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ART OF GROTESQUE AND TERRA COTTA PANELS OF TEMPLES OF BENGAL

Updated on April 29, 2009

A photofeature on Terra Cotta Temples of Bengal



Till I did a bit of Internet search for writing on the ‘Art of Grotesque’ in terra cotta temples of Bengal, I did not know about genesis of the word ‘Grotesque’. In art, this is a style that applies mostly to decorative frescoes where human figures, often with distortions and imaginary monsters are displayed with animals, floral patterns in a fanciful and eccentric manner which was first used at the Domus Aurea (Golden House) of Emperor Nero and the Baths of Emperor Titus. This was discovered during excavation of Roman houses during the 15th century. This type of art came to be known as ‘grotteschi’ from the word ‘grottoes’ or underground chambers.


I visited a couple of Internet sites to view the examples on display. I found strange and uncommon ornamental delicate designs of foliage and flowers, stylised human heads and strange animals, all composed, merged and mixed to create one ‘decorative whole’. I learnt that the principal painter of Domus Aurea, Fabullus went for a few hours of work to the ‘Golden House’ each day while the light used to be right ( Pliny in his book ‘Natural history’). Inspired by these designs, Italian Renaissance artists; Raphael and his followers adopted this style in their frescoes . We can see examples in Pinturicchio's cathedral library ceilings at Siena (1502), and Perugino's ceiling of the Cambio in Perugia (about 1500).


Later on, the artistes from the Western world used techniques like separation, mixture, reassembly, duplication, multiplication, elongation, compression, enlargement, miniaturization, reversal, simplification, overcrowding, and fantastic interpretation while creating artwork of this category.


Among the hundreds of terra cotta panels created by Bengal’s artists during 17th to 19th centuries, we find many examples which stand out as our ‘grotesque’ artwork . The battle scenes of ‘Ramayana’ are the best but not the only examples.


I post here several photographs to illustrate artwork of the grotesque in Bengal’s temples.I have started with Ramayana battle scenes which have a lot of ingredients of grotesque. They are so. Both the army of ‘monkey’s and the ‘rakshasa’s invited depiction of forms with fantastic interpretation, distortion and overcrowding. Since,Terra cotta artists have used the technique of overcrowding repeatedly, I made an endeavour to identify and present grotesque artwork of other types.

I have two submissions to make to persons who are quite familiar with the terra cotta panels of Bengal's temples. Firstly, I have not used any of the 'social' panels with exaggeration,i.e., I have not used imageries which can be termed as 'caricature'. These panels can be taken up separately in a different article. Secondly,.... and this is a very important and sensitive point too...I have not touched any of the images of Bishnu's 'Dashavatar' where He manifests Himself as half-human-half-animal Being . In the eye of an Westerner , these images may appear to match their criteria of 'Grotesque Art' , but, according to Hindu scripture , these images convey much deeper meaning.






A photofeature on Art of Grotesque

'Art of Grotesque' .... the foliages on left and right sides are dissimilar! Watch out the difference in layout .... quite interesting. From small temple at Antpur,Dt. - Hooghly.
'Art of Grotesque' .... the foliages on left and right sides are dissimilar! Watch out the difference in layout .... quite interesting. From small temple at Antpur,Dt. - Hooghly.
A Western art of Grotesque. Courtesy :  http://www.spamula.net/blog/2006/06/faces_of_the_grotesque_1.html
A Western art of Grotesque. Courtesy : http://www.spamula.net/blog/2006/06/faces_of_the_grotesque_1.html
Overcrowded and figures formed as "Monkey's and 'Rakhsasa's. War scene from Ramayana. Pancha Ratna Temple : Bishnupur.
Overcrowded and figures formed as "Monkey's and 'Rakhsasa's. War scene from Ramayana. Pancha Ratna Temple : Bishnupur.
Blow-up I from the above panel
Blow-up I from the above panel
A man squeezes two lions with his hands while he tramples and subdues two elephants !  JorBangla,Dt - Bishnupur.
A man squeezes two lions with his hands while he tramples and subdues two elephants ! JorBangla,Dt - Bishnupur.
An imagenry winged animal, with curved beaks, a lot of teeth, tramples elephants , yet strangles another elephant with its tail! Size of this animal will be at least five times that of an elephant ! !  JorBangla,Dt - Bishnupur.
An imagenry winged animal, with curved beaks, a lot of teeth, tramples elephants , yet strangles another elephant with its tail! Size of this animal will be at least five times that of an elephant ! ! JorBangla,Dt - Bishnupur.

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    • sudeep13582 profile image

      sudeep13582 6 years ago from Howrah

      cool and informative hub.. thanks for posting it...

      here is another hub about durga puja https://hubpages.com/art/Durga-Puja-As-An-Immersio...

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      dr.gagan b. dadhich 7 years ago

      nice experience ,as an terracotta artist,enjoyed a lot.

    • shyamchat profile image
      Author

      shyamchat 7 years ago from Calcutta

      Thanks a lot for the very informative Note.

    • profile image

      PinkFloyd 7 years ago

      He is your greenman-'Art of Grotesque'

      Surprizing is that it is in a Bengal Temple.

      What wikipedia has to say

      "In his A Little Book of The Green Man, as well as his website, Mike Harding gives examples of similar figures in Borneo, Nepal, and India: the earliest is a foliate head from an 8th century Jain temple in Rajasthan.He also notes that heads from Lebanon and Iraq can be dated to the 2nd century and that there are early Romanesque foliate heads in 11th century Templar churches in Jerusalem. He tentatively suggests that the symbol may have originated in Asia Minor and been brought to Europe by travelling stonecarvers.

      There are legends of him (Khidr) in which, like Osiris, he is dismembered and reborn; and prophecies connecting him, like the Green Man, with the end of time. His name means the Green One or Verdant One, he is the voice of inspiration to the aspirant and committed artist. He can come as a white light or the gleam on a blade of grass, but more often as an inner mood. The sign of his presence is the ability to work or experience with tireless enthusiasm beyond one's normal capacities. In this there may be a link across cultures, …one reason for the enthusiasm of the medieval sculptors for the Green Man may be that he was the source of every inspiration.

      In one of his roles the ancient Egyptian God Osiris is regarded as a corn-deity and is commonly depicted with a green face representing vegetation, rebirth and resurrection. Containers of soil in the shape of Osiris planted with seed ("Osiris Beds") are found in some New Kingdom tombs . The sprouting corn implied the resurrection of the deceased.Other gods depicted green are (in Tibet) Amogha-siddhi and (in Mexico) Tlaloc-

      In Sanskrit the Green Man is cognate with the gana Kirtimukha or "Face Of Glory" which is related to a lila of Shiva and Rahu. The Face of Glory is often seen in Vajrayana Buddhist Thanka art and iconography where it is often incorporhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Manated as a cloudform simulacrum; and depicted crowning the 'Wheel of Becoming' or the Bhavachakra.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Man

      Best Of Luck !PinkFloyd

    • shyamchat profile image
      Author

      shyamchat 7 years ago from Calcutta

      Thanks a lot.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 7 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi,

      You are an expert in terracotta. fantastic.

      I rated this up.

      Thanks,

      Jyoti Kothari

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