foundation of the Gupta empire in the 4th century A.D. marks the
beginning of another era. The Gupta monarchs were powerful upto
the 6th cenutry in North India. Art, science and literature flourished
greatly during their time. The iconographic canons of Brahmanical,
Jain and Buddhist divinities were perfected and standardised, which
served as ideal models of artistic expression for later centuries,
not only in India but also beyond its border. It was an age of
all round perfection in domestic life, administration, literature,
as seen in the works of Kalidasa, in art creations and in religion
and philosophy, as exemplified in the wide-spread Bhagavata cult,
which identified itself with an intensive cult of beauty.
the Gupta period India entered upon the classical phase of sculpture.
By the efforts of the centuries, techniques of art were perfected,
definite types were evolved, and ideals of beauty were formulated
with precision. There was no more groping in the dark, no more
experimentation. A thorough intelligent grasp of the true aims
and essential principles of art, a highly developed aesthetic sense
and masterly execution by skilled hands produced those remarkable
images which were to be the ideal and despair of the Indian artists
of subsequent ages. The Gupta sculptures not only remained models
of Indian art for all time to come but they also served as ideals
for the Indian colonies in the Far East.
Vishnu Anantasheshashayee, Vishnu Temple, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh
the Gupta period all the trends and tendencies of the artistic
pursuits of the proceeding phases reached their culmination in
a unified plastic tradition of supreme importance in Indian History.
Gupta sculpture thus is the logical outcome of the early classical
sculpture of Amravati and Mathura. Its plasticity is derived from
that of Mathura and its elegance from that of Amravati. Yet a Gupta
sculpture seems to belong to a sphere that is entirely different.
The Gupta artist seems to have been working for a higher ideal.
A new orientation in the attitude towards art is noticed in the
attempt to establish a closer harmony between art and thought,
between the outer forms and the inner intellectual and spiritual
conception of the people.
art of Bharhut, Amravati, Sanchi and Mathura came closer and closer;
melting into one. In the composition, it is the female figure that
now becomes the focus of attraction and nature recedes into the
background, but in doing so it leaves behind its unending and undulating
rhythm in the human form. The human figure, taken as the image,
is the pivot of Gupta sculpture. A new canon of beauty is evolved
leading to the emergence of a new aesthetic ideal. This ideal is
based upon an explicit understanding of the human body in its inherent
softness and suppleness. The soft and pliant body of the Gupta
sculpture with its smooth and shining texture, facilitates free
and easy movement, and though seemingly at rest the figure seems
to be infused with an energy that proceeds from within. This is
true not only of the images of divine beings, Buddhist, Brahmanical
and Jain but also of ordinary men and women. It is the sensitiveness
of the plastic surface that the artist seeks to emphasise and for
this; all superfluities, such as elaborate draperies, jewellery,
etc., that tend to conceal the body, are reduced to the minimum.
The wet or transparent clinging drapery hence became the fashion
of this age. But the sensuous effect of these draperies especially
in the case of female figures, was restrained by a conscious moral
sense, and nudity as a rule was eliminated from Gupta sculpture.
The great artistic creations of the period were invested with sweet
and soft contours, restrained ornamentation and dignified repose.
Under the patronage of the Guptas, the studies of Mathura and Sarnath
produced several works of great merit. Though Hindu by faith, they
were tolerant rulers.
magnificent red sandstone image of the Buddha from Mathura is a most
remarkable example of Gupta workmanship datable to the 5th century
A.D. The great Master, in all his sublimity, is here shown standing
with his right hand in abhayamudra, assuring protection, and
the left holding the hem of the garment. The smiling countenance with
down-cast eyes is robed in spiritual ecstasy. The robe covering both
shoulders is skilfully represented with delicately covered schematic
folds and clings to the body. The head is covered with schematic spiral
curls with a central protuberance and the elaborate halo decorated
with concentric bands of graceful ornamentation.
finished mastery in execution and the majestic serenity of expression
of the image of Buddha came to be adopted and locally modified by
Siam, Cambodia, Burma, Java, Central Asia, China and Japan, etc.,
when these countries adopted the Buddhist religion.
image of the standing Buddha is an excellent example of Gupta art
in its maturity from Sarnath. The softly moulded figure has its right
hand in the attitude of assuring protection. Unlike the delicately
carved drapery folds of the Mathura Buddha, only the fringe of the
diaphanous robe is here indicated. The perfect execution of the figure
matched by its serene spiritual expression is truly worthy of the
Standing Buddha, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
introduces not only a delicacy and refinement of form but also a relaxed
attitude by bending the body in the case of the standing figure, slightly
on its own axis, thus imparting to it a certain litheness and movement
in contrast to the columnar rigidity of similar Mathura works. Even
in the case of the seated figure, the slender physiognomy conveys a
feeling of movement, the body, closely following the modelling in all
its subtle nuances. The folds have been discarded altogether; an indication
of the drapery only survives in the thin lines on the body suggesting
the edges of the garment. The folds that fall apart are given, again,
a firmly muslin-like texture. The body in its smooth and shining plasticity
constitutes the principal theme of the Sarnath artists.
culmination of these characteristics seen in this sublime image of
the Master represented in the act of turning the Wheel of Law is
one of the masterly creations of Gupta classical sculpture. The image
is carved in Chunar sandstone and has a surface texture of shining
smoothness. The Master is shown as seated in Vijraparyanka with
the hands held near the breast in Dharmachakrapravartana Mudra (the
gesture of Preaching). A subtle discipline permeates the entire figure,
physically as well as mentally. This is evident as much in the smooth
and rhythmic treatment of the body as in the ethereal countenance
suggestive of a mind absorbed and in serene enjoyment of spiritual
bliss. A purely decorative background is supplied by the throne,
lintel with makara ends, and a circular nimbus (Prabha)
exquisitely carved with a broad foliated ornament within beaded borders.
The decorative prabhas, it should be noted here, are characteristic
also of Mathura images.
the Gupta period the characteristic elements of the Indian temple emerged
and the plastic forms began to be used admirably as an integral part
of the general architectural scheme. The stone carving from the temples
at Deogarh and those from the temples of Udayagiri and Ajanta are
excellent specimens of figure sculpture in their decorative setting.
The large panel of Sheshashayi Vishnu from the Deogarh temple, representing
the Supreme being slumbering wakefully on the serpent Ananta, the
symbol of eternity, in the interval between the dissolution of the
universe and its new creation, is a magnificent example.
four-armed Vishnu is reclining gracefully on the coils of the Adisesha, whose
seven hoods form a canopy over his crowned head. His consort Lakshmi
is massaging his right leg and two attendant figures stand behind
her. Various gods and celestials are hovering above. In the lower
panel, the two demons Madhu and Kaitabha, in an
attacking attitude, are challenged by the four personified weapons
of Vishnu. The whole composition fashioned with a masterly skill,
breathes an atmosphere of serene calm and an agitated tension, making
it a superb piece of art.
Detail Vishnu Anantasheshashayee, Vishnu Temple, deogarh, Uttar
magnificent representation of Vishnu belongs to the Gupta period, 5th
century A.D., and comes from Mathura. The typical gown, the vanamala;
the charming string of pearls twirled round the neck, the long and
elegant yagnopavita are all characteristic of early Gupta
and Yamuna, two life-sized terracotta images, originally installed
in niches flanking the main steps leading to the upper terrace of the
Shiva temple at Ahichhatra. belong to the Gupta period 4th century
A.D. Ganga stands on her vehicle, the makara. and Yamuna on
the cacchap. Kalidas mentions the two river goddesses as attendants
of Shiva and this occurs as a regular feature of temple architecture
from the Gupta period onwards, the most notable example being the door
jambs of the Brahmanical temple of Deogarh. Clay figurines (Terracottas)
have great value as sources of social and religious history. In India,
the art of making figurines of baked clay is of great antiquity as
we have already seen at Harappa and Mohenjodaro where terracottas have
been found in large numbers.
Head of Shiva is an elegant example of Gupta terracottas, depicted
with matted locks, tied in a prominent and graceful top knot. The expression
on the face is noteworthy and both the figures, of Shiva as well as
Parvati, are two of the most charming specimens from Ahichhatra.
Head of Parvati with the third eye and crescent mark on the forehead.
Her hair is beautifully arranged in spiral alaka-locks, with braid
fastened by a garland and adorned by a floral boss. She is wearing
a round earring with the Swastika mark on it.
Vakatakas were paramount in the Deccan, contemporary with the Guptas
in the North. The high watermark of perfection in art achieved in their
region can be best seen in the later caves at Ajanta, the early ones
at Ellora and those at Aurangabad.
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