An iconographical survey in the Nepal Valley was carried out jointly by the Department of Archaeology and Culture of His Majesty's Government, Nepal and the Archaeological Survey of India under the direction of the author during the months of May-June, 1963.The icons in the temples and the monasteries as well as the stray images in the Kathmandu Valley were studied with adequate photographic documentation.
Nepal has an immensely rich variety of image types both of the Brahmanical and Buddhist religions. The earliest images available in Nepal are mainly Brahmanical and few images of Buddhist affiliation have been found prior to the seventh century. The Valley has yielded fine image of numerous Vaishnava and Siva deities and of Surya and Brahma and various forms of Devis, including Parvati and the seven mothers made between the fifth and tenth centuries. The Vaishnava deities include Vishnu as Sridhara, Garuda-Narasimha, Trivikrama and Krishna as Kaliya-damana. The Trivikrama images which incidentally constitute the earliest dated sculptures of Nepal are informed by elemental power and dynamism, characteristic of the early Chalukyan art of India. The sculpture of Vishnu as visvarupa is a unique piece, strongly reminiscent of the famous seven -headed Siva from Parel (Bombay) in conception and expression. Nepal has also yielded numerous Siva-lingas of the symbolic as well as the iconic types, the latter comprising largely chaturmukha-linas, besides figures of Genesa often combining the Gangadhara aspect, which have and unmistakable Rashtrakuta flavour.
Like the Brahmanicla images, the earlier Buddhist image too, are seen to have striking affinities with the Indian images in theme as well as treatment and comprise simple but elegantly modeled figures of Buddha, Lokesvara, Tara, and Maya Devi. The artists of Nepal drew ample inspiration from the various Gupta and post-Gupta art-styles of India but transformed their art creation with the magic touch of their individual genius. From the tenth century onwards, the art-idioms and conventions of Nepal increasingly assert themselves, showing dominance of local feature and physiognomy and Nepal is seen to develop her own style of sculpture marked by a peculiar innate grace and daintiness. The art conventions of Nepal tend towards greater stylization and complexity in course of the centuries. The plastic activity continues in full vigour till the close of the seventeenth century, though the momentum is not completely lost even during the eighteenth century.
The image are made of stone, bronze or brass, wood and terracotta and largely come from the numerous Brahmanical temples, Buddhist shrines and monasteries which dot the valley. Particular interesting are the figures on the wooden status, which reveal an amazing variety of Lokesvara types and figures of different deties including the nakshatras (constellation ) on the Budhhist shrines and monasteries and deities of the Hindu pantheon with a predominance of the figures of Bhairavas and Chandis on the Brahmanical temples.
Among the rare iconographic types may be mentioned Siva as Ekapada-Trimurti, Chandra (the moon-god) riding a chariot of geese, Mahisha-sambara and Vishnu in the ardha-nari (androgynous) from. Four-armed and eight-armed image of the last deity are found in large numbers throughout the valley together with the more familiar type of the Vishnu icon.
From the eleventh century onwards, hundreds of Buddhist deities were conceived and fashioned under the influence to Tantrayana and Vajrayana sects which gained special popularity in Nepal. Many of these reveal a marked impact of Tantric Saivism which flourished in the Valley simultaneously. The interfusion between Buddhism and Brahmanism led to complex iconographical forms revealing Buddhist deties with Brahmanical features and Brahmanical deties with Buddhist traits, the latter exemplified by a number of Saiva and Vaishnava deities holding among other weapons vajra and vajra-ghanta, which are usually associated with the Vajrayana deities. The iconographical synthesis between Buddhism and Brahmanism is graphically illustrated by some Tantric figures of Mahakala in the Sundari Chowk, Patan, depicting on their pedestal a frieze showing a combined pattern of the Stupa alternating with the Siva-linga.
In the following pages an attempt has been made to classify the rich iconographical wealth of the Nepal valley and present a summary of the results of the iconographical survey which was undertaken as a project of the Indian Cooperation Mission in Nepal with the active help and cooperation of the Department of Archaeology and Culture of His Majesty's Government, Nepal.
The author is grateful to Shri S.S Bhandarkar who as Member (Education) of the Indian Cooperation Mission conceived the project and provided all encouragement and facilities for its execution. Needless to say that the accomplishment of this Survey was due largely to the ungrudging help and active cooperation of Shri R.J.Thapa, Director of the Department of Archaeology and Culture of HMG, Nepal. I am also beholden to Shri Purnaharsha Bajracharya of the same Department and to my colleague Dr. N.R. Banerjee for many valuable suggestions. I am happy to record my deep appreciation of the artistic acumen and dedicated work of Shri Ranjit Gupta, Photographer of the Archaeological Survey of India, who took all the photographs and to Shri S.P. Chatterjee, Artist of the Survey, who took all pains to correct the proofs finally. Shri S.R.Varma was always on his feet to see the book through the press. Thanks are also due to Kumari Arundhati Banerji for necessary help in going through the poofs and Shri P.K. Trivedi, who gladly accepted to prepare the index within a short time.
The opinion expressed and the interpretations offered in this book are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Archaeological Survey of India or the Department of Archaeology of His Majesty's Government of Nepal.
The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal has an enchanting variety of topographical features. Its southern geographical division comprises the Tarai region which merges into the plains of India. The Tarai is bounded on the north by the gentle rides of the Siwaliks followed by the higher Mahabharata hills, beyond which nestles the lush green valley of Kathmandu, the centre of Nepal's economy and cultural, where 'there are nearly as many temples as houses, and as many idols as inhabitants, there not benign a fountain, a river, or a hill within its limits, that is not consecrated to one or other of the Hindoo deities .To Himalayas till the plateau of Tibet, 'the roof of the world; is reached. Thus situated between India on the south and Tibet on the north, Nepal was destined to be veritable reservoir of cultural currents flowing from both her neighbors. Nepal had the genius to assimilate these currents and transform and catalyse them into something which became truly Nepalese and blended with her own cultural milieu. This synthesis is reflected in all spheres of Nepal's life and thought, including her social institutions, her religious beliefs and practices and her art, architecture and iconography.
List of Plates
Religious Inspiration of Nepalese Art
Characteristics of Nepalese Art
Images of Surya
Brahmanical Tantric Images in Sundari Chowk, Patan
Brahmanical Tantric Images in Sadasiva (Bhairava) Chowk
Brahmanical Tantric Imagesin Kumari Chowk, Bhaktapur
Brahmanical Tantric Images in Mahadeva Temple, Rani Pokhari
Other Buddhist God
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