Ardhanarishwar – Half Female God

There is this form of Shiva and Shakti called Ardhanari or Ardhanarishwar. In temple architecture, there are many representations of this Shiva form across various locations like Elephanta, Badami, Mahabalipuram, Ellora, etc. Temple architecture traditions of the Cholas, the Pallavas, the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas were the chief patrons.

The first time I came across one was in Mahabalipuram. This was at the Five Rathas, stone temples which served essentially as a prototypes for more bigger and functional Pallava structures.

Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram, December 2006

You can see the difference on the two sides of the figure. The male side, on the left, is bulkier, rough while the female side on the right is more graceful, bedecked with jewels with a fairly ripe breast.

The next one I saw was in the Badami caves. There are remarkable differences from the one in Mahabalipuram.

Badami, Cave 1, February 2010

The pose, slightly bent, the detailing more precise (of course the erosion and decay over the centuries need to be factored), the body structure much different. I did see the one in Elephanta but didn’t take a photo of it. The other place one needs to see is in Ajanta-Ellora.

Different eras, different cultures, different patrons – the same characters are portrayed differently. Some times the difference is drastic, some times there are nuances and fine touches that distinguish them. In this above case, it is one of the latter. The artisans of Badami, I would say, had more imagination as they had a larger scene to carve out. Their visualisation of the detailing like the jewellery, the gestures of the fingers, etc is also far more enhanced. Not surprisingly, the art of Badami (Chalukyas) became the template for the entire Hindu temple architecture in the medieval and modern era.

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