Gangadhara @ Elephanta

Learning about the reliefs at Elephanta in class was one thing, but being there and experience it puts you in a different state of mind. Just the impressive size of the sculpted figures was enough to leave me in awe. The stories behind each sculpture brought the piece to life and it was nothing short of extraordinary!

My research was focused on the Gangadhara relief which depicts Shiva receiving the river Ganga in a lock of his hair [link to the myth]. This dynamic relief also featured Parvati – Shiva’s wife – along with Vishnu, Indra and other celestial beings and ganas. I was trying to demonstrate the physical evidence to support claims made by Wendy Doniger and George Michell stating that the positioning of Parvati is indicative of her jealousy of Shiva receiving Ganga. With close inspection of Parvati’s posture, you can actually see that her feet are carved from different stones which give her the ‘uneasiness’ that Doniger points out. Seeing this in a photograph is almost impossible to understand, it is something that much be seen firsthand to draw the connection. Other indications of her apparent jealousy are quite evident in the relief: her body tilted, looking downward, and Shiva’s consoling touch on her right shoulder. By viewing the sculpture up close, it was very noticeable that Parvati’s unusual posture reflects her feelings towards Shiva receiving Ganga.  Familiarizing yourself with the following references will give you a better understanding of Parvati’s anger/jealousy and appreciation for the massive Gangadhara sculpture at Elephanta.

Berkson, Carmel, Wendy Doniger, and George Michell. Elephanta, the Cave of Shiva. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Michell, George and Bharath Ramamrutham. Elephanta. The India Series. Bombay: India Book House, 2002.

Leave a Reply