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IT is the misfortune of Indian History that its earliest and most obscure pages derive little light from contemporary antiquities. Before the rise of the Maurya Empire a well-developed and flourishing civilization had existed in India for at least a thousand years; yet, of the structural monuments erected during those ages not one example has survived save the Cyclopean walls of Rajagriha; and of man's lesser handiwork, few objects except the primitive implements, pottery, and tombs of the stone and early metal ages. Moreover, such as they are, the value of these antiquities is still further diminished by the fact that there are none among them to which a precise date can be ascribed, while in the case of the majority, even apart from the remains of palaeolithic man, it is impossible to affirm within half a millennium when they were produced.

This strange scarcity of materials in a country so vast and thickly populated as India is due in a great measure to the custom which then generally, though not universally, prevailed of building in wood, as well as to the destructive agency of the Indian climate which rapidly obliterates everything of a perishable nature; but it is due, also, to the neglect, until the last few years, of scientific exploration on the ancient town sites of India, which alone are likely to yield the stratigraphical evidence indispensable for determining the chronology of these early ages.

With the palaeolithic peoples of India we are scarcely here concerned. Their rough-chipped implements have been found in large numbers in the southern half of the Peninsula, and in deposits which indicate that countless centuries must have elapsed between their last appearance and the dawn of Vedic history, while the forms of the implements themselves, strikingly unlike those of the Neolithic Age, have suggested to some writers that their authors may not even have had an ethnical connection with the later inhabitants of the land. The neolithic races, on the other hand, are invested with a more immediate interest for the historian, not only because there are good reasons for supposing that some of the existing peoples of India notably the Dravidians are directly descended from them, but because this phase of civilization was preserved in some parts of the country until medieval and probably more recent times. The stone weapons and utensils which are specially characteristic of it are found scattered over a much wider area than the more rudimentary palaeoliths, though mainly in regions where the trap rock, used especially in their manufacture, abounds.

They exhibit a remarkable variety, illustrated by at least a hundred distinct types, some of which belong to the polished, others to the unpolished class. With few exceptions, however, they are identical in form with similar objects from Western Asia and Europe, and this identity has led to the supposition that the Dravidian peoples, with whom the neolithic culture in India appears to have been peculiarly associated, once dwelt in the highlands of Western Asia and penetrated thence by way of Baluchistan into India; and, at first sight, the survival in Baluchistan of a Dravidian language, Brahui, would seem to support this view. Other linguistic considerations, on the other hand, have been thought to point to the conclusion that the Dravidians were indigenous in the Deccan and spread thence over a part of Northern India.

Whatever the truth may be regarding these particular tribes and whether they played a part or not in the introduction of neolithic culture into India, there can be no doubt that this culture was closely related to and, it may well be believed, mainly derived from the culture of the later Stone Age in Western Asia. Among the implements of non-European types referred to, the most noteworthy is a class of curious chisel-shaped, high-shouldered celts which are found in Burma, Assam, and Chota Nagpur, and which appear to have been manufactured by the ancestors of the present Mon-Khmer stock. Similar instruments occur also in Indo-China and the Malay Peninsula, where they seem to have been produced, not by the aboriginal tribes of the interior, but by later invaders who were in a more advanced state of civilization.

It is to the later Stone Age, also, that are to be ascribed a class of chipped trap implements from Bundelkhand and the pygmy flints that occur in myriads among the off-shoots of the Vindhyas. Some of the caves in which the latter have been found are adorned with rude drawings in ruddle or haematite, and from the outlines of the primitive weapons depicted in them it has been thought that the drawings were executed during the neolithic period, but though the conjecture is plausible enough and is borne out, let it be said, by the discovery of rubbed specimens of red haematite and palettes for grinding down the material at various neolithic sites in the Deccan, it is by no means certain that these drawings go back to so remote an age. This observation applies still more forcibly to the megalithic tombs, which occur in vast numbers in the central and southern parts of the Peninsula, and to the accumulations of prehistoric scoria, often of considerable size, which are known to antiquarians as 'cinder-mounds,' as well as to the so-called 'cup-marks' or small hollowed depressions in the rocks, which have been interpreted by some investigators as a forgotten system of writing.

In Europe, megalithic tombs analogous to the Indian examples are referred to the close of the neolithic period or to the succeeding age of bronze and copper; but in India there are few such tombs which there is reason for regarding as anterior to the iron age; and in their case, as well as in that of the cinder-mounds which have yielded smooth stone celts, it is a plausible theory that the people who erected them were still in the neolithic state, when iron had long been in vogue among other races of the Peninsula.

As the stone age passed gradually away in Northern India, it appears to have given place, not to an age of bronze, as it did in most parts of Europe, but to one of copper. Finds of seven bronze implements, it is true, have been recorded from various parts of the Empire, but it has rightly been pointed out by Dr Vincent Smith that out of these seven one only can claim to be of real bronze, deliberately and knowingly manufactured as such, and the evidence of a single specimen, which may well have been imported from abroad, is wholly insufficient to justify the assumption of a bronze age. Copper implements, on the contrary, occur in relatively large quantities and over a wide range throughout Northern India, from Hooghly in the east to Baluchistan in the west. Among them are bare and shouldered celts, harpoons, spear-heads both plain and barbed, axe-heads, swords, and an object suggestive of the human shape. The last mentioned, as well as some of the swords, which are remarkable for their excessive weight and the form of their handles, may have been used for cult purposes. One hoard of these implements, which came from Gungeria in the Central Provinces the most important, be it said, yet recorded in the Old World contained as many as 424 specimens of almost pure metal, weighing in all 829 pounds, besides 102 ornamental laminae of silver. Such a collection, comprising as it did a variety of implements intended for manifold domestic and other purposes, affords evidence enough, as Dr Smith has remarked, that their manufacture was being conducted in India on an extensive scale; while the distinctive types that had been evolved and are represented both in this and in other finds, connote a development that must already have extended over a long period, though at the same time the barbed spear-heads and harpoons and flat celts, manifestly copied from neolithic prototypes, bespeak a relatively high antiquity.

The Age of Iron

The presence of silver ornaments in the Gungeria hoard has suggested doubts as to its remote date, but there seems little reason for assuming that a race familiar with the difficult metallurgical processes by which copper is extracted from its ores, were incapable of smelting silver from the rich argentiferous galenas which occur in various localities. At what date iron came to supplant copper in the north of India is uncertain, but literary evidence from the Vedas seems to indicate that it was introduced into the north-west during the second millennium BC. It was about the same time, too, that it came into general use in Mesopotamia, and it is probable enough that the knowledge not only of this metal but of copper also in a previous age was acquired from that region. Between the Babylonian, or Assyrian, and Indian civilizations, indeed, many archaeological links are traceable, among which may be noticed, parenthetically, the remarkable resemblance presented by the oblong, short-legged terracotta sarcophagi from the neighborhood of Baghdad to those of a prehistoric date found at Pallavaram and other places in the Madras Presidency.

In Southern India there was no copper age, and iron probably did not take the place of stone until about 500 BC. Up to that time the Aryans of the north seem to have possessed no very distinct knowledge of the south of the Peninsula, which was at once isolated and protected against invasion by the natural defences of the Vindhya hills and the trackless jungles of Central India, and when at last they penetrated through these barriers they found the Dravidian and other races in the south still in the neolithic stage of culture. The supposition that iron was first conveyed into Southern India by sea from Egypt, has nothing to commend it.

Notwithstanding the wide extent and long duration of Vedic civilization in Northern India, there is but one group of monuments now existing to which there is any warrant for assigning a Vedic origin. These are the well-known mounds at Lauriya Nandangarh in Bihar, which were opened a few years ago by the late Dr Bloch and identified by him with the burial mounds described in Vedic ritual. Two of these proved to be composed of horizontal layers of clay alternating with straw and leaves, with a post (sthuna) of sal wood standing erect in the centre, above which was a deposit of human bones and charcoal accompanied by a small gold leaf. The latter bore impressed upon it in crude outline the figure of a female, which has been interpreted as the Earth Goddess referred to in the Vedic burial hymn, but both this interpretation and the date (seventh or eighth century BC) hazarded by the explorer for these mounds must be regarded as tentative only.

Of actual structures anterior to the Maurya epoch the only examples, as already remarked, known to have survived until the present day, are the walls and remains of dwellings in the old city of Rajagriha, all built of rough cyclopean masonry. This city was reputed in antiquity to have been forsaken during the reign of king Bimbisara, the contemporary of Buddha, who removed the capital to New Rajagriha, but as to how long the walls or houses had then been standing, tradition is silent. Such structures, built of durable materials, were certainly the rare exception rather than the rule in ancient India, and were probably essayed only in localities where stones suitable for such masonry were ready to hand.

In primitive India, as among the poorer classes of today, the materials most commonly in use were mud or mud bricks, bamboo canes, and other kinds of wood. The simplest kinds of dwellings were constructed of screens of bamboo inwoven with palm branches or the like, the roofs being either flat or arched. In the latter case, the bamboos were lashed together at the apex and tied in near the lower end, thus forming a singularly strong framework of curvilinear form, while the walls were strengthened to resist the outward thrust. In other cases, the walls were constructed of unbaked brick or mud, and the latter material was also used as a covering for the flat roofs or for plastering the screens of the walls on the 'wattle and daub' principle. At a later date cut timbers came to be used in the more pretentious dwellings, and afforded opportunities for the development of that exuberant surface decoration in which the genius of India has always excelled.

The Earliest Buildings

These materials left their character deeply and permanently impressed on Indian architecture. From the use of the bamboo came the curvilinear type of roof which was afterwards reproduced in cut timber and subsequently in stone, and from which were evolved the familiar chaitya arches used over doorways and windows. Log capitals were imitated in stone, and the more finished timbering of walls, roofs, and gateways in the same material, every detail down to the nail-heads being copied with sedulous care and accuracy by the masons of later days. As a protection against destructive insects, wooden posts were set in gharas or jars of earthenware, and from these resulted the 'pot and foliage' base, so beautifully developed in the Gupta age.

A striking illustration of the influence exerted by wood as contrasted with brick construction is to be found in the pillars of the cave temples. In the earliest examples the stone pillars are manifestly copied from wooden prototypes and are relatively slender, though amply thick enough for their purpose. In the later examples, on the other hand, the pillars are heavy and cumbersome, not because extra strength was required, nor yet in order to save labor, but because they were copied from the brick-in-mud pillars of famous viharas, which necessarily required to be much thicker in proportion to their height than columns of stone.

It is stated by Arrian that cities on the banks of rivers and in other low-lying spots were built of wood, those in more commanding situations, where they were less exposed to floods, of mud or brick. This statement refers to the time of Megasthenes, Ambassador to the Court of Chandragupta Maurya, on whose writings the Indica of Arrian is believed to have been based. It has been endorsed by the discovery of portions of the wooden palisades of Pataliputra and of the mud or brick walls of Shravasti, Bhita, and other towns. But no kiln-burnt bricks have been found in the Gangetic plains which can be referred to an earlier date than the fourth century BC, and it is improbable that they came generally into vogue in this part of India until after the reign of Ashoka; for the unwieldy size of the bricks used in the buildings of Ashoka at Sarnath and other places, coupled with their inferior quality, betoken but little experience of brickmaking.

The potter's art, on the other hand, had been practised throughout India from time immemorial, and in the Punjab and North-West, which were in closer touch with Persia and Mesopotamia, it is likely enough that burnt bricks were used at a more remote age. In this connection a special interest attaches to certain seals of unknown date and origin, which are said to have been found from time to time among the remains of brick structures at Harappa in the Montgomery District of the Punjab. The majority of these seals are engraved with the device of a bull with head outstretched over some uncertain object, possibly in the act of being sacrificed, and all of them bear legends in a pictographic script, which remains still to be deciphered.

With the advent of the Mauryas, the obscurity, in which the earlier monuments are wrapped, rapidly disperses, and from this time onwards we are able to trace step by step and with relative precision the evolution both of architecture and of the formative arts. Of Indian art, generally, it was said by Fergusson, and the statement has often been repeated, that its history is written in decay; that the noblest and most perfect examples of it are the works of the Emperor Ashoka; and that each succeeding monument is but a landmark in the steady process of decline. In reality, as we shall presently see, its history is one of continuous forward progress, and, when the works of extraneous schools have been recognized and eliminated, it is found to follow a clear and logical sequence, in obedience to the fixed and immutable principles which govern the artistic efforts of all primitive peoples.

The Maurya Epoch

As it happens, it is the earliest monuments that have proved the greatest stumbling-block. Yet the fallacies, which have grown up around them, are not difficult to correct. They arise, in a great measure, from the tendency, common in all ages, to magnify the exploits of great heroes, and to ascribe to them feats and achievements in which they bore no part. What happened in this respect to Alexander, to King Arthur, or to Charlemagne, happened also to the Emperor Ashoka.

In ancient days his name became the centre of a cycle of heroic legends, and the same process of glorification has continued in modern times by fathering on to him a multitude of works with which he had no connection. The monuments that can with relative certainty be assigned to the Maurya age, or to the age immediately succeeding it, are few. Besides the brick buildings referred to above they comprise the following : a series of isolated columns erected by the Emperor Ashoka at various spots in Northern India; the remains of a pillared hall at Patna, which probably formed part of a royal palace designed, perhaps, on the model of the Achaemenian palaces of Persia; a group of rock-cut shrines in the Barabar hills in Bihar; a small monolithic rail at Sarnath; a throne in the interior of the temple at Buddh Gaya; some portions of stupa umbrellas at Sanchi and Sarnath; and three statues in the round, two in the Indian Museum at Calcutta, the third at Mathura. Of these monuments, twelve bear records of Ashoka himself, and three of his successor, Dasharatha; the age of the others is determined by their style, by the inscriptions carved upon them, or by their peculiar technique, every member but one in the group being identical in two distinct features, namely, in the exceeding care with which they are chiselled and in the brilliant polish afterwards imparted to their surface. Moreover, with the exception of the caves cut out of the natural gneiss rock in the Barabar hills, they are one and all of sandstone from a quarry near Chunar.



Stupa and Asoka Pillar, Vaishali, Bihar. Emperor Asoka is believed to have redistributed the holy relics of the Buddha and enshrined them in vast stupas across his empire

The pillars or lats, as they are commonly called, are of singularly massive proportions, consisting of a round and slightly tapering monolithic shaft with bell-shaped capital surmounted by an abacus and crowning sculpture in the round, the whole rising to an average height, from base to summit, of between 40 and 50 feet. One of the best preserved, though not the best in style, is that at Lauriya Nandangarh. The crowning figure on this pillar is a lion, and the relief which adorns the abacus a row of geese, symbolical, perhaps, of the flock of the Buddha's disciples. In other cases, the single lion is replaced by a group of lions set back to back with or without some sacred symbol between them, or by an elephant or bull, while the abacus is adorned with a lotus and honeysuckle design or with wheels and animals alternating.

Shafts of a precisely similar pattern, but smaller proportions, were employed in the great hall at Patna, but there the capitals and entablature appear to have been of wood. The dignified, massive simplicity of these pillars is common to all the other architectural remains of the Maurya epoch. The rail at Sarnath and the throne at Buddh Gaya are devoid of ornament, but each is cut entire and with exquisite precision from a single block of stone, and the plainness of the umbrellas is only relieved by delicately defined ribs radiating on their under side. Equally chaste and severe are the dwellings and chapels excavated for the Ajivika ascetics in the hills of Bihar. Like the chaityas or hermitages from which they were copied, these consist of a small oblong chamber (in one instance with rounded ends) with or without a circular apartment at one extremity, but in only one example is the timber work of their prototypes reproduced in the stone. The example referred to is the Lomas Rishi Cave, the ornamental facade of which is an accurate replica of a wooden model. This particular cave, however, bears no inscriptions either of Ashoka or of Dasharatha, and the fact that its interior was left in an unfinished state suggests that it was the latest of the whole group. Probably, it was not excavated until after the close of Dasharatha's reign.

Hardly less striking than the skill with which these monuments were chiselled and the brilliancy to which they were polished, is the disparity evinced in the style of their sculptured ornamentation. This disparity is well exemplified by comparing the primitive treatment of the statue from Parkham in the Mathura Museum with the highly developed modelling of the Sarnath capital. The former represents a stage of art not yet emancipated from the binding law of 'frontality' or from the trammels imposed by the mental prepossessions of the artist. The head and torso are so posed that, were they bisected vertically, the two halves would be found to be all but symmetrical; while the flattened sides and back of the figure, connected only by a slight chamfering of the edges, are conclusive proof that the sculptor failed to grasp more than one aspect of his subject at a time, or to co-ordinate its parts harmoniously together as an organic whole. These features are not mere superficial details of technique, due to the caprice of the artist. They are the fundamental characteristics of the nascent sculpture of all countries, and the primitiveness of the art which they signify is borne out in this particular statue by other traits, namely, by the subordination of the side and back to the front aspect, by the inorganic attachment of the ears, by the uncouth proportions of the neck, by the schematic rotundity of the abdomen, and the absence of modelling in the feet.

Persian Influence

The Sarnath capital, on the other hand, though by no means a masterpiece, is the product of the most developed art of which the world was cognisant in the third century BC the handiwork of one who had generations of artistic effort and experience behind him. In the masterful strength of the crowning lions, with their swelling veins and tense muscular development, and in the spirited realism of the reliefs below, there is no trace whatever of the limitations of primitive art. So far as naturalism was his aim, the sculptor has modelled his figures direct from nature, and has delineated their forms with bold, faithful touch; but he has done more than this: he has consciously and of set purpose infused a tectonic conventional spirit into the four lions, so as to bring them into harmony with the architectural character of the monument, and in the case of the horse on the abacus he has availed himself of a type well known and approved in western art.


There are four sacred Buddhist pilgrimage centers in the Indian subcontinent. The first of these is the birthplace of Buddha at Lumbinivana, east of Kapilavastu. The second most sacred place of pilgrimage is Buddha Gaya where he attained enlightenment. The third most sacred pilgrimage center for Buddhists is Sarnath or Isipatan where Buddha delivered his first sermon, and the fourth is Kushinara or Kashia in Uttar Pradesh, where he finally gave up his mortal self.


Equally mature is the technique of his relief work. In early Indian, as in early Greek sculpture, it was the practice, as we shall presently see, to compress the relief between two fixed planes, the original front plane of the slab and the plane of the background. In the reliefs of the Sarnath capital there is no trace whatever of this process; each and every part of the animal is modeled according to its actual depth without reference to any ideal front plane, with the result that it presents the appearance almost of a figure in the round which has been cut in half and then applied to the background of the abacus.

What, then, is the explanation of the gulf which separates these two sculptures the primitive unifacial image of Parkham and the richly modelled capital of Sarnath? The answer to this question is not far to seek, and will readily occur to any one who is familiar with the art of Western Asia.

Long ago M. Senart pointed out that the decrees of the Achaemenian monarchs engraved on the rocks of Bahistan and elsewhere furnished the models on which the edicts of Ashoka were based. It was in Persia, also, that the bell-shaped capital was evolved. It was from Persian originals, specimens of which are still extant in the plain of the Murghab at Istakhr, Naksh-i-Rustam, and Persepolis, that the smooth unfluted shafts of the Maurya columns were copied. It was from Persia, again, that the craftsmen of Ashoka learnt how to give so lustrous a polish to the stone a technique of which abundant examples survive at Persepolis and elsewhere. Lastly, it is to Persia, or to be more precise to that part of it which was once the satrapy of Bactria and was at this time asserting its independence from the Empire of the Seleucids, that we must look for the Hellenistic influence which alone at that epoch of the world's history could have been responsible for the modelling of the living forms on the Sarnath capital.

Little more than two generations had passed since Alexander the Great had planted in Bactria a powerful colony of Greeks, who occupying as they did a tract of country on the very threshold of the Maurya dominions, where the great trade routes from India, Iran, and Central Asia converged, and closely in touch as they were with the great centres of civilization in Western Asia, must have played a dominant part in the transmission of Hellenistic art and culture into India. Every argument, indeed, whether based on geographical considerations or on the political and commercial relations which are known to have been maintained between India and Western Asia, or on the happy fusion of Hellenistic and Iranian art visible in this monument, indicates Bactria as the probable source from which the artist who created it drew his inspiration. At the time of which we speak the Hellenistic spirit then vigorous in Bactria was mastering and vitalising the dull expressionless forms of Iran. At a later date, as the strength of Hellenism weakened and declined, other elements from the neighbouring steppes of Central Asia asserted or reasserted themselves in the cosmopolitan art of this region, and, in their turn, were borne to India on the stream of influence which, until the fall of the Kushana Empire, flowed ceaselessly over the passes of the Hindu Kush.

"Chauri" Bearer from Didarganj, near Patna, Maurya period (Patna Museum). The high polish is typical of Mauryan art

While the Sarnath capital is thus an exotic, alien to Indian ideas in expression and in execution, the statue of Parkham falls naturally into line with other products of indigenous art and affords a valuable starting point for the study of its evolution. These two works represent the alpha and the omega of early Indian art, between which all the sculptures known to us take their place, approximating to the one or the other extreme according as the Indian or Perso-Hellenic spirit prevailed in them. Thus, the two statues from Patna in the Calcutta Museum are akin in many respects to the Parkham image, but exhibit a nearer approach to plurifaciality in the moulding of the torso.

The lion capital at Sanchi, on the other hand, though not quite as successful as that of Sarnath, shows so close an affinity to it, that there can be little doubt that it was the handiwork of one and the same artist; and the well-developed modelling of the figures on the other columns of Ashoka shows that, in spite of their occasionally inferior execution, they belong to the same Perso-Hellenistic group. It is not, of course, to be presumed that a single sculptor was responsible for all these monuments, nor yet that all the sculptors employed were of equal ability. Probably, there were many Indians assisting the foreign artists in the mechanical part of their work, and these, we may believe, were responsible for some of the sculptures noticed above, but it is incredible that any Indian hand at this period should either have modelled in clay or chiselled from the stone such perfected forms as those of the Sarnath capital.

Jewellers and Lapidaries' Arts

The contrast between Indian and foreign workmanship exhibited by these sculptures is equally apparent in the minor arts of the Maurya period. Thus, the indigenous coins known commonly as 'punch-marked', which were current at this time, are singularly crude and ugly, neither their form, which is unsymmetrical, nor the symbols, which are stamped almost indiscriminately upon their surface, having any pretensions to artistic merit. On the other hand, the coins of Sophytes (Saubhuti), who was reigning in the Punjab at the close of the fourth century BC, are purely Greek in style, having seemingly been copied from an issue of Seleucus Nicator, with whom Sophytes probably came into contact when the former invaded the Punjab in 305 BC.

It is the same, also, with the contemporary terracottas. Side by side with products of Perso-Hellenic art, the features of which are markedly classical in character, is found a class of coarse primitive reliefs, the execution of which betrays their Indian origin, though in a few cases, the type of the winged figure depicted on them is derived from Persian or Mesopotamian prototypes. Indeed, so far as is known at present, it was only in the jewellers and lapidaries arts that the Maurya craftsman attained any real proficiency, and in this domain his aptitude lay, not in the plastic treatment of form, but in the high technical skill with which he cut and polished refractory stones or applied delicate filigree or granular designs to metal objects. The refined quality of his gold and silver work is well illustrated in two pieces discovered on the site of Taxila in company with a gold coin of Diodotus, a large number of local punch-marked coins, and a quantity of other jewellery and precious stones. Of the stonecutter's art, also, some beautiful examples are furnished by the relic caskets of beryl and rock crystal from the stupas of Bhattiprolu and Piprahwa, the latter of which is probably to be assigned to this epoch.

The art of the jeweller has at all times appealed strongly to the Indian genius, and throughout Indian history has exercised a deep influence upon the national sculpture and painting, supplying them with a variety of rich and artistic motifs which were quickly and cleverly adapted for purposes of decorative design, but at the same time inclining the ideas of the artists towards meticulous detail and thus obstructing a free, bold, anatomical treatment of the human figure.

With the rise of the Shunga power in Hindustan during the second century BC and the simultaneous extension of the Bactrian dominion to the Punjab, the national art of India underwent a rapid development. Foreign and especially Hellenistic ideas now flowed eastward in an ever-increasing volume, and from them the Indian artist drew new vitality and inspiration for his work. At the same time stone more and more usurped the place of wood for architectural purposes, and by reason of its greater durability tempted the artist to expend more pains upon its carving, while it naturally lent itself to more perfect technique.

Bharhut: Besnagar

Of the monuments of this period, the most notable is the Buddhist stupa at Bharhut in Central India, erected about the middle of the second century BC. Before its discovery by Sir A. Cunningham in 1873, the body of this stupa had been almost destroyed by the neighboring villagers, but portions of the eastern gateway and of the railings which encircled the monument were found beneath its ruins and are now deposited in the Calcutta Museum.

The stupa itself was of brick, and apparently of much the same design as the Great stupa at Sanchi, described below. Around the base was a massive stone railing of the usual type, divided into four quadrants by entrances at the cardinal points, while other railings of smaller dimensions, of which fragments have been found around the structure, once flanked the berm and ascending stairway, and no doubt enclosed the crowning hti.

At the eastern entrance was a gateway about 22 feet 6 inches in height, and possibly similar gateways may once have adorned the other entrances also, though no remains of them have been found. Both gateway and railings are lavishly enriched with sculptured reliefs, many of which illustrate incidents in the Jatakas or scenes connected with the life of the Buddha, and these illustrations are made all the more valuable by the descriptive titles attached to them, which leave no doubt as to their identification. Thus, one relief depicts the Naga Jataka; another, the dream of Maya; a third, the Jetavana at Shravasti, with its trees and shrines and the ground half strewn with coins which Anathapinda is taking from a bullock cart; others, again, represent the royal processions of Ajatashatru or Prasenajit visiting the Buddha; and in others is depicted the worship of Buddha's head-dress in the Devaloka, or of the Bodhi-tree by the Naga king Erapata.

Besides these and many other miscellaneous scenes there are a multitude of single images carved in high relief upon the pillars of the rail - Yakshas and Yakshis, Devatas or Nagarajas. The style of the carvings on the ground rail is by no means uniform. Some show little advance on the indigenous work of the previous century, the defects of rudimentary technique being almost as striking in these reliefs as they were in indigenous sculpture in the round. In such cases the figures are portrayed as silhouettes sharply detached from their background, an effort towards modelling being made merely by grading the planes of the relief in severe and distinctive layers, and then rounding off the contours of the silhouette or interior details. At the same time the forms are splayed out to the verge of distortion, and the influence of mental abstraction on the part of the artist is still manifest in the treatment of the feet or of hands in the attitude of prayer, which, irrespective of anatomical accuracy, are turned sideways and presented in their broadest aspect. In other carvings, the treatment of the relief is more mature. In these, occasional traces of mental abstraction, due to force of habit, are still visible, and they all show the same aversion to depth, but the individual figures are conceived and modelled in general conformity with nature, not in a gradation of separate planes or as mere silhouettes, and are presented, moreover, at various angles and in a variety of natural poses. This superior execution is shared, also, by some of the sculptured balusters between the architraves of the eastern gateway, and it is significant that these balusters are further distinguished by the un-Indian countenances of the figures carved upon them and by the presence of Kharoshthi letters engraved as masons' marks in contradistinction to the Brahmi characters which appear on the railing. The only rational explanation of these phenomena is that some of the sculptors engaged on this railing came from the north-west of India, where, thanks to western teaching, the formative arts were then in a more advanced state, and that these sculptors were responsible for the better class of reliefs, the inferior work being done by the local artists of Central India. In this connection a special interest attaches to a Garuda pillar set up about this time at Besnagar near Bhilsa, the ancient Vidisha, in Gwalior State, the inscription on which states that it was dedicated to Vasudeva by a Greek named Heliodorus, an inhabitant of Taxila and an envoy of King Antialcidas, and thus furnishes incontrovertible evidence of the contact which was then taking place between this part of India and the Greek kingdoms of the Punjab.

The next important landmark in the history of the early Indian school is supplied by the well-known railing round the great Temple at Buddh Gaya and the pillars of the chankrama or promenade to the north of it. This railing was disposed in a quadrangle measuring 145 feet by 108 feet, but in other respects was designed and adorned in much the same way as the rail at Bharhut. On the outside of the coping was a continuous band of flowers; on the inside, a frieze of animals or mythical monsters; on the cross-bars, lotus medallions centred with busts or other devices; and on the upright pillars, standing figures in high relief or medallions and panels containing a variety of miscellaneous scenes.

As at Bharhut, many of these sculptures are relatively crude and coarse the handiwork, no doubt, of inferior local craftsmen; but it needs no very critical eye to perceive that, taken as a whole, their style is considerably more developed than that of the Bharhut reliefs and, at the same time, more pronouncedly affected by the influence of western art. Witness, for instance, in the matter of technical treatment, the freer movement of planes leading to more convincing spatial effect, the more organic modelling of the figures, the relative freedom of their pose and composition, and the effort to bring them into closer relationship one with the other; and witness, again, in the matter of motifs, the centaurs, winged monsters, and tritons, the schematic treatment of the animal friezes, and the scene of Surya in his four-horse chariot copied directly from a Hellenistic prototype. These and many other features of the Buddh Gaya railing prove incontestably that at the time of its erection Indian sculptors were borrowing freely from the hybrid cosmopolitan art of Western Asia, in which Greek and Scythic, Persian and Mesopotamian cultures were blended and fused together, and that, partly under this alien inspiration, partly through their own initiative, they had made important progress since the time when the Bharhut reliefs were executed. On the other hand, in point of development the reliefs of Buddh Gaya fall short of those on the toranas at Sanchi, which, as we shall see below, are to be assigned to the latter half of the first century BC, and accordingly we shall probably not be far wrong if we assign the Buddh Gaya monuments to the earlier years of the same century. This date, let it be added, is substantiated by inscriptions on two of the rail pillars recording that they were presented by the Queens of King Indramitra and King Brahmamitra, respectively. These two kings have been plausibly identified with the two rulers of the same names, whose coins have been found in considerable numbers in Northern India, and who, whether they were connected with the Shunga dynasty or not, appear from the script of their coin legends to have flourished not earlier than the first century BC.


Sanchi is known for stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating from the 3rd century B. C. to the 12th century A. D. The most famous of these monuments, the Sanchi stupa I, was originally built by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the then governor of Ujjayini, whose wofe Devi was the daughter of a merchant from adjacent Vidisha. Their son Mahindra and daughter Sangamitra were born in Ujjayini and sent to Sri Lamka, where they converted the king, the queen and their people to Buddhism. A Chunar sandstone pillar fragment, shining with the proverbial Mauryan polish, lies near Stupa I and carries the famous edict of Ashoka warning against schism in the Buddhist community. Stupa I was found empty, while relics of the two disciples of Buddha enshrined in the adjacent Stupa 3 were carried away to England. The nearby modern temple has a reliquary containing the remains of a Buddhist teacher from another stupa outside Sanchi.

The Sanchi hill goes up in shelves with Stupa 2 situated on a lower shelf, while Stupa I, Stupa 3, the 5th centuary Gupta temple No. 17 and the 7th centuary temple No. 18 are on the intermediate shelf while a later monastery is on the crowning shelf. The balustrade surrounding Stupa 2, carved with aniconic representations of the Buddha, was added in the late 2nd centuary B. C. under the Shungas, while the four gateway of Stupa I were built in the 1st century B. C. under the Satavahanas.

Carved with stories of the Buddha's past and present lives and with incidents from the subsequent history of buddhism, the gateways are the finest specimens of early classical art, which formed the seedbed for the entire vocabulary of later Indian art.


We come now to the famous gateways of Sanchi, the most perfect and most beautiful of all the monuments of the Early School. Four of these adorn the four entrances to the Great stupa situated on the levelled summit of the hill; the fifth a gateway of smaller proportions is set in front of a subsidiary stupa close by, to the north-east. As it now stands, the Great stupa is about 54 feet high, excluding the rail and umbrella on its summit, and consists of an almost hemispherical dome set on a lofty plinth, the narrow berm between the two serving in old times as a processional path. This was not, however, its original form. The earliest structure, which was erected, apparently, by Ashoka at the same time as the lion-crowned pillar near the South Gateway, was of brick, crowned by a stone umbrella, and of not more than half the present dimensions. At that time, the floor laid around the stupa and column by the workmen of Ashoka was several feet below the present level. As years passed by, however, much debris collected above this floor, and over the debris another floor was laid, and then a third one, still higher up, and last of all at least a century after the erection of the column a stone pavement covering the whole hill-top. These facts have an intimate bearing on the history of this important monument; for, simultaneously with the laying of this final pavement, the stupa itself was also enlarged to its existing size by the addition of a stone casing faced with concrete; on its summit was set a larger umbrella with a plain stone rail in a square around it, and encircling its base another rail equally plain but of more massive proportions

These works, and particularly the erection of the great ground rail, the pillars, bars, and copings of which were the gifts of many devotees, must have taken many decades to accomplish. Then came the construction of smaller decorated rails round the berm of the stupa and flanking the steps by which it was ascended; and, finally and to crown all, the four gateways at the entrances between the quadrants of the ground rail, which can hardly be relegated to an earlier date than the last half century before the Christian era.

These two stupas with their richly carved toranas are not the only monuments of an early age on the hill-top of Sanchi. To the south-east of the Great stupa is a lofty plinth of stone, approached by two broad stairways and surmounted by rows of heavy octagonal pillars, which once supported a superstructure of wood; the pillars bear inscriptions in early Brahmi, probably of the first century BC, but the plinth dates back to Shunga or Maurya times, and was originally rounded at its southern end, having served apparently as the base of an apsidal temple of wood, which perished by burning before the stone pillars were erected.

Then, in the south-west part of the enclosure, there is another plinth of a similar type but square in plan; and on a lower spur of the same hill is another stupa , designed on the same lines as the Great stupa, but without any toranas to adorn the entrances, and with this further difference, that its ground rail is lavishly decorated with sculptured panels and medallions. These reliefs present the same phenomenon, but in a more accentuated measure, that we observed in the railing of Buddh Gaya. A few, that is to say and these are confined to the corner pillars of the entrance are of a refined style and infused with a strongly classical feeling; but the majority, though remarkably decorative, and, indeed, better adapted to their purpose, are conspicuous for their crude, coarse workmanship. In this case, however, it is important to observe that the two classes of reliefs were not executed at one and the same time; for an examination of the rail shows that the whole of it was originally adorned with the more primitive kind of carvings, and that some of these were subsequently chiselled off in order to make way for the more finished reliefs.

To revert, however, to the gateways of the Great stupa, in which the interest of Sanchi mainly resides. The earliest of them to be erected was the one at the south entrance, opposite to the steps by which the berm was approached; then followed, in chronological order, the northern, the eastern, and the western, theirsuccession in each case being demonstrated by the style of their carvings and by the tectonic character of the extensions to the rail, which were made at the time that each was set up. All four gateways are of similar design - the work of carpenters rather than of masons - and the marvel is that erections of this kind, constructed on principles wholly unsuited to work in stone, have survived in such remarkable preservation for nearly two thousand years.

Interpretation of Reliefs

Each gateway was composed of two square pillars surmounted by capitals, which in their turn supported a superstructure of three architraves with volute ends, ranged one above the other at intervals slightly in excess of their own height. The capitals were adorned with standing dwarfs or with the forefronts of lions or elephants set back to back in the Persepolitan fashion; and, springing from the same abacus and acting as supports to the projecting ends of the lowest architrave, were Caryatid figures of graceful and pleasing outline. Other images of men and women,
horsemen, elephants, and lions were disposed between and above the architraves, while crowning and dominating all was the sacred wheel, so inseparably connected with Buddhism, flanked on either side by attendants and trishula emblems.

For the rest, both pillars and superstructure were elaborately enriched with bas-reliefs illustrative of the Jataka legends or scenes from the life of the Buddha or important events in the subsequent history of the Buddhist religion. Besides which, there were representations of the sacred trees and stupas symbolical of Shakyamuni and the preceding Buddhas; of real or fabulous beasts and birds; and many heraldic and floral devices of rich and varied conception.


Eastern Gateway


The inscriptions carved here and there on the gateways record the names of pious individuals or of gilds who contributed to their erection, but say not a word, unfortunately, of the scenes and figures delineated, the interpretation of which has been rendered all the more difficult by the practice, universal in the Early School, of never portraying the Buddha in bodily form, but of indicating his presence merely by some symbol, such as his footprints or the throne on which he sat or the sacred tree associated with his enlightenment. Thanks, however, to the light afforded by the sculptures of Bharhut, with their clear, explicit titles, and thanks, also, to the brilliant labours of Mons. A. Foucher and Prof, Grünwedel, the interpretation of the majority of these reliefs has now been placed beyond dispute, and it will probably not be long before the meaning of the rest becomes equally clear.

A good illustration of the methods of narration followed by the artists and of what has been achieved towards the interpretation of the sculptures, is afforded by the front façade of the East Gateway. On the right pillar are represented, in six panels, the six devalokas or stages of the Buddhist Paradise, their respective deities seated like mortal kings in each. On the left, starting from the base, is Bimbisara with his royal cortege issuing from the city of Rajagriha on a visit to the Buddha, here symbolised by his empty throne. This visit took place after the conversion of Kashyapa, and in the panel above is depicted one of the miracles by which Buddha converted the Brahman ascetic.

The Nairanjana river is shown in flood, with Kashyapa and two of his disciples hastening in a boat to the rescue of Buddha. Then, in the lower part of the picture, Buddha, represented again by his throne, appears walking on the face of the waters, and in the fore-ground the figures of Kashyapa and his disciples are repeated, now on dry ground and doing homage to the Master.

The third panel portrays the temple at Buddh Gaya, built by Ashoka, with the throne of Buddha within, and, spreading through its upper windows, the branches of the sacred tree. It is the illumination of Buddha; and to right and left of the temple are four figures in an attitude of prayer perhaps the Guardian Kings of the four quarters; while ranged above in two tiers are groups of deities looking on in adoration from their celestial paradises.

The scenes on the lintels are still more elaborate. On the lowest we see, in the centre, the temple and tree of Buddh Gaya; to the left, a crowd of musicians and devotees with water vessels; to the right, a royal retinue and a king and queen descending from an elephant, and afterwards doing worship at the tree. This is the ceremonial visit which Ashoka and his queen, Tishyarakshita, paid to the Bodhi-tree, for the purpose of watering it and restoring its pristine beauty after the evil spell which the queen had cast upon it.

The middle lintel is occupied with the scene of Buddha's departure from Kapilavastu. To the left is the city with wall and moat, and, issuing from its gate, the horse Kanthaka, his hoofs supported by Yakshas and accompanied by the divinities in attendance on the Buddha, and by Chhandaka, his groom, who holds the umbrella symbolical of his Master's presence. In order to indicate the progress of the Prince, this group is repeated four times in succession towards the right of the relief, and then, at the parting of the ways, we see Chhandaka and the horse sent back to Kapilavastu, and the further journey of Buddha indicated by his footprints surmounted by the umbrella.

Lastly, in the topmost lintel, are representations of the seven last Buddhas, the first and last symbolised by thrones beneath their appropriate Bodhi-trees, the rest by the stupas which enshrined their relics.


Northern Gateway

Varieties of Style

On the execution of these sculptures, with their multitudinous figures and elaborate details, many years of labour must have been exhausted and many hands employed. It is not to be expected, therefore, that their style should be uniform; yet there is none of the clumsy, immature workmanship here which we noticed in the inferior carvings of the balustrade round the smaller stupa and at Buddh Gaya. These reliefs are the work of trained and experienced sculptors, and though they exhibit considerable variety in their composition and technical treatment, their style throughout is maintained at a relatively high level. The finest are on the Southern Gateway, the poorest on the Northern; but in the matter of technique, the greatest contrast, perhaps, is afforded by the reliefs of the Southern and Western Gateways.


Southern Gateway


Compare, for example, the scene on the inner face of the middle architrave of the South Gateway, depicting the Chhaddanta Jataka, and the same scene on the front face of the lowest architrave of the Western Gateway. In the former, the figures are kept strictly in one plane, in order that all may be equally distinct to the observer, and the relief low, that there may be no heavy shadows to obscure the design, with the result that the effect is that of a tapestry rather than of a carving in stone. The elephants, again, are treated in broad flat surfaces with a view to emphasising their contours; the trees sketched in rather than modelled; and the lotus pond indicated by conventional lotuses out of all proportion to the size of the beasts wading through it. In the latter, the leaves and flowers are of normal size; the water is portrayed by undulating lines; the banyan tree is realistically true to nature; the modelling of the elephants is more forceful and elaborate; and, though the figures are kept religiously to one plane, strong contrasts of light and shade and a suggestion of depth are obtained by cutting deep into the surface of the stone.

Both reliefs are admirable in their own way, but there can be no two opinions as to which of the two is the more masterly. The one on the South Gateway is the work of a creative genius, more expert perhaps with the pencil or brush than with the chisel, but possessed of a delicate sense of line and of decorative and rhythmic composition. That on the West, on the other hand, is technically more advanced, and the individual figures, taken by themselves, are undoubtedly more effective and convincing; but it fails to please, because the detail is too crowded and confusing, and the composition too regular and mechanical.

The same remark holds good, if we compare the 'war of the relics' on the Southern Gateway, with the somewhat similar scene on the Western. In both there is abundance of fancy and expressive movement, but the movement and fancy are of a different order. In the earlier, the scene is living and real, because the artist has conceived it clearly in his own brain and expressed his conception with dramatic simplicity; in the later, the houses and the figures framed in the balconies are stereotyped and lifeless, and the movement and turmoil of the crowd surging towards the city less convincing, because the artist has depended not so much upon his own originality as upon the conventional treatment of such scenes. In the earlier, the depth of the relief and the intervals between the figures are varied, and the shadows diffused or intensified accordingly; in the later, the figures are compressed closely together, with the result that the shadows between them become darker, and a 'colouristic' effect is thus imparted to the whole. In the earlier, lastly, the composition is enhanced by varying the directions in which the figures move; in the later, though the attitudes are manifold, the movement taken as a whole is uniform. These differences in style are due in a large measure to the individuality of the artists, but they are due, also, to the changes which were coming over Indian relief consequent on the deepening of extraneous influences, on improved technical skill, and on the growing tendency towards conventionalism.



The extraneous influences referred to are attested by the presence of exotic motifs, which meet the eye at every point and are readily recognised by the familiar bell capitals of Persia, by floral designs of Assyria, by winged monsters of Western Asia, all of them part and parcel of the cosmopolitan art of the Seleucid and succeeding empires of the West, in which the heterogeneous elements of so many civilisations were fused and blended together. But it is attested still more forcibly by the striking individuality of many of the figures, as, for instance, of the hill-men riders on the Eastern Gate, by the occasional efforts towards spatial effects, as in the relief of the ivory workers of Vidisha, by the well-balanced symmetry of some of the groups, and by the 'colouristic' treatment with its alternation of light and dark, which was peculiarly characteristic of Graeco-Syrian art at this period.

By the side of these mature and elaborate compositions the reliefs of Bharhut are stiff and awkward, and, as we recall their features to mind, we are conscious of the gulf which separates the two and of the great advance that sculpture must have made during the century or more that elapsed between them. The wonder is that these monuments could ever have been classed together or regarded as products of one and the same epoch.


Sanchi Town from the Stupa Hill


Sudden Decadence of Art

The steady growth of plastic art which we have traced in the foregoing pages derives additional light from the pre-Kushana sculptures of Mathura, which are the more instructive, because they all emanate from one and the same school. These sculptures divide themselves into three main classes, the earliest belonging approximately to the middle of the second century BC; the second to the following century; and the last associated with the rule of the local Satraps. Of these, the first two are so closely akin in style to the reliefs of the Bharhut rail and Sanchi toranas, respectively, that it is unnecessary to dwell further upon them. The sculptures of the third class are more exceptional. Their style is that of the Early School in a late and decadent phase, when its art was becoming conventionalised and lifeless.

In all works of the Mathura school of this period the same tendency towards schematic treatment is apparent, but it appears to have affected the Jain sculpture more than the Buddhist. The dramatic vigor and warmth of feeling which characterised the reliefs of the Sanchi gateways is now vanishing; the composition is becoming weak and mechanical, the postures formal and stilted. The cause of this sudden decadence is not difficult to discover.

A little before the beginning of the Christian era Mathura had become the capital of a Satrapy either subordinate to or closely connected with the Scytho-Parthian kingdom of Taxila, and, as a result, there was an influx there of semi-Hellenistic art, too weak in its new environment to maintain its own individuality, yet still strong enough to interrupt and enervate the older traditions of Hindustan. It was no longer a case of Indian art being vitalised by the inspiration of the West, but of its being deadened by its embrace. As an illustration of the close relations that existed between Mathura and the North-West, the votive tablet of Lonashobhika is particularly significant, the stupa depicted on it being identical in form with stupas of the Scytho-Parthian epoch at Taxila, but unlike any monument of the class in Hindustan. Another interesting votive tablet of the same class is one dedicated by a lady named Amohini in the reign of the Great Satrap Qodasa, which, to judge by the style of its carving, dates from about the beginning of the Christian era.


Jain homage tablet. The tablet was set up by the wife of Bhadranadi, and it was found in December 1890 near the centre of the mound of the Jain stupa at Kankali Tila. Mathura has extensive archaeological remains as it was a large and important city from the middle of the first millennium onwards. It rose to particular prominence under the Kushans as the town was their southern capital. The Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jain faiths all thrived at Mathura, and we find deities and motifs from all three and others represented in sculpture. In reference to this photograph in the list of photographic negatives, Bloch wrote that, "The technical name of such a panel was ayagapata [homage panel]." The figure in the centre is described as a Tirthamkara, a Jain prophet.

Wherever important stupas like those described above (Sanchi) were erected, monasteries were also provided for the accommodation of the monks or nuns residing on the spot, and chapels or chaitya halls in which they could assemble for their devotions. The monasteries, as might be expected, were designed on the same plan as private houses: that is, with an open square courtyard in the centre surrounded on the four sides by a range of cells. Perhaps the earliest existing example of such a monastery is one by the side of the Piprahwa stupa, which is said to be built of bricks of much the same size and fabric as those employed in the stupa itself. As a rule, however, the early architects built their structural monasteries and chaitya halls either wholly of wood or with a superstructure of wood set on a stylobate of stone, like the more primitive temples of Greece; and it was not until about the first century BC that more durable materials came into vogue for pillars and walls, and not until a still later period that they came to be used for entablature and roofs.

The chaitya halls were remarkably similar in plan to the early Christian basilicas, being divided by two rows of columns into a nave and two narrow side aisles, which were continued round the apse. The only remains of such structural halls prior to the Christian era are those at Sanchi and Sonari in the Bhopal State of Central India. In both cases the superstructure seems to have been of wood, and what now survives of the original hall consists only of a lofty stone plinth approached by flights of steps, but the form of the plinth and the plan of the interior foundations leave no doubt that the superstructure must have been similar in design to the rock-hewn chaitya halls of Western India.

While these structural edifices stupas, chapels, and monasteries were being erected in Hindustan, the Buddhists and Jains of Western and Eastern India were engaged in fashioning more permanent monuments of the same class by hewing them from the living rock. The practice of hollowing out chambers had been common in Egypt from time immemorial, and by the sixth century BC had spread as far east as Persia, where the royal tombs of Darius and his successors of the Achaemenian dynasty up to the time of Codomannus (335-330 BC) were excavated in the cliffs of Naksh-i-Rustam and Persepolis.


From Persia the idea found its way during the third century before our era into Hindustan and resulted, as we have already seen, in the excavation of dwelling places and chapels for ascetics in the Barabar hills of Bihar. These artificial caves of the Maurya period were of very modest proportions, and were at first kept severely plain, or, like their Iranian prototypes, adorned only on the outer façade. As time went on, however, the Indian excavators became more ambitious and, rapidly expanding their ideas,proceeded to copy their structural chaitya halls and viharas on the same scale as the originals, and to imitate their details with an accuracy which says more for their industry and patience than for the originality of their genius. So literal, indeed, was the translation of wooden architecture into the new and more durable material, that infinite toil was expended in perpetuating forms which became quite meaningless and inappropriate when applied to stone. Thus, in wooden structures there had been valid enough reason for inclining pillars and door jambs inwards, in order to counteract the outward thrust of the curvilinear roof, but, reproduced in stone, this inclination entirely missed its purpose and served only to weaken instead of strengthening the supports. Again, it was mere waste of labour to copy roof timbers; still greater waste was it, first to cut away the rock and then insert such timbers in wood, as was done in some of the earlier caves.

This close imitation of wooden construction affords a useful criterion for determining the relative ages of these rock-hewn monuments, since it is logical to infer that the older the cave, the nearer it is likely to approximate to its wooden prototypes. But this index of age must not be pressed too far; for, though the rule generally holds good, there are many exceptions to it, and in every case, therefore, careful account must be taken of other features also, and especially of the plastic treatment of the sculptures and decorative ornaments which are found in many of the caves.

Among the earlier chaitya halls of Western India the finest examples are those at Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, Ajanta, Bedsa, Nasik, and Karli. The plan and general design of these halls is approximately the same, and the description of one will suffice for all.


Ellora Cave, Holy of Holies


The finest example, undoubtedly, is the hall at Karli, which is at once the largest, the best preserved, and most perfect of its type. It measures 124 feet 3 inches long by 45 feet 6 inches wide and is of the same apsidal plan as the contemporary structural chaityas referred to above.


Karli Cave Temple

Between the nave and the aisles is a single row of thirty-seven columns, of which those round the apse are of plain octagonal form, while the remainder, to the number of fifteen on either side of the nave, are provided with heavy bases and capitals ofthe bell-shape type surmounted bykneeling elephants, horses, and tigers, with riders or attendants standing between. Above these figures and rising to a height of 45 feet at its apex, springs the vaulted roof, beneath the soffit of which is a series of projecting ribs, not carved out of the stone itself, but constructed of wood and attached to the roof. At the apsidal end of the hall the vault terminates in a semi-dome, beneath which, and hewn like the rest of the hall out of the solid rock, is a stupa of familiar shape with a crowning umbrella of wood above. At the entrance to the hall is a screen pierced by three doorways, one leading to the nave, the others to the side aisles; this screen rose no higher than the tops of the pillars within the hall, and the whole of the open space above it was occupied by a great horse-shoe window, within which there still remains part of its original wooden centring. It was through this window that all light was admitted into the hall, the nave and the stupa being thus effectively illuminated, but the side aisles left in comparative darkness. In front of the entrance to the hall was a porch 15 feet deep by about 58 feet high, and as wide as it was high, closed in turn by a second screen consisting of two tiers of octagonal columns, with a solid mass of rock between, once apparently decorated with wooden carvings attached to its fa9ade.

Though similar in general disposition to the one at Karli, the chaitya halls at the other places mentioned above vary considerably in their dimensions and details. Thus the halls at Bhaja and Kondarie are about 60 feet long, the earliest at Ajanta 96 feet, and that at Nasik 45.


Bhaja chaitya Door


At Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, and the earliest at Ajanta, the screen which closed the entrance to the hall was originally of wood, and in all these caves, as well as in those of Bedsa and Nasik, the pillars incline inwards to a greater or less degree. In the Ajanta hall, again, the pillars are quite plain without base or capital, and here, as at Pitalkhora, the coved ceiling of the side aisles is adorned with coffers, the ribs between which are carved from the rock, not framed in wood.

Ajanta Complex

From these and other peculiarities in their construction and decoration it has generally been inferred that the earliest of all the chaitya halls to be excavated were those at Bhaja, Kondane, and Pitalkhora, together with the tenth cave at Ajanta; that next to them in chronological order came the hall at Bedsa; then the ninth cave at Ajanta, followed closely by the chaitya at Nasik; and, lastly, the great hall at Karli.

On the assumption, moreover, that the chaitya at Nasik is of about the same age as the small vihara close by, and that the Andra king Krishna, during whose reign the latter was excavated, was reigning at the beginning of the second century BC, the conclusion has been drawn that the four earliest caves were excavated towards the close of the third century B.C., the cave at Bedsa during the first or second decade of the second century BC, those at Nasik about 160 BC, and the one at Karli about 80 BC. Against this chronology, however, there are insuperable objections based on epigraphical as well as plastic and architectural considerations. In the hall at Karli, for example to take the last of the series first is an inscription recording that it was the work of one Seth Bhutapala of Vaijayanti, whose age cannot for epigraphical reasons be far removed from that of Ushavadata, the son-in-law of the Kshatrapa Nahapana. In this cave, too, the form of the pillars and the modelling of the stately sculptures above them preclude an earlier date than the first century of our era. Again, in the chaitya hall at Nasik the form of the entrance doorway, the lotus design on the face of its jambs, the miniature Persepolitan pilasters, the rails of the balustrade flanking the steps and the treatment of the dvarapala figure beside the entrance all bespeak a date approximately contemporary with the Sanchi toranas, and at least a century later than the work of Bharhut. Equally strong are the objections in the case of the Bhaja and Bedsa chaityas, the sculptures of which are too fully developed to have been executed before the first century BC, while, as regards the latter hall, the design of the ponderous columns in front of the entrance and the modelling of the figures surmounting them, though manifestly earlier than the work at Karli, cannot be removed from it by a long period of time. From these and many other indications of a similar nature it is apparent that the chronology of these caves needs complete revision. At present it seems hardly possible to avoid the conclusion that the whole series of these rock-cut halls from the one at Bhaja to that of Karli are more modern by at least a century than has been usually supposed, and that Messrs Fergusson and Burgess were not far from the truth, when in their work on the Cave Temples of India they assigned the Nasik Hall to the latter half of the first century B.C.


The above remarks apply in an equal degree to the other great class of rock-cut remains namely, the viharas or residential quarters of the monks. These viharas call for little comment. The most perfect examples of them were planned like the structural edifices of the same class, but with this unavoidable difference, that the range of cells on one side of the court was replaced in the cave viharas by an open verandah, through which light and air could be freely admitted to the interior. In other cases, and among these are to be reckoned the majority of the early viharas, the plan is irregular, the cells being disposed in one or two rows only, and often at erratic angles; while in one instance at Bedsa they are ranged round an apsidal court, manifestly imitated from a chaitya hall.

A striking feature of these viharas and one in which they present a great contrast to those of the Eastern Coast, is the almost total absence of figure sculpture. In nearly all the examples known to us the façades of the cells are embellished only by simple architectural motifs, such as horse-shoe arches, rails, lattices, and merlons, and it is only in rare instances, as at Nadsur and Pitalkhora, that the severity of this treatment is relieved by figures of Lakshmi placed over the doors or pillars, or by pilasters of the Persepolitan type surmounted by kneeling animals. In only one vihara is there any attempt at more diversified sculpture. This is at Bhaja, where standing figures of guards and more elaborate scenes are executed in relief on the walls of the verandah and interior hall. One of these scenes depicts a four-horse chariot with three figures a male and two females riding within, attendant horsemen at the side, and monster demons beneath. This composition has been interpreted as the car of Surya accompanied by his two wives driving over the demons of darkness, but it is more than doubtful if this interpretation is correct. Four-horse chariots of this type are a familiar motif in early Indian art, and in this instance there is nothing special to indicate the identity of Surya.

Kondara Cave Waterfall

The composition of these sculptures is strangely bizarre and fanciful, and their style, generally, is not of a high order; but it is easy to perceive from the technique of the relief work, from the freedom of the composition and of the individual poses, as well as from the treatment of the ornaments, that they are to be classed among the later efforts of the Early School, not among its primitive productions. Their date certainly cannot be much earlier than the middle of the last century before the Christian era.

The Caves of Orissa

Of the early caves along the East Coast the only ones that merit attention here are the two neighbouring and intimately connected groups on the hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri in Orissa. Unlike the rock-hewn monuments of Western India described above, which were the handiwork of Buddhists, these Orissan caves were both excavated and for many years tenanted by adherents of the Jain religion, who have left behind them unmistakable evidences of their faith both in the early inscribed records and in the medieval cult statues which are found in several of the caves. To this sectarian difference is due many distinctive features of the architecture, including, among others, the entire absence of chaitya halls, for which, apparently, there was no need in the ceremonial observances of the Jains. Taken together, the two groups comprise more than thirty-five excavations, of which the more remarkable in point of size and decoration are the Ananta Gumpha on Khandagiri, and the Rani Gumpha, Ganesh Gumpha, and the Jayavijaya caves on the Udayagiri hill.


Orissa Caves


Besides these, there are two caves in the Udayagiri group - namely, the Hathi Gumpha and the Manchapuri cave - to which a special interest attaches by reason of the inscriptions carved on them.

Hathi Gumpha Cave

Of the whole series the oldest is the Hathi Gumpha, a natural cavern enlarged by artificial cutting, on the over-hanging brow of which is the famous epigraph recording the acts of Kharavela, King of Kalinga. This inscription was supposed by Pandit Bhagvanlal Indraji and others to be dated in the 165th year of the Maurya epoch, which, if reckoned from the accession of Chandragupta, would coincide with 157-6 BC. Other scholars have, however, since denied that any such date occurs in the inscription, and, at the present time, there is still a sharp division of opinion on the point.In the absence of an undoubted date in this record or in the records of Kharavela's Queen and of his successor (?) in the Manchapuri cave, we must endeavour to determine the age of these monuments from other sources of information. In the case of the Manchapuri cave, the problem luckily derives some light from the style of the sculptured reliefs of the interior. This cave, erroneously called Vaikuntha or Patalapuri by earlier writers, possesses two storeys, the lower consisting of a pillared verandah with chambers hollowed out at the back and at one end; the upper of similar design but of smaller dimensions and without any chamber at the extremity of the verandah. It is in the upper storey of this cave that the inscription of Kharavela's Queen is incised, while in the lower are short records stating that the main and side chambers were the works, respectively, of Vakradeva (Vakadepasiri or Kudepasiri), the successor, apparently, of Kharavela, and of Prince Vadukha. It may be presumed, therefore, that the upper storey is the earlier of the two. The rail pattern which once adorned the broad band of rock between the two storeys is now all but obliterated, but in the ground-floor verandah is a well preserved frieze which confirms by its style what the inscriptions might otherwise lead us to suppose : namely, that, next to the Hathi Gumpha, this was the most ancient cave in the two groups.


Udayagiri Caves


Like most of the sculptures in this locality they are of poor, coarse workmanship, but in the depth of the relief and plastic treatment of the figures they evince a decided advance on the work of Bharhut, and, unless it be that sculpture in this part of India had undergone an earlier and independent development (a supposition for which there is no foundation) it is safe to affirm that they are considerably posterior to the sculptures of Bharhut.

Next, in chronological sequence, comes the Ananta Gumpha - a single storeyed cave planned in much the same way as the Manchapuri, which seems to have been the prototype of all the more important caves excavated on this site. Over the doorways of this cave are ornamental arches enclosing various reliefs; in one is a standing figure of Lakshmi supported by the usual elephants on lotus flowers; in another is the four-horse chariot of the Sun-god (?) depicted en face, with the crescent moon and stars in the field; in a third are elephants; in a fourth, a railed-in tree and figures to right and left of it bearing offerings in their hands or posed in an attitude of prayer. The arch fronts themselves are relieved by bands of birds or of animals and Amorini at play or of garlands intertwined, and over each is a pair of triple-headed snakes, while in the intermediate spaces are flying Gandharvas disposed in separate panels.


Ananta Gumpha


The last mentioned are more stiff and schematic than the similar figures in the Manchapuri cave, and this taken in conjunction with other features, such as the chubby Amorini and the treatment of the Sun-god's chariot, seems to indicate for these sculptures a date not much earlier than the middle of the first century BC.

A further stage in the development of this architecture is reached in the Rani Gumpha, which is at once the most spacious and elaborately decorated of all the Orissan caves. It consists of two storeys, each originally provided with a verandah the lower 43 feet in length with three cells behind, the upper 20 feet longer with four cells behind; in addition to which there are chambers of irregular plan in the wings, to right and left of the verandahs.

In both storeys the façades of the cells are enriched with pilasters and highly ornate friezes illustrating episodes connected with the Jain religion, of which unfortunately the interpretation has not yet been established. The friezes resemble each other closely, so far as their general treatment is concerned, but the style of the sculptures in the two storeys is widely different. In the upper the composition is relatively free, each group forming a coherent whole, in which the relation of the various figures to one another is well expressed; the figures themselves are posed in natural attitudes; their movement is vigorous and convincing; and from a plastic and anatomical point of view the modelling is tolerably correct. In the lower, on the other hand, the reliefs are distinctly elementary and crude.

The best of them, perhaps, but even here the figures are composed almost as independent units, connected only by their tactile contiguity; their postures, too, are rigid and formal, particularly as regards the head and torso, which are turned almost direct to the spectator, and in other respects the work is stiff and schematic. At first sight, it might appear that in proportion as these carvings are more primitive looking, so they are anterior to those of the upper storey; but examined more closely they betray traces here and there of comparatively mature art, which suggest that their defects are due rather to the clumsiness and inexperience of the particular sculptors responsible for them than to the primitive character of plastic art at the time when they were produced. Accordingly, it seems probable that in this cave, as in the Manchapuri, the upper of the two floors was the first to be excavated, though the interval of time between the two was not necessarily a long one; and there is good reason, also, to suppose that the marked stylistic difference between the sculptures of the two storeys was the result of influence exercised directly or indirectly by the contemporary schools of Central and North-Western India.

In this connection a special significance attaches to the presence in the upper storey of a doorkeeper garbed in the dress of a Yavana warrior, and of a lion and rider near by treated in a distinctively Western-Asiatic manner, while the guardian door-keepers of the lower storey are as characteristically Indian as their workmanship is immature. It is significant, too, that various points of resemblance are to be traced between the sculptures of the upper floor and the Jain reliefs of Mathura, where, as we have already seen, the artistic traditions of the North-West were at this time obtaining a strong foothold.

The pity is that the example of these outside schools made only a superficial and impermanent impression in Orissa a fact which becomes clear if we consider some of the other caves on this site. In the Ganesh Gumpha, for example, which is a small excavation containing only two cells, the reliefs of the frieze are closely analogous in style and subject, but, at the same time, slightly inferior to those in the upper verandah of the Rani Gumpha. Then, in the Jayavijaya, we see the style rapidly losing its animation, and in the Alakapuri cave, which is still later, the execution has become still more coarse and the figures as devoid of expression as anything which has survived from the Early School.

The truth appears to be that the art of Orissa, unlike the art of Central or Western India possessed little independent vitality, and flourished only so long as it was stimulated by other schools, but became retrograde the moment that that inspiration was withdrawn.

It remains to consider the paintings and minor antiquities of the Early Indian school. Of the former our knowledge is the scantiest; for though many of the buildings described above, both rock-cut and structural, must have been adorned with frescoes, only one specimen of such frescoes is known to exist, and this one, unhappily, is too fragmentary and obscured to afford a criterion of what the painters of that age were capable. The fresco referred to is in the Jogimara cave of the Ramgarh hill within the confines of the small and remotely situated State of Surguja.

At first sight, it appears a mere medley of crudely painted figures, destitute alike of coherent composition and intelligible meaning; but a closer examination reveals here and there a few drawings, from which the color has vanished, but the line work of which is tolerably dexterous and bold, and it reveals others also quite vigorously outlined, but spoilt by the colors roughly daubed upon them. Evidently, the fresco has been repainted and added to by some untutored hand at a time when most of its colouring had faded, and these few linear drawings are all that is left of the original work.

It is to the later period that belong not only the existing pigments red and crimson and black with which the older figures have been restored, but the bands of monochrome yellow and red which divide and subdivide the panels, as well as the numerous ill-drawn and primitive looking figures applied indiscriminately on the fresco, wherever the older paintings had been obliterated.

Of the earlier work, all that can now be made out is that it was disposed in a series of concentric panels separated from one another by narrow bands; that the bands were adorned with rows of fishes, makaras, and other aquatic monsters; and that in the panels were various subjects depicted in a very haphazard fashion, among which are the familiar chaitya halls with pinnacled roofs, two-horse chariots, and groups of figures seated and standing, manifestly analogous to those found in the early reliefs, but too much effaced to admit of a detailed comparison. That the fresco appertains to the Early School is sufficiently apparent from these features, but its more exact date must remain conjectural. The late Dr Bloch, who visited the cave in 1904, failed to perceive the repainting which the fresco had undergone and assigned the whole as it stood to the third century BC. This was on the assumption that it was contemporary with a short inscription in the early Brahmi character engraved on the wall of the cave. It is very doubtful, however, if the record in question is so ancient, and equally doubtful if the fresco has any connection with it. More probably the latter was executed in the first century before our era.

Minor Arts

With the terracottas of this period we are on firmer ground, for examples of them are numerous, and in many cases their age can be determined not only by the internal evidence of their style, but by the associations in which they have been found. These terracottas consist of figurines of men and animals or toy carts in the round, or of small plaques stamped with figures or miniature scenes. The Indian specimens of the Maurya period were, as we have already seen, very crude and primitive, corresponding in this respect with the indigenous stone sculpture of that age.

In the second and first centuries BC, however, terracotta work steadily improved, and towards the beginning of the Christian era we find it hardly less carefully modelled or less richly decorated than contemporary reliefs in stone. By this time, the use of dies for stamping the clay had come into general vogue, and, as a consequence, even the cheaper toys of children were enriched by pretty floral designs in relief. The same thing happened, also, in the case of metal ornaments, which exhibit precisely the same kind of designs as the terracottas.

A good illustration of the minute delicacy with which some of these dies were engraved is afforded by a terracotta medallion from Bhita, which might almost be a copy in miniature of the relief work on the Sanchi gateways, so exactly does it resemble it in style. One of the sculptures at Sanchi, it may be remembered, was the work of the ivory carvers of Vidisha, and it was of ivory probably that the die for this medallion was made. Of about the same age, but of much coarser execution is the copper lota from Gundla in Kulu. Here, again, the scene engraved round the body of the vase is the familiar one of a prince seated in a four-horse chariot with a band of musicians in front, a cortege of horsemen and an elephant rider behind. The figure in the chariot has been identified with Gautama Buddha, as Prince Siddhartha, but it seems, prima facie, unlikely that this should be the one and only exception to the rule which obtained among the early Indian artists, of never representing the figure of Gautama Buddha.

In following step by step the history of Indian indigenous art during this early period we have seen that much extraneous influence was exerted upon it, and that this influence was a prominent factor in its evolution. Yet, if we examine this art in its most mature form, as illustrated for example in the gateways of Sanchi, we can detect in it nothing really mimetic, nothing which degrades it to the rank of a servile school.

Many of its motifs and ideas it took from Persia, but there is no trace in it of the icy composure, the monotonous reiteration, or the dignified spaciousness which characterise Iranian art. It owed a debt to the older civilisations of Assyria, but it knows nothing of the stately and pompous grandeur or the grotesque exaggerations in which the Assyrian fancy delighted. Most of all, it was indebted to the Hellenistic culture of Western Asia, but the service which it exacted from the genius of Hellas served to develop its own Tirile character, not to enfeeble or obscure it. The artists of early India were quick, with the versatility of all great artists, to profit by the lessons which others had to teach them; but there is no more reason in calling their creations Persian or Greek than there would be in designating the modern fabric of St Paul's Italian.

The art which they practised was essentially a national art, having its root in the heart and in the faith of the people, and giving eloquent expression to their spiritual beliefs and to their deep and intuitive sympathy with nature. Free alike from artificiality and idealism, its purpose was to glorify religion, not by seeking to embody spiritual ideas in terms of form, as the medieval art of India did, but by telling the story of Buddhism or Jainism in the simplest and most expressive language which the chisel of the sculptor could command, and it was just because of its sympathy and transparent sincerity that it voiced so truthfully the soul of the people, and still continues to make an instant and deep appeal to our feelings.

Influence of Greek Art

To complete our survey of the arts of early India, we must retrace our steps, finally, to the North-West and pick up once more the threads of Hellenistic and Western Asiatic culture which became established there in the second century BC, and subsequently led to the development of an influential school of Buddhist art. The all-important part played by Bactria and Persia in connection with the monuments of Ashoka has already occupied our attention. Forty years after the death of that Emperor the Bactrian armies of Demetrius overran the north of the Punjab and paved the way for the foundation of an independent Greek rule, which remained paramount in the North-West for nearly a hundred years and lingered on still longer in the hills of Afghanistan. The antiquities which these Eurasian Greeks and their immediate successors, the Scytho-Parthians, have bequeathed to us, are not numerous, but one and all consistently bear witness to the strong hold which Hellenistic art must have, taken upon this part of India.

Most instructive, perhaps, among them are the coins, the stylistic history of which is singularly lucid and coherent. In the earliest examples every feature is Hellenistic. Their standard is the Attic standard; their legends are in Greek; their types are taken from Greek mythology, and designed with a grace and beauty reminiscent of the schools of Praxiteles or Lysippus; and their portraiture is characterised by a refined realism, which, while it is unmistakably Greek, demonstrates a remarkable originality on the part of the engravers. With the consolidation, however, of the Greek supremacy south of the Hindu Kush, the Attic standard quickly gave place to one possibly based on Persian coinage more suited to the needs of local commerce; bilingual legends were substituted for the Greek, and little by little the other Hellenistic qualities gradually faded, Indian elements being introduced among the types and the portraits losing their freshness and animation.

And so the process of degeneration continued, relatively slowly among the Eurasian Greeks, more rapidly when added barbarian elements came to be introduced from Parthia. The testimony of these coins is specially valuable in this respect : it proves that the engravers who produced them were no mere slavish copyists of Western models, but were giving free and spontaneous expression to their own ideas; and it proves further that, though the art which they exhibit underwent an inevitable transformation in its new environment and as a result of political changes, its influence, nevertheless, was long and well-sustained on Indian soil.

Nor does this numismatic evidence stand alone. It is endorsed also by the other antiquities of this age which have come down to us, though in their case with this notable difference a difference for which political considerations readily account that, whereas the coins of the Indo-Parthians evince a close dependence on Parthian prototypes, warranting the presumption that the kings who issued them were of Parthian stock, the contemporary architecture and other antiquities show relatively little evidence of the semi-barbarous influence from that region. Of the buildings of the Eurasian Greeks themselves no remains have yet been brought to light save the unembellished walls of some dwelling houses, but the monuments erected at Taxila and in the neighbourhood during the Scytho-Parthian supremacy leave no room for doubt that architecture of the classical style had long been fashionable in that quarter of India; for, though by that time the decorative features were beginning to be Indianised, the Hellenistic elements in them were still in complete preponderance over the Oriental. Thus, the ornamentation of the stupas of this period was primarily based on the 'Corinthian' order, modified by the addition of Indian motifs; while the only temples that have yet been unearthed are characterised by the presence of Ionic columns and classical mouldings.

Engraved Gems

As with the architectural, so with the minor arts; they, one and all, derived their inspiration from the Hellenistic School, and in the very slowness of their decline bear testimony to the remarkable persistency of its teachings. Of earlier and purer workmanship a charming illustration is afforded by some fragmentary ceramic wares from the neighbourhood of Peshawar, the designs on which are singularly human, and singularly Greek, in sentiment. On one of them are depicted little Amorini at play; on another, a child reaching for a bunch of grapes in the hands of its mother; on a third, a scene from the Antigone, where Haemon is supplicating his father Creon for the life of his affianced bride. Equally Hellenistic in character, and equally devoid of any Indian feeling, is an ivory pendant adorned with two bearded heads from Taxila, and the vine-wreathed head of Dionysus in silver repousse from the same site. Then, a little later about the beginning, that is to say, of the Christian era we find Indian forms appearing among the Hellenistic, just as they did in the case of architecture. Witness, for instance, the relic casket of gold encrusted with balas rubies, which was found in a tope at Bimaran. Here, the figures of the Buddha and his devotees - the chief and central features of the design - are in inspiration demonstrably Hellenistic; but the arches beneath which they stand are no less demonstrably Indian in form; while the sacred Indian lotus, fullblown, is incised beneath the base of the casket. Doubtless, it was in the sphere of religious and more particularly of Buddhist art, with its essentially Indian associations, that Indian ideas first began to trespass on the domain of Hellenism in the north-west, and this partly explains why the monuments which betray the first encroachments of indigenous art, belong without exception to that faith, and why other objects of a non-religious character, such as engraved gems or the graceful bronze statuette of a child from Taxila, preserve their classical style intact until a much later date.

But it must be borne in mind, also, that it was in architectural forms that the earliest symptoms of Indian influence appeared, and that at the time of which we are speaking India was already in possession of a national architecture of her own and likely, therefore, to exercise more influence in that particular sphere than in the glyptic or plastic arts, in which she had then made less independent progress. The engraved gems referred to are found in large numbers throughout the whole north-western area and are proved by the presence of legends in early Brahmi or Kharoshthi, as well as in Greek characters, to be the work of resident artists.

Judging by the persistency with which it was repeated, the motif of the fighting warriors on this gem must have been almost as favourite a one in India as it was in Greece. It was during the Scytho-Parthian supremacy that the local school of Buddhist art, known as the Gandhara School, must first have sprung into being. The story of this school belongs to a subsequent chapter; for it was under the rule of the Kushana kings that it produced the majority of the sculptures which have made it famous. But that it had taken shape long before the Kushanas came upon the scene, is evident from the fact that the types of the Buddha peculiarly associated with it, and the evolution of which presupposes a long period for its achievement, were already fixed and standardised in the reign of Kaniskha, and that the influence of the school had penetrated by that time as far as the banks of the Jumna. Unhappily, among the many thousands of sculptures by which it is represented, there is not one which bears a date in any known era, nor do considerations of style enable us to determine their chronological sequence with any approach to accuracy.

Nevertheless, it may be taken as a general maxim that the earlier they are, the more nearly they approximate in style to Hellenistic work, and, accepting the relic casket from the stupa of Shah-ji-ki-dheri as a criterion of age, it may safely be asserted that a number of them, distinguished by their less stereotyped or less rococo character, are anterior to the reign of Kanishka. One of the earliest of these, if we accept the judgment of Mons. Foucher, is the Buddha image, which is certainly conspicuous among its fellows for its graceful and restrained simplicity. Yet, even of this image the type is demonstrably a well matured one, and, if we would seek for the beginnings of the school, we must look still further back and learn from the Bimaran casket and other antiquities of that time the process by which Hellenistic art came into the service of Buddhism.

Greek and Indian Ideals

The question of the role played by classical art in India has been a much disputed one in the past, some authorities maintaining that it was almost a negligible factor, others that it underlay the whole fabric of Indian art. The truth, as so often happens, lies between the two extremes. In Hindustan and in Central India it took, as we have seen, an important part in promoting the development of the Early National School both by clearing its path of technical difficulties and strengthening its growth with new and invigorating ideas.

In the north-west region and immediately beyond its frontiers, on the other hand, it long maintained a complete supremacy, obscuring the indigenous traditions and itself producing works of no mean merit, which add appreciably to our understanding of the Hellenistic genius; here, too, as Indian influence waxed stronger, it eventually culminated in the School of Gandhara, which left an indelible mark on Buddhist art throughout the Orient. Nevertheless, in spite of its wide diffusion, Hellenistic art never took a real and lasting hold upon India, for the reason that the temperaments of the two peoples were radically dissimilar. To the Greek, man, man's beauty, man's intellect were everything, and it was the apotheosis of this beauty and this intellect which still remained the key-note of Hellenistic art even in the Orient. But these ideals awakened no response in the Indian mind. The vision of the Indian was bounded by the immortal rather than the mortal, by the infinite rather than finite. Where Greek thought was ethical, his was spiritual; where Greek was rational, his was emotional. And to these higher aspirations, these more spiritual instincts, he sought, at a later date, to give articulate expression by translating them into terms of form and colour. But that was not until the more spacious times of the Guptas, when a closer contact had been established between thought and art, and new impulses imparted to each.

At the age of which we are speaking, the Indian had not yet conceived the bold and, as some think, chimerical idea of thus incarnating spirit in matter. Art to him was a thing apart a sensuous, concrete expression of the beautiful, which appealed intimately to his subconscious aesthetic sense, but in which neither intellectuality nor mysticism had any share. For the rest, he found in the formative arts a valuable medium in which to narrate, in simple and universal language, the legends and history of his faith; and this was mainly why, for the sake of its lucidity and dramatic power, he welcomed with avidity and absorbed the lessons of Hellenistic art, not because he sympathised with its ideals or saw in it the means of giving utterance to his own.