Sanchi, about 50 km from Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, is a world heritage site.
Along with other relatively small stupas, there are three main stupas at Sanchi.
- Stupa-1 is presumed to have the relics of the Buddha.
- Stupa-2, the relics of ten less famous arhats belonging to three different generations. Their names are found on the relic casket.
- Stupa-3 has the relics of Sariputta and Mahamougalayana.
Stupa-1, known for the carvings on its gateways is one of the finest examples of stupa architecture. Originally the stupa was a small brick structure which expanded over a period and was covered with stone, vedika and the torana (gateways).
The Ashokan lion capital pillar with an inscription is found on the southern side of the stupa, indicating how Sanchi became a centre of monastic and artistic activities. The south gateway was made first followed by the others. The pradakshinapath around the stupa is covered with the vedika. There is also the upper pradakshinapath which is unique to this site.
The four gateways are decorated profusely with sculptures. Buddha is shown symbolically as an empty throne, feet, chhatra, stupas, etc. Toranas are constructed in all four directions. Their stylistic differences indicate their possible chronology from the first century BCE onwards. Though Stupa-1 is the oldest stupa, the carving of images on the vedica of Stupa-2 are earlier than those on Stupa-1. Jatakas also become an important part of the narratives in stupas. The figures at Sanchi, despite being small in dimension, show considerable mastery of sculpting. Their physiognomic treatment of the body shows both depth and dimension which are very naturalistic. There are guardian images on pillars and the shalbhanjika (i.e., lady holding the branch of a tree) sculptures are remarkable in their treatment of volume. The rigidity of the earlier sculptures of Stupa-2 is no more there. Each torana consists of two vertical pillars and three horizontal bars on the top. Each horizontal bar is decorated with different sculptural themes on the front as well as at the back. Supporting the extensions of the lowermost horizontal bar from below are the images of shalbhanjikas.
SEATED BUDDHA, KATRA MOUND, MATHURA
Mathura was a great centre for making sculptures during the early historic period and many images have been found here. A large number of images dating back to the Kushana Period is from Mathura.
A distinct way of sculpting practised at Mathura makes the images found here different from those at other centres in the country. The image of the Buddha from the Katra mound belongs to the second century CE. It represents the Buddha with two Boddhisattva attendants. The Buddha is seated in padmasana (cross-folded legs) and the right hand is in the abhayamudra, raised a little above the shoulder level whereas the left hand is placed on the left thigh. The ushanisha, i.e., hair knot, is shown with a vertically raised projection. Mathura sculptures from this period are made with light volume having fleshy body. The shoulders are broad. The sanghati (garment) covers only one shoulder and has been made prominently visible covering the left hand whereas while covering the torso, the independent volume of the garment is reduced to the body torso. The Buddha is seated on a lion throne. The attendant figures are identified as the images of the Padmapani and Vajrapani Boddhisattvas as one holds a lotus and the other a vajra (thunderbolt). They wear crowns and are on either side of the Buddha. The halo around the head of the Buddha is very large and is decorated with simple geometric motifs. There are two flying figures placed diagonally above the halo. They bear a lot of movement in the picture space. Flexibility replaces the earlier rigidity in the images giving them a more earthy look. Curves of the body are as delicately carved. The upright posture of the Buddha image creates movement in space. The face is round with fleshy cheeks. The bulge of the belly is sculpted with controlled musculature.
It may be noted that there are numerous examples of sculptures from the Kushana Period at Mathura, but this image is representative and is important for the understanding of the development of the Buddha image in the subsequent periods.
BUDDHA HEAD, TAXILA
The Buddha head from Taxila in the Gandhara region, now in Pakistan, dates back to the second century CE and belongs to the Kushana Period.
The image shows hybridised pictorial conventions that developed during the Gandhara period. It has Greco-Roman elements in the treatment of sculpture. The Buddha head has typical Hellenistic elements that have grown over a period of time. The curly hair of the Buddha is thick having a covered layer of sharp and linear strokes over the head. The forehead plane is large having protruding eyeballs, the eyes are half-closed and the face and cheeks are not round like the images found in other parts of India.
There is a certain amount of heaviness in the figures of the Gandhara region. The ears are elongated especially the ear-lobes. The treatment of the form bears linearity and the outlines are sharp. The surface is smooth. The image is very expressive. The interplay of light and dark is given considerable attention by using the curving and protruding planes of the eye-socket and the planes of the nose. The expression of calmness is the centre point of attraction. Modelling of the face enhances the naturalism of three-dimensionality.
Assimilating various traits of Acamenian, Parthian and Bactrian traditions into the local tradition is a hallmark of the Gandhara style. The Gandhara images have physiognomic features of the Greco-Roman tradition but they display a very distinct way of treating physiognomic details that are not completely Greco-Roman.
The source of development of Buddha images as well as others has its genesis in its peculiar geo-political conditions. It may also be observed that the north-western part of India, which is now Pakistan, always had continuous habitation from protohistoric times. It continued in the historical period as well.
A large number of images have been found in the Gandhara region. They consist of narratives of the life of the Buddha, narrations from the Jataka stories, and Buddha and Boddhisattva images.
SEATED BUDDHA, SARNATH
This image of the Buddha from Sarnath belonging to the late fifth century CE is housed in the site museum at Sarnath. It has been made in Chunar sandstone. The Buddha is shown seated on a throne in the padmasana. It represents dhammachackrapravartana as can be seen from the figure on the throne. The panel below the throne depicts a chakra (wheel) in the centre and a deer on either side with his disciples. Thus, it is the representation of the historical event of dhammachakrapravartana or the preaching of the dhamma.
This Buddha image is a fine example of the Sarnath school of sculpture. The body is slender and well-proportioned but slightly elongated. The outlines are delicate, very rhythmic. Folded legs are expanded in order to create a visual balance in the picture space. Drapery clings to the body and is transparent to create the effect of integrated volume. The face is round, the eyes are half-closed, the lower lip is protruding, and the roundness of the cheeks has reduced as compared to the earlier images from the Kushana Period at Mathura. The hands are shown in dhammachakrapravartana mudra placed just below the chest. the neck is slightly elongated with two incised lines indicating folds. The ushanisha has circular curled hairs. The aim of the sculptors in ancient India had always been to represent the Buddha as a great human being who achieved nibbana (i.e., cessation of anger and hate). The back of the throne is profusely decorated with different motifs of flowers and creepers placed in a concentric circle. The central part of the halo is plain without any decoration. It makes the halo visually impressive. Decoration in halo and the back of the throne indicates the artisan’s sensitivity. Sarnath Buddha images of this period show considerable softness in the treatment of the surface and volume. Transparent drapery becomes part of the physical body. Such refinement comes over a period of time and these features continued in subsequent periods.
There are many other Buddha images in the standing position from Sarnath having features like transparent drapery, subtle movement, carved separately and placed about the memorial stupas around the Dharmarajika Stupa. These images are now preserved in the Sarnath Museum. They are either single or with the attendant figures of Boddhisattvas, Padmapani and Vajrapani.
PADMAPANI BODDHISATTVA AJANTA CAVE NO. 1
This painting on the back wall of the interior hall before the shrine-antechamber in Cave No. 1 at Ajanta dates back to the late fifth century CE. The Boddhisattva is holding a padma (lotus), has large shoulders, and has three bents in the body creating a movement in the picture space. The modelling is soft. Outlines are merged with the body volume creating the effect of three-dimensionality.
The figure of the Boddhisattva is wearing a big crown in which detailed rendering is visible. The head is slightly bent to the left. The eyes are half-closed and are slightly elongated. The nose is sharp and straight. Light colour all over the projected planes of the face is aimed at creating an effect of three-dimensionality.
The beaded necklace too has similar features. Broad and expanded shoulders create heaviness in the body. The torso is relatively round. Lines are delicate, rhythmic, and define the contours of the body. The right hand is holding a lotus and the left hand is extended in the space. The Boddhisattva is surrounded by small figures. The foreshortened right hand of the Boddhisattva makes the image more solid, and effectively dense. The thread over the torso is shown with fine spiral lines indicating its dimensions. Each and every part of the body is given equal attention. Light red, brown, green and blue colours are used. Nose projections, incised end of lips with lower lip projection and small chin contribute to the overall effect of solidity in the figure composition. The paintings in Cave No.1 are of good quality and are better preserved. One can observe certain typological and stylistic variations in the paintings of Ajanta indicating different guilds of artisans working on the cave paintings at Ajanta over the centuries.
On the other side of the image Vajrapani Bodhisattva has been painted. He holds a vajra in his right hand and wears a crown. This image also bears the same pictorial qualities as the Padmapani. Cave No. 1 has many interesting paintings of Buddhist themes such as Mahajanak Jataka, Umag Jataka, etc. The Mahajanak Jataka is painted on the entire wall side and is the biggest narrative painting. It may be observed that the paintings of Padmapani and Vajrapani and the Bodhisattvas are painted as shrine guardians. Similar such iconographic arrangement is also observed in other caves of Ajanta. However Padmapani and Vajrapani in Cave No. 1 are among the best survived paintings of Ajanta.
MARA VIJAYA, AJANTA CAVE NO. 26
The theme of Mara Vijaya has been painted in the caves of Ajanta. This is the only sculptural representation sculpted on the right wall of Cave No. 26. It is sculpted near the colossal Buddha image of Mahaparinibbana. The panel shows the image of the Buddha in the centre surrounded by Mara’s army along with his daughter. The event is part of the enlightenment. It is a personification of the commotion of mind which the Buddha went through at the time of enlightenment. Mara represents desire. According to the narrative, there is a dialogue between the Buddha and Mara, and the Buddha is shown with his right hand indicating towards earth as a witness to his generosity. This relief sculptural panel is highly animated and shows a very matured sculptural style at Ajanta.
The composition is very complex with highly voluminous images. Their complex arrangement in the picture space is highly dynamic and generates considerable movement. The figure on the right shows Mara coming with his army consisting of various kinds of people including some with grotesque animal faces. The dancing figures at the lower base with the musicians have forward bulging waist, and one of the dancing figures has expanded her hands in the dancing posture with an angular frontal look. On the left lower end, the image of Mara is shown contemplating how to disturb Siddhartha, the name of the Buddha before enlightenment. The army of Mara is shown marching towards the Buddha in the first half of the panel whereas the lower half of the panel shows the departing army of Mara giving him adorations. The centrally placed Buddha is in padmasana and a tree at the back is shown by dense leaves. Some of the facial features of the Mara army has tacit characters of the sculptures from Vidarbha. The artisans at Ajanta worked in guilds and their stylistic affiliations can be traced by identifying such stylistic features. This is the largest sculptural panel at Ajanta. Though there are several big images in the caves of Ajanta and especially located in the shrine-antechamber as well as facade walls, such a complex arrangement of figures is unique. On the other hand, painted panels exhibit such complexities in their arrangement. A similar kind of arrangement of dancing figures in a panel is also observed at the Aurangabad caves.
The image of Maheshmurti at Elephanta dates back to the early sixth century CE. It is located in the main cave shrine. In the tradition of western Deccan sculpting it is one of the best examples of qualitative achievement in sculpting images in rockcut caves. The image is large in size. The central head is the main Shiva figure whereas the other two visible heads are of Bhairava and Uma. The central face is in high relief having a round face, thick lips and heavy eyelids. The lower lip is prominently protruded showing a very different characteristic. The all-inclusive aspect of Shiva is exhibited in this sculpture by soft-modelling, smooth surface and large face.
The face of Shiva-Bhairava is clearly shown in profile in anger with bulging eye and mustache. The other face showing feminine characters is of Uma who is the consort of Shiva. One of the shilpa texts mentions five integrated faces of Shiva and this image, despite being shown with only three faces, is considered as of the same variety and the top and back faces are deemed as invisible. Each face has a different crown as per its iconographic prescription. This sculpture has been sculpted on the south wall of the cave along with the sculpture of Ardhanarishwara and the Gangadhara panel. Elephanta sculptures are known for their remarkable qualities of surface smoothness, elongation and rhythmic movement. Their composition is very complex. The iconographic arrangement of this cave is replicated in Cave No. 29 at Ellora.
MURAL TRADITIONS OF INDIA
Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Art
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