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Fabulous Creatures and Auspicious Symbols: A Farewell Symposium in Honour of Ellen Raven

Tuesday 24 May 2022
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
British Museum
Viṣṇu in the form of Kūrma, the second avatar of the god. British Museum 1940,0713,0.26

Fabulous Creatures and Auspicious Symbols

Gods, humans and animals are not the only living creatures in Indian imagination. Various more-than-human creatures populate different levels of the cosmos, some demonic and dangerous (Rākṣasas, Piśācas, Vetālas), others more akin to fairies (Gandharvas, Apsarases, Vidyādharas). Many of these fabulous creatures belong to the common heritage of Indian cultures and they transcend religious boundaries. They can be found in the most ancient texts as well as in late mediaeval works. They also decorate the walls, pillars and images of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu sacred compounds, although there is much uncertainty about the exact identification of such creatures in art-historical literature and names given to them are not always consistent.

Dr Ellen Raven
Dr Ellen Raven

Ellen Raven’s lifelong research and teaching at Leiden University commenced with one such creature, the fabulous Garuḍa, described by Jorge Luis Borges in his wonderful Book of Imaginary Beings as “half vulture and half man, with the wings, beak, and talons of the one and legs of the other.” To celebrate Ellen Raven’s achievements as a scholar and teacher this symposium aims to shed light on the multiple meanings, roles, and identities of such fabulous creatures and related auspicious symbols, whether they appear in a text, in stone, or in the sky.

Please register: secr.vvik@gmail.com.


09.30-10.00 Walk-in, coffee/tea
10.00-10.15 Opening, welcome, introduction
10.15-10.45 Peter Bisschop: Amṛta, Śrī and Talking Jewels: Churning Fabulous Products from the Milk Ocean
10.45-11.15 Anna ŚlączkaDepictions of Bhṛṅgin and Other Three-Legged Beings in Indian Art
11.15-11.45 Coffee/tea


William Southworth: The Evolution of the Kala or Monster-Head in Champa and Its Relations to China and Central Java
12.15-12.45 Elizabeth Cecil: Pot-Bellied and Pot-Born: Visualizing Brahmanical Auspiciousness through Temple Art
14.15-14.45 Sasha Lubotsky: The āyudha-puruṣas at the Viṣṇu temple in Deogarh
14.45-15.15 Fan Lin: Washing Elephant: An Invented Buddhist Tradition in Late Imperial China
15.15-15.45 Coffee/tea
15.45-16.15 Jonathan SilkDisneyland Audio-Animatronics avant la lettreBirds in Amitābha's Pure Land
16.15-16.45 Marijke Klokke: Kinnaras and Kalaviṅkas: Hybrid Human-Bird Creatures and Their Encounter on Borobudur
17.00-18.30 Reception (held in souterrain Matthias de Vrieshof 3)


British Museum
Viṣṇu in the form of Kūrma, the second avatar of the god. British Museum 1940,0713,0.26
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