From the second century BCE onwards, various rulers established their control over the vast Mauryan Empire: the Shungas, Kanvas, Kushanas and Guptas in the north and parts of central India; the Satavahanas, Ikshavaku, Abhiras, Vakatakas in southern and western India. Incidentally, the period of the second century BCE also marked the rise of the main Brahmanical sects such as the Vaishnavas and the Saivas.
Some of the prominent examples of the finest sculpture are found at Vidisha, Bharhut (MP), Bodhgaya (Bihar), Jaggayyapeta (Andhra Pradesh), Mathura (UP), Khandagiri-Udaigiri (Odisha) etc.
Sculptures of the Mauryan period, like the images of Yaksha and Yakshini, were tall. In relief panels depicting narratives, sculptors created an illusion of three-dimensionality with tilted perspective. At Bharhut, narrative panels featured fewer characters, but as time progressed, additional characters appeared in the picture space besides the main character of the story. Sculptors maximized the use of space, creating flat images of folded hands in narratives and single figures of Yakshas and Yakshinis clinging to the chest.
Initially, there was a general stiffness in the body and arms of sculptures. However, over time, visual appearance was modified by creating images with deep carvings, pronounced volume, and a naturalistic representation of human and animal bodies. Good examples of these can be found in sculptures at Bharhut, Bodhgaya, Sanchi Stupa-2, and Jagayyapetta. Narrative reliefs at Bharhut effectively communicate stories using pictorial language. For instance, in one narrative, Queen Mayadevi’s (the mother of Siddhartha Gautama) dream is depicted with a descending elephant.
One characteristic common to all male images of first-second centuries BCE in Bharhut sculptures is the knotted headgear.
- Stylistic Progression in Sculptural Development at Sanchi Stupa-1, Mathura, and Vengi.
- Four beautifully decorated toranas depicting various events from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka are present, as well as depictions of normal life.
- The figure compositions are in high relief, filling up the entire space, and the depiction of posture becomes more naturalistic, with reduced stiffness in the body.
- The heads have considerable projection in the picture space, and the rigidity in the contours is reduced, giving images movement.
- The carving techniques are more advanced than those at Bharhut, and symbols continue to be used to represent the Buddha and the Manushi Buddhas or the past Buddhas.
- Historical narratives, such as the siege of Kushinara, Buddha’s visit to Kapilavastu, and Ashoka’s visit to the Ramgrama Stupa, are carved with considerable details.
Gandhara School of Sculpture
- The sculptures of Gandhara were influenced by Bactria, Parthia, and local traditions.
- Gandhara sculpture flourished during the Kushan dynasty in the North-West frontier of India.
- Grey/bluish grey sandstone was used for creating these sculptures.
- Buddhism served as the main inspiration behind many of these sculptures.
- The depiction of Buddha in Gandhara sculpture exhibits a sense of calmness.
- Buddha is shown with fewer ornaments and wavy hair.
- Buddha’s large forehead and closed eyes are common features in Gandhara sculpture.
- The seated Buddha is always shown cross-legged in the traditional Indian way.
- Buddha and Bodhisattva figures resemble the Greek God Apollo, with broad shoulders and a halo around the head.
- The physical features of the sculptures, such as muscles, nails, and hair, are depicted with great detail.
Mathura School of Sculpture
- Spotted sandstone was the preferred medium for sculptures in Mathura.
- Mathura style of sculptures was influenced by outside traditions, including the Mathura school of sculptures.
- Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism were depicted in Mathura style.
- Kushana rulers were patrons of this school of sculpture.
- Salient features of this school of sculpture include:
- Buddha image modeled after Yaksha images, unlike the Hellenistic features seen in Gandhara.
- Vishnu and Shiva represented by their ayudhas.
- Bold carving, with volume projected out of the picture plane.
- Round, smiling faces with relaxed flesh.
- Garments cover the left shoulder.
- Buddha, Yakshas, Yakshinis, Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities, and portrait statues are profusely sculpted.
- In the second century CE, images become more sensual and fleshier.
- In the third century CE, sculptural volume changes with reduced fleshiness and increased movement in posture.
- Softness in surface continues to get refined.
- Transparent quality in Buddha image robes and profusely decorated halos.
Amaravati School of Sculpture
- A Buddhist relic belonging to Amaravati school of Art was discovered on the banks of River Gundlakamma in Andhra Pradesh by a group of Indologists.
- Amaravati art originated in the region of Amaravati, AP and was patronized by the Satavahanas and later by the Ikshavaku.
- Amaravati, Nagarjunikonda, Goli, Ghantasala, and Vengi were prominent places where this style developed.
- The material used in Amaravati art is white marble.
- Sculptures were carved in a naturalistic manner, such as the “taming of an elephant by the Buddha.”
- The art reflects narrative themes based on the life of Buddha and Jataka stories.
- Buddha is depicted both in human as well as animal form.
- Both religious and secular images were present in this style.
- The Amaravati style is more elegant and sophisticated.
- The sculptured panels of Amaravati are characterized by delicacy of forms and linear grace.
- Numerous scenes of dance and music adorn these reliefs, displaying the joy of life.
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