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the many-splendoured delights of Ajanta compiled by Subramanian Swaminathan


September 2007

Symbolism in Indian Art

The parts of the body should resemble, and be based on, similes drawn from plant or animal-life.

Sensuous lips are ripe and full like the bimba-fruit; fingers likened to lotus-petals. Here the allusion is not to the form but to the content, to the mood. It is a suggestion and not realistic likeness.

Bodhisattva Padma-pani's divine face has the shape of an egg. His shoulders are like massive domed head of an elephant, and arms like its tapered trunk. His hands are supple like a flower-bud.

simha-kati (body-of-a -lion)

gomukha khanda (cow's-head)

pada-pallava (feet-like-leaves)

charana-kamala (feet-like-lotus)

Body postures (sthana-s)

In Indian tradition the postures of the body, were identified and distinct terms were used to cover the entire range.

rijva-gata (Strict profile)

parshva-gata (Frontal)

A woman listening to a sermon is an excellent study Shankha-pala Jataka, Cave 1

The three women are in different postures; another example of elegant poses, Cave 17

This is particularly so with the depiction of women shown in congregation Chempayya Jataka, Cave 1


Drawings with a free flowing sweep of the brush to depict oval faces, arched eyebrows, aquiline noses, and fine sensitive lips are aplenty on the walls of Ajanta.

Maha-janaka Jataka, Cave 1

A relaxed monkey, consisting basically of one masterly sweep of brush starting beneath chin and forming a curve outlining head and spine and terminating beneath knee-cap.

Shad-danta Jataka, Cave 17