skanda-sadbhAva:observations on iconography

Chapter 11 of the skanda-sadbhAva describes the making of images of skanda. 8 substances are recommended for making images:
suvarNaM rajataM tAmraM maNayaH kaMsa eva cha |
mR^ittikA dAru pAShaNa ity aShaTau yonaH smR^itAH ||

i.e.: gold, silver, copper, gemstone, bell-metal, clay, wood and stone.

sauvarNA puShTidAj~neya rAjatI kIrtivardhanA |
dhana putra pradA proktA tAmrajA pratimA sadA ||
saukhya pradAtu maNijA kaMsajA pApa nAshinI |
mR^iNmayI sarvadAtvarchyA dArujA lakShmi-vardhanA ||
Ayur-bala pradA nityaM shailajA pratimAnagha |
AbhichArAya vihitA prAtimAsu tadA mayI ||
pratimA dvividha proktA sthAvarA jaMgameti cha |
kartavyaM maNi lohAbhyAM jaMgamA pratimA budhaiH ||
kartavayaM sthAvarA nityaM pratimA sarva yonibhiH |

As is obvious from above the different materials are supposed to confer different benefits. Movable icons are made of gemstone or metals, whereas the fixed images may be made using any of the materials. The use of mud is an atypical element for sthAvara icons, as it entirely went out of vogue in later iconopoiesis. Then there is detailed account of iconometry. Basic iconography is summarized in the below figure:

Two major types of icons are described:
1) the shaishava type: 2 hands; holding pot and bell; sky-clad or with any other vesture; peaceful countenance; legs decorated with tinkling anklets; shaven head; leaf bracelets, lotus [garland] and darbha grass; wearing yaj~nopavIta.
2) guha: 2 or 4 hands; always 4-handed if hold vajra and shakti; of the age 16; wearing red-yellow pants; vermillion in color; kaTaka and keyUra bracelets and auspicious necklaces.

Thus the basic iconography of these kaumAra temples is rather simple in comparison to the iconography typical of many extant south Indian kaumAra temples. The simple shaishava form is a precursor of what is seen in Palani (the current temple and icon is saiddhanta-influence though). The Pazhamadhurcholai temple main icon resembles the above guha form.

Icons of the accompanying devI-s (I have not seen such an arrangement in any of the south Indian kaumAra shrines I have visited):
1) devI praj~nAbhA: To the north of kumAra; color: like a champakA flower (light yellowish green); well-adorned in ornaments.
2) devayAnI: To the south of kumAra; color: like a pomegranate flower (crimson); well-adorned with ornaments.
3) vidyA and devasenA: said the stand to the back of kumAra with chAmara-s and well-adorned.
On the sides of the archana-pITha or pedestal:
4) dhR^iti: to the south; colored red.
5) medhA: to the north; colored black.
Both are described as “ghUrNamAne ubhe sadA”.
Icons of the vipra-s:
They are seated in baddhavarmAsana on lotus pedestals.
a~Ngirasa- red; bhR^igu- white; vasiShTha- golden (akShara-varNa); atri- white; nArada- dark green; gotama- silver; bharadvAja- yellow; agastya- black; vishvAmitra- red.
Icon of dhUrtasena: red; welcoming gesture in one hand and other hand placed on hip.
Icons of dvArapAla-s: red in color.

Another distinctive element of the iconographic chapter of the skanda-sadbhAva is the mention of chitra-kala or picture-making. The chitra-kala section in the viShNudharmottara purANa describes at some length the making of paintings including those of kumAra. The classification of the “pictures” here is in 3 types namely chitra, ardha-chitra and chitrAbhAsa, ranked in the order of their respective effectiveness. By comparison to kAshyapa-shilpa and its late derivative shrI-kumAra’s shilpa ratna, we may understand chitra to actually mean a 3D icon, ardha-chitra to be a relief and chitrAbhAsa to be the actual painting. This is consistent with a similar classification also found in the pA~ncharAtra tantra-s and saiddhAntika-aligned shilpa manuals. Others have alternatively interpreted chitra and ardha-chitra respectively as high-relief and low-relief. The SS is also parallel to the kAshyapa shilpa and pA~ncharAtra texts in stating that ardha-chitra-s might only use clay, wood and stone, whereas chitra-s may use all material. This is consistent with their interpretation as 3D icons and reliefs.

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