Scholars believe that the use of animal symbols in architecture proves the incomparable
diversity of India’s
forest landscapes and wealth. Animals have been shown in different forms in
paintings and sculptures as companions to deities, as symbols of power and beauty or simply as
decorative embellishments. The motifs or symbols represent some of our deepest spiritual
insights, beliefs and feelings. They are both real and imaginary. The most common motifs of real
animals are of elephants and peacocks. They find a representation in almost all the popular
monuments in India including many forts and palaces. However, Madhya Pradesh being a
treasure-trove of architectural wonders offers rare animal motifs too. Man Singh Palace,
Gwalior, is one such historical monument where the rare motifs of ducks adorn its columns,
walls and facades.
However, whenever there is a reference to Khajuraho, there is an immediate association with
erotic figures engraved on the walls and one often misses the figures which are depicted
alongside. A noteworthy figure is of the vyala, an imaginary being. The composite motif consists
of either the head of a tiger, elephant, bird, or other animals and a body of a lion, and is
frequently shown in combat with humans or pouncing upon elephants. Vyalas can be seen on
the courtyard walls of Man Singh Palace as well.

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Vaibhav Bharadwaj
Tiles with duck motifs at Man Singh Palace, Gwalior
Vaibhav Bharadwaj
A crocodile motif on the walls of one of the temples in the Khajuraho group of temples
Vaibhav Bharadwaj
Young Chandela King Chandravarma fighting a lion, a recurring motif depicting the valour of the Chandela kings
Vaibhav Bharadwaj
Elephant carvings can be seen at the base of temples in Khajuraho
Vaibhav Bharadwaj
Vyala, a mythological creature, guarding the inner courtyard at Man Singh Palace, Gwalior
Vaibhav Bharadwaj
Sculpture of camels with soldiers at Khajuraho