Indian sculpture

Sculpture in different periods

The art of sculpture was practiced by people of India from ancient times.

Indus Valley Civilization:  In fact, the genesis of Indian sculpture begins with the epoch of the civilization and it is already a startling mature achievement.  The figurine f the dancing girl that has come down to us testifies to good knowledge of bronze casting, indicates that fascination of the feminine figure that will endure throughout, points to the close relationship between sculpture and dance in the Indian tradition.

Terracotta is the medium for objects used in rituals like mother goddess figurine as well as for recreational toys of a great variety.  Despite their small size stone sculpture achieves monumentalize and animals like bulls represented in the small steatite seals have a vibrant realism.

Mauryan Period: The dispersal of the Persian craftsmen, when the Achaemenid empire was over-run by the Greeks  in the fourth century B.C., may have contributed to the monumental stylization of the figure of the lions in the Ashokan Pillar that has been adopted as India’s national emblem.  But the Mauryan age also evolved a gentler style in the bull of the Rampurava Pillar and the sympathetic treatment of animals continues throughut in Indian sculpture.  The Yakshas and the Yakshis are the first rather rigid figures but the femine figure soon becomes sensuously refined, even though remaining ample, in the Didargani Yakshi.

Sungas Period: The  Sungas, who replaced the Mauryas in the second  century B.C., further refined the Yakshi figure with elaborately carved costume and jewelry, linked tree and woman and developed the skill for fluent narration in running friezes of low relief or deep relief sculpture.

Satavahanas Period: The Satavahanas (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD) further developed these traditions.  Narrative sculpture at Amravati brilliantly solved composition in awkward shapes like that of the medallion

Kushana Period: In the north-west regions, now no longer in India, in the Indo-Greek kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the invasion of Alexander the plastic vision of ancient Europe combined with Buddhist spirituality to create the art of Gandhara.  This region became part of the vast Kushan empire of Kanishka (2nd century AD) which stretched from the Oxus to the Ganges.  But the Kushans mostly resided at Mathura and the art of this epoch was in the main a prolongation of the earlier traditions.

However, it was an age of highly urbanized and relaxed mores and the Yakshi figure lost its links with the woods, became a self-consciously seductive damsel of the city.  Scenes of revelry with the wine flowing freely are represented in sculpture.  Feminine apparel begins its fine adventure of ambivalence, revealing while pretending to conceal, for the Mathura nymph wears so transparent a fabric that she appears nude.

Gupta Period: The age of imperial Guptas (300-600 AD) achieved the classical stability of the icons of the Buddha, represented as seated or standing and with various symbolic gestures of the hands.  The circular medallion that had decorated the railings in Sungan and Kushan times evolves here to the splendid aureole or halo of the Buddha.  The transparent apparel of the Kushan epoch falls here in fine folds that trace flowing rhythmic patterns all over the figure.

The Gupta creation of the classical icon of the Buddha is a landmark in the art of Asia.  Like the Padmapani of Ajanta, it radiated to many lands.  The age also created magnificent sculpture of Hindu themes like the incarnation of Vishnu in the late fifth century temple of Deogarh and the powerful representation of the boar (Varaha) incarnation salvaging the earth, hewn from the rock at Udayagiri

Vakatakas Period: The Vekatakas of the Deccan were the contemporaries of the Guptasand under their patronage fine Buddhist sculpture at Ajanta and Hindu at Ellora flourished.  The achievement has great range, from the lightness of flying figures and the elegant rhythmic balance of dancing groups such as the one at Aurangabad to the majesty and wealth of symbolic meaning of the figure of Mahesa at Elephanta.

Chalukyan Period: The Western Chalukyas continued these trends, creating floating figures and dancing Sivas at Badami, Aihole and Pattadakkal.  The Eastern Chalukyas also created some fine sculptures of dance in the temples of Vijayawada region.

Reshtrakuta Period: In the 8th century, the Rashtrakutas carved a whole hill of rock at Ellora  to stimulate a structural temple and peopled it with sculpture on the exploits of Siva which show the turbulent power of their unique architectural achievement.

Prathiharas Period: The Gurajara Pratiharas, who were their contemporaries evolved a les turbulent thought still monumental style in such creations as the cosmic form of Vishnu, created poetically sensitive sculptures like the one showing the wedding of Shiva and Pravati and contributed one of the loveliest dryads in the Indian tradition.

Gahadvalas Period: The Gahadvals continued this tradition and the 12th century head from Rajorgarh is probably the best Indian sculpture for the most elegant representation of feminine figuration coiffure.  This trend of exquisite feminine figuration climaxed in the epoch of the Chandellas (10th to 12th century AD). The eroticism of Khajuraho sculpture has unfortunately attracted undue attention all over the world.

But far more sensitive in modeling and poetic in sensibility are the representations of women in her various moods of longing, expectations, reverie.  Eroticism is found in the sculptures of Konark and Bhuvaneshwar of the epoch of the Eastern Ganges (13th century) too.  But here again the poetic and romantic figurations of women are more sensitive.

South : Moving further south,  the great achievement  of Pallavas (8th century AD)  was the gigantic tableau at Mahabalipuram where a whole rock face has been carved into a representation of the descent of the Ganges and the teeming animal and human life on its banks.  There are some exceptionally fine and deeply sympathetic studies of animal life here.  Siva is the towering figure in Chola sculpture (11th to 12th century AD) in stone besides bronze.  But it is the work in bronze, especially the Nataraja or dancing Siva, that has become world famous.  Matching profound concept with perfect plastic form, this great ironic creation sees the incessant change of the world, the galaxy, as ordered process, assures man it is a benign order.

Under the Hoysalas (12th century AD) the Karnataka region created a sculpture where the soft chloristic schist used attempted rather excessive detail and ornamentation.  In the 16th century, Vijayanagar favoured a sculpture that reflected imperial pomp in elephant processions, cavalcades and marching soldiery.  Stone sculpture influenced by the Pallava tradition and bronze’s influenced by the Pallava tradition and bronze’s influenced by the Chola style were produced in Kerala, but its unique achievement s is in sculpture in wood.

Different schools of sculpture

The art of sculpture was perfected after the spread of Mahayanism in India.  Mahayanism inspired artists to carve images of the Buddha and a beginning was made during the period of the Kushanas.  This led to the growth of Gandhara and Mathura School of sculpture.

Gandhara School

Also called Graeco-Roman, Graeco-Buddhist  or Indo-Greek because it clearly exhibits the influence of Roman, Greek and Hellenistic art.  It is called Gandhara school because it flourished in the North-West frontier of India, the Gandhara Pradesh.  The school had its beginning in the first century B.C., progressed about 150 years and remained in existence till 500 A.D.  In later stages it was affected by the Mathura school and when finally grown up, it influenced the art of sculpture in China and Central Asia.

Characteristics: Realistic representation of human figures; distinguished muscles of the body; transparent  garments; Buddhist  images resembling Greek figures.  Craftsman used white stone and lime to prepare images.  Important  examples are a stupa at Guldara and Votive stupa at Loriyan Tangai.

Mathura School (150-300 A.D.)

The art of sculpture developed in Mathura under the Kushanas.  It was an indigenous art but was also influenced by Roman and Greek art forms.  The early figures are of Jain Tirthankaras.  The Kushana statues are found at Mathura, their winter capital eg. the healess Kanishka.  Later they developed in grace and religiosity.  They were influenced by the Indian Yakshas.  Stone used was spotted red sandstone.

Amravati School (150 B.C. – A.D.400)

The school was a link between the earlier art of Bharhut, Gaya and Sanchi on the one hand and later Gupta and Pallava art on the other.  Developed in district amaravati between the lower valley of the rivers Krishna and Godavari.  It was patronized by the Satavahanas and Ikshvaku rulers. As early as 2nd century B.C.   Amaravati had become an important centre of Buddhism.  By the middle of 2nd century A.D. the school matured.  The school was known not only for physical beauty and expression of human emotions but also for composition.  White marble was used.

Gupta School

It is marked by serenity, security and certainty.  The body has no trace of muscular contours.  The fingers being in the dharmachakra mudra (i.e. preaching), he eyes half closed and with a slight smile indicating the tarnscendition of pleasures/grief and the possibility of transcending evils.  The Sarnath Buddha ‘turning the wheel of law’; the Surya of Pawaya, Gwalior; the Sanchi torso, of a Bodhisattaa and Varaha (Great Boar) of the Udayagiri cave are some noteworthy examples.

Bengali Scholl (8th – 11th centuries A.D.)

During the Pala rule of Bengal  Nalanda became the centre of stone and bronze images, in which we notice a growing tendency towards a general heaviness of form.  The sensuous element, which is manifest in some groups of Paharpur sculptures, was to culminate later in the voluptuous figure of Ganga of the Sena period.  But hieratism also developed side by side, and the images of the principal sectarian deities came to be smothered with heavy decorative details.

Southern School (6th-12th centuries A.D.)

The Mahabalipuram reliefs with their intense naturalism and disciplined vitality, the Ellora sculptures with their vivid, dramatic and dynamic, presentation of epic themes, and lastly Elephanta with its elemental carvings are evidence of magnificent heights of aesthetic achievement in the art of sculpture.  The subsequent art creations of Chola sculptors, though remarkable in their own way, could not reach the standard of their earlier counterparts.  The Chola artists, however, excelled in the casting of metal images, and the bronze images of Nataraj and several other deities rank as some of the finest sculptures of India.

After the establishment of the Muslim rule in India this art form got subdued as Islam is against the image-making.