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Sculpture’s we found in Kashmir

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By: Syed Rooh Fatima

Kashmir has still preserved some good specimens of sculpture and it is not difficult to reconstruct a succinct history of the development of plastic art. Very little has, however, survived of the Kashmiri art of the centuries before the Christian era. At Harwan Buddhist ruins have been excavated, but they are not of earlier than the fourth century AD. The molded brick tiles unearthed at Harwan depict a unique art trend, dealing with secular themes. We find life and nature as the artists had found around them. There are figures of men wearing Central Asian costumes; and curiously enough the figures of Parthian horsemen, women, heads and busts appear side by side with early Gupta motifs. The moldings on Harwan terracotta tiles cannot, however, be the work of folk-artists. The art seems to have attained a high degree of sophistication and the molded tiles depict life of the upper class, inasmuch as we find figures of hunting horsemen, men and women sitting on a balcony and enjoying perhaps the beautiful landscape and listening to music from female musicians and recitals of dancers. The physiognomy of the perions depicted on these tiles leaves no doubt of their Central Asian origin – their prominent cheek bones, small eyes, receding forehead and heavy features, all point to the same conclusion. From some letters in the Khrosthi scrip which went into disuse before the fourth century  and also from a small passage on Buddhist creed written in the Brahmi character, it stems the tiles belong to the third-fourth century AD. The Harwan tiles are flat, hardly rising out of the back-ground, and are made from a mold and therefore repetitive.

The terracotta heads and relieve found at Ushkur are each a single master-piece produced from molds carved by hand. These “later Gandhara” terracottas have been variously put from the fourth to the eighth centuries AD. The figurines depict true Hellenistic influence. Hellenistic art was the dominant cultural force for about a thousand years from the 3rd century BC to 700 AD in what is now called Afghanistan, and its final echoes lasted in Kashmir until the tenth century AD. Relics similar to Ushkur have recently been unearthed at Akhnur.

Situated on the right bank of the Chenab, where the river first enters the plains of the Punjab, Akhnur lay in ancient times on the route between Jammu and Srinagar via the Budil Pass, as well as on the road to Rajauri (ancient Rajapuri). It was thus an important center of trade and commerce and the headquarters of a flourishing timber industry.

Both in treatment and the material used in the lovely terracotta heads with their somber lines and the serene and peaceful poses, we notice a close affinity to the “Later Gandhara School” on the one hand and to the Gupta art on the other. The fragments collected both at Ushkur and Akhnur consist of pieces of bodies, covered with drapery or partly covered, or even nude; broken bodies of princes, princesses, attendants, holy men, Buddhist mendicants in their drape robes; elaborate decorations that once might have been personal ornaments, such as crowns, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, earrings and the like; architectural fragments of a highly ornamental style, including pillar capitals with vine ornaments, volutes, etc. Stylistically they seem to inherit two different aesthetics: the mongrel Indo-Roman school of Gandhara as testified by the treatment of the hair, head-dresses and jewellery, as well as the diminutive sizes, while a prominent nose and the heavy fleshy cheeks with almond-eyes seem to indicate the influence of Kusan and Gupta Mathura art. The figure sculpture during the Karkota rule was affected by two waves of art – from Central Asia and from Mathura.

As the Stupa of Chankuna (Lalitaditya’s minister of Chinese descent) at Parihaspura shows, there are Tang Chinese models found in the Bodhisattva statues there. But then the king’s Indian expeditions resulted in a considerable influx of sculptors trained in the late Gupta tradition. There must have been a surplus of sculptors in Central India then because in those years Indian prosperity was dwindling. Whether they came voluntarily or were forced to come by Lalitaditya, we cannot ascertain. But in any case we find at Martand reliefs in the best late Gupta style around the plinth of the great central shrine, and likewise on those of the subsidiary temples flanking it on both sides.

“They are very elegant, mannered, somewhat sensuous, fashionable, often even sophisticated. Their costume, on the other hand, generally goes back to Gandhara and Sassanian fashions, which then must still have prevailed in Kashmir. But most of the sculptures found on the walls, on the entrance to the temple and on staircases, depicting the Sun-god, goddesses, or King Lalitaditya with his queens and priests, are the work of local artists, trained no doubt by the late Gupta master. Their modelling is no doubt less sensitive, and more static, but instead they have a vitality and strength which for the next 200 years was the hallmark of Kashmir sculpture,” experts say, adding, “Also ichnographically they are interesting; for they have preserved quite a number of types which otherwise are rare in India but which are well known to us from Burma, Indonesia, Cambodia as imports from India – e.g., many ‘Tantric’ types, or Vishnu riding on Garuda, sculptural art of distinct Kashmirian characteristics – a real synthesis of the influences from Gandhara and Gupta schools plus the elegance in details and symmetrical proportions in body and look stamped by the Kashmirian artists reached its apogee under the rule of the Utpala dynasty. The four-headed Vishnu, heavily ornamented and clad in dhoti with a dagger attached to the jeweled girdle at the waist, is the most popular figure of the period. The powerful frame of the body exhibits vigor and discipline and the emotional expression of the face is in sharp contrast to the passionless, calm features of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas of the sculptures found at Pandrenthan and Parihaspura.”

Other sculptures too, for example, Kamadeva seated between his consorts, Rati and Priti, Krishna amid his Gopis, Ganga, Yamuna, Trimurti, Ardhanareeswara, Ganesa and Lakshmi, icons so much varied, reveal the same innate emotion, depth of feeling and above all vigor.

  • The writer is masters in mass communication and journalism

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