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Evolution of Stone Sculptural Art of India

News Date: 29/01/2013

In Continuation...........  
The Gupta period and the period that followed is  often looked upon as a turning point in the history of Indic art after which the character of the art traditions is said to  have changed dramatically.  South Asian artistic developments are notable for their highly distinctive regional styles, when the use of stone became increasingly prevalent.

The period from 5th to 7th century AD is regarded as the most flourishing Buddhist cave architecture period.  Twenty caves at Ajanta in Maharashtra State of India, now a protected heritage site, are amazing for their architecture, sculptures and paintings.  They are cut into the curved mountain wall.  They constitute virtually complete monastic entities.  Almost all the caves belong to the Vakataka period.

Cave 19 at Ajnata is decorated around the opening. The decorated pilasters, cornices and other architectural features create a kind of grid within which are numerous sculptures, mostly Buddha figures.  Symmetrically placed attendants flank the arched window.  Delicately posed and beautifully tressed, the figures suggest the highest achievements of fifth century art.  Like Buddhas figures at Sarnath and Mathura they wear clinging, diapharous garments revealing the forms of the bodies beneath.  Heavy and fuller bodied than their north Indian counterparts these figures reflect a western Deccan convention and figure type.  The splendour of carved sculptures can also be seen in Cave 26, 17, 6 and 7.  Decoration of cave 26 demonstrates the final burst of exuberance at Ajanta.
Ajanta caves display incredible artistic activity.  The sculptors along with other artists provided a concise illustration of the general tendency in Indic art.

Other than Ajanta, cave architecture during late 5th and 6th centuries can be seen at Kanheri, Bagh and Aurangabad.  But the final phase of development of Buddhist cave architecture in westen India is seen at Ellora, a site near Ajanta that had already become an important Hindu centre in the last half of the 6th century.  Images of finely carved Buddha and bodhisattvas are still preserved in good shape.

The living examples of flourishing stone sculptural art during mid-sixth century period are found at Elephanta Caves. A number of reliefs depicting aspects of Shavite iconography, these reliefs, along with subsidiary figures in animated poses, typify post Gupta period development in stone sculpture.

Similar to Buddhist Cave architecture, Rock-cut architecture of the Deccan typifies Hindu architecture from 520 AD. To 600 AD period.  This is seen at Ravana Phadi and other caves at Aihole, Karnataka, as well as at caves in Badami, Karnataka.  A pair of guardians at the entrance of Ravana Phadi cave at Aihole is notable because of Scythian-type clothing.  Inside the cave corners of the central hall  as well as walls and ceiling space are filled with sculptures.  The most interesting of them all is the figure of Lord Shiva in the form of Natraj with seven mothers flanked on his left and right.  The striking treatments, specially the striated incised lines and very high headdresses, as well as the slender bodies, distinguish these figures from the more full-bodied style of the Western Deccan seen under the Vakatakas and Kalachuris, while the slim figures and tall hats suggest associations with southern images.

In cave 1 at Badami, the rock face projecting at the right angle from the front of the cave is carved with sculptures.  The sculpture to the right is an extremely fine image of Natraj accompanied by Nandi, Ganesh and a drummer.   The graceful pose and harmonious array of hands indicates that the refinement and proportion of Gupta art has not been lost, although the multiplicity of detail is a general indication of its later date around the third quarter of the 6th century.

The development in refinement of sculptural art has been a continuous process since its  very beginning, adding more variety of figures.  It is usually assumed that the early phase of Pallava art and architecture(late 6th centry) consists mainly of rock-cut monuments as seen in Varaha Cave, at Mamallapuram, in Tamil Nadu.  Each of the caves at Mamallapuram is unique.  The variety of iconographic types in them indicates an already established wealth of imagery.  
The trend of making sculptures of individual entities  as well as decorative part of temples continued briskly for centuries.  It took a lull during Muslim rule in India.  But Britishers who came to rule after them caused no interruption in the process.  They rather had their leaders' statues made of stone and installed them at several locations.

After independence, figures of Indian freedom fighters carved out of stone have been installed at several vantage points.  The trend still continues.

Similarly stone sculptures of Gods and Goddesses, animals and birds are in vogue and amply used to decorate temples, hotels, commercial places, road crossings circles, gardens etc.  Statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi make a quite common site all over the country.  

In recent years, Swamiranayan Temples built in New Delhi and other places in India show the refinement achieved in stone sculptural art.  The figures are more slender and proportionally well balanced in comparison to figures of earlier period.  The finish is excellent.

Here one should not forget that in present times sculptors are equipped with better tools.  They have the advantage of innovative technology.  The Robot technology has revolutionised the sculpting process.  It can reproduce any three dimensional figure in a short time with perfect finish.
Today's modern art is beyond conventional sculptural art. The abstract figures carved out of marble, granite and sandstone are quite in demand for decorational purpose.  Sometime they are highly priced but are sold locally as well as in international market.

In earlier times stone figures were sculptured mostly for religious purposes.  But things have changed.  The commercial angle has entered into the system.  Even figures of Gods and Goddesses are having high demand in the market.  Fortunately with modern and innovative technology artisans can produce items in bulk and meet any demand in the market.

The figures carved out of stone during 2100-1750 B.C. and now in this early part of21st century AD are obviously similar anatomically. Though human hands playing with hammer and chisel produced wonderful pieces of art in earlier  times, today science and technology have facilitated sculptors to work with ease producing much better finished items.

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