Indian art has not only delighted the hearts of the art lovers, but it has also provided a hoard of information for the cultural historians right from the days of Anand Coomaraswamy. Art has served as one of the most valuable source material for the archaeologists who intend to reconstruct the material culture and day today life of the past. The present book dwells upon the stone sculptures and terracotta of the Sunga period for this purpose. Time and again our art historians have emphasized that, Sunga sculptures, among all the art schools of ancient India, are the most realistic representations of the contemporary life. This book unravels the details of the material culture of 2nd and 1st century B.C. India in different headings like Architecture, Costume and Textile, Personal ornaments, Coiffure and Head gear, Vessels and household materials, Arms and armor, conveyance, Musical instruments, etc. The represented shapes are co-related with the descriptions in the contemporary literature and corroborated with the excavated evidence, wherever it is found possible, to establish the authenticity of the pictorial representations. Attempts are also made in this study to understand the social context of these materials like the class, gender and regional differences as well as their cultural functions wherever the evidences have permitted to do so. This study also helps us expand our understanding of the contemporary literature and excavated objects, because, it provides the visual counterparts to the literary terms and, the lost shapes and functional contexts to the excavated objects. The description in this book is visually supported by the relevant line drawings and photographs.
Rajaram Hegde completed his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in the Deccan College, Pune in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. Presently he is a senior lecturer in the Department of History an Archaeology, Kuvempu University, Shimoga, Karnataka, where he is teaching and guiding the research students. He has published more than 30 research articles on the themes of art and culture in both English and Kannada and presented papers in National and International Seminars. He has brought to light several new archaeological antiquities, art objects and inscriptions and completed an ICHR project report on Art and Patronage in the Medieval Banavasi 12000. He has organised three state level seminars also. The present book is a modified version of his Ph.D. thesis Sunga Art: A Cultural Study.
Art always reflects contemporary life, observed Arnold Hauser. C. Sivaramamurti, went a step further and demonstrated that art and literature are mirrors of culture. Indian art is incredibly rich in depicting various facets of material culture of ancient Indians, and there is little doubt that our ancient artists have depicted the true life of the people which they saw around them. This can be corroborated by the eye witness accounts of foreign visitors who came to India from time to time, and the same can be confirmed by the finds of actual specimens from archaeological excavations.
Pioneering work in the sphere was done by great savants like V.S. Agrawala, C. Sivaramamurti and Moti Chandra who opened a new vista of Indological research. For studies of material culture, Buddhist art constitutes a rich mine of information for the simple reason that while depicting the Jataka and Avadana stories narrating the past life of the Buddha, the artists have portrayed the contemporary life. Hence Indian art-more particularly Buddhist art-constitutes an illuminating documentary on life in ancient India in all its kaleidoscopic variety. Sanchi, Amaravati, Ajanta were all studied from this point of view, but Sunga art had received scant attention possibly because its remains are far and few between, and moreover it is devoid of that glamour which characterises Ajanta and Amaravati. But all the same it truly depicts, as Dr. Hegde has shown, the life of people under the Sungas when the life of the common was extremely simple. He lived a contented life of a gahapati-the householder.
The Sunga era was a formative period in Indian history in the second-first century B.C. when the Sunga inherited the Mauryan Empire and foreigners-Greeks and Sakas-had started coming to India and were settling here to enjoy the fabled riches of this land. They have also contributed to the enrichment of Indian culture. Dr. Hegde has amply demonstrated this by analysing the various aspects of life during the Sunga period. He deserves our congratulations for inviting the attention of the scholarly world to this neglected aspect of Indian culture. While going through the study, I was constantly reminded of Pandit Nehru's remarks on Ajanta. He says "Ajanta takes us back into a distant, dreamlike vet a very real world." The same equally applies to Dr. Hegde's work.
The ancient visual arts like painting and sculpture, though created for different purposes, imbue the worldly details in their formal content, thus, have served as an excellent source for inferring about the material culture of their period. Indian art historians have extensively utilised the Indian sculpture and painting for the reconstruction of different facets of the Indian civilization and now it is a well known fact that visual art has served as one of the most valuable source material to understand Indian cultural history. Though Alexander Cunningham and E.B. Havell had attempted to conjecture the ancient Buddhist architecture with the help of sculptural representations, a systematic study in this line was conducted by Anand Coomaraswamy, the most eminent art historian of India, who recovered the world of ancient Indian secular architecture with the help of visual representations and the ancient Indian literature. In the mid twentieth century, he was followed by three outstanding scholars who conducted studies in this field. First of them was C. Sivaramamurti who as an art historian conducted an exhaustive study on Amaravati sculptures in 1942, which included valuable sections on the material culture depicted in sculptures and the literary information about them. Thus, he extended the scope of cultural study of the art historians to the field of ornaments, costume, furniture, coiffure and head-dress, etc. Motichandra, an important name in the field of Indian cultural history, published several articles since 1940s on costume, textile and architecture based on the data gathered from the visual representations and the literature. Vasudev Saran Agrawala, another eminent cultural historian of India, provided extensive information about ancient Indian costume and ornaments in many of his publications, most important being his study on Harshacharita from this point of view in 1951. However Agrawala gave priority to the literary data and used the art representations only to corroborate it. The vast remains of ancient Indian visual art in different parts of India needed separate cultural studies in the lines of the study on the Amaravati sculptures by Sivaramamurti. One of the mention worthy contribution in this field was made by M.K. Dhavalikar who studied the Ajanta paintings and Sanchi sculptures in the 1960s from this point of view. He evolved a pattern of cultural study including different sections on architecture, costume, personal ornaments, coiffure and head-dress, furniture, arms and armor, conveyance and royal insignia as represented in the visual art. Apart from the ancient literary descriptions, he also cited archaeological evidence for corroboration. In 1967 N.P. Joshi published Life in Uttarapatha in which he reconstructs the material culture of north India as reflected in the sculptures and terracotta of a period ranging from 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.
Now, such a description of material culture with the help of illustrations has become a common practice in cultural study of the Indian sculptures and we have exhausted most of the ancient Indian visual representations for this purpose. Nevertheless, the possibilities of the visual representations as a source material need to be further explored. The visual art presents us with the archaeological objects not only with their shape, size and depth, but also with an obvious cultural context recreated by the artist of the same period. Since the artist wanted to convey a visual narrative with its proper worldly setting, the function and significance of these objects are clear. We can also visualize the objects made of perishable materials like wood or cloth or a style of arrangement like costume or coiffure which the visual art alone can provide. Thus, the data gathered from artistic forms can help us to infer about the function and cultural context of the archaeological objects. The present study attempts at exploring such possibilities of the Sunga sculptures which represent one of the most important epochs of the ancient Indian civilization. Both the terracotta and stone sculptures dated to the Sunga period are considered for this study. A lot of terracotta of this period have been unearthed since 1970s which need to be studied from the cultural angle. Moreover, archaeological sites from almost all these art centers have been excavated and yielded material remains of the concerned period which need to be utilised and understood in the light of the information gathered from the, sculptures. Including all these new findings, the present study attempts at the reconstruction of the material culture of the Ganga valley and the central India during the 2nd and 1st cent. B.C.
The study of the salient feature of the source material itself will unfold the scope and limitations of this topic. Only those details which are found relevant for this purpose about the Sunga art are touched in the following section.
Whatever chronological and geographical framework we have chosen for this topic is based on the art pieces, their chronology and distribution. Though Sunga in Sunga art refers to the Sunga dynasty, for two reasons it was found suitable to keep the framework of the political history aside:
1. The chronological and geographical extension of the Sunga rule is a greatly disputed topic. Recent numismatic evidence seems to question many of the prevalent views about the Sunga.1 The political structure of the region we are dealing with never seems to have been centred around a single hub during this time.
2. The Sunga style of art, unlike the Mauryan, was not mainly the result of a single centralised patronage. Though a few local kings have also contributed for this purpose, it was just like a donation by any other wealthy person for the sake of acquiring religious merit. Hence the artistic activity during this period has to be viewed as a part of the process of the civilization that emerged in the Ganga valley and central India. While describing how a style of art can also be an expression of the same cultural milieu, Herman Goetz considers the Sunga art to be the best example of it.2
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