Sculptures Part 2: The Principles of Sculptural Design

The Vedas and The Puranas had, centuries ago laid down all related guidelines as to what it takes to build temples. In fact for them each home was a temple. To that extent, all of those tenets that stand true for the abodes of The Gods, also are true for places for people to live. 

In any era, be that Gothic, Renaissance or modern, sculptures -large and small, have been created . In some cases the art-works made the sculptures famous, the sculptures made famous sculptural pieces, in other cases. But, all said & done, works of art & architecture at this scale as we find at Angkor have never  been attempted before nor shall they ever be.

Besides, whether it be Gothic or Renaissance, these are relatively new as compared to Angkor. It is therefore accurate to state that the

Principles of Sculptural Design regulate the approach of sculptors to such matters as orientation, proportion, scale, articulation and balance. Orientation to create a sense of harmony in the sculpture itself, or between parts of it, or between the sculpture and the viewer, or between the sculpture and its surroundings. The sculptor usually works to a particular spatial plan or scheme of reference. Such a plan, often based on a system of axes and planes, is essential to maintain linear proportion amongst other things. At Angkor, there were strict regimens of Temple building that had to be and have evidently been followed. East facing Temple for The Lord was considered the most sacred. It has been done there.

Proportion is how sculptors handle proportionality varies considerably. Some observed hierarchic non-naturalistic canons of proportion eg. Gods the largest,  and common humans smallest etc. Some sculptors have followed more naturalistic but equally iconometric rules of proportion. Scale refers, for example, to the need to create a sculpture in tune with the scale of its surroundings. Walk around any major Gothic cathedral and observe the great variety in the scale of the sculptures which decorate the doorways, facades and other surfaces.

Articulation describes how sculptural figures (and other forms) are jointed:, either how the differing parts of a body merge in a single form, or how separate sections come together. Balance in freestanding figurative sculptures involves two principal matters. First, the sculptural body must be physically stable. Second, from a compositional viewpoint, the statue must project a sense of dynamic or static equilibrium. Without such harmony, beauty is almost impossible to achieve.

We now try and visualize that at Angkor Wat, and indeed all of nearly four dozen temples at Angkor, not only have these principles been applied in totality, but it must be mentioned to the credit of all those involved over many centuries, that at no one place have they erred in maintaining a high degree of accuracy. Because first the construction was done then the scalpel applied. Even one tiny mistake and it was a doom. Explode the pictures as much as you would wish, not even a small error can be noticed; even today.

It is congruent to mention here that as per Stella Kramrisch in her books on The Hindu Temples, it has been clearly stated that these principles of creating sculptures have been detailed out in the Vedas and Puranas, which have become guidelines for creating religious sculptures. Examples of these tenets exist in all the temples in South and South East Asia.

The sculptures at Angkor do not conform to any style suc
h as the Gothic, renaissance or any other style with such distinctive characteristics as the folds of the garments as well as the typical oval faces and almond-shaped eyes modelled by highly celebrated artists of yester-yearly era. These are in consonance with what has been laid down in the ancient Holy scriptures detailing well proportioned bodies, faces, well defined & dignified clothings befitting what Angkor stands for – a religious space, a Temple. Nowhere there is any ostentation. Gods are the largest in size followed by the rest in a sequence, laid down thousands of years ago. Thus we could easily surmise that there was a definite regimen to follow, a laid down guideline to go to. That is the very spirit of Angkor; everything Angkor.

But what is of the greatest significance in as far Angkor is concerned is that we treat the entire Temple complexes as a piece of sculpture. The very scale for example of Angkor Wat itself if we take, all the principles of sculpting laid down have been followed from space to orientation to articulation and balance. Be it the main Idol of Lord Himself, the Apsaras or the free standing Dwarpalas, all of them bear a distinct testimony to the virtuosity of their creators.

The space in particular has been riveting my attention in particular. Had the very enormity of the Temple’s size been compromised, the grandeur and appeal would have been lost.

This is true in each and every Temple at Angkor.

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