ART & ARCHITECTURE IN ANCIENT INDIA

ART & ARCHITECTURE IN ANCIENT INDIA

Art of sculpture

Ancient India witnessed remarkable progress in the art of sculpture. The three important schools namely- Gandhara, Mathura and Amravati grew and progressed during ancient India. Each of these schools has occupied a commanding place in the field of Indian sculpture and has contributed towards its growth and fulfilment.

Gandhara School

The Gandhara Art (50 B.C. – 500 A.D.) has been called by several other names, i.e., Greco-Roman, Greeco-Buddhist, Indo-Greek etc., because it clearly exhibits the influence of Roman, Greek or Hellenistic art. The patrons of this art were not the Greeks but the Shakas and the Kushanas, who carried on and protected the traditions and culture of their Hellenistic predecessors in this region. The art flourished in the North Western frontier of India, the region called the Gandhara Pradesh and therefore, it has been named as the Gandhara School of Art. And as the Hellenistic influence on this art is undeniable, it has been called the Greeco-Roman or Indo-Greek Art. Besides as it was inspired by Buddhism, it has also been called  Greeco-Buddhist Art. Thus the impression of this art was primarily Buddhism and its creators were mostly Indians, though it was influenced by foreign art.

The art pieces of Gandhara School have been found at Bimaran, Hastnagar, Sakra Dheri, Shah-ji  ki dheri, and at the various sites of Taxila. Most of them have been kept in the museum of Peshawar and Lahore. Amongst these  art  pieces  the  image  of the Buddha are the best specimens. The other earliest specimens are the headless standing image of Buddha and standing Hariti figure. They were executed in stone, stucco, terracotta and other types of day, and appear to have been invariably embel- lished with gold leaf or paint.

Viewing them from a critical point, it is concluded that the Gandhara School progressed during 150 years of its beginning; it deteriorated in the second century

A.D. In its later stage it was affected by the Mathura school and, when finally grown up, it affected the  art of sculpture in China and Central Asia. Its chief characteristic is the realistic representation of human figures, distinguished muscles of the body and transparent garments. It is marked by the representation of thick drapery with large and bold foldings. It is also known for rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and complex symbolism. The images of the Buddha were so beautifully made that they look like the image of Apollo, the Greek god of beauty.

Now the majority of the scholars believe that the Mathura School stands higher than the Gandhara School and that it was free from the influence of Gandhara Art. Yet the Gandhara School of art has been recognised as one of the best school of Indian sculpture and the images of the Buddha which were built under its patronage are among the best posses- sions of Indian art. Dr. A.L. Basham comments “The Buddhas of Gandhara School though perhaps lacking in the spirituality of those of the Gupta period, are gentle, graceful and compassionate, while some of the plaques are vivid and energetic.”

Mathura School

The school of art that developed at Mathura (U.P.) has been called the Mathura School (150-300 A.D.). Its origin has been traced back to the middle of the second century B.C., but it was only in first century A.D. that its genuine progress began. It flourished here for centuries and acquired the highest position in the field of sculpture. It was so popular that at a later stage the images, which were built here, were exported to Taxila and even Central Asia in  the  West and to Shravasti and Sarnath in the  East.  It also provided the basis for further progress of the   art of sculpture. The art of sculpture of the Gupta Age, has been accepted as a developed form of the Mathura School. The Mathura School was somewhat influenced by the Gandhara School in the first half   of second century A.D. The images of the Buddha of the Gandhara Art were copied here but in a more refined way. The Gandhara composition is also evi- dent in certain reliefs and decorative motifs. In turn, it also influenced the Gandhara School of art. The school was directly influenced by Roman art as well because of its direct links with the Roman Empire   by sea route. But whatever foreign influence it had,   it was slowly given up by the coming of the Gupta Age. It was perfectly free from it.

A standing female figures of A Mohini, the standing statue of Kanishka kept in the museum of Mathura, the statue of a slave girl kept in the museum of Benaras and a large member of figures and images   in stone of the Buddha and Boddhisattavas, Yakshas and Yakshinis, males and females found at Mathura and its nearby region, have been regarded as the fin- est piece of the art of sculpture. In the early stages the school was inspired by Jainism. Afterwards the images of the Buddha replaced them, which clearly exhibits the influence of Buddhism on it. Not only were statues of emperors prepared by sculpture, but the great majority of their creation consisted of nude or seminude figures of female Yakshinis or apsaras in erotic attitudes. The Mathura artists also carved out images of Brahmanical divinities. Popular Brahmanical gods, Shiva and Vishnu were represented alone and sometimes with their consorts, Parwati and Laxmi respectively. Images of many other Brahmanical deities like Brahma, Surya, Balram, Agni, Kartikeya, Kubera etc. were also executed in stone. The distinguishing feature of the Mathura School was that the stone which the craftsman used was mostly spotted red sandstone found at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra.

The royal statue of Kushana kings were found near Mathura exhibit foreign influence. The most striking statue is that of emperor Kanishka, though it lacks   its head. It is drapped in the dress of central Asia,     a long coat and quilted boots. It is grand and solid from the physical point of view, though technically  it lacks a sense of depth. The same way, the early Buddha and Bodhisattavas of Mathura School are fleshy figures and possess no expression of spiritual- ity. But, afterwards, religious feeling and spirituality were exhibited in them. Then the images exhibited not only a firm, masculine and energetic body, but also one with grace and religious feeling. The attempt to display spiritual strength by a circle behind the faces to the images began with Mathura School. Yet the most remarkable piece of the Mathura Art are   its beautiful female figures. Most of  these  figures  are nude or semi nude, have full round breasts, full heavy lips and slender waists. Besides, posture of their body, head and hands and legs are definitely erotic. Thus, their aim is frankly sensual.

Amravati School

In the region between the lower valley of the rivers Krishna and Godavari in the South are the districts of Amravati and Guntur where another school of sculpture called the Amravati School (150-400 A.D.) flourished. The region had become an important centre of Buddhism as early as 2nd century B.C. and it provided the first incentive to this school. By the middle of the 2nd century A.D. the school matured itself and beautiful sculptural pieces were created. The school exerted great influence not only on the later South Indian sculpture but as its productives were carried to Ceylon and South-East Asian countries, it also influenced sculptural art of those countries. The Amravati School serves as a link between the earlier arts of Bharhut, Gaya and Sanchi on the one hand and the later Gupta and Pallava Art on the other.

Accepting freely the principle of art for the sake  of art, the craftsmen of Amravati School created beautiful human images, of course, images of the Buddha were built and the great stupa of Amravati was adorned with limestone reliefs depicting scenes of the Buddha’s life and surrounded by free standing figures of Buddha, but figures and statues of males and females exceed them in number and quality. The same way, though this school successfully depicted lone, compassion, devotion and sacrifice yet the physical beauty and the sensual expression commanded its art. The figures and statues carved under this school have been regarded as the best among the contemporaries not only from the point of view of their size, physical beauty and expressions of human emotions, but also from the point of view of composition. The figures and images are so composed that they seem to be inter-linked with each other and present before an onlooker not distinct figures and images but a well composed painting depicting a scene or an event.

The art of Amravati is frankly naturalistic and sensuous. The female figures in different moods and poses (standing, sitting, bending, flying, dancing etc.) are its best creations. The forms of Yakshinis and the dancing girls have full breasts, heavy lips and living flesh and they exhibit infinite love, grace and beauty. Even men, animals and vegetations have been treated elegantly. And images and figures of even more than sixteen feet in height were built here. Here feminine beauty has been depicted more successfully than compared to Mathura. Its main centres were Amravati, Nagararjuna Konda and Jaggayapeta. Its artists mainly used white marble for the construction of figure and images.

The school of Mathura and Amravati closed that chapter in the art sculpture which had started at Bharhut, Gaya and Sanchi. The school of Mathura accepted a human being as a distinct entity and em- phasis was laid on the depiction of physical beauty through art. The Amravati school forged ahead it. While the Mathura school failed to exhibit sensuous desires markedly, the Amravati School succeeded in that. Thereby, for the first time, Indian Art of sculpture came closer to the physical and emotional need of man. By now, Indian Art had reached in a new stage in which physical, sensual and emotional elements found expression.  Hence,  the  primary  aim of the art no longer served religion but human beings. Art is the mirror of any society. The change of attitude in art was a part of change in attitude of society in general.

Cave Architecture

Ajanta Caves

Concurrent with the emergence of the production of Hindu structural temples throughout the Gupta domains, Mahayana Buddhists entered into an extraor- dinarily active period of cave excavation at a number of sites, primarily in the Western Ghat mountains of the Deccan. The initial resurgence of cave monastery excavations occurred under the Vakatakas.

Under their ambitious and successful King Harisena (c.460-478), these princelings of Central India became powerful contenders in the constant struggle for po- litical supremacy. The king was probably not a Bud- dhist and it is not known whether or not he actively patronized the creation of monastic establishments, but his ministers and some of his feudatory princes were devoted followers (upasakas) who lavishly provided for the sangha. Harisena, having secured much of the Western Deccan, established a peaceful set of condi- tions for a brief but spectacular florescence at the site of Ajanta, where more than twenty caves, many of them major achievements of architecture, sculpture and painting in their own right, were excavated dur- ing the Vakataka period. Dramatically cut into the curved mountain wall above the Waghora River, the caves constitute virtually complete monastic entities, including living quarters, devotional areas and assem- bly halls. Although the ephemeral objects used by the monks in their daily lives are gone, the caves provide important insights into Buddhist theory, practice and religious expression in art of the period.

Except for the few caves belonging to an early phase of activity, all the caves belong to the Vakataka period. Walter Spink, the leading authority on Ajanta’s later phase, argues convincingly that other writers are erroneous in their contention that such extraordinary achievements must have taken many decades, if not centuries, to produce; instead, he sug- gests that a brief intense period of fervent activity corresponding primarily to the relatively short span of Harisena’s reign accounted for the production of all the later caves. In general, the earliest Vakataka artist activity occurred near the centre of the  site  (the pre-Vakataka nucleus) and the latest activity took place towards the two extremes.

Only two Chaitya halls were excavated during the Vakataka phase at Ajanta. Since one of them, cave 19, was primarily completed towards the beginning of the Vakataka resurgence and the other, Cave 26, towards the end, they may be used to demonstrate the general artistic direction during this brief span of time, Cave 19 is fairly securely dated to the first part of the Vakataka florescence on the basis of an inscription on the veranda of Cave 17 that refers to gandhakuti (fragrant hall) to the west of it, which must be Cave 19. The Cave 17 inscription also refers to Harisena as the ruling prince, clearly indicating that the excavations were carried out while he was in full power, in contrast to the inscription in the later apsidal chaitya hall, Cave 26, which suggests that Harisena’s position was considerable weakened. The epigraph further describes the donor’s lavish expenditure on Cave 17 as “such that little should men (the poor?) could not even grasp in their imaginations, “ and indeed, this statement might be used in general to describe the munificent patronage that Ajanta enjoyed during the latter half of the fifth century. Read More…………..

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