The following points highlight the nine main forms of art recognised in ancient India.
Form of Art # 1. Architecture:
The history of Indian architecture can be traced back to the Chalcolithic Age as is evident from the progress of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The buildings of Indus Valley culture though made of bricks, possessed little aesthetic material.
In fact, we hardly come across any architectural remains of the pre-Mauryan period which have reached artistic value. This may be due to the fact that the buildings were not made of stone during this period.
However, it is difficult to believe that the intervening centuries between Indus Valley civilisation and Mauryan Age could have been barren of architectural development because we find the Mauryan architecture very mature, which suggests that it was the result of long evolutionary process.
Magasthenes has mentioned the palace of Chandra Gupta Maurya which was built of carved and gilded wood. It appears that even the earlier buildings were made of wood which have since been destroyed. It is thus evident that we are handicapped in forming an idea about the Indian architecture on the basis of the architectural remains.
However, we can form an idea about the Indian architecture from the various literary works and architectural texts, which have come to us chiefly in fragmentary condition. The art of building underwent changes with the progress of time.
In the Agni and Garuda Puranas, nine types of buildings along with their details have been described. Similarly Matsya and Bhavishya Puranas described twenty types of edifices with great details.
One of the most important architectural texts is Manasara which contains complete details about the architecture and sculpture. This work deals with both the methods and principles as well as construction details of all architectural and sculptural objects.
This work has taken the term architecture in a very broad sense and includes everything which is built or constructed according to a design with an artistic finish. Thus it includes sculpture also. The work also emphasises the importance of village scheme, town planning and other allied subjects in great details.
Form of Art # 2. Mauryan Art:
The Mauryan period is a great land-mark in the history of Indian art. The Mauryan kings were great builders and some of the monuments and pillars belonging to this period survive even to this day and are considered as the finest specimens of art. Chandra Gupta Maurya built buildings, palaces and monuments mainly with wood which have perished with the time.
The use of stone started only during the times of Ashoka and many monuments of his time have come down to us which enables us to form an idea about the technical perfection of Indian stone work of the age.
It also indicates a mature form of art pre-supposing a masonic tradition many centuries old. The art of sculpture also shows a perfection which is indicative that it was the result of a long period of continuous and steady development.
Appreciating the achievements of Ashoka in the domain of art Dr. R.S.Tripathi says “Ashoka’s claim to the remembrance of posterity rests not merely on his victories of Dharma but also on his achievements in the domain of art and architecture.”
The monuments built by Ashoka may be grouped into four categories:
iii. Caves and
The stupa was a massive hemispherical tumulus intended to serve as a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha and was supposed to symbolize the decease (Parinirvana) of the Master. Subsequently, stupas were also set up without the relics of Buddha as offering to the lord.
Though stupas were mainly religious monuments of the Buddhist the Jains also constructed them. The Stupas were usually enclosed by railings with an entrance in each cardinal direction and these were usually decorated with beautiful sculptures.
It is said that Ashoka built 84,000 stupas all over India and Afghanistan, but most of them have now perished. Hieun Tsang, the famous traveller has also testified, that he saw a large number of stupas in the seventh century A.D.
From the sculptural point of view the most important stupas which deserve mention are those located at Bharhut, Bodhgaya and Sanchi in North India and Amravati and Nagarjunakonda in the South. The Stupa at Sanchi near Bhopal is the most prominent of all the stupas. Its diameter is 12 1/2 feet, the height about 77 1/2 feet and surrounding railings about 11 feet high.
As there is gradual improvement in the artistic skill and aesthetic ideals of the sculptures, it has been suggested by certain scholars that the stupas built by Ashoka were subsequently enlarged and improved.
For example Sir John Marshall says that the stupa at Sanchi was originally built with bricks by Ashoka and was probably half the present dimension. It was subsequently enlarged by the addition of a stone casing faced with concrete.
The monolithic pillars set up by Ashoka are perhaps the finest specimens of the remains of the Ashokan art. They represent a triumph of engineering, architecture and sculpture. Huge and entire pieces of fine grained sand-stones were chiselled into the shape of these pillars.
Each pillar was about fifty feet high and weighed about fifty tones. The pillars were completed at Chunar quarries and transported to the various parts of the country for installation. Sometimes they were also installed on the hill tops. According to V. A. Smith their erection and transportation is a proof of high quality of skill and resourcefulness of the people of that time.
The pillar consisted of three parts—the prop, the shaft and the capitol. The prop was buried in the ground and the shaft or main pillar supported the capitol. The capitol consisted of fine polished stone containing one or more animal figures in the round and are remarkable for vigorous design and realistic beauty.
The capitol of the Sarnath pillar, which was erected to mark the spot where the Blessed One first ‘turned the Wheel of Law’, is the best of the series and is the finest piece of sculpture.
The wonderful life-like figures of the four lions standing back to back and the smaller graceful and stately figures of animals in relief on the abacus, all indicate a highly advanced form of art and their remarkable beauty, majesty and vigour.
This capital has evoked admiration of the art critics. While John Marshall considers these lions as a masterpiece in style and technique, Dr. V.A. Smith is of the opinion that “It would be difficult to find in any country an example of ancient sculpture or even equal to this beautiful work of art, which successfully combines realistic modeling with ideal dignity and is furnished in every detail with perfect accuracy.”
Ashoka is also credited with excavating rock-cut caves, some of which are remarkable for the finely polished surface of the walls. The caves were cut out of hard and refractory rocks and were meant for the residence of the monks. They also served as churches assembly halls.
These caves are mainly found on the Nagarjuna Hills and the Barabar Hills near Gaya. It is said that one of the caves in the Barabar Hills called the Sudama Cave was dedicated by Ashoka to the monks of the Ajivika sect.
It has rightly been said that Ashoka inaugurated a style of architecture which spread in different parts of the country and expressed itself at its best in the magnificent masterpieces of Karla, Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta.
A number to palaces were also built by Ashoka which evoked the admiration of the various travellers like Fa-Hien who visited India. It is said that Fa-Hien was so much wonder (ruck by the palace of Ashoka at Patliputra that he expressed the view that no human hand could accomplish it, and it was the work of the spirits. However, most of these buildings have since perished.
Ashoka is also credited with the founding of two cities of Srinagara in Kashmir and Lalita-Patan in Nepal, but they are now in ruins. The excavations on the site of Patliputra have led to the discovery of certain ruins of the monumental buildings built by Ashoka. The most outstanding of these buildings is the hundred-pillared hall.
The artists of the period tried to impart religious instructions to the people by representing stories about the Buddha from the Jatakas in their works. They adopted the technique of representing each legend as a pictorial entity sculptured in a single panel or medallion.
The best examples of this type of narrative sculptures are found at Amaravati, where the elephant Nalagiri is shown running amuck in the streets of Rajagriha and the Blessed one subdues it. As it was considered sacrilegious to give new life to Buddha, he is represent by certain symbols like the tree and the seat (which represent enlightenment) and the Wheel of Law (Dharma Chakra) which represents his preaching’s.
However the image of the Master also appears in certain sculptures at Amaravati, which may be taken as an indication that this was a transition period between Bharhut, and Sanchi on the one hand and the Gandhara and Msihura on the other.
The sculptures of the period also portrayed the gay and secular aspects of life, which suggests they had a thirst for the sparking pleasures of life. Often the female figures betray saturated sensuality.
Describing the figures of the Yakshinis on the Sanchi gateway Grousset says “Never has the poetry of the female form been rendered with a more sensuous power than in the statues of female genii”. It may look strange that so much emphasis was laid on love of the sensuous aspect of life in the sculptures associated with a religion which emphasised the futility of earthly pleasures.
It only indicates that in spite of the great emphasis on the final release people did not run away from the charms and pleasures of life. It confirms their belief in the principle that only a harmonious blending of righteousness (Dharma), acquisition of wealth and enjoyment of pleasure (kama) could lead to the final release (moksha).
A fundamental change took place in the attitude of the people towards life. This is borne out by a comparison of the sculptures of Bharhut and Sanchi on the one hand and those of Mathura and Amaravati on the other hand. Dr. Nihar Ranjan Ray gives the following explanation for this change. He says in the earlier centuries was nurtured “a civilisation and a structure of society, that was mainly rural and agricultural.
The art of such a social economy naturally reflected the essential oneness with nature, a healthy and spontaneous joy in, and acceptance of life, preference for stable and permanent values and faith in calm and” composed strength.”
But with the growth of commerce with the West and the rise of a prosperous mercantile class, art “naturally reflects the disposition and attitude of a mercantile social economy which manifests preference for transient pleasures and temporary values, exuberant expression of joy and passion, and courtly elegance and sophistication.”
According to Dr. S.K.Saraswati,
“The most important functions of the Mauryan art was to impress and overawe the populace with the power and majesty of its rulers. Mauryan art is thus individualistic in its essential character and ideology. Like Ashoka’s Dharma Vijay, it lacked deeper roots in the collective social will, taste and preference, and was therefore destined to have an isolated and short life, coeval and co-existent with and within the limits of the powerful Mauryan court. This explains why Mauryan Court art, with all its dignified bearing, monumental appearance and civilized quality, forms but a short and isolated chapter of the history of Indian art. Like the columns and the animal figures themselves, Mauryan Court art stands aloof and apart.”
Form of Art # 3. Gandhara and Mathura Schools:
In the meanwhile two important schools of sculpture developed in Northern India viz. Gandhara and Mathura. The Gandhara School of sculpture was intimately connected with the Mahayana school of Buddhism and flourished sometimes between 50 B. C. and 500 A. D., specially under the Kushans.
The large number of monasteries, stupas and statues were constructed during the times of Kanishka which display a distinct influence of the old Greek School of Art.
In fact, the region of Gandhara, where this school flourished was geographically so situated that it was exposed to all sorts of foreign contacts and influences—Persian, Greek, Roman, Saka and Kushans. As this art was adopted to Indian genius and applied to Buddhist subjects it is also known as Greeco-Buddhist School of Art.
However, Dr. R. C. Majumdar is of the opinion that “though the technique was borrowed from Greece, the art was essentially Indian in spirit, and it was solely employed to give expression to the beliefs and practices of the Buddhists. With a few exceptions, no Greek story or legend, and no Greek art motif has been detected among the numerous specimens of Gandhara sculpture.”
The Gandhara art differed from the earlier art in so far it gave up the old technique of referring to the Buddha through symbols and represented him in anthropomorphic forms. Though the images of Buddha were made according to the basic principles of Indian iconography, they bear close resemblance to the deities of the Greeco-Roman pantheon.
The artists added moustache, turban or ornaments to these deities according to the current local taste.
The drapery of these sculptures has also been arranged in a Roman style. The drapery has been used separate from the body, but it is so disposed that certain parts of the body are made visible from underneath the garment.
In the Gandhara art there is also a tendency to mould the human body in a realistic manner with great attention to accuracy of physical details, especially by the delineation of muscles and the addition of moustaches etc.
Another outstanding feature of the Gandhara Art is the rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and complex symbolism. It is believed that with the coming of the Kushans, “an all-round schematization in art begins.
The drapery is shown in small and narrow folds symmetrically arranged and at times becomes reduced to a decorative display. The figures themselves are shorter in stature, stumpy in appearance and treated in a rough manner, exhibiting a king of crude rustic strength.”
It may be noted that though the artists employed a technique which was essentially Hellenistic, tempered by Iranian and Scythian influences for representing the Indian Buddhist themes, but the genius of the Gandhara artist was essentially Indian.
In course of time these artists started asserting their independence and Hellenistic influence completely disappeared. Certain scholars have asserted that this was inevitable if we keep in view the differences in the art ideals of the Hellenes and the Indians.
No doubt, therefore Gandhara Art proved only a passing phase in the history of Indian art and lost its ground before the resurgence of national classical art under the Guptas.” John Marshall has also admitted that the Gandhara School of Art could never take real roots into Indian soil, because the Indian and Greeks were radically different and dissimilar.
However, it cannot be denied that the Gandhara art greatly influenced the development of the various school of arts in Khotan, Kucha, Turfan etc. In the history of the Hellenistic art it represents a phase of east-ward expansion of Grecian art Dr. Kramrisch has rightly observed, “If it is Indian and colonial from Hellenistic point of view, it is Hellenistic and colonial when viewed from India.”
The Mathura School represents the indigenous art movement and came to prominence during the times of Koshans. “This art chiefly flourished at the holy city of Mathura. The artists of Mathura school particularly specialised in the making of huge statues of Buddha, which served as a model for the local artists.
Though initially the artists of the school made the images in accordance with the primitive traditions, but gradually they developed the, iconographic details more fully. In addition to the Buddha statues certain other sculptures belonging to the Mathura school of art have also been discovered. One of the sculptures illustrates the Bhagvata’s episode of Vasudeva carrying Krishna across the Jamuna.
Certain scholars are of the opinion that the Mathura school of art was greatly influenced by the Gandhara art. Some of the European scholars go to the extent of suggesting that the Mathura art was not only influenced by the Gandhara art but it had its origin also in the Gandhara art.
However, this view is not acceptable to other European and Indian scholars. For example Rawlinson says “At the same time (when the Gandhara art flourished) a purely indigenous school of contemporary art, lineally descended from that of Bharhut and Sanchi appears to have flourished at Mathura, Bheta, Besnagar and other centres.”
Chirstman Humphrey also shares this view of Rawlinson. Similarly Dr. Fogale also believes that Mathura art is Indian in thought and style, but he admits that it is not fully free from the influence of Gandhara art. Dr. Nihar Ranjan Ray is of the opinion that the ancient idols of Mathura belonging to mid second century B.C. are related to Bharhut art.
The artistic creations of Gandhara were not unknown to them. The help of Gandhara art has been taken in decking the idols, but this tendency of borrowing in Mathura art cannot be found prior to second century B.C. He contends that the Mathura style is purely indigenous and not exotic.
Thus we can draw the conclusion that the Mathura art had its origin in the indigenous sources, though later on it was influenced by the Gandhara art. The independence of the Mathura art is further evident from the fact that it possessed certain distinct features of its own. The statutes built by the artists of this school are large and bulky. The idols do not have moustaches and beards as in the Gandhara art.
Similarly in the Mathura idols Gautama Buddha is shown sitting on a throne, while in the Gandhara art he is shown sitting cross-legged. No doubt certain foreign themes were borrowed from the Gandhara school by the Mathura art but they were merely a passing phase and did not leave any mark on it.
As the Mathura style was native it was adopted by the Guptas. The artists of the Gupta age removed the draw-backs and deficiencies present in the Mathura art and perfected it. It may be noted here that though the Gupta art originated from Mathura art yet it is wholly devoid of its artificiality and sentimentalism.
Form of Art # 4. Gupta Art:
Gupta period is an important epoch in the history of Indian art. During the Gupta period, which has been designated as the Golden Age, the peace and prosperity of the people coupled with enlightened patronage of the kings, gave rise to a general artistic impulse and resulted in the evolution of a national and classical art which embodied the aesthetic tendencies of the age and was fully shorn of foreign traditions and influences. Under the Guptas “sculpture, architecture, painting and terra-cotta attained a maturity, balance and naturalness of expression that have forever remained unexcelled.”
Gupta art introduced new ideals and possesses a special charm. The various masterpieces of the earlier schools of art, though technically perfect and vibrating with beauty, failed to satisfy the spiritual urge of the people because they were saturated with luscious sensuality.
Even the images of gods made by them appeared to be more earthly than divine. During the Gupta period the sculptures and images were given a poise and balance of body indicating a mental and physical response following the conquest of the flesh, dropping eye-lids, suggestive of contemplative concentration and perfect tranquility of soul, and a detached and serene disposition characteristic of the blending of the external form with the inner spirit.
The best examples of the outstanding specimens of the Gupta sculpture are the high-relief statue of Buddha preaching his first sermon, which was discovered in the ruins of Sarnath; the standing Buddha discovered at Jamalpur and preserved in the Mathura museum, and the colossal copper statue of Buddha discovered at Sultanganj, now preserved in the Birmingham Museum.
These sculptures represent the “fullest fruition of the original genius in carving out a figure in perfect harmony with spiritual conceptions.”
Similarly the sculptures and images of Shiva, Vishnu and other Brahmanical gods like Sun, Kartikeya have also been discovered and testify the high quality of Gupta sculpture But probably the most effective specimens of the sculpture of this category are the epic stories form the Rama and Krishna cycles at the Deogarh temple.
In the field of architecture the Gupta period has two fold importance. On the one hand it marked the culmination and ultimate exhaustion of the earlier tendencies in architecture, and on the other hand it marked the beginning of a new style of Indian temple architecture.
Consistent with the revival of Hinduism a large number of fine temples were constructed during the Gupta period, but most of these were destroyed by the invaders like the Huns and the Muslims. But the few which have survived to this day testify the excellence of the architecture of the times.
Amongst the temples of the Gupta period which have survived mention may be made of Dasavatara temple at Devagarh near Jhansi, temple at Bhitargaon near Kanpur, Vishnu temple at Tigawa near Jabbalpur, Shiva temple at Bhumara, Shiva temple at Khoh, Parvati temple at Nachna-Kathara, and the Buddhist shrines at Sanchi and Bodh-Gaya.
These temples were well designed and were decorated with fine sculptured panels. The practice of providing elaborately worked towers (shikaras) did not exist during the Gupta period, although we find some traces of it in the temple at Bhitargaon.
The cave architecture also made remarkable progress during the Gupta period. The Chaitya and Vihar caves at Ajanta and those of Ellora are the best specimens of the cave-architecture of the period. The most outstanding features of these caves is the beautiful pillars with varied designs and the fine paintings.
The caves at Mogulrajapuram, Undavilli and Akhannamadana in south and the cave temple at Udayagiri near Bhilsa also belong to the Gupta period.
The period also witnessed a great progress in working on metals. The huge iron pillar at Delhi, as discussed in Chapter on sciences, was a remarkable achievement in the field of metallurgy. The art of casting copper statues was also practiced on a large scale. The coins of the Gupta period are known for their high bullion value and artistic richness.
Form of Art # 5. Post-Gupta Arts:
During the next six centuries art was chiefly confined to the evolution of the different types of temple architectures. The Art critics have divided this period into two parts on the basis of the evolution of the temple architecture. The first period lasted from 600 to 900 A.D. and is known as early Rajput period. During this period there was a regular progress in the evolution of the architecture.
The second period lasted from 900A.D to 1200 A.D., and is known as later Rajput period. During this period the temple architecture was characterised by abundance of ornamentation. The artists tried to give expression of grandiose. Certain obscene figures were represented on the stone which shows the moral degeneration in taste.
During the early Rajput period architectural monuments such as rathas of Mamallapuram, Kailash temple and masterpieces of sculpture like Ellora and Eliphanta were created. However, during the later-Rajput period six regional architectures, with peculiar qualities of their own, were developed.
These regional architectures were those of Orissa, Khajuraho, Rajasthan and Madhya Bharat, Gujarat and Kathiawar, Chola and Hoysala of Deccan and Brindaban near Mathura. In spite of the peculiar qualities of the various architectures there was a sort of under-current of thought, which shows that they all belonged to the same movement viz. the northern or Indo- Aryan style of architecture.
The most important temples constructed in India in the northern style are those of Somnath in Saurashtra, Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark in Orissa, Khajuraho in Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh), Abu in Rajasthan.
The earliest temple to be built in the northern style was the Parameswara temple at Bhubaneswar in 750 A.D. It may be noted that the style of architecture in the temples of Orissa is somewhat different from those of other states.
According to Percy Brown the most remarkable characteristic of the Orissa temple is “the plain and featureless treatment of the interior contrasted with the profusely ornamented walls of the exterior, the surfaces of which are studded with superfluity of plastic patterns and forms.”
Another prominent temple in Orissa is the Jagannath Temple at Puri which was built around 1100 A.D. It is larger than the Lingaraj temple built at Bhubaneswar, but from architectural point of view it is merely a replica of the temple at Bhubaneswar.
The grandest example of the Orissan architecture is the famous Sun temple of Konarak which was constructed during the reign of King Narasingh Deva (1238—1264). This temple has been described by Percy Brown as the grandest achievement of the Eastern School of Architecture.
The whole structure is fashioned like a Ratha or wheeled-car being whirled along by the seven horses of the sun. Around the basement of the temple are twelve giant, wheels with beautiful carvings. At the main entrance are two caparisoned steeds straining to drag the chariot through space.
The whole building is ornamented with exquisite sculptures presenting an alluring pageant of sculptured magnificence. Some of the figures worked out on the temple are erotic and obscene. They represent a number of amorous unties described in the Kama sutra, which has been criticised by various art critics.
The temple, though now in complete ruins, won the admiration of people for long. For example Abul Fazl was greatly struck by the grandeur of the temple and recorded in his Ain-i-Akbari “even those whose judgement is critical and who are difficult to please stand amazed at the sight”.
The temples at Khajuraho are the most refined and finished specimens of the Indo-Aryan architecture. They are known for the beauty of proportion, artistic quality of outline, compact architectural harmony and vibrant decorative exuberance. These temples were built by the Chandella Rajput kings between 950 and 1050 A.D. and were dedicated to the Saivite, Vaishnavite and Jain gods.
It is said that originally there were eighty-five temples at Khujaraho, but out of them only thirty are in existence now. Even these temples are in various stages of ruin. However, we are able to form a fair idea about their architectural character. Each temple stands on a high and solid masonry terrace.
Though these temples are not very imposing edifices they are known for the elegant proportions, graceful contours and rich surface treatment. Their Sikharas are also very refined and elegant. The exterior as well as the interior of the temples have been decorated with the finest sculptures.
Dr. Kramrisch has also said: “With every movement of the eye of the beholder a new perspective shows the images from a different angle; to avoid being bewildered he has to concentrate on each of them and then give his attention to the next”
Another outstanding specimen of the north Indian architecture in Rajasthan is the Jain temples at Mount Abu. The artists have shown delicate workmanship in the working of the white marble hall and the central dome of eleven concentric rings. Beautiful sculptured forms cover every inch of the surface.
The other important temples in Rajasthan and’ Madhya Bharat group of temples include sixteen Brahmanical and Jain temples at Osio near Jodhpur, Kalika Mata temple at Chittorgarh, Ekling temple near Udaipur, Shiva temples at Nemavar (Udaipur), Sas-Bahu temple of Gwalior.
In the western region of India the Solanki rulers of Anhilavad gave encouragement to architecture and a number of temples were constructed there. Amongst the notable temples in this region mention may be made of Nilkantha temple at Sunak, Sun temple at Modhera, Gondeswara temple at Sirnar in Nasik, Jain temples on the Shatrunjaya and Girnar hills in Kathiawar, the temples at Balsane in Khandesh etc.
In Kashmir the temple architecture made remarkable progress during the 8th and 9th centuries A D. Lalitaditya and Avantivarman were instrumental in the construction of the Sun temple at Martand and the Shiva and Vishnu temples of Avantipur.
Form of Art # 6. Dravidian Architecture:
The development of the Dravidian architecture was mainly due to the patronage of the Pallavas, the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas and the Cholas. The age of the Great Pallavas lasted from about the beginning of1 the seventh century to nearly the close of the ninth century and was perhaps the most formative period of South Indian architecture.
Broadly speaking the Pallava architecture can be divided into two phases—the rock cut architecture from 610 to 690 A.D. and structural form from 690 to 900 A.D. During the first phase mandapas or rathas (monolithic temples) were excavated in the rock. A mandapa was an open pavilion, a hall with cells in the back wall.
The ratha was a monolithic shrine. The best specimen of the niandapa or cave- temples of the Pallavas are available at Mahaballipuram, about thirty miles from Madras. It is the grandest of all the sculptures and represents the descent of the Ganges on a huge granite boulder. It is a rock-cut drama of an epic theme executed with epic grandeur.
On either side of the Ganga descending from heaven we find men, animals, gods, nagas and semi-divine beings offering their prayers to Lord Siva for his precious gift of the sacred river. In short as Rane Grousset puts it, “What we have before us is a vast picture, a regular fresco in stone.
The relief is a masterpiece of classic art in the breadth of its composition, the sincerity of the impulse which draws all creatures together round the beneficent waters and its deep fresh love of nature.”. It may be noted that the rock-cut architecture of the Pallavas was their original contribution from which all the vimanas in South India copied and continued to copy till very late period.
During the second phase the mandapa architecture was given up and structural edifices were constructed. In the temples lofty towers were built tier upon tier, diminishing in size towards a summit. The most wonderful example of this type of architecture is the Kailash temple at Kanchi.
It was hewn from solid rock like a statue from the hillside. Shrine room, hall, gateway, votive pillars, lesser shrines and cloisters etc. were also created from the same rock and were adorned with the divine figures and scenes. It possesses a grace and strength which is rarely seen in the Indian art.
The temple of Vaikuntha Perumal at Canjeevaram is another example of this type of architecture. This temple is larger and more spacious than the Kailash temple. In this monument the principal parts, the cloisters, portico and sanctuary instead of being separate buildings have been amalgamated into one architectural whole. This has resulted in a unity of conception of high merit.
Though stone architecture was not unknown, the Pallavas were the first to make full and free use of stores in buildings. Pallava temple architecture and portrait sculpture attained forms and excellence that served as models not only in India but in the Far East also.
It also spread to countries of South-East Asia like Indonesia “where its effulgence, reflected in the vast monuments of those civilizations, shown with even greater splendour than in the country of its origin.” (Percy Brown).
The Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas also continued to patronize architecture, but it was on the pattern of the Pallava architecture. The best specimens of the Rashtrakutan art are found at Ellora and Elephanta.
A reference has already been made to the architectural beauty of the Kailashnath temple which is a unique architectural masterpiece of unsurpassed splendour and is worthy of ranking amongst the wonders of the world.
In the western India the best specimens of architectural sculpture are found in the cave temples on the island of Elephanta in the Bombay harbour. These have been executed in the same style in which the caves at Ellora were excavated. In all there are seven caves in the island.
The central one contains some masterpieces of sculpture representing some of the 16 lila-murtis of Siva as Nataraja, Lakulisa, Andhakari, Gangadhara, Ardhanariswara, Somakanda, Ravanunugraha etc. But the best representation of Siva is as Mahesamurti, also known as Trimurti.
Admiring the architectural beauty of this cave Grousset says: “The three countenances of the one being are here harmonized without a trace of effort; there are few material representations of the divine principle at once as powerful and as well-balanced as this in the art of the whole world.
Nay, more here we have undoubtedly the grandest representation of the pantheistic God ever made by the hand of man….Indeed, never have the exuberant vigour of life, the tumult of universal joy expressing itself in ordered harmony, the pride of a power superior to any other, and the secret exaltation of the divinity immanent in all things found such serene expression”.
The Cholas who flourished between 900 A. D. and 1150 A. D. were responsible both for the development and perfection of the Dravidian style of architecture. Like the Palkvas, the Chola rulers executed works on most stupendous scale.
One of the earliest example of Chola temple architecture is found in the temple of Koranganatha at Srinivasanalur in the Trichinopoly district. This temple has considerable amount of sculpture on the wall surfaces. These images of Hindu gods and goddesses have been installed within recesses. This marks the beginning of the voluptuous treatment of the human figure.
The maturity of the Chola architecture is reflected in the temples built by Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra. The Shiva temple at Tanjore built by Rajaraja Chola in 1011 A.D. is the largest and the most ambitious production of temple architecture. The main structure of the temple is 180 feet and has a great sikhara or tower consisting of fourteen successive storeys rising to a height of 190 feet.
It is crowned by a massive dome consisting of a single block of stone, 25 feet high and weighing about 80 tons. The massive temple building is covered with sculptures from top to the base. Without any doubt this is the finest single creation of the Dravidian craftsmen.
“The massive grandeur of the basement and the sikhara which is crowned by a big monolithic dome, the profuse and elegant decorations and sculptures and the huge and beautiful monolithic Nandi have never been surpassed by anything known in Dravidian architecture.”
Another imposing work of the Chola temple architecture is the Gangaikonda-Cholapuram temple erected by the Chola King Rajendra around 1030 A. D. Its great size, immense walled enclosure, assembly hall containing over ISO pillars, huge lingam bf solid granite, the tall pyramidal vimana or tower and the delicate carvings in stone are its more striking features.
Form of Art # 7. Paintings:
Painting was highly developed art in ancient India. Though the paintings of the early period have since perished, on the testimony of the various literary works, it can be safely concluded that the art of painting was quite advanced in ancient times.
For example the Vinay Pithaka, a Buddhist Pali work of the fourth or third century B. C. says that King Pasenada’s pleasure-houses contained picture-halls (Chittagara) which were adorned with large number of painted figures and decorative patterns.
In Ramayana also we get references of the painted halls. The Kama sutra of Vatsyayana, written probably in the third century A. D. includes paintings amongst the sixty-four kalas or fine arts.
Similarly Chltrasutra, a section of Vishnudharmottara Purana, which was most probably composed during the Gupta period, makes a mention of the technical details regarding painting. All this suggests the existence of the art of painting and its development on scientific lines.
We can also form an idea about the art of painting from the various remains of ancient India paintings. These paintings mainly consist of the murals in some of the cave temples. Certain caves in outlying areas contain only very rough painted sketches in the primitive style, which according to certain critics belong to the pre-historic age.
But the specimens of paintings found at the artificial caves dedicated to religious purpose are highly developed. According to A. L. Basham “few would dispute that these are among the greatest surviving paintings of any ancient civilization.”
As in case of other branches of art, the artists in the field of painting also were interested in depicting the underlying reality, the inner essence rather than outward semblance. . Therefore we find not merely philosophical truths but also universal feelings like sex, emotions, heroism, hatred, compassion etc. in their works.
The feminine charm has been best depicted in the various feminine figures at Ajanta and the dancing apsaras in the Siva temple at Tanjore. Similarly the picture of the dying princess at Ajanta is a classic representation of the pathos and sentiment.
It may be noted that though the artists tried to externalize the internally drawn forms, they were also aware of the importance of faithful representation of the adjective realism. Great importance was attached to perspective.
Emphasizing the importance of perspective the Chitrasutra says that an artist at all. Therefore the artist was supposed to depict the internal states of emotions but at the same time he had to give a life-like representation. It also emphasised the importance of careful observation of the things of nature and the landscape.
Very few paintings of ancient India are available. They are mainly concentrated at Ajanta in Deccan, Bagh in Central India, Jain cave of Sittannavasal and Siva temple at Tanjore. Some of the paintings at Ajanta belong to the period before the beginning of the Christian era while others were executed some centuries later.
According to A.L. Basham, “The earlier paintings are more sharply outlined and the later show more careful modelling, but there is no clear evidence of the progressively developing style, as in contemporary sculpture, and the differences may be accounted for by the personal tastes of the craftsmen who supervised the work in the respective caves.”
The murals at Ajanta chiefly depict scenes from the life of the Buddha and from the Jatakas. Though they were painted mainly for religious purposes they convey a secular message. We get a panoramic view of the life in ancient India from these murals.
As Basham has put it “Here are princes in their palaces, ladies in their harems, coolies with loads slung over their shoulders, beggars, peasants and ascetics, together with all the many beasts and birds and flowers of India, in fact the whole life of the time, perpetuated on the dim walls of caves by the loving hands of many craftsmen. Everything is gracefully drawn and delicately modelled.”
The most notable pictures at Ajanta include those of the Mother and the Child, the Monkeys, the Hunting Scenes and Dying Princess. These pictures have been greatly appreciated by the art critics. For example appreciating the picture of the Dying Princess V.A.
Smith says, “For pathos and sentiment and unmistaken way of telling its story this picture cannot be surpassed in the history of art. The Florentine could have put better drawing and a Venetian better colour, but neither could have thrown greater expression on it.”
Similarly admiring the beauty of the picture of the Bodhisattva, Benjamin Rowland remarks, “In a marvelous reconciliation of beauty, physical and spiritual, the great Bodhisattva is realised as the very embodiment of that compassion and tenderness that his mission of allaying the miseries of the world implies .This is a loveliness so refilled away from transitory human appearance that it becomes a symbol of celestial beauty and purity. The figure as a whole in its tranquil suavity and virile sweetness is the perfect realisation of this deity of salvation and refuge.”
Commenting on the technique of Ajanta Paintings Basham says: “No frame divides a scene from the next, but one blends into the other, the minor figures and the pattern skillfully leading the eye to the central figures of each scene. There is no perspective, but an illusion of depth is given by placing the background figures somewhat above those in the foreground. The effect of this convention is rather like that of a photograph taken with a telescopic camera, and makes the figures stand out from the flat wall as though coming to meet the observer.”
Certain paintings of ancient India have also been found on the walls of the verandah of a cave at Bagh. They depict the procession of elephants and the scene of a dancer and women musicians. According to Basham these paintings are perhaps more impressive in composition than the paintings of Ajanta.
The paintings of the Ajanta style are also found in the caves of Badami and Ellora. Certain splendid paintings of the Chola period have been found in the Rajarajesvara temple at Tanjuvur.
Form of Art # 8. Music:
The traditional accounts, archaeological and literary evidences show that music and dance formed an important part of both religious and secular life in ancient India. The Indian traditions posit the origin of music not with man but with the Highest Deity manifested in His triune aspect, of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesvara. Rudra is always associated with song and dance; and vina on which he played is named Rudra Vina.
It is one of the vinaars of northern India use. In South the Sarasvati Vina was an adaptation or a fitting up of the frest on the tanpura board, is popular. Mahadeva is known as Nataraja 01 king of dancers. His dance is cosmic and it represents a process in that evolution.
The damaru or the kettledrum on which he plays to keep time, is again cosmic in its nature, representing the akasa tattva (principle of ether) from which all sounds are produced.
Vishnu is associated with the flute on which he plays the Song of Life, the Song of Evolution, while the Gopis, the cosmic powers, sing and dance in unison with waving hands and woven feet. Similarly, Brahma is ever engaged in the chant of the Vedas bringing forth into manifestation the latent possibilities of souls in accordance with their karma.
The various goddesses like Parvati, Saraswati and Lakshmi are also represented as playing on Vina. The regents of the world like Narada, Tamburu Visvavasu, Chitrasena and various stages and their disciples have also been connected with the science and practice of music.
Vishnu Purana says, “All songs are part of Him who wears a form of sound”. It may be noted that at that stage music was considered an aid to worship of God.
The Vedas speak of different kinds of musical instruments and refer to professional musicians like lute-players, drummers and flute-players etc. The employment of a number of musical similes by Valmiki and reference to various musical instruments shows that music was a popular pastime during his times.
Ravana has also been described as a great musician who won the favour of Shiva by singing the Vedas. In Ramayana we find a number of technical musical terms such as jatis which seems to have served the purpose of ragas in ancient times.
Similarly in Mahabharta we get references regarding the cultivation of music as a mark of refinement. It also refers to the seven svaras (seven notes) and Gandhara Grama, the ancient third mode. We get similar references about the theory of music in Riapratisakhya, a work of 4th .century B.C.
It mentions the three voice registers and the seven notes of the gamut. The Buddhist works and Jatakas also contain references of various musical instruments of musicians.
Much useful information about the early music is provided to us by literary works like Purananuru, Pattuputtu, Paripadal, Silappadiaaram and the Jain Tivakaram, We get the first detailed exposition of the theory of music in Natya Sastra, which is said to have been composed by an ancient sage Bharata.
He is usually placed in the third century. The Natya Sastra is the earliest Indian work on the art of drama, music and dancing. It shows that by this time India had fully developed the system of music out of which the later Indian “classical” music developed.
Music occupied an important position in the social life of the people in India is fully borne out by the dramas of Kalidasa. Music gained in popularity with the spread of the Bhakti movement in the seventh and eighth centuries. It was liberally patronized by the kings, nobles, temples, mathas and other religious institutions.
The Bhaktas lost themselves in the adoration of God and experienced the mysterious unity of life through nadasadhana. The tradition of hadasadhana, which has been in vogue in India since times immemorial is based on the basic principle “the direct invocation of the Divine through one-pointed concentration on musical notes, which they say opens the windows of the soul through the onslaught of musical vibrations”.
Music was considered to be a sadhana or yoga by the people in ancient India. They tried to attain unity of mind and body in their various functions through this sadhana. It was, according to Havell, an attempt “to realise the life which is without and beyond by the life which is within us and life in all its fullness, mystery which was and is to come.”
It was believed that a sadhaka could express himself best only by identifying himself with the divine. It is said that Akbar was struck by the difference in the music of Tansen and his guru Haridas when he heiard the soul-stirring music of the latter while he was singing before God.
When Akbar asked Tansen for the reasons for this difference, Tansen replied “I have to sing whenever my emperor commands, but he (Haridas) only sings in obedience to the inner voice.”
The chief musical instruments used by the musicians in ancient India was vina, a bow-harp with ten strings. During the Gupta period this instrument fell in disuse and was replaced by a pear-shaped lute which was played either with the fingers or with a plectrum.
This lute was replaced by the instrument which is considered to be the predecessors of the modern vina. This instrument with long fingerboard and small round body, was usually made of dried gourd.
Flutes and reed-instruments of different types were also used. The instruments of the trumpet type though known to the people were prominently used in music- They were merely used as signals. But the most frequently mentioned musical instrument used by the people was the conch, the shell of a large mollusc.
It was blown through its sawn-off point before the deity on auspicious occasions. The smaller drums played with fingers were also an essential part of the musical performances.
Form of Art # 9. Dancing:
Like music, Indian dancing was also developed as a form of worship. Shiva, the Mahayogi, is considered to be its originator. His cosmic dance reflects the unity of being. His dance is not merely a graceful and rhythmic movement of the body to the accompaniment of the music but is also a process of attaining unity of soul and body.
The significance of dance as a form of worship is brought out in the following verse of Unmai Vilekkam “The supreme Intelligence dances in the soul for the purpose of removing our sins. By these means, our Father scatters the darkness of illusion (Maya) burns the threads of causality (karma) stamps down evil (Avidya) shows grace and lovingly plunges the soul in the Ocean of Bliss (Ananda). They never see rebirth, who behold this mystic dance.”
The oldest work on Dancing is also Bharata-natya-sastra (or Natya Sastra by Bharata). This work devoted very little space to the discussion of vocal and instrumental music and deals with the dramatic representation (which also includes dancing) in great length.
It mentions thirteen postures of the head, thirty-six of the eyes, nine of the neck, thirty-seven of the hand, and ten of the body. Thus it shows that the Indian dancing is not merely a movement of legs and but that of the whole body. Every movement of the little finger or the eye-brow was considered significant.
Sarangadeva, who was adept in all the three sections of music, made a full and most comprehensive treatment of the nartana (dance). He traces how nartana (dance) came into this world from its abode in the heaven and the occasions when it is most relevant. He also deals with the various types of natya (dance, acting) and their characteristics.
He also deals with the rasas or sentiments in details and tries to establish their relationship with the bhava (emotions) vibhava (exciting causes) and anubhava (indications).
We get a detailed account of the dances in ancient India in the Sanskrit literature. The Rig-Veda mentions about the women dancers with broidered garments and low cut dress. We also learn about the men dancers who performed war-dances with breasts adorned with gold.
In the Ramayana also we get plenty of references to the songs and dances. It is recorded that music and dance lulled the kings to sleep and woke them again to the duties of the new day. Mahabharata mentions Arjuna, the mighty Pandava, as a master musician.
He is said to have offered himself as a teacher of music in the court of King Virata, while he was on exile. Arjuna’s wife Subhadra was also a good artist. In fact music and dance formed a part of lady’s education during the old days.
In the works of Kalidasa also we get a glimpse that the art of dancing was practiced in India. Dancing saloons, specially constructed for the purpose, seems to have formed an integral part of the royal palace.
But the dances were usually performed by professionals who had acquired mastery as a result of years of training and practice. However, we get plenty of references in the Indian literature to show that the princes and their ladies also took part in the dances in their palaces.
In appreciation of the natya (dance-acting) Malavikagnimitra has said, “The sages of yore regarded this as dearest to the hearts of the goods—the most acceptable offering to them. It derives its source from Siva himself, who, in his dual aspect of Siva and Parvati, gave to the world two varieties of it, the uddhata, stately and masculine, and lasva soft and seductive, suited to the – fair sex. It holds a mirror up to nature and life in all its phases—peaceful, passionate and dark. It is the highest exponent of the varying emotions and feelings. It is the one and only means of pleasing through the eyes and the ear people of diverse tastes and dispositions.”
In the Tamil literature also we find important information about the art of music and dancing, llankovadikal in his Silappadikaram gives us important information about the condition of music and dance in Tamil land about nineteen hundred years ago.
He shows us how the heroine of his work Madhavi, the courtesan, undergoes a course of training in song, dance and vina under the care of the master artists. He also gives a systematic account of the various instruments and dances.
The folk dances were also very popular during ancient India. These were mainly performed at different festivals. Though initially people of all the castes with the exception of Brahmans participated in dancing, in course of time only people of the low caste danced in public.
However, there seems to have been no social taboo on the art of dancing in ancient times because we come across numerous references when the ladies of tile royal family also took part in the dances in their palaces.