Art of the hills
The forms and figures crafted have eroded over the years but a decent look at them will depict that facial features of many figures have an unsophisticated look. The figures are depicted in every position- front, back and side. Almost like a mug shot. Faces are shown in full or in three-quarter and half profiles. There is considerable difference in the quality of the artistry evident when we compare the abduction scene in Ganesa gumpha of Udaygiri with identical scene on the upper storey of Rani gumpha. The difference in style may be due to various reasons such as different teams of labor or interval of time letting artists attain mastery over their craft. Or maybe the artistic team suddenly got enlightened and turned Picasso, you never know.
It’s a common practice in temples or churches now to depict mythological scenes. However, architecture of Khandagiri and Udaygiri caves depict mainly aspects of frugal and cenobite lives of the Jains. Symbol worshipping was prevalent at that time. Jaya-vijaya gumpha of Udaygiri and Ananta gumpha of Khandagiri depict trees being worshipped by people. We are one step ahead, we let our daughters marry trees. Manchapuri cave of Udaygiri shows an unidentifiable symbol being worshipped. On the back wall of Ananata gumpha we can see three symbols, a triangle head, a swastika and a Sri vatsa. Swastika was a sacred symbol of auspiciousness while Sri vatsa represented the upper chest of 24 Tirthankaras showing eternal and universal love to all living beings. That is a very flawed concept by the way, the universal love thing. It never turns out the way you would want to. These symbols were regarded by Jainas as of good omen and form 4 of the 8 auspicious objects (Ashta mangalas) worshipped by Jainas.
However, in medieval times some cells of Khandagiri, were given makeovers to serve as sanctuaries, and we can find Jain imagery consisting carvings of Tirthankaras.
Social life depicted
Dresses and ornaments are portrayed in many of the caves. The chief drapery, consisted of a dhoti or sari tied by a waist band. Both men and women usually wore no clothes to cover the torso (yeah, Asoka showed Karuwaki wearing Manish Malhotra), but on ceremonial occasions additional items of clothing were also used like a scarf. Men used to wear a turban, affluent ones had jewels on their turbans. Women were sometimes veiled, but they did not cover their face. Ornaments enjoyed mass attention, more by the women. They consisted of ear rings, bangles, necklaces, girdles, anklets and head ornaments. Some things never change.
In furniture, bedstead, stool, table, and seats were commonly used while utensils consisted of bowl, plates, and pitchers. Umbrellas, and caskets are also depicted.
The imagery clearly show music, dance, and sports. Instruments like the flute, harp, mridanga and drums are seen. Hunting of deers with bow and arrow, and lions with spear and shields are depicted. Fights with elephant using cudgels are seen as well. That is exactly why people thought of leisure sports to be something more along the lines of badminton and sprinting. Now-a-days no one gets a broken rib cage as a result.
There are many depictions of the King’s courts, his army and war exploits. Guards were armed with staffs, spears and swords. Fighting and duels are shown where shields, long swords, bow and arrows are the chief weapons of destruction. Kings had armies of infantry, cavalry and elephants. After a victorious end to a campaign, a huge celebration kicks off to welcome the king back and women bathed him with water poured out of pitchers. Ahem! That sounds just like any guy’s weekend fantasy.
Interestingly, women were not pushed back during those times. They were not forced to stay indoors , rather appeared in public, accompanied their husbands to religious performances and festivals. Some of them knew elephant riding during warfare and even fought animals and of course men, which translates to: You don’t pick fights with women, not in those days, not even now.
Story by Soumitra Pattnaik
Photos by Sankar Kankar