From the Jacket
It is a treasure document enlightening the various stages of development of Mathura art from its earliest times. Introducing the socio-cultural background from the pre-historic times it furnishes a valuable account of the archaeological explorations and expeditions in the region since the first antiquity saw the light of the day in 1836. Indigenous by birth, the Mathura School of Art flourished on the banks of Yamuna, reached its pinnacle under the kusana patronage, continued in the Gupta age followed by medieval times, thus dominating the entire northern India for more than five centuries leaving behind imprints to be followed by the succeeding art styles. The type of stone and style changed with time and it did get influenced by its contemporary school of Gandhara once, but its exclusiveness remained down the ages. Beside the analytical assessment of the folk art tradition of early terracottas and yaksa cult, Dr. Sharma brings to light for the first time the salient features of the evolution and development of Mathura sculptures on various themes including Jaina, Buddhist and Brahmanical.
The book is an uptodate document of new researches, fresh arrivals and latest reorganization of the Museum's galleries. The coloured and black and white illustrations in this book speak of the display of rich Mathura art in the Museum. The index to the Exhibits will facilitate in spotting the description of a specific object quickly. Important sites have been located on the City and District maps and situation of galleries and ancillary units of the Museum can be found on the Gallery plan. While the Visitors will find the book a very remunerative companion during the Museum round the scholars will equally be benefited through the prolific research material it reveals.
About the Author
He educated and trained in Varanasi, Calcutta, and Paris, is the Director General of the National Museum and Vice-Chairman/Vice-Chancellor of the National Museum Institute, New Delhi. He is also the chairman of the Vrindaban Research Institute and President, Museums Association of India, an apex professional body in India, he has been the Curator, Government Museum, Mathura; Director, State Museum, Lucknow; and Director, Indian Museum, Calcutta. He has also been associated with a number of central and state organizations and universities in different capacities.
He is the author of several books, catalogues and albums, made enormous contribution in the field of Indian history, art, culture, archaeology, inscriptions, paintings and literature and has also edited research journals on these subjects. He is the research guide and examiner of doctoral dissertations of different universities.
He has organized and participated in numerous national and international seminars, delivered prestigious memorial lectures and has traveled to different parts of the world in connection with conferences, cultural delegations, lectures and mounting of important exhibitions.
MATHURA’S place in the cultural and artistic history of the country has been unique and it has always been a fascinating experience to explore and study the glory to write about its art treasures. The request of Mrs. Pushpa Thakurel, the present Director of Mathura Museum to update my-earlier writings in the light of new researches and reshuffling of exhibits in galleries was quite alluring. Whenever I could carve some time out of the tight schedule in Delhi, I rushed to Mathura and confined myself to the Museum galleries sometimes till midnight to analyse the fresh arrivals and to interpret the old ones wherever it was necessary.
The Splendour of Mathura Art and Museum presents a comprehensive survey of renowned seat of sculptural art and its grand repository. No study in Indian plastic art and iconography is complete without consulting cupboards of the Mathura Museum. It was at Mathura that the divinities of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism were given earliest form and plethora multiplied in due course. Besides, a number of folk deities also emerged here: The followers of different creeds and sects erected a good number of temples, stupas, caityas, monasteries, assembly halls, portrait gallery and several places of public utility such as wells, water tanks, gardens, refectories, etc. The remains of such establishments as exposed during the course of excavations furnish ample evidence of a flourishing and prosperous urban life at Mathura.
The contribution of Mathura has been manifold. Scholars, saints, philosophers have been visiting the region from time to time to disseminate their message and to propagate the fundamentals of their religion. Sculptors, artists and masons have been at their command and the businessmen were there to support. All these factors made Mathura a metropolis of the Northern India in ancient time. Indigenous by birth, the Mathura School of Art flourished on the banks of the Yamuna and reached pinnacle under the Kusana patronage, further improved in quality in the Gupta period and did leave its imprints in the Medieval period.
Since the two schools of art, viz., Mathura and Gandhara evolved and flourished almost simultaneously and under the patronage of the Kusana kings there was a good deal of interaction between the two. While Mathura used the light red or spotted red sand stone, the stone in the Gandhara region was of schist or state variety. It is also likely that some artists from the western frontiers visited Mathura and a few settled here and continued to practise the art renderings. It is, therefore, natural that the alien trends are clearly discernible at Mathura. At the same time several motifs travelled from Mathura to the western region. The origin of the Buddha image has been a debatable subject and arguments can be advanced in favour of Gandhara and Mathura both. Mathura inspired some contemporary and subsequent art styles like Sarnath and Amaravati in the field of the Buddhist art and icons.
Inscriptional records from Mathura are of great significance for reconstruction of early political and cultural life. Same is the case of numismatic finds which shed valuable light from the pre-Maury an period to the British rule.
After the devastation of the city by the Hunas in the end of the 6th century the ateliers of art stopped functioning for some time but the creativity revived and we have some beautiful sculptures belonging to medieval period. A good number of artists had migrated to the safer places and they continued the family tradition of sculpting. The process resulted in the evolution of regional sub-styles in the sculptural art.
Beside stone sculptures, Mathura has also been famous for early terracottas the continuity of which is seen from about 6th century B.C. to the 6th century A.D. The discovery of a few bronze figures from the excavations at Sonkh hints to the use of metal for the artistic innovations in the 1st-2nd century A.D.
All these and allied issues have been discussed in the present book. It mainly follows the chronological sequence although the pantheon classification has also been considered as far as possible. New discoveries and fresh arrivals to the Museum upto 1993 have been taken into consideration. Inscriptions have been transliterated and translated as well. Characteristics of Mathura art through ages have been given while describing the artifacts of a period. History of Museum and archaeological campaigns will be of much use to the researchers. Similarly, the cultural and historical background of the region has been adequately discussed. A good number of colour and black and white photographs do help in appreciating the beauty of Mathura art. While the District and City maps locate the important archaeological sites and other places, the gallery plan projects the situation of period-wise arrangement. Provenance of objects has been given if recorded in the Museum’s accession registers. List of illustrations furnishes all relevant details including measurements. Index to the exhibits will help in quickly finding the location and description of the displayed items. The select bibliography is added for future academic pursuits. While the visitors will find the book a very remunerative companion during the Museum round, the scholars will equally be benefitted through the prolific research material it reveals.
The book is the result of the keen initiative of Mrs. Pushpa Thakurel, Director of the Mathura Museum who has helped and assisted in many ways. Without her wonderful cooperation and constant reminders this would not have come out.
In Delhi, my worthy colleague Dr. Shashi Asthana, Assistant Director, herself a meritorious scholar offered her ungrudging help in screening the script, selecting the illustrations, preparing the press copy, going through the proofs and offering useful suggesting. The select Bibliography has also been compiled by her.
Sri K. Rai Mittal, Managing Directing, D.K. Printworld and his son Sri Susheel Mittal for their special regard and affinity to Vraj region have taken extra pains in bringing out the book attractive and useful for visitors and scholars from India and abroad.
My former and present colleagues in Mathura, Vrindaban and Delhi also came forward to lend their cooperation and mention should be made of Sri KD. Misra, Sri Shatrughna Sharma, Sri V.K. Tulreja, Sri Rajat Shukla, Sri R.K. Dattagupta, Sri N. Shah. and Smt. Santosh Sharma, P.S., who has also prepared the Index to the Exhibits and General Index. Sri Kushal Pal has rendered his services in designing, finalising the coloured illustrations and preparing maps & gallery plan.
I have availed full advantage of the documents of the Mathura Museum and the works of my worthy predecessors and successors. The staff of the Museum has been very generous and cooperative during my visits for this work. I express my sincere gratitude to all whose names have been mentioned and also to them who remained behind the curtain. Thanking my wife Santosh and other family members for allowing me utmost time to concentrate on the book will be thanking my ownself hence I reserve my sentiments.
I feel delighted in dedicating the book to the esteemed German Indologists whose great contribution and deep involvement in spreading the glory of Mathura’s cultural heritage has been highly inspiring. After Sonkh excavations, the Palace of Gods (Classical Art of India) Exhibition organised in Berlin in 1992 has further cemented the academic ties between the two nations. In this regard, I should specially record the name of Prof. R Hartel, Prof. G.V. Mitterwallner and Prof. M. Yaldiz and her colleagues with whom I have often shared my views on different Indological aspects and their association has been much rewarding to me.
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