Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cast Images- History and Sculpture of Mainamati-Lalmai Ridge Comilla- Part 2

The earliest cast images discovered on the Lalmai-Mainamati ridge and in the region under Comilla district, date back to the 7th and 8th centuries. Moreover, images from this part of the country were also recovered at Nalanda and Kurkihar, in Bihar, as well as in the island of Java, attesting thus of a very flourishing influence in the 8th & 9th century. Other isolated images were found in regions located eastward, in the Sylhet and the Indian Tripura districts, attesting thus that the Lalmai-Mainamati hills held a major position as cultural, i.e. political, religious and art-historical, center. Beside Mainamati, another large group of cast images was recovered at Jhewari.

These images betray a smooth rendering of the surface (image - 1): the body reflects a soft modeling, the movements are delicate and fluid; the face, unfortunately very often rubbed out, presents a tender, if not compassionate, smile and shows half-open eyes; without any fold being indicated, the dress clings to the body, underlining the shapes of the limbs. Locks of hair fall on the shoulders and the head-dress often presents a round shape. The divine image is elegantly outlined in front of a plain back-slab adorned with rows of pearls and flames running along its edge and bearing an umbrella, unfortunately often broken away, to which wide loops are attached.

The pedestal can be highly elaborated with lions prowling above elephants on either side of the drapery; in contrary to the back-slab, it is widely open. Variations can be of course noticed: images of the Buddha can sit in front of a back-slab which is open through with struts bearing open flowers – thus reminiscent of images encountered at Nalanda and in North Bengal; another variation shows that the lower part of the back-plate is open through, supporting a plain nimbus. On the whole, variations in the composition are numerous and testify to a rich creativity.

This tradition apparently culminated in the 9th or early 10th century. with the production of human-size cast images such as those recovered in the last fifteen years on the ridge (image - 2). Through its evanescent smile, the face simultaneously displays the feeling of compassion and manifests the experience of meditation in which the Bodhisattva is sunken. If the features are clearly drawn – incised lines follow the eye-brows or underline the thick lips, the eyes show the classical form of the lotus petal, the line of the forehead is horizontal, the lines are never hard but always smoothly and elegantly delineated.

The face preserves the roundness noticed in the smaller images, which evidently contributes to the impression of imminent presence of the Bodhisattva, making him accessible. Similarly, the perfect distribution of the volumes in the representation of Vajrasattva is intermingled with the slenderness of the limbs and the strength of the chest. Whereas some of the bronzes found at Jhewari, near Chittagong, clearly relate to the first group of images mentioned above, a number of images of the Buddha were most probably produced locally (image - 3).

They present a very large head covered by a cap of extremely tiny curls and the cranial protuberance tends to lose its particular shape. The heaviness of the limbs, the eyes – eventually widely open –, or the treatment of specific motifs, such as the lap of the dress on the left shoulder ending in a straight horizontal line, are features reminiscent of stone images like the one seen at Betagi. These features make the presence of the Buddha accessible, which is also evidenced in the stone images through other means: the central depiction arises out of the shrine; the plainness of the depiction is clearly in contrast with the extremely complicated, if not confused, iconography and ornamental carving around it. This presence to the world of the Buddha differentiates itself from the meditative mood and expression of compassion betrayed by the images from the Lalmai-Mainamati ridge.

Twelfth c. images cast in Southeast Bengal show a shift in the stylistic idiom and reflect similarities with images produced in North Bengal at the same period (image - 4). It shifts away from the earlier structure showing the lower part of the image supporting the deity cast in the round whereas the back-slab constituted a fully closed space behind the icon. Icons are cast in the round above a compact pedestal and stand in front of a back slab which is open and constituted by a broad plain band fringed with flames, each of them individually attached to the band; a lotus flower can eventually be open behind the head of the deity. The rich ornamentation which adorns the deities is balanced by the plain band of the back-slab; details are shown with utmost delicacy. This refined art reflects the divine power as an image of richness; the abundant jewellery practically acts as a dress.

source: "The Sculpture of Bengal", a stylistic History from the 2nd c. BC till the 12th c. AD, Claudine Bautze-Picron, C.N.R.S., Paris.

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