Living tradition of the Sphinx of India

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        Purushamriga as caryatid in the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram 

In people’s minds the sphinx is mostly connected with the ancient civilizations of Greece and Egypt. But many depictions are also found in Mesopotamia and other parts of the Near East, and around the Mediterranean. Sphinxes are also found in medieval churches, and were popular with neo-classical architects and sculptors. It may come as a surprise that a mythological being just like a sphinx is also part of Indian art and tradition. This fact has thus far gone unnoticed and unrecognized.

The sphinx of India is known as purushamriga , which means human-beast in Sanskrit. Depictions in various styles from different historical periods are found all over the South Asian subcontinent. Carved in stone and wood, cast in metal, or painted, the sphinx-purushamriga adorns and guards many Hindu temples and Buddhist monuments. Not only is it part of the artistic heritage, but it also still plays a significant role in the living traditions and in ritual.


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