Temple Architecture – Devalaya Vastu – Part eight (8 of 9)

09 Sep


The ancient Indian art of sculpture, Shilpa Shastra, developed its own norms of measures and proportions. It is a complex system of iconometry that defies rigid definitions .It is called Talamana paddathi, the system of measurements by Tala, the palm of hand (from the tip of the middle finger to the wrist). It plays a central role in the creation of temple icons and images.

Iconometry (the doctrine about proportions) was an integral part of the Murti shilpa, creation of the idols.

As explained in the earlier part of this post, the Dhyana shlokas, the contemplative hymns, delineate the spiritual quality of each deity and its forms and attributes, the lakshanas. The Dhyana Slokas also provide the details of the flexions – slight, triple, or extreme bends; the details of the number of arms and faces that endow a super-human quality to the idol; and also the descriptions of its ayudhas the weapons, the ornaments etc. They also specify whether the image should be dynamic or static, seated or standing; and they also detail the hand gestures and poses.

But, it is the elaborate rules of the traditional iconometry that guide the practicing Shilpi in sculpturing the image and realizing his vision. These rules specify thevarious standards to be adopted for ensuring a harmonious creation endowed with well proportioned height, length, width and girth. These rules also govern the relative proportions of various physical features – of each class and each type of the deities.

The standards of iconometry are of immense use for other reasons, as well. For instance, the iconometry of an image helps the sculptures of a later period in restoration work; in checking which of the known canons of iconometry were followed by the sculptors; in deducing which methods of sculpting were employed; and in hypothesizing how many sculptors were involved in executing the work. It also helps the art historians in dating sculptures; and the art students in studying the iconometric values of different Schools, across different periods and regions; and to ascertain the variations within a given set of stipulated proportions.

Two systems of iconometry seem to have existed; and both were called taalamana.

In the first system, the tala, measured by the length of the palm (from the wrist to the tip of the middle finer) of the shilpi or the yajamana, the one who sponsors the project, is taken as an absolute unit of measurement (and the image-face is made equal to that length). That tala is subdivided into twelve angulas; and such an angula becomes a fixed-length. In practice, the angula (literally ‘finger’) is a finger’s width and measures one quarter of the width of the shilpi’s fist (as explained in the earlier posts). The value of the angula so derived becomes a fixed length (manangulam). And, all other measurements of the image are in terms of that unit.

The second is the system of derived proportions (deha labdh angulam). Let me explain. The stone or the block of wood selected for carving is divided into a number of equal parts. In case the selected piece is divided into ten equal parts, the division is known as dasatala (ten face-lengths) or in case it is divided in to nine equal parts then the division is known as navatala (nine face-lengths) and so on.

The shilpa shastra normally employ such divisions on a scale of one (eka tala) to ten (dasa tala).Each tala is subdivided in to 12 angulas. For instance, if the intended height of the image is nine tala (which is regarded the standard height for images of certain deities and celestial beings), the texts mention that the selected piece of material should be divided into 108“Its own angulas “.The expression “its own angula” is explained thus: divide the total length of the selected stone or wooden piece, which will cover the entire height of the idol from head to foot, into 108 equal parts. One of the parts would then be its own angula.

There are obvious differences between the two systems. The manangulam system relies on a fixed set of measurements; while the deha labdh angulam is a system based on derived proportions. In the former system, the measurements are related to the size of the palm of the shilpi; and if the image is navatala, it would mean that the height of the image is nine times the size of the tala or the palm of shilpi; and the size of the image-face is one tala or one-ninth of the total height of the image.

In the second method, the unit of measurement is derived from the divisions marked on the stone piece. If the image is said to be navatala, it means that the height of the image is 108 times “its own angula”. This system is more flexible.

In Shilpa Shastra, the multiplicity and relative sizes take precedence over the absolute specific sizes of the units. Therefore, the proportions of the head-trunk-arms-legs of the image; and the finer specifications of nose, nail, ears and their shapes are always discussed in terms of their proportions and in relations to the other organs and particularly to that of the size of the face. Similar logic is extended to panels where more than one variety of images have to be accommodated harmoniously.

Dr. Gift Siromoney and his team who have carried out remarkable Iconometric studies based on measurements made by anthropometric instruments says:

“ In  Indian art the important figures in a group are often represented as taller figures and inferior beings are represented as smaller figures. To such smaller figures a lower tala is often prescribed. However, if both the larger and the smaller figures were to represent deities of equal rank (say Siva and Vishnu) then strictly speaking they should be made in the same proportion, or in other words in the same tala”.

I think this needs some explanation .Let us assume that three types of figures of three different statuses are to be depicted on the same panel. The sculptor, in such a case, would adopt the image of mid-status, as the standard; and relate the proportions of the other two images to that of the standard image. Those two images would then have to be made in different sizes; but in same proportions as that of the standard image. Assuming that the standard image was made by adopting the nava tala, the image would then have a height of 108 angulas, the angulas being “its own angulas”. The image with least status, among the three, would be made to a shorter height, say, of 96 angulas; but by borrowing the angula value from the image of the standard size. Similarly, the image with the best status, among the three, would be made to a greater height, say, of 120 angulas; but here again the angula value is borrowed from the image of the standard size.

In the two cases, other than the standard one, the basic unit of measure is not “its own angula”; but it is a unit borrowed from the standard Image. In other words, the proportions of these two images are derived from that of a third image. Such instances, perhaps, explain the need for adopting the second system; the flexible system of derived proportions.

Over a period of time, the two systems got mixed up ; and in some texts it became rather difficult to make out , which system the text was actually referring to. The confusion got compounded with both the systems carrying the same title, talamana paddathi. The practicing Shilpis do therefore have to check carefully whether the specifications mentioned in a given text belong to the first system or to the second system. In case they belong to the first system, the image- face length will have to be 12 fixed-angulas; irrespective of its total height.

Despite the differences, there are certain features common to both the systems. The first is, the face – length, in either case, is divided in to three equal parts: the fore-head, nose and nose-to-chin. Secondly, the pubis (base of the male organ) is the midpoint of the height of a nude figure. In other words, the distance from the sole of the feet to the pubis is equal to the distance from the pubis to the topknot. Thirdly, the celestial beings are assigned a higher tala compared to human figures. And, fourthly, children are represented in a lower tala like the chatusra tala (four tala). The face length will be comparatively large for children and dwarfs.

The Indian system makes use of the fact that persons with disproportionately larger faces appear short and those with smaller faces appear tall. Dwarf figures were therefore made by adopting the four “taala” system where the total height is only four times the face length. This demonstrated that the figures of different sizes can be made while following the same set of proportions.  For instance, the height of a nine tala image might be the same as that of a tentala image; but, the ten tala image with its smaller face-size looks taller than the nine tala image.

iconometric proportions of Buddha

As mentioned earlier, the shilpa shastra normally employs a method of division of the image-body, on a scale of one (eka tala) to ten (dasa tala). Each tala is divided in to 12 angulas. There are variations within each type of tala. That is, each type of tala is sub-divided into three sub-types: The standard or the mean height is the madhyama tala; while the extended height is Uttama tala. The diminished height is adhama tala. Accordingly,   along with the height, certain other dimensions of the latter two images are duly modulated, depending on the nature and the status of the image; and the importance assigned to it in the overall context of the theme of the sculpture.

For instance, the madhyama navatala (standard length of nine-face lengths) is normally used for images of celestial beings such as Yakshas, Apsaras and Vidhyadharas. Here, the height of the image would be nine talas (with each tala divided in to 12 angulas) or a total height of 108 angulas. And, the face length – from the chin up to the root of the hair on the forehead – would be 12 angulas or one tala. The length from throat to navel would be two tala; from navel to top of knee would be three tala; from the lower knee to ankle would be two tala making a total of eight tala. One tala is distributed equally between the heights of foot, knee, the neck and topknot. The nava tala thus has a total of nine tala units, in height (108 angulas).

The texts also mention that the images of the devas such as the eight Vasus, the eight Dikpalas and the eight Vidyeshwarsa are to be depicted in Uttama navatala. Whereas, the images of Rakshasas, Siddhas, Gandharvas and the pitris are to be depicted in adhama navatala.

In such cases, the images in uttama nava tala type are rendered four angulas taller and the images in the adhama nava tala type are rendered four angulas shorter. The said four angulas are to be distributed, evenly, between the heights of the foot, the kneecap, the neck and the topknot. These two variations are in effect, the deviations from the standard values of the image.

It is said that The uttama dasatala is built on the values of navatala ( regarded purest in terms of the proportions) by systematically adding one angula to each section of navatala ;  the thighs and legs being , as usual, twice the height of the “heart” etc. The uttama dasatala aims to project the majesty of the higher divinities.


There is no uniformity among the various Shilpa texts. Some texts describe a system of one to twelve talas. There is even a mention of a twenty-one tala image of Bhirava; but that measure is hardly in use.

Some texts mention that human figures and gods at rest, or while involved in some pleasant activity, should measure ten talas. And, when performing heroic deeds, their height increases to twelve talas. Further, in their fearsome aspect, they even grow to fourteen talas.

But, the Shilpis in South India do not, generally, go beyond ten talas (dasatala).Thus, in effect, only ten types of divisions from the eka tala (single tala) to dasa tala (ten tala) are in use. These ten talas correspond to 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, 108 and 120 angulas, in sequence. The series is built by adding 12 angulas for each successive tala.

These talas have their three variations, as state earlier. The standard or the mean height is the madhyama tala; while the extended height is Uttama tala; and the diminished height is adhama tala.

Uttama dasatala(124) and nine other talas – by Shilpi Shri Siddalinga Swamy

As per the norms that are commonly in use, the animals and birds are depicted in four or less talas. For instance, tortoise and fish are depicted in one tala; crocodile and rabbit in two tala; and the dwarfs, the kinnaras , the birds and the vahanas of the deities are depicted in three or four talas.

Humans and demigods are depicted in five to eight talas; Vamana an incarnation of Vishnu in seven talas.

The relative height of goddesses is eight or nine talas, while children are six talas high. The consorts of the deities and minor goddesses are depicted in eight talas.

The talas from nine to twelve are meant for images of deities. But, again, there is no unanimity among the texts in this regard. Nine tala (nine face-lengths) is largely taken as the height of certain gods and celestial beings.

According to some texts, the Uttama dasatala is applied to major deities like Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Rama, Buddha and Jina; so that they might look tall and majestic.

The madhyama dasatala is applied to the images of Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Uma and other major. The rest are depicted in Adhama dasatala, in accordance with the importance assigned to them.

The extra ordinary deities like Trivikrama or Narasimha or the huge demons are at times depicted in twelve talas.

Out of the ten varieties of talas mentioned above, four varieties are in wider use. The iconometry of these talas are briefly indicated in the following table.

Vertical proportions of four main types of Images

(Figures in angulas)

Type of the image/Particulars 7* Tala 8 Tala 9 Tala 10 Tala
Face 12 12 12 13
Neck 03 04 04 05
Neck to the horizontal line connecting the nipples(heart) 09 10 12 13
From there to navel(belly, udara) 09 10 12 13
From navel to genitals(lower belly, vasti) 09 10 12 13
Thigh 18 21 24 26
Knee 03 04 04 05
Leg 18 21 24 26
Foot 03 04 04 05
Total height in angulas 84 96 108 120

(One Tala = 12 angulas)

[I am also referring to Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram (translated admirably into Kannada by the renowned scholar Dr. Gnananda) a rare text of the Vaishnava Agama dated around fifth or sixth century. The text divided into four major divisions (adhikarana), twenty-three chapters has in total about 1115 verses (sloka).The third Adhikarana of the text titled Maanadhikarana Kaanda (chapters 16,17 and 18 of a total of 357 verses). This Adhikarana provides various types of units of measurements and proportions of dasatala and Uttama dasatala image .It specifies with precision the measure and proportion of the gatra of each body part.

Let’s, for instance, take the measures and proportions given in  the text in relation to Uttama Dasatala of 120 + 4 managulam. That is, the height of the proposed image is divided equally into 120 mana-angulas and providing for another four additional angulas distributed at different body-parts for corrections/ extensions at joints etc. A standard unit of a mana-angula is reckoned according to the following table:

Paramanu is the least and incredibly tiniest unit. And, it is described as:”when the sun’s rays pass through a close knit lattice (jaala) the minute breadth of a beam of light (anu-gatra) is Paramanu”. Human eye, of course, cannot make out a Paramanu.

8 Paramanu=one anu

8 anu = one renu (a speck of dust)

8 renu= one romagra or valagra (tip of a single brand of hair)

8 romagra = one likhya (it is not clear what it is; perhaps the egg of la very small insect)

8 likhya = One Yuka (a minute insect, perhaps)

8 likhya = One yuva (a standard grain of barley)


8 yuva = one mana-angula.

(In practice, an angula is taken as 1/12 of a tala. A tala in Dasatala is one-tenth (1 / 10) of the image height or the length from tip of the middle finger to the wrist of Shilpi’s or the Yajamana’ palm. The subdivisions of a Tala follow the above table.)

To take a specific aspect ,let’s say the length of a figure from its shoulder to the tip of the middle figure ,  the Sarvatala Vibhagaha – the chapter 18 of the text details the measurements of  fingers, figure joints, nails etc, among others.

According to that, the total length from shoulder point to the tip of the middle figure is taken as 63a 4y (63 ½ a). The length is accounted in this manner: arm= 27a + elbow= 2a + forearm = 21a + outer hasta-tala (from wrist to beginning or knuckle of middle finger) = 7a + middle figure =6a, 4y (6 ½ a).]

Stella Kramrisch explains in her Hindu Temple: the rules are that the proportions of the trunk are the same in all the four types. The distance from the root of the neck to the genitals is divided in to three equal parts, in each case:  neck-heart; heart-navel; and navel-genitals. The length of the thigh and that of the leg are twice as long as each of the three earlier mentioned sections. Further, the knee and the foot are of equal height. The actual lengths of these lengths might vary, but their proportions are maintained. As regards the size of the face, it is 12 angulas (except in the case of dasatala).

Sometimes, the height that is not included in the texts is added to the image by enhancing the height of the parts above its hair, starting from its forehead. Such height, at times, is quite considerable. Because, the gods of higher hierarchy are adorned with elaborate crowns in order to emphasize and enhance their majesty and grandeur. The height of the crown might often exceed the height of the face. The head together with the crown atop would form one sculptural unit. The elaborately crowned gods thus exceed the proportions of the human body and standout with a super natural appearance.

Apart from defining the relative height of the various gods, the tala also serves as a module for all representations of each separate figure. In addition to the norms concerning the height, there are extensive specifications for horizontal measurements such as the width of the shoulders, the waist, the head, the neck, the nose, the distance between the eyes, and so on. This is also the case with the measurements for depth; such as the distance between the back of the head and the tip of the nose, the back and the nipples, etcetera. There are measurements for the figure in the frontal position, in profile or in three-quarter profile. For such measurements, a central axis line or a plumb line is used, brahmasutra, which runs from the crown of the head through the navel to between the heels.

The position of the body (standing, reclining, seated, dancing, and so on), of the arms and legs, also plays an important role in the iconographic determination of the images. (please see the earlier part of this post)


Dr .Gift Siromoney and his team of researchers applied computer analysis methods to study a large sample of South Indian sculptures; those included the sculptures of the Pallava, Chola, and Pandya and Chera periods. It is said that anthropometric instruments were used for the analysis of facial proportions of the carvings; cluster analysis was used for collating the sculptures into groups that contain very similar features.

The team came up with the conclusion that there existed two systems of proportions which had run into each other. The average values of the facial proportions of the sculptures that were studied were at variance with the proportions prescribed in the canonical texts.

The sculpture seemed to have enjoyed a certain degree of artistic freedom within the framework of the Shilpa texts. The shilpis innovated or improvised their working methods for creation of well proportioned images.

Please visit Dr. Siromoney’s home page and other study reports:


Next post

Norms in temple architecture


Cannons of Icometry by Dr. Gift Siromoney

Line drawings

By Shilpi Sri Siddalinga Swamy,

Dr. Jnananada

And from Shilpa Soundarya


Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Temple Architecture



14 responses to “Temple Architecture – Devalaya Vastu – Part eight (8 of 9)

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    sreenivas: this is beautiful stuff: i wish i had the capacity to absorb it. to think how evolved the art of temple and ikon building was in india, is a really wonderous thing. you should make this into a book.



    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      dear shri gopal,

      thank you for the comments.

      i tried to write about certain aspects of temple architecture, the devalaya vastu; and i think i covered most major areas. i, however, consciously stepped aside three areas: the astrological relevance and interpretations; the rituals and religious ceremonies to be performed at each stage; and the long list of beliefs, superstitions and omens-both good and bad.

      there is hardly a major work that brings together all aspects of shilpa shastra. as i understand, there surely is a need for a comprehensive text.

      i do not think my blogs are truly up there, to be put in a book form. i believe, a practicing shilpi or a scholar well versed in all its aspects would be better qualified for the task.

      thank you for reading.


  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    the dasatalas
    and the madhyama uttma and the adhama are very interesting..

    in a sense the higher the scale better the evolution it looks…

    i also found it interesting to note the two systems and
    the confusion that rises for the shilpi…

    the proportinality and the norms of profile etc shows a very definitive system. where are the leeways given to a shilpi…

    in terms iof shapes and sizes… i wonder whether you can throw some light on this.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      dear shri sampath,

      thank you for the comments.

      there are some misconceptions about classic shilpas of india. many, wrongly, hesitate to recognize the shilpi as an artist; they would rather classify him among the skilled craftsmen. this appears to spring from the notion that a shilpa and its creator are regulated by the requirements of shastras and the regimen of priorities and proportions ; and therefore there is not much scope for display artistic freedom , which a modern abstract sculptor say like henry moore enjoys.

      any classic art, be it poetry or music, has to be appreciated within its context and paradigm. the modes of expressions, the symbolisms and the overall sense of beauty; either in poetry or classical music or classic dance are defined by the grammar of each art. these help to preserve the identity and the purity of their structure, and to carry forward their artistic traditions. they convey the spectrum of emotions and expressions in a manner that their enthusiasts can relate to and derive enjoyment in the form they expect. for that reason, the classic poet or musician or dancer cannot be said to be starved of artistic freedom. there is scope for,virtually, an infinite array of modes to give expression to ideas and emotions; and most of it within the accepted framework.

      the shilpi has an added responsibility. the image or the icon he creates has not merely to satisfy the requirements of the shastras but should invoke in the heart of the devotee the tangible form of his devotion. the devotee has necessarily to find and recognize in it the deity of his worship; he has to relate image to his deity; else the entire exercise of worship and its related concepts become pointless. and, yet the shilpi has to display his skill and originality.

      as regards the size, that depends on a number of factors; such as the status of the deity in the hierarchy of gods, its nature, its attributes etc. the fact whether the image of the deity is independent or it is depicted along with other deities also matters. if the image is independent, it could be of any size that is appropriate in the context of the temple-size. if it has to be carved along with other deities then its size and importance are defined in relation to that of other figures on the panel. the skill of the shilpi is truly tested in cases where the deities of equal status (say shiva and vishnu) are to be depicted on the same panel or even in case of the ardhanarishwara image.

      the disciplines of lakshnas, talas and proportions are meant for shilpi’s guidance. but it is left to the genius of each shilpi how he epitomizes the soul, the spirit and the quintessence of the deity. the shilpi gives expression to his individuality and creative imagination through the excellence in his depiction of the essential power and the grace of the image symbolized by the delicate expressions on its face; the manner of its stance , the postures of its hands , fingers and limbs; its costumes, ornaments and crown etc.

      all sculptures of a particular deity (say saraswathi) are not therefore identical, as if they are rolled out on an assembly line. even in those formalized modes, each shilpi had his way of giving expression to his originality. the images of a deity – even within an artistic school say chola or hoysala- carry the individual stamp of the shilpi. take for instance the intricately carved bracket images of the belur or halebeedu temples; no two images are alike. each image displays the characteristic skill of the artist. the mood of the image: be it either fun or mischief or erotic or grace or pain of separated love or the plain old devotion; it is depicted with skill and creative imagination.
      in some other instances, the image carries more than one meaning/interpretation. one, the obvious visual meaning; the other esoteric meaning. as in the case of a damsel, in belur temple, engrossed gazing in to the mirror, with a bemused smile and looking rather lost in her own beauty. at one level, it indicates the vanity and the unreality of the image in the mirror. but, for the onlooker the unreality is twice-over, he is looking at the unreality of unreality.

      shipa in many ways tries to reflect the human experiences, emotions and aspirations .when those ideas are immortalized in form of sculpture they exercise a more lasting influence.

      the stapathis, the super architects, of course, enjoy a greater artistic freedom in designing the temple structures and layouts; and in depicting the inner details. as i mentioned earlier, the temple is a huge symbolism. sometimes the sthapathis and shilpis delight in display of symbolism within that overall symbol of the temple. the examples of the artistic skills and imagination that the shilpis employ to demonstrate the grandeur of the temple and the sublime nobility of the lord, who resides in that temple, are rather too many to recount.

      let me cite one example; that of the brihadishwara temple at tanjore (11th century), built to be the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and his relationship to the universal order.the temple was conceived as the personification of magnificence and loftiness. this was delineated through the sheer size of the temple layout and structure, its towering and uniquely styled gopura, its unbelievably massive vimana, and the size of the dhruvabhera the linga, the presiding deity of the temple. the lord himself was named brihadishwara.

      the sthapathi and the shilpis employed one more symbolism to drive home the point. the dvarapala, the gatekeepers at the temple-entrance are massive and their details are interesting too. the proportions of the dvarapala panel are basically related to that of an elephant, the largest land-animal. one has to work backwards to gain an estimate of the size and power, which the dvarapala represents. at the bottom of the panel is the image of an elephant which is being swallowed by a serpent which in turn is coiled around the mace held in the hands of the dvarapala. the serpent looks quite tiny in comparison to the mace on which the dvarapala has planted his foot. the mace looks like a toy in the hands of the dvarapala. you can work-back the size and power of the davrapala, staring from the elephant.

      the dvarapala in turn looks modest in comparison to the temple and its tower. the lord who has in his service a gigantic gatekeepers and who resides in such a magnificent temple must truly be mighty and powerful. the linga too is huge and it is named brihadishwara.

      thank you for asking.


      • sreenivasaraos

        March 20, 2015 at 6:07 pm

        From: MalaSJCE on 29 Jul 2010

        Help reqd: Talamana

        I read the blogs at Sulekha regarding Talamana system. I am very much impressed. Indeed it has helped me for my research. I am working in the area of image processing. I would like to know how I can get a copy of Talamana book written by Gopinath. Thank You Sir. Mala SJCE

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Dear MalaSJCE, Welcome. I am glad you found the posts on Devalaya Vastu useful. Please let me know whether you found the series readable; or did you have difficulties.

    When you said “Talamana book by Gopinatha” I presume; you were referring to ELEMENTS OF HINDU ICONOGRAPHY (IN 4 PARTS BOUND IN 2) (Hardcover) by T A Gopinatha Rao The book is available on net for about. `. 750. You may to use a credit Card. Please try the following link, among others :

    In case you are interested in Iconography you may also refer to Three Volumes on Indian Iconography by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao (that may cost about ` .4, 000).

    In case if you could read Kannada I suggest, you may refer to Dr. G Gnanananda’s Brahmiya Chitra Karma Sastram (five books).

    I case you could let know your specific area of interest and study, I reckon, that might be a bit more helpful.

    Good Lock and Godspeed in your endeavors.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Thank Sir for the early reply.

      I am actually working constructing any part of the human body when only fractional part is available. For example if part of the finger tip image is available then I should be able construct complete finger and then palm and then hand. In order to achieve this I need to know the measurements employed by our ancient sculptures. In this view your bolg posts were useful.

      I am basically looking forward for a book which can give me these measurements/ proportions. I am also looking at Golden Ratio/ section/ mean.

      So, Sir if you can suggest the best book which caters to my specific needs I will be grateful to you Sir.

      Looking for an reply,

      With regards,

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Dear MalaSJCE, That’s interesting. The Talamana I posted is rather too general and very elementary. It was written as a part of a series and was meant for general reading. The subject of measures and proportions of a sculpture is very detailed and very specific. The texts on Shilpa Shastra carry elaborate details of the gatra (length+breadth+thickness) giving its absolute measurement as also its proportion in relation to its genre part and to the whole body-volume (gatra). Each class of texts carries its own measure-system. I am not familiar with all or even most of those texts. I can only mention about one text that I read sometime back.

    I am referring to Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram a rare text of the Vaishnava Agama dated around fifth or sixth century. The text divided into four major divisions (adhikarana), twenty-three chapters has in total about 1115 verses (sloka).The third Adhikarana of the text titled Maanadhikarana Kaanda (chapters 16,17 and 18 of a total of 357 verses). This Adhikarana relates to the subject of your study, I presume. This provides various types of units of measurements and proportions of dasatala and Uttama dasatala image (I mentioned only two of those in my post-manangulam and deha labdh angulam).It specifies with precision the measure and proportion of the gatra of each body part.

    Since you mentioned fingures, let us see briefly what–Sarvatala Vibhagaha – the chapter 18 of the text says about fingures, figure joints, nails etc, among others. Before that, let’s get familiar with the units of measure.

    The measures and proportions given under are in relation to Uttama Dasatala of 120 + 4 managulam. That is, the height of the proposed image is divided equally into 120 mana-angulas and providing for another four additional angulas distributed at different body-parts for corrections/ extensions at joints etc. A standard unit of a mana-angula is reckoned according to the following table:

    Paramanu is the least and incredibly tiniest unit. And, it is described as:”when the sun’s rays pass through a close knit lattice (jaala) the minute breadth of a beam of light (anu-gatra) is Paramanu”. Human eye, of course, cannot make out a Paramanu.

    8 Paramanu=one anu

    8 anu = one renu (a speck of dust)

    8 renu= one romagra or valagra (tip of a single brand of hair)

    8 romagra = one likhya (it is not clear what it is; perhaps the egg of la very small insect)

    8 likhya = One Yuka (a minute insect, perhaps)

    8 likhya = One yuva (a standard grain of barley)


    8 yuva = one mana-angula.

    [In practice, an angula is taken as 1/12 of a tala. A tala in Dasatala is one-tenth (1 / 10) of the image height or the length from tip of the middle finger to the wrist of Shilpi’s or the Yajamana’ palm. The subdivisions of a Tala follow the above table.]

    Now we can get back to the fingures. Summarized forms of the fingure-dimensions are as under:

    The width of a fingure at its root and its end are not the same. The fingure end is one-half of a yuva less wide than the width at the fingure-root. [A yuva = 1/8 of an angula; and, angula = 1/12 of a Tala.]

    It is said; the breadth of a finger end should be divided into three parts of which two parts are for the nail .If you add back one-fourth of the nail’s width to the width of the finger end you get the length of the nail on that figure.

    The length of the last digit on a fingure is equal to twice the breadth of its nail.

    The thickness of the palm is related to the thickness of the thumb at its root (In the example, thickness of the thumb at its root is 2a, 4y). The inside length of hastha the palm is said to be 7a. The palm in turn is related to the proportions of the dimensions of the forearm and which in turn is related in a similar manner to the arm, and to the shoulder , torso and so on.

    Each body part of the image has to be proportionate within itself and also be in proportion and in harmony with other body parts. All are constituents of one single rationalized, well proportioned, harmonious unity.

    Therefore , if you start at a finger nail or a digit or for that matter any other body part , and steadily work backwards, you may arrive at the dimensions of other body parts ; and finally of the whole body structure and form of the image.

    The texts of the Shilpa Shastra have each their own measures and ratios. The details I gave above pertain to Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram . It may slightly vary in other texts.

    Note: all these are not absolute measures; but are suggested proportions. In the illustration we have picked up, an angula is taken as 1/120 part of the image length. In Shilpa Shastra, the relative sizes take precedence over the absolute sizes of the units. Therefore, the proportions of the head-trunk-arms-legs of the image; and the finer specifications of nose, nail, ears and their shapes are always in relation to other organs and particularly to that of the size of the face.

    You need to study texts of the Shilpa shastra. You may start with Book Five of Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram by Dr. Gnananda. You may also consult experts like him and others. It is also very important that you talk to practicing Shilpis. The measures and proportions I indicated are as per the texts. It is however essential to understand how these principles are observed in practices. It is also likely that each school of Shilpis may have derived their own set of measure-units in tune with the modern-day units of measure. I am sure there are knowledgeable Shilpis in Mysore. Please do talk to them. You may gain more from them.

    I am not sure all this meets your requirement. In any case, I’m posting this on the net as it might help other readers too.


  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Hello Sir,

    I am going through the document. I am having some confusion now. That is from various sources including your blog and Dr. Gift Siromoney’s papers I had got the middle finger length happens to five angulas. Palm length = 7 angulas and total length of the hand from mid finger tip to wrist is one tala = 12 angulas.

    Now in the document you have mentioned as

    Middle : 6a,4y which is 6.5 angulas.(1 angula = 8 yuva)

    And you also mentioned that they are proportions and not absolute values. Then I tried converting from dasatala to navatala as

    (108/120)*6.5 angulas = 5.85 angulas. (which is still higher than 5 angulas)

    I have collected geometric features of 200 hands and compared with my predicted results. I am getting almost 95% matches.

    Is finger length inclusive of nail length?

    I did not understand digits length.i.e if I sum up (2a,2y+1a,7y+1a,6y) I get (5a, 7y) which is not matching with that of the middle finger length.

    Please sir, also give the details of the place where I can get the book you suggested to buy.

    Book Five of Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram by Dr. Gnananda

    I tried searching the Net I did not find any place to purchase from.

    Sir please help me in locating the book suggested by you sir.

    With Regards,


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      Dear MalaSJCE, I am glad you read it closely.

      1. I think some confusion might have been caused, because I mentioned that the inside length of hastha= 7a. That should in fact have been hasta-tala (inside of palm). I am sorry

      2. The inside length of hastha (palm + middle figure) is of course 12a as you said. That is, inside palm (hasta-tala) 7a + inside length of middle finger 5a; of a total of 12a = One Tala. The inner length is from the base of the palm to the tip of the middle finger.

      3. As regards the digits I got mixed up with Kannada numerals 6 and 9; 2 and 7. (It is a longtime since I used these numbers; I have been away for sometime) I am sorry.

      Please take the following and check to see if it works out:

      These are outer measurements

      (Starts from the base of the fingers –knuckles to the tip of the fingers

      which include the length of nails;

      And, would therefore be longer than the inner measurements)

      Middle finger = 2a, 4y + 1a, 7y + 2a, 1y = 6a, 4y

      Index = 2a, 1y +1a, 4y+1a.5y=5a, 2y

      Ring = 2a, 0y+1a, 4y+1a, 6y = 5a, 2y

      Thumb+2a, 2y+2a, 0y = 4a, 2y

      Little = 1a, 4y+1a, 3y+1a, 3y= 4a, 2y

      Let me try to put it a little more clearly: The total length from shoulder point to the tip of the middle figure is taken as 63a 4y (63 ½ a). The length is accounted in this manner: arm= 27a + elbow= 2a + forearm = 21a + outer hasta-tala (from wrist to beginning or knuckle of middle finger) = 7a + middle figure =6a, 4y (6 ½ a).

      3. Don’t attempt to convert Uttama Dasatala or Dasatala to Navatala values, at this stage. Now, take each Tala values independently- as given in the text .Once you get the right picture then it might be easier for you to convert or to juggle.

      5. I am correcting the table and other narration. Please take out a fresh printout of the revised Doc attached. That might help to work with little difficulty.

      6. The Brahmiya Chitra Karma Shastram is written and published by Dr. Gnananda. It is in Kannada; and you may not find it on the net. Please write to Dr. Gnananda at the address I gave you in my earlier mail. Please also mention about the project you are working. He might of good help. And, he might also correct some of the incorrect information I might have passed on to you. He is an expert in the field; therefore go by his views and opinions. BTW, I do not know him personally. He may not even be aware of my existence. I just have read some of his books. OK?


  6. sreenivasaraos

    April 6, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Dear Hareesh, I glad my articles were useful to you.

    Yes; as you mentioned, I used to post on Sulekha. But, since it started going South and my of articles went missing, I posted them all on WordPress just to protect them from further damage. I am happy some are visiting my WordPress pages, and posting comments.

    No; I have not published in Book form.

    Yes; you may quote my articles; and, please do acknowledge

    As regards Talamana, I suggest you also my post on Temple Architecture, where there are few more details:

    Here, please do see the comments that I posted in response to queries from another researcher.

    For further reading, you may also refer to:

    1. The Theory of Citra-sutras in Indian Painting: A Critical Re-evaluation of their uses and interpretations… By Isabella Nardi

    2. On measuring images: A critical analysis of the theory of Talamana – by Isabella Nardi

    3. An encyclopaedia of Hindu architecture by Prasanna Kumar Acharya, Manasara series: volume vii (1946)


    Please see Extract from Pages 418-420 –



    MANA A house well measured (A.-V., ix, 3; HI, 12). The measurement of height or length.

    (i) The linear measurement is divided into six kinds Mana (Ayama, Ayata, Dirgha), Pramana, Parimana (Vistara, Tara, Striti Vistriti, Vistrita, Vyasa, Visarita, Vipula, Tata, Vishkambha, Visala), Lamba-mana (Sutra, Unmita), Unmana (Bahala, Ghana, Miti, Uchchhraya, Tunga, Unnata, Udaya, Utsedha, Uchcha, Nishkrama, Nishkriti, Nirgama,Nirgati, Udgama), and Upamana (Nivra, Vivara, Antara).

    The measurement from the foot to the top of the head is called Mana which is in fact nothing but height. Pramana is the measurement of breadth (vistrita). Parimana is the measurement of width or circumference (paritah). Lamba-mana is the measurement along the plumb lines or the lines drawn perpendicularly through different parts of the body, Mana, or the measurement of height being determined by the surface of the body. Unmana is the measurement of thickness (nimna) or diameter. And Upamana is the measurement of interspace (antara), such as the distance between the two feet of an image ; this measurement is apparently taken from one plumb line to another :

    Manam chapi pramanam cha parimanam lamba-manakam I
    Unmanam upamanam cha manam padmam samiritam I
    Padangushthi-sasimantaih siro’ntarh manam chapi prakathyate I
    Pramanam vistritam proktarh paritah parimanakam I
    Tat-sutral lamba-manarh syan nimnam unmanam uchyate I
    Avantaropamanam syad bimbodayadi-sarvasah I
    Manam evam tu shad-bhedam manenangani manayet I
    (M., LV, 3-9.)

    The primary measurement (adi-mana) is but the comparative measurement and is divided into the following nine kinds:

    The height of an image is determined by comparing it widi (i) the breadth (tara) of the main temple (harmya), (ii) the height of the sanctuary or central hall (garbha-griha), (iii) the length of the door (dvaramana), (iv) the measurement of the basement (adhishthana), (v) cubit, (vi) tala (a span), (vii) angula (finger’s breadth), (viii) the height of the worshipper, and (ix) the height of the riding animal (vahana) of the principal idol :

    Adimana-vidhirh samyak(-g) lakshanam cha ihochyate I
    Harmya-tara-vasan manam garbha-geha-vasodayam I
    Dvara-mana-vasat tungam adhishthana-vasodayam I
    Hasta-mana-vasan manam tala-mana-vasodayam I
    Angulenapi chottungam yajamana-vosodayam I
    Mula-bera-vasan manam uttamadi traya rh trayam I
    (M., LV, 10-15.)

    Each of these nine measures is again divided into nine kinds :

    Tasmad ekarh tu pratyekarii nava-manam ihochyate I
    (Ibid., 22.)

    Under (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), the proportions naturally vary on various occasions ; no specific rules are, therefore, prescribed.

    The details of (v) cubit or hasta and (vii) angula will be found under the term ‘ Angula ‘ and the details of (vi) tala are given under ‘ TALAMANA.’

    Of the division under (viii) the details of the height of an image as compared with the height of the worshipper are given here. The height of the image may be equal to the full height of the worshipper, may extend up to his hair-limit (on the forehead), or, as sometimes stated, to the eyeline, nose-tip, chin, arm-limit (to the shoulder), breast, heart, navel, and sex organ :

    Kanyasad uttamantam syad yajamanodayam param I
    Kesantam nasikagrantarh hanvantam bahu-simakam I
    Stanantam hridayantam cha navyantam medhra-slmakam I
    Navadha kanyasantam syat sthavaram jangamodayam I
    (Idid., 30-33-)

    And of the division under (ix) the height of the riding animal (vahana) as compared with the height of the principal idol (mula bera) admits of similar nine kinds as under (viii) (see details under UTSAVA and KAUTUKA).

    Hasta (v) and angula (vii) are the real units, employed equally in measuring both architectural and sculptural objects.

    The rest are exclusively sculptural and comparative measures. The
    similar measures have also been prescribed for architectural objects. The architectural ‘ Ganya-mana ‘ or the comparative heights of the component members of a structure corresponds to the sculptural ‘ Tala-mana ‘ or the comparative heights of the component limbs of a statue

    Five proportions of the height, as compared with the breadth of an
    architectural object, are given under five technical terms, namely, Santika, Paushtika, Jayada, Sarva-kamika or Dhanada, and Adbhuta (see details under UTSEDHA).
    The ‘ Ghana-mana ‘ or the measurement by the exterior and the
    ‘ Aghana-mana ‘ or the measurement by the interior are exclusively architectural(see details under these terms).

    Like the sculptural terms Mana, Pramana, Parimana, Lamba-mana,
    Unmana and Upamana, there are architectural terms also to express
    length, breadth and width, e.g. dirgha (for dairghya), tara, vistara, visala, vistriti, vistrita, vishkambha, etc. Mana as stated above is the technical name for sculptural height ; but to express the same idea the general terms for height, such as unnati, unnata, utsedha, etc., are also used.

    Mana is also used in its general sense of measurement, area, etc. Pramana and Parimana are also used in their general senses of length, breadth, width, etc. (Further details will be found under these terms.)

    (2) Atah-pararh pravakshyami manonmanam viseshatah I ‘ After this I shall speak about the Mana and Unmana measurements in particular.’

    This is followed by an account of various measures. (Note the different tala measurements employed in statues.)(Matsya-Purana, Chap. CCLVHI, v. 16.)

    (3) Manarh tad-vistaram proktam unmanam naham eva cha I (Suprabhedagama, xxxiv, 35.)

    (4) Parimanonmana-manam dharyarh raja-vimudritam I
    Guna-sadhana-samdaksha bhavamtu nikhila janah II


  7. nischay

    May 29, 2015 at 6:33 am

    Sreenevas Sir,
    What is the actual translation of “angula” in modern measurements. I seem to find different mapping, some say its 3/4 of an inch and some say its 3cm.


    • sreenivasaraos

      May 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      Dear Nischay,

      Pardon me for the delay in responding to your question.

      Angula in Shilpa Shastra is generally understood as a finger-breadth; a measure of about three fourths of an inch; OR one of some equal parts, into which an architectural or sculptural object is divided for proportional measurement.

      Each text gives its own tables of measures/conversions.

      Manasara, Chap, II gives general description and tables of conversions; and Chapter LV mentions three kinds of the Angula-measure (Matrangula-gatam proktam arigulam tri-vidham bhavet)

      The Manangula is the standard measure; it is equal to 8 barley corns;

      The Matrangula is the measure taken in the middle finger of the master;

      Then there is the Deha-labdhaiigula, which is equal to one of the equal parts, into which the whole height of a statue is divided for sculptural measurement.

      Angula by itself might mean a measure of about three fourths of an inch .But, generally , Angula is not taken as a fixed of absolute unit of measure. Shilpa shastra prefers deal with proportions than with absolute numbers.

      Angula, in practice, is taken as 1/108 of the height of the idol or 1/120 of the idol with pedestal.
      Please do read the article in full and also the replies I posted to the comments.That might help.

      Thanks for asking.

      Cheers and Regards

      • nischay

        June 1, 2015 at 5:29 pm

        Thank you sir. That helps clear my doubts.


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