Tag Archives: Temple Architecture.iconometry

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


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).

 [From Matsya -puranam,  Pratima -nirmana -varnanam,– making of the idols

The worship of idols made of gold, silver, copper, gems, stone, wood, metal, or alloys with iron, copper, brass, and bronze is praised.

Sauvarni rajati vapi tamri ratnamayi tatha  / SailI darumayi capi lohasadhamayi tatha II

Ritika dhatuyukta va tamra-karmsya-rnayi tatha I Subhadarumayi vapi devatarca prasasyate II

Make idols in nine Tala ( with each Tala divided into 12 angulas) , starting with the face of one  Tala. The neck should be 4 angula (fingers) wide; then the chest one Tala. Below that, the beautiful navel famous for its depth and expansiveness of a finger width should be made with one Tala.

Pratima-mukha-manena navabhagan prakalpayet I Catur-angula bhavedgriva bhagena hrdayarn punah II

Nabhistas-madadhah karya bhagenaikena sobhana I Nimnatve vistaratve ca angulam parikirtitarn II

Build the parts below the navel in one Tala. The thigh and the knee come in 2 Tala in four fingers width. The legs are done in two Tala, the feet in 4 fingers (angula) width. Similarly, the crown is of 14 (angulas) fingers, as is well known.

Nabhir-adhastatha-medham bhagen-ekena kalpayet I Dvi-bhage-anayatavuru januni caturangule II

Janghe dvibhage vikhyati padau ca caturangulaih Caturdasa angulas tad van maulirasya  prakirtitah II   ]

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).]


The  Brhat-Samhita of  Varaha Mihira (Ca. Sixth Century CE), under the Chapter 58 – Prathima Lakshana Adhyaya gives another version of the Iconometric  measurements :

1.The fine particles moving in the rays of the sun coming into a room through the window opening are known as atoms.

2. Eight atoms make a hair’s end; eight hair’s ends make a nit; eight nits make a louse; eight lice make a barley seed; eight barley seeds make an inch, which is known as a unit of measure

8 atoms=1 dust particle ; 8 dust particles=1 tip of hair; 8 tips of hair=1 nit; 8 nits=1 louse; 8 lice = 1 barley grain;8 barley grains =1 digit

3.The height of the pedestal of an image shall be one-third of seven-eighths of the height of the entrance. The height of the image shall be twice the height of the pedestal.

4. The breadth and length of the face of the image shall each be 12 inches. The sage Nagnagit says that in the Dravida country the face of the image is 14 inches long.

5.The nose, the forehead, the chin, the neck, and the ear of the image shall each be 4 inches; the mouth shall be 2 inches ; the breadth of the chin shall also be 2 inches.

6.The forehead shall be 8 inches long; 2 inches from it are the frontal bones which shall be 4 inches, and the ear shall be 2 inches broad.

7.The space between the ear and the eyebrows shall be four inches and a half and the lobes of the ear shall be well formed.

8. According to Vasishta the interval between the end of the eye and the ear shall be 4 inches; the lower lip shall be an inch broad and the upper one shall be one-half the size of the lower,

9.The Goccha(?) shall be half an inch; the mouth shall be 4 inches long; the breadth of the mouth when open shall be 3 inches, and the opening shall be an inch and a half.

10.The nose shall be two inches broad; the sense of smell is at the tip of the nose; the nose shall be two inches high; the interval between the eye and the tip of the nose shall be four inches

11.The eye-lid shall be two inches broad; the eye- ball shall also be two inches broad; the breadth of the pupil of the eye shall be two-thirds of an inch. The eye-lids shall be open with a space of half an inch. The centre of the pupil of the eye where the sense of sight remains shall be one-fifth of two-thirds of an inch.

12.From one end of an eyebrow to the other end of the other eyebrow shall be ten inches. The breadth of the eye-brow shall behalf an inch. The interval between the eyebrows shall be two inches; and the length of each eyebrow shall be four inches.

13.The breadth of the hair of the eyebrows shall be half an inch throughout; at the end of the. eye shall be formed the figure of the Karavira flower about an inch in dimensions.

14.The breadth of the head shall be 32 inches; the same when measured across shall be 14 inches. In paining 12 out of the 32 inches shall be visible and the rest shall be invisible.

15.The face with the hair growing about it shill be 16 inches according to Nagnagit; the neck shall be 10 inches broad ; the same when measured around shall be 21 inches.

16.The heart shall be 12 inches below the neck; the navel shall be 12 inches below the heart., and the genital organ shall be 12 inches below the centre of the navel.

17.The thighs shall be 24 inches long; the shanks shall also be 24 inches; the knee-shell shall be 4 inches, and the feet shall be 4 inches high.

18.The length of the feet shall be 12 inches and the breadth shall be 6 inches; the length of big toe shall be 3 inches; the same when measured around shall be 5 inches; the next toe shall also be 3 inches.

19.The other three toes shall each be one-eighth less than the length of the toe before it. The height of the big toe shall be an inch and a quarter.

20.The learned say that the nail of the big toe shall be three-fourths of an inch broad and that the toe- nails shall each be half an inch or less.

21.The shanks when measured around at the end shall be 14 inches. The breadth at the place shall be 5 inches. The breadth of the shauks at the middle shall be 7 inches; the shanks when measured around at the middle shall be 27 inches.

22. The knee shall be 8 inches broad at the middle; the knee when measured around at the middle shall be 24 inches. The breadth of the thigh at the middle shall be 14 inches 5 the same when measured around at the middle shall be 28 inches,

23.The hip shall be 18 inches broad; the same when measured around shall be 44 inches. The navel shall be an inch deep-

24.The measure of the body round the middle of the navel shall be 42 inches. The interval between the two nipples of the breast shall be 10 inches and the arm-pit shall be at a distance of 6 inches from the nipple.

25.The shoulders shall be 8 inches long; the upper arm shall be 12 inches long; the lower arm should be 6 inches and the wrist shall be 4 inches.

26.The upper arm when measured around at its Rocca shall be 16 inches and the lower arm when measured around at the wrist shall be 12 inches. The breadth of the palm shall be 6 inches and its length shall be 7 inches,

27.The middle finger shall be 5 inches long; the fore fore-finger shall be shorter than the middle finger by one half of the length of its middle- joint; the length of the ring finger shall be the same as that of the fore finger; and the little finger shall be shorter than the middle finger by its last joint.

28. The thumb shall consist of two joints, and the other fingers of three joints each. The breadth of the nails shall be one -half of the length of the joints on which they grow-

29.The images shall be shaped and adorned according to the fashion of the country. By placing images in temples, a person becomes prosperous.


Stella KramrischDr. 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.

central axis

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)

design rangoli

[ As mentioned earlier, there is no uniformity across the various systems.  In various treatises various scales of Taala, proportion for iconometry were mentioned.

And, one of such one of the systems has units of measurements for common usage consisting of Yava (size of the barley grain); Angula (digit-width of a finger) equivalent to eight Yava; Vitasti is the standard Taala unit measuring a palm span equivalent to twelve Angulas; Hasta (cubit) equivalent to twenty-four Angulas; Danda (a stick) equivalent to four Hastas; Rajju (a rope) equivalent to four Dandas.

The system has micro level units of measurements, Anu (atom), Renu (a speck of dust) equivalent to eight Anus, Valagra (tip of a hair) equivalent to eight Renus, Liksha (?) equivalent to eight Valagras; and, Yuka (louse) equivalent to eight Likshas. Yava is supposed to be equivalent to eight Yuka.

The system also has macro level units for measuring long distances, Krosh equivalent to five hundred Dandas; Goruta equivalent to two thousand Dandas; and Yojana equivalent to eight thousand Dandas.]

design rangoli

[ Sri Abanindranth Tagore  (7 August 1871 – 5 December 1951) in his famous work ‘Some notes on Indian Artistic Anatomy”; translated into English and published by the Indian Society of Oriental Art, during 1914; describes a parallel system of Tala-mana , according to Sukranitisara and Brihatsamhita. He says:

Sukranitisara, another text, recognizes five different classes of images: — Nara (human); Krura (terrible); Asura (demoniac); Bala (infantile); and, Kumara (juvenile). Each of these five classes or sets of images (murtis) is assigned a particular scale/proportion (Tala-mana):

 Nara murti = ten Talas; Krura murti = twelve Talas; Asura murti = sixteen Talas; Bala murti = five Talas; and, Kumara murti = six Talas.

Here, a Tala is defined as: a quarter of the width of the artist’s own fist is called an Angula or finger’s width. And, twelve such Angulas make one Tala.

The Nara or Dasha (ten)Tala measure is recommended for deities or heroic persons, such as: Nara-narayana, Rama, Krishna, Indra, Bhargava, and, Arjuna, etc.

The Krura or Dwadasha (twelve) Tala measure is for figures who represent destructive tendencies;   such as :  Chandi, Bhairava, Narasimha, Hayagriva, and, Varaha etc.

The Asura or Sodasha (sixteen) Tala measure is to be used for  depicting demoniacal figures like; Hiranyakasipu, Hiranyakasha, Ravana,  Kumbhakarna,   Shumbha, Nishumbha, Mahisha, and, Raktabija, etc.

The Bala or Pancha (five) Tala measure is to be used for representing all types of infants, such as : Bala-Krishna, Infant-Rama, Gopalas etc.

And, the Kumara, or Shat (six) Talas, for the period of childhood, past infancy, before the approach of youth;  such as  Bala-gowri, Uma, Vamana, Krishnasaksh, etc..

Besides these given measures there is another measure current in Indian iconography which is known as the Uttama Nava-tala. In this type of images, the whole figure is divided into nine equal parts which are called Talas. A quarter of a Tala is called an Amsa or Unit. Thus, there being four Amsas to each Tala, the length of the whole figure from tip to toe is 9 Talas or 36 Amsas.

The heights or vertical lengths of the various parts of a figure made according to this, Talas are  : middle of forehead to chin = 1 Tala; collar-bone to chest = 1 Tala; chest to navel =1 Tala; , navel to hips = 1 Tala;  hips to knees = 2 Talas; knees to insteps = 2 Talas;  forehead to crown of the head = 1 Amsa;  neck = 1 Amsa;  knee-caps = 1 Amsa;  feet = 1 Amsa.

The widths or horizontal measures are as follows: Head = 1 Tala, neck = 2 1/2 Amsas; shoulder to shoulder = 3 Talas;  chest=  6 Amsas;  waist = 5 Amsas;  hips = 2 Talas;  knees =  2 Amsas; , ankles = 1 Amsa;  feet = 5 Amsas.

The hands and their parts are as follows:  Lengths: shoulders to elbows = 2 Talas, elbows to wrists = 6 Amsas; palms = 1 Tala. The widths  near armpits = 2 Amsas; elbows = I 1/2 Amsas; wrists = 1 Amsa.

The face of the figure is divided into three equal portions:  middle of forehead to middle of pupils; pupils to tip of the nose; and, from tip of the nose to chin.

According to Sukranitisara, the proportions of a Nava-tala figure should be as follows:

From the crown of the head to the lower fringe of hair = 3 Angulas in width; forehead = 4 Angulas ;  nose =  4 Angulas ; from tip of nose to chin = 4 Angulas; and , neck = 4 Angulas  in height;  eye-brows =  4 Angulas  long and half an Angula  in width; eyes = 3 Angulas  in length and two in width ; pupils = one third the size of the eyes ; ears =  4 Angulas in height and 3 in width.  Thus, the height of the ears is made equal to the length of the eye-brows.

Palms = 7 Angulas long’ the middle finger = 6 Angulas; the thumb = 3 Angulas, extending to the first phalanx of the index finger.

The thumb has two joints or sections only-, while the other fingers have three each. The ring finger is smaller than the middle finger by half a section; and, the little finger smaller than the ring finger by one section, while the index finger is one section short of the middle.

The feet should be 14 Angulas long; the big toe= 2 Angulas; the first toe = 2 ½ or 2 Angulas; the middle toe = 1 1/2 Angula; the third toe = l ½  Angula ; and , the little toe = l ½  Angula

Female figures are usually’ made about one Amsa shorter than males.

The proportions of child-figures should be as follows:—

The trunk, from the collar-bones below, should be 4 ½ times the size of the head. Thus the portion of the body, between the neck and the thighs is twice and the rest 2 1/2 times the size of the head. The length of the hands should be twice that of the face or the feet.

Children have short necks and comparatively bigheads; for the growth of the head, with increase of age, is much slower than that of the rest of the body.


In this context, Sri Abanindranth Tagore quotes Prof. Ordhendra Coomar Gangoly (1881-1974), popularly known as O.C. Ganguly , one of the foremost authorities on Indian Art. 

O C Ganguly

The Talas given here do not exhaust the various measures current in Indian sculpture.  In the 4th chapter of the Sukraniti Sara as also in the chapter on Pratima lakshana of the Brihat Samhita measurements are given for the average human body according to which the average male figure is stated to be eight times the face which is represented by one Tala.

Any height for a human ‘male, which is less than the eighth measure is conceived in the Sukraniti-sara as dwarfish or below the average.

The average human female figure is given as of the seventh measure (Sapta-Tala).

The average infant figure is laid down as of the fifth measure (Pancha-tala).

The measures higher than the Asta Tala are reserved for the images of gods ;, demons, Rakshasas and other super-human beings.

Thus the image of the goddess according to the Sukranitisara is always in the ninth measure (Nava Tala smrita Devi).That of the Rakshasas   is the tenth measure.

The South Indian manuscripts however differ a little from the Sukraniti-sara and other works in respect of the rules for the measure of the deities.

But; except in the case of the image of Ganesha and Krishna, all the measures given for the images of the deities are higher than the Asta-tala , the average human measure, the higher measurements suggesting a relatively ‘heroic’ type.

In the South Indian manuscripts, each measure is again divided into three different classes e.g. the Uttama (best) Madhyamā [medium) and the Adhama (lowest). Thus the Uttama Dasa-tala is represented by 124 Angulas or parts; the Madhyamā-dasa-tala by 120 parts; and, the Adhama-dasa-tala by 116 parts. 

Special injunctions are laid down for constructing particular images in a measure specially reserved for them.

design rangoli

The noted Scholar Vinod Vidwans , in his  Expressing with grey cells: Indian perspectives on new media arts, writes :

Every culture has its set of norms for defining beauty based on the tradition, religious beliefs, as well as indigenous evolved notions of beauty. These norms have an impact on people’s behavior and artistic expression. Traditional Indian artists have developed elaborate system of measurements and proportions. Once the conceptual framework for desired entity – an image, sculpture, or architectural monument – is designed or pre-visualized (of course, treatises lay down the process of visualization by emphasizing the importance of contemplation and meditation), artists were supposed to employ the Taala and Maana measurements for bringing the image into expected scale of proportion for actual manifestation.

Since Maana is a system of proportions, there were several distinct sets of measurements. Maana is measurement along the vertical axes, Pramana is along the horizontal axes, Parimaana is around the circumference, Unmaana is along the transverse planes and depths, and Upamaana stands for proportions between negative spaces, i.e., space between the parts .

The purpose of Taala-Maana system was to provide standardization that will eventually lead to harmonious creations. The Taala-Maana measurements laid down in the treatises are supposed to be aesthetic proportions for visual composition. Indian tradition has evolved a unique calculus of aesthetic proportions applicable across plastic and performing arts.

The Taala-Maana system is applicable to performing arts of music, dance, and theater where units of measurements are interpreted in terms of time. The same Taala unit is interpreted in the context of dance as a relative proportion in terms of number of hand spans between the feet in a particular posture or the length of a step, and, with reference to music, it is the unit of a rhythmic cycle, a temporal unit .

The Taala-Maana system is in no sense a prescriptive system; in fact, it is a descriptive system, a calculus of aesthetics that lays down the canons of beauty allowing individual artists to freely explore the beauty of forms with all its possible variations. These canons were never a hindrance to artistic creativity. No two temples or sculptures are the replicas of each other, though they are based on these same canons. Taala-Maana system is a conceptual and perceptual standard of aesthetics, an essence of a long Indian tradition and collective wisdom. The system is sufficiently complex and evolved over a period of time.

The idea of Taala-Maana stands for the integration and manifestation of inner structure, rhythm, and vital energy of the work of art. Artistic vision is scaled to human sense of proportion leading a way towards abstraction and idealized designs that reveal archetype quest for form and meaning. The ultimate objective of any artistic expression is to evoke a unique kind of aesthetic experience. To achieve this artists construct an imaginative world that is meaningful.

A performing artist creates an imaginary world using the artistic devices of language, poetic phrases, dialogues, rhyming words, beautiful hand gestures, and body postures. In arts like painting, sculpture, and architecture, artists use the visual language of shapes, forms, colors, texture, positive and negative spaces to create meaningful reality. In both cases, the languages of creative expression require a grammar of aesthetics.

Normally, this grammar is implicitly present and followed by artists intuitively. Otherwise artists have their own explicit grammar or canons for the language of artistic expression based on certain mathematical ratios or proportions. Any artistic creation has a definite structure in space and time. These canons or grammar provide mathematical foundations to create beautiful and meaningful structures. Mathematics is a study of quantifiable abstract concepts and their structure, order, and relations. Its results are applicable to the real world as well as imaginary worlds.

design rangoli

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

Hindu iconology by Pandit Sri Rama Ramanuja Achari

Line drawings

By Shilpi Sri Siddalinga Swamy,

Dr. Jnananada

And from Shilpa Soundarya

Other images are from internet 


Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Temple Architecture