These are true statues, not mere bas-reliefs. And perhaps the great proof of their early occurrence in the Buddhist series lies precisely here, that they were found in Ceylon, where the enthusiasm of Indian intercourse was a marked fearture of the age immediately succeeding Ashoka, and were the Hinayana theology would not be friendly to statuary like the images characteristic of a rich mythology.
The clay seal is of extraordinary interest. The Buddha himself appears to be seated in somthing like the temple of Bodh-gaya, with branches of the sacred tree appearing behind and above. The plain Stupas all round show the contemporary development of that symbol. Now there was a moment when, by the simultaneous modification of all its five parts, the Stupa was transformed into something very like what we now recognise as a temple. Specimens of this phase abound in the neighbourhood of Nalanda, and indeed some hand has gathered a quantity of representative examples together and placed them on the bathing ghat at Baragaon. Except in the instances of this clay seal figured by Grunwedel and a Stupa which is to be seen in the Sone Bhandar Cave at Rajgir, however, I do not remember ever to have seen this phase of the Stupa associated with an image. The panelled example at Rajgir would seem to be old because of the stiffness with which the standing Buddha is portrayed. He stands with feet aprt, as in the drawings of children. But never have I seen a work of art which was equal to this in the depth and strength of the personal conviction which it found means to convey. The Buddha is clad in the usual invisible clothing of the period. He is stiffly and awkwardly posed, and conveys the idea of gigantic size. Outside the sunken panel on which he is carved, above him and to right and left, appear branches of trees of recognisable species, and each such branch half conceals a hand with pointing finger. The whole effect is extraordinary. The words "This is the man!" are almost to be heard. This vivdness of feeling combined with the stiffness of the work would incline one to place the statue early, and with this the evidence of the clay seal now before us is in agreement. But if we are to assign an early date to sculpture of this description, we must completely abandon the notion of pre-Buddhistic Indian art as semi-barbarous and crude. This degree of expressive power and this irresistible impulse towards the rapid modification of fixed symbols argues a long familiarity with the tools and the method of plasti enunciation. The Hinayana doctrine would incline the Stupa-maker at first to its aniconic development, but the innate genius of the Indian race for man-worship and its the end over all the fundamental fearlessness of symbolism would triumph in the end over all the artificial barriers of theology, and the aniconic Stupa would inevitably receive its icon. Of this moment our clay seal is a memorial.
The next step was to take the unmodified Stupa, and carve on it four small Buddhas, one on each of its sides. We can well understand the impulse that lead to this. The Dagoba was a geographical point from which Buddha himself shone forth to north, south, east, and west upon the world. It is the same idea which in a later age led to the colossal images of the Roshana Buddha in Japan. The very thought of the Master, with his spiritual empire in the foreign missions, brought up a geographical conception. And this geographical idea it is that finds expression in those small and simple Stupas, carved each with the four Buddhas, which one could often hold on the palm of one hand. In imitation of these, but much later, four Budhdhas were placed round the great Stupa at Sanchi.
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