Howard Nowes - 07/15/2007
India, which gets its name from the Indus River, has a history of artistic output in the form of sculpture and decorative with along history. Indian art is greatly influenced by philosophy and religion. The art of early India is a wonderful balance of achievement where form and function work together to aid the beginnings of the three major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. India produced bronzes and stone carvings of great intricacy, such as the famous temple carvings which adorn various shrines. The carvings are in high relief and in various materials.
The stone found in India that is soft when it is dug from the ground, so it can be cut easily with a chisel and mallet. When the stone is left out in the air for a time, it then becomes very hard, so it is especially good for sculpture and gains a sense of solid permanence. The human forms are characterized by oval faces with rounded eyes and bodies with smooth forms, not really depicting muscles or the bones beneath but large masses which seem to move with energy none the less.
The artist was guided by living tradition, and an iconographic canon and a common heritage of artistic conception. The names of some individual artists has been mentioned in some stone inscriptions so they may have been somewhat admired for their skill.
The first sculptures in India date back to the lovely Indus Valley civilization (2500BC to1700 B.C.) which can now be found in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in Pakistan. These are among the earliest instances of sculpture in the world. Most of the statues from this period represent deities associated with nature. There was a highly developed culture with complex divisions of labor and specialization. They produced terracotta Goddess along the lines of a mother goddess for fertility. They also had small stone carved stamp seals, inscribed with a script, we still to this day, can not decipher. They had jewelry and other high status burial items. It is probable here, the early religious practices of these people helped to establish the cannons of the later Pantheon in India.
In the 3rd to 1st Century BC, there is in place a focus on fertility and plant and animal life.
This Chandraketugarh Grey Black Terracotta Goddess from Western India, Ca. 200 BC, is an Impressive goddess, standing in an elaborate skirt and headdress fashioned with floral appliqués representing the abundance of nature. Her large full breasts and necklace, and fine facial features represent the fertility of the female in her prime. This terracotta image was commissioned for a high status individual, perhaps royalty. Size: 10-1/4 in H. Compare a similar example in P. Pal, Indian Sculpture, Vol I.
One of the earliest Hindu female deities to establish is the female Durga. Originally she was a tribal Matriarch associated with fertility as well as war and is often seen ornately jeweled. Other early characters which aided in fertility worship are the Yakshis (female) and Yakshas (male)
Shunga Period, Ca. 50 BC
The Kushan Period, Ca. 1st to 3rd Century AD, takes its name from a group of nomadic warriors, the Kushans, which came from the north to control much of modern Pakistan and Northern India and the trade routes from the Mediterranean world along to the silk route. There sculpture is known for the local red mottled sandstone and somewhat truncated styles. This head of a lion and bust of a man are fashioned from the red mottled stone, ca. 2nd century AD.
The Gandharan Style, Ca. 1st Century BC to 6th Century AD
This is very western style for the art of India in that the images produced display more of a classical naturalism, then in other periods, perhaps because of migrating Greek or Graeco-Roman artists. The subject matter is mainly to honor and portray the life of Buddha, who lived 563 to 483 BC. He was born Prince Siddhartha, into a family of means, then studied spirituality until finally he became ‘the Enlightened one’, the Buddha Shakyamuni and shed his worldly possessions for the life of an ascetic monk, preaching his doctrine in Northern India. His teaching of meditation and personal salvation was very popular and by the 3rd Century BC, he was worshipped as a major deity.
A common them would be a schist relief frieze with the central Buddha, raised up on an altar as he gesture to students/attendants which flank him. This relief, typical of the art of the period, has the figures carved in high relief with voluminous forms and flowing drapery which gives them mass and volume.
Gupta Period 4th to 6th Century AD.
The sculpture of the Gupta period reaches a very high fineness of execution and delicacy in the modeling of forms.
From the 10th to 12th Century AD, pink Sandstone was a medium of choice. A quintessential goddess of this time is the Yakshi, who is typically portrayed standing in a graceful pose with her hips swung out to the left and holding a lotus flower in one hand, her hair may be up in a chignon (bun), and she wearing a diaphanous (sheer) dhoti (garment) and would have an elaborate necklace which falls between her large rounded breasts. All of her iconography was made to help exemplify her fertile nature.