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Indian Sculpture


While traveling in the upper Himalayan range, I was on a local tracking car to visit my next destination. I was spellbound to see the heavenly beauty of Garhwal Himalaya through the car's window, just as my co-passengers were. Alongside fellow travelers, local inhabitants were also in the tracker with us. Suddenly, a young man broke the monotony of the motor engine's sound by asking one of the locals, "What's the name of the river flowing below the mountain's pothole?" The resident replied, "This is Maa (Mother) Ganga." The young man mockingly argued, "What's Maa Ganga? It's just the river Ganga." However, the humble resident responded, "To you, it may just be a flowing river, but to us, she is Maa Ganga, whose blessings help us to survive."

India has long been shaped by a dominant belief that forms the backbone of its culture - spiritualism. This belief is evident throughout the country, as I discovered during my travels to every corner of India. Spiritualism is woven into the fabric of Indian classical music, dance, painting, sculpting, literature, and even some architectural designs. It permeates every aspect of life with a tacit pulse.

Worship of Sun
Worship of Sun

Can you explain the reason behind it? Indian inhabitants have found a significant indirect value that impacts their lives. In my previous discussion of  Mudra, I shared my own experience of the profound benefits of meditation. India has a rich history of monks, yogis, and spiritual leaders who have demonstrated the teachings of Puranas and other mythological scriptures through their lives and actions. The influence of spiritualism can be seen in the ancient sculptures of India. Along with the grammatical aspect, it would also be best to view these sculptures through the lens of spiritualism because they were created with the same internal motivation as the spiritual teachings they represent. Alongside this, we also have to remember that spiritual philosophy also influenced the grammar rules of the sculpture.

It would become worthless if we tried to dig up another meaning of those sculptures. However, it is worth noting that similar beliefs can be found worldwide. For instance, in Japan, the Pine tree is revered as a symbol of divinity, while in Greece, Oak and Birch are considered sacred trees. Although I am not an expert on this subject, these beliefs may have a significant historical basis.

A little devotee
A little devotee of Lord Krishna

From an artistic standpoint, this sculpture holds great value that sets it apart from others. Its unique form was carefully crafted to highlight the importance of the supernatural character besides the natural world. Ancient sages recommended drawing inspiration from nature while making a human body since similar beauty and harmony are already sprayed around the core of nature. During the discussion of Prithvi Mudra, it was mentioned that a human figure was constructed using the same five materials used to create the world. This belief likely inspired individuals to observe and learn from the natural world, which is discussed in more detail in this book as a 'Metaphorical Concept.' This distinct approach resulted in sculptures that had artistic value and a profound spiritual impact. At a glance, Indian sculpture does not match Western sculptures, which have the human anatomical sense narrated in detail. Such a formation only features the materialist conception. At the same time, the structure of Indian sculptures brings forth internal values such as divinity, the morality of human life, spiritualism, and peacefulness. It signals what the virtue of human beings should be that could make us more pleasant and noble. Hence, the scripture's author brushed off the human figure's outer similarity and found a particular form by keeping up the proportional value of several elements of nature.

I am curious about how the Indian sages of antiquity achieved such a high level of artistic expression that still holds value today. Their approach to sculpture and painting was similar to the modern concept, which focuses on the intrinsic value of an object rather than its traditional appearance. Remarkably, these ancient monks and yogis could conceive of such a forward-thinking artistic concept that liberates the artist by destroying all boundaries. It is also astonishing how brilliantly they selected specific shapes from nature! From the undefined era of Indian civilization, in all the aspects of Indian art, we can glimpse such a specialty, which constantly moves towards the inlying value by disregarding the basic form.

In my experience, when traveling in a village in Madhya Pradesh, I saw some illiterate innocent village girls wearing tattered frocks depicting outstanding decorative designs in the outer part of their hut that can make anyone spellbound for a while. It was the time of Diwali. They even had no idea what they were doing. It mesmerized me, and I stopped to watch their creativity for a while. They had no idea about the modern concept of art but quickly created some great abstract shapes of flowers, leaves, birds, etc., on the ground. I realized that the sense of artistry is independent of any traditional academic learning. It depends on the conventional thoughts of the inhabitants of a particular territory. And in such a manner, the pulsation of artistry blinks each Indian soul, which makes India incredible!


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