• TORSO OF A “PRIEST-KING” From Mohenjo-Daro. Indus Valley civilization, c. 2600–1900 BCE. Steatite, height 6 7 ⁄8 (17.5 cm). National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi.
“PRIEST-KING” FROM MOHENJO-DARO The male torso sometimes called the “priest-king” (FIG. 10–4) suggests by this name a structure of society where priests functioned as kings—for which we have no evidence at all. Several features of this figure, including a low forehead, a broad nose, thick lips, and long slit eyes, are seen on other works from Mohenjo-Daro. The man’s garment is patterned with a trefoil (three-lobed) motif. The depressions of the trefoil pattern were originally filled with red pigment, and the eyes were inlaid with colored shell or stone. Narrow bands with circular ornaments adorn the upper arm and the head. The headband falls in back into two long strands, and they may be an indication of rank. Certainly, with its formal pose and simplified, geometric form, the statue conveys a commanding human presence.
FEMALE FIGURE HOLDING A FLY-WHISK From Didarganj, Patna, Bihar, India. Probably Maurya period, c. 250 BCE. Polished sandstone, height 54 1 ⁄4 (1.63 m). Patna Museum, Patna.
FIGURE HOLDING A FLY-WHISK, or chauri (FIG. 10–7), found at Didarganj, near the Maurya capital of Pataliputra may represent one such deity. The statue, dated by most scholars to the Maurya period, probably represents a yakshi, a spirit associated with the productive and reproductive forces of nature. With its large breasts and pelvis, the figure embodies the association of female beauty with procreative abundance, bounty, and auspiciousness (conducive to success; favorable.). Sculpted from fine-grained sandstone, the statue conveys the yakshi’s authority through the frontal rigor of her pose, the massive volumes of her form, and the strong, linear patterning of her ornaments and dress. Alleviating and counterbalancing this hierarchical formality are her soft, youthful face, the precise definition of prominent features such as the stomach muscles, and the polished sheen of her exposed flesh. As noted above, this lustrous polish is a special feature of Maurya sculpture.
The Great Departure East torana (exterior middle architrave) of Stupa 1 (The Great Stupa) at Sanchi. 1st century BCE. Sandstone.
Before he became the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha resolved to give up his royal comforts in order to pursue the life of an ascetic. Confiding only in his charioteer Channa, the prince slipped out of his palace in the dead of night, and, mounting his horse, headed for the gates. The local gods, yakshas, were eager for the prince to succeed on his spiritual quest and cupped their hands under the horse’s hooves so that no one would awaken from the noise. Indeed, in some versions, they carry the horse and its rider right over the palace walls. This story is depicted, using some distinctive forms of visual narrative, on the middle architrave of the east gate of the Great Stupa at Sanchi.
YAKSHI BRACKET FIGURE
Forming a bracket between each capital and the lowest crossbar on the east gate is a sculpture of a YAKSHI (FIG. 10–9). These yakshis are some of the finest female figures in Indian art, and they make an instructive comparison with the Didarganj image of the Maurya period (see FIG. 10–7). The earlier figure was distinguished by a formal, somewhat rigid pose, an emphasis on realistic details, and a clear distinction between clothed and nude parts of the body. In contrast, the Sanchi yakshi leans daringly into space with casual abandon, supported by one leg as the other charmingly crosses behind. Her thin, diaphanous ( light, delicate, and translucent.) garment is noticeable only by its hems, and so she appears almost nude, which emphasizes her form. The mango tree on which she hangs is heavy with fruit, reasserting the fecundity (the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertility.) and bounty associated with these mercurial deities. This semidivine figure’s presence on a Buddhist gateway implies her role as a guardian or devotee, which, in turn, speaks to Buddhism’s inclusiveness. Even deities were understood to benefit from the Buddha’s teachings.
STANDING BUDDHA Pakistan. c. 2nd–3rd century CE. Schist,
THE GANDHARA STYLE Combining elements of Hellenistic, Persian, and Indian styles, Gandhara sculptors typically portrayed the Buddha as an athletic figure, more powerful and heroic than an ordinary human. Carved from schist, a fine-grained dark stone, this over-life-size STANDING BUDDHA (FIG. 10–12) may date to the fully developed stage of the Gandhara style, possibly around the third century ce. The Buddha’s body, revealed through the folds of the garment, is broad and massive, with heavy shoulders and limbs and a well-defined torso. His left knee bends gently, suggesting a slightly relaxed posture. The treatment of the robe is especially characteristic of the Gandhara manner. Tight, naturalistic folds alternate with delicate creases, setting up a clear, rhythmic pattern of heavy and shallow lines. On the upper part of the figure, the folds break asymmetrically along the left arm; on the lower part, they drape in a symmetric U shape. The strong tension of the folds suggests life and power within the image. This complex fold pattern resembles the treatment of togas on certain Roman statues (see FIG. 6–22), and it exerted a strong influence on portrayals of the Buddha in Central and East Asia. The Gandhara region’s relations with the Hellenistic world may have led to this strongly Western style in its art. Pockets of Hellenistic culture had thrived in neighboring Bactria (present-day northern Afghanistan and southern Uzbekistan) since the fourth century bce, when the Greeks under Alexander the Great had reached the borders of India. Also, Gandhara’s position draw on this sculptural tradition, often portraying him in a frontal stance with broad shoulders and wide eyes.
VISHNU LYING ON THE COSMIC WATERS
One panel depicts VISHNU LYING ON THE COSMIC WATERS at the beginning of creation (FIG. 10–15). He sleeps on the serpent of infinity, Ananta, whose body coils endlessly into space. Stirred by his female aspect (shakti, or female energy), personified here by the goddess Lakshmi, seen holding his foot, Vishnu dreams the universe into existence. From his navel springs a lotus (shown in this relief behind Vishnu), from which emerges the god Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman), who appears here as the central, four-headed figure in the row of gods portrayed above the reclining Vishnu. Brahma subsequently turns himself into the universe of space and time by thinking, “May I become Many.” The sculptor has depicted Vishnu as a large, resplendent figure with four arms. His size and his multiple arms denote his omnipotence. He is lightly garbed but richly ornamented. The ideal of the Gupta style is evident in the smooth, perfected shape of the body and in the lavishly detailed jewelry, including Vishnu’s characteristic cylindrical crown. The four figures on the right in the frieze below personify Vishnu’s four attributes. They stand ready to fight the appearance of evil, represented at the left of the frieze by two demons who threaten to kill Brahma and jeopardize all creation. The birth of the universe and the appearance of evil are thus portrayed here in three clearly organized registers. Typical of Indian religious and artistic expression, these momentous events are set before our eyes not in terms of abstract symbols, but as a drama acted out by gods in superhuman form.
Prior to the late fifth century, the Vakataka dynasty had been subject to Gupta rule. Shortly after winning regional control, people affiliated with their court began to sponsor a new phase of construction at the rock-cut monastery of Ajanta. Each of these large caves, over 20 in all, appears to have had its own major patron. Whether inspired by devotion or competition, these caves are among the finest rock-cut architecture found anywhere. Adding to the importance of these caves is the fact that they preserve examples of wall painting, giving us a rare glimpse of a refined art form that has almost entirely been lost to time. Of these examples, Cave I, a large vihara hall with monks’ chambers around the sides and a Buddha shrine chamber in the back, houses some of the finest. Murals painted in mineral pigments on a prepared plaster surface cover the walls of the central court. Some depict episodes from the Buddha’s past lives while two large bodhisattvas, one of which is seen in FIGURE 10–17, flank the entrance to the shrine chamber. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who postpone nirvana and buddhahood to help others achieve enlightenment. They are distinguished from buddhas in art by their princely garments. Lavishly adorned with delicate ornaments, this bodhisattva wears a bejeweled crown, large earrings, a pearl necklace, armbands, and bracelets. A striped cloth covers his lower body. The graceful bending posture and serene gaze impart a sympathetic attitude. His possible identity as the compassionate bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is indicated by the lotus flower he holds in his right hand.
Slide 8STANDING BUDDHA Afghanistan. c. 5th century CE. Sandstone coated in stucco
The Gupta and their feudatories were by no means the only kingdoms to flourish in fourth- to sixth-century South Asia. For example, at the site of Bamiyan, about 155 miles northwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, two enormous Buddhas were carved from the rock of a cliff, one some 115 feet in height (FIG. 10–18), the other about 165 feet. Located just west of one of the most treacherous portions of the Silk Road, this rich oasis town was a haven and crossroad on the lucrative trade routes that reached from China to the West. Buddhist travelers must have offered gifts of thanks or prayers for safety, depending on their destinations. Recorded by a Chinese pilgrim who came to Bamiyan in the fifth century, these Buddhas must date from before his visit. On the right side of the smaller figure, pilgrims could walk within the cliff up a staircase that ended at the Buddha’s shoulder. There they could look into the vault of the niche and see a painted image of the sun god, suggesting a metaphoric pilgrimage to the heavens. They then could circumambulate (walk all the way around (something)) the figure at the level of the head and return to ground level by a staircase on the figure’s left side. These huge figures likely served as the model for those at rock-cut sanctuaries in China, for example, at Yungang. Despite the historical and religious importance of these figures, and ignoring the pleas of world leaders, the Taliban demolished the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001.
Yaksha (Sanskritयक्ष yakṣa, Odia-ଯକ୍ଷ, Paliyakkha) are a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, but sometimes mischievous and sexually aggressive or capricious caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots.They appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts, as well as ancient and medieval era temples of South Asia and Southeast Asia as guardian deities. The feminine form of the word is yakṣī or Yakshini (yakṣiṇī).
In Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts, the yakṣa has a dual personality. On the one hand, a yakṣa may be an inoffensive nature-fairy, associated with woods and mountains; but there is also a darker version of the yakṣa, which is a kind of ghost (bhuta) that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakṣasas.