Vibrant Rock is a comprehensive catalogue of the stone sculptures preserved in the State Archaeological Museum, West Bengal. This is an immensely important and much less known collection of Bengal sculptures datable between the sixth and nineteenth century CE. The catalogue seeks to understand the iconography and stylistic affiliation of the sculptures. In addition it goes into the issues relating to the use of rock types and the options available to the sculptors. The book will introduce a major collection of Bengal sculptures to the discerning readers.
Gautam Sengupta is currently the Director, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of West Bengal and was the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India (2010-2012). He also taught at Visva- Bharati, Santiniketan, North-Eastern Hill University, Shilllong and the University of Calcutta, He has written extensively on art-history and historical archaeology of Eastern and North-Eastern India.
Sharmila Saha is the Cataloguer in the State Archaeological Museum, under the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of West Bengal. She received her master’s degree in Archaeology from the University of Calcutta and has worked on Temple Architecture of South-western Bengal for her doctoral thesis. Her areas of interest include Art, Iconography, and Architecture of Early Medieval Eastern India.
From a nebulous collection of assorted artefacts to a major archaeological museum focusing on Bengal-this is in outline the narrative of the State Archaeological Museum, West Bengal.
The Directorate of Archaeology of the Government of West Bengal was established in the year 1958 under the Public Works Department to implement the activities mentioned in the West Bengal Act XXXI of 1957, regulating the West Bengal Preservation of Historical Monuments and Objects and Excavation of Archaeological Sites. The Directorate initially based its work mainly on collection of art objects and antiquities through explorations and excavations of sites. The founding collections largely consisted of Chalcolithic potsherds, early historic terracottas, stone and metal sculptures, paintings and other materials of early historical, late historical, and medieval times. Prehistoric tools also enriched the collection. With the increasing number of antiquities, them housed in a small in the ground floor of the Writers’ Building, Calcutta, the need for opening a museum was felt and thus the State Archaeological Gallery was conceptualized and inaugurated on 15 June 1962. It was first housed at the first floor of an old multi-storied building at 33 Chittaranjan Avenue, in Calcutta, It was inaugurated by the then minister of the Public Works Department of West Bengal. Paresh Chandra Dasgupta, the Director with his superintendents Debkumar Chakravarty and Shyam Chand Mukherjee explored, excavated and gathered a large amount of antiquities from different sites all over West Bengal. The establishment of this Gallery was almost coeval with the first major excavation of the Department in 1964 when the site of Pandu Rajar Dhibi in the Bardhaman district of West Bengal was undertaken for systematic digging This excavation not only changed the prevailing frame of understanding of West Bengal archaeology by providing the first archaeological evidence of Chalcolithic habitation in the region, but also played a domineering role in the formative phase of collection of the Gallery. Thus, the newly inaugurated State Archaeological Gallery was enriched with various objects of art objects of art and archaeology ranging from prehistoric times down to late medieval period. Obviously, among the founding collections, excavated materials from Pandu Rajar Dhibi held the centre stage. The finds mainly consisted of beautifully painted pottery in the form of Black-on Red Black-on Red Ware and channel spouted bowls besides microliths, polished stone tools, copper ornaments and beads of semi-precious stones, shell and copper ornaments and beads of semiprecious stoned, shell and copper. A few figurines, stone seals from early historic period, bone and ivory objects of exquisite workmanship were other interesting finds housed in the Gallery.
As the collection in the State Archaeological Gallery increased in number since its inauguration in 1962, a new wing-the Historical Art Section-was created in the years 1963. This wing was enriched with huge collections of old paintings and drawings belonging to the Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari, and Deccani schools besides ‘a number of masterpieces from Bengal inspired by classic and folk traditions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ (Dasgupta 1973: 56). A nineteenth century painting on a wooden panel depicting the marriage of Siva and Parvati from a chariot (ratha) from Kalna, Bardhaman district is excellently executed, ‘where the general composition and figuration reveal a charming balance and dignity by stimulating lines and luminous pignents emphasizing the seductive beauty of a goddess coyly standing in the foreground before a perspective occupied by a glorious congregation of Puranic divinities’ (Dasgupta 1973: 56).
Further efforts continued by the Directorate in collecting antiquities resulted in the opening of another new section in the State Archaeological Gallery. Thus, the Prehistoric and Early Antiquities Section was inaugurated in January 1966. Prehistoric assemblages in the form of mainly stone tools and fossils attracted the attention of a large number of visitors. Human habitation in Bengal from the earlier times is represented by a number of pebble tools from the valleys of Suvarnarekha, Kansavati and the Mayuraksi, as well as Palaeolithic handaxes and cleavers from Susunia in the district of Bankura, West Bengal.
The early historic antiquities displayed in the State Archaeological Gallery were collected from different sites in West Bengal and includes ‘Sunga Kusana’ terracotta figurines, seals, coins and pottery from Chandraketugarh and Harinarayanpur in South 24 Parganas district, besides, a completely reconstructed Black-and-Red Ware bowl from Gopalpur-Hatkhola in the same district. A hoard of 117 punch-marked silver coins of Various shapes and sizes from Lohapur in the district of Birbhum added to the displayed antiquities. The new section enriched its collection by displaying some of the beautiful examples of stone sculptures stylistically appertaining to Bengal in the post-Gupta and Pala times.
Earlier collections included a number of heads carved in greenish chlorite from Pakbirra, in the Purulia district belonging to the Pala-Sena period. A considerable number of Pala sculptures added to the repertoire displayed in the new section Images Visnu, Siva, Surya, Devi and others were gradually added to the collection of the State Archaeological Gallery. Thus, the entire array of stone sculptures in the gallery consisted of images of Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Jain pantheon, mainly belonging to Pala-Sena periods. These sculptures being recovered from various regions of West Bengal have their usual emphasis ‘on frontality achieved by high relief which indeed visualizes the supple grace, elegance and sensitive beauty of Pala style and convention...’ (Dasgupta 1973: 56).
Gradually, the collection of the Directorate continued to grow both in scope and size. However, the space available in the rented building at Chittaranjan Avenue could not meet the requirements of an expanding collection Consequently, it was shifted to an impressive early twentieth century palatial building to the South of Kolkata at 1 Satyen Roy Road at Behala Kolkata. This building was donated to the Government of West Bengal by Srimati Kamala Roy. The State Archaeological Gallery, now re-designated as State Archaeological Museum, was opened to the publication 16 August 1980. The Museum was organized into different sections or galleries. Seven rooms were allocated as galleries for displaying the major antiquities arranged chronologically. Thus, the new Museum was constituted with the Prehistory Gallery, Proto-History Gallery, Early History Gallery (three rooms were allocated for housing early historic antiquities from Chandraketugarh and few from other sites), Sculpture Gallery and Painting Gallery.
With a view to developing the Museum more scientifically and systematically with required infrastructural facilities, a new four-storied building was planned within the complex of the old building. Accordingly, the ‘New Building’ was constructed and the first two floors were opened to the public on 3 August 2006 by the Governor of West Bengal, in a ceremony presided over by the then Chief Minister of Bengal. Initially five galleries were set up.
(i)-The Sites and Sights Gallery: This gallery gives an overview of the rich cultural heritage of West Bengal through photographs with some important examples of antiquities in original found from these sites and monuments.
(ii)-Painting of Bengal: This gallery exhibits some of the masterpieces including including court paintings from Murshidabad during the reign of Murshid Quli Khan and his grandson Sirajud-daullah, Company style painting, coloured scrolls known as ‘jorano pat’ on handmade paper or cloth depicting stories from Ramayana and Krsnalila, Kalighat Paintings popularly known as ‘Kalighat patas’, Chakshudan Pat or ‘ritual eye bestowal painting’ common among the tribal Hindu and Muslim populace and a solitary painting of Jamini Ray.
(iii)-Sculptures of Bengal: The exhibits include stone sculptures of almost all the major and minor iconic form associated with Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Majority of the collection includes sculptures belonging to the Pala-Sena period.
(iv)-Nandadirghi Vihara (Jagjiwanpur): The discovery of a copperplate at the mound of Tulabhita in the Jajibanpur villages of Malda district and subsequent excavation at the site opened a new dimension in the history of the Pala dynasty of Bengal-Bihar. The charter not only revealed the name of a hitherto unknown ruler Mahendrapala, a scion of the Pala Dynasty who ruled over Bengal and Bihar during. Mid-ninth century CE, but also helped historians to rewrite the political history of Bengal and of north India. The site unearthed a Buddhist monastic complex along with a huge number of antiquities like a metal image of Marici, terracotta seals and sealings, myriads of exquisite terracotta plaques, beads of terracotta and beads, etc.
(v)-West Bengal (Early Historic Period): This gallery roughly covers antiquities ranging between 600 BCE and 500 CE from the excavated sites of Chandraketugarh (North 24 Parganas district), Tilpi and Dhosa (South 24 Parganas), Mangalkot (Bardhaman district), Farakka (Murshidabad district), Panna (West Medinipur district) and a few other sites. Important antiquities displayed include double moulded terracotta figurines, terracotta objects mainly of ageless variety, appliqué-designed terracotta pots, wheeled figurines (mostly toy-carts) ceramic assemblages including Red, Grey, Back Polished and Black-and Red Wares, silver and copper punch- marked coins, uninscribed cast copper and coins occasional Gupta silver coins, beads of semi-precious stones like agate, carnelian, quartz crystal, garnet, jasper, chalcedony, etc. and glass beads, inscribed seals, moulds, copper, iron, and ivory objects, etc. Later two more galleries were introduced in 2008.
(vi)-The Metal Sculpture Gallery: The State Archaeological Museum has its collection metal sculptures datable between the ninth and the twelfth centuries CE. from sites like Jagjibanpur, Tapan, Salas, Chopra and a number of unspecified sites from Malda, North Dinajpur and South 24 Parganas. Besides, late medieval sculptures representing significant changes in the traditional form are also on display.
(vii)-Temporary exhibit gallery for displaying the artefacts unearthed from Hatpara in the district of Murshidabad, West Bengal, excavated by the Directorate in 2007-08.
Thus, the State Archeological Museum in the new building gives us an overview of the cultural milieu of Bengal and the evolution of Bengal’s culture from pre-proto-historic past through historic periods down to the Colonial time.
|Map of West Bengal Showing the Find-spots of Sculptures||xxix|
|II||Buddhist and Jain miniature architectural fragments||245|
|Appendix I: Inscribed Sculptures||253-76|
|Appendix 2: Rock Types and Therir Sources||277- 86|
|Sambhu Chakraborty Maitry Roy Maulik Tarun Koley|
|List of Gifted Stone Sculptures in the State Archaeological Museum||287-88|
Item Code: NAL596 Author: Gautam Sengupta and Sharmila Saha Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2014 Publisher: Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, West Bengal ISBN: 9788192953403 Language: English Size: 11.0 inch x 9.0 inch Pages: 328 (Throughout B/W Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 1.6 kg
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