Mauryan Sculpture

Mauryan Sculpture

The period spanning the 4th to the 2nd Century BC, known as the Maurya period, witnessed notable advancements in Indian sculpture. Renowned examples of Mauryan sculptures include the Lion Capital of Sarnath, as well as figures of Yaksha and Yakshini.

Mauryan Sculpture (4th and 2nd Century BC)

During the Mauryan Period, local sculptors played a pivotal role in shaping the era’s popular art, with their work often extending beyond commissions from the Emperor.

  • Support from Local Governors: The local governors actively supported popular art during the Mauryan Period. Notably, sculptures created outside direct imperial commissions flourished.
  • Categorization by Ananda Coomarswamy: Dr. Ananda Coomarswamy classified Mauryan sculptures into two distinct categories: Court art and Popular art.
    • Court Art: This category encompasses pillars and their capitals, typically commissioned and associated with the imperial court.
    • Popular Art: Works of sculptors, such as Yakshas and Yakshinis, fall into this category, representing the art that likely emerged from local initiatives and community expressions.
  • Examples of Popular Art:
    • Yaksha Picture from Parkam: A notable instance of popular art showcasing a Yaksha image from Parkam.
    • Yakshini Figure from Besnagar: Another significant representation of popular art, featuring a Yakshini figure from Besnagar.

Religious Influence on Mauryan Sculptures

In ancient times, religious practices were diverse, encompassing various aspects and not confined to singular modes of worship. The Mauryan period witnessed Buddhism emerging as a prominent social and religious movement.

Both before and after the rise of Buddhism, the worship of Yakshas held significant prevalence. This practice seamlessly integrated into the realms of both Buddhism and Jainism.

Consequently, the concept of sacred sculpture permeated throughout the Mauryan Empire, reflecting the influence of diverse religious ideologies on the art and culture of the era.

Influence of Foreign Countries on Mauryan Sculpture

  • Cordial Connections with the Hellenic West:
    • The first three Mauryan emperors, Chandragupta, Bindusara, and Asoka, maintained friendly relations with the Hellenic West.
    • Particularly notable were the connections with the court of the great Seleucid rulers, considered successors of Alexander the Great and the Achaemenids of Iran.
  • Foreign Influences and Achaemenid Models:
    • The interactions with Hellenic and Achaemenid influences suggest the potential origins of foreign elements in Mauryan sculpture.
    • Adaptation of Achaemenid Models is evident in the Edicts of Asoka and the ruins of the Mauryan palace in Pataliputra, the imperial capital.
  • Distinctive Mauryan Pillars:
    • Unlike Achaemenid pillars, Mauryan pillars exhibit unique characteristics.
    • Mauryan pillars are rock-cut, showcasing the skill of the carver, whereas Achaemenid pillars are constructed by a mason, utilizing assembled pieces.

Mauryan Court Art

During the Maurya dynasty, a remarkable evolution in stone sculpture unfolded, with the widespread use of stone for artistic and architectural purposes across the nation.

Key Features of Mauryan Court Art:

  • Dazzling Polishing of Stone Surface:
    • The stone surfaces, during the Maurya dynasty, were given a remarkable and dazzling polish.
    • Mauryan art is distinguished by its striking mirror-like gloss, creating a visually appealing and sophisticated finish.
  • Diverse Compositions:
    • Mauryan art encompasses a broad spectrum of compositions, including stone pillars, railings, parasols, capitals, as well as sculptures of animals and humans.
  • Stone Pillars with Inscriptions:
    • Stone pillars, inscribed with meaningful inscriptions, were erected throughout the Mauryan Empire, serving both decorative and communicative purposes.
  • Capital Figures and Abacuses:
    • The tops of these pillars were adorned with capital figures like bulls, lions, elephants, and more.
    • Each capital figure is supported by a square or circular abacus, elaborately adorned with stylized lotuses, adding to the aesthetic richness.
  • Notable Discovery Sites:
    • Mauryan pillars have been unearthed at various significant sites, including Basarah-Bakhira, Lauriya-Nandangarh, Rampurva, Sankisa, and Sarnath.

Mauryan Popular Art: Yakshas and Yakshinis

In the realm of popular art during the Maurya period, the depiction of Yakshas and Yakshinis takes center stage. Yakshas, known as friendly nature spirits and fertility symbols, are prevalent figures.

Key Features of Mauryan Popular Art

  • Yaksha and Yakshini:
    • Yaksha, denoting benevolent nature spirits, is commonly associated with fertility.
    • The female counterpart of Yaksha is known as Yakshini.
    • Yaksha also denotes an ancient exotic tribe in Ancient India.
  • Guardians of Natural Riches:
    • Yakshas and Yakshinis are revered as guardians of natural wealth and resources.
    • Their significance transcends Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist literature, with depictions in sacred monuments of both Buddhist and Jain traditions.
  • Discovery of Large Sculptures:
    • Substantial sculptures of Yakshas and Yakshinis have been unearthed in various parts of India, particularly in standing positions.
    • Notable discovery sites include Patna, Vidisha, and Mathura.
  • Characteristics of Sculptures:
    • These sculptures exhibit a smooth surface and clear physiognomic characteristics, highlighting the mastery of artistic craftsmanship.

Yakshini of Didarganj

The Yakshi figure from Didarganj, located in Patna, stands as a paramount representation of popular Mauryan art, showcasing exceptional craftsmanship and artistic finesse.

Key Features of the Yakshini of Didarganj

  1. Material and Surface:
    • Crafted in sandstone, the free-standing sculpture features a meticulously polished surface, highlighting the sculptor’s mastery.
  2. Physical Attributes:
    • The Yakshini sculpture is tall, well-built, and exhibits a sense of balance, showcasing the sculptor’s adept treatment of both form and medium.
  3. Hand Gestures:
    • The Yakshini’s right hand gracefully holds a chauri (flywhisk), while unfortunately, her left hand is shattered, yet the sculptor’s sensitivity to the female form is evident.
  4. Muscular Representation:
    • The sculptor accurately captures the round, strong female human form, depicting muscle folds with precision.
  5. Clothing Details:
    • The illusion of a protruding belly is skillfully created by the fabric’s tightness around the abdomen, showcasing meticulous attention to detail in the crafting of the bottom garment.
  6. Legs and Garment Folds:
    • Protruding lines on the legs create a slightly translucent effect, skillfully exposing every fold of the garment. This meticulous detailing adds depth to the sculpture.
  7. Thoracic Heaviness:
    • Large breasts and an impressive back reflect thoracic heaviness, contributing to the sculpture’s overall visual impact.

Elephant Rock Cut Sculpture at Dhauli, Odisha

The Elephant Rock Cut Sculpture at Dhauli, Odisha, presents the frontal aspect of an elephant intricately carved over the Edicts of Asoka, with specific references to Kalinga. In contrast to the animal forms atop pillar capitals, this sculpture exudes a distinctive tone and sentiment in both its modeling and execution.

Key Points:

  1. Distinctive Characteristics:
    • The sculpture displays a unique tone and sentiment not mirrored in the animal forms on pillar capitals.
    • Its execution reveals a remarkable delineation of the elephant’s substantial volume and lifelike flesh.
  2. Dignified Movement and Linear Rhythm:
    • The elephant sculpture captures a dignified movement, showcasing a linear rhythm that finds a parallel only in the relief image of an elephant on the abacus of the Sarnath capital.
  3. Elephant Image in Relief:
    • The portrayal ensures a harmonious representation of the inherent qualities of an elephant, emphasizing both its physical attributes and graceful movements.

Lomus Rishi Cave Facades – Barabar Hills, Gaya, Bihar

The Lomus Rishi cave, situated in the Barabar hills near Gaya, Bihar, is a rock-cut cave distinguished by its architectural features.

Key Points

  1. Entrance Adorned with Chaitya Arch:
    • The cave’s façade is embellished with a semicircular chaitya arch, serving as an impressive entrance.
  2. Patronage by Ashoka for Ajivika Sect:
    • Ashoka, in his patronage of the cave, specifically extended support to the Ajivika sect, making Lomus Rishi a unique specimen from this historical period.

Related Posts

  1. Indus Civilization Sculpture
  2. Buddhist Sculpture
  3. Gupta Sculpture

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