Statues and Reliefs in the Indian Museum, Kolkata

high-definition creative commons photographs from the Indian Museum, Kolkata showing a large collection of Buddha, Bodhisattva and other images from the 1st century BC to the 11th century AD, together with some further information.

Blog Post on the Photographs from the Indian Museum

20 more photographs of the Statues in this Museum
by Ken Kawasaki

Gandhāra School

The Indian Museum, Calcutta houses the largest collection of Gandhāra Sculptures in India, and the important ones are on view in this gallery. The Grey Schist or slate stone sculptures hail mainly from the region lying between Eastern Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan (Peshwar and Rawalpindi districts) and belong to the Gandhāra School which flourished from about the 1st century B.C. to the 6th century A.D. Stucco and teracotta were also used as media from about the 3rd century A.D. The art was at its zenith under the patronage of the Kuṣaṇ kings.

As it was a confluence of several cultural currents, this land gave birth to a school of mixed art, which is variously known as Gandhāra, Graeco-Buddhist or Indo-Hellenistic art. The art is believed to have been derived from Graeco-Roman art with some Iranian influence which is again a result of a synthesis between Greek and Roman Art.

Some of the distinguishing features of Gandhāra art are seen in the wavy hair or notched curls with a top knot, depiction of moustaches, thick garments with bold pleats covering both shoulders, the Bodhisattvas wearing sandals, pointed and rather prickly lotus-petal seat, a plain halo round the head and a muscular formation of the body, with rather naturalistic anatomical details. During the Kuṣaṇ period the interaction between the Gandhāra and Mathura styles resulted in a good deal of exchange of art motifs.

Text adapted from a sign in the Indian Museum

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Mathura School

Between the 1st-3rd century A.D. the region round the anicient city of Mathura (on the right bank of the Yamuna) emerged and flourished as a very influential school of indigenous art. Though the art activities started here as early as the 3rd or 4th centuries B.C. in the form of massive yakṣa and yakṣini figures, its most prolific output synchronished with the rule of the Kuṣaṇs, who made their supremacy over a large portion of the Ganga-Yamuna Valley especially during the rule of Kanishka, Huvishka and Vasudeva.

The stone used for this art is yellow- or buff-spotted light-pink or red sandstone obtained from Sikri, Rupbas and Agra quarries. The artists of Mathura made an enormous contribution to the development of Buddhist art. Secular and social themes also became the subject of art production. The Bacchanalian scenes displayed here is one of the examples of a secular theme.

The flatness and low relief of the pre-Kuṣaṇ period of 2nd or 3rd centuries B.C. disappeared in the Kuṣaṇ period and a much more natural form in bold relief and round body parts appeared in sculpture. The beautiful damsels standing gracefully on the railing pillars show charming facial features with proportionate voluptuous body, having sensual appeal. On the back of the railing pillars we find either decorative medallions with rosettes, fantastic animals and sacred symbols or sometimes a story from the Jātakas. A lot of foreign elements are seen intermingled with the indigenous art form.

Text adapted from a sign in the Indian Museum

Gupta and Pāla Schools

At Sarnath, where the Buddha offered his first message of deliverance to the world, there flourished during the Gupta period an idiom of plastic art different in form from the contemporary atelier at Mathura. The norm of the Gupta artists is to translate the spiritualism and tranquility of mind into the human body in a delicately plastic and tactile modeling, hardly affecting the correct anatomy of the human body. As a consequence, in the sculptures of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the body sheds off all its toughness and attains a soft delicacy. The translucent wet drapery, without folds, is an important watermark of the Sarnath School.

Modelled in buff colour sandstone, the sculptures of the Buddha display compassion and assurance through the fearless abhayamudrā, explanation of ultimate Truth through vyākhyānamudrā and the giving of favour through varadamudrā. Upright stone slabs known as ūrdhvapāṭas depict the four main stages of Lord's Life - Birth, Enlightenment, Preaching and Decease. Most of the sculptures belong to the golden days of the Guptas, i.e. the 5th century A.D. Others, very few in number, are of a later period.

Text adapted from a sign in the Indian Museum



Lintel, 11c, Bihar


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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