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Updated on August 18, 2008


When we took photographs of the terracotta panels of Shyam-Rai and Jor-Bangla temples of Bishnupur during our visit there in December,2007, certain panels with depictions of animals ( real and imaginary) and Palace and Street scenes struck us as quite different from the other panels with non-religious subjects. I created a folder called 'Anokhi', meaning 'Strange & unique' translated in English , where I stored these photos for future reference.

The first one was that of an animal which has wings, beaks eating elephants and a feline body. It was flying and trampling elephants. This was a panel from Jor-Bangla temple .A similar panel was there in Shyam_Rai too, but with a difference in shape and nos of limbs.

In my Tale about the terra cotta artists of Bishunur , I attributed Shyam_Rai panel to 'Aalam' : and

(from Shyam-Rai Temple)

All the while, I wanted to find out if this 'image' has its root in Hindu mythology or imported from outside. History says that there was migration of artists from West Asia to India during Muslim rule and Indian art was influenced by the painting skills and imageries of West Asia.

Based on this clue, I searched and found that the fire-spewing animal of Bishnupur has considerable similarity of image of 'Griffin'.

The griffin is a legendary animal with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. The lion is the king of animals and the eagle is the king of birds.Combining the two, human imagination gave birth to a majestic 'creature' which 'lived' through centuries as a symbol of power with appearances in heraldry too.The idea of Griffin was known to artistes of Greece,Egypt and medieval Europe. In Persia, this creature is known as Homa.

One can read about this subject in more details from :

I have posted two photos from my album here which are close to Griffin's image.

The one from Shyam-Rai temple is a big winged bird, has two leonine hind limbs with talons and two ears. It is about to gobble an elephant and tramples nine others. One elephant has escaped its wrath and stands staring at the herd from the behind.

The one from Jor-Bangla is closer to the Western concept of Griffin. Its open beaks eat up two elephants, tramples four elephants by its four talons while one elephant, again at the rear, has survived the assault. It has wings and two rather small ears. A child Griffin is watching her mother's action.

Images of Griffin from Internet as well as Terracotta Temples at Bishnupur

13th century bas-relief of Griffin .Picardy,France.
13th century bas-relief of Griffin .Picardy,France.
15th Century Heraldry Griffin from Italy.Look at her child at the lower part of the sculpture.
15th Century Heraldry Griffin from Italy.Look at her child at the lower part of the sculpture.
Based on Griffin's imagery.Shyam-Rai Temple.
Based on Griffin's imagery.Shyam-Rai Temple.
Very close to Griffin.Jor-Bangla Temple.
Very close to Griffin.Jor-Bangla Temple.


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    • shyamchat profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Calcutta


      You found better resolution @ hubpages or ?

    • profile image

      Lokendra Nath Roychoudhury 

      10 years ago

      Interesting comparison. More importantly for me, much better photo res to look at.

    • shyamchat profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Calcutta

      Thanks Debasis

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Very interesting observations.

    • shyamchat profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Calcutta


      To me, the body 'language ' of thr Griffin-like creature looks like intimidating in both the panels.

      Well,you can interpret the images in the following way:

      In one panel (Shyam Rai), the elephants are being carried away by this creature whereas  in another(Jor-Bangla),the elephants are being trampled!



    • profile image


      10 years ago

      These two plaques in the Shyama Raya really do stand out, although this temple is truly amazing for the profusion of very fine sculpture. This is more impressive given that this is one of the earliest temples in Bishnupur!

      I have been intrigued by the very unusual theme of these two plaques. Your parallels with art elsewhere is interesting but I've always wondered if there is a story these panels depict. Also, in the first panel, dont you think that the elephants are hanging from the griffin's legs rather than being trampled?

    • shyamchat profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Calcutta

      Thanks Ricardo !

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      10 years ago from Portugal

      Interesting how different cultures influence each other every time they get together. Thanks for sharing ;)


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