Bull in Early Indian Art (Up to Sixth Century AD)

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Item Code: IDJ937
Author: Bhogendra Jha
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2004
ISBN: 8124602557
Pages: 191 (Color Figures 58 & Black & White: 95)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.2" X 7.2"
Weight 740 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

The work deals with various aspects of the bull as reflected in Indian art and literature up to the sixth century AD. Perhaps the first effort to showcase the representation of the bull in ancient India, it examines the bull's domestication and migration, the Indian type of bulls, and the philosophical tenets associated with it and studies the importance attached to the bull's physical form and its psychological characteristics, its relation to the fertility cult and its relation to the fertility cult and its relation to the fertility cult and its usefulness as a domesticated animal as reflected in ancient Indian art.

It looks into the manner in which its significance was reinforced through art and the animal protected by associating it with religion - Hindu, Buddhist, Jaina and folk. Dr. Bhogendra Jha goes in-depth into the mode of revering the bull in stone, clay, metal and colours through modeling, moulding and painting: its depiction in coins, seals and sealings, and terracottas, with reference to different historical and dynastic periods. He includes depiction of the bull in prehistoric art and its description in writings, and also compares the position of the bull in ancient world cultures - of Egypt, Crete and Mesopotamia, for instance - with its position in ancient India to broaden the scope of the study.

The book will be useful for researchers - beginners and established scholars - of early Indian art.

About the Author

Bhogendra Jha, Ph.D., an expert in India sculpture, iconography and museology, has contributed research papers to leading journals on Indian art. He is the co-author of Gupta Sculptures and Gandhara Sculptures. He is associated with the Bharat Kala Bhavan of the Banaras Hindu University as a senior curator at present.


ANIMALS played a very significant role in early Indian art and iconography. A careful survey and analysis of Indian art before the beginning of Christian era would show that the depiction of nature was not only favourite with Indian artists of this period, but in fact, it served as predominant factor in artistic compositions. Human figure were, of course, there but they were there as part of nature. Among the elements in nature, animal portrayals received greater attention. Gods and goddesses, in their iconic shape, did not evolve at that stage. Their presence indicated through their iconoconic and theriomorphic symbols.

Certain select animals were associated with the divinities in Brahmanical Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina religions. However, it appears that men gave much thought before selecting a particular animal and relating it to a god or goddess. The present study takes into account the case study of Bull in early Indian art. The author associated this animal with a number of divinities but, primarily, its association with Siva in Hindu pantheon, Adinatha in Jaina pantheon and its relation with the Buddha Sakyamuni were discussed with greater detail. The author did not miss either to discuss it as a secular symbol.

As an animal, Bull evolved in the hoary past. Bos Guaras or Indian Bison appeared in the Pleistocene period with a heavy built, having a tall hump, a pair of massive upturned horns and a long tail. By nature, it is shy and timid but, if provoked, it can turn wild and dangerous. It is known for its unusual strength. It can carry heavy loads. Its power for sex and its unusual urge for sex were very well-known. Looking into its immense strength and fertilizing powers, along with certain other qualities, men felt a necessity to domesticate this animal. Once domesticated, this animal, as such, served the cause of humanity and helped, in its own way, in the growth of human civilization.

The tremendous possibilities in this powerful animal received its due recognition in all the known ancient cultures and, very soon, the bull could carve a lasting niche in the socio-religious spheres, first, and subsequently, it was reflected in the religious arts of ancient Egypt, Crete, Greece, Rome, Babylonia, Assyria, Achaemenid Persia and, of course, in India. In fact, ancient men found in this animal something magical and divine and naturally gave it a respectable position in the society.

Bull served as an animal for drawing ploughshare; it carried heavy loads and was yoked for drawing carts and chariots. Its services were taken also to fertilize cows. Such a useful animal, thus, demanded survival. To ensure the survival of this species, men associated it with various divinities including as symbolic of Dharma. Once it was considered as a divine animal, it naturally received immunity from being slaughtered.

Early Indian art was, in fact, a handmade of religion. For its intimate relations with various religion, Bull attracted the early Indian artists who modeled this animal in clay, carved it in stone both in relief and in the round and fascinatingly painted Bull in colours. Bull starts appearing in the pre-historic pottery paintings and among others was seen painted in the pre-historic rock shelters in India. Subsequently, it continued to appear on proto-historic and in the art of the historic periods in India. What is fascinating in this is that wherever or whenever it was modeled, carved or painted, whether single or in a group, Bulls maintained a sort of aristocratic aloofness and for bringing out its bearings and personality, early Indian artists gave greater attention to this animal in their treatment than other animals. As it was a domesticated animal, artists could study it closely and from various angles. Whether standing or seated, whether at rest or in movement, whether walking or charging in high speed, artists composed this animal with evident naturalism and at ease.

A comprehensive study about Bull in early Indian art was awaiting for a long span of time. Shri Bhogendra Jha, therefore, deserves appreciation for working out, for the first time, a comprehensive study of Bull with particular reference to early India. Working with evident and sustained interest, he has gathered exhaustive amount of information both literary and artistic and with such information, he has been successful in projecting the various issues related to this animal; his analysis has been relatively thorough and his conclusions are thought provoking. I firmly belive this book entitled, Bull in Early Indian Art, would satisfy the readers, to a great extent, and would raise in them many more questions about this animal, particularly, what treatment this animal did receive after the Gupta period? Perhaps, Shri Jha would engage himself in writing up another book on Bull in post-Gupta and Mediaeval Art. I personally look forward to that.-T.K. Biswas


NATURE played a significant role in early Indian art. With the introduction of icon-worship in or about first century AD, human figures became the pivot of Indian art and the nature receded to the background but it was not divorced altogether. Glimpses of nature were projected on the pedestals on either side of seated or standing images and also on the prabha-mandala of deities.

A survey of early Indian art, from the prehistoric phase down to first century BC, reveals that the art, during that period, was dominated by the depiction of animals and vegetables. Human figures were there but such figures were treated as a part of nature and their role remained, visible insignificant.

Regarding the role of animals on early Indian art, scholars in the field have worked much less than was expected. Of the works, so far published, mention may be made of the following:

§ Asish Sen's Animal Motifs in Ancient Indian Art, 1972;
§ C. Sivaramamurti's Birds and Animals in Indian Sculpture, 1974;
§ K. Bharath Iyar's Animals in Indian Sculpture, 1977;
§ Pratibha Prakas Terracotta Animal Figurines in Ganga-Yamuna Valley, 1985;
§ T.K. Biswas, Horse in Early Indian Art, 1987; § K.S. Srivastava's Elephant in Early Indian Art, etc., 1989.

The number of research articles on animals has also been insignificant. A few are listed below: O.P. Sharma, "Bull in Indian Art and Literature," U.P. Historical Society, vol.V.

(New Series), Part I, 1957, pp. 22-29; O.P. Sharma, "Unicorn in Indian Art and Legend," Journal of Bihar Research Society, vol. XLIII, Sept-Dec, 1957, Part III & IV, pp. 357-64; Poonam Chitkara, "Depiction of Cattle Motifs on Amri Pottery," Puratattva, No. 9, 1977-78, pp. 96-96; Bisvanath Mukhopadhyay, "Rsabha," Visvesvarananda Indological Journal, vol. XVIII, Pt. I & II, 1980, pp. 39-42.

From the above-published materials, it is clear that the animals, in general, and bull, in particular, did not receive adequate attention from the scholars in the field. There are, however, a few more articles, which deal with certain aspects of bull in Indian art. While writing reports on the results of excavations and explorations of a particular area, oblique references to bull are found. Similarly, in few books small paragraphs are found devoted on bull and that too, within the parameter of a given time and space.

The position of bull in Indian society, its significance in Indian religions and philosophy and its numerous depiction in Indian art have not been justifiably recorded in any book till date. This is the reason why I have taken up to work on bull. Considering the volumes of available material, I have restricted myself to study and analyze the bull in early Indian art, up to the period AD 600.

The investigation involves a systematic evaluation of bull, its origin and evolution, its domestication, its nature, its migration from the place of its origin, the Indian type of bulls, its structure, its power, energy, its sexual urges, its role as a draught animal, its participation in agriculture, its relation with cult of fertility, its acceptance in Indian religions, the philosophical tenets associated with the bull and the various ways and manners in which it was conceived in stone, clay, metal and in colour. In fact, a wholistic evaluation has been undertaken in this book.

In order to do justice and to work out a clear picture of the bull in early Indian art, the present study has been classified into the following chapters:

§ Introduction
§ Bull in prehistoric and Protohistoric Art.
§ Bull in Early Indian Literature.
§ Bull in Early India Numismatic and Glyptic Art.
§ Bull in early Indian Terracottas.
§ Bull in Early Indian Sculpture. § Conclusion.

In the introduction an attempt is made to study, in brief, about the origin and evolution of the species and then, its migration to different parts of the world. The type of the bull that entered India is noted. Its physical and psychological characteristics have been recorded. The determination of the age of a bull and its habits, including food, etc., are also discussed.

In the same chapter, the recognition of bulls in ancient world culture has been recorded. The position of bulls in religion and culture of Egypt, Crete, Greece, Mesopotamia, Assyria and Achaemenid Persia has been summarily dealt with.

In chapter 1, a thorough study has been undertaken about bulls in prehistoric art. This includes the depiction of bulls on prehistoric rock shelters and caves in India. The number of bulls painted on the caves of Central India and Uttar Pradesh are not much but the presence of bulls and their relevance and the symbolic role they play have been studied.

The chapter also includes the attempts made by prehistoric clay modelers in working out terracotta bulls. The distribution of such terracotta figurines in India and the nature and peculiarities of each region have been carefully noted. In this connection, analysis of painted bulls on prehistoric potteries and potsherds has also been made.

A detail account is also included in this chapter about the bull, modeled, moulded or painted in the protohistoric phase of Indian civilizations. The prehistoric bull in terracotta, in copper and bronze, and as these are painted in contemporary potteries, those are carefully studied. In this regard, objects found from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, mainly, and also from other protohistoric sites of extended Harappan culture, namely, Rajasthan, Saurashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Northern Mahaashtra have been studied with sustained interest. In this chapter, a number of steatite seals and sealings with bull figures have also been taken into consideration and these include seal-sealings found from Harappan sites as well as a few that were discovered in some places in the Gulf countries. Bulls with hump (Brahmani), bulls without hump, bulls with long and short horns, bull without hump, bulls with long and short horns, bulls with hump and legs perforated, bull with stumpy legs, bulls with elongated body, and, in fact, every kind of bulls, including the hybrid and fantastic types, are discussed.

Chapter 2 discusses about the bulls referred in early Indian literature. In this vast chapter, various types of information, supplied by the different texts, are noted. These include Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, Smrtis, Sutra, Mahakavyas, Buddhist Literature, Jaina Literature, Puranas, Silpasastras and many other texts, such as, Arthasastra, Astadhyayi, Raghuvamsa, Meghadutam, Kumarasambhava, Kiratarjuniya, Uttara-Ramacarita, Sisupalavadha, etc.

The literature laid bare useful information about bull, its domestication, its use for carrying loads, drawing carts and carriages, its use in cultivation, about the cult of fertility and bull sacrifice, functional types of bull, bull fight, bull racing and betting and, above all, bull's intimate relation with the religions of India. The above information helped me a great deal to explain the meaning and symbolism of bull, as noticed in early Indian art, which, otherwise, I feel, would have remained in obscurity.

Chapter 3 of this research enables me to consider the depiction of bulls on early Indian coins and on seals and sealings. The bull, as a device, appeared on the silver punch marked coins, on copper cast coins of the different tribes and localities, the copper and gold coins of the select Kusana emperors and on the coins of Skandagupta, issued from Malwa.

Ancient Indian seals and sealing also incorporated the figures of bull, sometime alone, and sometime alone, and sometime along with other symbols like trident hill etc. These seals are generally found at such sites that had been centres of trade and commerce, or of religion or a centre of administration. The seals were made by kings, trade guilds, private persons or by religious establishments. A bull, on coins and seal, according to ancient belief, symbolizes dharma or Siva. Within a minimum space available, the mint masters and seal engravers worked out bulls in seated or standing in their profile and, occasionally, these were frontally treated. This called for high quality of sill and expertise attained by the artists.

Chapter 4 deals in bulls in early India terracottas. The discussion includes in-depth studies of pre-Mauryan, Mauryan, Sunga, Kusana and Gupta terracottas with particular reference to bull. The nature of clay, the treatment of clay, the process of modeling, the application of slip, firing and application of colour differs from one period to the other and these made a deep impact on the depiction of bull. The discussion, in this chapter, includes the artistic and aesthetic analysis of early Indian terracottas. An attempt has been made here with the available examples to examine how these terracotta figures reflect an aspect of Indian culture.

Chapter 5 takes into consideration a thorough investigation of bull in early Indian stone-sculpture, spanning a period between Mauryan (fourth century BC) and Gupta period (AD 600). During the Mauryan period a few ring stones were made in which pictures of bull appeared. Ashoka, the great Mauryan ruler, patronized the erection of a number of freestanding columns. In some such pillars, the figure of bull was embossed on their capital or found relieved on abacus. The pillar capital shows the presence of single bull or double bulls or, even, on a rare occasion, four bulls. The religious affiliation, the symbolism and the delineation of bulls have been discusses in detail.

The art of Sunga period (second-first century BC) was predominantly characterized by Buddhist narrative art. In the Buddhist narrative art of Bharhut, Bodh-Gaya, Sanci, Amaravati and narrative art of a few other sites, such as, Khandagiri, has been studied, in detail, with particular reference to the presence of bull figures. These narrative panels have been studied with their social, religious and artistic backdrop.

The bull in the Kusana art of Gandhara and Mathura was examined with sustained interest, with particular reference, to its affiliation with Hindu, Buddhsit and Jaina religions. The bull in the contemporary art of Amaravati, Nagarjunkonda, Goli, etc., in the Andhra Pradesh, patronized by the Satavahanas and Iksvakus, has also been taken into consideration.

Finally, the bull in Gupta sculpture has been studied when it became an established religious symbol. The figure of bull in relief or in the round of this period appeared realistically conceived. It appeared in the narrative panels, attached to the contemporary temples and also as mount of a number of divinities. Attention has also been drawn to the bull figure, painted in a number of ways on the murals of Ajanta, particularly, such panels that were painted in the Gupta-Vakataka period. At the end of these discussions, an overall conclusion has been drawn covering the entire span of the chapters, discussed earlier.




  Forward by Dr. T. K. Biswas v
  Preface ix
  Acknowledgements xvii
  Abbreviations xix
  Introduction 1
1. Bull in Prehistoric and Proto-historic India 8
  Bull in Prehistoric Art 8
  Bull in Proto-historic Art 11
2. Bull in the Early Indian Literature 35
3. Bull in the Early Indian Numismatic and Glyptic Art 60
4. Bull in the Early Indian Terracotta 73
  Mauryan Terracotta 76
  Sunga Terracotta 79
  Krusana Terracottas 83
  Gupta Terracottas 86
5. Bull in Early Indian Stone Sculpture 94
  Bull in Mauryan Sculptures 94
  Bull in Sunga Sculptures 102
  Bull in Kusana Sculptures 110
  Bull in Gupta Sculptures 117
  Conclusion 128
  List of Illustrations 143
  Coloured Visuals 149
  Black & White Photographs 161
  Bibliography 177
  Index 189

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