Since the earliest times, at least since the temple architecture had its beginning, Shiva and Nandi have inseparable unity. No Shiva temple was considered as complete, and no votive Shiva-ling, accomplished, unless it had an image of the Shiva’s mount Nandi facing it. A larger Panchayatana temple, a form of temple architecture with four subordinate corner-shrines that evolved in around the tenth century, as the famous Kandariya Mahadeva temple at Khajuraho, dedicated to Lord Shiva, essentially had a Nandi-shrine facing the main temple. In most of the early Shiva temples the Shiva-ling icons were installed in the centre of the inner chamber and Nandi images facing them with their backs turned to the main entrances. Sometimes Nandi statues were installed facing the votive Shiva-ling icons just outside the main entrances. In early texts such images of Nandi have been designated as Nandi-dhwaja. A dhwaja defined a temple’s identity as Shaiva or Vaishnava temple. Similar to Nandi-dhwaja the Vaishnava temples had Garuda-dhwaja. Vaishnava temples had Garuda icons sometimes on the temple’s ‘lalata’ – lintel, though in Shaiva temples, instead of a Nandi form, the lintel was defined by a Ganesh icon. In later temples, Ganesh emerged as the uniform lintel image for both Shaiva and Vaishnava temples.
Many Puranas allude to Nandi by different names. Here his status is quite different. Not an animal or Shiva’s mount, in Puranas Nandin was one of Shiva’s divine attendants – ‘Parshad’, like Virabhadra. Shiva considered both, Nandin and Virabhadra, as his sons. Nandin was the son of sage Shilad and his initial name was Shailadi. Shilad was childless. He performed rigorous penance dedicated to Shiva for a son. Shiva granted him the boon of a son. One day when tilling land for ‘yajna’ there unearthed from it a child having like Shiva himself three eyes, four arms and matted coiffure. Shilad brought the child but the moment it reached home it transformed into a normal child. Shilad named it Shailadi. When about eight-nine years, Shailadi learnt that he had a short life-tenure. To evade his early end Shailadi resorted to rigorous penance pleased by which Shiva blessed him with immortality and adopted him as his son and admitted him among his ‘Parshads’. Nandin had accompanied Sati when she went to attend her father Daksha’s ‘Yajna’, and later with Virabhadra he was one among them who destroyed Daksha’s ‘Yajna’ and killed Bhaga, one of the ‘purohits’. Puranas, however, do not reveal how from his human form Shailadi transformed into the bull Nandin. Maybe, disguised in animal forms Shiva’s ‘Parshads’ performed on stage for entertaining their Master, Shailadi chose to disguise as bull serving as mount to the main figure representing Shiva, and hence his transformation in popular mind.
The majestic look of the bull conforms to the animal’s divine status worthy of Shiva’s mount. Conceived with the gracefully raised head, gold-mounted horns and toes, three laces of bells on the neck, a gorgeous saddle ornamented with gold design-patterns and overlaid with extra gold-ornaments and a heavy gold-chain adorning the tail, all speak of the divine grandeur of the animal. Its large well-alert eyes and the forward-pushed front foot suggest that the animal is ready to move and act. By any parameters it presents the most accomplished example of metal-casting.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.