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Salabhanjika, Hoysala era sculpture, Belur, Karnataka, India

A salabhanjika or shalabhanjika[1][2] is the sculpture of a woman, displaying stylised feminine features, standing near a tree and grasping a branch.[3] The name of these figures comes from the Sanskrit śālabhañjikā meaning 'breaking a branch of a sala tree'. They are also known as madanakai, madanika or shilabalika, and the term is somewhat interchangeable with female, tree-graping yakshi.

Shalabhanjika on Eastern Torana (gateway), Sanchi Stupa

The shalabhanjika is a standard decorative element of Indian sculpture, a graceful stone sculpture representing a young female under a stylised tree in various poses, such as dancing, grooming herself or playing a musical instrument. The salabhanjika's female features, like breasts and hips, are often exaggerated. Frequently these sculpted figures display complex hairdos and an abundance of jewellery.

Most hold that salabhanjika is emerged from ancient tree deities in Indian popular religion, related to fertility.[4] The shalabhanjika concept stems from ancient symbolism linking a chaste maiden with the sala tree or the asoka tree through the ritual called dohada, or the fertilisation of plants through contact with a young woman. The symbolism changed over the course of time and the shalabhanjika became figures used as ornamental carvings, usually located in the area where worshipers engage in circumambulation, near the garbhagriha of many Hindu temples.[5] Placed at an angle, salabhanjika figures also were used in temple architecture as a bracket figures.[6]

Salabhanjikas are also often mentioned in ancient and modern Indian literature.


Some of the most renowned salabhanjika sculptures are to be found in the 12th-century Hoysala temples of Belur, Halebidu and Somanathapura, in south-central Karnataka. The shalabhanjika on the East gateway (Torana), is the best known sculpture of the Sanchi Stupa near Bhopal, a World Heritage site, built from the 1st to the 12th centuries.[7] One of early examples are the shalabhanjikas of built in Shunga dynasty dating to the 2nd or 1st century BC, found at the Durakhi Devi Temple, after the excavation of Kumhrar, the remains of an ancient city of Pataliputra.[8]

Another less-known location famous for its outstanding salabhanjikas is a Chalukya period temple in Jalasangvi, Homnabad Taluk on the Gulbarga-Bidar state highway, at the northern end of Karnataka. Its well-endowed Madanika figures in seductive tribhanga poses are "...moon breasted, swan-waisted and elephant-hipped", according to the Indian artistic canons. These older feminine sculptures were the source of inspiration for the later Hoysala bracket-figures.[9]

Related iconography[edit]

The sal tree (Shorea robusta) is often confused with the ashoka tree (Saraca indica) in the ancient literature of the Indian subcontinent.[10] The position of the Salabhanjika is also related to the position of Maya when she gave birth to Gautama Buddha under an asoka tree in a garden in Lumbini, while grasping its branch.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sandstone figure of Shalabhanjika Yakshi, stupa 1 at Sanchi, Central India, 1st century AD". British Museum. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  2. ^ "Temple Strut with a Tree Goddess (Shalabhanjika)". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  3. ^ "salabhanjika". Asia Society Reference. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  4. ^ Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. (1946)
  5. ^ "Salabhanjika". Archived from the original on 12 April 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  6. ^ "Hoysala heritage". Frontline. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  7. ^ "Harmony set in stone". Frontline. Volume 24 – Issue 18 :: 8–21 Sep. 2007. Retrieved 11 May 2013. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. ^ An overview of archaeological importance of Bihar Directorate of Archaeology, Govt. of Bihar."Shalabhanjika (the breaker of branches),"
  9. ^ India Travelogue – Jalasangvi
  10. ^ Eckard Schleberger, Die indische Götterwelt. Gestalt, Ausdruck und Sinnbild Eugen Diederich Verlag. Cologne. ISBN 3-424-00898-2, ISBN 978-3-424-00898-2
  11. ^ Buddhistische Bilderwelt: Hans Wolfgang Schumann, Ein ikonographisches Handbuch des Mahayana- und Tantrayana-Buddhismus. Eugen Diederichs Verlag. Cologne. ISBN 3-424-00897-4, ISBN 978-3-424-00897-5