Ardhanarishvara in Contemporary and Folk Art

Ardhanarishvara is one of the most innovative theme in Indian art, which dates back to the Kushan period in Indian history (30–375 CE). The androgynous composite depicts half male and half female, the right side is Lord Shiva the other half being his spouse Parvati. It symbolizes the fusion of masculine and feminine energies (Purusha and Prakriti), the concept states that the universe was creates from the union of sexes.

This innovative composition was visually refined during the Gupta period (320-600 CE), passed down further as one of the favorite theme of various Indian folk art, particularly Madhubani, Patachitra, Miniature Painting, Kerala Mural paintings and many others. Interestingly, the composition hasn’t evolved or transformed in any way, retaining its original interpretation.

Chola-era sculpture of Ardhanarishvara (11th Century)

Ardhanarishvara is a common subject used by Madhubani artists, a folk painting of Bihar which mainly depicts Gods and their mythological stories. Shown below is a marvelous masterpiece made by Sita Devi, a renowned Madhubani artists. Typical characteristics of Madhubani art, decorative designs, large eloquent eyes and brilliant colors make this outstanding artwork an ideal illustration of the synthesis of Rudra and Shakti.

Artwork by prominent Madhubani artist Sita Devi

Miniature Painting is a genre that has dominated the Indian art scene since its advent in 11th century. Since they started as illustrations for manuscripts the subjects have mostly been religious and folk literature. Countless variations of Ardhanarishvara have been made in this genre through the centuries. The reason why this subject is unique for miniature art is because as per the typical characteristics of miniature art, all the human characters are seen with side profile however Ardhanarishvara is the one of the few theme’s that is represented from a frontal view since it depicts half male and half female, split down the middle.

Ardhanarishvara made in Rajput Miniature art style

With the influence of tantrism there were various compositions of Shiva and Shakti painted in Buddhist Thangka Art. Below is the popular Ardhanarishvara artwork painted in Tibetan Thangka style, it conveys the unity in the most beautiful manner. The posture bent in three parts (head, torso and right leg) adds grace and elegance. Intricacy of the artwork and the bright colors make the composition of the union of Siva and Shakti truly striking.

Ardhanarishvara made in Buddhist Thangka Art style

Kerala Mural Paintings are the frescos depicting mythology and legends, which are drawn on the walls of temples. Most of the masterpieces of Kerala mural art are in the Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor (Kottayam, Kerala) hence Ardhanarishvara is a common theme used by the genre of artists who following this traditional mural art form.

Ardhanarishvara made in Kerala Mural art form

Patachitra- ‘Pata’ meaning ‘vastra’ or clothing, and ‘chitra’ means painting. This creative folk art form of Orissa, is a cloth-based scroll painting. Since beginning of Pattachitra culture, subject matter is mostly mythological, religious stories and folk lore. Shown below is an exceptionally beautiful Patachitra artwork of Ardhanarishvara.


Till date, Ardhanarishvara remains a beloved theme for not just folk artists but also Indian contemporary artists. Shown below is an artwork by Nandlal Bose, one of the pioneers of modern Indian art.


Nand Lal Bose-  tempera on cloth



Artwork by Baani Sekhon
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4 comments:

  1. Excellent works! Will be back!

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    1. Thanks Alana. Checked out your blog... very inspiring :)

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  2. Absolutely stunning murals and paintings!

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    1. Thanks Archana. Glad you liked the artworks. Checked out your blogs.
      'Travel with Archie' is very informative :)

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