Scholars of early Indian art traditions have mostly viewed the coastlands as being marginal to the cultural efflorescences that happened in the interiors of the subcontinent. The classical schools of Indian sculptural art which blossomed at Mathura, Gandhara and Samath in the first half of the first millennium CE, have become axioms in the study of early Indian sculptural art. No discussion on early sculptural art can be complete without allusion to one or other of the schools. This work attempts to show that the coastlands, while influenced by the great schools of art, were nevertheless cultural melting pots in their own right, often transcending the art of the interiors. As staging areas of long distance maritime exchanges, the Indian coastlands have long mediated between the far civilizations of the Indian Ocean world (Egyptian, Arabian, Persian, East African and Southeast Asian) and the Indic cultural sphere. The coastlands are viewed as cross-cultural realms, places most conducive for absorption of new ideas and for syncretic manifestations. The discussions in the nine chapters cover a broad range of sculptural art created in the Indian littoral regions between 300 BCE and CE 500. These include friezes in the rock cut caves of the Western and Eastern Ghats, decorated pillar capitals and free standing creations in stone and terracotta. Many of the observations are based on the author's fieldwork on the Indian coastlands.
Dr Sunil Gupta (b. 1961- ) is Assistant Keeper at the Allahabad Museum, an autonomous institution of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Dr Gupta completed his PhD in Archaeology from the Deccan College, Pune in 1998. He had been Nehru Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1997) and JSPS Post-Doctoral Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto (1998-99). Dr Gupta is widely travelled, having done archaeological fieldwork in Japan, China and East Africa. He was co-director of excavations of the Early Historic port-site of Kamrej (Gujarat) in 2003. He has chaired sessions in international conferences and has been invited as PhD examiner by the universities of Uppsala (Sweden) and Bergen (Norway). Dr Gupta has papers in referred journals and in prestigious edited volumes published in India and abroad. He is the co-editor of the Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology. His current focus is the archaeology of "trade and civilization" in the context of the early Indian Ocean world.
HERE is an interesting book on Indian Art History penned by Dr Sunil Gupta of the Allahabad Museum, Allahabad, who is also editing with me the Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology. It deals with an old subject but from an entirely new perspective. Hence we have reasons to welcome it. So far Indian Art History has been looked upon either in the framework of chronology, political dynasties, regional manifestations, religious architecture, as works of art and aesthetics, or as products of architectural engineering, etc. Each and every approach has its own merits and demerits since each one emphasizes only one aspect of the history of Indian art and architecture at the cost of other aspects. This book also places emphasis on one aspect of the history of Indian art - that of the coastal regions. This is an aspect which had not been adequately and exclusively dealt with anyone earlier. Therefore, this book may be useful for not only all serious scholars but also for the students of art history.
The book tries to reveal the role that the Indian Ocean Rim Countries, including India, played in the dissemination of Indian art and architecture, including the Indian art motifs, from the third century BCE onwards. The author has given not only the old data of the most Indian coast, but has also collected new data from his own explorations and added many new things for our knowledge.
This book also takes as beyond the Indian coastline, into Oman and other West Asian countries. It also takes us to the eastern coastline of India and also beyond along the eastern Indian Ocean Rim Countries. Therefore, the scholars of Indian art history will have something new to add to their knowledge even on this count.
However, one particular aspect, which I feel, should have been there in order to make the story complete. It is the coastline and hinterland of Goa. In recent years, Goa has been explored by archaeologists, both extensively and intensively. Even articles have been written and published by serious researchers like Prof. (Ms.) Pratima Kamat and Prof. V.K. Mitragotri in journals like Puratattva and Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology. But unfortunately, these findings have as yet not found their rightful place in the full-length books of history of Indian art. I ass summarizing here these findings with the hope that anyone writing in future on the subject of history of Indian art may reproduce these photographs and write more on them.
There are two major groups of works of art in Goa. One that relates to what is called "Petroglyphs" or Rock Art. These are mainly deep engravings of the outlines of figures done in situ on huge rock-surfaces, although high reliefs are also included in it. And the second relates to individual sculptured stone stele depicting Hindu gods and goddesses, which may have been once kept in temples for worship. The former is generally dated to the late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age, around 3000-1000 BCE although no one is sure about the dating of these petroglyphs. When I visited and saw them a few years ago, I was simply amazed and thrilled since these were engraved deeply on the flat exposed surface along a narrow flowing river called Kusavati. The rock is laterite in its primary context. I gathered that every year in the rainy season these engravings get submerged in the muddy waters of the flooded stream. The site is named Pansaimol. It is located in the Sanguem taluka where Pirla mines are active and the secondary lateritic deposits are still under digging for commercial purposes. It sometimes leads to dangerous situations for the conservationists of these rarest of the rare works of art. The area coverage of these engravings at the site is 10 m. x 70 m.
The rock-engravings include large human figures, both male and female. Animals depicted are both extinct and living, and include the zebu bull, wild goat, bison, antelope, wild goat, hyena, monkey, dog, etc. Besides these, there are symbols of fertility like cross, concentric circles, rectangles, labyrinths, footprints and X-rayed forms of animals, such as the neelgai. This shows that culturally they were primarily hunters and gatherers.
THE idea of authoring a book exclusively on early sculptural art in the Indian coastlands needed some justification deeper than being merely convinced of the academic utility of the venture. Of the latter I was not in doubt. The opportunity lay in the "peripheral" nature of the theme. As has been the case with mainstream Indian archaeology, the scholars of early Indian art traditions have viewed the coastlands as being in the margins of the cultural efflorescences which happened in the interiors of the subcontinent. The classical schools of Indian sculptural art that sprang up at Mathura, Gandhara and Sarnath in the first half of the first millennium CE, have become axioms in the study of early Indian sculptural art. No discussion on early sculptural art can be complete without reference to one or other of the schools. While the coastlands were not bereft of the influences of the great schools of art, it needs to be realized that the littoral regions of the subcontinent were cultural melting pots in their own right, often transcending the art of the interiors. The grand architecture and bold reliefs in the rock-cut cave of Karla close to the western coast is in stark contrast to the spartan precincts of the early rock-cut caves in Bihar. The role of the coastlands as disseminators of art is evident in the unique Amaravati Buddha figures whose likenesses were transmitted across the Bay of Bengal to different parts of South-East Asia. In the same vein, we can speak of the stone slab from Yemen depicting human and animal figures reminiscent of the Nagarjunakonda friezes. To me, the coastlands have never represented the periphery. As staging areas of long distance maritime exchanges, the Indian coastlands have long mediated between the far civilizations of the Indian Ocean world (Egyptian, Arabian, Persian, East African and South-East Asian) and the Indic cultural sphere.
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