Buddhist Sculpture

Buddhist Sculpture

From the second century BCE onwards, various rulers established their control over the vast Mauryan Empire: the Shungas, Kanvas, Kushanas and Guptas in the north and parts of central India; the Satavahanas, Ikshavaku, Abhiras, Vakatakas in southern and western India. Incidentally, the period of the second century BCE also marked the rise of the main Brahmanical sects such as the Vaishnavas and the Saivas.

Some of the prominent examples of the finest sculpture are found at Vidisha, Bharhut (MP), Bodhgaya (Bihar), Jaggayyapeta (Andhra Pradesh), Mathura (UP), Khandagiri-Udaigiri (Odisha) etc

  • The sculptures here are tall like the images of Yaksha and Yakshini in the Mauryan period.
  • In the relief panels depicting narratives, illusion of three-dimensionality is shown with tilted perspective
  • At Bharhut, narrative panels are shown with fewer characters but as the time progresses, apart from the main character in the story, others also start appearing in the picture space.
  • Availability of the space is utilized to the maximum by the sculptors. Folded hands in the narratives as well as single figures of the Yakhshas and Yakshinis are shown flat clinging to the chest.
  • There is a general stiffness in the body and arms. But gradually, such visual appearance was modified by making images with deep carvings, pronounced volume and a very naturalistic representation of human and animal bodies. Sculptures at Bharhut, Bodhgaya, Sanchi Stupa-2, and Jagayyapetta are good examples.
  • Narrative reliefs at Bharhut show how artisans used the pictorial language very effectively to communicate stories. In one such narrative. Ex: Queen Mayadevi’s (mother of Siddhartha Gautama) dream, a descending elephant is shown
  • One main characteristic in all the male images of first–second centuries BCE of Bharhut sculptures is the knotted headgear

Queen Mayadevi’s dream, Bharhut sculpture

  • The next phase of sculptural development at Sanchi Stupa-1, Mathura, and Vengi in Andhra Pradesh (Guntur District) is noteworthy in the stylistic progression
  • It has four beautifully decorated toranas depicting various events from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka. Sculptures depicting the normal life have also been depicted here.
  • Figure compositions are in high relief, filling up the entire space. Depiction of posture gets naturalistic and there is no stiffness in the body
  • Heads have considerable projection in the picture space. Rigidity in the contours gets reduced and images are given movement
  • Carving techniques appear more advanced than Bharhut. Symbols continue to be used representing the Buddha and the Manushi Buddhas or the past Buddhas
  • The historical narratives such as the siege of Kushinara, Buddha’s visit to Kapilavastu, visit of Ashoka to the Ramgrama Stupa are carved with considerable details

A narrative panel at Sanchi stupa

Features of the Gandhara sculptures:

    1. Spiritual Buddha– there is a sense of calmness in the depiction of Buddha
    2. Less ornaments on Buddha
    3. Buddha has been depicted with wavy hair
    4. Large forehead and eyes appear to be closed
    5. The seated Buddha is always shown cross-legged in the traditional Indian way
    6. The Buddha and Bodhisattva figures resemble the Greek God Apollo with broad shoulders, a halo around the head
    7. The physical features such as muscles, nails, hair have been done with great detail.

Sculpture of Buddha depicted in a typical Gandhara tradition

  • Spotted sandstone was the preferred medium for depiction of sculptures
  • There was outside influence of the traditions of Mathura school of sculptures
  • All 3 religions – Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism were depicted in Mathura style
  • This school was patronized by Kushana rulers
  • The local sculptural tradition at Mathura became so strong that the tradition spread to other parts of northern India

Salient features of this school of sculpture:

  • The Buddha image at Mathura is modeled on the lines of earlier Yaksha images whereas in Gandhara it has Hellenistic features.
  • It may be noted that the images of Vishnu and Shiva are represented by their ayudhas (weapons).
  • There is boldness in carving the large images, the volume of the images is projected out of the picture plane, the faces are round and smiling, heaviness in the sculptural volume is reduced to relaxed flesh.
  • The garments of the body are clearly visible and they cover the left shoulder.
  • Images of the Buddha, Yakshas, Yakshinis, Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities and portrait statues are profusely sculpted.
  • In the second century CE, images in Mathura get sensual, rotundity increases, they become fleshier.
  • In the third century CE, treatment of sculptural volume changes by reducing the extreme fleshiness, movement in the posture is shown by increasing distance between the two legs as well as by using bents in the body posture.
  • Softness in the surface continues to get refined.
  • Transparent quality in the robes of the Buddha images is evident
  • Halo around the head is profusely decorated

The sculpture of Buddha belonging to Mathura style

  • A Buddhist relic, having features belonging to Amaravati school of Art was unearthed by a group of Indologists on the banks of River Gundlakamma in Andhra Pradesh.
  • This form of art originated in the area of Amaravati, AP.
  • It was patronized by the Satavahanas and later by the Ikshavaku
  • Prominent places where this style developed are Amravati, Nagarjunikonda, Goli, Ghantasala and Vengi.

Features of this form of sculpture:

    • The material used in Amaravati art is ‘White marble’
    • Sculptures were carved in a naturalistic manner. Ex: ‘taming of an elephant by the Buddha’.
    • Reflects narratives theme based on life of Buddha and Jataka stories
    • Buddha is depicted both in human as well as in animal form
    • Both religious and secular imageswere present in this style.
    • The Amaravati style is more elegant and sophisticated.
    • The sculptured panels of Amaravati are characterised by delicacy of forms and linear grace.
    • Numerous scenes of dance and music adorn these reliefs displaying the joy of life.

Sculpture depicted in the style of Amaravati School of sculpture