The presiding deity of Udaipur is Shree Eklingnath ji, whose temple is still widely visited today. He is the guardian deity of Mewar, one of the most powerful erstwhile princely states of India. A manifestation of the primordial God Shiva, the black stone chaturmukha, four-faced Shiva, embodies Brahma in the west, Vishnu in the north, Mahesh in the south and Surya in the east. The central image is of Ishana, the primordial Shiva.
Shree Eklingnath ji was regarded as the virtual king by the Maharanas of Mewar, who considered themselves to be his servitors. The 76th custodian of the House of Mewar, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, still follows the norm today. As custodian of the treasures of Mewar, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar has made a ‘deliberate act of preservation’ in building different galleries at the City Palace Museum, to keep alive, share and preserve the magnificence of Mewar. This conscious gesture has been enacted not as a lost relic of the past but as an affirmation of the living culture of the people of India/Rajasthan.
Repeated invasions and the destruction of the temple sites in the past was probably one of the reasons why they came under the custodianship of the Maharana of Udaipur. To keep the divine images well preserved in the safe keeping of the Maharana, these treasures were brought to the palace.
From time immemorial, the sculptors of Rajasthan have been constantly refining the art of transforming clay into divine sculptures. The vesting of divine kingship, to some extent, was because of the inherent bhakti or devotion in the very spirit of the people of Udaipur. The robust and beautiful sculptures, in stone and metal, were seen either as the presiding deities in ancient temples of Rajasthan or were part of embellishments in pillars, eaves, niches and temple surfaces. The sculptures adhered to the principles laid out in the canonical texts of religious Hindu iconography, the Shilpa Shastra and the Manasara. They were regionally adapted to Mewar in the 15 th -century texts Prasadamandana and Devtamurtiprakarna, during the reign of Rana Kumbha (r. 1433 – 1468 AD).
The sculpture gallery titled ‘Divine Gesture: The magnificence of Mewar Spirituality’ , presents a fairly representative history of the stone sculptures from in and around Shree Ekling ji temple, which follow the Gurjara-Pratihara style of temple building. The Gurjara-Pratihara, who ruled much of Northern India from the 6th - 11th century, were great patrons of art, architecture and literature.
Of the 308 sculptures which are in the collection of the City Palace Museum, this gallery presents 47 sculptures classified under four thematic sections :the Gods, the Surasundaris, the Goddesses and the animal motifs/memorial stones. The classification is based on the aesthetics and the representative nature of the collection.
The Archeological Department, Government of Rajasthan was provided complete details of the sculptures in 1965 and thus Shree Eklingji Trust ensured a commendable act of preservation of these sculptures by displaying them in the Sculpture Gallery of the City Palace Museum under the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, Udaipur. The sculptures became part of Museum Inventory and were registered with the Devasthan Department, Government of Rajasthan along with the registration of the Foundation. These invaluable sculptures that are recognized as national wealth by all are now preserved and displayed for posterity at the City Palace Museum.
The Modernization / Renovation of Sculpture gallery, Zenana Mahal, The City Palace Museum, Udaipur 313001,Rajasthan, India is being undertaken with financial assistance under the scheme 'Setting Up, Promotion & Strengthening of Regional & Local Museums' from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, New Delhi.
Gallery 1: The Gods
India is commonly referred to as the land of 330 million Gods, and Udaipur is very a much part of it. From the archaeological site of Nagda, which boasts of primarily Hindu and a Jain temple, it was but natural that multiple manifestations of the pantheon of all the gods were represented in the architectural structures and surface embellishment of the temples themselves.
From the Asta Dikpalas or guardians of the eight directions (Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirriti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera, Ishana), to the many manifestations of the primordial Lord Shiva (as Bhairava, as Andhakasura-vadha-murti), to the Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, with and without their consorts, a fairly large representation of the Hindu Gods in all their glory were found. These robust and vibrant sculptures, pertaining to different periods of history, from the 9th-14th century, speak of the visual iconography of eternal Mewar.
Gallery 2: The Surasundaris
Nowhere in the world has the feminine form been so celebrated as within the framework of Indian temple architecture and independent sculpture. Yakshinis, Salabhanjikas, Devanganas, Surasundaris, Apsaras, Alasakanyas; their many names echo the many myths surrounding the origin of these celestial damsels. As Yakshinis, they are nature spirits; as Salabhanjikas, they are ‘breaking the branch of a sala tree’; as Apsaras, they are the wives of the Ghandarvas, the court musicians of Indra; as Alasakanyas they are the indolent girls, waiting for the beloved; and as Surasundaris they epitomize the celestial beauty.
Pervading all schools and styles of Indian Art, these beautiful damsels display the most graceful and sometimes playful poses, some of which are found with staggering regularity across North India. Their presence on Indian temples underwent remarkable efflorescence between the 8th-12th century. The present collection gives an insight into the sculptors’ refined and overflowing imagination in praising the charms and beauty of the woman.
Gallery 3: The GoddessesWithin the Hindu tradition, there is an incompleteness without the ‘other’. Therefore the concept of the Ardhanarisvara, or the androgynous form of the Hindu God Shiva and his consort Parvati, depicted as half-female, half-male. It represents the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies of the universe ( Purusha and Prakriti), and illustrates how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from its male principle.
The Saptmatrikas, or the seven divine mothers (Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kumari, Varahi, Chamunda) are all figures of the primordial Shakti or cosmic energy, and are the power behind their respective consorts: Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara, Indra, Kumar, Varaha and Shiva.
Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati, are the respective consorts of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and assume benevolent as well as fierce manifestations, as epitomized by Mahishasura Mardini, the form in which Durga, the incarnation of Parvati, is slaying the buffalo demon. The room provides the visitor an exploratory insight into the multiple manifestations of the supreme energy, which is Shakti.
Gallery 4: Animal motifs and memorial stones
Animal figures, as well as Surasundaris, are an intrinsic part of the architectural schema of Indian temples. Found on brackets, pillars and railings or perched on the outside walls of the sikharas (rising tower of Hindu temple architecture), they assume diverse functions and symbols.
Among the fauna decorating the Indian temples, Vyalas, as hybrid creatures, used to be prominent motifs. The Dik-Gaja , or eight elephant protectors of the world, assume a similar auspicious function as protectors of the temples. Certain animals are also venerated as divinities, as evidenced by the Cult of the Nagas (snakes), associated with nature and fertility. Naga votive stones are frequently found within the precincts of the temples. A last category of animals, which stands apart, is the horse figure found on memorial stones, commemorating the death of a war hero in battle. This ancient tradition of erecting memorial stones is seen all over India and is still alive in certain parts of the country.
Balcony: Mewar Spirituality
The sculptures of the balcony form a representative sample of the various pieces that are part of the City Palace collection. Conceived to intrigue the visitor and to pique his curiosity, the sculptures on display are among the finest of the collection. Particularly delicate and interesting are the two male and female figures, dating from the 7th-8th century, which are the oldest sculptures of the collection. One will notice the realism of their appearance, the smoothness of their body articulations, and their large round faces, all of which is typical of the style of the period.
Among the other interesting pieces on display is the larger-than-life Mahishasura Mardini, as well as the large rectangular slab representing the Navagrahas, or the Nine Planets of Hindu astrology, a popular cult during the Gurjara-Pratihara period.
At the right end of the balcony, exquisite carvings of dancers, musicians and dancing Surasundaris invite the visitors to enter the next gallery, dedicated to the musical traditions of Mewar.