Ashokan Pillars and Sculptures

Of Ashoka's monolithic pillars, the finest perhaps is the lion crowned pillar at Lauriya Nandangarh in West Champaran, which consists of a polished block of sandstone, 10.1 meters long, with a capital nearly 2.13 meters in length. Two other inscribed pillars are found at Rampurwa and Lauriya Areraj (with a lion capital) in East Champaran, and a fourth at Basarh (Vaishali). All four were set up on the imperial road from Pataliputra to Nepal. The edicts of the emperor are inscribed on rock at the Dhauli Hill in Orissa and on a hill near Sasaram in Bihar.
To the Mauryan period also belong the caves in the Barabar Hills of Jehanabad. These are really chambers hewn out of solid rock, which served as hermitages. The skill with which the early Bihari mason could manipulate such intractable material as the hard granite of these hills is shown by the steely polish produced on the chiseled stone. Buddhistic statuary of a later date is common in the Gaya district. With the exception of the Greco-Buddhistic sculptures of Gandharva, these images are the only class of Indian Buddhistic art that has come down through the long possession of ages in a fair state of completeness. At Bodh Gaya, the oldest Buddhist memorial is a stone railing ornamented with friezes, panels and bosses, which display considerable artistic skill. The temple itself which has a tower 55 meters high, is a modern restoration carried out by the Government, but it is claimed that in its main features it reproduces the magnificent pane on which the Chinese pilgrim Huynh Tsiang gazed with rapt reverence and admiration in the seventh century. Here, too, is a large collection of stupas, which the pilgrims to this holy land left as memorials of their visits. They are of different sizes and extend over many centuries, beginning with the simple monolith of the early ages. The stupa was originally a copy in brick or stone of an earthen sepulchral tumulus and ending with the ornamental spire of the medieval period.
Few parts of India witnessed such remarkable efflorescence of art and architecture during the Gupta and late Gupta periods as the State of Bihar. The prominent role of Bihar in the domain of fine arts was due as much to the rich cultural heritage and genius of her people as to her material prosperity, assured by the dominant political status she enjoyed from c.500 B.C. to c. 600 A.D.
The Gupta emperors, all great patrons of art and culture, made Pataliputra the center of contemporary art. The excavations at Kumhrar (Patna) have yielded not only stone sculptures, but also a number of terracotta human and animal figurines, large stucco and terracotta plaques, representing figures of the Buddha, Mithunas, Gandharvas, etc. The shrine of Mani-naga at Rajgir, another specimen of Gupta art, was decorated with stucco sculptures of Ganesha, Vishnu, Nagas and Nagis. One of the Nagi sculptures is regarded as a masterpiece of Gupta art one of the loveliest creations in the eastern idiom of Gupta art for which Bihar is justly famous. Two Gupta Chaturmukha Lingams and a fine image of Kartikeya have been discovered at Vaishali.
The colossal bronze Buddha of Sultanganj, now preserved in the Birmingham Museum is by far the most monumental creation of Gupta art.
The fifth and sixth centuries in Bihar were thus remarkably creative. Even during early seventh century, the same creative momentum was witnessed and a number of creditable art-pieces in the classical eastern version were produced. Gradually, however, this creative vitality began to decline and give way to a dull, drowsy heaviness. The body conformed to the Gupta tradition, but the modeling lost its fluidity and suppleness, rendering the plastic surface coarse. The late Gupta sculptures of Nalanda reveal these tendencies.
The Chinese travelers, who came to India in the early fifth and seventh centuries, show how Bihar was studded with temples, stupas and monasteries. Vaishali, Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Patna had hundreds of monuments, largely Buddhist and occasionally Brahmanical and of other sects. The stupas were mostly of a cylindrical shape with a high base, consisting of more than one terrace. This is beautifully exemplified by the brick stupas of Giriak in the district of Nalanda and of Kesariya in East Champaran. Many clay toys and figurines, portraying gods and goddesses, animals and birds, charming females and amorous couples, the jester and the dancer, the dwarf and the groom, the acrobat and the foreigner have also been recovered from Vaishali, Nalanda and Patna. These beautiful forms belong to the Gupta and late Gupta periods. Places like Hajipur, Vaishali, Patna and Bhabhua in Bihar have yielded many gold coins of the Imperial Guptas, coins that are technically perfect and aesthetically elegant and compare well with the contemporary sculpture and painting in their refinement of modeling and in their assurance and delicacy of line.

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