Natalie Savelyeva

Ancient Canon of Elegance

Shakti as Bogashakti(giving pleasure)

Perfection of lines, harmony of posture

Decorations of sculptures serve dual purpose, to decorate the image and represent symbols of the deity. Grammar of ornamentation has emerged in Silpa Sastra.

Decorations of human images reflect historical features of their times (like fashion) and social features of the person portrayed (like occupation, status, or situation).

Meditating Siva

Sri Devi (Lakshmi), in all reachness and beauty of the Goddess of prosperity

The ornaments closely follow lines and curves of the body. They enhance and indicate natural lines and forms of the body thus emphasize beauty and grace of images.

Spatial dimensions and proportions of each image are prescribed by the canon. Postures, hand gestures, ornaments and raiment are taken together in perfect harmony, worked out though the centuries.

Scene depicted at bas-relief inside Sri Meenakshi Ammal temple, Madurai. Visnu gives the hand of Meenakshi to Siva

Sculpture of Apsara (celestial dancer) from Belur

The sculptures and images created by ancient sculptors convey message of elegance. Those images are the hymns to perfection and beauty of human body. Hindu Gods and Goddesses are majorly anthropomorphous figures, radiating harmony and elegance of upper worlds by their presence in the worlds of human in human shape raised up to utmost degree of development and elegance.

Hair styles and gears (crowns)

Thalaikolam is the name given to various methods of dressing hair, i.e. knotting, plating, using wigs or switches, etc. The various styles are known as mouli, mudi or makutam. Metal Makutam or crowns also belong to this category.

Decorative elements fastened to hair styles and head gears

Purimam is the main ornament fixed on Jata makutam, Kirita marutam, and Karanda makutam, on all four sides. It is in form of arasilai or peepul leaf. It comprises gem and precious stones in center, five sampangi (tuberose) flowers form upper part (like bells).

  • Makara purimam is decorated with four makara faces (below the lower edge). Height of purimam is 12 viral. IT can be used to decorate coiffures of kings and divine images.
  • Patra purimam comprises precious stones in center with leaf motifs around them. It is used for decorating images other then kings or devas.

Makara purimam

Patra purimam

Patra purimam

Netripattam is the band worn on at the top of the forehead, touching the base of hairline. Whether this band is worn separately or joined to head dress, it is a part of headgear and fair style of images. There are three varieties of pattam.

  • Patrapattam - embellishment on the band represents leaf, creeper and flower motifs. This pattam is usually made of metals.
  • Ratnapattam - made of gold inlaid with precious stones and pearls, carved with floral motifs.
  • Pushpapattam - composed entirely of flowers, in the form of a garland. The garland is called talaimalai or shikhali. This can be seen on images of Muruga.

Pattigai (or "patta") is an ornament fitted below hair line, round the top of forehead. It comprises flowers (center, above eyes and ears) connected with strings of pearls.

Partapattam and Parrigai below

Pushpapattam and Parrigai below

Ratnapattam and Pattigai below



Sirachakram (or "siras chakra") is an ornament shaped like a wheel (chakram) and fixed to rear of hairstyle. It is a ring with 8, 12 or 16 spokes (petals) like the rays of sun radiating from the center. Those spokes resemble petals of lotus. Five strings of pearls are suspended in a bunch from the center.

Hair dressing styles

Jata makutam

Jata makutam

Jata makutam resembles a pyramid. Twisted coiled hair is knotted or piled up in form of receding pyramid on top of the head. This can be one, one-and-half or twice height of the face. Hair can be twisted in 3 or 5 vertical strands or put in horizontal plane of the head (or using both ways). Space between the strands is stitched with strings of pearls and gems. The base of hairstyle is slightly wider then face of image and becomes progressively narrower as it piles up. This hair style denotes antiquity, yogic powers and wisdom and is suitable for images of Siva, Brahma. Gnana Saraswati or Rishis.

Kirita makutam

Kirita makutam

Kirita makutam is a head-dress in shape of large bell or puja bell, 1.5 - 2 times of face length. There is a band of precious stones and puritam ornaments. Over this ornament called pirambani is fixed crowned with lotus flower. The edge below pirambani is adorned with a row of flower-shaped ornaments called alungu. Pirambani is decorated with pearls or gems all round. The back of head should have circular siraschakram ornament. This head dress is suitable for kings, ruling queens and female deities consecrated independently. This most specific adoptation of theis style is seen in the images of Visnu.

Karanda makutam

Karanda makutam

Karanda makutam (or sararatna kiritam) - the beehive is known as Karanda. The small container with chunam (lime) is kept in supari box is also called Karanda or karandikai, as its shape is like beehive. The ring support for firmly seating a pot, known as purimanai, is also of a similar form. A further comparison to this shape of beehive which is in progressive tiers, is the formation os nodes of a bamboo. Karanda makutam is head dress which follows multi-tiered natural forms. There are usually 3 or 5 tiers above a cylindrical lower position. There are 4 purimam ornaments on the four sides, and a lotus motif at the crest. The crown of cylindrical parts is adorned all round with pearls. At forehead level it has additional embellishment of a band made of precious stones and strings of pearls. The band and crest of the crown are joined together. This head dress is suitable for Devi, Rama, Muruga, and Vinayaka images.

Kesa bandham (Parvati Bogashakti)

Kesa bandham

Kesa bandham is a high slender pyramid-like crown, 1.5-2 length of the face. Tresses are gathered together and piled above the head so that the crown is surrounded with a row of curls. Below hair lien three strands of pearls are fixed in. Purimam adorns all four sides. Space above forehead is decorated with jewellery made of precious stones, beads, flowers. This hair style is used for Savitri, Uma, Kalaimagal and other Sakti images as well as for Balakrishna ans Muruga images.

Jata bharam (Kailasanatha temple)

Jata bharam (Kailasanatha temple)

Jata bharam shows the hair, wild, thick and heavy, matted, twisted or curled on either side of the face and back of the head, falling down on shoulders. Makara purimam enhances this hair style at the center of hair line. Images of Siva, crescent moon and Ganga are also shown in Jata bharam. This hair style is suitable for Bhikshanada or Dakshinamurthi images.

Sirasthirakam (Buddha)

Jata bandham(Hanuman)

Sirasthirakam - hairs put in neat tight curls, arranged evenly all over the head. At the top of head, crest of curls is formed in shape of roll. This hair style is used for Buddha images.

Jata bandham - hair tresses are bundled up at the top of head like a crest, one face length above hair line. This is characteristic style of yogis.

Jata mandalam (Kalyana Mandapa of Varadaraja Perumal temple, Kanchipuram)

Jata mandalam (Brihadeshvara temple, Tanjore)

Jata mandalam - hair is dressed in form of circle or halo around the head (three times wider then the face). The ends of hair are curled. This style is used for Bhikshanada or Dakshinamurthi images.

Sarpa mauli (Siva as Rishabhantika)

Sarpa mauli (Chennai Museum)

Sarpa mauli is hair style wherein snakes heads on the crown of head-dress. This is special feature of Rishabhantika Siva Murti.

Sudar mudi (Darasuram)

Sudar mudi (Darasuram)

Sudar mudi (or Agni kesa) is hair style in form of flames of fire which ascend in stepped pattern behind the head. The outline is like peepul leaf, where the ends rise up sharply to a pointed crest. Pearl strings and or silk ribbins are wrapped around the head at the level of forehead, Inset with flowers. This hair style is adopted for Ugra Sakti and Kali images (aggressive female divines).

Virisadai (Siva Nataraja, Chennai Museum)

Virisadai (Siva Nataraja, Vellore)

Virisadai (or vikirna jatai) - hair are divided into two parts on either side of the head, and locks are fanned out around rear of the head. Separate starands should be 5, 7, 8 or 9 in number, thickness of one little finger. Strings of beads are twisted between the tresses, and tips are decorated with flowers. This style is seen on images of dancing Nataraja.

Kuntalam (Nageswarar temple, Kumbakonam)

Kuntalam (Rayagopiram, Mahabalipuram)

Kuntalam - tresses are gathered together in the middle of back of the head or places slightly to the side. This hairstyle is used mostly for Sakti images, and also for Andal, Balakrishna, Rukmini and Satyabama (Krishna's consorts, at this, hair knot should lean towards Krishna).

Tamizham (Madurai Azhagar temple)

Tamizham (Kalyana mandapa, Jalagandeeswarar Temple, Vellore)

Tamizham - hairs are rolled in 8-shaped or oval or kidney-shaped roll on the back of the head, upper portion should be visible above the head. Coiffure may consist of 1 or 3 twists. Edge of forehead is adorned with a row of curls called Sirachulam. This style originated from Tamil Nadu and is used for images of royal ladies like Sita, Rukmini, Satyabama, consorts of Siva, queens and princesses..

Alaga chudam

Alaga chudam (Nageswarar Temple, Kumbakonam)

Alaga chudam (or sirachula) - small curls on hairline, turned to left and right side, Like lotus surrounded by a ring of bees. This style is used for male, female images. images of children.

Hair ornaments

Thoyyaham, Purappalai and Pullaham (Sri Meenakshi temple, Madurai)

Thoyyaham, Purappalai and Pullaham (Chakrapani temple, Kumbakonam)

Thoyyaham (or sideci) is worn along the central parting of hair, ornament with a pendant at its end, in the form of leaf or similar, set with red stones, the edge decorated with pearls. The pendant is linked to a chain (purappalai), which is fixed to hairstyle.

Purappalai is the chain going from the pendant of thoyyaham to the ears. It looks like puran or centipede and palai or coconut palm. Links of the chain should be continuous, like the body of centipede or stem of coconut palm. It is continued along hair line to the ears.

Pullaham is the ornament fixed to hair on either side of central parting. In the form of crescent moon and sun (Chandra and surya). They are sometimes called "balli" - tenballi (right) and vedaballi (left).

Sadaitiruku (or thirukupillai) is circular in form and studded with precious stones, fixed to hair brided like a snake or coiled in tamizham stule.

Chulamani (or chudamani) is circular ornament, like a lid of kumkum container, shaped like petals of a lotus, studded with precious stones with its tip adorned with strings of beads. It adds to beauty of hairstyles which adorn the head on angle, like Balakrishna and Andal images.

Ear ornaments

Kudambai is scroll-like ornament made of palm leaves and inserted through the holes in the ear. Golden leaves can be used instead of palm leaves. The space within those scrolls can be filled with blue lotus flowers. Upper edge can be trimmed with pearls. The center should be 3,4,5 viral in diameter and thickness of 1 yavali. It can be white or red in color.

Kadippu is sophisticated version of kudambai, it has flat inner shape and is studded with precious stones. today it is known as ear studs.

Kuzhai (or kundala) is suspended ornament, can be of three types: makara kundala (shaped as makara fish, 2,4,5 viral wide), simha kundala (like lion emergin from the center of earring) and vyazha kundala (rounded in shape with a ring fixed to it. 18 yavai wide and 4 yavai thick. It is designed as banana flower or lotus bud.). Rudraksha beads can also be worn as a kundala in the ear. The metal kundala can be seen on Hanuman images and rudraksha (with 6 faces) kundala on images of Muruga.

Thadangam is circular ear studs embedded with precious stones, usually for women.

Neck ornaments

Kandikai - small necklace close to neck

Savadi - flat necklace, second after andikai

Kandikai (or upagriva, hugging the neck) is twisted rope-like necklace worn very close to the neck, with one large bead at the center and 2, 4, 6 smaller beads threaded into it on either side. the large bead is sometimes elongated in shape and comes to rest at the hollow at the base of throat. Worn by female figures.

Savadi is worn close to kandikai and sarappali. inner surface is flat and is made up of delicate gold threads plaited together. top surface is curved, with the center raised up. Centerpiece is decorated with flower motifs, which also appear at intervals along the length of savadi.

Kandikai, Savadi, Sarappali

Kandikai, Savadi, Sarappali

Sarappali is the most broad, elaborate and decorative neck ornament. Usually, 3 to 4 varals wide. Made of gold, studded with navaratnam (nine gems). Upper side and under side have various sculptural motifs. Upper edge is finished with pearls, lower edge - with leaf motif. This ornament is for female figures.

Griveyahara is the name given to sarappadi which is 2 viral wide and 6 viral long, edged with leaf or petal motifs, with central part embedded with precious stones. It is tied with gold threads. This is decoration for male figures.

Arumbusaram (or kundasaram) - jasmine buds strung together on a braid. The individual buds may be short or elongated. This necklace is worn instead of sarappali.

Pulippai tali

Vagumalai and Tollmalai (on sloping shoulders)

Vagumalai is a garland which is hung down the shoulders on either side of neck. Can be adorned with various flower motifs and embedded with pearls.

Skandamala (or tollmallai) is a necklace running from the base of neck, down the slope of shoulder to the edge of upper arm, decorated with various flowers.

Pulippai tali is a type of necklace with one or two tiger teeth (puli pal) braided into a gold string or fiber string, worn by warriors, male or female.


Maniyaram and Haram

Maniyaram is a long chain worn round the neck and coming down till the base of the chest. It can be 1,3, or 5 strands (ekavali or ekasari, trisari or panchasari).

Haram is a long string of pearls extended to navel level. It can be of 3, 5, or 7 strands.

Inamalai (Vishnu, Haleibidu temple)

Vijayanti (Belur temple)

Kausturbha manimalai is the chain worn by Vishnu round his neck. It consists of 3, or 7 strands. In center of this necklace is a pended stone called kausturbha, which is set into golden pendant. Kausturbha stone has been obtained from Milk Ocean. Round the pendant there are gold petals inlaid with shparagam stines. Leaf, creeper and floral motifs decorate the surface of the pendant.

Inamalai is a long garland hanging to the knee of image, made up of fully blossomed flowers with a bunch of Kadamba flowers at the center.

Vijayanti is a nechlace made up of clusters of stones with five stones to a cluster. Pearls, emeralds, rubies, turquoise, and diamonds are set of five stones mentioned by one class of goldsmiths. Another speaks of turquoise, pearls, kausturba, gomedha and pushparagam (topaz). Turquoise stands for earth, pearl for water, kausturba for fire, gomedha for air, and pushparagam for space, says the Visnurahasya, this represent s the philosophical truth that Vishne wears the five elements round his neck.

Inamalai and vaijayanti is seen round the neck and chest of Vishnu.

Pintali is the knot or tie (of necklaces) at the back of neck has a pendant suspended from it. it is shaped as peepul leaf.

Chest ornaments

Virachangili and Udara bandham

Virachangili (Kshetra Palar (Guardian of temple premises), Thanvavur)

Virachangili (or channa viram, or veera sangili) are the chains that run round the neck and chest and across the body in front and back. The chains cross the distance of 8 viral below the chest. A pendant (called thookam) in the shape of peepul leaf or a bunch of flowers is placed at the point where the strings cross. Virachangili is the ornament of great warriors and heroes. Muruga is adorned with this chain or Shakti, as symbol of her power.

Punool (front)

Punool (back)

Punool (or yagnopavitram) is the sacred thread, which has three threads joined together, starts from the left shoulder and goes across the chest, to a distance of 2 virai below the navel, Curves round the body to follow similar path up the back, to the left shoulder. Its thickness is usually 1/8 of yavai. It can be plain thread or inset with pearls. the place where the threads are joined should have a knot known as Brahma madichu. This knot should have a clasp with floral decoration on it. Both male and female images can wear it.

1 - Sthana sutram, 2 - Punool, 3 - Uras sutram, 4 - Udara bandham

Sthana sutram, Punool, Uras sutram, Udara bandham

Sthana sutram - when a fourth thread is joined to the right of three threads of punool (sacred thread). it can be a thread or pearl string with thickness of 1 yavai. Both male and female images can wear it.

Uras sutram is the thread which goes vertically down from punool to the waist. This thread is seen on images of Siva, Visnu and Brahma.

Udara bandham is ornamental belt tied around the body. It is usually flat in shape, 2 viral wide, tied at the waist. The edges are adorned with pearls and the centerpiece is decorated with flower motifs. A large gem is set in the middle of the centerpiece. Strings of beads are hung in scallops from the belt. This belt is suitable only for male figures.

Uttariyam is a garment draped over upper body, it starts from the right shoulder and is worn across the body on both sides. In sculpture this garment can be represented with pearl necklace known as mautika uttariyam.

Arm ornaments

Toll valai

Toll valai and Kataka valai

Toll valai (or keyuram) is an ornament worn in the middle of upper arm (like today's vanki). It is V-shaped, with pearl insets. It is made in two ways. One kind has the central ornament of Makutam known as purimam fixed to a bangle which has 1, 2 or 3 bands. the bangle is embedded with pearls and strings of beads are formed in scallops (tamam) below the bangle. Purimam can be 3, 4, 5 viral wide. The other kind is Patra purimam fixed to the base of bangle above which is worn V-shaped pearl ornament. This is for female figures. Makara purimam adorned with V-shaped pearl ornamentation above and scalloped strings below is another variation. Instead of makara purimam, elai (leaf) purimam may be used. Elai karukkani (leaf motif) can curve sinuously. Patra purimam with scallops can be combined with kataka valai and vagumalai.

Kataka valai is a decoration worn at the elbow, band of 3 yavai thick, with 3 or 5 beads threaded into it. it can have centerpiece decorated with leaf and creeper motifs. It can be worn by men and women on both arms.

Bangles (kai valai)

Kai valai

The bangles worn at wrist in number 3, 5, 6, 9 or 11. thickness of one bangle is 2 or 3 yavai, wide is twice of thickness. Slender bangles should worn in pairs. When only one bangle is worn, it should be as thick as little finger.

There are five types of valai:

  1. Sudakam is 2 viral wide, with central gold band decorated with flower and foliage motifs, with pearls on both edges. The floral decoration has gems embedded.
  2. Sempon kai valai is made of red gold.
  3. Navamani valai is studded with 9 gems or precious stones.
  4. Sangu valai is a band sliced from a conch, sangu means twisted.
  5. Pavapa valai is made of coral plant cut in bits and threaded into a bangle.
  6. Paryakam is ornamental chain links the bangle on wrist to centerpiece on back of hand. From this, 3 strands divide to join the rings on index, ring and little fingers. The centerpiece is 2 viral wide, decorated with floral motifs and studded with gems. it is called paryakam. the chain which holds it is called kaichari. this ornament can be seen on the hands of dancers.



Rings with floral decorations and gems are worn on all fingers of images, except middle finger.

Valai pakuvai is representation of valai fish with its mouth open, usually worn on ring finger.

Adukkazhi are rings studded with precious stones. thickness of ring should be 1 yavai.

Waist and thigh ornaments

Both male and female images have waist and hip ornaments. they hold up robes down the waist.


Mekalai (Apsara, Haleibidu temple)

Mekalai is the ornament worn on hip below navel. It is made of 3 interwoven strands inlaid with gems and beads and wrapped round the body. The centerpiece covering the fastening is decorated with leaf motifs (ottiyanam). the width is of 3 or 4 viral. middle portion of mekalai could be flat band with ornamented centerpiece, other two strands of twisted cords or pearl strings. Instead of centerpiece there could be a knot. Rear fastening can be covered by ornamental motif.

When hip ornament consists of 7 strands of pearls, it is known as mekalai, one of 8 strands is known as kanchi, one of 16 strands is kalapam, one of 18 strands is paruman and one of 32 strands is virisikai. The strands are composed of tiny pearls threaded to resemble beads of corn.



Araipattikai is the ornament which enhances waist and hips of male figures, it is usually 3 or 4 viral wide. Front centerpiece is designed as lion's head. It is decorated with floral motifs, strands, scallops of pearls. It is also known as uru seri or kurangu seri (uru and kurangu means a thigh).



Tarakaichummai is the ornament worn below mekalai or araiparrikai. Tarakai means stars, thus the band comprises sparkling gems worn below the navel.

Leg ornaments

Virakazhal and Tandai (Siva, Karanas)

Virakazhal is a bell suspended on a string. it is worn at calf of leg or just below the knee and represents bravery.

Padaka (or pada kataka) is an ornament worn on ankle. It consists of more then one anklet each of 3 or 5 bands, linked together.

When only one such anklet is worn, it is knows as Tandai.

If the ornament is in shape of coiled snake, it is known as Bhujanga kataka.

Feet ornaments

Silambu and Kai Salangai (below)

Silambu is an anklet which thickness is equal to big toe. It is elliptical in shape, and cylindrical in section, containing pearls or beads within. The exterior is embellished with motifs on the top and bottom and is inlaid with pearls all round. Top and bottom are usually tilted upward. Elaboration of the shape shows the longer sides curving inward to give the effect of two incomplete circles joined together.

Floral and leaf patterns decorate the surface of Silambu. To prevent it from slipping off, thin chain is attached from the front end to toe ring. The rear end of Silambu is fastened to Tandai by slender chain.

Before putting Silambu, savadi band (like the one worn around the neck), 1/3 of width of silambu, is tied on the foot. This is known as Pariyakam to prevent slipping. Pariyakkam is attached to toe ring with a chain. This ornament is suitable for female figures.

Ariyakam (or padasala or padajalaka) is a variety of anklet composed of a band, 4 yavai wide, from which fine chain or plaited strands are suspended to give the effect of a web. This web design is usually 8 yavai wide and is made so light that it can sway.

Kal salangai is 1 viral wide, one third forms a bend and two thirds are in form of small bells. It is worn by children and dancers.

Toe rings

Toe rings are called minji, pili, kalazhi, makaravai.


  1. Indian Sculpture & Iconography: Forms & Measurements by V. Ganapati Sthapati, 2002