Greatest Devadasi artforms
The Chennakeshava temple in Belur is representative of the Hoysala school of architecture, with several unique features such as excellent bracket figure sculptures (Shila Balika – male and female dancers). There are a total of 42 bracket figures in the temple, with three at the Kappe Chennigaraya shrine.
In the carvings of these bracket figures, we can see the great level of excellence in the Hoysala dynasty’s sculptural art. These lovely bracket figurines are carved out of a rare type of stone known as Balapada Kallu in the area (soapstone, chloritic schist).
This blog is an expanded version of our initial edition on Hoysala architecture and the Devadasis’ journey as great art forms throughout history. Click here to read the first issue if you missed it.
In the beginning, the stones used for carving will be soft, but as time goes on, they will get harder. The fundamental appeal of the bracket figurines is their exquisite design and ornamentation. Generally, the bracket figures are about two and a half feet in height.
Some of these gorgeous and lovely Sheela Balikas resemble Vishnu‘s characteristic woman form, who had disguised as Mohini to destroy the demon Bhasmasura. These Shila Balikas are the finest sculpture chiseled by experienced sculptors of those days. They are carved in diverse poses such as dressing, dancing, singing, and so on.
The temple is referred to as an attractive haven. Sculptors of these Shila Balikas have demonstrated the so-called modern fashion that prevailed at the time, making the bracket figures exceptionally lovely, by carving expertly.
Venu vadaka (Flutist)
Please note that this image depicts a guy artist who is dancing while playing the flute. It’s possible that the idle is a portrayal of Krishna as Venugopal (Krishna as a cowherd). We can see the co-artists performing the instruments at the bottom.
Parna Shabari (Lady collecting fruits and flowers)
In a basket, the lady collects fruits and flowers. The lady is holding and displaying fruit in her right hand. The basket has been ruined.
Mrigaya Vinodini (Lady hunter)
The huntress has her weapon focused on an animal and is about to shoot. The lady is dressed in a leaf-covered skirt. A lady helper at the bottom of the idol is carrying an arrow and looking at the hunting lady.
Natana Visharada (The drummer)
This is the second male idol. The drummer is dancing and playing at the same time. He has a drum in his left hand, which he is hitting with a stick in his right hand. Assistant artists are also playing the drums at the bottom of the idol. ‘Purusha Vidambini’ is the name of the idol. On the idol’s face, we can also notice his mustache and beard. In the aureole, there are lovely carvings of creepers and flowers.
Naatya Nipuna Sundari (Skillful lady dancer)
This lady is dancing to the beat of musicians while carrying ‘chitike’ (a musical instrument) in her hands. The lady dancer has her left hand lifted and her right hand lowered. In addition, the lady has elevated her left foot slightly. This is a common dance position. The co-artist is playing the drums and appears to be performing a song.
Gaana Naatya Vinodini (Singing and dancing lady)
This lady is singing and dancing at the same time. In her hands, she is clutching a bouquet of flowers. Drums are being played by co-artists.
Swarga Haste (Lady holding her hands towards the sky)
This is a different type of dance. The lady dancer raises her left hand to the sky and her right hand to the ground. The right hand is slightly damaged. The co-artist is playing the drums at the bottom.
The lady is holding a long stick in her left hand at the back of her neck with a skull attached to it. The right hand is damaged. The lady has knotted her hair like the wife of a saint. This image appears like Bhairavi has a chain of skulls around her neck. This dancing pose is called ‘Renuka Nritya’. As usual, the assistants are playing with the drums.
Jaya Nishadhi (The successful huntress)
The lady seems to be returning from the forest after successful hunting. One of her attendants, on the left side at the bottom, is carrying prey. An attendant on the right side is trying to get rid of the thorns in the left foot with the assistance of another attendant. The ‘Nupura’ (Gejje) ornamental chain on her feet is beautifully carved. In the background aureole, the creepers are beautifully carved.
Naatya Chatura (Skillful dancing lady)
The lady is working on her dance moves. A lovely dance position has been demonstrated. The lady is dressed in an ornate skirt and necklet. Her left palm has been broken. The beautiful carvings are found in the aureole. Her co-artists are playing musical instruments at the bottom.
Bhasma Mohini Nrutya Sundari (Mohini dance)
To destroy the monster Bhasmasura, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Mohini. The right hand is on her head, while the left hand is close to her waist. The statue’s unique feature is that when water is placed on the tip of the right-hand finger, it falls on the center of the forehead, the tip of the nose, the tip of the left-hand finger, and lastly the tip of the left leg thumb, indicating that all of these points appear to be collinear. This dancing poster is quite challenging. The sculpture’s talent and competence may be seen in this photograph. At the bottom of the idol on either side, the assistants are playing musical instruments.
Visha Kanya (The nude beauty – Beauty and the scorpion)
A lady is going to put on her dress after taking a bath in this bracket figure. She is startled as she notices a scorpion inside her saree and attempts to shake her saree to get rid of the venomous scorpion. The sculpture captures the scared facial expression perfectly. The scorpion, which is venomous, is discovered near her left foot. Small features, such as the scorpion’s legs and stings, can be observed. The idol is also known as a naked beauty (Nagna Sundari) and a poisoned lady (Visha Kanye).
Nrutya Sundari (Dancing lady)
This lady is dancing and simultaneously teaching the art of dance to her student. Her hands are demonstrating the skill of dancing. This is a unique dance position.
Shakuna Sundari (Lady telling the omen)
This lovely lady is clutching palm leaves in her left hand, like Goddess Saraswati, while her right hand is calculating something as if she is foretelling the future. As a result, the idol is known as ‘Shakuna Sharade’. At the bottom, the lady’s attendants are holding whisk fans (Chamaraas) on either side.
Panka Sundari (Lady at rest)
The lady is resting, clutching a folded betel leaf in her left hand and a fan in her right. ‘Veejana haste’ is another name for the idol. The musical instruments are being played by the two female attendants.
Nagaveena Sundari (Lady with Naga Veena)
While dancing, the lady holds a musical instrument known as ‘Nagaveena’ in her left hand and plays it with a stick in her right hand while singing. The Nupura (gejje), or ornate chain, may be seen at the ‘Nagaveena’ edge. The idol’s dance poster has a unique design. A co-artist is playing the drum at the bottom of the right side. On the left side, there is one additional lady attendant.
Sarvaalankara Bhushite (Ornamental lady)
A lovely lady decked out in jewels is getting ready to dance. The fingers of her palm are clearly visible. A female attendant is carrying a mirror and appears to be assisting the dancer in examining her reflection. At the bottom of the left side, another guest is holding a garland in her hand.
Maayaa Venu Vaadaki (lady is acting like playing a flute)
The lady in the photograph appears to be holding a flute in her hands and playing with the instrument. Either the flute is missing, or the lady is pretending to be carrying one. Aureole has a lovely carving.
Koravanji Nritya Sundari (Fortune-telling lady)
The lady appears to be a soothsayer, a female fortune-teller. The lady is wearing ornaments of ancient times such as Mukura, Bulaku, and Addike, and she is holding a ‘Chitike’, a musical instrument, in her right hand and a small rattle drum (Buda Budika) in her left hand.
Markata Peedite (Lady holding a stick)
With a stick, the lady is preparing to chase the monkey away. The monkey is missing. Her curly hair is styled in the manner of a contemporary ponytail.
Paadaanguli Sundari (Lady wearing a ring to her toe)
The lady is standing on her right leg, supporting herself with a twig, while her left leg has been elevated. A lady attendant is attempting to secure an ornate ring on the lady’s toe. The idol has an elegant poster thanks to the balancing technique. The lady is dressed in an ornate skirt and jewelry, as well as a lengthy neck chain and other accessories.
Nartaka (Male dancer)
In the bracket figure series, this is the third male image. In his left hand, the dancer looks to be clutching a drum, while in his right hand, he appears to be holding a stick for striking the drum. However, the idol’s right hand has now been destroyed. The idol’s cheek has a beard, which we can see.
Sangeeta Lole (Singing lady)
A lovely lady appears in a singing poster. The lady is holding brass plates (talas, musical instruments) in her hands, ready to perform them with her co-artist, who are playing drums and other instruments.
Laasya Bhaava Sundari (Dancing lady)
The lady is all set to dance to the tunes (Laasya) and songs of her fellow performers. The lady has raised her left foot slightly and tapped her right foot repeatedly. The image’s left hand has been obliterated. Also shattered is the lengthy neck chain. The dancer is dressed in an ornate skirt. The musical instruments are played by four co-artists at the bottom, two on the left side, and two on the right side.
Mohini Avatar and the death of the demon Bhasmasura, according to legend, took place here at Chennakeshava temple in Belur. The feminine form of Vishnu is supposed to be shown in the chenna Keshava picture, as well as most of the bracket figures. Because dancing and song were so crucial in the Mohini Bhasmasura narrative, the sculptures in these Shila Balikas have brilliantly reflected Mohini’s beauty.
All of these devadasi statues are just a small part of the Hoysala architecture that is so widely spaced. More will be added shortly as inspirational articles for all art lovers by The Stone Studio.
Frequently Asked Questions on Hoysala Temples
What are Bracket Figure Sculptures?
The Chennakeshava temple in Belur is a fine example of Hoysala architecture, with several unique features such as excellent Bracket figure carvings. Because they are hung on brackets, they are known as bracket figures. The bracket figures are angled in such a way that observers can see them well. The beauty, elegance, postures, and designs of the bracket figures are well-known by every art lover. The bracket figures are comprised of well-dressed and designed male and female dancers.
What is Shila Balikas?
Shila balikas are stone sculptures of male and female dancers that are admired for their perfection. The craftsmen have embellished and intricately carved these shila balikas. Some of these magnificent and enchanting ‘shila balikas’ resemble Lord Vishnu’s traditional woman form, Mohini, who disguised herself to defeat the monster Bhasmasura. The best sculptures chiseled by experienced sculptors of those days are these shila balikas sculpted in diverse poses such as dressing, dancing, singing, hunting, and so on.
What is ‘Nagaveena’?
‘Nagaveena’ is a traditional Indian musical instrument. The instrument’s name comes from the form of the instrument, which resembles a snake.
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