Globed breasts adorned with pearls

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Jun 10 2018

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Category: Asia, India

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Focal Length:24.3mm
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Globed breasts adorned with pearls sandal-misted,
wide curving hips with girdles strung with bells,
precious anklets making music on their lotus feet,
lit with happiness deep within
women now enhance their beauty.

In strophes like this Kālidāsa sings of the feminine ideal in his long poem Ṛtusaṃhāram (The Gathering of the Seasons, translation from the original Sanskrit by Chandra Rajan). In this lyrical poem – possibly from the 5th century CE – he describes the beauty of nature and of woman in the different seasons.

This ideal of the female form we see depicted in Indian sculpture through the ages. It already starts BC on the railings and porches of the Buddhist stupas like at Sanchi, and it continues on the walls and pillars of Hindu temples all over India, from the earliest examples till far in the Middle-Ages and beyond.

The sculptures here are to be found in Hampi, the ancient Vijayanagara, and date back to the 16th century CE. We can speak of a classical cultural code for the depiction of the ideal female form, originating in the distant past and maintained up till now: full, round breasts, a slender waist and full hips. The typical tribhanga pose, a tri-bent pose – at the neck or shoulders, the waist and the knee -, as well as the use of garments and jewels, all are meant to highlight the shapely curved form of the body, expressing sensuality and grace.  Their being entwined with a plant or tree branch may go back to their origin as nature spirits (yakshinis) and underlines their fertility.

Pillar inside Saraswati temple, Hampi, India 2014

The sculpture on this pillar depicts the well-known story of the young Krishna when he has hidden the clothes of the gopis (cow herding girls) who have gone bathing and playing in the river. Krishna has taken their garments high up in the tree from where he can have a good look at the pretty, naked girls searching for their dresses everywhere. When they find out what has happened they bashfully have to plead with Krishna to give their clothes back. It’s a favourite scene of painters and poets alike, here lovely executed in stone.

Photos of the week: Sculptures at the Krishna temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India 2014

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