Among the riddles in our country’s history are the names of artisans who created some of the iconic pieces of sculptures in ancient India. A book, launched in Pune on Saturday, titled Lupadakhe — Unknown Master Sculptors of Ancient India, attempts to understand the history of Indian sculptures and acknowledge the existence of artists whose identities were neglected until they were reduced to being anonymous.
“In the absence of proper documentation, historical records and inscriptions, the best way to enter the world of a sculptor and get into his mind is through his work,” reads an excerpt from Lupadakhe, authored by Deepak Kannal and Kanika Gupta.
The book was launched at the Bhandarkar Oriental and Research Institute.
“The anonymity of the sculptors is something that is romanticised by historians. The names of the sculptors mentioned at the sites is not to give them due recognition but was a method to take their attendance and calculate their pay during those days,” said Kannal.
He added that some names are mentioned in texts, inscriptions and eulogies but the sculptors were never acknowledged in blood and flesh. “These artists were masters in their art and created great works but, surprisingly, there is not a word in Sanskrit that can translate the word ‘master’. It is because there is no word that is designated for a master, as these artists were never recognised and acknowledged for the work they did,” he said.
Kannal points out that while researching, he came across the names names of several sculptors like Kunika, Gomitaka and Naka. “When we studied the sculptures closely, we realised the design and style attributed to a guru-shishya lineage. This meant that the art and skills were passed on to the sculptor learning under a teacher.”
He added that while during this time the designs had some individuality of the sculptor, it was not until the Gupta dynasty that the phenomenon of standardisation and hierarchy began. “It was a cerebral invasion. The sculptures resembled in certain characteristics. The sculptors were to follow the style and the standardisation process began. One should know that one can like or dislike art but art cannot be wrong. The standardisation can be evidently seen in the Chola bronzes, like the sculpture of the Sembiyan Mahadev,” he said.
When it comes to tracing the identity of the sculptor of each individual sculpture, Kannal said the style of work, its maturity and evolution of style are defining factors. “History of art is just a branch of overall history. Indian art history is very young. Archaeologists, epigraphists, indologists, Sanskritists, iconographists and historians use art as a tool to understand history, instead of having it as the epicenter of history,” he said.
He said that while Western history is defined by eras of art like the Archaic, Gothic or the Renaissance, Indian art cannot be consorted to the parabolic theory of JJ Wincklemann as art in India evolves every now and then with external inputs. “The evolution of Indian art is more braided rather than parabolic as we cannot point out which time period was the lowest point and which was the highest. We observed that in Western art, with the peak being High classical and the decline was after the Rococo. In Indian art, there is a stylistic evolution which balances between emotions and intellect,” said Kannal.
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