Different schools of art and sculpture during ancient period

Sculptural art cannot be separated from architecture because sculptures form part of a total complex like a stupa or a chaitya or a temple.

Mauryan Art :

We have remains of high quality sculpture from Mauryan period. Of the several stone sculptures the Yakshi and Yaksha (from Didarganj, Patna) bearing the distinctive polish of the Mauryan School are examples of extraordinary craftsmanship and are most attractive.

Sunga Art :

The period of Sungas to which art activity at Bharhut and Sanchi is attributable represents an epoch in Indian art. The artists mastered the difficult technique and acquired a highly developed aesthetic sense.

Stupas of Bharhut and Sanchi were improved. Old wooden railings (of Mauryan time) of Sanchi stupa was removed and substituted by stone railings and gateways (:toranas). Important events from Buddha’s life, Jataka and floral designs have been skilfully carved on these gateways. A stone carving of Yakshi holding Shalabanjika branches of trees is strikingly beautiful.

Amravati School :

A school of sculpture developed in the lower Godavari valley under Satavahanas (2nd- 3rd century CE).

The extent remains consist of many fine, ornate pieces of the great stupa of Amravati. The bass-relief medallions and panelled fences made of white limestone depict events from the Buddha’s life and the Jatakas (the famous one, depicting the story of the taming of elephant by the Buddha).

The figures represented in different poses and curves convey intense vitality and sense of rapid movement.

Besides the later South Indian sculptures, the influence of this school were also felt in Ceylon and S.E. Asia.

Gandhara School of Art :

Gandhara is located in the North-western part of the Indian sub-continent. The Greeks, Mauryas, Sakas, Pahlavas and Kushanas occupied it. As a result, this place produced a mixed culture.

Here Indian craftsmen in contact with the Greeks and Romans and Central Asians worked in unison under the inspiration of the new devotional Buddhism (Mahayanism).

Its art, which was mainly Buddhist, was profoundly influenced by Hellenistic art. They produced in stucco (plasters) and stone (a kind of black stone) a large number of images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas and also votive plaques (relief sculpture). The latter depicted scenes from the Buddha’s life and the Jatakas.

The Greeco-Roman style modelled the images laying stress on accuracy of anatomic details and physical beauty (delineation of muscles, addition of moustaches, thick transparent drapery with large and bold fold lines).

Famous for grace and realism this school influenced Mathura School and also Chinese and Japanese plastic art.

The main centres from where the art pieces of Gandhara School have been found are Jalalabad, Bamaran, Begram and Taxila.

Mathura School of Art :

The origin of Mathura art form is traced back to the second century BCE. This school produced a variety of sculptures and other pieces of art for the followers of Buddhist, Jaina and Brahmanical faiths.

It was primarily an indigenous Jaina school of free standing sculpture centered at Mathura. From the beginning of the Christian era it came under the patronage of the Kushanas.

A significant dimension of Mathura art is that it also produced images of kings and other notables.

It produced in white spotted red sandstone beautiful figures of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas and the Tirthankaras.

At the same time what they were creating, from local red stone, were uniquely of Mathura.

Other striking remains consist of votive plaques showing cross-legged naked figure of a Tirthankara in meditation, graceful and provocative Yakshi and Kushana Royal statues.

The votive pillars from ‘Kankali Tila’ demonstrate how feminine beauty has been utilized by the sculptor.

The themes handled by the Mathura artists are in fact many, and, as in Sanchi and Bharhut, the artist chose elements from nature to enrich his creation.

The earliest images of Bodhisattvas and Buddha were perhaps made at Mathura.

The symbolism and iconographic forms of Mathura was later adopted in the Gupta School, which produced some of the greatest Indian religious sculptures.

Mauryan Art :

Ancient Indian Art made remarkable progress during Mauryan period. Stone masonry was introduced on a wide scale; caves were hewed out from rocks.

Pillars, stupas, caves together with the figural images are important products of the Mauryan art.

(i) Pillars:

They were uniformly styled, monolithic (grey Chunar sandstone), highly polished (silicious varnish) and gracefully proportioned (spherical column tapering slightly towards top) often covered with realistically modelled sculpture (animal figures, lion, bulls etc.), free standing set up throughout the length and breadth of the country, the most impressive ones being at Sarnath, Lauriya Rampurva and Lauriya Nandangarh.

(ii) Stupas:

They were tumulus like structures containing relics of the Buddha and Bodhisattavas and other Buddhist saints.

Buddhist tradition testify 84,000 of them build by Asoka, some of which was later enlarged and enclosed.

The masterpiece, Sanchi Stupa, was brick built, thickly plastered, crowned by an umbrella of stone, and fenced.

Later, stone railings and lively and beautifully carved gateways were added to it. All these depicted events from the life of Buddha (symbolic depiction) and Jatakas, landscape of trees and floral designs, group of animals and birds and beautiful figures of Yakshas and Yakshinis.

(iii) Caves:

The earliest examples of rock-cut cave architecture are the Barabar caves (Barabar Hills, Gaya, donated by Asoka to Ajivikas) and the Nagarjuna caves (donated by Dasaratha) which set the tradition for the later periods.

(iv) Figure Images:

We have on record two headless metal torsoes (Patna), the earliest known sculpture of the Tirathankaras.

Of the several stone sculptures the Yakshi and Yaksha (at Didarganj, Patna) bears the distinctive polish of the Mauryan School.

Asokan Edicts:

(a) 14 Major Rock Edicts found at eight places namely, Kalsi, Manshera, Shahbazgarhi, Girnar, Sopara, Yerragudi, Dhauli and Jaugada.

(b) Minor Rock Edicts have been found at fourteen places.

(c) Two Kalinga Edicts have been found at Dhauli and Jaugada.

(d) Seven Pillar Edicts found at Allahabad, Delhi-Topara, Delhi-Meerut, Lauriya Areraja, Lauriya Nandangarh and Rampurva.

(e) Three cave inscriptions at the Barabar caves near Gaya in Bihar.

Pallava Arts :

The history of Dravida architecture and sculpture begins with the Pal lavas (600-800 C.E). Both rock-cut and structural (put up independently and not hewn out of any rock) monuments are the significant specimens of the Pallava art.

Pallavas created three rock-cut types of monuments viz., the mandapas (i.e. the rock cut caves), the rathams (i.e. the monolithic temples, five in numbers) and the tirtham (i.e., the magnificent open air carving in relief).

The mandapas (akin to the Buddhist cave – shrines) at Mahabalipuram have finely carved pillars and panels. The panel ‘Descent of the Ganga, is a unique piece of rock-cut sculpture.

The most famous of the stone temples are the seven rathas [i.e., Shrine carved out of a single rock, and looks like a ‘structural temple’) named after the Pandavas at, Mahabalipuram (Narsimhavarman, 7th century C.E) each of different sizes and shapes.

The earliest stone structural temples were built up at Mahabalipuram (the Shore temple) and Kanchi (the Kailashnath temple and Vaikunthaperumal temple).

The Kailashnath temple is noted for its lovely vimana and the numerous Natraja panels. Moreover, it incorporates all the characteristics of the later matured Dravida style, viz., pyramidal tower, pillared hall and vestibule all enclosed by a wall surmounted by cupolas (ideas of elaborate gopuram already taking shape).

The Vaikunthaperumal temple is noted for its vimana and the series of panels depicting the dynastic history.

The Pallava sculpture differs chiefly from that of the Gupta’s in the great slenderness and free movements of the forms, more oval face and higher cheekbones and in the representation of animals this excels all others.

Chalukyan Art :

The temple architecture in Deccan got a boost in the 7th century under the Chalukyas of Badami.

The numerous temples that were erected at Aihole (70 temples now in ruins) and adjacent Badami and Pattadakal show a juxtaposition of the Nagara and Dravida (Shikhara) style.

Pattadakal has ten temples (7-8th century) the most celebrated of which being the Papanatha temple and the Virupaksha temple – the former with a low and stunted tower in the Nagara style and the latter with a very high and storied tower constructed in purely Dravida style.

This admixture of ideas later evolved into a hybrid ‘Vasara Style’.

The temple walls are adorned with beautiful pieces of sculpture representing scene from the ‘Ramayana’.

Rashtrakuta Art :

The early tradition of rock-cut architecture which had started under Satvahanas reached its zenith at Ellora under Rashtrakutas (who supplanted the Chalukyas in Deccan).

Of all the rock cut architecture during any period, the great Kailash temple at Ellora (dedicated to Shiva, built in 8th century by Krishna I) is a supreme and unique achievement.

It is the largest and the most splendid rock monument (described as the world’s greatest rock poem) reproducing the intricacies of a structural temple in fullest details.

It also stands as the most outstanding example of the Dravida conception and composition.

Besides Ellora, the frescoes in Ajanta caves, and a rock cut cave shrine at Elephanta with its gigantic (5.4 m) image of Mahesh, ‘Trimurti’ (a Shaivite trinity-three faces showing three different aspects of Shiva as creator, preserver and destroyer) are also among the most magnificent art creation of India belonging to this period.

Pala Art (Nalanda Art) :

Primarily a Buddhist ‘school of plastic art’, it developed under the Palas and Senas of Bengal and Bihar between 8th – 12th centuries with its main centre at Nalanda (Bihar).

The icons, both Buddhist and Hindu, made in the local black basalt/granite are much decoratively carved with the fine finish imparting the characteristic metallic luster, are found at Nalanda, Rajagriha, Bodhgaya and Mayurbhanj.

The Buddha is shown as a king in his majestic glory and not as a yogi. Crown studded with jewels, precise and clear carving, soft and fleshy treatment of the body are some of the special features.

Ichnographically three stages of this school are recognised. Mahayana phase of Buddha and Bodhisattva images, Sahajayana images, and finally the Kalahari of the Kapalika system.

Chandella Art :

The Chandellas of Central India (Bundelkhand region) built main temples at Khajuraho (out of total 85, only 20 survive) during 850 – 1125 CE. They are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Jain Tirthankaras.

The underlying plan of these temples of ‘Nagara Style’ consist of the ardhamandaps (an entrance porch), the mandaps (the assembly halt), the antarala (the vestibule) and the garbhagriha (the sanctum).

The temple rest on an open platform (which itself is on an unusually high but decorated basement storey), a feature peculiar to Khajuraho, with subsidiary shrine at the four corners of the platform in the bigger temples.

The central zone, the wall portion contains most of the sculptures in 2 or 3 tier in a variety of planes.

Topping the central zone is a series of graded peaks called Shikhars, straining to achieve the scaring effect of a mountain range.

The tallest of these always over the sanctum is invariably curvilinear (Nagara style) and ends in a symbolic Kalash over an amalak (a ribbed ring of stone).

The temple at Khajuraho achieves a perfect fusion of architecture and sculpture. The figures that adorn the temple’s walls are masterpieces of medieval sculpture.

Exhibiting an exuberant and sensuous delight in the human form and the many moods of women, they combine the classical and medieval traditions in a rare perfection.

Some important temples are:

Kandariya Mahadev Temple:

It is the largest, best preserved and architecturally the most evolved and contains the largest number of sculptures though few erotic.

Lakshamana Temple:

It has the largest number of erotics, both romantic and orgiastic.

Vishvanath Temple:

It contains some of the most lyrical images of women. Chola Art

The Dravida style of the modest Pallava Shrine climaxed under imperial Cholas (of 850-1200 CE) with the horizontal elaboration and magnification of the temple complex adding to the architectural grandeur.

The vimana reached to towering heights and impressive size and pillared halls, enclosures with subsidiary shrines and gopuram were added to the temple complex.

Of the important Dravidian architecture, the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore and the Gangaikondacholapuram temple are two great creations, the former built by Raja have a 65 metres high vimana, the grace and grandeur which is par excellence.

The pillared halls, one of it having various dance postures from the Natyashastra sculptured on it, are fine specimen of Chola art. The walls of the inner shrine contain numerous fine fresco paintings on religious themes.

Art of sculpture also evolved to reach a high water mark. Iconic in conception and execution it portrays Shiva’s various forms (as the destroyer of evil) and Vishnu avtars.

Chola Bronze sculpture casted by the lost wax process (the cire Perdue technique) and known for its aesthetic impact is best representative in the image of Nataraja.

Its grandeur of composition, its symbolism, its artistic excellence and its charm is the connoisseur’s attraction worldwide.

Chola Stone sculpture done in high relief has delicate outline and depicts divinity in terms of a super human type.

Pandaya Art:

During Pandayas rule the Dravida style further evolved towards its climax. The Pandaya temples at Kanchi and Madurai have high outer walls with enterance gateways topped by Gopurams.

Attention was now concentrated on the Gopuram rather than the vimana/shikhar above the main shrine.

The artistic glory of the Gopuram became so popular that it became a special characteristic of south Indian temples (the Gopurams of Kanchi and Madurai temples can be seen from long distance because of their elevation and dimension).

Hoysala Art:

A new style of architecture was developed under Hoysalas (who succeeded the later (Chalukyas) in the Mysore plateau (Southern Karnatka) by 12th -13th A.D.

Typical Hoysalas features are polygonal (star shaped) rather than square plan, high plinth which offers the windings of temples a huge length of vacant space to be elaborately carved with sculptures, and low pyramidal sikhars.

The best known example of the Hoysala style is the Hoysalesvara temple of Halebid. The ’5′-’6′ feet high terrace covered with stone slabs is intricately ornamented in a succession of friezes (seven hundred feet each or more in length).

The delicate and minute carvings of Hoysala temples are their most attractive feature. Done on close textured chloritic schist, they achieve the effect of sandalwood and ivory carving and reproduce the infinite variety of ornamental decoration.