Thursday, May 9, 2013

History and Sculptures in Mainamati-Lalmai Comilla - Part 3

Whereas stone and bronze were both used for representing icons, thus cult images, terracotta has been a medium with a wider range of uses. The production of stone and bronze images required importing the material from neighboring countries, but the soil of Bengal has always been an inexhaustible source of earth used for the construction and ornamentation of monuments till the most recent period, and for the representation of deities, as it is still the case today in the Brahmanical society.

Terracotta remained used in the following centuries for representing deities, as seen with the image of the Sun-god that was discovered at Mahasthangarh, dating probably from the 6th century, or with a perhaps slightly later head (image - 1). The smooth dress outlines the elegant lines of the body and the softness of the volume; its plainness, moreover, is balanced by the detailed carving of details, such as the typically Gupta row of large beads around the neck, the curls of the hair falling on both shoulders, the beaded belt to which the sheath of the sword is hanging, the folds of the shawl which fall on either side in vertical and slightly undulating lines.
Image - 1:

It is likely that at Mahasthangarh, like at Mainamati, the production of terracotta’s must have extended on a long period; some of the images found at Nangalkot, in the vicinity of Mahasthan, reflect the facial features of the Gupta style with thick sensual lips, the large eyes with heavy lids sloping towards the temples, the round face surmounted by curly hair whereas other ones reflect a much more simplified version with wide open and bulging eyes, flat lips, hard lines. At the moment, it is rather difficult to decide whether this rendering reflects a contemporary but poorer tendency, perhaps produced by less qualified artists, or a later (or earlier!) development.

The Ramayana reliefs collected at Palashbari, also in the vicinity of Mahasthan, constitute an example of the unsurpassed achievement reached by Bengali artists in the course of the 6th & 7th centuries (image - 2). Those panels form a sequence of independent scenes, all characterized by a harmonious composition where the characters are depicted in high relief if not practically freed from the back, and arising out of the inner space to hide partly the frame surrounding the panel. They show a large variety of movements and convey with strength their feelings through numerous facial expressions and their wide open eyes.
Image - 2:

The Ramayana panels were certainly distributed in rows on the outer walls of a brick temple, a tradition which was going to be preserved in the following centuries. Major Buddhist sites have indeed yielded such series of square panels, at times still found in situ. Be it at Mainamati in the 7th century, Paharpur in the 8th century, or Jagjivanpur in the 9th century.

All panels show a broad frame around the central recess out of which the images emerge, partly covering the frame. Most plaques from Mainamati and Mahasthangarh (image - 3) retain the vivacity, the energy and the elegance of the Gupta period, which elegantly merge into the iconography topics to be depicted: semi-divine beings are seen flying, warriors are depicted rushing, animals, real or fantastic are shown in various activities.
Image - 3:

The images are carved in very deep relief, which introduces an organic interaction of dark zones framing the main character whose presence is even more stressed through the fact that he completely covers the space of the panel. The volumes are full, the lines nervous but elegant. It is precisely this rendering of the movement which ties all the panels together: the warriors form an army, all rushing and in a threatening mood, the animals reflect the world of the nature within which semi-divine characters emerge.

On the contrary, later plaques, such as those at Paharpur, show more flatness; the characters or animals usually remain within the limits of the frame; the lines are harder, the facial features simplified. What comes through at Paharpur, is the tendency to present the characters as individual icons and no more as part of a large iconography program; and true, beside the topics already noticed at Mainamati and which are here repeated (warriors, animals, semi-divine beings), images of deities and of human characters are observed.
Image - 4:

These are shown in a frontal view, or slightly profiled, leading the way to the panels of Jagjivanpur (image - 4). Beside the fact that the iconography program is practically identical to the ones encountered in earlier sites, the terracotta’s of this 9th century, site breathe an extraordinary presence; the figures are tall, covering – like at Mainamati – the frame of the panels; the warriors and the musicians are profiled and are usually seen running, full of energy whereas those seen in frontal view and seated peacefully depict Bodhisattvas. Although the images do not betray any more the plasticity of the surface noticed at Mainamati, the relative flatness of the carving is balanced by the fluid movement of the outlines.

source: PDF version of "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


read other related stories:
A little about Comilla DistrictBangladesh Census Report - 2011 for Comilla
Total 16 Upazilas under Comilla District
History and Sculptures of Mainamati-Lalmai Range - Part 1
Cast Images - History and Sculptures of Mainamati-Lalmai - Part 2
Little History of SouthEast Bengal - Conquest and Culture Changes

No comments: