Aesthetics of Indian Sculpture 

Saturday, May 29, 2010 5:16:46 PM

-R.S. Bisht
The sun kissed the surface of the water and the lotus bloomed. A pair of floating swans started dancing around it. The sound pierced through the bosom of the air and the universe woke up. The man stood up and bowed his head with folded hands to welcome the day break of human civilization. Nature became his first teacher. Fear and faith kept changing places till faith dominates fear resulting into system of life governed by religious codes. Man started giving shape to his ideas in many different ways. Gods were to be worshipped and their images were to be made. Hence Indian Sculpture is the form of a way of life where transcendental reality is experienced in actual shapes and their relations. The shapes are those of nature and of art.

Art supplies the body in which God is made real in certain configuration, peculiar to Indian sculpture of all ages. This mode of experiencing the way of life evolves its own themes and plastic symbols. It flourished for a period of five thousand years which can be classified in three main groups, for example, Ancient Indian Sculpture, Classical Sculpture 200BC to 800AD and the Medieval Sculpture 800AD to 1300AD. Unlike the Greeks who perfected merely the beauty of the human body, Indian Sculpture modelled what had a primary significance to him as an integral part of a supra-personal connectedness of life. In art, as Tagore said, ‘Man reveals himself and not his objects.’
Hence realism in Indian art is not an endeavour as in Western art but it is an unavoidable condition. The profound and partly over exaggerated modelling may not suggest any action but it depicts the vitality. Human figures are created with the multiplicity of the parts of the human body which turns them into the images of super human beings. These multitude heads and limbs represent stages of one movement and indicate the potency of the Super human in the simultaneousness of their presence.

The images have a function to serve and that is to help the worshipper to worship, hence they should be such as they would attract the respect and devotion of the devotees. Therefore, according to shilpa canons, an image to be beautiful must be of contemplative mood. It should be made slightly smiling, pleasant and possess all good signs. The sculptor should absolutely avoid the construction of the mouth which is passionate, impetuous, wrathful, sour, bitter or circular. If the sculptor made beautiful idols on the lines of established norms of aesthetics, many blessings will befall on him and his associates. For example, ‘If the sight of the image is turned toward the left, cattle are destroyed, if upwards, there is loss of wealth, if downcast and violent it would destroy the prosperity of the sculptors, if the forehead becomes too thick, there would be loss of life; if the sides are thick, there would be loss of life; if the arm pit be thick, it would kill the sculptor.

The sculptors therefore should take care that he does not violate the rules of the shastras which provide the technique of creating perfect and beautiful images. The modern art critic, however, may not react to these notions of Indian aesthetics, but for a proper understanding of Indian Sculpture, these ideas have to be taken into account. The Indian image maker tried to express the attitude of contemplation in the face of the image. So that as soon as the worshipper or the onlooker sees the figure, one is struck by the calmness and the contemplative mood of the image, as observed in the images of Sarnath.

The genesis of all art tradition must have been in some gestures in the methods and materials that spontaneously came to men of genius and were followed by others. The materials sanctioned by shastras for making images are wood, clay, jewel, gold, silver, copper and stone. An idol made in wood and clay, gives long life, prosperity, strength and victory and that of jewel does good to them. The image of silver brings fame, that of copper increases population and that of stone gives ground. It is obvious then, why our heritage in sculptural art is in all these aforesaid mediums.

The marvellous terracotta figurines of Indus Art and Kausambhi, the meticulous rock carvings of Classical Indian Sculpture, the temple arts of the medieval era at Konark and Khajuraho, mainly comprising of erotic sculptures by the side of deities, which is really a very hard test for the worshipper who comes for dhyana and lastly the world famous bronzes of Southern India. They are all manifestations of the Indian Sculptor who has created history that perhaps shall not repeat itself. The human figure, however, reached its highest sublimation in the Gupta classical phase when the divine image, rendered in the shape and form of a human being, assumed a super human aspect and attained its true spiritual import. In this sublimation one may recognise a sculptor’s vision and realization of the divine being and the intellectual process involved therein. Indian art has always been essentially a religious art and with the standardisation of the canons all artistic activities came to be governed by certain established principles of aesthetic.

To an Indian the image is just a medium for meditation and concentration upon the divine principle. The great European Sculptor Rodin paid glowing tributes to the Natraj bronze of thirteenth century as the finest composition, the medium of sculpture which the world has ever produced. The Natraj bronze was cast solid for it was considered improper that the image should be hollow from inside. It is an extremely compact circular composition in a terrific dance movement. It has four hands whirling in an ecstatic movement. One hand has a drum signifying the sound for the unfolding of the universe. The other has a flame, the symbol of destruction. The third hand is in a gesture of protection and he fourth is in Gaja Hasta Mudra. The whole body is poised on the right foot and the left foot is lifted, being the refuge of all. It is an abstraction of whirlwind in terms of man. In the perfect realisation of profound symbology underlying the conception along with rhythm, balance, proportion and movement and embodies in it, it ranks as one of the supreme creation of the Indian Art Heritage.


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