Vishnudharmottara Purana (Art and Architecture)

by Bhagyashree Sarma | 2021 | 59,457 words

This page relates ‘7(b): Portrait of Different Classes Projected in Painting’ 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.

7(b): Portrait of Different Classes Projected in Painting

[Full title: 3.7: Different Kinds of Portrait used in Painting (citra) (b): Portrait of Different Classes Projected in Painting]

In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the rules of Painting of different classes have been elaborately discussed. According to this work, the personalities like ṛṣis, gandharvas, daityas, dānavas, mantrīs, saṃvatsaras, purohitas and brāhmaṇas are to be drawn to project them as noble and polite.[1] The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa says that the size of kinnaras, nāgas and rākṣasas in a picture should be equal to the size of mālyava type of men.[2] Yakṣas should have the size of rucaka and the picture of pradhāna and mānava should be painted according to the size of śaśaka types of men.[3] Actually the mālyava, rucaka śaśaka are three types of men which are already discussed. The yakṣas and the kinnaras presuppose a divine connection in their birth.[4] In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the reference of two kinds of kinnaras are found. Some have the faces of human and the bodies of horse and some are totally opposite of it.[5]

The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa states that the sage should posses matted hair on their heads.[6] Similarly this book suggests that the faces of demons should be scowling and their eyes should be round in shape.[7] The nāgas are the members of a class of demigods who have the body with half human form and half in serpent’s form.[8] According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, they should have the shape of god and are adorned with snake hood.[9] The picture of rākṣasas should be very terrible looking because of their deformed eyes and stiff hair.[10] A terrible portrait of a demon called Kabandha is projected by Vālmīki in the Araṇyakāṇḍa of the Rāmāyaṇa.[11] In the picture of group of gods, faces of different creatures having different weapons and different kinds of dresses should be painted.[12] The picture of the commander should be very graceful having a big head, wide chest, big nose, prominent chin, huge shoulders, clear hands and neck, forehead with three layers and great waist and his sight should be as sharp as an eagle.[13] So, from the description of the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa regarding the portrait of a commander, it can be assumed that, the body structure of a commander is quite hard and broad which resembles the physical description of the commander depicted in the Kādambarī.

In the Kādambarī, the description of the physical structure of the commander of the armies of Śabara, it is described that the body structure of the senāpati of Śabara is as hard as iron[14] and thus the picturisation of a man with a tough body structure has been projected. The body complexion of an elephant rider and a messenger should be śyāma i.e., dark[15] and kapila i.e., tawny[16] in a picture respectively.[17] In a portrait of a bard, the vein of the neck should be visible and his face should be kept upward.[18] The point to be noted here is that as a bard used to sing and recite various auspicious words, the prominence of his vein in the neck suggests the verbal activity of the profession showing the gravity of the corresponding picture and so the picture captures that. The pictures of warriors should express the feeling of heroism. That is why the face of a soldier is instructed as to be painted with frowns and the face should have powerful and arrogant look.[19]

In the Mahābhārata, Karṇa is identified as a great warrior with his heroism and furious personality and in portraying his character, Vyāsa has used some specific notions reflected in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa in connection with the Painting of a worrier. Thus in the Mahābhārata, it can be seen that Karṇa is portrayed as a great archer, extremely intelligent and powerful warrior[20] from where a painter can get an idea about a warrior. The portrait of a wrestler should be very fierce having broad shoulders, muscular limbs, strong and broad neck, head and lips with falling down hair.[21] In this context the appearances of different classes of woman have also been noted here. In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, general women and the prostitutes should be painted in the size of rucaka.[22] The picture of the wives of daityas, dānavas, yakṣas and rākṣasas should be very beautiful.[23] In the Meghadūta of Kālidāsa, a beautiful physical description of yakṣī i.e., the wife of yakṣa is found which can also be a source of information to a painter in visualizing a woman with elegant physical structure.[24]

Moreover, the costumes and accessories of different personalities in a picture are also described in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa. Different works of Sanskrit literature can offer a vast field of example in this regard. Though the references of costume and attires of different personalities found in the writings of different poets are not in the form of a portrait, but these descriptions supply a pen picture of the characters and it can create a definite form in the mind of the readers. According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the painter should adorn the picture of sages and Brahmins with the skin of black antelope and white garments respectively.[25] In the Kādambarī, a reference of wearing the skin of black antelope by the sage Hārīta is seen.[26]

The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa again states that the dress of the demons should be very gaudy in a picture.[27] The dress of soldiers accordingly should be quite short and the expert archers should be dressed up in such a way that it reveals their thighs.[28] The garments of bards, singers, dancers and musicians should be bright in colour.[29] Like cloths, accessories of different character also vary in their pictures. The picture of deities and gandharvas should be adorned with crests instead of crowns.[30] The ornaments of ministers, astrologers and family priests should not be very gaudy and they should have uṣṇīṣa i.e., turbans[31] in their heads instead of crowns in their picture.[32] The portrait of merchants also should have turbans in their heads.[33] The picture of a pratīhāra i.e., door keeper[34] should be adorned with a staff in his hand and a sword hanging along his side.[35] In Bānabhatta’s Kādambarī, a reference of holding golden stick by door keeper is found[36] which corroborates with the idea of the picture of a door keeper as narrated in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa. Again, according to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the dress of prostitutes should be very bright in colour in a picture.[37] In the Mṛcchakaṭikā, Śudraka draws the character of Vasantasenā as a prostitute who was wearing red silk garment.[38]

Again according to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the picture of a widow should have grey coloured hair, it should wear white cloth and it should not have any ornaments.[39] Thus the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa establishes the fact that even in the pictures; the people belonging to different class and profession were projected with specific attire so that general people can equate the picture with the practical character.

Footnotes and references:


ṛṣayaśca sagandharvā daityāśca saha dānavāḥ/ mantriṇaśca mahārājaḥ saṃvatsarapurohitau// kāryā bhadrapramāṇena brāhmaṇāśca nareśvara/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.2-3


mālavyaparimāṇena kinnaroragarākṣasāḥ/ Ibid., 3.42.10


rucakasya pramāṇena yakṣāḥ kāryā narādhipaḥ/ śaśakasya pramāṇena pradhānaṃ mānavaṃ likhet/ Ibid., 3.42.11


yakṣo devayoniviśeṣaḥ/ vidyādhara……kinnarāḥ…..devayonayaḥ/ Meghadūta, Mallīnātha’s Commentary, p.2


kinnarā dvividhāḥ proktā nṛvaktrā hayavigrahāḥ/ nṛdehāścāśvavaktrāśca tathānye parikīrtitāḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.13-14


ṛṣayastatra kartavyā jaṭājūṭopaśobhitāḥ/ Ibid., 3.42.3


daityāśca dānavāścaiva kartavyā bhrukuṭīmukhāḥ/ vartulākṣāstathā kāryā………….// Ibid., 3.42.7


nāgānāṃ vakṣate rūpaṃ nābherūrdhvaṃ narākṛti/
sarpākāramadhobhāgaṃ mastake bhogamaṇḍalam// Śilparatna, 25.131


devakārāśca kartavyā nāgāḥ phaṇavirājitāḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.16


utkacā rākṣasāḥ kāryā vikalākṣā vibhīṣaṇāḥ/ Ibid. 3.42.15


dadarśa sumahākāyaṃ rākṣasaṃ vipulorasam/ vivṛddhamaśirogrīvaṃ kabandhamudaremukham/ kabandhamiva saṃsthānādadhighorapradarśanam/ Rāmāyaṇa, 3.69.26-34


nānāsattvamukhāḥ kāryā devatānāṃ tathā gaṇāḥ / nānāveśā mahārāja nānāyudhadharāstathā// Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.18


mahāśirā mahorasko mahānāso mahāhanuḥ/ pīnaskandhabhujagrīvaḥ parimāṇena cocchritaḥ// tritaraṅgalalāṭaśca vyomadṛṣṭirmahākaṭiḥ/ dṛptaścitravidā kāryaḥ senāyāḥ patirūrjitaḥ// Ibid., 3.42.31-33


madhye ca tasyātimahataḥ śabarasainyasya prathame………..atikarkaśatvādāyasamayamiva nirmitam……śabarasenāpatimapaśyam/ Kādambarī, 1.p.59


V.S Apte, The student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.564


Ibid., p.133


hastyārohāstu kartavyā muhuḥ śyāmāstu varṇataḥ/ āhvānakāstu kartavyā kapilāḥ….// Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.37&39


…..……..bandinaḥ……./ sirādarśitakaṇṭāśca tathaivonmukhadṛṣṭayaḥ// Ibid., 3.42.38-39


yodhāḥ kāryā mahārāja prāyaśo bhrukuṭīmukhāḥ/ ………..…..kāryāścoddhatadarśanāḥ// Ibid., 3.42.33-34


paśyadhvaṃ ca mahātmānaṃ karṇaṃ vikartanaṃ yudhi/ pracarantaṃ maheṣvāsaṃ divyairastrairmahāvalam/ yasya vai yudhi santrāsātkuntīputro dhanañjayaḥ/ nivartate sadāmarpātsiṃhātkṣudramṛgo yathā// Mahābhārata, Karṇaparva, 2.10-11


ugrāśca nīcakeśāśca mallāḥ kāryāstathoddhatāḥ/ vṛṣāḥ kesariṇaścaiva yāścānyāḥ satvajātayaḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.46


rucakasya tu mānena veśyāḥ kāryāstathā striyaḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.23


daityadānavayakṣāṇām rākṣasānām tathaiva ca/ rūpavatyastathā kāryāḥ patnyo manujasattam/ Ibid., 3.42.25-26


tanvī śyāmā śikharidaśanāṃ pakvavimbādharoṣṭī/ madhye kṣāmā cakitahariṇīprekṣaṇā nimnanābhiḥ/ śroṇībhārādalasagamanā stokanamrā stanābhyāṃ/ yā tatra syādyuvativiṣaye sṛṣṭirādyeva dhātuḥ// Meghadūta, 2.22


ṛṣayastatra kartavyā…../kṛṣṇājinottarāsaṅgā….//…..viprāḥ śuklābaradharāstathā/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.3-5


…….hārītanāmā tāpasakumārakaḥ…….skandhadeśāvalambinā kṛṣṇājinena…..// Kādambarī, 1.p.65


daityāśca dānavāścaiva……uddhato veṣaḥ kartavyaḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.7-8


yodhā kāryā…..kiṃciduddhataveśāśca…/ varabāṇadharāḥ kāryā nagnajaṅghāśca dhanvinaḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.33-34


uddhatena tu veṣeṇa kartavyā bandinastathā/ gāyanā nartakā ye vā vādyavādaviśuddhaye/ uddhatena tu veṣeṇa kāryāste manujottama/ Ibid., 3.42.38 & 42


devatāścāpi gandharvā mukuṭena vivarjitāḥ/ kartavyāste mahārāja śikharairupaśobhitāḥ// Ibid., 3.42.7-8


V.S Apte, The student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.118


mantriṇaśca mahārāja sāṃvatsarapurohitai/ sarvālaṅkārasaṃyuktānevolvaṇavibhūṣaṇān// mukuṭena vihīnāṃstu soṣṇīṣānkārayecca tān/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.6-7


saṃveṣṭitaśiraskāśca kartavyā vaṇijastathā/ Ibid., 3.42.42


V.S Apte, The student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.360


pārśvabaddhena khaḍgena pratīhārastu daṇḍavān/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.41


……..āgṛhītakanakavetralataiḥ……dvārapālaiḥ……/ Kādambarī, 1.p.141


veśyānāmuddhataṃ veśaṃ kāryaṃ śṛṅgārasammatam/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.24


viṭaḥ-vasantasenā tiṣṭha tiṣṭha. kiṃ yāsi bālakadalīva vikampamānā/ raktāṃśukaṃ pavanaloladaśaṃ vahantī/ Mṛcchakaṭika, 1.20


vibhartṛkāstu kartavyāstriyaḥ palitasaṃyutāḥ/ śuklavastraparīdhānāḥ sarvālaṅkāravarjitāḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.42.28

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