Dr Ujwala Chakradeo
Sursundaris can be seen in temples built after the Mauryan period. These sculptures showcase vivid stages of a woman's life. The purpose of the sculptor and creator was to enlighten the devotees
The didactic character of Hinduism is one of the reasons for covering and decorating every inch of the exterior facade of the temple. Not a single exterior surface of any temple was left untouched by the sculptor’s hand. Stone nymphs, demons, serpents, dwarfs and dancing girls (Sursundari) cavort among the nooks and pilasters that form the temple fascia. Many of the figures are taken from Hindu mythology. Apart from sculptures of manyfold Hindu gods and goddesses, their attendant spirits, folklore characters, flora fauna of the region, imaginary combinations of animals, swarglok apsara, all have been depicted on temple superstructure outside as well as inside; for that matter the entire universe seems to have been represented through these sculpture. This was always done with complete dedication by the artist, who considered it to be the act of worship.
Surasundari is a unique concept in Indian sculpture. Surasundari is found in the carvings of many temples in India. It means a beautiful young woman from Sur or Devaloka. These are basically Yakshini or the sevikas of a particular devata, mostly carved next to the idol of that devata. However they are also found independently. Scholars say that these Sursundari are seen in the temples built after the Mauryan period. The various stages of a woman's life and its forms are depicted in such sculptures. The purpose of the sculptor and creator was to enlighten the devotees. The Sanskrit text "Kshirarnav" gives a detailed account of Surasundari. These sursundari are given different names on the basis of the action in they were engaged in, like दर्पिणी with mirror in the hand , डालांबिका holding a branch of mango tree, पद्मागंधा, केतकीभरणा, मातृका, चामरी, नर्तकी and so on; these render pleasing sensation to devotees. There are many interpretations and theories for the existence of these sculptures on the outer façade of the temples. In temples of Orissa and temples of Khajuraho these statues are on the outer façade and the interiors of the temple are absolutely plain. All worldly acts and feelings are kept outside and one becomes calm and quiet inside the temple. Whereas in Karnataka and in Mount Abu temples the carvings are in the interior of the temple spaces. The exterior facades are comparatively quite plain and simple.
The temple is like an open book and every activity of the society, private or public is depicted through these statuaries. That is probably the reason that some of them are brazenly erotic. Sculptures of many amorous couples on famous Khajuraho temple facades are critically discussed, observed and also studied many times.
Stone temple, statues, patterns and carvings together form one composition. This composition is to be cherished, revered and understood with compassion.
(The columnist is Principal of SMM College of Architecture, Nagpur and specialises in Bharatiya Architectural Heritage)