Ancient Schools of Art in India

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Gandhara School of Art:

The Gandhara region, which extended from Punjab to the borders of Afghanistan, was an important centre of Mahayana Buddhism up to the 5th century A.D. During this period, a new school of Indian sculpture, the Gandhara School of Art, developed in this region. The region’s strategic location helped the Gandhara School imbibe varied foreign influences, such as Persian, Greek, Roman, Saka, and Kushan.

The chief characteristics of the Gandhara sculpture are: (i) depiction of life-like statues of Buddha in standing or seated positions; (ii) use of rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and complex symbolism, (iii) elaborate and natural display of physical features like muscles, moustaches, etc; (iv) portrayal of folds and turns of dresses and (v) great significance attached to refinement and polishing.

Some of the finest examples of art can be found in specific locations: the Jaulian and Dharmarajika stupa at Taxila; the Hadda monastic cluster in Jalalabad, Afghanistan; and the Buddhist ruins in Peshawar and the Swat Valley in Rawalpindi. These sites serve as a testament to the rich artistic heritage of Gandhara.

 

Mathura School of Art:

The Mathura School of Art, which is sometimes referred as the ‘Kushan School of Art’, flourished at the holy city of Mathura, during 1-3 A.D. It existed side by side with the Gandhara Art under the Kushan rule and exerted a positive influence over it.

An important innovation of the Mathura School was the creation of an iconography, necessitated by the portrayal of various Bodhisattvas and Buddha images . The Mathura Buddhist images are characterised by prominent breasts and the form of drapery, which hangs down in semi-circular folds and covers both the shoulders. The ‘mudras’ or gestures of the Buddha image are also significant in the Mathura School. In the initial phases of this art the ‘Abhinaya Mudra’ was popular, which depicted a strongly-built Buddha with the right hand raised with open palm to signify benediction. The earliest sculptures of standing Buddha were made keeping the ‘yaksha’ prototype in mind and are indicative of the Kushan influence. Later sculptures feature the ‘Dhyana Mudra’, in which the Buddha in depicted in a sitting ‘padmasana’ posture. Unlike the Gandhara sculptures, the Mathura figures do not have moustaches and beards.

The Mathura School produced beautiful figures of the Buddha, the Jain Tirthankaras and deities of the Hindu pantheon made out of spotted red stone. This school of art flourished and got perfected under the Gupta rule. The most striking example of the Mathura School of Art is the headless statue of Kanishka.

 

Amaravati School of Art:

The Amaravati School of Art, a product of its cultural context, was born at Amaravati, on the banks of the Krishna River and at Nagarjurnakonda in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. It thrived under the patronage of the Satavahana rulers, a period marked by the coexistence and mutual influence of Buddhism and Hinduism, which are both prominently reflected in this art style.

The Great Stupa at Amaravati, the largest Buddhist stupa in South India, is the best illustration of this school of art. The stupa’s construction began in the 2nd century B.C.. It was completed around the 3rd century A.D. While the stupa’s railings and some decorative elements were made of marble, the main structure was primarily built of brick and limestone. The stupa is adorned with rich engravings, comprising slightly round, tall, and slim figures. The Buddha is generally represented by symbols, though figures are seen here and there. An important feature of the Amaravati Stupa is the preference for narrative scenes over individual images. At Nagarjunakonda, a stupa, two chaityas, and a monastery represent this school of art. While the Amaravati School of Art is largely indigenous, it does show some influence from other regions, particularly in terms of architectural elements and decorative motifs.

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