The damsels of Karnataka’s Jalasangvi

The Apsara is an interesting form of visual depiction. Such sculptures play a very important role in the temple architecture of India and particularly Karnataka.

Published: 28th May 2020 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th May 2020 08:06 AM   |  A+A-

Ishwara temple built by Kalyan Chalukyas in Jalasangvi in Karnataka’s Bidar district

Ishwara temple built by Kalyan Chalukyas in Jalasangvi in Karnataka’s Bidar district.

Jalasangvi or Jalasangi, a small village in Karnataka’s Bidar District, is an important place of Kalyan Chalukya art and architecture. The Ishwara temple there, built by the Later Chaluklyas who ruled from Kalyan (now Basavakalyan) from the 10th century CE to 13th century CE, is in a fairly well-preserved condition. It has remarkable sculptures of Apsaras decorating the temple’s outer walls. Their features, postures and carvings are fascinating from the point of development of sculptural art. Apsara sculptures are found in almost all temples of the region. The whole of Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad Karnataka) needs thorough research in this regard.

 Ishwara Temple, Jalasangvi, Karnataka

A brief background of the Apsara in Indian art will help in a broader understanding of the subject. The Apsara is an interesting form of visual depiction. Such sculptures play a very important role in the temple architecture of India and particularly Karnataka. The earliest reference may be seen in the early Buddhist stupas at Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati as well as Sannati. The genre of Apsara was adapted to decorate the cave temples and structural temples of ancient India. They are called by various names—as Apsara, Devangana, Gandharva Kannikas, Sala Bhanjika, Madanika, etc.

Ancient treatises like Chitra Sutra of Vishnu Dharmottara Purana, Manasollasa, Aparajita Prucchha, Amara Kosha and many such works refer to the various forms and names of the Apsara. They are represented as standing and entertaining the divinities in attractive postures, holding fruit baskets, fly whisks, flags, flowers, musical instruments, and singing and dancing in many imaginative and graceful postures. Puranic lore and myths have interesting stories about the genre of demigods. The Apsaras were used by the Gods to seduce rishis and kings to have control on earth. The Puranic lore speaks about their dancing and musical skills. Temples being symbolic of the “world of God”, these figures form part of that world. They not only embellish the temple, but also create a spiritual ambience.   

Apsaras carved on the Jalasangvi Siva temple's outer wall

The Kalyan Chalukya period witnessed a prolific development of temple architectural activities. The kings not only inherited traditions from their predecessors, but also contributed to the development of rich architecture and sculpture. Karnataka’s Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur and Yadgiri districts (entire North Karnataka) have a good number of temples built during the Kalyan Chalukya regime. The Jalasangvi Ishwara temple (circa 1,110 CE) was built during the reign of Vikramaditya VI (1076-1226 CE). He was a great patron of art and culture. His period witnessed temple constructions in a prolific manner.

The period was rich in literature and philosophical compilations. Kashmiri poet Bilhana was in his kingdom and wrote Vikramankadeva Charitam. Vijnaneshwara, who compiled Mitakshara (a Hindu law code), also lived in his kingdom. Kalamukha Saivism and Jainism too enjoyed the royal patronage. Vikramaditya VI also established a university at Nagayi near Chittapur, where Vedas, Puranas, Sahitya, Tatva Shastras, Tarka, Mimamsa, poetry and many other subjects were taught.

Jalasangvi’s Ishwara temple is a simple structure with a sanctum, vestibule and an open mantapa that is a later addition to the temple. The Ishwara temple is built in typical Kalyan Chalukya architecture style. It follows the Karnataka Dravida style features. The shikhara of the temple is missing as it might have been either destroyed or dilapidated in the course of time. The sculptures on the outer wall of the temple are the prime attractions here. The outer wall (bhitti) has three niches for divinities.

Lekhana Sundari, one of
the Apsara sculptures carved
on the temple’s outer

The indents of the wall have the sculptural depictions. A good number of damsels decorate the wall. All outer wall figures are in dance postures. Their physical stance and sensuous treatment make them aesthetically beautiful. Their hair styles, jewellery and garments have been given enough importance. Each one of the Apsaras has an individual posture and is busy in some activity. Unlike the famous Hoysala Madanikas in the Belur temple, here, all these damsels are on the wall. We should note that these were carved almost five decades before the Belur Madanikas.

The Jalasangvi Apsara depicted as writing on a slate-like plank is a particularly noteworthy sculpture. It has been composed in a vertical space of the wall. The standing posture, bodily flexion and stance that the Apsara has is the work of a master craftsman. Called Lekhana Sundari, the Apsara holds a slate-like rectangular object, which represents the Burjwa Patra, a leaf used for writing. It is beautifully rendered and there is a stick-like hand grip. She holds it in her left hand, tilts her face up and writes on it with a pen. The artist has carved the sculpture with such grace and details.

The Apsara’s standing posture, especially the twist above her belly, is remarkable. She has written a few lines in old Kannada script—it is a eulogy to King Vikramaditya VI, who also had the epithet Vishnuvardhana. The script reads “Saptadveepodaree Bhutam Bhutalam Swakarishayati Chalukya Vikramaditya Saptamo Vishnuvardhanah” (Vikramaditya of the Chalukya dynasty captures and rules the land between the seven oceans). All Apsara sculptures in the temple have something unique in their standing postures and stance. The whole of the Apsara genre in the temples of the region have a homogenous form and style.

R H Kulkarni

Professor, Dept of Art History, College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath


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