Iqbal Ahmad

Terracotta’s of Kashmir

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The artistic zeal of the people, who lived here centuries ago, can be well traced from the magnificent Terra-Cotta art discovered at some places in the valley. Terra-Cotta art is thus one of the earliest examples of art in Kashmir and it is found in the shape of Tiles as well as in Sculptures.

The specimen of the art speaks of advanced art tradition which has been indigenous to the people living in Jammu and Kashmir, it is generally believed, was introduced by Kashmiri craftsmen. Though no specific information about the trend is historically proven, it is generally said that the art was a result of the creative aptitude of the craftsmen of Kashmir.

Terra-Cotta art is, undoubtedly, a highly professional art that strives on themes apart from religion. The specimens have been recovered from dozens of places in valley. The art involved not only the preparation of stamped moulded bricks but miniature sculptures too.

Terra-Cotta art is broadly classified into two types.

The tiles are major bricks which are sometimes moulded and sometimes given a concave shape. The back of the Tile is clean; the face of the tile is divided into panels. These panels are stamped into various motifs which include human, animal and floral pictures. These motifs are raised in a low relief.

The Terra-Cotta Tile art specimens were first discovered in 1921 at Harwan Plateau. This was a Tile pavement. The shapes of the tiles were determined by their location within concentric circles, with most about 30.0-46 centimetres long. According to R C Kak, the excavator of the site, they occupied an area of around 49/ 38 meters. The moulded Tiles depict the life of upper class, in as much as we find figures of hunting horsemen, men and woman sitting on a balcony and enjoying perhaps the beautiful landscape and listening to music from female musicians and recitals of dancers. Apart from these motifs there are motifs of musicians, animal’s, lotus and also aquatic scenes.

Another Terra-Cotta discovery was made in year 1979 in the forests of Liddru Pahalgam. It revealed a similar Tile Pavement but with less advanced craftsmanship. The hunting scene and mythical animal motifs are the dominant motifs stamped on the faces of these Tiles. The Terra-Cottas of Hutmur, few kilometres below the Liddru valley on the banks of Nallah Lidder which were discovered in 1986 depict more advanced motifs.

The standing human and mythical postures besides the branches of grape trees are the most common motifs on Hutmur tiles. Terra-Cotta tiles were also discovered at Donipathar (Pahalgam) Gurveit (Budgam) Kral Check (Anantnag) Takyabal (Pulwama).

More recently a beautiful Terra-Cotta pavement formed of brilliantly stamped tiles depicting variety of natural and mythical motifs was discovered by State Archaeology Department on the top of Kutbal hill (Anantnag). The size of the Tile brick of this site is small as compared to other sites, but the themes and images stamped on the tiles are more wonderful than any other site. Those who see these Tiles, as I have also seen them, are mesmerized by the advanced motifs on them. The motifs of standing figures are wonderful and speak of some highly advanced civilization which, in no way, is less advanced than the Harwan site.

These Tiles are baked and are found at many places within the valley limits. Their discovery means that brick making has been the earlier art of the land, either the result of a gradual evolution with the local artists or introduced by some skilled foreign artists.

Whosoever introduced this art in this mountain bound valley has been highly artistic, besides, the stamping of these Tiles is no less an extraordinary skill. The specimen of this ancient Terra-Cotta Tile art has been attracting archaeologists from the far off lands. Almost all scholars after observing these Tiles will say that it is not the work of folk artists. They would agree with me in assuming that it is the work of highly civilized artists.

Apart from Terra-Cotta Tiles, the Terra-Cotta Sculptures are also astonishing. These are masterpieces produced from moulds carved by hand. The miniature Terra-Cotta heads and sculpture were found firstly at Ushkar (Baramulla). Later on, few such specimens were also found at Parihaspora (Baramulla). The more wonderful Terra-Cotta Sculpture discovery was made at Ambrin (Akhnoor). These include few Terra-Cotta heads. Recently several heads were discovered at Latipura (Pulwama) by the experts of State Archaeology Department.

The Terra-Cotta heads and fragments recovered from these sites consist of pieces of human busts , covered with drapery or partly covered or even nude, broken busts  of princes, princesses, attendants of Buddhist deities , Buddhist mendicants in their draped robes, elaborate decorations that once might have been personal ornaments such as crowns, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, ear rings and the like.

I have seen these artefacts at SPS Museum Lal Mandi Srinagar and at Dogra Art Gallery, Mubarak Mandi Jammu. Like Terra-Cotta Tiles, these Sculptures also appear to have been made by highly civilized artists. Their features are closely related with Hellenistic art which the scholars believe were cultivated here during early centuries of Christian era. Such artefacts are also observed to have been commissioned during the early centuries (Circa 200-500 AD).

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