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Yakshi Figures

Yakshi Figures

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:
This lesson will explore the role of yakshi figures in Indian art.
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Tutorial

An overview of the Yakshi figures on the toranas at the Great Stupa at Sanchi, India.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Yakshi figures in Indian architecture.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms and describe the physical characteristics of the Yakshi figures and what they represent.

The key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Yakshi-- a benevolent protective nature spirit, usually depicted as a voluptuous female in ancient Indian art. And Dharma is a moral order that keeps the universe from falling into chaos, an essential individual characteristic or virtue in Hinduism and Buddhism. The big idea for today is that the voluptuous figures of the Yakshi were considered the embodiment of female energy and were considered protective spirits.

OK. The time frame that we're looking at today is the same as when we were looking at the great Stupa because the figures that we're looking at today are from the Toranas, or the gates outside of the great Stupa at Sanchi, which was originally constructed under the reign of the emperor Ashoka during the third century BC. And again, Sanchi-- where the Stupa and its Toranas are located-- is situated roughly within the middle of the Indian subcontinent, right about there.

So we'll begin by looking at a close-up of the eastern Torana at the great Stupa of Sanchi. And here's what it looks like, set back a little bit. And we'll zoom in here. And you can see this image of a Yakshi.

Now, Yakshi are female earth spirits that have ties to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, and are common sculptural elements worked into the architectural motifs of religious structures like Stupas. They are depicted as voluptuous female figures, as you can see here, with wide hips and are spirits associated with fertility and protection.

Now, it's important to try and view these depictions in the context in which they were created rather than any modern-day context. So for example, images like this figure might be looked upon as sexual or the objectification of the female figure today. But in their time, they were intended, rather, to depict the embodiment of the female spirit, perhaps by emphasizing some of the physical features that distinguish the female figure from the male figure.

And on this next page, this is a close-up of the northern Torana of the great Stupa. Here's the gate from a distance. And you can see in the lower left and right-hand corners, there are two Yakshi, here and here. And you can see, again, how they really depict, or emphasize, those physical features that I mentioned before, like the wider hips and the enlarged bosom.

So that is it for today. It's a very short lesson. Let's see if we met our objectives.

Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the physical characteristics of the Yakshi figures and what they represent? And once again, the big idea for today is that the voluptuous figures of the Yakshi were considered the embodiment of female energy and were considered protective spirits.

And that's it for today. Thank you for joining me. See you next time.

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