The Schools of Art in Ancient India | Art Schools in Ancient India – Gandhara, Mathura, Amaravati

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The Buddhism spread greatly during the first and second centuries, had spurred a renewed artistic passionate to illustrate the enlightened message of Buddhism. During this prolific time emerged three main “schools” in India that had developed their own particular styles and distinctions. These were the Gandhara, Mathura, and Amaravati schools.

Gandhara School

Period, Place and Patrons – It flourished from about the middle of the first century BC to about the fifth century AD in the Gandhara region (north-western India) and hence known as the ‘Gandhara School’. It owed its origin to the Indo-Greek rulers, but the real patrons of the school were the sakas and the Kushanas, especially Kanishka. Owing to its intimate connection with Mahayana Buddhism, it is also called the ‘Graeco-Buddhist School’.
Gandhara Sculpturs – Specimens of Gandhara sculpture have been found extensively in the ruins of Taxila and the various ancient sites in Afghanistan and north-western India. They were executed in black stone.

Gandhara school has the following main features –

1. A tendency to mould the human body in a realistic manner with great attention to accuracy of physical details, especially the delineation of muscles, the addition of moustaches, curly hair, and the like.

2. The representation of thick drapery with large and bold fold lines;

3. Rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and complex symbolism.

Gandhara Architecture excelled mainly during the construction of monasteries and stupas.

Buddhist Monasteries – A very large number of Buddhist monasteries were built in the early centuries of the Christian era. Ruins of about 15 monasteries have been found in the neighbourhood of Peshawar and Rawalpindi, while in the Kabul valley alone there are some 50 examples.

Buddhist Stupas – The Graeco-Roman architectural impact modified the structure of the stupa. The orthodox Indian design of the stupa was developed into an architectural composition of fine proportions and character. The height of the stupa was raised enormously by elevating it on a high platform and by elongating its main body upwards. Besides, plastic ornamentation was added to the structure of the stupa. All this provided the stupa effective and colourful appearance.

The main theme of Gandhara school can be said to be the new form of Buddhism, viz. Mahayanism, and its most important contribution was the evolution of an image of the Buddha.

Mathura School

Period and Place – The school of art that developed at Mathura (UP) has been called the ‘Mathura School’. Its origin has been traced back first century AD when its genuine progress began. The artists of Mathura used the spotted red sandstone for making images. Though the Mathura school owed much to Adaptations of : the earlier Indian traditions (Bharhut, Gaya and Sanchi), it also borrowed from the Gandhara school and adopted more than one Graeco-Roman motif.

Jaina Images – In its early phase, the Mathura school was probably inspired by Jainism as we find that many fig ures of cross-legged naked tirthankaras in meditation were carved by Mathura craftsmen.

Buddhist Images – The early Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Mathura school are fleshy figures with little spirituality about them, but later they developed in grace and religious feeling.

Brahmanical Images – The Mathura artists also carved out images of Brahmanical divinities. Popular Brahmanical gods, Siva and Vishnu, were represented alone and sometimes with their consorts, Parvati and Lakshmi respectively. Images of many other Brahmanical deities were also faithfully executed in stone.

Female Figures – The most striking remains are the beautiful female figures of yaksinis, naginis and apsaras. These richly jewelled ladies, stand in pert attitudes reminiscent of the Indus dancing girl.

Royal Statues – Most of the Kushana royal statues were found at the village of Mat (near Mathura) where the Kushana kings had a winter palace, with a chapel in which the memory of former monarchs and princes were revered. Almost all the figures have been broken by the rulers of the succeeding dynasties, and that of the great Kanishka, the most striking of the statues, unfortunately lacks its head.

Amaravati School

Period and Place – In the region between the lower valleys of the Krishna and Godavari, which became an important centre of Buddhism at least as early as the second century BC, a separate school of art, known as the ‘Amaravati School’, flourished. Though it had its beginnings in the middle of the second century BC, it matured only in the later Satavahana period (second and third century AD) and declined by the end of the fourth century AD. Its main centres were Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda and Jaggayyapeta. Its artists mainly used white marble.

Buddhists Statues – The great stupa of Amaravati was adorned with limestone reliefs depicting scenes of the Buddha’s life and surrounded with free-standing Buddha figures.

Secular Statues – Amaravati artists created beautiful human images, which outnumber those of religious nature. The figures and images of males and females carved under the influence of this school have been regarded as some of the best among the contemporaries not only from the point of view of their size, physical beauty and expression of human emotions, but also from the point of view of composition. The female figures in different moods and poses are in particular its best creations. Even men, animals and vegetation have been treated elegantly.

 Significance – The Amaravati school had a profound influence on surrounding schools of art. Its products were carried to Ceylon and Southeast Asian countries and had a marked effect on the indigenous styles. Its influence on later south Indian sculpture is also very evident.
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