Ancient Sculpture

It is significant that while the architecture of ancient India bears no resemblance to the brick houses of Harappa, the earliest sculpture on the other hand shows a similarity to that of Harappa. The art of sculpture seems to have kept alive during the intervening vast period of time. The Mauryan Emperors patronized it and the influx of western influence also seems to have fostered it. After the seal engravings of the Indus Valley cities the earliest sculpture we have are the capitals of Ashokas' columns. The famous lions of the Sarnath column and the beautiful bull of the column of Rampurva are both the work of realistic sculptors inspired to some extent by the Iranian and Hellenist traditions. The animal sculptures are strongly reminiscent of the engravings of the seals discovered at Harappa. In the post-Mauryan period the most important sculptural remains are those found in the Buddhist sites at Bharhut, Gaya and Sanchi. These are carvings on the rails and gateways. The Gaya railing encloses a sacred path where the Buddha was believed to have walked in meditation after he had attained enlightenment. The sculptors here show greater skill and maturity than the sculptors of Bharhut who seemed to have been better versed in ivory carving than in stone. The Sanchi stupas are without doubt the grandest achievement of early North Indian sculpture. The smaller strip is adorned with carvings of archaic character. The main strip has unadorned railings while as a thorough contrast the great gateways are adorned with a variety of figures and reliefs. There is a great complexity of pattern.

Life in its infinite variety is depicted in an exuberant way. There is no formal unity in the result but it had a unity transcending the narrow limits of pattern and rule. It impresses one with the feeling that it is all the work of a people who were very happy and contented and wanted to give it an undying expression. The Mathura style of sculpture began at the end of the 1st century BC. The craftsmen made plaques depicting the Jain saints in meditation. It is also significant that while portraying a thiranthankara cross-legged in silent meditation the craftsmen adorned the railings of a stupa with the figures of ladies splendidly bejewelled gay and sensual expressing the antinomy in ancient Indian outlook in which buoyant enjoyment of life existed side by side with a spirit of other worldliness. The Gandhara School was influenced by the art of the Roman Empire. Trade with the west, the growing prosperity of Rome were the factors that contributed to the impact of Roman art on the Gandhara School. From the point of view of art, the Gupta period is generally taken to include the 4th-6th centuries and the first half of the 7th. There is certain earthiness about the art of Bharhut, Sanchi and Mathura. The Gupta art on the other hand is remarkable for serenity, security and certainity. Some of the finest specimens of religious art were produced during this period particularly in the lovely Buddhas of Sarnath. Most renowned of these is the icon showing Buddha turning the Dharma Chakra which eloquently conveys the message of Buddhism. The serene figure of the Buddha depicted in the process of preaching as indicated by the Dharma Chakra Mudra conveys much more than scriptures can and emphasize that it is possible to transcend the sorrows of mortal life and find ineffable peace and inner joy. In the south during the Pallava period wonderful works of sculpture were created. The most important among them all are the Mamallapuram sculptures adorning the complex of rock temples. The descent of the Ganga is an exquisite specimen of sculpture. It covers a rock over 80 feet long and 30 feet high.