Sculpture of Ganga from Jagatsukh, Kulu

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The River Goddess Ganga
Provenance: Jagatsukh, Kulu.
Date: 9th century A.D.
Material: Black Basalt.
Size: 40×70 cm.
Current Location: Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh.

(Image Source: VMIS)

A unique and fabulous sculpture of Ganga, the river goddess personified, was found in 1905 at the Sandhya Devi temple of Jagatsukh (Kulu) by archeologist Hirananda Shastri. In his paper ‘Historical Documents of Kulu,’ he mentioned the sculpture briefly, writing: “The only relics of the former prosperity of the [Jagatsukh] town are a few old sculptures placed in the shrine of Sandhya Devi, the best of which representing Ganga on her vehicle the makara, I lately secured for and deposited in the Lahore Museum.”[¹]

For the next four decades the sculpture remained at the Lahore Museum, home to an immense cultural heritage of the undivided India founded in 1865. As India underwent partition, the same fate happened to the Museum’s collection on 10 April 1948 in Lahore. Among the artefacts that fell into India’s share was this sculpture of Ganga which is now housed at the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh.

Jagatsukh, historically called Nast, was the original capital of Kulu principality whence it was shifted to Naggar around 8th century[²] and thence to Sultanpur in the 17th century. Here the wooden temple of Sandhya Devi was constructed in 1428 by Raja Udham Pal,[³] which is elaborated by inscriptions. Scholars opine that there is a strong possibility of this temple (renovated in the 19th century) being constructed on the foundations of an ancient temple as evidenced from the lower third part of the temple which has exquisite carvings much earlier than the fifteenth century.

Getting back to the sculpture, it is carved on black basalt slab and shows the river goddess standing on the makara (crocodile), her vahana (vehicle). She is depicted as having four arms holding her usual symbols: chamara (fly-whisk) in the lower right hand, lotus-flower in the lower left hand and a large kumbha (water-jar) in the two remaining upper hands. The kumbha is perforated from back to front of the slab implying that the sculpture may have originally served as a fountain spout. 

In the sculpture the river goddess is represented as having a plump short body and a round face with wide eyes. A bindu on her forehead embellishes the face and a fringe of kiss curls are shown on the brows. The jewelry she wears comprises a hara (necklace), pariharyas (bracelets), beaded keyuras (armlets), beaded nupuras (anklets) and unique conical beaded kundalas (earrings). The kirita (diadem) has a beaded fillet with a flower-head above each ear. The sculptor has also adorned the goddess with a long vanamala (garland) that drops to the ankles. The lower garment falls just below the vanamala in an undulating way concealing the legs and has multiple horizontal lines or folds(?).

Photograph of the sculpture as it appeared in Shastri’s paper.

V. C. Ohri, who emphasised on the sculpture’s predominant Kashmiri influence,[⁴] dated it to the 9th century A.D. writing that “a careful examination of the sculpture and its comparison with sculptures of this region possessing stylistic affinities with it, indicate that this image of the river goddess cannot be later than the ninth century.”

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A side view of the sculpture. (Monika Bradoo)

The river goddesses Ganga and Jamuna are usually depicted flanking temple doorways, symbolically cleansing with their lustral waters anyone entering the sacred place. The tradition in India goes back to the fifth century A.D.[⁵] and was introduced in the Kulu and Chamba regions from eighth century onwards.[⁶]


Notes

[1] Shastri, Hirananda (1911). Historical Documents of Kulu. Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, 1907-08, p. 260-276.

[2] Pasricha, R. N. (1975). Carvings of Kulu Valley. Roopa-Lekha, XLIII (1-2), p. 22-26.

[3] Hutchison & Vogel (1933). History of the Punjab Hill States, II.

[4] Ohri, V. C. (1991). Sculpture of Western Himalayas.

[5] Pal, Pratapaditya (1997). Divine images, human visions: the Max Tanenbaum collection of South Asian and Himalayan art in the National Gallery of Canada.

[6] Ohri, V. C. (1991). Sculpture of Western Himalayas.

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