[This is the third in the series of articles I would be posting on the art of painting in ancient India with particular reference to the Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana. The previous (second) article covered certain concepts and general aspects discussed in Chitrasutra.
The current article deals with the physical features of various classes and types of images, proportions, projections, foreshortening etc.
The next article discusses colours and representation of things seen and unseen; and briefly talks about certain symbolisms mentioned in the text.]
8.1. The Indian artist never took in the world at a sweeping glance. He had an eye for details. Chitrasutra gives an elaborate classification of different types of men and women. They are classified into one of the five standard types called: Hamsa, Bhadra, Malavya, Ruchaka and sasaka. Their respective measures were 108, 106, 104, 100, and 90 angulas. Twelve angulas or digits make one tala, which is the length of the palm from the edge of the wrist to the tip of the middle figure. Usually, the face of the image would measure a length of one tala, which, in other words, would be one-ninth of the body length of a Hamsa category image. The proportions of the various parts of the image –body would be in terms of the tala and its denomination (the angula). Hamsa is the standard measurement of body -length of an image; and the proportions of the other categories of images (Bhadra etc.) are to be worked out by taking Hamsa as bench mark.
[A similar tala-mana system of proportions and measures governs the shilpa iconography. Its iconometry prescribes the proportion of the limbs and other parts of its body in relation to its face -length. The Indian artists are governed by proportions than by actual measurements. Thus a figure might look pigmy or colossal while the principles that govern the proportions would be the same.
These rules specify the various 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 images.
In shilpa-sastra, the madhyama navatala(standard height 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.The angula (literally ‘finger’) is a finger’s width and measures one quarter of the width of the shilpi’s fist. The value of the angula so derived becomes a fixed length (manangulam), for all practical purposes, for that image. All other measurements of the image are in terms of that unit.
The face – length of the image i.e., from its chin up to the root of its 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 will have a total of nine tala units, in height (108 angulas).
Hamsa of Chitrasutra corresponds to Nava-tala of the Shilpa sastra.
“In composition the central figure is given importance over the other figures. And , that leads to the heightening of the fundamental emotions or fuller expression of the central figure for which alone the others exist.”
8.2.The text describes the characteristic features of the five categories of men.
(i). Hamsa (108 angulas) should be strong, with arms resembling the king of serpents, with moon-white complexion, having sweet eyes set in a good-looking face; and with lion-like waist and swan-like majestic gait. The deities are depicted in Hamsa category of style.
(ii).Bhadra (106 angulas) is learned, is of the color of lotus; with full grown tapering round arms, a hairy cheeks and elephant like step. The rishis, gandharvas, vidhyadharas, ministers and family priests are depicted under this category.
(iii). Malavya (104 angulas) is dark like a mudga –pulse (kidney bean?), good looking ; with a slender waist, arms reaching up to the knees, broad shoulders, broad jawas and a prominent nose like that of an elephant. The kinnaras, nagas, rakshasas and domestic women are depicted under Malavya category.
(iv). Ruchaka (100 angulas) is high souled, truthful and clever. He is of autumn-white complexion and strong with a conch-like neck. Yakshas, vaishyas and prostitutes are depicted under this category. And,
(v). Sasaka (90 angulas) is clever reddish dark and of a slightly spotted colour; with full cheeks and sweet eyes. The tribal chiefs and sudras are depicted as Sasaka.
8.3. As regards the female figures, they too fall under each of the above five categories. The figures of corresponding category (say Hamsa, Bhadra etc.) too should be depicted in proportions that are applicable to that category. But the size of the female figures should be smaller than of the male figures appearing on the same canvass or surface. Her height should be made to reach the shoulder of the man placed near her, in proportion. Her waist should be two angulas thinner than that of a man. On the other hand, her hips should be made wider by four angulas. The breasts should be rendered soft, charming and proportionate to her chest.
Talking about women, the text mentions elsewhere, “a female figure should be drawn with one foot calmly advanced, and with the part about the hips and loins broad and flurried on account of amorous dalliance”.
The women of good-family should be made bashful, wearing modest ornaments and not-showy dresses; and she with a slender waist depicted under Malavya characteristics.
The courtesans on the other hand should be painted with vermilion or emerald colour, moon-like complexion or dark like the petals of blue-lotus. Her dress should be unrestrained, designed to excite and evoke erotic feelings. She should be painted as a Ruchaka character.
9. Drista- those things visible
9.1. The text then goes to describe in great detail the characteristic appearances of country folk, the nobility, widows, courtesans, merchants, artisans, soldiers, archers, door-keepers, wrestlers, monks , mendicants , bards , musicians , dancers and others. Vivid descriptions of their dresses, movements, habits, and features peculiar to their class are given in Chitrasutra. They make a very interesting reading.
9.2. The text also describes the characteristics of different tribes and castes as distinguished by their complexion; noticeable physical features, costumes and habits.
9.3. The Chitrasutra instructs things that are usually visible should be well represented; resembling what is ordinarily seen in life. The aim of painting is to produce an exact resemblance; but not to copy. Persons should be painted according to their country; their colour, dress, and general appearance as observed. Having well ascertained the person’s country, region, occupation, age and his status in life; his other details such as his seat, bed, costume, conveyance, stance, and his gestures should be drawn.
[The Chitrasutra explores this subject in great depth detailing characteristics of persons hailing from various regions and occupations. It is rather too detailed to be posted here. I would be posting a summary of that, along with few other issues, in a separate article.]
10. Features of the Chitra
There is a detailed enumeration of the features of the images of deities, kings and other class. The Chitrasutra also makes some general remarks of such paintings; and says:
A painting drawn with care pleasing to the eye, thought out with great intelligence and ingenuity and remarkable by its execution beauty and charm and refined taste and such other qualities yield great joy and delight.
A painting without proper position, devoid of appropriate rasa, of blank look, hazy with darkness and devoid of life movements or energy (chetana) is considered inauspicious.
A painting cleanses and curbs anxiety, augments future good, causes unequalled and pure delight; banishes the evils of bad dreams and pleases the household deity. The place decorated by a picture never looks dull or empty.
10.1. a. Deities
While discussing the image of the deities to be painted, the text says, the painted image should have a pleasing body, a well finished and well proportioned limbs, delicately painted effects of shade and light, facing the viewer. It should be pure and charming adorned by manifold lines and embellishments.
The front view, face, chest and abdomen should remain undiminished; but, it should grow narrow towards the waist from thighs and also from the shoulders. Its shoulders should be broad. The abdomen should neither be shrunk nor bloated.
The deities should be drawn wearing strings of garlands and ornamented by crowns, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, ornaments of the upper arms, long girdles reaching up to the ornaments on their feet, and sacred threads with ornaments for the head.
The text says, in general, an image possessed of all auspicious and beautiful marks is excellent from every point of view. Its mudras (gestures of hand and fingers) should be benevolent blessing people with welfare, peace and prosperity. Such an image would add to the wealth, crops, fame and the longevity of life of the worshipers. ” Blessed is the work of art that is endowed with auspicious marks as it is a harbinger of fortune, fame to the country, to the king and to the maker.”
The text also warns, when an image is devoid of these auspicious marks (lakshanas) it would cause destruction of wealth and crops. And, it instructs that such an image should therefore be made with great care, dedication and devotion.
10.1. b. Others
Vidhyadharas should be shown with garlands and ornaments; and accompanied by their wives on either side. They should be shown either on land or in air, with swords in their hands.
As regards the depiction of great men such as kings and noble persons, the text recommends their images should possess the auspicious lakshanas associated with greatness. Apart from that, it also mentions that their hands should reach up to their knees (aa-janu bahu). The hands and feet of a chakravartin should be webbed (jala). The auspicious mark of small circle of hair (urna or tuft of hair) should be shown between their eyebrows. On the hands near the wrist three delicate auspicious lines slender curving should be drawn; as if scratched by a hare.
The hair should be made thin, wavy, shiny, with natural glossiness and like the dark blue sapphire. They should be properly ornamented.
10.2. a. Deities
The gods should be represented according to Hamsa measure. The face beautiful should be well developed, well finished, and benign marked with all the auspicious lakshanas. The face should be youthful radiating peace and joy. The face should not be triangular or crooked; nor should it be oval or round. The face should never look angry, sad or blank and lifeless .If such expressions creep in, the image should be discarded.
All organs of senses like eyes, nose, mouth and ears should be made visible.
Gods and gandharvas should be represented without crowns but with crests.
10.2. b. Others
All kings should be endowed with auspicious marks. They should be ornamented suitably.
Daityas and danavas (demons) should be made to have frightened mouths, frowning faces round eyes and gaudy garments but without crowns.
The text pays enormous importance to the depiction of eyes of a painted figure.
The text informs that the eyes are the windows to the soul; and it is through their eyes the figures in the painting open up their heart and speak eloquently to the viewer
The text describes some positions of the eyes : looking straight; half of eyes , nose and forehead are seen ;one eye is seen in full and half of the eyebrow is suppressed; one eye, one eyebrow, one temple , one ear , half of chin are seen etc.
In each case it describes how the eyes and eyebrows should be foreshortened, that is delicately reduced in size or suppressed by artistic means such as gentle lines, delicate shading or by dots.
The text describes five basic types of eyes. And, it says the eye could be in the form of a bow (chapakara); or like the abdomen of a fish (matsyodara); or like the petal of blue lotus (utpalaptrabha); or like a white lotus (padmapatranibha) or like a conch (sankhakriti).
It is explained that the eye assumes the shape of a bow when looking at the ground in meditation or when lost in a thought.
The eye in the shape of fish should be painted in the case of women and lovers.
The eye in the shape of blue lotus is said to be ever calm and look charming with red at the corners and with black pupils, smiling, gentle and ending in long eye lashes sloping at its end.
The eye in the shape of white lotus petal befits a damsel frightened and crying.
A conch like eye suggests angry and woe stricken state.
10.3. a. Deities
The eyes of gods should be wide with black pupils, enhancing the beauty of the divine face, beautiful to look at, charming the mind, smiling and with slight reddish tint at its ends like those of blue-lotus petals, with eyelashes bent at the ends, of equal size, gentle; and fluid and pure like cow’s milk. Such gentle serene eyes and pools of tranquillity expressing love and compassion bless the viewers with happiness.
The images with white-lotus petal eyes bring wealth and prosperity. Its eyes should also be even, wide, serene and pleasant to look at. It should have eye-lash sloping at the end and black pupil. Its look should be placid,
Unmilana ‘opening of the eyes’ of the figure is described as the final act; a painting would be complete only with that; and after that, ” an auspicious painting in which the figures will appear to be alive and almost breathe and move’ . Drawing of eyes with delicate lines and giving an expression to the image infuses life into it.
The artist is cautioned to be careful and not to give an upward or downward or sideward look to the deity. An image of god with too small or too wide eyes; or looking depressed, angry or harsh should be discarded. In case such mistakes happen, the deity should be discarded.
The text warns of the ill effects of making a painting of a deity with bad proportions or unacceptable dispositions.
An image of god should be properly made with great care and devotion; and with all the auspicious marks
10.3. b. Others
Daityas and danavas should be given round eyes wide open in fright. Their mouths should also be open as if about to scream. They should be given gaudy ornaments, but no crown.
Representation of human figures with too thick lips, too big eyes and testicles and unrestrained movement are the defects.
Hair is an important aspect of the image. It provides it with individuality and it also symbolizes its character.
The text specifies six types of hairstyles: Kuntala (loose) hair; Dakshinavarta (curled towards the right); Taranga (wavy); Simha kesara (lion’s –mane); vardhara (parted) and jatatasara (matted).
10.4. a. Deities
Hair should be represented auspicious, fine resembling deep blue sapphire, adorned by its own greasiness and with endearing curls.
In case of gods, the halo should be drawn around their heads, proportionate to the measurement of the head and colour of the hair. The colour of the halo circle should enhance the glow of the deity. Their body should be devoid of hair. On their faces, they should have hair only on their eyelashes and eye brows.
Gods and gandharvas should be represented without crowns but with crests.
10.4. b .Others
Sages emaciated yet full of splendour should be represented with long stresses of hair clustered on top of their head, with a black antelope skin as upper garment.
The manes of the sages, ancestors and gods should be made to glow like gold and with ornaments consistent with their own colour, outshining all others.
In the case of kings a circle of hair should be drawn auspiciously between their eyebrows. The hair on a king’s body should be drawn one by one.
The respectable people of country and town should be painted with almost grey hair, adorned with ornaments suitable to their status.
Merchants should be represented with their head covered on all sides by turbans.
Wrestlers should be represented with cropped hair, looking arrogant and impetuous.
Widows are to be shown with grey hair , wearing white dress and devoid of ornaments.
The artist should use his skill and imagination in providing appropriate hair-styles to the figures.
10.5. Arms and hands
In case of gods and kings, arms reaching up to the knees should be strong and tapering resembling the king of serpents or the trunk of an elephant; and should reach up to the knees. Hands should be delicate. The images of the kings should be shown with webbed hands. (I do not know the “why” of this requirement). All kings should be endowed with auspicious marks.
The hands of deities should be delicate and expressive. Their mudras, the gestures by hands and fingers, should be auspicious in benediction.
There is an elaborate discussion on the feet-positions, which enhance the mood and message of the image. The positions described include, standing straight in traditional position (sampada); standing with a spans apart (vaisakha) ; half straight with left knee advanced and right knee retracted- suggesting movement (pratyalidha); its counterpart that is right knee advanced (alidha) legs in circular motion (mandala).
The knee-bent positions are related to an archer or a javelin thrower or a swords person etc. (as in pratyalidha or alidha). These positions are improvised to show a fat man running or a pitcher- carrier. The bent knees and feet apart positions are also used to depict the broad hips, flurried loins of the amorous dalliance of a woman.
Accordingly, the gods should always be made beautiful, having gaits like: a lion, bull, elephant or a swan.
11. Postures and perspectives
Chitrasutra mentions that an image could be presented in any number of positions; but categorizes nine positions as the leading attitudes.
11.1. The nine postures, mentioned under, can perhaps be understood as stylized views, as they are the same figure viewed from different angles. That causes portraying the same figure, with altered body- proportions, because some parts are hidden from view while some others are prominent. The ratio of the head with the other limbs of the body has to be altered in accordance with the different postures and view positions (perspectives). Yet, the image should not look disproportionate. That has to be done by manipulating density of light and shades. These indicate that the Chitrasutra had a sound understanding of the spatial perspective of things.
11.2. The various positions and perspectives are achieved by what the Chitrasutra callas – kshaya and vridhi, decrease and increase, which is the art and skill of foreshortening. The positions are:
(i)*. front view (rivagata);
(ii)*.back view (anrju);
(iii)*.bent position – in profile view (sat-chikrat-sarira);
(Iv)*.face in profile and body in three quarter profile (ardha-vilochana);
(v)*.side view proper (paravagata);
(vi)*.with head and shoulder-belt turned backwards (paravritta);
(vii)*.back view with upper part of the body partly visible in profile (prastagata);
(viii)*.with body turned back from the waist upwards (parivrtta);
(ix)*.the back view in squatting position with head bent (samanata).
Foreshortening is achieved, as the text says, by manipulating light and shadows with the aid of colouring, shading with delicate cross lines, stumping and dots; and at the same time maintain the proper proportion (pramana) of the figure and its aspects.
“Weakness or thickness of delineation, want of articulation, improper juxtaposition of colors are said to be defects of painting.”
*A painting without proper position, devoid of appropriate rasa, blank look, hazy with darkness and devoid of life movements or energy (chetana) is inauspicious.
“Proper position, proportion and spacing; gracefulness and articulation; resemblances; increasing or decreasing (foreshortening) are the eight good qualities of a painting.”
Sources and References:
I gratefully acknowledge Shri S Rajam’s sublime paintings; And the other paintings from internet.
Line drawings from Dr. G Gnanananda’s Brahmiya Chitrakarma Sastram
Citrasutra of the Visnudharmottara Purana by Parul Dave Mukherji
Stella Kramrisch: The Vishnudharmottara Part III: A Treatise on Indian Painting and Image-Making. Second Revised and Enlarged Edition ; (Calcutta University Press: 1928)
Technique of painting prescribed in ancient Indian Texts
The “Sarvatobhadra” temple of the Vishnu-dharmottara-purana
I gratefully acknowledge the illustrations from the works of Shri S Rajam
All other pictures are from internet