Aihole Durga Temple

A masterpiece of Chalukya temple architecture

Undoubtedly, the Durga Temple at Aihole is an architectural masterpiece and a testament to the ingenuity and engineering skills of the Badami Chalukyas. With its unusual shape and structure, it stands out from the rest of the temples in this area. It could even be mistaken for a Greek or Roman monument because of its curved shape and massive columns that have beautifully-carved corbels at their capitals. It is generally believed that the inspiration for the architecture of the Parliament House in New Delhi came from this temple.

Although it is called Durga Temple, Goddess Durga is not its principal deity. It got its name for an unusual reason. In Kannada, durga means fort. Because the Durga Temple used to be part of a fort complex, people started calling it a temple at the durga, and the name eventually stuck.

Located in Aihole, about 22 miles from Badami and 6 miles from Pattadakal, the Durga Temple was built by the Badami Chalukyas sometime in the 7th or 8th century, although some experts dispute the dating. It is contemporaneous with the rock-cut caves of Badami, and they have a lot in common, especially the carvings. This page describes some of the similarities.

Harmonious blend of architecture styles

Rear view of the Durga Temple in Aihole, Karnataka, India
Rear view of the Durga Temple

Although architecturally classified as the Gajaprastha style – a subclass under the Dravida style – it is a fusion of many architectural styles, including the northern nagara and southern mantapa. In Kannada, Gajaprastha refers to the back-side of an elephant. The round rear-side of this temple does indeed resemble that. If a temple is curved at the back, then its architecture style is identified as Gajaprastha. However, such temples are rare in Southern India.

As you can see from the image, above the garbhagriha is the shikhara (a.k.a. vimana), a tower-like structure that appears to be of northern nagara-style design. Notice the round ridged object fallen on the ground next to the temple. Known as amalaka, it used to be part of the shikhara placed just below the kalasa (pinnacle).

East side view and entrance to the Durga Temple in Aihole, Karnataka, India
East side view and entrance to the Durga Temple

Just like the majority of Hindu temples, this temple faces east, but with an unusual entrance. Instead of a single flight of steps facing front, it has two staircases facing sideways (one facing south and the other north) that join at the top. Check the mukhamantapa image.

As you can see from the image, the temple is on an elevated platform with massive stone columns built at the periphery to support the roof.


South side view of the Durga Temple in Aihole, Karnataka, India
South side view of the Durga Temple

The two side-staircases join at the center and lead to the mukhamantapa (porch), which is a pillared hall with four pillars inside and several pillars at the periphery. The mukhamantapa design conforms to the Dravida-style architecture.

Richly decorated internal pillars are carved with exquisite stone artwork and sculptural reliefs on all four sides. All the pillars have finely-carved sculptures depicting mostly romantic couples, some of which can be described as mildly erotic, and are known as the mithuna shilpa.

At the center of the mukhamantapa is a flight of steps that leads to the sabhamantapa (congregation hall) and garbhagriha (inner sanctum). Surrounding them is a corridor used as the pradakshina patha (clockwise circumambulatory path), which starts from the left side of the mukhamantapa and ends on its right side. The outer edge of this corridor consists of columns that support the slightly slanted roof. Its inner side is a wall that surrounds the sabhamantapa and garbhagriha and has built-in dēvakōshtas (niches) and jālandharas (perforated stone windows).


Interior of the mukhamantapa (porch) of the Durga Temple at Aihole in Karnataka, India
Interior of the mukhamantapa (porch)

The floor space covered by the four internal pillars is elevated and is accessed through a flight of steps on the east end. Check the front view of the temple. The area covered by the internal pillars forms a small mantapa (hall) within the mukhamantapa. At the other end of this internal mantapa is the Dvārabandha, i.e., the entrance to the sabhamantapa and garbhagriha.

As you can see from the image, massive stone beams connect the internal pillars resulting in two deeply recessed square-shaped blocks on the ceiling. Carved into these blocks are the two beautiful bas-reliefs, Matsya Chakra and Coiled Nagaraja. Attached to the beam separating these blocks are the slightly-curved buttresses. The bottom part of these buttresses are the faces of Makara, a dragon-like mythical creature, projecting out of the capitals of the pillars. The roof above the recessed blocks is at a higher level than the rest of the mukhamantapa.

Matsya Chakra – A beautiful relief representing a cosmic pond

Matsya Chakra (Fish Wheel) carved into the the ceiling of the mukhamantapa of the Durga Temple at Aihole, Karnataka, India
Matsya Chakra (Fish Wheel)

Known as the Matsya Chakra (Fish Wheel), this intricately-carved relief covers a recessed block of the ceiling near the dvārabandha. As you can see, it is a wheel consisting of a hub at the center and 16 spokes of fish enclosed by a rim carved with beautiful patterns of flowers and leaves. The hub of the wheel is a medallion with a lotus flower pattern. The Matsya Chakra relief likely represents the cosmic pond.

This relief was likely inspired by the Matsya Chakra relief found on the mukhamantapa ceiling of Cave -3, the third of the four rock-cut caves of Badami.

Coiled Nagaraja – An exquisitely-carved relief depicting king of serpents.

Coiled Nagaraja carved into the ceiling of the Durga Temple at Aihole in Karnataka, India
Coiled Nagaraja

Carved into the other recessed block on the ceiling is another beautiful relief that depicts Nagaraja, the mythical king of serpents. As you can see, Nagaraja has multiple serpent heads, and at the center, there is a human head with the torso that extends into a spiraling serpent body forming a coil.

In this highly-detailed relief, Nagaraja is wearing a beautiful mukuta (headgear) and a variety of jewelry, including earrings, necklaces, bangles, and armbands. He is also wearing the yajnopavita, a looped thread sacred to Hindus worn across the chest from the left shoulder to the waist. He is holding a garland with his right hand and a bowl with his left hand.

This relief was likely inspired by the Coiled Nagaraja carving found on the ceiling of Cave -1, the first of the four rock-cut caves of Badami.

Pillars embellished with erotic art

As you can see, the pillar shown in the left image is ornate with a variety of bas-reliefs. The topmost carving is a mithuna shilpa, i.e., an erotic art form depicting a romantic couple. Below that is a carving depicting a series of male musicians playing different instruments. The frieze below that contains Kirthimuka, a decoration commonly seen in Indian and Southeast Asian temples.

Just above the bottom-most frieze is a Vidyadhara couple carved inside a circular frame. The bottom-most frieze contains a series of male figures, likely wrestlers.

Dvārabandha – An elaborate entrance to the sabhamantapa

Entrance to the sabhamantapa of the Durga Temple at Aihole in Karnataka, India
Entrance to the sabhamantapa

The facade of the entrance to the sabhamantapa (congregation hall) is ornate with an ensemble of decorations. At the center is the door that opens int to the main hall and leads to the garbhagriha (inner sanctum). Carved into the lintel is a beautiful relief depicting an imposing figure of Garuda, an eagle-like bird used by Vishnu as his vehicle, clasping nāgas (serpents) who have human heads. Surrounding the door frame are the finely-carved pilasters and vertical stone beams. Carved into the beams on the outer edge is a series of beautiful female figures, likely representing apsaras.

The stone pediment above the lintel consists of gods and demigods in the niches separated by geometrical patterns.

Garuda subduing the nagas

Garuda clasping snakes carved into the lintel of the sabhamanta door in the Durga Temple at Aihole in Karnataka, India
Garuda with nagas

This intricately carved relief is on the lintel of the dvārabandha depicts Vishnu’s vehicle Garuda, a mythical eagle-like bird with a human-like body with wings, holding nāgas, who have human heads and serpent bodies. As you can see, there are three nāgas on each side with their tails tightly held by Garuda’s hands. Notice the middle nāga on the left. He has seven serpent heads, indicating that he is the Nagaraja, the king of serpents.

Sabhamantapa and Garbhagriha

The door at the far end of the left image opens into the garbhagriha (inner sanctum) of the Durga Temple. The right image shows the interior of the garbhagriha. As you can see from this image, there is just a pedestal on which the principal idol of the temple once stood. Because this idol is missing, nobody is sure to whom this temple was dedicated. Historians believe that it was likely a Surya or Vishnu temple.

There are eight pillars, four on each side, in the main hall that is in front of the garbhagriha, virtually dividing the hall into a grid of three longitudinal aisles and five transverse sections.

In a typical Dravida-style architecture, the mantapa in front of the garbhagriha has two halls: antarala (ante-chamber) and sabhamantapa (congregation hall). In this temple, the first transverse section in front of the garbhagriha is narrower than the other four. So, it can be considered as the antarala. The rest of the main hall is the sabhamantapa.

An oblong-shaped wall, one side of which is semi-circular, surrounds the garbhagriha and the main hall. The semi-circular part appears like an apsidal structure, and this design resembles a Christian Church (sans transepts). Experts believe that it was influenced by the architecture of Buddhist Chaitra halls.

The surrounding wall was built with large perfectly-fitting stones, some of which were cut with precise curvature. It is amazing how the builders achieved this high level of precision without the aid of sophisticated machinery.

Corridor used as the Pradakshina Patha

The Durga Temple has a covered Pradakshina Patha (clockwise circumambulation path). As you can see from the images, the corridor used for performing the circumambulation has a slightly slanted roof supported by the stone pillars at the periphery. The other side of this corridor is a wall that surrounds the garbhagriha and the mantapa (covered hall) in front of it. The upper half of this wall alternate between dēvakōshtas (niches) and jālandharas (perforated windows). Occupying the dēvakōshtas are beautifully carved sculptures, each depicting a god or goddess. The jālandharas provide light and ventilation into the interior.

Because the Durga Temple is apsidal, the corridor is bent at the far end, which in other words means its rear side covering the garbhagriha is round.

Dēvakōshtas – Niches with finely-carved sculptures

There are six dēvakōshtas built into the inner wall of the corridor. The jālandharas occupy the space between the dēvakōshtas.

Shiva with his vehicle NandiSouth – EastCalm and serene Shiva leaning against Nandi, his vehicle
Narasimhavatara, the fourth avatar of VishnuSouth – MiddleVishu’s incarnation as lion
Vishnu riding GarudaSouth – WestVishnu with his consort Lakshmi and vehicle Garuda
Varahavatara, the third avatar of VishnuNorth – WestNarrative sculpture depicting boar faced Vishu’s incarnation slaying Hiranyaksha, an evil demon
Durga as MahishasuramardiniNorth – MiddleNarrative sculpture depicting Goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura
HariharaNorth – EastFusion of Shiva and Vishnu

Sculptures in the dēvakōshtas

As you can see, each sculpture is installed between kudyastambhas (pilasters).

Jālandharas – Beautifully designed perforated windows

The purpose of the jālandharas is to provide ventilation and light into the interior. They also improve the aesthetics when the perforations are cut into the stone to create beautiful patterns.

In the Durga Temple, they are carved with perforations forming a variety of patterns, some of which depict sacred religious symbols and the others aesthetically pleasing patterns. Here is a list of the jālandharas installed in the clock-wise direction:

Swastika and lotus flower patternsSouth – EastSacred symbol shared by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions.
Rhombus-shaped perforationsSouth – MiddleAesthetically pleasing pattern
Dharmachakra with eight spokesSouth – WestSacred symbol shared by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. Built into circular part of the wall. Curved and fits perfectly.
Dharmachakra with 12 spokesNorth – WestSacred symbol shared by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. Built into circular part of the wall. Curved and fits perfectly.
Square-shaped perforationsNorth – MiddleAesthetically pleasing pattern

The jālandhara is a unique element of the Dravida-style architecture and is a common feature in many Chalukya and Hoysala temples.

Related Pages
Badami, Cave – 1, Cave – 2, Cave – 3, Cave – 4
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Bracket Figures
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Navaranga
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Garbhagriha Outer Wall
Somanathapura Keshava Temple – A Masterpiece of Hoysala Temple Art
Hampi Virupaksha Temple Murals

Copyright © 2021 by YatrikaOne. All rights reserved.

Prambanan Bas-Reliefs

Exquisitely carved bas-reliefs

Prambanan is a massive Hindu temple complex (also known as Rara Jonggrang complex) located 11 miles northeast of Yogyakarta in Indonesia. Built around 900 CE, this complex contains multiple temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses. Carved into the walls of these temples are the beautiful bas-reliefs that depict scenes narrated in the Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Puranas. Most of the bas-reliefs are very detailed, and because of that, the stories they represent are easily identifiable.

Ramayana bas-reliefs

The bas-reliefs depicting stories from Ramayana are carved into the inner walls of the balustrade of the corridor surrounding the inner sanctum of the Shiva and Brahma Temples. Not all bas-reliefs are in the right order, and in some cases, wrong bas-reliefs are in place, a result of improper restoration. Here are some of them that are easily identifiable.

Rama’s exile

Ramayana Bas-Relief - Rama, Sita and Lakshmana leaving Ayodhya for exile
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana leaving Ayodhya for exile

Rama was one of the four sons of Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Being the eldest son, Rama was the legitimate heir to the throne of Ayodhya. Kaikeye, one of his three wives, wanted her son Bharata to be the future king of Ayodhya.

When Dasharatha became ready to hand-over his reign to Rama, Kaikeye invokes two varas (boons) that Dasharatha had given to her when she saved his life during a battle. She asks Dasharatha to make Bharata the crown prince and banish Rama to the forest for 14 years. King Dasharatha reluctantly agrees because he could not go back on his promises. Rama respects his father’s wishes and leaves Ayodhya for the forest along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana.

The bas-relief shown in the image is a narrative depiction of Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana leaving Ayodhya for the exile in the forest. Seated in front of the chariot are Rama and his wife Sita, and in the back is his brother Lakshmana. The people in the back chariot are the courtiers from King Dasharatha’s court bidding farewell to their popular princes.

King Dasharatha’s funeral

Rama's father King Dasaratha's funeral
Rama’s father King Dasaratha’s funeral

Once Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left for exile, King Dasharatha became grief-stricken and died soon after. The bas-relief depicts the funeral ceremony of Dasharatha.

Bharata’s inauguration as the King of Ayodhya

Dancing at the inauguration of Bharata
Dancing at the inauguration of Bharata

Bharata is a half-brother of Rama, the eldest son of Dasharatha and the legal heir to the throne. As mentioned earlier, Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi convinces Dasharatha to make Bharatha the king of Ayodhya and banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.

The image depicts dancing at the inauguration of Bharata as the king of Ayodhya.

Rama’s time in exile

As mentioned earlier, Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana went into exile in the forest for fourteen years. Some of the bas-reliefs depict events that happened during his exile.

Killing Viradha

Rama killing Viradha, a rakshasa in Dandakaranya
Rama killing Viradha, a rakshasa in Dandakaranya

Rama spent 13 of the 14 years of exile in Dandakaranya, a forest that was home to many noble rishis (sages) as well as evil rakshasas (demons). Viradha was one of the rakshasas attacking the rishis and animals and destroying vegetation in Dandakaranya. No weapons could kill Viradha as he possessed a supernatural power from a vara (boon) he received from Brahma. Because of this vara, he was fearless. As Rama was wandering in Dandakaranya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, Viradha arrogantly confronts Rama and tries to snatch Sita. Enraged by this act, Rama kills Viradha by burying him since weapons could not kill him. As he lay dying, he morphs into a gandharva, which was his original form, and thanks Rama for releasing him from the curse that made him a rakshasaNote: Gandarvas are a type of demigods who are celestial musicians.

Kidnapping of Rama’s wife Sita

This famous episode in Ramayana happens in the 13th year of Rama’s exile. In this episode, Mareecha, a rakshasa (demon) and maternal uncle of Ravana, assumes the form of a golden deer to distract Rama in order to enable Ravana to kidnap Rama’s wife Sita (Shinta in Java).

Bas-relief in the Shiva Temle depicting Rama slaying Mareecha who assumed the form of a golden deer
Rama slaying Mareecha who assumed the form of a golden deer

The image shows Rama killing the golden deer with his arrow and the body of Mareecha springing out of the golden deer as it starts dying.

According to the story, before Mareecha dies, he imitates Rama’s voice and screams “Oh! Sita, Oh! Lakshmana.”  Troubled by this voice,  Sita pleads with Rama’s brother Laksmana to help Rama. Lakshmana reluctantly agrees, but before he leaves, he draws a line,  famously known as the Lakshmana Rekha, around the hermitage and asks Sita not to cross it under any circumstances.

Ravana kidnapping Sita, an episode from the Hindu epic Ramayana
Ravana kidnapping Sita

Once Lakshmana leaves the hermitage, Ravana disguised as a sadhu (ascetic) comes there and chants “Bhavati Biksham Dehi” (Oh! mother, give me some alms). Seeing the sadhu, Sita goes inside to fetch alms. Ravana tries to follow her into the hermitage but was unable to cross the Lakshmana Rekha. Once Sita returns, he convinces Sita to come out of it to give Ravana the alms. As soon as she crosses the Lakshmana Rekha, Ravana kidnaps her.

Rama killing Kabandha

Kabandha is another rakshasa, Rama and Lakshmana killed during their exile. With the eyes and mouth in his belly, he is a rakshasa with an enormous appetite. The image below shows the bas-relief depicting Rama killing Kabandha.

Rama killing Kabandha
Rama killing Kabandha

This episode happens after Ravan abducts Sita. According to the story, Kabandha finds Rama and Lakshmana wandering in the forest looking for Sita. He tries to catch them with the intention of eating them, but Rama and Lakshmana fight him off and were about to kill him by severing his hands. Realizing that they are not ordinary human beings, he asks for their identity. When he comes to know who they are, he pleads with them to release him from his curse by killing him.

Just like Viradha, Kabandha too was born a gandharva but cursed by Indra to become a carnivorous rakshasa. Once Rama and Lakshmana kill him, he regains his original gandharva body and advises Rama how to find Sita. He suggests Rama befriend Sugriva, a vanara (monkey) who is in power struggle with his brother Vali, and help him to become the King of Kishkindha.

Building Rama Setu (Bridge to Lanka)

Vanara Sene Building Rama Setu - Ramyana bas-relied carved in Prambanan
Vanara Sene Building Rama Setu

After killing Kabandha, Rama continues his journey in search of Sita. As per Kadambha’s advice, he goes southwards to the Rishyamuka Mountain to meet Sugriva, who agrees to help him, provided Rama help him topple his elder brother Vali, the King of Kishkindha.

Rama and Sugriva devise a plan to defeat Vali. As per this plan, Sugriva invites Vali for a duel, and during the fight, Rama waiting on the sidelines kills Vali with an arrow.  See the beautifully carved Vali-Sugriva Fight bas-relief on the Banteay Srei Temple that illustrates this fight.

After the death of Vali, Sugriva becomes the King of Kishkindha. Sugriva’s friend Hanuman goes to Lanka and finds the exact location of Sita.

Eventually, Sugriva builds a vanara sene (army of monkeys) to invade Lanka to get back Sita. Because Lanka is an island, Sugriva builds a bridge to Lanka to ferry the monkey troops. The image below shows the bas-relief depicting the vanara sene led by Sugriva building the bridge to Lanka (Rama Setu).

Other Ramayana bas-reliefs

The bas-reliefs shown in the images below are not easily identifiable.

Bas-reliefs of Ramayana tales

Krishnayana bas-reliefs

Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, is the principal character in the Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana, and Bhagavata Githa. The Krishnayana reliefs depict stories of Krishna’s childhood and youth, mainly taken from the Bhagavata Purana and are carved in the Vishnu Temple.

Krishna and his stepbrother Balarama lived with his foster parents which is because Krishna’s parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, were jailed by Kamsa, his maternal uncle and the King of Mathura. Having killed Krishna’s six elder siblings, Kamsa was intent on killing Krishna because of a prophecy that foretold the death of Kamsa at the hands of Devaki’s eighth child, Kamsa feared Krishna would kill him.

Krishnayana story
Krishnayana story

Krishna’s foster parents, Nanda and Yashoda, lived a simple life in a place named Gokula. Nanda was the head of cowherds, so both Krishna and Balarama spent their childhood herding cows.

The image shows the bas-relief depicting the life of Krishna during his childhood.

Krishna and Balarama played together and often go to a wooded place named Vrindavana to play with their friends.

Krishna and Balarama killing demons

The image below shows a section of the Krishnayana bas-reliefs with two different stories.

Bas-relief depicting exploits of Krishna and Balarama
Exploits of Krishna and Balarama

The left section depicts Krishna taming Kaliya, a vicious serpent who lived in the Yamuna River and roamed on its banks. According to the legend, Kaliya was poisoning the Yamuna River and creating havoc among the people living in Vrindavana. One day, when Krishna was playing in Vrindavana, the ball falls into Yamuna River. As Krishna dives into the river to retrieve a ball, Kaliya swoops on Krishna and tries to bite him. Krishna overpowers Kaliya and is about to tear apart his jaws to kill him, Kaliya’s wives come begging to Krishna to spare his life. Krishna listens to their pleas and forgives Kaliya, but banishes him and his family to Ramanaka Dweepa, an island far away from Vrindavana.

The story in the right section is about Balarama killing Dhenukasura, an asura (demon) who assumed the form of a donkey. When Dhenukasura attacks Krishna and Balarama for eating fruits in the Talavana Forest, Balarama wheels Dhenukasura’s body around by holding his hind legs and then swings it on the top of trees to kill him.

Krishna killing Vyomasura

Krishnayana story - Krishna killing Vyomasura
Krishna and Balarama killing demons

The bas-relief depicts Krishna killing Vyomasura, a demon who could fly like a bat. According to a legend, Vyomasura disguises as a cowherd with an intention to kidnap Krishna’s cowherd friends. When Krishna notices an unusual face among his friends, he confronts Vyomasura, who then shows his true self. As can be seen from the image, Krishna lifts Vyomasura up by grabbing his legs, smashes him to the ground and kills him.

Krishnayana Story
Krishnayana Story

.As you can see from the image, there are two story panels (likely restored incorrectly because there is no continued carving between the two). The left panel depicts Balarama, Krishna’s stepbrother, carrying his signature weapon, a plow, and the right panel Krishna killing an unidentified rakshasa.

Other bas-reliefs

The Prambanan temples have other bas-reliefs that are not directly related to either Ramayana or Krishnayana. Some of them depict devatas and apsaras. There are also reliefs of Lokapala, which could be Indra or the likeness of King Lokapala.


Lokapala in Sanskrit literally means guardian of the world. Loka means world and pala means guardian. In Hinduism, there is also a notion of guardian of a cardinal direction. A Lokapala may also be the guardian of a direction.

The Shiva Temple has numerous bas-relief frames with Lokapala sculptures. The other temples also have similar bas-reliefs but not as beautiful and expressive.

The Lokapala statues are in the sitting position but with different hand gestures (i.e., mudras) and facial expressions representing moods. The thrones on which Lokapala sits are similar.

The Lokapala statues have similar types of jewelry carved almost in the same position on the body. These include the necklace, thread around the belly, and thread on the left shoulder going over the navel (similar to the yajnopavita, a sacred thread worn by Hindus). Some experts believe that the Lokapala statues portray King Balitung Maha Sambu himself.

Lokapala reliefs in the Shiva Temple

The images below show the Lokapala statues placed in different directions.

Lokapala reliefs in the Vishnu Temple

The images below show Lokapala flanked by the apsaras.

Rishis (Sages)

Saptarishis carved in the Shiva Temple located in Prambanan, Yoogyakarta, Indonesia
Saptarishis carved in the Shiva Temple

The bas-relief depicting different rishis are carved on the outer walls of the temples. The sculptural relief shown below is carved on three frames in the Shiva Temple depicts the seven great sages of ancient India known as saptarishis. Here are the names of these rishis from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
1. Vishwamitra 2. Vasistha 3. Jamadagni 4. Kashyapa 5. Atri 6. Bharadwaja. 7. Gautama Maharishi. The other Puranic texts have a different set of names.

Astronomically, saptarishis represent seven stars of the constellation of Ursa Major, commonly known as the Big Dipper. The legend of seven great sages exists in many ancient cultures, including the Greek, Chinese, and Egyptian cultures.

The sage at the center is most-likely Vishwamitra. As you can see from the image, Vishwamitra and some of the sage are holding japamalas with their right hands. A trishula (trident) is behind Vishwamitra with a kamandala (water jug) hung on its prong. It appears they are engaged in a debate.

Here are the reliefs of the other rishis:

Lion flanked by Kinnaras

Lion flanked by Kinnaras
Lion flanked by Kinnaras

Most visitors to Prambanan notice the beautiful and a detailed carving as shown in the image. There are similar carvings on the outer walls of many temples.

At the center of this carving is the statue of a lion in the niche, and on either side of the lion is a kinnara couple (male and female) standing under the Kalpavriksha (a.k.a Kalphataru), the divine tree that fulfills wishes. Kinnara female is known as kinnaree. The significance and meaning of this unusual but beautiful and detailed carving are not well understood.


In Southeast Asian Hindu mythology, a kinnara is half-human and half-bird, whereas, in Indian Hindu mythology, a kinnara is a half-human and half-horse. Kinnaras are celestial musicians and live as a couple.

According to Mahabharata, a kinnara couple is a husband and wife forever, and their love is everlasting. No third person or creature can ever share their love. Because of this reason, they can never become parents, therefore, cannot have offspring.


According to Hindu mythology, Kalpavrisksha is a divine tree that fulfills the desires of people. It is a by-product of the Samudra Manthana (Churning of the Ocean of Milk). See the Samudra Manthana bas-relief in the Angkor Wat Temple. Indra, who was in the middle of the Samudra Manthana, took this tree and planted in his garden.

Other lion carvings

In some of the lion carvings, the kinnaras are replaced by animals such as rabbits. See the images below.

Related Pages
Prambanan, Borobudur, Bali, Indonesia
Angkor Wat, Angkor Wat Bas-Reliefs, Banteay Srei, Cambodia

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La Giralda: A harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles

The magnificent campanile of the Seville Cathedral

When you look at the Giralda, it is hard to imagine that it is a product of two entirely different cultures. The lower half is part of the minaret built in the 13th century by the Almohads – a Moorish dynasty originated from North Africa. The upper half is a Renaissance style bell tower built in the 16th century by the Christians, who took controls of Seville after the Reconquista. Despite the differences in architectural styles and religious traditions, the bell tower appears to be a seamlessly integrated harmonious structure, and is reflective of the multi-cultural aspects of Spain.

Giralda means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish. The decorative bronze sculpture placed at the top, which rotates with the wind and acts as a weather vane, is responsible for the name. It depicts a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith.

Islamic Section – Highly ornate Moorish minaret

Giralda exterior
Giralda exterior

The minaret part of the tower appears to use two types of construction: Ashlar stone in the base and brick exterior in the rest. Richly decorated arched windows and balconies adorn the brick exterior on all four sides of the tower. They allow light and air into the interior.

Mounted on top of the original minaret was a hemispherical dome, and placed above it was a stack of three bronze spheres of decreasing size, crowning it with a crescent moon. The dome and spheres remained in place until an earthquake destroyed them in 1365.

Each side of the tower measures 45 ft at the street level. The foundation below the street level is a bit wider and is about 20 ft deep. Most of the stones used on the foundation and the base came from the existing Roman structures, including a wall nearby. The minaret segment of the tower is about 165 ft high.

The interior of the minaret consists of chambers at the center and ramps around them built with enough space to allow people and horseback riders to climb the tower. There are a total of 35 ramp segments, starting at the entrance and ending near the Christian part of the Giralda. The image below shows a segment (i.e., number 23) with the original flooring. As you can see, the ramp is big enough for people to walk comfortably, and the path is lit by the light that passes through the window situated on the right side.

A ramp segment of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral
A segment of the ramp

Christian Section – Bell tower with Victory of Faith at the top