Pratima Kosha

Indian culture is the story of incessant endeavour of man to attain eternal bliss by surrendering to the Universal Bang manifested in various forms. Art, music, literature and all other activities of man in India are directed and dedicated to the achievement of his merger with the universal consciousness. Kalpatharu Research Academy has undertaken the task of illustrating this divine object of man through the publication of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Iconography in three volumes entitled Pratima Kosha, a first-of-its-kind endeavour. Drishti will be publishing excerpts from these volumes. It will be useful to everyone interested in Indian iconography.

Pratima Kosha is especially of great relevance to dance choreographers, serious students of dance and dancers and dance scholars. The book gives abundant information on various hand gestures and poses for choreography. To accompany the textual descriptions, the book is profusely illustrated with line drawings of images in temples, museums, etc.

The book has been prepared with great devotion by Pujya Sri S. K. Ramachandra Rao, Bangalore, a well-known scholar in Sanskrit.

Drishti would like to appreciate the Kalpatharu Research Academy for undertaking this monumental work as a project of the Academy and thanks Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao for giving Drishti an opportunity to share parts of his invaluable work with its readers.

We begin this series with the description of Ananta – Lord Vishnu, as published in Pratima Kosha.


Meaning “endless” (or infinite), Ananta is one of the names of Vishnu (Adi-Sesha), and also a name of the mythical dragon, Sesha. This is Vishnu’s tamasic form, which resides in Patala (netherworld, thirty thousand vojanas wide). He has a thousand heads, carrying a thousand gems which illumine the three worlds. His eyes constantly revolve and keep a watch over everything in the universe. His form is syncretic, human and serpentine. He has two arms carrying a ploughshare (langala) and a pestle (or club, musala). He wears garments which are blue in colour, and a garland of white gems. He also wears the sacred svastika-mark as an ornament. The entire earth rests on his head like a crown. Sri-devi and Varuna-devi (both forms of Lakshmi) serve him in this form. He is identified with Samkarshana. At the time of the great deluge (pralaya), Rudra is believed to emanate from the mouth of Ananta, and consume the three worlds. Krishna’s half-brother, Bala-rama, is regarded as a partial incarnation of Ananta.

In the form of the mythical dragon, he is among the sons of Kasyapa-prajapati and Kadru (these sons being the progenitors of the snake-world, like Vasuki, Takshaka, Karkotaka, etc.) He supports the entire universe, along with six others (Dharma, Kama, Vasu, Vasuki, Kapila and Takshaka). He is pictured as possessed of a thousand hoods (Phana-sahasra). An account in Kalika Purana relates that he approached Vishnu, reclining on the waters of Kshira-samudra and offered his services to the great god. He employed his body as a cot for him, and spread his hoods on the head as a cover. Vishnu then went into a deep trance.

Kurma Purana distinguishes between two forms of Ananta: Vasudeva, whose nature is transcendental wisdom and who is beyond the gunas, and Sesha or Kala (the principle of Time), which is the tamastic counterpart of Vasudeva, and which devours all things.

Bhavishya Purana has provided an iconographic account of Ananta, as a form of Vishnu: “With a thousand hoods, he is four-armed and carries a conch, lotus, discus and mace (emblems of Vishnu); he wears a splendid crown, a grand yellow garment, and several ornaments; his eyes and hair are tawny red. He resides in the middle of the Kshirabdhi (the legendary Ocean of Milk)”.

Ananta is also one of the forms of Siva. He is in this form represented as tranquil (santa), pleasant (saumya), seated on a red lotus and bedecked with all ornaments (sarvabharana-bhushita). He has a tiered crown (karanda-makuta) on his head. He has three eyes and four arms, carrying in his two hands, a hatchet (tanka) and a spear (sula) and showing in the other hands, the gesture of protection (abaya) and boon-bestowal (varada).


One of the twenty-four tirthankaras of the Jain pantheon, Ananta-natha was born in Ayodhya as the son of Simha-sena and Jaya-syama. He is distinguished by the bear emblem; otherwise his iconography is similar to that of the other tirthankaras (that is, nude, short curls on the head, standing in the kayot-sarga posture or seated in the dhyana aspect). He is attended by the yaksha named Patala and his female counterpart named Anantamati. The leader of the community (ganadhara) during his dispensation was Jaya.


Ananta-mukhi is one of the twelve dharani divinities of the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon, belonging to the family of the dhyani-buddha  Amogha siddhi. They are all of them personifications of so many magical spells (dharani). Anantamukhi is, like the other dharanis, two-armed, and carries the symbol of crossed thunderbolt (visva-varja) in her right hand. Distinguishing her from the other dharanis is the pot of inexhaustible treasure (akshaya-mahanidhi kalasa) which she carries in her left hand. Her body colour is green, like the priyang flower, and she is seated on a red lotus.


Meaning ‘reclining on Ananta’, Ananta-sayana is the recumbent form of Vishnu (Sayana-murthi)which is rather a rare form, even for Vishnu, and almost non-existent for other gods and goddesses (except for the tantrik forms of Siva under the feet of Kali, or serving as a cot for Rajarajesvari and for Ganapathi under the feet of Ganapathi-samakranta, a vajrayana deity). Ananta here symbolizes the principle of Time and the operation of tamas (See ANANTA).

Iconographically, Vishnu is here represented as reclining on the coils of a five-or-seven-hooded serpent (Ananta, Sesha, or Adi Sesha); the hoods of the serpent are spread over the head of Vishnu as a canopy (chhatra). He may be two-armed, or four-armed; and carries the usual emblems of Vishnu, namely, conch, discus, mace, and lotus. From his navel, a long stalk of lotus emanates, and on the lotus is seated Brahma, the creator – hence the same Ananta-Padmanabha (Ananta, namely, Vishnu, whose navel has a lotus). Seated at his feet is his consort Sri-devi (Prosperity), sometimes with Bhu-devi (Earth goddess). Represented below the recumbent Vishnu in some sculptures (for instance, the terra cota plaque in the Indian Museum at Kolkata or in the Deogarh stone relief) are the demons, Madhu and Kaitabha (whom Vishnu killed after battling with them). It is the encounter with these demons that fatigued Vishnu, and made him lie down.

While the recumbent form of Vishnu is extremely rare in North India, South India has many shrines where the main icon in the sanctum is in this form. The most celebrated are Ranganatha temple at Srirangam (near Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu), the Ananta Padmanabha temple at Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) and Ranganatha temple at Srirangapattana (Karnataka). Some other temples where Vishnu is worshipped in this form are at Karambanur (near Srirangam), Chidambaram (Tillaitirucchitrakutam, Govindaraja Perumal), Tiruppulangudi (near Tinnevelly), and Kapisthalam (Champakaranya), all in Tamil Nadu. A splendid representation of this form can be found in the shore temple at Mahabalipuram, thirty-seven miles from Chennai.


Anamika – the nameless – is the name for the ring-finger. It is so called because the literary critics could not name a poet immediately next in eminence to Kalidasa (who was counted on the little finger). The story refers to an ancient custom of enumeration by counting on the fingers.


Aniruddha – the unobstructed – is one of the names of Vishnu and also one of the four ‘vyihas‘ (aspects) of Vasudeva. The Pancharatra Agama represents Aniruddha (symbolizing power, sakti and splendour, tejas aspects) as an emanation of Pradyumna (symbolzing lordship, aisvarya and valour, virya), who, in turn is an emanation from Samkarshana (symbolizing wisdom, jnana and strength, bala). Legends make Aniruddha, the grandson of Krishna (being born to Pradyumna, who is the son of Krishna and Rukmini), learn the science of archery from Arjuna, and marry Usha, the daughter of the asura chieftain Bana.

He is one of the twenty-four iconic representations of Vishnu. He is distinguished by the order of the emblems: discus (chakra), mace(gada), conch (samkha) and lotus (padma), in the pradakshina (or clockwise) order. His consort in this form is Ananda (a form of Lakshmi), and his body colour is that of fire.