AI7_2_2017_11_58_02_PM_Doorkeepersmain.jpg

The elements of an Indian temple are derived from man himself. They borrow from human anatomy as well as its spiritual connections with the cosmos. The inner sanctum or ‘garbagriha’ symbolises the womb, the ‘Vimana’ is the head and so on.

These temples showcased motifs, symbols, stories in the form of iconography, carvings and even scriptures. With time, these symbols acquired new meaning and media. One such example is the case of doorkeepers ‘dvarapala’ who we encountered at Kamat.com. As seen here is a 12th century sculpture from Shravanabelagola, a ‘dvarapala’ or doorkeeper.

Above is the Marikamba temple in Karnataka. A closer look reveals that the temple walls are adorned in the indigenous ‘Kavi’ art that illustrate epics on walls. But as you approach the door or even windows; you see a doorkeeper or a ‘dvarapala’ on the walls.

The iconography does not have a story or myth associated, but follows the traditional practice.

Another example of the ‘guardians’ are seen grills carved from stone. In the first image snake safeguards a swastika. The second image is again a grill, but it’s motif is adopted from different ‘human’ dancing postures. These figures may or may not be guardians, but we are sure they have a story too!

European architecture also devised the ‘Atlas’ and ‘Caryatid’ columns, corresponding to male and female columns respectively, with the load resting on their heads. They are functional structural figures, and not conceived from mythology alone.

These showcase not human, but mythical figures on the door panel itself.

The current day - Lakshmi and Ganesha are believed to bring in luck, wealth and prosperity. This is seen across homes and even on prominent buildings, like Jaipur’s Amber Palace Gate. Myth and belief do have a way of manifesting across contexts, sometimes beautifully and poetically; and at times, a little skewed, but relevant nonetheless!

AI7_2_2017_11_58_02_PM_Doorkeepersmain.jpg
Showcase 03 Jul 2017

Elements: Doors. The Doorkeepers of Yore; the myths, stories and symbolism

CQ discusses and dissects mythological figures across time and regions that have been guarding the Gods themselves. The doorkeeper has been an important part of religious and monumental architecture as well as mythological stories. We try to unravel this beautiful relationship between myth, man and manifestations. A special thanks to Kamat's Potpourri, whose website is the real inspiration behind this article.

How far can a myth, a story take you?

Myth, mythology, man and manifestations constantly engage in an interdependent cycle of creation and validation. Religious and monumental architecture in India, from the Buddhist stupas to Hindu temples are derived from man himself. Stupas are derived from Buddha’s meditating posture. The Hindu temple is designed to represent the human body. The inner sanctum or ‘garbagriha’ symbolising the womb, the ‘Vimana’ is the head, etc.... On these temples, they wear mythologies and stories in the form of statues, carvings and ornamentation.

This conceptual unity is seen in temples across the country. On these monuments exists motifs, symbols, stories in the form of iconography, carvings and scriptures. With time, these symbols acquires new meaning and media as man re-interprets them and demonstrates them in newer forms. One such example is the case of doorkeepers or ‘dvarapalas’ who we encountered at Kamat.com.

The elements of an Indian temple are derived from man himself. They borrow from human anatomy as well as its spiritual connections with the cosmos. The inner sanctum or ‘garbagriha’ symbolises the womb, the ‘Vimana’ is the head and so on.

THE IDEA

The door was not a mere gateway. Niches, doors and windows; facilitates passage of the human to their deity. The opening that frames the deity in the garba-griha is also the last point of contact of man and the outer world. Guardians or ‘dvarapalas’ were deployed at the doors to keep away impurity and safeguard the shrine from evil.  Doorkeepers were first seen on Stupa ‘Toranas’ or gateways, in the form of animals and human-figures that could have been demi-god. It was in the temples that a gatekeeper figure was deployed.

These temples showcased motifs, symbols, stories in the form of iconography, carvings and even scriptures. With time, these symbols acquired new meaning and media. One such example is the case of doorkeepers ‘dvarapala’ who we encountered at Kamat.com. As seen here is a 12th century sculpture from Shravanabelagola, a ‘dvarapala’ or doorkeeper.

THE MANIFESTATION

Their form varies from human figures to semi divine to mystical creatures, across genders. Their expressions range from those of anger that destroys evil to benevolence that blesses devotees. The concept emerges across cultures in various interesting contexts. From guardians the icons became facilitators of luck, wealth and prosperity in residences. Some imbibe or represent myths; some are motifs or traditions passed down from generations. 

KANAKA’S PEEPHOLE IN UDUPI

Kanakadasa, a Krishna devotee from Karnataka was denied entry into a Krishna temple as he was not a Brahmin by birth. Oblivious to the material world and its rules, he sang praises of the Lord, albeit outside the temple. The temple wall developed a crack and Kanakadasa witnessed the Lord himself. A window is constructed at the crack with Kanakadasa’s portrait painted above it. The window is flanked by deities on both sides, bowed in reverence. The context here shifts from protection to veneration. 

MARIKAMBA TEMPLE

Located in Karnataka, the temple walls are adorned in the indigenous ‘Kavi’ art to illustrate epics on walls. but as you approach the door and windows; you see a doorkeeper or a ‘dvarapala’ on the walls. The iconography does not have a story or myth associated, but follows the traditional practice.

Above is the Marikamba temple in Karnataka. A closer look reveals that the temple walls are adorned in the indigenous ‘Kavi’ art that illustrate epics on walls. But as you approach the door or even windows; you see a doorkeeper or a ‘dvarapala’ on the walls.

The iconography does not have a story or myth associated, but follows the traditional practice.

WINDOWS

Another interesting detail transpired in the form of stone grills on windows; a snake safeguarding a ‘swastika.  The second one is a rounded grill design adopted from different ‘human’ dancing postures. One must note, that each posture is inscribed in a circle, with the navel superimposed on the centre of the circle. Many theories emerge about the umbilical cord from the navel being associated with the universe. The same theories could have been central to the figures. Whatever the thought, one cannot help but admire the proportions so perfectly embedded in its composition.

Another example of the ‘guardians’ are seen grills carved from stone. In the first image snake safeguards a swastika. The second image is again a grill, but it’s motif is adopted from different ‘human’ dancing postures. These figures may or may not be guardians, but we are sure they have a story too!

ACROSS CULTURES

Medieval European buildings incorporated gargoyles that doubled as water spouts. Gargoyles don’t always accompany a door or a window, they represent a similar belief akin the Indian dvarapala, of safeguarding from evil spirits. They resemble humans with animalistic features. They appear angry and violent to ward off evil. Though, a different line of thought attributes them with ‘illustrating evil’. Surely, the idea can be explored as humans too struggle with dilemmas of evil and morality. European architecture also devised the ‘Atlas’ and ‘Caryatid’ columns, corresponding to male and female columns respectively, with the load resting on their heads. They are functional structural figures, and not conceived from mythology alone.

European architecture also devised the ‘Atlas’ and ‘Caryatid’ columns, corresponding to male and female columns respectively, with the load resting on their heads. They are functional structural figures, and not conceived from mythology alone.

Ancient Egyptian architecture showcases similar columns at its temple complexes.At the temple of Hathor, the column capitals at the entrance resemble their Goddess’s head. Similar imposing figures in the form of columns or simply statues were often placed at their temple entrances.

THE CURRENT DAY

Coming back to our  inspiration – kamat.com, one notices that divine forms are till date deployed on the main door. Lakshmi and Ganesha are believed to bring in luck, wealth and prosperity. This is seen across homes and even on prominent buildings, like Jaipur’s Amber Palace Gate. Inspired from Islamic style, which prohibits depicting Gods in any physical form or ornamentation, the gate has Ganesha’s image over its scalloped arches. And truth be told, the image seems out of place as well as skewed in proportion and aesthetics. But, myth and belief do have a way of manifesting across contexts and how!

These showcase not human, but mythical figures on the door panel itself.

The current day - Lakshmi and Ganesha are believed to bring in luck, wealth and prosperity. This is seen across homes and even on prominent buildings, like Jaipur’s Amber Palace Gate. Myth and belief do have a way of manifesting across contexts, sometimes beautifully and poetically; and at times, a little skewed, but relevant nonetheless!

Acknowledgement: Kamat.com is a rich repository of Indian culture, events and ideas. This article would not have been possible had it not been for the Kamat family archive: Kamat's Potpourri, that inspired us in the first place to acknowledge the beauty of Doorkeepers and iconogrpahy in Indian traditional architecture. We love their website & work. Do have a dekko!