Medieval School of Sculpture

  • Instead of the classical dignity, sobriety and simplicity, the sculpture is now more and more tending towards ornamentation, creating highly ornate art objects, with strange and unusual imaginary creatures, such as half-human, half monsters.

    The characteristic of this new form of style of art is the difference with classical art in attitude, if not in skill and aptitude. Loveliness and idealization are still the artist’s passion as they were for artists in the early classical period, but the love of the ornate, decorative details is now dominant over classic simplicity.

    Examples of this form of sculptures during this time:

    1. One of the distinguishing monuments of sculpture during this time is the magnificent prayer hall or Chaitya, at Karle in the Poona district.
    2. Figure of Vrikshika, or a celestial damsel, from Gyraspur, in Gwalior, standing in a gracefully flexed pose, against a tree.
  • An artistic movement of great importance flourished under the aegis of the Pallava rulers of Kanchi
  • Some of the outstanding sculptures that are credited to their patronage are the Mahishasurmardini in relief, Girigovardhana panel, Arjuna’s penanceor the Descent of the Ganga, Trivikrama Vishnu, Gajalakshmi and Anatasayanam.

Arjuna’s penance/Descent of the Ganges


  • In the annals of Indian art, there is perhaps a no better example of the representation of the Elephant than that in the Arjuna’s penance scene. The celestial world, the temporal world as well as the animal world has been shown with masterly skill.
  • In all these examples the vigor of the composition is unique. The Pallava style concerns itself with a tall and slender physiognomical form.
  • The thin and elongated limbs emphasize the tallness of the figure.
  • The female figures are much lighter in appearance, with their slender waists, narrow chests and shoulders, smaller breasts, sparse ornaments and garments and generally submissive attitude. The figure sculpture of the Pallavas is natural in pose and modeling.
  • A great masterpiece is the carving from Mahabalipuram showing the great goddess Durga engaged in a fierce battle with the buffalo headed demon aided by their respective armies. Riding on her lion she is rushing at the powerful demon with great courage. He is moving away, yet watching for a moment to attack.

Sculpture depicting Goddess Durga slaying the demon

  • Later Pallava sculpture shows greater details of workmanship, lighter anatomy and more developed artistic finishing.
  • In the middle of the 8th century, the Rashtrakutas wrested power from the Chalukyas.
  • They created the greatest wonder of medieval Indian art in their Kailasa temple at Ellora.
  • Quarried out of a hill and solid rocks, it is sculptured on a grand scale. The bold and magnificent carving in this temple shows the Rashtrakuta style of tall and powerfully built figures, reflecting spiritual and physical poise.
  • The beautiful architectural rock sculpture from Cave No.29 at Ellora shows the marriage of Siva and Parvati.

Sculpture of marriage of Shiva and Parvati at Ellora caves


  • Siva holding the hand of the bashful Parvati occupies the centre of the composition. To the right Brahma, the creator is actively engaged in stirring up the flames of the sacred fire. The dignified grace of the divine couple and the gentle solemnity of the occasion have been portrayed by the sculptor with masterly skill.
  • Another magnificent sculpture at Ellora is a panel depicting Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa. 
  • The cave shrine at Elephanta is another great monument of the Rashtrakutas, which contains the famous Mahishamurti.
  • The three heads emanating from one and the same body represent three different aspects of Lord Shiva. The central face with a calm and dignified appearance shows him as the creator, the one on the left, with a severe look, portrays him as the destroyer and the third, to the right, with a calm and pacific expression.

Sculpture of Mahishamurti at Elephanta caves

  • The Cholas who succeeded the Pallavas and ruled over South India from the 9th to 13th centuries A.D. created the great temples at Tanjavur, Gangai Kondo Cholapuram, Darasurama, which are a veritable treasure house of their art.
  • At the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur which is the most mature and majestic of the Chola temples, sculpture, there has attained a new maturity which is evident in the gracefully modeled contours of the figures, their flexed poses, delicate ornamentation, pleasing faces and certain freshness, all of which add charm to the work. Chola art not only influenced the art of Ceylon, but it travelled as far away as Java and Sumatra
  • A good example of Chola craftsmanship in the 11th century is the relief carving of Siva as The irate god is engaged in a vigorous dance of fierce ecstasy after having killed the elephant demon, who has given so much trouble to the rishis and his devotees..
  • The later phase of Chola art, in the 13th century, is illustrated by the sculpture showing Bhudevi or the earth goddess as the younger consort of Vishnu. She stands in a gracefully flexed attitude on a lotus base holding a lily in her right hand, while the left arm hangs along her side in
  • Bronze sculpture tradition under the Cholas
    1. The art reached a high stage of development during this time
    2. The sculptors work during this time are famous for their elegance, sensitive modeling, and balanced tension
    3. Realism and attention to finer details reached its utmost perfection during this time. Ex: Clear demarcation of the areas of the body, such as the creases between the torso and the stomach, around the navel, sharp edges along the tibiae, a pointed nose, facial expressions are one of the most noticeable features of this time (Nataraja image)

Sculpture of dancing Nataraja, Chola period

  • The Chandellas, who ruled from 950 to 1100 A.D., constructed towering temples in central India, like the Kandariya Mahadev temple at Khajuraho.These were sculpted with human representations of endless variety. The sculptor here preferred the slender taller figures with a considerable accentuation of linear details.
  • The art of Khajuraho is a world of beauty. The lovers locked in an embrace which is approximately carved, display a throbbing passion. Varying moods are brought into relief by a slight change in the smile, a little difference in expression and in the pose.
  • The sculptures of Khajuraho are such great masterpieces of Indian sculptural art that they can be admired both individually as well as cumulatively.

The sensuous sculptures at Khajuraho


  • Great impetus was given to art under the reign of Pala rulers in Bihar and Bengal during the period 730 to 1110 A.D.
  • They were Buddhist by faith. They greatly encouraged centres of learning like Nalanda and Vikramasila, where the stupas and monasteries gave ample scope for the sculptor’s expression of an art which found stimulus in religion.
  • During this period art reached technical perfection. The Pala Style is marked by slim and graceful figures, elaborate jewellery and conventional decoration.
  • Their sculptures from Bihar are somewhat thick set and heavier in their general proportions of limbs than those from Bengal. The Pala rulers had intimate relations with Java which are evident in- Hindu-Javanese sculpture, and painting of Nepal, Kashmir, Burma and Thailand.

Sculpture of Uma-Maheshwari belonging to Pala period


  • Some amount of stylization is noticed in the later phase of Pala art, but the tradition is continued under the Sena rulers in the 12th century until the Islamic rulers overran the country.
  • An excellent specimen from Mahanad in West Bengal is this lovely figure of the personified river goddess Ganga.She stands gracefully under a tree, Kalpataru, on a lotus, holding a water-vessel in her hand, symbolizing prosperity and plenty. The ends of her scarf draped around the arms, trail on either side. She is adorned with profuse jewellery and wears a lower garment reaching to the ankles. The figure is expressive and the workmanship is of a high order.


  • The kings of the Eastern Ganga dynasty who held sway in Odisha from the 7th to the 13th centuries have left monumental temples at Bhubaneswar, Puri, and Konarak which are richly embellished with a wealth of sculptures.
  • By the middle of the 9th century A.D. especially in Odisha, there developed a school of sculpture which, among other things, took sensuous delight in the lovely forms of women. There are numerous sculptures of beautiful female figures on the face of the walls.
  • The Odisha templehas many such representations of young and charming creatures with seductive smiles, luxurious hair full of jewellery etc
  • Similar lovely women are seen to appear everywhere as if growing out of trees and creepers, themselves like beautiful flowers and vines, often holding on to branches of trees and standing on floral ornaments. They are nymphs, and spirits that live in trees and shrubs and animate them.
  • They are shown decorating the walls and temples in Odisha, which become vast forests of ornamentation, crowded with flowers, scrolls and elegant geometric design. Most of these lovely ladies stand in various dance poses
  • The famous temple at Konark was built by Narasimhavarmanin the middle of the 12th century and dedicated to Surya or the sun god. It has been conceived as a huge stone chariot on immense wheels, dragged by seven rearing horses. Its presiding deity, the sun-god as seen here, is depicted in the typical north Indian manner, wearing boots, chain-mail armor, holding a lotus in each hand. He is riding a chariot driven by seven horses. On each side are his two wives, Chhaya and Suvarchasa, and the attendant’s Danda and Pingla.

Surya riding chariot, Surya Mandir, Konarak


  • On the plinth of the Jagmohana of the temple, at a height of about 50 feet from the ground, are installed colossal celestial musicians facing in all directions, playing on different musical instruments. These celestial maidens are shown playing the Veena. The massive proportions and powerful modeling of the figure, and a gentle smile on her face, express a sense of harmonious delight.
  • Another celestial maiden, similar to the Veena player, is this drummer. They are all in pink coloured sandstone of a rough texture. These figures are of colossal proportions yet very elegantly and beautifully carved.
  • Narasimha, the great builder of the Konarak templeis shown here on a swing in his harem, surrounded by beautiful women and listening to music.
  • Another scene shows him appreciating literature in an assembly of poets patronized by him.
  • Yet another shows his tolerance for faiths by presenting him before Siva, Jagannath and Durga. There are several other similar representations of his life, and Konarak, with its rich sculpture, may be considered a storehouse of 13th-century culture in Odisha.

Ganga King Narasimha worshipping Jagannath at Konark


  • The image of Surya from the Sun Temple at Konarak drawn by seven rearing horses, one of which fully caparisoned, is of monumental proportions.
  • The Odisha artist without giving up the conventional lines of grace and vigor produced images that were faultless in the perfection of their form and vitality.
  • The examples of this school have sensuous charm and beauty of form.The Mithuna, or a pair of amorous lovers, glows with the exuberance characteristic of Odisha art. They have the eternal smile of lovers who are absorbed in each other. In point of time as well as technique, Odisha art culminates in the famous Sun-temple at Konarak.
  • The traditions of the marble sculpture of Gujarat in Western India are seen in the profusion of intricately carved sculptures that decorate the Jain temples at Mount Abu, Girnar and Palitana.
  • The beautiful image of the four-armed Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation, was fashioned in the 13th century A.D. under the characteristic attributes that is the mace, the discus and conch­-shell. The hand which hold the lotus is now lost.
  • The weapons are again shown as personified attendant figures on the base. On either side are seen the conventional decorative motifs, and the miniature image of Brahma and Siva, within rectangular niches.
  • The Dilwara temples at Mount Abuare the outstanding productions of the western school in the Jain tradition. They are not monuments of architecture, but are sculptural masterpieces, placed one upon the other to fashion one of the sculptural wonders of the world. The ceiling of the Dilwara temple, especially, is one of the world’s masterpieces of intricate sculptural carvings.


  • A splendid example of the Hoysala sculptural art is portrayed in the carving showing Lord Krishna holding aloft the mountain Govardhana to save the inhabitants of Gokul from the wrath of Indra, who let loose torrential rains to teach them a lesson for their insolence, in paying homage to Mount Govardhana instead of worshipping him. The Mountain with its forest and animal kingdom is held aloft by the youthful Krishna on his left hand, sheltering the entire population of Gokul, including the cows.

Lord Krishna lifting Govardhana hill

  • The artist takes delight no more in the depiction of the beauty of the handsome male or the loveliness of the female body.
  • The human body almost completely disappears under a fantastic mass of decoration and ornamentation which become more important than the human figure.
  • In the sculpture of the period showing a woman holding a fly-whisk and other figures, we come to the almost total disappearance of the body.
  • The temples they built at Halebidu and Belur look like lacework in stone.The decoration is elaborate, the emphasis being more on ornamentation than movement or the grace of the human body.
  • Hoysala sculptures are somewhat squat and short, highly embellished, or almost over-loaded with ornamentation, but yet are pleasing to behold.
  • The last great Hindu Kingdom in South India was Vijayanagara. During this regime, from circa 1336 to 1565 A.D. several beautiful temples were erected at places like Tadpatri, Hampi, Kanchipuram, etc.
  • Carving in these temples show the Chola and Chalukyan art traditions. During this period representations in narrative forms of the Ramayana and Krishna, Bal Lila became favorite themes.
  • The Vijayanagara emperors caused excellent portraits to be carved by the sculptors to immortalize them in the vicinity of their favorite deities.
  • One such fine example is of Krishnadevarayaat one of the Gopuras at Chidambaram. The final flicker of this, however, is seen in the amazingly virile sculpture in titanic proportions carved by the sculptors of Tirumylnayak, and the Gopuram and the courts of Meenakshi temple at Madurai.
  • Bronze sculpture tradition during Vijayanagara rule
    1. During the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565) the ornamentation tended to become more elaborate, interfering with the smooth rhythm of the body, and the postures became more rigid.
    2. The sculptors in this period have combined the likeness of the facial features with certain elements of idealization. The idealization is further observed in the manner the physical body is modeled to appear imposing as well as graceful. Ex: life-size standing portrait statues of Krishnadevaraya found at Tiruppathi

Sculpture of Sri Krishnadevaraya with his queens at Tirupati temple

  • The 17th century was a great period of titanic work under the Nayaka of Madurai and Tanjavur.
  • During this period the animal motif with fantastic detail as seen in the outstanding sculpture at Srirangam temple in Trichinapallymay be seen.
  • Though, stylized, this art is full of vitality.
  • A pair of rampant, furious horses whose heads support the pillars, are carved with great skill and vigor. The riders are shown in realistic poses trying to control them. Each sculpture is realistic though the concept is fantastic.

Pillars with Horse rider, Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai,

  • Though traditions of stone sculptures continued, no major sculpture movement survived under the Mughal and the other Muhammadan rulers
  • Under the Muhammadan rulers, a great impetus was given to architecture, but sculptures are rarely found and even those available are products of local chieftains.
  • During the British regime, no proper patronage was provided to sculptors and the whole tradition of Indian art almost came to a standstill.