Sculpture in India

The art sculpture was highly developed in Harappan Civilization. The archaeological excavation carried out at various Harappan settlements has discovered several images. The Harappan used stone, terracotta, metal, and alloy to make images and sculptures. There are many sculptures being found during the excavation of the Harappan site. After the Harappan period, there are only a few sculptures to be found till the era of the Buddhist period.

Steatite, alabaster, and limestone were used for making the images. The metal was copper & the alloy was bronze. These images are highly refined. The size of images small to the moderate number of life-size (full size) images has been discovered during excavation. Most of the images have been found at Mohenjo-Daro, some at Harappa & Lothal & other places images are quite rare. Images are in form of the cult objects (religious objects) such as the Mother Goddess, toys, animals, and human beings.

Bronze Age Sculptures in India

The earliest form of sculptural art was traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization (also known as Harappan Civilization). These findings include the structure of the dancing girl, the priest-king, the woman riding two bulls, etc. However, such human figured art was rare in number. Most of the sculptures were in the form of pottery, seals with figures of animals or deities inscribed on them, etc.

The bronze image of dancing girl sculpture
The bronze image of dancing girl sculpture, Mohenjodaro
Image of a beared priest found at Mohenjodaro.
Image of a priest found at Mohenjodaro.

The second urbanization or period just before the Mauryan era was marked by the number of pottery arts. These pottery arts were of two types Black and red ware culture and Painted Gray ware culture. There are anthropo-morphological artifact and terracotta figurines were also found in this period.

Terracotta Figurine, Mathura 4th BCE
Terracotta Figurine, Mathura 4th BCE| Image Source: Wikipedia
Anthropomorphological Atrifact, 2nd Millenium BCE
Anthropomorphological Artifact, 2nd Millenium BCE| Image Source: Wikipedia

Sculpture during Mauryan Age

During the Mauryan age, the art of sculpture flourished under the patronage of the state as well as due to private efforts. The feature of court art & popular art were present in the Mauryan. The capital of the Ashokan pillar is the finest example of a sculpture of the Mauryan age. These capitals were cut under the patronage of the state.

Four lion sitting back to back was used as capital on the carnation & Sanchi pillar. Single lion capital was there at Rampurva pillar, Vaishali pillar & Loriya Nandangarh pillar. Bull capital was there on the 2nd Rampurva pillar. The elephant capital was there on the Sonkisa pillar (Farukabad, Uttar Pradesh). Chinese traveler Huen-Tsan saw horse capital on the Lumbini pillar.

Pieces of evidence suggested that there was peacock capital on the 2nd Loriya Nandangarh pillar. Dhauli elephant is also a prominent example of a sculpture of the Mauryan age. It was cut out of rock during the Mauryan period. The location is close to Dhauli’s major rock edict of Ashoka. Popular art was also highly developed during the Mauryan age. In the archaeological excavation carried out in the area from Taxila to Odisha a large number of images made by common people have been found. These are in form of Yaksha & Yakshini the folk deities or deities of common people.

One Yaksha image was found at Parkham (a village near Mathura). This Yaksha was known as Manibhadra. One Yaksha image was found at Baroda village near Mathura. At Patna’s image of Chamar, Grahinin Yakshini was found. Yaksha’s image was found at Vidisha, Shisupal Garh (Odisa), Kurukshetra, Mehrauli, Rajghat (near Varanasi). Padmavati Yaksha’s image was found at Gwalior.

Art of Sculpture during Post Mauryan Age

During this aged art of sculpture witnessed the most remarkable progress because Gandhara School, the Mathura school & Amaravati School of sculpture flourished. An artist-made large number of images of Brahmanical, non-Brahmanical, Buddhist & Jaina deities.

Gupta Age Sculpture

Gupta Age
Gupta Age Idols

The three schools of the sculpture of the previous period continued to flourish & the Banaras / Sarnath School of sculpture emerged. Images of God & Goddess were made for temples. The sculpture of this age was simple sober & graceful. This image exhibits a fine synthesis between the symbolism of the Kushana period & the nudity of the early medieval age. The artist used both stone as well as metal to making images. The lost wax method was used for making metal images.

The prominent finding of the Gupta period includes Buddhist images discovered at Sarnath & Sultanganj, Mathura. At Sarnath, 2 feet 4.5 inches images of Buddha sitting in Padmasana, (cross leg) & Dharmachakra parivartana mudra has been found. From Mathura, 7 feet 2.5-inch high image of a sitting Buddha was found. At Sultanganj a 7 ½ feet high standing image of Buddha was found it is made up of copper. This image was taken away from the British. At present, it is the Birmingham Museum in London.

Art of Sculpture during Post Gupta & Early Medieval Age

During this period art of sculpture flourished along with temple building activities. Image of god, goddess, doorkeepers, animals, etc. was made by using stone. The finest example of sculpture comes from Khajuraho, Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh) & Odissa. In the Jagannath temple of Odisha, the images are made up of wood.

Sculpture in Peninsular India

Caves of Ajanta, Ellora & Elephanta have a large number of images. The art of sculpture flourished along with temple-building activities in peninsular India. The finest of images were made during the whole period among these images the Nataraja images are best.

The Cholas maintained close economic relations with South-East Asian countries from there. Tin was imported by them to make bronze. Because of this bronze images could be made on large scale during the Chola period. During Chola & Vijayanagar’s age, the image of Queens & kings was placed in the temple complex. They were worshiped like God & Goddess.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs): IASCurrent Question: Which era shows the first known sculptural form of art in India?

Answer: The first known sculptural form of art was found in the Indus Valley Civilization. These include the stone seals with inscriptions of animals or deities on them, pottery artifacts, and human artifacts like a Dancing girl, priest-king, and woman riding two bulls.

Question: The Dancing girl sculpture was found in which civilization?

Answer: The artifact of a dancing girl, priest-king, and woman riding two bulls were found in Indus Valley Civilization.

Question: At which place, the image of Yaksha Manibhadra was found? Answer: At Parkham village near to City of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) an image of yaksha Manibhadra was found.
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