Ancient Schools of Art in India

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Gandhara School of Art (50 B.C. to 500 A.D.):

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 known as the Gandhara School of Art developed in this region. The strategic location of the region helped the Gandhara School to imbibe varied foreign influences like the Persian, Greek, Roman, Saka and Kushan.

The chief characteristics of the Gandhara sculpture are: (i) depiction of life-like statues of Buddha in the 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 best specimens of the Gandhara Art are from the Jaulian and Dharmarajika stupa at Taxila; Hadda monastic cluster, Jalalabad, Afghanistan; and the Buddhist ruins in Peshawar and the Swat Valley in Rawalpindi.


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:

This school of art developed at Amaravati, on the banks of the Krishna River and at Nagarjurnakonda in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. It flourished under the patronage of the Satavahana rulers and shows influence of both Buddhism and Jainism.

The Great Stupa of Amaravati, which is the largest Buddhist stupa of South India, is the best illustration of this school of art. The construction of the stupa began in 200 B.C. during the reign of Ashoka and was completed in 200 A.D. The Amaravati Stupa has a lofty circular terrace with stairways. The railing and the dome are made of marble instead of red sandstone. The stupa has rich engravings, comprising of slightly round, tall and slim figures. Buddha is generally represented by symbols, though figures are seen here and there.

Another important feature of the Amaravati Stupa is that there are no individual images; rather the preference is for scenes . At Nagarjunakonda, a stupa, two chaityas and a monastery represent this school of art. Unlike the other schools of art, the Amaravati School of Art is entirely indigenous and does not show any foreign influence.


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