Vishnudharmottara Purana (Art and Architecture)

by Bhagyashree Sarma | 2021 | 59,457 words

This page relates ‘The Importance of the Term Citra’ of the study on the elements of Art and Architecture according to the Vishnudharmottara Purana: an ancient text whose third book deals with various artisan themes such as Architecture, Painting, Dance, Grammar, etc. Many chapters are devoted to Hindu Temple architecture and the iconography of Deities and their installation rites and ceremonies.

2. The Importance of the Term Citra

The ancient Indian art of Painting is known as citra or citrakalā in Sanskrit.[1] It is one of the sixty four kalās as mentioned by Vātsyāyaṇa in his Kāmasūtra.[2]

Citraṃ citrayati iti[3]—from the derivation of the word citra, it can be said that citra i.e., Painting is that which is embellished with paint. The Śabdakalpadruma says that a particular picture of an object is the result of the painter’s visualization of the image which is already viewed or noticed by the painter earlier somewhere.[4] According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, like Dance, in Painting also, the observation of expression of eyes, limbs and all the body parts are very important[5] during portraying a picture on a canvas.

In the Kāmasūtra, Vātsyāyaṇa mentions about the six limbs (ṣaḍaṅga) of Painting through the combination of which an art could be complete and flawless.

These are—

  1. rūpabheda,
  2. pramāṇa,
  3. bhāva,
  4. lāvaṇyayojana,
  5. sādṛśya and
  6. varṇikābhaṅga.[6]

1) The word rūpabheda is the amalgamation of two words viz., rūpa i.e., form[7] and bheda i.e., difference[8] . So, it can be said that to paint a perfect picture, a painter should have the knowledge about different forms. Different forms can be established through different sizes, shapes, colours, body complexions etc.[9] The pictures of different personalities of different characters have been elaborately discussed in the 42nd chapter of the Tṛtīyakhaṇḍa i.e., third part of the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa.

2) Pramākaraṇaṃ pramāṇam—from this derivative meaning of the word pramāṇa, it can be said that pramāṇa denotes the accurate knowledge.[10] The term pramāṇa is derived from the root , which means measurement.[11] In the Mānasāra, pramāṇa is included in the six kinds of measurements.[12] So, it can be said that to draw a picture, the knowledge of proper measurement of a portrait remains very important. The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa also gives emphasis on the proper measurement and structure of a portrait and gives a detailed discussion on the measurement of portrait in the 36th chapter of its third part.

3) The third kind of limbs called bhāva is associated with the emotional disposition of a Painting. Bhāva i.e., emotional expression is very important to enhance the beauty of a portrait. In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the necessity of emotional expression through the delineation of sentiments in a Painting is taken into consideration and it is elaborately discussed in the 43rd chapter of the third part of the book.

4) Likewise, lāvaṇyayojana denotes graceful appearance of a portrait. In the context of lāvaṇya, the Ujjvalanīlamaṇi states that lāvaṇya is that which is reflected through the natural purity of limbs as like the luster reflects from the pearl in a natural way.[13] This means the execution of luster and gracefulness in a picture is totally based on the spontaneous flowing of an artist’s emotion. So it can be said that to make a portrait more charming and lively, the addition of gracefulness is very important. In the 6th Act of Abhijñānaśakuntala, the king Duṣyanta says about the portrait of Śakuntalā that though this picture of Śakuntalā is not perfectly drawn, her beauty and luster are only partially represented by the delineation.[14]

5) The fifth limb of Painting called sādṛśya denotes similarity[15]. The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa speaks about five types of eyes that bear similarities with the forms of fish, conch, lotus petals etc. which will be discussed in due course.

6) The last kind of limbs of Painting called varṇikābhaṅga is related to the colour differentiation of a Painting. In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa a detail discussion on the proper implementation of colours, narration on primary colours, different shades of colours are also found. In this regard the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa says that proper position, measurement, use of space, gracefulness, expression, similarity, scale of size to increase or to decrease are the eight qualities of a good Painting.[16]

Footnotes and references:


Anundoram Borooah, English-Sanskrit Dictionary, p.499


[...] Kāmasūtra, 3.1.16


[...] Śabdakalpadruma, vol.2, p.448


citra kṣaṇikekṣaṇe/ lekhye’dbhute/kṣaṇike kṣaṇaṃ kadāciddarśanam/ citrayati citrāpayati rāhuṃ lokaḥ kadācit paśyatītyarthaḥ/ citrayati pratimāṃ lokaḥ/ Śabdakalpadruma, vol.2, p.448


yathā nṛtte tathā citre trailokyānukṛtiḥ smṛtā/ dṛṣṭyaśca tathā bhāvā aṇgopāṇgāni sarvaśaḥ// Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.35.5-6


rūpabhedāḥ pramāṇāni bhāvalāvaṇyayojanam/ sādṛśyaṃ varṇikābhaṅgaṃ iti citraṃ ṣaḍaṅgakam// Kāmasūtra, 3.1.p.30


V.S Apte, The student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.471


Monier Monier Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p.766


jyoti paśyati rūpāṇi rūpaṃ ca bahudhā smṛtam/ hrasvo dīrghastathā sthūlaścaturastro’nuvṛttavān// śuklaḥ kṛṣṇastathā raktaḥ pīto nīlo’ruṇastathā/ kaṭhinaścikkaṇaḥ ślakṣṇa picchilo mṛdudāruṇaḥ// Mahābhārata, 12.184.33-34


pramā yathārthajñānam…. Śabdakalpadruma, Vol.3, p.284


māṅg māne/ Dhātupātha, 1142


mānaṃ cāpi pramāṇaṃ ca parimāṇaṃ lambamānakam/ sanmānamupamānaṃ ca mānaṃ padyaṃ samīritam/ Mānasāra, 55.2


muktāphaleṣu chāyāyāstaralatvamivāntarā/ pratibhāti yadaṅgeṣu lāvaṇyaṃ tadihocyate// Ujjvalanīlamaṇi, 10. 28


yadyatsādhu na citre syātkriyate tattadanyathā/ tathāpi tasyā lāvaṇyaṃ rekhayā kiṃcidanvitam// Abhijñanaśakuntala, 6.14


V.S Apte, The student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.596


sthānapramāṇa bhūlambho madhuratvaṃ vibhaktatā/
sādṛśyaṃ kṣayavṛddhī ca guṇāṣṭakamidaṃ smṛtam// Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.43.19

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: