of fish with elephant head or owl's and of those resembling fish horse).

The Rayapaseniya, Samarangana Sutradhara refers to fabulous animals copiously. The Rayapaseniya while speaking about the number of architectural terms makes mention of ihiimrgas, Mention is made of Suryabhadeva's Vimana which was surrounded on all sides by a rampart (padara) and which was embellished with a beautiful cornice (Kavi Sisaga). In every direction there were gates (dhara) with cupola decorated with the figures of ihiimrgas, bull, usabha, horse with a man-head, Naraturaga, bird, crocodile, Kinnaras etc. They had capitals decorated with the figures of the pair of Vidyadharas. The Kinnaras are beings human above and bird-like below. They are like a Siren or Harpi with human arms and shoulders and the wings not large enough to fly.

The puranas like Matsya, Linga, Harivamsa,Vayu,Brahma. Vamana etc. speak of the Ihamrgas at several places. In fact the puranic writers give a long list, viz., gajanana, hayanana, simhiinana, Vyaghranana, mrgendra vadana, kharamukha, makaranana, fhamrgamukha, kakamukha, gridhamukha etc.

Kalidasa in his Raghuvarnsa refers to half elephantine, half pis cine monster miuanganakara jumping up over the waters of the ocean cutting in twain the foam: Miitanganakaraihi Sahasokta bhina bhina pasya samudraphenam (Look at the foam of the sea split asunder by elephant fish splendidly springing Up).

Later silpa text Aparajitaprchcha'" gives the number of the vyalas as 16 each represented in sixteen poses giving an aggregate of 256 forms: Itisodasa vyalami uktani mukha bhedotah. Interestingly, Dhanafijaya namamala," a 9th Century AD work, is rich in giving information as regards ihamrgas or vyalas. The term ihamrga was generally used from olden times for fabulous animals but from the Gupta period onwards, the term Vyala came into frequent use. Their variety and poses once formulated were subjected to elaboration by engineers, sculptors, ivory carvers etc.

The stock of decorative motif and thematic representation of early Indian art is so exceptionally rich, well defined and widely distributed that one is prone to believe a preceding ancient tradition cultivated for many centuries in wood, clay, ivory, semi-precious stone etc. Curiously many common Indian art forms can be seen in Jambudvipa and in Western Asiatic art. Coomaraswamy rightly observes: "In fact a great variety of motifs found in Maurya, Sunga and early Andhra art and thus antedating the age of Hellenistic influence present a Western Asiatic appearance suggesting parallels in Sumerian, Hittite, Assyrian, My kenean, Cretan, Trojan, Lykean, Phoenician, Achaemenid and Scythian cultures. A partial list of such motifs would include such mythical monsters as winged lions, centaurs, griffins, tritons."?' "These animals together with indigenous composite figures and with some realistic ones appear in early relief works entwined by vegetable and floral designs. Later on these gliding linear movements along the figures of both animals and human beings ultimately formed the essential elements of the classical Indian art."16 "The ever tolerant Indian culture has progressed by assimilating factors from outside and arts of India were no exception to this general rule."" It is evidently a normal evolution of earlier art forms not an avalanche of borrowing that visited suddenly. It is therefore essential for understanding the inspiration and meaning of the Indian art forms to go deeper into their literary traditions from the vedic to puranic periods and also to correlate them with the continued survival of the folk art and other formal arts upto the modern times.

For such study the art forms of the ihamrgas available in the sculptural representations of Barhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Mathura, Gandhara etc. offer a felicitous study. The tremendous variety of ihamrgas impeccably portrayed in the early Indian art lend great latitude to know about the origin and evolution of these art motifs. The material about Vyala in Indian art is as enormous as the material about the ihamrgas of the early times. Dhaky made a very good study of the vyalas of the later period in his book "The Vyala Figures on the Medieval Temples of India". The present study is therefore confined to the detailed study of the Ihiimrgas of early times, i.e., 2nd Century Be to 6th-7th Centuries AD as there is no comprehensive study as such made on this topic.




  Preface IX
  List of Illustrations XI
I Introductory 1
II Aerial or Atmospheric Mythical Animals (Vyomacarin) 8
1 Winged lion (Sapaksha Simhahs 8
2 Winged and horned lion 9
3 Griffins 9
4 Winged deer or stag or antelope 11
5 Winged horse 11
6 Winged elephant 13
7 Kinnara and Kinnari 13
8 Winged bull with elephant face 17
9 Winged otter 17
10 Winged goat 17
11 Lion faced cock 17
12 Male and female with lion's body and wings 17
13 Eagle with five-hooded naga 18
14 Female with body of a bird and with wings 20
III Terrestrial Mythical Animals (Bhucarin) 26
1 Human faced lion 26
2 Horned lio 27
3 Beaked lion 28
4 Elephant faced bull with antlers 28
5 Half-man and half-horse 29
6 Elephant faced man 31
7 Goat faced man 34
8 Bear faced man 34
9 Beaked otter 35
10 Chimaera 35
11 Half-maiden and half-snake (Mermaid) 36
12 Half-man and half-snake (Merman) 37
IV Aquatic Mythical Animals (Jalacarin) 41
1 Triton 41
2 Ichthyocentaur 44
3 Hippocamp and ichthyo-centaur 44
4 Makara with crocodile forequarters and fishtail behind 44
5 Makara with elephant forequarters and fishtail behind 47
6 Horse with fishtail 48
7 Winged dragon 48
8 Stag with fishtail 49
9 Water bull or marine bull 49
10 Goat with human face and fishtail 50
11 Goat with fishtail and lion's paws 51
12 Wolf with fishtail' 51
13 Deer with fishtail 52
14 Cat with fishtail 52
15 Beaked horse with fishtail 53
16 Boar with fishtail 53
17 Buffalo with fishtail 53
18 Lion with fishtail 54
19 Beaked lion with fishtail 54
20 Winged lion with fishtail 55
21 Monkey with fishtail 55
22 Duck with fishtail and lion's paw 56
23 Swan with fishtail and lion's paw 56
24 Ram with fishtail and lion's paw 57
25 Dog with fishtail 57
26 Crocodile with scorpion tail 57
27 Lion and makara 58
V Epilogue 63
  Bibliography 73
  Index 83

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