SCULPTURE IN KARNATAKA
(A brief survey)
Architectural styles and sculptural evolution have to be studied as two separate but interrelated entities, even though they may be present in the same venue. Architecture of the religious, military and civil structures in Karnataka have evolved in their own way. However, sculpture is a distinct discipline that has given rise to many works of lasting beauty. The development of the sculptural art in Karnataka started in the pre–historic era and it is a living presence in the modern times also. A sculptor uses a number sculpting materials such as clay, mortar, stone, wood, various metals and very rarely ivory. Sculptures are divided into three categories called ‘chitra’, ‘chitrardha’ and ‘chitrabhasa’. A sculpture which is completed on all the sides and fully carved is known as ‘chitra’. The second category is an embossed sculpture wherein only half the circumference is visible and the other half is not carved at all. These images are in half relief. ‘Chitraabhaasa’ refers to images painted on walls, cloth and paper. They are essentially two dimensional.
Most ancient sculptural art works found in Karnataka are made from terracotta. They are very strong because they were made of wet clay and later burnt in a kiln. They date back to pre-historic era. They were found during excavations in places such as kappagal, brahmagiri, piklihALu, sanganakallu, tekkalakOTe etc. They belong to the neolithic age. These images representing animals, birds and human beings are crudely done with scant attention to details. Etchings made on rocks are also found during the neolithic and megalithic ages. The bulls found on some rocks at Maski, the outlines of a tiger found in Chandravalli and those of deer and bisons found in Chitradurga have tried to capture the spirit of the animals. Two pre-historic caves near Badamai have figures of human beings and demon like beasts drawn on their walls.
Some clay idols belonging to the period ranging from the first century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. have been excavated from sites in Sannathi and Banavasi. All of them are made from moulds and some of them are hollow. These images of Yaksha-Yakshi, horses, tiger, elephant, bull etc are diligently done. Sannathi has given us the earliest evidence of the Buddhist sculpture in Karnataka. Some of them narrate a story from Buddha’s life in ’lime stone planks of white colour with a tinge of green.’(Jataka tales) They belong to/resemble the sculptures of the Satavanhana dynasty. The relief of a two hooded cobra found on a rock in Banavasi is interesting. Many parts of a Buddhist stUpa and its sculptural wealth were later used in Hindu temples.
It is necessary to make a passing reference to the images of village deities, BUtAs and saptamatrukAs found in the coastal and hilly regions (malnAD) of Karnataka. These huge icons are made of clay or wood and coloured later. They are very crude and awe inspiring. They seem to be relics of similar worships in ancient times. The wood images found at mekkekaTTe are illustrative of this. (There are more than 300 wooden statues of various gods, goddesses, animals and birds in this temple. Some of them are more than 50 feet height.)
Not much remains to celebrate the sculptural achievements of the Kadmaba dynasty. Some Jina figures found at Gudnapura, icon of a dwarf possibly representing a Buddhist Yaksha and a couple of idols of later times representing rati and manmatha are the only relics of that period.
The architecture and sculpture of the Chalukyas of Badami occupy an important place in the art history of Karnataka. The entries on Badami, Aihole and Pattadakallu have dealt with them in great detail. There is a separate entry on the Chalukya architecture and sculpture. However, a brief and general introduction is essential here.
The Chalukyas of Badami were reasonably catholic and consequently one finds sculptural edifices belonging to Hindu, Jaina and Buddhist religions during their regime. Badami it self has a Jaina cave, a Buddhist cave and caves dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu.
contribution of the Rashtrakuta dynasty, which ruled in Karnataka and many
other parts of South and central
architectural and sculptural achievements of the
sculpture of Gangas exhibits a lot of variety. The range begins at thin
carvings on hard granite reminiscent of Buddhist sculptures to well rounded
full fledged idols. Many hero stones built during the
course, no discussion about
The Chalukyas of Kalyani ruled during the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. By this period sculpture had developed in to a traditional academic discipline. The sculpting of the idols and other details were governed by the set of rules set forth in treatises on iconography. Each and every God had his/her own set of features. Even the postures were predetermined. The idols were beautiful but not very original. The Tripurantaka temple at baLLIgAve, kallEshvara temple at kukkanUru, brahmajina temple at lakkundi, siddeshvara temple at hAvEri, mallikarjuna temple at kuruvatti and kAshi vishvEshvara temple at lakkundi contain a number of specimens that illustrate the salient features of the Kalyani Chalukya period. Even the hero stones of this period have sculptural virtues. Classicism while carving the idols and naturalism when depicting nature, animals and human beings appear to be the modes of expression adopted by these artists.
The Nolamba dynasty which was an off shoot of the great Pallava kingdom developed a style of its own by adopting elements from Chalukya, Ganga and Pallva styles. Nolambas were based in Andhrapradesh. However nandi and Avani in Karnataka contain specimens of their style. The lakshmaNEshvara temple at Avani and the BOga nandIshvara temple at nandi contain a number of beautiful sculptures of kALi, naTarAja, mahiSAsuramardini, saptamatrukas etc. There is a good number of Nandis (bulls) which are very natural. However scholars have opined that the noLamba style is highly ornamental and may even be termed as artificial.
The Hoysala period represents a watershed in the history of sculpture in Karnataka. The choice of black stone as the staple sculpting material made room for a lot of finesse. The idols of Gods, Goddesses and human beings are carved very intricately with an eye for minutest of the details. The Hoysala architecture which did not go for tall and imposing temples perforce made it necessary for the sculptor concentrate on finer details. Consequently, utilization of space was optimum. Expression of human emotions was of paramount importance to the sculptors. The statues of the celebrated ‘madanikaas’ and their context held a mirror to contemporary life patterns as well as art forms such as music and dance. The temples at Belur, Halebeedu, Somantahpura and Doddagaddavalli, lakshmInArAyaNa temple in hosahoLalu, Ishvara temple in arasIkere and cennakEshava temple at araLuguppe provide ample illustrations for the achievements of these sculptors. Hoysala architecture gives greater scope for the play of light and shade. The decorative panels on the surface of the outer walls adjacent to the platform, (jagati) contain small but intricate sculptures of elephants, horses, creepers, birds, men and women playing on musical instruments etc. The stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata are also seen. Many details from contemporary life also found in abundance. As the scholar B.R.Gopal puts it, “Hoysala temples are open air exhibition of stone figures. ...Though sculpture attained its perfection in Hoysala art the art of architecture lost its uniqueness. Importance is given to adornment to such an extent that it can rather be called skilled craftsmanship than art.”
Vijayanagara Empire that flourished in Karnataka for many centuries is yet another
glorious chapter in the history of sculpture in Karnataka. The use of granite
by the sculptors precluded intricate carvings. However this was compensated by
creating huge idols and other sculptures. Most of the sculptural glory of the
Empire is concentrated in Hampi
and its surroundings. Ugranarasimha, baDavi linga, mustard gaNEsha,
doubt the kings of the Wodeyar dynasty in
This brings us to the end of our brief survey.
1. http://www.kamat.org/reel.asp?ReelNo=R203 (Badami Chalukya Sculptures)
2. Hoysala Sculptures: A Cultural Study by K Padmanabha, 1989 Sundeep Prakashan