THE DANCING GIRL OF MOHENJODARO
My friend Munia will be thirteen on her next birthday in January. She has been taking painting lessons for the last couple of years. In the beginning, it was a chore for her, just doing something her parents wanted her to do.
But suddenly she has begun to feel the magic of lines, colours, forms. She is full of questions about India. When did it begin? Who were the artists? For whom were these works of art made?
To satisfy her curiosity, I thought we would go on a trip through 4500 years or more of Indian art. We would visit museums and galleries wherever possible or look through pages of books. Our search would not only allow us to enjoy the beauties but also trace the lines of continuity and change running through thousands of years.
At the beginning, we decide to visit the Harappa Gallery at the National Museum in New Delhi. The first object that catches our eye is the figure of the famous Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro. Munia remarks with delight and surprise, "How tiny she is!" and indeed her observation is very true. She looks much bigger in her photographs.
"Do you know how this great little lady was found?" I ask Munia. During the systematic excavation of the southern sector of the Mohenjodaro site, a broken down house was found on the 'ninth lane.' The house although ruined had well-paved floors. Near the fire-place the bronze statuette was found lying on the floor.
The figurine changed the way one looked at Indian art of antiquity. Historian A L Basham says that the "pert liveliness" of the minute figure is quite unlike anything found in any of the ancient civilisations. The Indus Valley artists and craftspersons were masters of the miniature. The bronze statuette is barely four inches high. And yet it speaks volumes of a metal caster's superb skills.
LION CAPITAL OF SARNATH
Munia is very interested in the visual environment around us. She wants to know the origins of our national emblem, the lion capital.
The lion capital is on top of an Asokan pillar at Sarnath, in the outskirts of Varanasi where Buddha had preached his first sermon. The capital, made of highly-polished sandstone is more than two metres in height. The capital comprises four lions placed back to back on a round slab or what is called an abacus resting atop an inverted bell-like form carved like a lotus. Historians date this capital to sometime around 250 B. C. On the side of the abacus are carved four animals-lion, elephant, bull and horse moving in a clockwise fashion. The animals are interspersed with four wheels or chakras which represent the Buddhist concept of the wheel of law.
These lions should be watched carefully, I tell Munia. Compared to the naturalism in the treatment of animals in the Harappan culture, here we observe a stylisation in the depiction of the sacred lions. Certain characteristics of the fierce animal are captured artistically to become a model. One can see the stylisation in the gaping, roaring mouths, in the wavy hair of the mane, in the curling whiskers.
Surprisingly, compared to the majesty of the lion, the animals on the abacus are done with great naturalistic energy. Then again the inverted bull is a stylised carving. Munia notices these contrasts. She then asks why this particular capital was chosen as the national emblem? Perhaps, I tell her, because the pillar carries Asoka's message of unity to the Buddhist monks. And this advice to keep together must have been considered apt for a newly-formed nation.
Asoka was a mighty king who reigned during the 3rd century B.C. He was the grandson of emperor Chandragupta, founder of the Maurya dynasty. When Asoka became king he ruled a vast territory from Afghanistan in the north-west to South India.
In every man's life there comes a defining moment when different paths open up inviting an individual to make a choice. It can transform a person from mindless acts to saintliness. From rude beginnings, Valmiki became a sublime epic poet.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend