You are on page 1of 10

Indian Sculpture Newly Acquired Author(s): Stella Kramrisch Reviewed work(s): Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol.

52, No. 252 (Winter, 1957), pp. 30-38 Published by: Philadelphia Museum of Art Stable URL: . Accessed: 01/12/2011 13:35
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Philadelphia Museum of Art is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin.


By STELLA KRAMRISCH Curator of Indian Art A group of Indian stone sculptures in the part of India, in several main phases, from Philadelphia Museum of Art, an anonymous the second century B. C. to the middle of loan since 1950, has recently been pur- the second millennium A. D. Wide diverchased by the Museum. The carvings rep- gencies of style show some of the many resent about fifteen hundred years of Indian possibilities in which the creative matrix of sculpture and are the work of various Indian form moulded again and again the schools. The acquisition of this collection magma of its elements. In this fluid magma places the Museum in the forefront in this the elements keep on changing position. field. To Dr. W. Norman Bran the Mu- While some rise others sink. Incidentally seum is indebted for his successful efforts also elements from outside enter the stream, leading to the original showing of the col- are borne along and absorbed by the main current. The elements are contributed by lection and its ultimate acquisition. Indian sculptures, as a rule, are part of a the experience of life as part of nature as comprehensive conception which is laid well as within the given human situation out in architectural terms and is given ex- and furthermore by the awareness of this position by images. The forty-nine stone experience within one's body and together carvings recently acquired by the Museum with the livingnesss of that body. These originally belonged to structures full of elements moreover are subsumed to those which are contributed by religious realizameaning and definite religious function. Time and decay, neglect and wars tion and practice, and they play their part brought damage and destruction to many in vision and design and in the kind of stimof these monuments. Though broken and ulation which stone and clay, wood and scattered, their impact survives in some of metal and the contact with his tools give their fragments. They hold and communi- to the sculptor. These elements are the cate the power that brought the images into substance, as yet without form, of the work existence together with the total monu- to be; they are pre-creative, in readiness for ment. The power vested in the monument the creative act which takes place within was present in all its parts. The entire sur- the matrix of Indian form when the artist face was charged with meaning. It is this conceives and gives shape to his work. The which organizes its form and concentrates mould of Indian form is plastic in its nature the impact once and again in those few and its pulse absorbs in various rhythms of masterworks where immediate intuition its own the fluid magma which is held, has seized the total realization. It is then bound, and impressed by the form. Two judgments of Indian sculpture as that a particular image shines forth infused with illuminating intensity and imparts, pronounced by Western critics are widely even though it is severed from its original accepted. The first is provoked by Indian context, the essential impact. iconography and ritual and looks at a piece The collection of sculptures in the Phila- of Indian sculpture as an illustration of the delphia Museum of Art consists of carvings one or an adjunct of the other. From neither of this degree of impelling quality. As of these aspects is it rightly measured as a works of art they are representative of work of art. Or else-this being another Indian form, particularly of the northern variety of the first approach-defeat is ad31

THEBUFFALO-DEMON. KILLING Figure 1. DURGA,THEGREATGODDESS, Sandstone. Image from wall of a temple, Bhuvaneshvar, Orissa, 9th century.


the heights which they have scaled in India. Western expressionists and rationalists alike, as also the sensualists, meet in their approach to Indian sculpture their own attitudes and apprehensions, born of their unpreparedness for the elements of the Indian life experience and religious realization which the form and even the mere fact of the existence of the sculptures presupposes. The specific Indian attitudes and contents and their cognate sensibility, as also the materials and tools, the qualities of all these and their degrees-Brahman, the Supreme Principle, Kama, Desire, the sacred number four which connotes this manifest universe in its extensiveness, the coming of the Monsoon rains, the feel of the stonethe relation of all of these, their tensions, associations, conflicts, and merging in the sculpture to be, the touch of the chisel, the concentration of the artist after having worshipped his tools in a quiet place prior to beginning his work, and the total fact of his own person-these all and infinitely more elements have entered the magma to be moulded in the Form. The form itself Sandstone. On post Figure 2. WORSHIPPING FIGURE. of a railing. Bhuvaneshvar, Orissa, ca. 2nd - 1st is autonomous. The imponderable wealth century B. C. of elements is absorbed in the creative process. Indian sculpture as form, i.e., as work mitted in front of the Indian form as harof art, is neither metaphysical nor sensuous, boring a world which seemingly defies both these qualities are fused and definition in terms of any Western lan- although transformed in the creative process, toguage. This approach resignedly halts at a with the other categories, data and distance from the work of art and feeds gether actions. Compacted, interpenetrating and on the pastures of stylistic analysis, chronmade coherent in the fervent process of ology and archaeology. "taking form", they become clarified in the The second kind of judgment, however, imponderable balance which makes the finds itself more richly rewarded by an quality of a work of art. imputed sensuousness of Indian sculpture The sculptures in the Philadelphia Muas a whole and by that of its female shapes seum of Art represent Indian artistic qualin particular. Both these judgments say It is communicated to all those who, nothing about Indian sculpture as art, that ity. creative form, see them. Form is is, as created form. The first type of judg- knowing known as immediately as one knows Truth. ment reflects a just aversion to mechanizaThe of those able to discern and number tion which ritual when bereft of a living to Form, however, is smaller in tradition invariably suffers. This judgment respond than of those who civilization our moreover reflects a deeper seated aversion present Truth. to religion and metaphysics particularly at recognize 32

In the vast output of sculptures in India, however, not all the carvings have the same degree of intense clarity of form. Where the impact is less strong and the inner coherence of the single work weaker, these deficiences are obvious when the images and fragments are seen by themselves, detached from their original locations. In place, at the spot for which the images were made, their shortcomings recede into the context of the total monument. This is due to their function in the overall pattern. Its design carries them and while it lends them its own impact they in turn, by virtue of their position and proportionate extent, enhance the articulation of the whole. The whole is a configuration in space and is of monumental proporations. In the centuries around the beginning of the present era the configurations of which Fig. 2 was part in the second century B. C. or also Fig. 3, in the second century A.D. comprised a central solid mass, a hemisphere on a plinth, the Stupa, the main and most sacred monument of Buddhism and also of Jainism. It embodies the meaning of Total Release, freedom from bondage, and is a symbol of the universe, conceived in terms of this ordinance, brought about by the teaching of the Buddha, the "Awakened One", or the Jina, the "Conqueror". The second component in this monumental configuration in space is an open air ambulatory which is fenced off from the outer surroundings by a railing. The ambulatory and railing are the architectural shapes of the rite of circumambulation (pradaksina). Symbolic, monumental shape and the rite by which it is worshipped, or known by active participation in its meaning, are the conjoint theme of the configuration Stupa (the central volume) with its railing. This theme is laid out in space. The plan is circular, around the immovable centre the devotee moves once, or several times, or as many as one hundred and eight times; with the Stupa, the central monument on

his right, he walks sun-wise encompassing the Stupa when performing "pradaksina" inside the railing, and he also performs the same rite in a wider circle outside the railing. This railing, as far as Figs. 1 and 2 are concerned, is of stone, though the posts, transverse beams and coping stone are joined like carpentry. The theme and function of the railing are to ward off the distractions or "evil influences" of the outer world and to delimit the sacred precinct around the Stupa. This function makes the static balance of its architectural shape. Between railing and the Stupa, wide arcs are created whose tension is held firmly between the curved and inclined planes of the dome shape of the Stupa and the vertical ring of the railing. Within it, and also outside it as its outer perimeter, the encircling movement of the rite, the double perambulation takes place after the monu-


On post of a railing. Mathura, U. P. 2nd century A.D.


Figure 4.

Sandstone. Harasnath, Sikar, Rajasthan. 956 A. D. Dwarf-like child attendants, the female on the right upholding a musical instrument (vina).

ment has been approached and the railing entered at the one or at one of the four cardinal gate-openings. The architectural-ritual theme of the monument is given fuller exposition by the carvings on posts, beams and coping stone of the railing. Showing scenes in low relief or larger single figures, each of them referring in "literary" content to the central monument, artistically the reliefs not only enhance the architectural elements on which they are carved by the contrast of their richer texture against the plain surface but they attract the eye of the devotee, while he approaches, or walks around, the monument. The mode of seeing them is one of direct approach where their total impact is felt, or an encircling one, where the linear movement of the single figure or composition is seen to swing with the ritual movement, and their curves and rhythms are measured against it. To the sculptor the carving of the railing set a threefold task: the exposition of the meaning of the central symbol, the Stupa. This was achieved by carvings in relief, some of which were symbolic configurations, others narrative groups and still others single images. All of them received their impact from and referred to the centre. The second task was the coordination of these compositions on the circular and perforated surfaces of the railing. Their interknit accents facing inward, facing outward were meant to arrest the eye on each face yet leading the eye from one to the other. Centrifugal with reference to the Stupa in which they have their central meaning whence the carvings derive their impact, each of these carvings finally is a selfsufficient composition within its frame or allotted surface. Each single composition shows the solution of its own problems of visualization, within the given frame while also meeting the demand of being viewed during an encircling movement. Charged


with these several directional powers, from and around the center, communicated by the architectural plan and the structural masses and received by the eye of the onlooker approaching, halting and encircling, the form of the single relief, in varying degrees of the craftsman's competence, holds and dispenses all these powers. Kinetic in their static appearance, the plastic shapes, as if embossed by movement, are rounded off against the ground of the relief. The depth of the relief, and the arc of the curves of the linear composition vary with schools and periods (Figs. 2 and 6). So does the appearance of the figures. The human shape in Indian sculpture is based on actual appearance inasmuch as the Indian physique is less muscular and more supple than that of Western people. This natural characteristic conforms with the lineaments of the creative mould and is embedded in its resilient curves and vibrating modelling. Vibrating modelling of which every profile is a resilient curve and a concatenation of such curves of different tensions, is a primary quality of Indian sculpture. In this quality, the living breath is vested, the movement of breathing and the movement of the sap circulating in the body. Their conjoint rhythms, together with their assurance, their visual confirmation that life is translated into sculpture, have been felt and faced by the awareness of the sculptor, and shaped by his hand. By the entire organization of the relief in surface and in the three dimensions, the creative accents, pauses and transitions are carried in the flowing waves of curves; these are further elaborated by the accountable as well as imponderable accents of time and place, climate of season and soul and by the conventions in which Indian sculpture accounts for, and labels, its identity. One of these conventions is the ideal of apparent nakedness-though a garment covers the body. The presence of the garment

Figure 5.

Basalt. Interlaced couple holding pearl garland and flower. Bihar, 9th-lOth century.


FIGURE. Sandstone. Kiradu, Figure 6. WARRIOR-LIKE

Rajasthan, 11th century.

is indicated by the raised border or hem of the garment (Figs. 1 and 3), and also by incised rippling lines (Fig. 4). But for these indications of garment-which only strengthen the rounded appearance of the limbs-the figures might as well be naked, whereas on the other hand drapery surrounding or girdling the body is massed together in shapes as ornamental as those of the jewelry (Figs. 3, 4, 6). Either of these accoutrements supplies the means for a compositional counterpoint to enhance the naked body (Figs. 1, 6). If female, the convention of over-large breasts and hips conveys, together with their sensuousness, the stone-age-old reverence for woman, as the potential mother. Conventions like these are coinage which receives its value only within and together with the creative form. It is not a question of greater or lesser degree of sensuousness in the capricious and elegant abundance of the female shape to36

gether with her tree (Fig. 4) or in the calm of the serpent goddess in the arms of her partner (Fig. 5), or in curve and modelling of back and buttocks of the sturdy warrior-like male attendant figure (Fig. 6), or in the shape of the "tree" of which the goddess is an exponent (Fig. 4), or in the serpent hoods with their half-human divinities (Fig. 5), but of the special artistic cast these shapes have and of the realization whence they derive just this specific shape. In each of these carvings any single trait, be it garland, hip or head, tree or serpent, overcomes its connotation in the creative impact that shapes it. This is not a prerogative of Indian sculpture but of all art. Sensuousness is one of the qualities in the magma which is cast in the mould of creative form. Sex also, as a theme, goes into the magma and in the work of art it yields. In Fig. 3, for instance, the accentuated spherical triangle is below the waistbelt of the worshipping figure whose arm, bent in the gesture of worship (anjali mudra), is the major triangle in this composition. Together they give shape to the shift of movement, the turn around the vertical axis of the figure in the absorption of, and elevation by, her offering while at the same time they hold between them the vessel of her body cinctured by a fourfold chain of beads. Indian sculpture is neither sensuous nor is it anthropomorphic in spite of most of its figures resembling the shape of man. This shape floats in the pre-creative image. Its insistence is part of sculpture, extended in space as is the body of man, the body of the sculptor, and even the locus where creative intuition demands form by his hand. In Indian sculpture, though the shape resembles that of man it does not represent man in his mortal frame and aspect. The figures are those of divinities. Where, in relatively rare instances portraits were intended, they are likenesses of the divine prototype with but little modification. This

accounts, for example, for the uncertainty in front of some South Indian metal images whether they were meant to represent a goddess or a queen. Indian sculpture does not give an idealized image abstracted from the physical body of man. In terms all its own it creates the shape of man's "subtle body" (suksma sarira). The "subtle body", according to Indian notion, invisibly inheres the physical body of which it is and holds the vital movement, the breath, and emotions and also the forces by which the physical body loses its weight, knows how to dance and aspires to soar. This inherent "subtle body" which in nature is scaffolded by bones and overlaid with flesh is freed from these mortal encumbrances by imagination and is built by art of the energies that shape its form. While it is not meant to function as does the body of man it also does not represent this body but makes consistently present, and concrete to the eye, an emotive-expressive form that seems to breathe and to soar, heavy as is the stone and voluminous as is the cast of the sculptures in the amplitude of their being. The "subtle body" is said to be that of the gods. Were it not for its form made by art the gods would not ever have become visible on earth. It is not with anthropomorphic but with celestial figures that Indian sculpture is replete. However this does not hold good to the same degree of all the phases and schools. The head of an image of the Guardian of the Southwest, Nirriti, the god of Decomposition and Decay, from Khajuraho, 11th century A. D., (Fig. 7), is as far removed from the countenance of an attendant divinity from Mathura (Fig. 3) as approximately nine centuries would warrant. Not before the fourth century A. D. and not after the 13th century is the visage altogether vibrant in curves and planes expressive of phases of transmundane intellectual states of being yet steeped in sentient form. Transcending

knowledge in India transforms not only the outlook but the entire life of the total human being. In art, the transcendental component saturates and transubstantiates the sensuous substratum in its abundance and acuteness. Thus Indian art is never "abstract". Its paradoxically complex and comprehensive form is a symbol pregnant with values which appear incompatible to the Western mind. The later Buddhist doctrine of the nonduality of Nirvana and Samsara, of the transcendental absolute and this phenomenal world, is one verbal equivalent of the form of Indian sculpture. Furthermore, where the Western spectator would see the sensuous element only (Fig. 6) and be unaware at the same time that he confronts traditional formulas with their thematic reference to the bounteous All-mother, source of all that is, unaware moreover of the other thematic as well as formal statement in which woman and tree are one conceptual acknowledgment of vegetative life in its multiform vessels: tree and scroll, woman, child and artistic form -the full content of this sculpture would

OF THE SOUTHWEST Figure 7. HEAD OF GUARDIAN REGION (NIRRITI). Sandstone. From temple wall, Khajurabo, 11th century.


not be grasped. A Boucher-like Rococo earlier work of the Stupas, reaches its full "enhanchement" (tribhanga) graces this power on the walls of the later temples Dryad, but its curve is much more insistent with their projections and recesses set with and makes the figure sway in its entirety. images (Figs. 1, 4). In its pervasiveness the bent attitude is like The majority of the sculptures in the the movement that sweeps through a Gothic recently acquired collection were part of Madonna but differs inasmuch as the the walls of temples through the breadth of Gothic curve transcends the figure through the country, from Rajasthan on the West, which it passes while the Indian curve like to Orissa in the East. Marginal schools like the cascade of a fountain returns to its ori- that of Chamba in the Western Himalaya gin and source. Here it is an image of a are also represented. The last phase of goddess who raises her arms which meet creative sculpture in stone is also included where the stem of the tree emerges above in the collection and is here illustrated by her shoulder, to form her halo and canopy. a symbol, carved in the round, a Siva Linga Her movement is extended and her raised with faces in the four directions (Fig. 8). arm resembles as much the stem of the It originally was the central image in a sheltering tree as the curves of its flowers shrine. The stylization, whereby the rich do those of her lips and brow; this alter plastic content of the sculpture of the preego, the top of the tree, bends down in the ceding centuries has become reduced to a same curves of fulfilment which give to clearcut and rational design, is as direct as her face the compassionate smile of sadness. is the symbolism of number. These have Her brows rise high soaring above the con- here taken the place of the once inexhaustitemplation of life that surges and sinks and ble wealth and meaning of plastic form. surges in indefinite succession symbolized by the rippling waves of her body and her raiment. This relief (Fig. 4) as also the fragments of larger images in high relief (Figs. 6, 8) were part of the walls of temples. The entire wall surface of such Hindu and also Jain temples (fifth to fifteenth century A. D.) was a three-dimensional iconostasis. It projected in buttresses and they were decked with images on three of their faces so that the entire bulwark of the temple, while giving a sculptural exposition of its meaning, carried forward its total significance in an indefinite number of images, each at its appointed place. [This aspect has been fully dealt with and illustrated in Stella Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple (2 vols.), Calcutta University Press, 1946.] The propulsion of sculpture from the cenSIVA LINGA. (CATURMUKHA) Figure 8. FOUR-FACED tre of the monument as adumbrated in the White marble. Jaipur,Rajasthan,14th-15th century.