Ghosh the Development of Buddhist Art in South India

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    Amaravati Stupa

    Amaravati is picturesquely situated on the south bank of the Krsna River close by the modern town of Dharanikota, ancient Dhanyakataka, the capital of Maha-Andhra, about eighteen miles west of Bezwada. The earliest stupa was raised under the patronage of the Andhras about 200 B.C., of which a few archaic sculptures have survived, but most of the exquisite marbles which survive to-day belong to a subsequent restoration about four centuries later. The great Buddhist stupa of Amaravati which was once unrivalled by any other Indian structure of its class in form, dimension and decorative grandeur

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    shared no better fate than the rest of the ancient monuments. "When Huen-tsang visited the place in the year 639 A.D. it had already been deserted for a century, but he speaks of its magnificence and the beauty of its site in more glowing terms than he applies to almost any other monument in India.''(1) From this time onward the monument gradually began to decay and fall into ruins. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the famous mound, the upper part of which rose in a turreted shape encased with bricks to the height of 20ft. with a diameter of about 90

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  • ft. at the top, was locally known as Dipaldinne or "Hill of Lights". Colonel Mackenzie who went to the site in 1797 found to his great chagrin that just a year before, the local Raja Venkatadri Naidu had discovered and disemboweled the mound in a fruitless search after hidden treasures; he afterwards caused a reservoir to be dug in the centre and used the priceless marble slabs in building the new temple of Amaresvara and the flight of steps to the adjacent tank of Sivaganga. Some of the slabs were utilised by the Mussalmans in their mosques, after 'carefully divesting of every carving by rubbing them on harder stones, to prevent, as it is said, any pollution arising to Muhammadan faith from idolatrous substances'.(2) Mackenzie revisited it in 1816, when as a result of excavation he recovered some 130 slabs, made drawings of them and prepared a ground-plan of the stupa. The place was next visited by Sir Walter Elliot in 1845; but in the meantime 70 pieces of sculptures left behind in the open had been carried away by the enterprising villagers and burnt into lime! (3) It is deplorable that even the Government Public Works Engineers were equally guilty of such acts of vandalism.(4)

    The slabs excavated by Sir Walter were transhipped to England and now adorn the grand stair-case of the British Museum. The next excavation was undertaken by Mr. Sewell, but it was reserved for Dr. Burgess to make a shifting and scientific examination of the spot in 1882-83 and incorporate his findings in a voluminous report, In the first decade of the 20th century, the work was continued, with ______________________

    1. Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, 2nd ed., London, 1910, vol.I, p.123 2. Burgess, The Buddhist Stupas of Amaravati and Jaggayyapeta, London, 1887, p. 15. 3. Sewell, Report on the Amaravati Tope, London, 1880, p. 67. 4. Madras Govt.,Orders No. 467, 30 April, 1888, p. 15.

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    valuable results, by Mr. Rea of the Arclaeological Survey. The sculptures which are now in India after surviving the ruthless vandalism through the ages are shared by the Museums of Madras and Calcutta.

    An inscription of the reign of Palumavi Vasisthiputra tells us that the Amaravati stupa was known as the Mahacaitya or 'Great Caitya' of the Holy One belonging to the Caitika School. A stupa or Caitya has its origin in the primitive burial mound of both the Arya and the Asura.(1) In the vicinity of Amaravati itself, there are numerous funeral tumulii, surrounded by rude stone circles, of remote antiquity, which served as the prototypes of the later stately structures in stone or brick. The stupa at Amaravati was not a commemorative monument like the ones at Sarnath or Nagarahara, neither was it a hollow Caitya containing some relic, as the earlier stupas at Sanchi, Sonari and Manikyalado. It was a solid structure and rested within a square stone casket, on the top of the dome, in conformity with the convention of the day.

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  • The circular base of the stupa was 162 ft. in diameter, perhaps only 6 ft. high, supporting a frieze and cornice, and was faced with marble slabs possessing the richest carvings and characterised by the most delicate treatments, depicting miniature representations of the stupa itself and interposed by panels elaborately carved with scenes from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. It is very difficult to ascertain whether the dome rose directly from the drum or rested upon several receding terraces like the Gandhara, Further Indian or Indonesian specimens. But there was no balustrade to encircle the procession path at the base of the drum as on the great stupa at Sanchi. The great marble dome of Amaravati, unlike the short and stunted dome of Sanchi, rose to a considerable height of 90 ft. (twice that of Sanchi ) and was more or less bulging in form. In this respect it presented a contrast to the stilted hemispheres of the earlier northern examples and was more akin to the soaring forms of the Ceylonese dagobas, 'The domical part was covered with stucco, and with wreaths and medallions either executed in relief or painted'." The marble panels were also 'covered' originally with thin plaster,coloured and gilt. _______________________

    1. A very illuminating article on the 'Stupas or Caityas' has been recently contributed by Mr. R.D. Banerjee (vide Modern Review, Calcutta, Feb. 1928). 2. Fergusson, op. cit., p.80.

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    Thus the conception of the whole thing, profound and majestic, was matched by an exterior at once brilliant and dazzling.

    As all traces of the great stupa have been wiped away from the site, we cannot help looking at one of the numerous panels representing the miniature stupa in order to gain an idea of the original one (see plate). The very first thing that strikes us, and which is visible nowhere in northern India, is the five tall stelae 'above the front slab, which slightly projects from the base of the dagoba--the bases are square and sometimes ornamented with carvings of Cakra, Bodhi Tree and Dagoba; the shafts are octagonal, and they have square carved capitals'.(1) The existence of these novel features on the great stupa is attested by the discovery by Dr. Burgess of a number of these pillars at the Jaggayyapeta stupa 30 miles north-west of Amaravati, of which we have already spoken.(2) In an inscription they are called 'Aryaka Khambhe'. That this was a common feature of the Kalinga Stupas is proved by the recurrence of this element also in the stupas at Bhattiprolu and Ghantasala. These projecting pedestals with the enigmatical columns, on the four cardinal points of each stupa, may correspond to the four shrines in the stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut, and the niches for the Dhyani Buddhas in the dagobas of Ceylon and the Caityas of Nepal. With the march of time the number of these chapels went on increasing; at Sarnath they are doubled while Borobudur simply bristles with them.

    Other slabs invariably present us with another

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  • peculiar feature, viz., a dwarf figure standing on each side of the gate, holding a tray on his head.(3) Their constant occurrences lead us to believe that in the original structure they represented statues in the round, bearing trays to receive the offerings of the visitors. Dr. Burgess opines, 'No example of them has been found and the only analogue I know of, is a similar small figure bearing a basin by the doorjamb of the cave at Lonad of the Thana district near Kalyan."(4) But we think a closer examination of the extant monuments may yet reveal such figures and in fact there are such at Karli and in Orissa. A pair of vases with flowers ___________________

    1. Burgess, op. cit,, P. 72. 2. Ghosh, Development of Buddhist Art in South India, Indian Historical Quarterly, Sept, 1927, p. 502 3. Burgess, op. cit,, Plate XXXI, Figs. 6 and 7. 4. Ibid., p. 72.

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    (mangalakalasa?) prominently placed at the entrance is another regular feature of the sculptured slabs.

    The appearance of two slender pillars or free-standing lats with small Caitya capitals, crowned sometimes with plenty of Chatas, one on each side of the entrance within the enclosure, is also remarkable The paucity of such examples in the northern stupas is striking; and if they occur at all (as for example at Sarnath and Sanchi) they are situated outside and not inside the rail. The actual presence of these columns in the great stupa, is supported by the excavations at Jaggayyapeta and Bhattiprolu. They have also a close affinity with innumerable concentric lats, still standing round the Thuparama and Lankarama dagobas in Ceylon--a perpetual enigma to the generations of archaeologists.

    The Rail.--The most singular feature of the early Buddhist and Jaina stupas is the rail, upon which the artist devoted his most scrupulous attention and lavished all the splendour he could conceive. We are aware of the extant rails at Bharhut, Bodh Gaya, Sanchi and Mathura and we know too their wealth of decoration, but the remarkable rail at Amaravati has far surpassed them all in the magnificence of elegant carvings and the marvellous display of intrinsic merit. The ornamental detail is simply staggering in its profusion and afford a striking contrast to the plain and simple rail of the great stupa at Sanchi.

    The great rail at Amaravati was about 600 ft. in circumference and 14 ft. in height with a procession path 13 ft. broad, intervening between it and the base. It was more than twice the dimension of the rail at Bharhut. The Tibetan historian Taranatha records that the great Buddhist Acarya Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamika School 'surrounded the great shrine of Dhanyakataka with a railing.(1) Colonel Mackenzie in 1797 Was responsible for starting the theory that the stupa was surrounded by two rails--one inner and another outer. The error persisted with veteran archaeologists like Fergusson and Burgess, not to speak of Elliot and Sewell. It

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  • was only about two decades ago that Burgess acknowledged and rectified the mistake. 'From some misunderstanding of the first accounts' he added, 'it was supposed that the Amaravati Stupa had an inner ___________________

    1. Schiefner's Taranatha's Geschichte des Buddhismus, p.72; JASB. vol.LI, pp. 119; Indian Antiquary, vol. XII, p. 88.

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    rail; this was a mistake; the inner circle of sculptures was the facing of the base of the stupa'.(1)

    The rail at Amaravati resembled its predecessors in the principal features; but the plinth was richly carved with a frieze of running boys and animals, grotesquely treated. The rectangular pillars were as usual edged off into shallow flutes. They were decorated with half lotus discs at the top and the bottom, and circular discs in the middle inserted with a full-grown lotus or a scene, in the usual manner. But the most typical characteristic about these pillars, is the complete absence of the large standing human representations, occupying the entire surface of the uprights, such as the graceful statues of Yaksas and Yaksinis of Bharhut, Bodh Gaya and the dancing girls of Mathura. They have entirely disappeared and their place is occupied by greatly magnified and richly carved lotus discs, curling leaves carefully corrugated, comical Ganas and an enormous variety of scenic sculptures. The preference for group composition, as opposed to single figures, is very obvious in the swarming of the space between the discs--which was generally left bare and unadorned in the earlier days by vivid and animated delineation of the Jatakas and other incidents. The three cross-bars were each embellished with a beautiful lotus disc with concentric bands of petals, the most elaborate of its kind...


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