Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Terracota Sculpture Of West Bengal

Terracotta Sculpture and Murals are Bengal`s own wealth. Since Bengal lacks stone and has only alluvial deposits, Bengali sculptors choose this reddish clay material for their artwork. The history of Terracotta sculptures start from the Mauryan age (324-187 BC), though there are some evidences of pre-Mauryan sculptures also as found in Harinarayanpur and Pandu Rajar Dhibi of West Bengal.

Terracota Sculpture Of Yakshi at Chandraketugarh of West BengalIn pre-Mauryan time only statue of Matrika or Mother- Goddesses prevailed. The art has a long and continuous heritage, as it is evident from the presentation and aesthetic standard of the Mauryan sculpture. The art indicates refined taste and subtle sense of beauty as is found from the facial expression, hairstyle, head-ornaments, dress and jewelry of the sculpture. The sculptures of third century BC found in Tamluk and Chandraketugarh of West Bengal. The terracotta style has noted kinship with contemporary stone sculpture. The faces of the sculptures were first made in moulds and then fixed on handmade bodies.

However, terracotta structures fully made in moulds are found at Mahasthan now in Bangladesh and in Tamluk, Chandraketugarh, Pokharna and other places in West Bengal. Most of the figures are of young men and women. Even in these figures also ornaments of fantastic styles, designs and various styles of hairdressings are found.

The style of plaque sculptures of North India during the Gupta rule (300-550 AD) can be traced in the Terracotta sculpture of Bengal.in the Shunga period (2nd century BC) the sculptures were more monotonous, which became much more elegant, refined and well-shaped in the Kushana period (2nd and 1st century BC). These relieves were smooth in finishing and more developed example of craftsmanship. Figures were made three-dimensional using two moulds, one for the front and other for the back and finally joining them. One important example of this kind can be mentioned as that of Bangarh. A number of specimens of Shunga period are excavated from Mahasthangarh.

The Terracotta sculptures of this period in Bengal are of better quality than the contemporary stone structures. The excessive ornamentation and attire of this time started disappearing slowly. The best example of this can be cited as the Bodhisattva figure with half-shut eyes and gentle meditative face found in Mahasthangarh. In Gupta period the skilled artists sculptured the plaques of couples, which are marked by smooth faces with crowned heads. In the fifth century AD, Terracotta figures of Gods and Goddesses, representatives of Puranic legends and ornamented plaques had first been used in the brick build temples of Mahasthan, Vasu Bihara, Paharpur and Mainamati.

The use of brick became popular in Bengal due to non-availability of stone as well as lack of conveyance and thus developed the practice of decorating the outer surface of temples with plaques. There are still about two thousand Terracotta plaques on the very wide path of the great Somapura Mahavihara at Paharpur built in the 8th and 9th centuries. More than eight hundred of such plaques are collected as they were found scattered round. In these plaques, daily life as well as different occasions and experiences are portrayed while decorating the temple wall. Among these, worth mentioning are nature, man, animals, tribal people, Kinnar-Kinnari (semi-divine beings expert in music and dance), Gandharva (another species of similar semi-divine beings), skinny ascetic on the street can be named.

Like the temples of Paharpur, the pedestals of cross-shaped main temple of Shalvan Vihara at Mainamati was also decorated with a row of terracotta plaque sculptures. In this era the excellent art examples of Terrracotta can be found from Bengal. Much sophisticated versions of plaques compared to that of Paharpur and Mainamati have been found from Bhasu Vihara, which are thirty-four in numbers. These plaques reveal much advancement of style. Half-man, half-fish or flower, pearl string on duck`s beak, elephant, and archer are some noticeable examples of this plaques.

In the period of thirteen hundred to fifteen hundred century Muslims ruled Bengal and thus Islamic architectural style and craftsmanship god mixed with Bengal`s old tradition and heritage and led to the development of new style in sculpture and architecture. The local artists started intermingling Islamic calligraphy and geometric designs with elements of Hindu culture as lotus, bell with chain, intertwined flowers, creepers and leaves, and thus a unique tradition of architectural ornamentation developed. Examples of this new tradition can be found in Zafar Khan Ghazi`s Mosque, Chhota Pandua Minar, Adina Mosque, Eklakhi Mausoleum, Tantipada Mosque, Bagha Mosque, Atiya Mosque and many more.

Terracota Temple at Bishnupur Of West Bengal In the sixteenth century AD Vaisnava religion became very popular and as an influence there was resurgence of Hindu culture in Sculpture and architecture. Most Terracotta temples of Bengal were built during the period of late nineteenth century to early nineteenth century. Such wide and varied use of terracotta plaques as architectural murals has never occurred in the art history of Bengal. The Visnupur Temple of Bankura found in seventeenth century and Kantaji`s temple of Dinajpur established on eighteenth century are best examples of this new spirit. Besides, many temples at Haorah, Hughli, Midnapore, Bardhaman, Birbhum, Nadia, Murshidabad of West Bengal, along with those at Pabna, Jessore, Faridpur, Rajshahi, Barisal and other places of Bangladesh can be considered as remarkable specimens of Terracotta murals.

The archeological excavation in Chandraketugarh during 1955-67 reveals its ancient glory as a capital of a small kingdom in the delta region of river Ganges. From Chandraketugarh lots of pottery and Terracotta art have been discovered which are huge in number, widely varied and extremely well made and beautiful.

The artists of Bengal engraved innumerous numbers of Terracotta sculptures based on mythological tales on the wide walls, huge arches, Flat columns, bases of alters and also on the cornices of the temples and mosques. Stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Lord Krishna as well as contemporary social life, rituals, men-women, animals and birds, designs of creepers and flowers, hunting scenes and even the imaginary creatures were depicted, which reveal typical Bengali style. In colonial era the lifestyles of Europeans in Bengal along with sensual enjoyment by the zamindar class became the subject of the murals.

The temple plaques of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are larger in size, of deeper relieves and made in modeling method compared to those of Mahasthan, Bhasu Vihara, Paharpur and Mainamati, which were done in older period. Later blocks were first made of earth, and then partially sun-dried and finally figures were cut out with thin chisels of bamboo or iron. The plaques made for the purpose of designs were made in moulds. The plaques were of limited size and of geometrical shape and enhanced the aesthetic as well as the ornamental values of temple. These temples were built at different places of rural Bengal under the patronage of zamindars and wealthy classes. This tradition came to an end with the beginning of European architectural techniques and Calcutta-centered culture. But in quest of heritage, terracotta art begins its new journey after the long discontinuation in the art schools of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
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