Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Great Boar in Udaigiri

A visit to the caves of Udaigiri in central Madhya Pradesh in India reveals some fascinating art, sculpture and inscriptions. Udaigiri has one of the first known sculptures of the Shiva Lingam before it was abstracted to the simple smooth pillar today. This lingam is still anthropomorphised as an idol with the head of the god (or goddess?) sculpted onto the side of the column. The caves also have some of the few known inscriptions of the Brahmic variant SankhaLipi or 'Shell' script dating to the Gupta Empire (320 - 550 A.D.)
images: author

The fifth cave or alcove has the extremely famous sculpture of Vishnu's Varaha-Avtar  (or Avatar since he is frequently also depicted as a giant blue alien-like person). Varaha is Vishnu as the 'Boar', the third of his ten incarnations. At Udaigiri he is depicted anthropomorphically with the head of the Boar on the body of a man. 
Images above: Wikimedia Commons

Vishnu in his Varaha incarnation saved the Earth from the clutches of the demon Hiranyaksha, who had taken the Earth and carried it to the bottom of the cosmic ocean. The two fought for a thousand years before Varaha won and carried the Earth out of the ocean between his tusks. Elsewhere, most notably in Khajuraho, he is depicted as a huge elaborately carved animal. At Udaigiri, one can see the Earth Goddess being carried on his tusks.

It is ironic that this avatar symbolizes the resurrection of the Earth from a Pralaya or deluge/ flood of water. At Khajuraho, many of the temples are gravely threatened by seepage from the ground. They need another avatar of some sort to come rescue them.

Author: Shahana Dastidar  
All images of Udaigiri from author's Flickr set

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