Kalyanasundara, Elephanta Cave 1
A relief depicting the wedding of Shiva and his consort Parvati, the Kalyanasundara panel is located near the western entrance of Cave 1 of the Elephanta Caves, to the right of the central Sadashiva icon. Kalyanasundara is a recurring iconographic theme in Shaiva art; the term translates to “beautiful marriage”.
At the centre of this relief is a figure of Parvati 2.5 metres tall, positioned to the right of Shiva. Her hair is tied in a bun at the back of her head, and she wears a heavily ornamented headdress. The upper part of her body is completely bare except for heavy earrings and several necklaces. The garment covering the lower part of her body is cinched at the waist, creating a series of creases near the thigh. Both her arms have been damaged, but comparisons to other depictions of the scene suggest that her right hand was originally placed in Shiva’s as part of the wedding ritual.
The image of Shiva is heavily damaged; of his four hands, only the front left hand, depicted resting on the knot of his cummerbund, is currently intact. The cummerbund is knotted on the left with the ends hanging loose. The god’s front right arm is extended towards Parvati. Shiva is depicted wearing a tall headdress and a cloth over his right shoulder. There is a halo-like structure around his shoulders, and a sacred thread runs across his upper body from over his left shoulder, passing over his right arm to his right thigh.
The central figures are surrounded by other deities attending the wedding ceremony. A figure on Parvati’s right side has been identified as her father Parvata, who is depicted giving his daughter away. Another figure on her right has been identified as the moon deity Chandra due to the crescent on his neck; he stands to Parvati’s right and is depicted holding a pot, presumably filled with nectar for the wedding ceremony. Also part of Parvati’s entourage is a female attendant holding a fly-whisk, necklaces and earrings.
Brahma, depicted in his three-faced form, has been interpreted as the priest of the ceremony owing to his position at the front-right of the relief, where he appears to be tending the ceremonial fire. Behind him is the four-armed Vishnu, depicted wearing a cylindrical headdress. Two of the deity’s hands are damaged; of the remaining two, the front right hand bears a lotus and the back left hand holds a discus. The female figure next to Vishnu is believed to be Parvati’s mother, Mena. The upper register of the panel also depicts several wedding attendees who have been identified as a group of siddhas. Bhringi is depicted next to Shiva’s head, while several gandharvas and apsaras fly immediately above the principal figures.
The Kalyanasundara episode is a recurring narrative in several scriptures and epics, such as the Linga Purana, Vamana Purana, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Elephanta relief appears to follow the narrative in the Matsya Purana, with most of the figures mentioned present in the relief, with the only point of divergence being that the text describes Parvati’s brother Sumabha as the one who gives her away in marriage.
The damage to the cave and the figures is believed to have occurred during the sixteenth-century Portuguese occupation of the region. Following restoration work undertaken in the 1970s, the Elephanta cave group was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
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