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The Schools of Art in Ancient India
Jan 08, 2014

The Buddhism spread greatly during the first and second centuries, had spurred a renewed artistic fervour to illustrate the enlightened message of Buddhism. During this prolific time emerged three main “schools” in India that had developed their own particular styles and distinctions. These were the Gandhara, Mathura, and Amaravati schools.

  • Gandhara School of Art 

The Gadhara region extending from Punjab to the borders of Afghanistan was an important centre of Mahayana Buddhism up to the 5th century A.D. The region became famous throughout the world since a new school of Indian sculpture known as the Gandhara School developed during that period. Gandhara School imbibed all kinds of foreign influences like Persian, Greek, Roman, Saka and Kushan.

The Gandhara School of Art is also known as the Graeco-Buddhist School of Art since Greek techniques of Art were applied to Buddhist subjects.  The most important contribution of the Gandhara School of Art was the evolution of beautiful images of the Buddha and Bodhisattavas, which were executed in black stone and modelled on identical characters of Graeco-Roman pantheon. The most characteristic trait of Gandhara sculpture is the depiction of Lord Buddha in the standing or seated positions.

Main features of this school are:

1] Tendency to mould human body in a realistic manner with great attention to physical details.

2] Representation of thick drapery with large and bold fold lines.

3] Rich carving, elaborate ornamentation & complex symbolism.

  • Mathura School of Art: 

The Mathura School of art flourished at the holy city of Mathura especially between 1-3 A.D.  It established the tradition of transforming Buddhist symbols into human form. Buddha’s first image can be traced to Kanishka’s reign (about 78 A.D.). The earliest sculptures of Buddha were made keeping the yaksha prototype in mind. They were depicted as strongly built with the right hand raised in protection and the left hand on the waist. The figures produced by this school of art do not have moustaches and beards as in the Gandhara Art. These figures can be seen in the museum of Mathura. The standing Buddha figures resembles the yaksha figures and indicates the Kushan influence. The seated figures are in the padmasana posture.   The Mathura School not only produced beautiful images of the Buddha but also of the Jain Tirthankaras and gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Popular Brahmanical gods siva, vishnu and their consorts were represented. The Guptas adopted the Mathura School of Art and further improvised and perfected it. The most striking remains are beautiful, richly jewelled female figures of yakshinis, naginis and apsaras.

  • Amravati School of Art: 

This school of art developed at Amravati, on the banks of the Krishna River in modern Andhra Pradesh.  It is the site for the largest Buddhist stupa of South India.  Its construction began in 200 B.C. and was completed in 200 A.D. The great stupa at Amaravti was adorned with limestone reliefs depicting scenes of Buddha’s life and surrounded with free-standing Buddha figures. The figures and images of males and females carved are best not only in their size, physical beauty and expression of human emotions but also from point of view of composition. Female figures in different moods and poses are its best creations. Even statues of men, animals and vegetation have been treated elegantly.


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