The Crafting of Idols


Mayapur Panca Tattva (Sri Gadadhara)
Photos by Vrindavan Lila devi

Jun 23, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — Instructions for the design and crafting of Deity forms, from Brhat Samhita, Chapter LVIII.

The smallest particle of dust that comes to sight, when the sun passes through the interstice of a window, is to be understood as an atom. For, this is the smallest unit of all measurements. An atom, a dust particle, a tip of the hair, a nit, a louse, a barley corn and a digit are in order eight times bigger than the preceding measure. One digit becomes an integer. The result may be tabulated as follows:

    8 atoms - 1 dust particle
    8 dust particles - 1 tip of hair
    8 tips of hair - 1 nit
    8 nits - 1 louse
    8 lice - 1 barley grain
    8 barley grains - 1 digit

The height of the pedestal (of an idol) is a third of the height of the temple-door diminished by an eighth part. The idol will be twice as high as the pedestal. [If the height of the temple-door is x cubits, the height of the pedestal would be = 7/24 x cubits; and that of the idol = 7/12 x cubits.]

Measurements of the different parts of the idol

The face of an idol should be 12 digits long and broad, in terms of its own digit. According to Sage Nagnajit, however, its face should be 14 digits long and 12 digits broad, which is the measure prevalent in the Dravida country.

['Its own digits' is explained by Utpala thus: Divide the total length of the stone or wooden piece which will cover the entire height of the idol from head to foot, into 108 equal parts. One of the parts would then be its own Angula or digit.]

The nose, forehead, chin and neck are four digits long; so are the ears. The jaws and the chin are two digits broad.

The forehead is eight digits in breadth. Two digits further off on both sides are the temples, being of four digits. The ears are two digits in breadth.

The tip of the ear should be 4½ digits off the corner of the eye on a level with the brows. The ear-holes and the raised margin near it should lie at the same level as the corner of the eye and measure one digit.

[The tip of the ear should be the meeting point of a line that produces the arch of the brows, and the line that runs through the middle of the eye. Sage Vasistha says that the distance between the corner of the eye and the ear should be four digits. The lower and the upper lip should be one digit and half a digit respectively in breadth.]

The dimple above the lip should be made half a digit broad. The mouth should be four digits long and 1½ digits broad, when closed, and three digits, when it is opened.

The sides of the nose should measure two digits; the front part of the nose should be two digits in height and breadth. The space between the eyes is to be four digits.

The socket of the eye measures two digits; so does the eye. The pupil is one-third of the above i.e., 2/3 digit; and the innermost circle of the pupil is 2/5 digit. The width of the eye is one digit.

The brows measure ten digits from end to end; the line of brows is ½ digit in width; the interval between the brows is two digits; and the length of each brow is four digits.

The line of hair should be made equal to the brows i.e. 10 digits, and half a digit thick. At the end of the eyes there should be the inner corner one digit in extent.

The circumference of the head is 32 digits and its width 14 digits. In pictures, however, only 12 digits of the head are visible and the remaining 20 digits are not visible.

According to Nagnajit, the face and the hair put together should measure 16 digits in length (i.e. 14 digits of face and 2 digits of hair-line). The neck is to be 10 digits in width and 21 digits in circumference.

The distance between the lower part of the neck and the heart is 12 digits; and the same between the heart and the navel. The distance between the centre of the navel and the mail genital organ is the same as above.

The length of the thighs is to be 24 digits; the same is of the shanks. The knee caps are 4 digits and the feet too are of the same height.

The feet are 12 digits long and 6 digits broad; the big toes are 3 digits in length and 5 digits in circumference; the second toe is 3 digits long. [The commentator says that the length of the feet is measured from the heels to the roots of the big toes.]

The remaining three toes should be less by an eight than the preceding one in order. The elevation of the big toe should be 1¼ digits; and that of the others less by an eighth than the preceding one in succession.

Experts in sculpture have laid down that the nail of the big toe should be ¾ digit; and those of the other toes ½ digit or a little lessened for each succeeding toe.

The circumference of the shanks at the end is to be 14 digits, and their breadth five digits; but in the middle they are 7 digits in width and 21 digits in circumference.

The width of the knee in the middle is 8 digits; its circumference, 24 digits. The thighs are 14 digits broad in the middle and their circumference is 28 digits.

The loins are 18 digits in breadth, and 44 digits in circumference. The navel is one digit both in depth and breadth.

The circumference of the waist at the centre of the navel is 42 digits. The distance between the two paps is 16 digits. The armpits are to be at a height of 6 digits (in an oblique direction) from the paps [breasts].

The extend of the shoulders should be 8 digits (from the side of the neck). The upper arms and fore-arms should measure 12 digits each in length; and 6 digits and 4 digits respectively in breadth.

The circumference of the arms at the armpit is 16 digits, and at the wrist, 12 digits. The palm should be 6 digits in breadth and 7 digits in length.

The middle finger should be 5 digits long; the fore-finger, half a joint shorter; the third finger (ring-finger), equal to the fore-finger; and the little finger, shorter by one joint.

The thumb should have two joints, while the remaining fingers, three each. The nail of each finger should measure a half of its joint.

An image should be made in such a way that its ornaments, dress, decorations and form conform to the traditions and practices of the country. If such an image, possessed of all good features, be installed in a place, it would bestow prosperity on the people that live in its presence.

[The principle enunciated here can be seen illustrated in the portraits and images of Indian Gods like Sri Rama and Hanuman that are prevalent in our countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, etc.

Both Sri Rama, son of king Dasaratha, and Bali, son of Virocana, should be made 120 digits high. The heights of other images, superior, medium and inferior ones, are less by 12 digits in succession, i.e., 108, 96 and 84 digits in order.

[The standard or main height of images is 108 digits and the rest are of medium and inferior height. Only two images are to be exception to this rule. So far measurements of different limbs have been given in terms of the standard image of 108 digits. When the height of an image is more or less than 108 digits, the measures of the limbs have to be increased or decreased as the case may be, proportionately.]

The image of Lord Narayana must be made with eight, four or two arms. His breast must bear the Srivatsa mark (a hairy circle) and be adorned with the Kaustubha gem. He should be made as dark as the Atasi (Linum usitatissimum), clad in yellow robes, having a serene and gracious countenance, wearing a diadem and ear-rings, and possessed of plump neck, breast, shoulders and arms. Of the eight hands the four on the right side must have the sword, mace, arrow and the emblem of peace (the fingers being raised and the palm facing the devotees), and the four on the left side, the bow, buckler, discus and conch.

In case He is desired with only four arms, the two hands on the right side will bear the emblem of peace and mace respectively; and on the left the conch and discus. If He is made with only two arms, then the right hand bestows peace and the left holds the conch. This is how the image of the Lord Visnu is to be made for prosperity.

[The hairy circle on the breast of the Lord is known as Srivatsa, His sword, mace, bow, discus and conch are named in order Nandaka, Kaumodaki, Sarnga, Sudarsana and Pancajanya. The 'hand of peace' is otherwise known as Abhaya hasta -- the hand of protection, as the Lord assures His devotees 'Do not fear'.]

Baladeva (Sri Krsna's elder brother) should be made having a plough in his hand, with his eyes rolling (from Soma) and wearing an ear-ring, his complexion being as white as conch, the Mon and lotus-stalk.

Goddess Ekanamsa should be placed between Baladeva and Sri Krsna, with her left hand placed on the hip and the other hand holding a lotus. If she is to be made with four arms, then her left hands should hold a book and a lotus, and her right hands, boon to the suppliants and a japa mala. In case she is desired with eight arms, in the left hands she should have a water pot, a bow, a lotus, and a book, and in the right ones, boon, an arrow, a mirror and a mala.

[The hand of boons, and the hand of protection, are well-known gestures of hand in iconography. The hand of boons is the open palm with the fingers pointing downwards.]

Samba should be made with a mace in his hand; Pradymna, possessed of a charming personality, with a bow in his hand. Their wives also should be made with sword and shields in their hands.

Brahma must have four faces, a water pot in his hand and be seated on a lotus. Skanda (Karttikeya) must have the appearance of a boy, hold a javelin in his hand and have a peacock for his ensign.

Indra should have a white, four tusked elephant, and the thunderbolt in his hand. He should have another mark as well viz. A third eye placed horizontally on the forehead.

A digit of the Moon should be represented on Lord Siva's head; He should have his ensign viz. the bull; He has the third eye, vertical on the forehead; He has a trident in one hand and a bow called Pinaka in the other. He may be represented as having Parvati for His left half.

The Buddha should be represented seated on a lotus, as if he were the father of the world (creator), very forgiving, with hands and feet marked with lotuses, with a serene (compassionate) body and sparse hair.

The God of the Jainas viz. Jina or Mahavira, should be represented naked, young, handsome and serene in appearance (i.e., self-controlled and free from attachment and aversion), with his arms reaching the knees and his breast bearing the Srivatsa mark.

The Sun-God should be represented with elevated nose, forehead, shanks, thighs, cheeks and breast; He should be dressed in the northern style, covering the body from breast to foot. He holds two lotuses born of His hands, in His arms; wears a diadem; His face is beautified with ear-rings; He has a long pearl necklace and a girdle round the waist. His face is as lustrous as the interior of the lotus, His body is covered with an armour; face, pleasant with a smile, and has a halo of bright luster of gems (or, a halo that is made very resplendent by gems on the crown). Such an image of the Sun will be beneficial to the maker (and to the worshipper).

Treat the circumference of the Emblem of Siva (made of wood, stone or gem) as the height and divide it into three equal parts. The lowest part should be quadrilateral; that in the middle, octagonal; and the uppermost one, cylindrical. The quadrilaterial part should be buried in the earth, the middle one, in the pit of the pedestal; and the pedestal around the pit must be equal in extent to the visible height of the Emblem.

The group of Divine Mothers should be represented with the characteristics peculiar to the Gods whose name they bear4. Revanta (the Sun's son) should be shown seated on horseback with his attendants in hunting, sports, etc.

The God of death should be represented mounted on a buffalo, with a club in his hand; Varuna on swan, with a noose in his hand; and Kubera, the God of wealth, on a human being, with a pot-belly and a crown placed on the left side of the head.

[Here the commentator gives a tip to sculptors: The author has, no doubt, laid down the rules for making images of Gods, but they should be suitably decorated and beautified according to the practices of the place, without, of course, offending the ruling regarding dimensions and characteristic features.]

Lord Ganesa, who is the lord of the Pramatha hosts of Siva, has the face of an elephant, with a single tusk, a bulging belly, a hatchet in his hand and a radish bulb (Raphanus sativus) of very dark foliage and root.


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