Indian sculptures include the sculptural customs, forms and techniques of the Indian subcontinent. During the early days, sculptures were the most popular form of art in India. The architecture of the subcontinent was decorated extensively with these sculptures. These sculptures usually featured abstract human images with the aim to educate the people about the truths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Nude sculptures were used to depict the body as a motif of the spirit, it was also used to depict the imagined representations of the deities. Indian sculptures also steered clear of showcasing individualistic features, the shapes used are perfect and complete and the depiction of multiple limbs is representative of the numerous attributes of God’s power.
The very first appearance of sculptures in India dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. This sculpture was the famous sculpture of the bronze dancing girl. While this was a notable discovery in history, these sculptures are surpassed by pottery figurines and stone seals that frequently featured animals and deities in their depictions. This was followed by pre-Mauryan art. This age did not feature any significant progress in terms of sculptures, however there was the occasional discovery of abstract pottery designs and terracotta figurines. This period coincided with the Vedic period that exclusively focused on ‘the elementary forces of nature by means of elaborate sacrifices.’ The landmark of discovery during the reign of the Mauryan Empire was King Ashoka’s sculptures. This period favoured sculptures more than any other art form. The most important findings of this time period were the ruins of the royal palace, the city of Pataliputra, Bodhgaya, and the most important were the Pillars of Ashoka. The Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath is now recognized as the National Emblem of India.
Then comes the Shunga period. This period included a refined version of the terracotta arts that were prevalent during the pre-Mauryan as well as the Mauryan periods. The Satavahana dynasty was a prominent name in the South. They belonged to the Buddhist tradition and the most popular remains of their patronage were the Sanchi and Amaravati Stupas. The earliest record of stone sculptures in the South was the lingam with a standing figure of Shiva, found in a village in Andhra Pradesh. The Gupta period almost exclusively used sculptures as their preferred form of art. From Jain Tirthankara figures to the art in the Ajanta, Elephanta and Ellora caves, this period was a treasure trove of sculptures.
Q1. What are the unique characteristics of Indian sculptures?
Irrespective of religion or tradition, most Indian sculptures had religious or spiritual connotations. This was seen among all the major religions of India, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. Their characteristic elements highlight mythological, human and animal forms.
Q2. Why are these Indian sculptures important?
They represent a rich cultural heritage and they each convey special meanings. Indian artists all through the years have created these sculptures to put forth various spiritual and religious beliefs including significant mythological milestones.
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