Tuesday 2 October 2018

The Theory Of Greek Influence On Indian Art - 5

No one has ever pretended that these sculptures were foreign in origin. In fact competent critics are wont to turn to them for the exemplification of the somewhat vague entity that may be called the indigenous impulse in Indian art. In the low carvings in relief, therefore, on the Ashokan rail at Bodh-Gaya, we are not called upon to suspect a foreign origin. We may take these frankly as we find them, as examples of the Indian art of the year 250 B.C. or thereabouts. From this point on we watch the development of Buddhistic art in Bihar. Here we have the enclosure built about the sacred tree. Again we have a footprint, as at Gaya itself, where that now worshipped as the Vishnupada was almost certainly originally a Buddhistic symbol. Bihar was at one time full of Stupas, but the very fact that these have been defaced and treated as mounds or hills is testimony to the fact that they were probably as plain in the time of Ashoka as that now at Sarnath or at Sanchi. It is true enough that at its birth Buddhism found all holiness in that plain dome-shaped cairn of earth and bricks, which somtimes did as at Rajgir, and somtimes did not, as at Sanchi, conceal a deposit of relics. Amongst the small votive Stupas which it became the fashion for pilgrims and visitors to leave at sacred shrines, there are many of this phase of development.

It was essential that they should have five parts, clearly distinguishable, and a system of philosophy grew up which connected these with the five elements-earth, air, fire, water, and ether.

It must have been soon after Ashoka that attempts were made to evolve a portrait-statute of Buddha. In accordance with the Indian character as well as with the severe truthfulness of early Hinayana doctrines, the first efforts in this direction would almost certainly be intensely realistic. In faraway Sanchi, even as late as 150 B.C., we have the bas-reliefs on the great gateways representing anything and everything Buddhistic that could be worshipped save and except Buddha himself. But this is only what we might expect, if, as we have supposed, precedence in this matter really belonged to Magadha. At some later date we find at Kanheri illustrations of the blending of the old school of art to which Sanchi belonged-in which a story was told, in picture form-and this new idea of the super natural personage appearing as heroic amongst even the holiest of mortal men. This particular panel illustrates the Jaraka birthstories, which must have been the absorbing themselves only a hint of the place which the personality of its founder must sooner or later assume in the religion. This figure of a former Buddha is not naked, as might be supposed. It is merely clothed in muslin so fine as to be seal from Both-Gaya, in which we have another specimen of this period in the idealisation of the Buddha. The little turret-like patterns which accompany it are Stupas. But the Buddha himself is imaged in front of a temple-Sputa.

To this period probably belongs the story that when Ajatashatru wished for a portrait of the Teacher, he allowed his shadow to fall on a piece of cloth, and then the outline was filled in with colour. Grunwedel suggests that this story shows a desire to claim canonical authority for the portrait-statue. Whether this be so or not, it certainly does indicate incidentally that the Buddhist world itself ascribed the origin of the Master's image to Magadha. The supreme example of this school of sculpture is undoubtedly the Great Buddha of Nalanda, which is to this day the pride of the country-folk at Baragaon, who call it Mahadeva. To the same school belongs also the Buddha of the temple at Bodh-Gaya. And we cannot do better than take as an example of the type the Buddha from Anuradhapuram in Ceylon.


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