Masterpieces of Indian Sculpture

Item Code: NAG168
Author: C. Sivaramamurti
Publisher: Central Institute of Buddhist Studies and National Museum
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 8185832056
Pages: 50 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 10.5 inch X 8.5 inch
Weight 270 gm
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Book Description

This album of Masterpieces of Indian Sculpture by late C. Sivaramamurti has been in great demand among the visitors from all walks of life. Since all the copies of its first edition have been sold out, its reprint appeared to be an unavoidable necessity and hence this edition. I am sure that this book will continue to inspire the lovers of Indian art, history and culture as has been the case with all the publications of late C. SIvaramamurti. The efforts made by the enthusiastic team of publication unit of National Museum in redesigning this edition deserve my deep appreciation.


Indian Art is kaleidoscopic in its rich variety of form and colour. Sculpture, for its feeling of depth and modeling, has claimed the first place of importance, and has been styled chitra. Carving in relief and painting, as ardhachitra and chitrabhasa respectively, come next.

From the earliest historical periods, magnificent sculptures have been fashioned by craftsmen all over the land, and compose the different schools, known geographically and in a vast space of history, covering over two thousand years.

After the wane of the Mauryan power, the Sungas and the Satavahanas, who ruled in the North and in the Deccan respectively, carried on the traditions of their predecessors. There is no better monument than what remains of the rail, that surrounded the Bharhut stupa, to illustrate the best of Sunga art. There are panels on the coping, uprights and crossbars, illustrating important scenes from the life of Buddha and incidents from his previous lives, known as the Jatakas. A coping piece (Plate I), recently acquired by the National Museum, is a rare work of art, illustrating the division of the relics of Buddha, which were carried by the royal recipients in reliquaries placed on elephants. The musical scene beside it illustrates the funeral celebrations. A carving, with an exactly similar scene, occurs in Satavahana sculpture of the 2nd century A.D., at Amaravati, also on rail coping.

The Satavahanas who ruled in the Deccan were a powerful dynasty of kings whose empire extended from the Western to the Eastern coast. In Western India there were several caves excavated during the rule of the Satavahanas. These Buddhist chaityas and viharas are famous for their architectural and sculptural elegance. The Satavahanas were similarly responsible for carving the exquisite rail, in about the 2nd century A.D., at Amaravati, on the banks of the Krishna, through the inspiration of Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist teacher. A few sculptures recovered from Pitalkhora, in an early Western Indian cave, are typical of this phase of early Indian art in the Deccan. A harem scene, representing a prince, accompanied by his royal consort, with attendants all around, is a fine example of Satavahana art of the 2nd century B.C. (Plate II). The woollen converlet for the couch, the elaborate waist zone and heavy anklets as well as the prabhrashtaka flower garland adorning the braid of the princess, the thick waist cord of the prince, deddubhaka, as it is known in early literature, are all very interesting.

Almost of the same time is the art of the ivory carvers of Vidisa who, as the inscription says, fashioned the eastern gateway at Sanchi. It is a fragment from this that the National Museum has recently acquired to illustrate early Satavahana art in its galleries. This terminal torana architrave (Plate III) illustrates a gay young woman, seated on a rock, with her toilet box and wine pot beside her, in the vicinity of the celestial stream, in which a heavenly elephant is refreshing himself by a dip. The portion illustrating the lover beside her is broken and lost. A seated winged griffin tops the terminal of the architrave.

Of the four sculptures recently received in the National Museum on perpetual loan from the British Museum to represent the art of Amaravati, and exquisitely carved image from the rail is a striking example of Satavahana art of 150 A.D. (Plate IV). It contains in a medallion and in three panels below a striking narrative sequence of the story of sage Asita’s visit. Asita, the hoary sage, arrives at the palace of Suddhodana to see the new-born Englightened One to be, is announced by the pratihari, the typical feminine usher, and seated in front of Suddhodana laments that he would not be alive to listen to the words of wisdom from the child when he would turn the wheel of Law after his englightenment. The carving is delicate, suggestive and full of life and emotion.

Kushana sculpture of the 1st-2nd century A.D. has given the world some of the most lovely examples of feminine charm in art like the Bhutesar yakshis. The National Museum has a unique example of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity (Plate Va), standing on a brimming vessel, its water suggested by lotuses, pressing her breast, indicating her motherhood and her association with a river goddess, to assure prosperity to the children of the soil through payas, viz. water, as a mother would sustain the child payas, viz. milk. The pearly teeth peeping through her mouth indicate joy, as prosperity means joy.

Another example of this period of art from Mathura is a splendid example of the pleasing theme of mother and child (Plate Vb), the little one being offered a rattle, to receive which it joyfully springs up. A companion of the mother looks on with satisfaction, from behind the screen.

Yet another Kushana example chosen in this series is a corpulent dwarf, Kubera, the Lord of Wealth (Plate VI). His hair arranged as a wig, rotund belly, dreamy eyes and sly smile indicate an indolent, contented attitude of opulence.

The Kushanas, who ruled over a great empire that spread beyond the Hindukush and touched Central Asia, had a flourishing school of sculpture in the north-western region, now included in Pakistan, which from the name of the locality has been styled Gandhara. It is greatly influenced by Greco-Roman traditions. A fine example of this school illustrates the incident of Nanda following Buddha against his will, with his mind lost in a longing for his beautiful consort Sundari, whose toilet he had been witnessing a few minutes earlier (Plate VII).

The Ikshvaku rulers, who followed the Satavahanas in the Krishna valley towards the end of the 2nd century, were responsible for the magnificent monuments at Nagarjunakonda and other places, with carvings in a style of the Satavahana rulers in this region. One of the finest examples of Ikshvaku art is a casing slab (Plate VIII) from the large stupa, which represents in three tiers of panels, the birth of Buddha, seven steps he walked to assure himself that he would not be born again, but would become the Supremely Enlightened, the casting of the horoscope and the prediction that the new born one would either be a Universal Monarch or the Supremely Enlightened One, the presentation of the child to the family deity, when a miracle occurred, and the visited of Asita, the aged sage, who hurried to have a look at the new born child, as he knew he was nearing his end.

The Guptas, who followed the Kushanas in the North, had their powerful contemporaries in the Deccan in the Vakatakas, with whom they were matrimonially related. The Gupta phase of art, which is usually styled golden, and which undoubtedly is a great eventful period, has produced some of the greatest masterpieces, including the famous standing Buddha from Mathura and the preaching Buddha from Sarnath. An image of Vishnu (Plate IX) that should take rank with any of the best masterpieces of Gupta art, now in the National Museum, would at once recall the magnificent representation of the deity as Seshasayi at Deogarh.

An exquisite Buddhist carving from Sarnath of the Gupta period is the inscribed Avalokitesvara (Plate X a) which is also in the National Museum.

The art of the Vakatakas, which has world fame, on account of the magnificent carvings and the paintings at Ajanta and Ellora, is here in the National Museum fortunately represented by some bronzes, some of them inscribed in box-headed Brahmi characters of the period. One of these (Plate X b) is particularly interesting for the flying cherubs, that hover over the master, in the vicinity of an umbrella. These are among the only bronzes of this important phase of art that have yet come to light, and the National Museum is particularly proud of this collection.

Feudatories of the Guptas were Maitrakas who ruled in Gujarat. Some of the early sculptures from Samalaji, Roda and Idar and other places represent the Maitraka phase of art. A recent acquisition in the National Museum is a mother and child from Samalaji (Plate XI). The beaming face of the mother and child proclaim the sweet age of innocence and the sublimity of motherhood, magnificently depicted by the early Indian sculptor.

From the ceiling of the mandapa of an early temple from Aihole is a panel (Plate XII) to represent early Western Chalukya carving. The Western Chalukyas, who succeeded the Vakatakas in the 6th century in the Deccan, had created such important temples as the Ladkhan, the Badami caves and a couple of centuries later the richly embellished temples of Pattadakal. The movement of the Vidyadharas flying in the air is wonderfully expressed by the opposite direction of the clouds and the fluttering garments as well as by the contour of the body itself on the move.

The Pallavas who ruled in Kanchipuram in South Indian were great devotees of Siva, and the Somaskanda form, a panel that always beautifies the central cell in all early Pallava temples, has been repeated over and over again by their sculptors. Almost preserved, though far from complete, amongst all the surviving fragments of painting of the Pallava period, there is one of a Somaskanda from the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram, typical of the other lithic Somaskandas we know from the temples of Rajasimha’s time. The Somaskanda in the National Museum (Plate XIII) is the only stone carving of the kind and of this period found in any museum in the world outside the Pallava monuments where they abound.

Another similar sculpture of special importance (Plate XIV) illustrating the Pallava phase is a Bhikashatana who is engaging the attention of the wives of rishis who come out to offer him alms and wonder at his beauty.

A large seated Vishnu is carved in relief in a manner that is characteristic of the later phase of Pallava art (Plate XV). It is a very pleasing figure of Vishnu carrying his usual weapons in the manner he does in this phase of Pallava art.

The Gurjara-Pratiharas who succeeded to a large empire left by the Vardhanas in the North, are known for their vast contribution to early medieval North Indian art, particularly in the Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat. A fine example of early medieval sculpture is a recently acquired Siva as Ravananugrahamurti (Plate XVI), composing the ten-headed monster, that shook the mighty Kailasa in his pride, but finally stayed to sing the glory of the Lord, in Sama hymns in musical notes, to win the pleasure and mercy of Siva, and get a release from the pressure of the toe, which brought the weight of the mountain on him for his offence. The witnessing gods around have been characteristically portrayed in the idiom of an earlier phase, continuing great traditions kept alive by successive generations of craftsmen.

The bronze image of Vishnu with consorts, though greatly worn, is still important as the only one belonging to the period which can be definitely dated in the time of Mahipaladeva (Plate XVII). It is a recent acquisition in the National Museum.

From Rajasthan, a fine example of Gurjara-Pratihara sculpture is a marriage of Siva with Parvati, which is another new acquisition of great beauty in the National Museum (Plate XVIII).

A tenth century Chahamana sculpture of great aesthetic quality is a frieze from the ruins of the Siva temple on the hill called Harsha in the neighbourhood of Sikar. It represents a group of warriors entertained by musicians, all the figures arranged in a rhythmic sway of bodily movement most charming to behold (Plate XIX).

Another similar addition to the collection in the National Museum is a Chedi sculpture in metal, representing Avalokitesvara seated on a lotus (Plate XX). That he is young and kumarabhuta is indicated by the side locks (kakapaksha) that he wears and the vyaghranakha or the tiger claws. It is extremely interesting that this bronze has the name of the sculptor, Dronaditya, inscribed in clear letters of the 9th century.

An exquisite bronze almost of the period of transition from Pallava to Chola and nearer the earliest phase of Chola idiom is a Kaliya Krishna with a slender leg of the dancer balanced on the hoods of the snake on which the personified Nagaraja is indicated (Plate XXI).

Very early Chola art is represented in the National Museum by two more important bronzes, Somaskanda (Plate XXII), and Nataraja (Plate XXIII). This Nataraja from Tiruvarangulam, dancing in the chatura pose, is unique and there is no other figure in metal in that dancing pose anywhere else. Aesthetically also it is a perfect example of graceful modeling, balance and movement. It is a symbolic representation of Siva as the Creator, Protecotr and Destroyer, indicated by the drum, the hands in grace and carrying the flame, the pointing fingers assuring protection to those who seek salvation at his feet. Ignorance which dwarf us is represented as a dwarf, annihilated under his foot, and this act coincides with the dawn of knowledge indicated by a crescent growing into a full moon or the fullness of wisdom. The concept of Nataraja became so popular in the South, particularly in the Chola period, that there is no temple anywhere that does not have a hall for Nataraja, the bronze representation of the dancing Lord.

The medieval art from the hilly area, in the neighbourhood of Kashimir, is illustrated by an exquisite bronze from Chamba representing a Devi as the female counterpart of SAdasiva (Plate XXIV). It is inscribed and can be dated about 1000 A.D.

The Chedis who ruled from Bundelkhand had neighbours in Madhya Pradesh that enriched Mahoba and Khajuraho with maginificent monuments. These are the Chandratreyas also known as Chandellas. A unique Chandella sculpture in the National Museum, recently acquired, represents Harihara seated in alidha, a very rare form (Plate XXV). Harihara is not so unusal, but Harihara seated in alidha is certainly very rare. We know that the Tripurantaka form of Siva portrays the great Lord as the mightiest bowman, overcoming the loftiest of the titans, Tripurasuras, an achievement for which Siva is chiefly praised in poetic compositions by some of the most renowned poets in Sanskrit literature. If Siva is known as the greatest bowman, wielding as he does a mountain as bow, Merudhanva, Vishnu equally wields a powerful weapon of horn as a great bowman and is called Sarngapani. The warrior pose alidha is most eloquent expression of the might of a bowman. In a combination of both these great bowmen, the alidha pose chosen is most suggestive. In praising the bowman pose of the great prince Raghu, Kalidasa cannot refrain picturing him as Siva Tripurari in his warrior pose alidha atishthad alidhaviseshasobhina vapuhprakarshena vidambitesvarah.

In Eastern India, the contemporary rulers were the Palas, whose early phase of art is here represented by an Avalokitesvara (Plate XXVI), whose calm and serene countenance and chiseled features at once proclaim the charm of early Pala sculpture.

A fine example of a rare theme in medieval sculpture is a Pala Gajalakshmi, bathed by celestial elephants and flanked by the personified treasures, Sankha and Padma (Plate XXVII).

Another early example of Pala art is Vishnu with his hands resting on personified ayudhapurushas, Chakra and Gada. This still reveals earlier Gupta characteristics, like the wig-like hair, short crown and so forth (Plate XXVIII).

A bronze from Kurkihar of rare beauty representing Haragauri (Plate XXIX), not long ago purchased for the National Museum, is typical of the best craftsmanship during the Pala period.

One of the most lovely Gahadavala sculptures dug up at Sarnath is Vajratara, a typical example of deities in a complex Buddhist iconography that had developed (Plate XXX).

Another fine example is a Jaina Sarasvati, delicately carved in marble and presenting the fineness of a jeweller’s work (Plate XXXI).

Late medieval art of the 12th century of Rajasthan is represented by a feminine head of the Gahadavala school, a dainty one with a flower-decked braid (Plate XXXII).

The later phase of Western Chalukya sculpture in the South is represented in the National Museum by an exquisite door lintel, with very fine carving, from which a central panel of Siva dancing is here chosen (Plate XXXIII). Devi watches as multiarmed Siva dances. It is the grace of the goddess that she watches her Lord’s dance like a mother. The mother out of her mercy refrains herself from partaking of whatever is injurious to the child and conversely takes in such as would benefit the child in the womb.

The Hoysalas, who were great builders of monuments, created temples profusely decorated but in the Chalukyan style, being successors of the Western Chalukyas in the Mysore area. The huntress from Halebid (Plate XXXIV) is a fine example of this school.

The Kakatiyas, who followed the traditions of the Western Chalukyas, having been feudatories under this power for a while had created magnificent temples in their realm, like those at Warangal, Palampet and other places. This distinctive school is represented in the National Museum by a magnificent lintel of the 13th century from Warangal, a panel from which is chosen here (Plate XXXV).

In Eastern India, south of the Pala empire, was the kingdom of the Eastern Gangas whose imposing monuments, like those at Bhubanesvar, Puri and Konarak in Orissa are noteworthy. The art of the Eastern Gangas is here represented by two magnificent carvings, one of Varunani (Plate XXXVI), the consort of Varuna on her Makara vehicle and Narasimha, the great and powerful king, who built the temple of wonder at Konarak (Plate XXXVII). Narasimha was not only a gay prince, as observed in the scene of his life in the harem, enjoying a swing, but a great connoisseur of art and literature, a powerful warrior, devotee of great catholicity, at once devoted to several forms of the Supreme Being that his ancestors had worshipped, without any special prejudice to his own preference for the God of light, Surya, to whom he raised a mighty temple at Konarak.

This Surya is a fine carving with soft and delicate decorative details, typical of orissan work (Plate XXXVIII).

Among the recent acquisitions in the National Museum, a unique bronze of the Vijayanagara period, the only one of its kind to represent the noble theme of Bharata as the ideal brother, carrying the wooden sandals of his brother Rama, as the sovereign of the State, on whose behalf he was to rule, is here a typical example of the simple, but effective, somewhat, stylized work, of this late medieval period of Indian art (Plate XXXIX). As we know the Vijayanagara emperors represent the last great phase of Hindu hegemony in India. The affluence of this great period of art is easily visualized in the numerous monuments that stud practically the whole of South India and the Deccan. This bronze is a worthy example of Vijayanagara phase of Indian art.

The plates that accompany this album constitute a delightful bevy of chosen pictures to illustrate, through the best examples available in the National Museum, a comprehensive picture of the styles and schools of art, geographically and historically distributed all over the country in space as well as in time.

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