Sculptures of vyala, mythical creatures with lion bodies and composite heads, are among the more common figural motifs of temple architecture. In early settings, vyala formed brackets on pillars which supported overhanging cornices. Relief depictions showing the beast in a rampant position with paws raised high appeared in north Indian architecture from the 9th century onwards.
Vyalaare often depicted towering over human figures that ride or oppose them. Their exaggerated size conveys the might of the natural world, which dwarfs human beings. Vyalaare not intended for ritual worship, but appear as symbolic representations of awesome natural forces and uncontrolled human passions which must be subdued in order to achieve inner peace.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label