Mathura school of Art



In the art history of India, Mathura occupies a prominnet place. The sculptural marvels excavated here provide an insight into Indian art from early times to the medieval period. However, the golden period of its art was from the first to the fifth century AD when the Kushan and Gupta kings were in power.

The Kushans, who were great patrons of art, ruled over a large empire in North India from AD 1 to AD 175. Two schools of sculptural art developed during this period-Gandhara and Mathura. Although it portrayed Indian themes, the Gandhara School was based on Greco-Roman norms encapsulating foreign techniques and an alien spirit. On the other hand, the Mathura school was completely Indian.

The Mathura School of Art, noted for its vitality and assimilative character, was a result of the religious zeal of Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism. Although it was inspired by the early Indian arts of Bharhut and Sanchi, the influence of Gandhara arts was also manifested in its sculptures. Further, it amalgamated the features of old folk cults like Yaksha worship with contemporary cults, creating a style rich in aesthetic appeal.

There are few creations in the whole range of Indian art which can vie in elegance, delicacy and charm with the lovely feminine figures created by Mathura artists. The innocent but seductive damsels of the Mathura School

display highly alluring sexual grace and charm. A Yakshi is usually portrayed nude with globular breasts invariably covered, smooth thighs and the lower garments either shown as transparent or suggestively parted. Her physical charms, combined with soft and pleasant facial expressions, make her extremely enticing.

The sculptures of the Buddha, on the other hand, radiate the religious feelings of gentleness and compassion. In fact, it was during the Kushan period that the Buddha was conceived in human form and sculpted in stone. Carved in bold relief, the features were given a three-dimensional effect, a concept that was probably borrowed from the West.

According to Benjamin Rowland, an eminent professor from Harvard University, "The faces of the statues [of the Buddha sculpted during the Kushan period] are characterized by an open radiant expression; the eyes are fully open, the cheeks round and full, the mount ample, with the lips drawn into a slight smile. This smile is probably the earliest appearance of the only possible device by which the Indian sculpture could indicate the inner contentment and repose of the Buddha."

The colossal sculptures of the Buddha, which portray a frontal stance, are fine specimens of the craftsmanship of the Mathura artists. Broad shoulders, masculine torso and right hand raised in abhyamudra are the typical characteristics. The drapery clings to the body in fine rhythmic folds while a big designed halo behind the head adds an extra aura of divinity.

Mathura art, however, reached its peak during the Gupta period (AD 325 to 600). The sculptures were marked by sharp and beautiful features, graceful and slim body, with many folds of transparent drapery and a new style of coiffure. The human figure reached its highest sublimation in the Gupta classical phase when the divine images conceived and rendered in the shape of a human being assumed a superhuman aspect and attained the true spiritual import.

The sculptural treasures of Mathura were brought to light in 1836 when Col. L. R. Tracy recovered a beautiful bacchanalian sculpture made of red sandstone. Further excavations unearthed another lovely sculpture depicting a lady patting a bird. But it was Sir Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, who excavated a large number of treasures at Mathura from 1853 to 1871.

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