'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eden And Arcadia

The 'Rani ki Vaav' is a grand step-well situated just outside the town of Patan, north Gujarat (and step-wells are elaborate systems of sculptured pavilions built at stepped levels leading down into a very deep water-well, which is the focus). It was built nearly a full millennium ago and has been proposed for inclusion in Unesco's World Heritage Sites list.

The inner(lower) portions of the Vaav are, unfortunately, out of bounds to tourists - those who venture in are often shooed away by a few very pushy caretakers. Still, even the accessible levels abound in great sculptural wealth. For starters, there is an unusually image of Kalki(?), the horse-rider incarnation of Vishnu - he holds a sword and his other hand holds forth a bowl into which a lady is pouring something. A hefty 'Vamana' stands facing Kalki. Then we saw two Kali(?) images, one showing the Goddess as a rather Mongoloid hag and the other, more Desi, with many arms and brandishing a whole arsenal of deadly weapons. There are further Vishnu Avataras on show - we don't remember seeing any Krishnas though.

Still more interesting were two voluptous damsels. One was a classical 'Abhisarika', getting ready for a secret tryst with her lover - and seemingly unmindful of the threat from a scorpion, shown creeping up her leg. The other maiden had a cobra tangled around her waist. There is a certain ambiguity about what the snake is up to - it looks like the girl is feeding it, say milk, from a small bowl. Although girl+scorpion is a very common theme in Indian sculpture(*), the girl+cobra combo is, to my knowledge, unusual - indeed, the only comparison one could obviously make is to Eve and the Serpent of Eden, where of course, the serpent was the feeder (but, indeed like Eve in Eden, the Patan 'cobra feeder' is unclothed!).

(*) - Just Google with "sculpture scorpion thigh" and one has a whole host of pages describing several ancient and medieval Indian sculptural representations of this very theme; the scorpion apparently was a symbol of lust - it still is, in the North, judging from the 'bichhoo' songs in Hindi movies. And even from Down South, one can mention a (godawful) Mallu film song which began 'Vrischhika penne!' (in translation 'Oh, Scorpion Girl!').


A couple of kilometers from the Vaav is a strange site called 'Sahasraling Talav' ('the lake of a thousand Lingams').

The legend is that, a millennium ago, the place had a thousand small Siva temples around an elaborate lake. Now, the whole area is thick with neem trees; there is no lake; what remains is an elaborate network or pattern formed by several long ditches. Remains of stone pillars stand on their beds. Indeed, the capitals of these pillars now are just a few feet above ground level, implying the ditches were considerably deeper once upon a time.

At the junction of two such long ditches is a big circular depression with stone steps leading down from all around - this spot looks more amphitheatre than pond.

I tried to take in the full sweep of the place by climbing a hillock nearby but nothing much could be made out through the dense tree-cover. A little farther away was visible an ancient (and rather Grecian)-looking pillared pavilion, which, on approach, turned out to be part of a small Dargah+Mosque complex; and a few faithful had been called to their knees ...

The remote location, sylvan setting, uneven terrain and forlorn columns and stone stumps made for a spectacle uncannily reminiscent of the allegorical landscapes of Claude Lorrain, Poussin etc. (see this page: or Indeed, I would like to view Sahasraling as an 'Arcadian Idyll' rather than a picture of 'Desolation'. Missing were the shepherd and his flock, maybe because it was midday ...


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