Monday, 19 February 2018

Beautiful sculptures of gymnastics and yoga

I love sculptures and art in public spaces. Many countries put up statues of famous persons in the city squares and gardens. However, sculptures of persons doing gymnastics, athletics, sports and yoga are not very common. In this post I want to share some images of sculptures related to sports and yoga.

To introduce this theme, the sculpture below shows the Olympics banner being carried by the athletes. This sculpture is located near the Ouchy port on the lake in Lausanne (Switzerland) at the entrance to the Olympics park which hosts the offices of international Olympics committee.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Lausanne, Switzerland - Images by Sunil Deepak

Bologna (Italy): Let me start with two sculptures from Bologna, where I have lived for many years.

The first sculpture is by Italian sculptor Leonardo Lucchi, who is known for his airy and light looking art. He achieves this effect by showing them in motion, so that only a tiny part of their bodies is touching the ground. In this sculpture he has a teenage boy balancing on a pole, with his arms raised up. He looks ready to make a jump.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Bologna, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The second sculpture is by the Serbian artist Biljana Petrovic. It has a man sitting with his knees bent, his feet touching, his hands extended clasped tightly in a yoga pose with his rippling muscles straining with the effort.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Bologna, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Delhi (India):  India does not have many good public sculptures except for those of political figures. However, over the recent years, some good sculptures have been put up in the airports. The next image from Terminal 3 of the Delhi airport showing the 12 asanas of yoga exercise known as Surya Namaskar is one example of these sculptures. The sculptures are by Indian sculptor from Jaipur, Nikhil Bhandari.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Delhi, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Geneva (Switzerland): This beautiful sculpture of a gymnast with a ribbon is part of 5 bronze Olympian sculptures by British sculptor Eleanore Cardozo. It is placed in front of the Palais Wilson building, which hosted the League of Nations, before it became the United Nations and shifted to New York. Palais Wilson building now hosts the Human Rights commission of the UN.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Geneva, Switzerland - Images by Sunil Deepak

Kozhikode (India):  Manancheri park in Kozhikode (old name, Calicut) has many sculptures. Most of these are poorly made and poorly maintained. They are also very clearly inspired by socialist art of 1960s and 1970s. However, one of the sculptures of an acrobatic boy with his legs playfully raised up in the air, transmits the joy of life, similar to the Shirshasana yoga exercise. A similar statue is also placed in Panjim (Goa), close to ferry port. I was unable to find out the name of its sculptor. This sculpture is by K. S. Radhakrishnan (information provided by Deepa Gopal Sunil).

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Kozhikode, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Lausanne (Switzerland):  The Olympics park in Lausanne, already mentioned above, is full of sculptures about different sports. Two of its sculptures are presented here.

The first sculpture is by the Hungarian artist Gabor Mihaly. It has a group of 3 cyclists on two bicycles and a total of five wheels, which together represent the 5 circles on the Olympics flag.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Lausanne, Switzerland - Images by Sunil Deepak
The second sculpture is by the famous British and Australian sculptor John Robinson. It has a gymnast girl on a beam. It represents the well known Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci who had received a perfect 10 out of 10 score for her gymnastics in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and had won 5 gold medals.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Lausanne, Switzerland - Images by Sunil Deepak
Manchestor (UK): The next image is from a public art exhibition in the First street in Manchestor, showing female figures in different colours who seemed to be doing yoga or acrobatics. These sculptures were created by the Colin Spofforth studio of sculpture and design.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Manchester, UK - Images by Sunil Deepak

New York (USA):  The sculpture from the central park in New York is by Milton Hebald. It represents Prospero and Miranda from the Shakespeare's play 'The Tempest'. Probably, this sculpture does not strictly fit in the criteria of this post. However, when I saw this sculpture, with their hair and clothes flying up in the air, I thought that it shows a couple doing artistic gymnastics.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - New York, USA - Images by Sunil Deepak

Schio (Italy): I live in Schio (VI) in the north-east of Italy, the next sculpture is from here and it is by a local artist called Mario Converio. It has a gymnast doing a workout with a ring. Balanced on her head, she is floating in the air.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Schio (VI), Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Vicenza (Italy): Here is another work of Leonardo Lucchi. It is similar to the one presented above - here a girl is trying to balance herself on a narrow plank. However, instead of a sense of equilibrium, this sculpture transmits a sense of precariousness, as if the child is going to fall down.

Sculptures of gymnastics and yoga - Vicenza, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

At the end, let me conclude this post with a sculpture from Verona (Italy), the city of Romeo and Juliet. This sculpture is by the famous British sculptor Marc Quinn. In this the girl doing a yoga pose is balancing herself on the tip of elbows.

Acrobat by Marc Quinn, Verona, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

So did you like my selection of sculptures related to sports, gymnastics and yoga? I think that sports and yoga are good themes for sculptures, also because they are not very common.

Have you seen any good sports related sculptures? Do share information about them.


Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Searching for the past in Chennai

During a recent visit to Chennai, a walk along the Marina beach took me to the ancient Parthasarthy temple and to a search for a long lost childhood friend. This post is about that walk and my search.

My childhood friend

Nani used to live in a multistory building inside the area known as NPL, while we were living in Double Storey flats in New Rajendra Nagar in Delhi. His family home was in Chennai, which I had visited a couple of times.

The last time I had met him was probably around 2001-02 when I had come to India. He had just shifted back to Delhi. Since then we had lost contact. Partly it was my fault - I had not looked for him during my visits to India. I didn't have his email. I looked for him on facebook but didn't find him. Every now and then I wondered about him.

A memory from the past

Few weeks ago, I was back in Chennai after more than 20 years. One afternoon I was looking at the Google Map when I noticed "Parthasarathy temple" that was not very far from my hotel. The last time I had visited Nani's house in Chennai must have been about 30 years ago, but I was sure that it was right in front of the Parthasarathy temple. I remembered the name of the temple because it was also his father's name.

Parthasarthi temple is the oldest temple of Chennai, built around 8th century CE. Nani's family house in front of it, also looked very old. Once I had stayed in that house for a couple of days and remembered its intricately carved wooden doors and a wooden balcony around the central courtyard.

As I remembered my old visit to that house, I decided that I will go to that temple and see if I could find his old house. Perhaps some neighbours will be able to give me news about him, I thought.

The walk at Marina Beach

I took an auto to the Gandhi statue on Marina beach. It was sunset time and the beach was crowded with people.

I started my walk towards the Parthasarathy temple with the help of Google Map on my cellphone. I passed in front of the Vivekanand house, the house where he had stayed for some time after his return from the US.

I am an admirer of Vivekanand and would have liked to explore that place and its museum but it was becoming dark, so I decided to continue my walk.

A short walk brought me to the Anne Besant street with her statue in a small park at the street corner. Parthasarathy temple was nearby according to the Google Maps.

Reaching the Parthasarathy temple

A small side street brought me to the temple pond. Though I had visited that place and even stayed there right next to that pond, I had no memory of it. I even had difficulty in recognising the temple. The Gopuram of the temple seemed much taller compared to how I remembered it. All the area in front of it, including an long entrance with a row of pillars was surrounded by an iron grill. There were small shops all around and it was full of devotees and visitors.

In my memory that was a quiet street, there was no long covered entrance in front of it. At that time, there were no shops, but just old houses on the two sides. I went all around a couple of times, but could not recognise anything. I tried asking to some older looking shopkeepers, but no one could tell me anything.

After about 15 minutes of looking around, I was almost ready to give up. I visited the temple and even it seemed different from how I had remembered it.

While coming out of the temple, I had a flash of memory about the address of the old house. It was hiding somewhere there in my head. I checked the numbers on the houses. Number 25, my friend's house, was there but it was a marriage hall. It looked completely different from the house of my memories.

Outside the marriage hall, I saw a board on the side with a telephone number. I thought that I will talk to the hall owner and ask him, perhaps he would know about the previous owners of this house. However, my call went unanswered. Dejected, I thought that it was time to go back to my hotel.

Call from the marriage hall owner

I was near the temple pond, looking for an auto, when my telephone rang. It was the hall owner calling me back.

"When did you buy that house?" I asked him.

"Who are you? Why do you want to know?" He asked me suspiciously.

So I explained that it was the house of an old friend and that I was looking for him.

"I have Nani's telephone number, he lives in Delhi", the hall owner told me.

"Wow!" I had found my friend, I was overjoyed, "Can you please SMS me his mobile number?"

The man promised to send me the number and then while closing the phone casually mentioned, "Nani's father still lives in that house, there is a small residential part on the side, he has a room there."

"What? Uncle is still alive?" I was flabbergasted. Uncle had retired in the 1980s, so he must be more than 90 years old, probably closer to 100 years.

Meeting Nani's father

The hall owner had explained and this time I had no difficulty in finding the small grilled door on the side, leading to a corridor and to a few rooms. My heart thumping with excitement, I went to uncle's room. His door was open and he was sitting near the TV, busy watching it. I knocked on the door, went inside and touched his feet. "Uncle, you remember me? I am Sunil, Nani's friend."

He looked at me and smiled, "Yes, I remember you. Come sit here."

He remembered me! Suddenly I was laughing and crying at the same time, feeling like a child once again.

We talked about old times. Nani has a son and a daughter. I had seen his son as a baby, but I had never seen his daughter. My friend's elder brother, Cheenu, was no more, he had died six years ago. Cheenu's wife and daughter live in Hyderabad.

Uncle called Nani on his mobile and we spoke. He lives in NOIDA. When I go back to Delhi, I am going to see him.


Some times crazy ideas lead to good things. I am so glad that on that day when I saw Parthasarathi temple on the Google Map, I decided to go and search for my friend's old house.


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Shiva icons across the centuries

As a child, I was always fascinated by the figure of Shiv ji (Lord Shiva), because of his ash smeared body, and the drunkards, drug addicts and the bhoot-pret among his followers. When he dances Tandav in anger, he is a god of destruction. These were all unusual and "bad boy" characteristics for a god. This post is about the Shiv (Shiva) icons in the archaeological section of the national museum in Delhi.

After a few decades, recently I was back in the National Museum and was pleasantly surprised by all the changes. Instead of the dusty glass cases holding poorly labelled objects, it has now much better exhibition spaces, similar to some of the better museums in Europe. Thankfully, now you are also allowed to photograph. If you haven't been to National Museum, I recommend visiting it!

Let me start with the image of the delicate and graceful bronze dancing Nataraja sculpture from the 12th century Chola empire, which symbolises destruction and the new creation. Among his flowing hair, on the right side, you can see the river Ganga (Ganges). The centre of his forehead has the third eye, while a snake is wrapped around his right arm.

Shiva icons in archaeological section of the national museum

One of the most common representation of Shiv is as Shivling (Shivalinga).

Shivling is a round or cylindrical form (male principle) placed on a circular base that represents Yoni, the female principle. While some see it only as a phallic symbol, for the believers, it has different metaphysical meanings including a union of Purusha/body and Prakriti/mind. Some people see the trinity itself symbolised in the Shivling – the circular base represents Brahma, the octagonal stem represents Vishnu and the round top represents Shiv. Often people may choose a smooth and round stone from a river bed and worship it as Shivling, these are called Saligram.

The image below has a very special Shivling - it is Chatturmukhi (four faced) with representations of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiv) and Surya on its four sides. It is from the 6th century Gupta empire period.

Shiva in Harappan culture

The cult of Shiv goes back to much older period in India, during the Middle Stone Age (Middle Palaeolithic). Michael Wood, in “The story of India” has written: “The stone lingam and yoni (male and female principles) – that are found in the worship of Shiva come out of the deep past … These aspects of the indigenous culture of India are part of the givenness of the deep past, which is shared by all Indians, whatever their ancestry, language or religion.

Wood has also mentioned the Shiv figure depicted in prehistoric cave paintings of Bhimbetka: “… looking at the dancing deity at Bhimbetka with his bangles and trident, one can’t help but recall the image of dancing Shiva seen on pilgrim posters today …

Thus, while the Shiv cult is much older, the earliest Shiv icons in the museum are from 2000-2700 BCE, from the Indus Valley civilisation. These include the famous Pashupatinath seal from Harappa, which shows a person sitting in yogic posture along with different animals (Shiv is also known as Pashupatinath or the lord of the animals).

However, the national museum also a number of Shivlings from Indus valley civilisation found in places like Dholavira and Rakhigarhi, like the large Shivling shown in the image below.

Early Icons

Among the early icons is another Chatturmukhi Shivling - it is from 2nd century CE, when Kushans from central Asia were ruling the Indus valley and parts of north India. It is less well preserved and has a rougher quality. A special feature is the chain motive sculpted on the top third, thus effectively dividing the Shivling into three parts.

Another early icon is an Ekmukha (one faced) Shivling, with the head of Shiva (recognised by the third eye in his forehead) on one side. It is from 5th century Gupta period.

Shiv icons in medieval India

The next icon is an Uma-Mahesh sculpture from 9-10 century Pratihara period in north India. Khajuraho was a part of Pratihara empire, before the Chandelas (under the Chandela, the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho were created). This Uma-Mahesh sculpture has a clear erotic/sexual component. 

Another representation of Shiv with his consort and family is from 10th century Chalukya period in south India. It touches on sexuality in a different way. In this, Shiv is shown holding a snake in his right hand - snake is seen as a representation of desires and sexuality.

The erotic art of Khajuraho has been seen as a part of Tantrik traditions, in which Shiv and Shakti are together and sexuality is a part of the path for the search of divine. The next image is from 11-12 century Khajuraho under the Chandela period, showing women devotees praying to a Shivling.

Composite icons of Shiv

Shiv is also part of some composite icons. Two examples of these icons from the national museum are presented here.

The first is a Harihar icon, combing Hari (Vishnu) and Har (Shiv). This 12th century statue is from Gahadval in Rajasthan.

The second is an Ardhnarishiwar icon - Ardh (half) Nari (woman) Ishwar (God), representing Shiv and his consort Shakti in the same statue. This 15th century bronze sculpture is from Vijaynagar empire in south India.

Recent icons

Among the more recent icons, there is a striking ivory sculpture from 19th century from South India. It has all the attributes of Shiv - snake, damru (small drum) and the third eye, however the hair style and face seem more similar to representations of Buddha.

Followers of Shiv

Apart from Shiv icons, national museum also has some icons of his more famous followers. The next image presents one of them. It is a bronze statue of saint Manikkavachkar, a Tamil poet from 9th century, famous for his songs about lord Shiv. The sculpture is from 12th century Chola empire in south India.


I love visiting museums and I am glad that I decided to visit the National Museum in Delhi. It is a wonderful place to learn about the rich culture and traditions of India. There is so much to see.

In an article of Devdutt Pattanaik, he had written about the lack of appreciation of the temple art depicting Indic icons among modern Indians and asked, “How many parents actually take their children to museums or to temples and play the game of ‘Let us identify this god’… Our icons have been reduced to ‘property’, possessing them is more important than appreciating them.” I hope that this post will stimulate you to visit national museum and other museums.

Let me conclude this post with another kind of Shivling - it is called a Lingudhbava, it has Shiv appearing (udbhav) inside the Shivling. This 12th century sculpture is also from Chola empire in south India.

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