Embodiment of Beauty in Stone: A Survey of Stone Sculptures from Sanghol

Ardhendu Ray

Independent Researcher

Volume 6, Number 1, 2016Full Text PDF


Sanghol, consisting of a group of high ancient mounds, locally known as Ucha Pind, is located in the tahsil Khamanon, district Fatehgarh Sahib, Punjab. It lies at a distance of 40 km of the west of Chandigarh on Chandigarh-Ludhiana road and is at a distance of 32 km from Ropar. According to the local tradition, Sanghol was formerly known as ‘Sangaladv?pa’, and the folk tale of Rup Basant was associated with it like Ropar. The present name might have been derived from Sa?ghapura, a name which may have been given for its being a stronghold of Buddhist congregation or Sa?gha.[i] A terracotta clay Sealing with Gupta Br?hm? legend discovered from Sanghol mentions the name ‘Nandipurasya’ and carries a representation of a bull to right above.

Some scholars interpreted this as the evidence of Sanghol was known as Nandipura in the 5th century CE.[ii] The river Sutlej once flowing by the side of the village but now it has shifted to a distance of about 10 km. The results of excavation and explorations of this site have provided evidence of continued habitation at this site from 2000 BCE to modern times with short breaks in between. Sanghol was an important town on an ancient trade route, which served as a meeting place for traders, pilgrims, artists and other people from Madhyade?a and Gandh?ra during the Kush??a period. Standing on the main Uttar?patha, Sanghol connected Taxila with Mathura, Kau??mb?, Sarnath, P??aliputra and Chandraketugarh.[iii]

The major group of one hundred and seventeen sculptures was found in a pit area between the discovery point of st?pa and the monastery into the fine clay deposit of the virgin soil. These sculptures were basically covered with loose earth and found placed one over the other in a pit. When the sculptures were removed and reconstructed, found with a low railing, one time running round the st?pa on the high platform. Amongst these few will be discussed in details. All the sculptures made of red spotted sand stone which is available in the Mathura region and belong to Mathura school of art during the Kush??a period. The art of Sanghol is mainly the art of ??labha?jik?s, surasundar?s etc.[iv]

The present paper is an attempt to study the Kush??a art of Sanghol and specifically emphasized the female beauty often referred to ancient texts. The female forms reveal the perfection both technically and in the evocation of a gentle erotic mood and charm without being vulgar which provoke feelings of sensuality.

Sculptural Arts: A Survey

On the railings, the portrayal consist imperial devotees, monks, ??labha?jik?s, dohada scenes, mother-child, musicians, alasakany?s, lady taking bath in spring, lady with bow, lady with sword, lady with mirror, lady with wine jar, lady taking toilet box, lady taking wine from Parthian drinking cup, lady playing with arm, lady holding garland, lady putting on a necklace, lady plucking flowers and so on. Accompanying all of these sculptures, the most usual and the most significant depiction is the dohada scene with a little bit touch of a variety of symbolic forms. In this context K?lid?sa’s Meghad?ta is extremely important.

The carving of the sculptures was probably done in the Mathura workshop, because we can link them up with the raw material used in making the sculptures; all of these sculptures were carved out of red mottled sandstone of Agra-Mathura region. That is including sixty nine railing pillars, thirteen coping-stones and thirty five cross-bars. Most of these pillars have been found ornamented with beautiful female figures, sitting and standing in various voluptuous poses and all busy in a variety of pastimes. Generally these figures are known as ??labha?jik?s, vri?chik?s and yak?h??is in early Indian literature. Both in the Su?ga and the Kush??a art and it was perhaps most popular category to showcase the heavenly females in earthly attire. The railing pillars and brackets were acted as the platforms of the depiction of R?yapase?iyasutta, a Jain chronicle.[v]

The composition of the front sides of these pillars is divided into three different sections. The central panel is representing a male or female figure, several times standing on a crouching dwarf, sometimes it is called var?ayak?a or guhyaka. Above this section another panel shows a railed balcony where many a time one or two human beings, sometimes couples, are shown gazing at and rejoicing the scene below with have a facial expression depicting a certain amount of curiosity and admiration in their eyes. They are seen overlooking the yak?h?s from behind a curtain, hung between two pillars with almost a similar sense of joy in some instances.

These yak?h?s are having normally dressed up in sheer dhotis tied around their hip and hanging down gracefully along the sides and in front. But generally it exhibits nudity, warmth of flesh and voluptuousness; the bosom is invariably bear with prominent breasts but not disproportional. These yak?h?s are seen adorned with some selected jewellery and ornaments such as bangles, necklaces, ear-rings, etc. But the most important and loveliest part is the multi-stringed girdle with biconvex short flat beads and spacers. The hair-do consists for a large variety of styles. One can say that these ??labha?jik?s (Fig. 21-23) were very popular amongst the Mathura artists as is attested by a large number of railing pillars decorated with their very images found in the Mathura region and beyond.

The N?yik? images too are prominently found on the Sanghol railing pillars where they are shown standing in various graceful postures engaged in various pastimes like other female figures. Significantly, the postures of their appearance on a number of pillars are closely related same in which the yak?h?s appear at Mathura. However, a number of scenes found at Sanghol have not so far been found or depicted at Mathura by the artists.

The most common postures of the yak?h?s at Sanghol is the tribhanga posture, plucking or holding gently a branch of a flowering tree like that of the A?oka, Champaka and Kadamba. This subject is repeatedly represented in Indian art right from the Su?ga period. The artists might have taken up the concept from the ??labha?jik? festival,[vi] of outdoor games mentioned in the early Buddhist literature. These yak?h?s are regarded not only as the personified forms of nature (they are basically shown with trees, water, animals, etc.) but also as the mothers and other-goddesses busy in suka-kr?d?, jala- kr?d?, etc. about which considerable literature exists.

There also exist two other railing pillars presenting a picture of a damsel standing under a champaka tree, and a parrot perching on her shoulder. At Mathura, the correspondent of this scene can be also witnessed. A delightful stunning woman is engraved in another pillar in a scene in which she is bathing naked under the fleetly falling waters of a spring; the water is accumulated below in the form of a pool which also occurs at Mathura. In another illustration she is seen tenderly drying and squeezing her long beautiful hair. Next to her side a swan is shown who, is ready to quench its insatiable thirst with the water, which was dropping down of the yak?h?‘s hair, has instantly taken the tip of her wet tresses in its beak, so as not to allow even a single drop of water fall on the floor which it has mistaken for a pearl (Sadyasnata, Fig. 16).[vii] This motif also known as R?ja?ekhara’s Karp?rama?jari motif of a maiden just bathed (Sadyasnata), wringing her wait hair with a ha?sa or goose drinking the falling drops of water, goes back to 2nd century CE sculptures of Mathura and Sanghol. However K?vyam?ma?sa of R?ja?ekhara mentions keli- ha?sas drinking water dripping from the wait hair of women.[viii]

[i]Devendra, Handa, ‘Sanghol Coinage System and Trade networks’, in H. P. Ray ed., Sanghol and the Archaeology of Punjab, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2010, p. 184. ; Fauja Singh, Appendix A ‘Sanghol and Dholbaha’ in L. M. Joshi ed., History of the Punjab, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1976, p. 300. ; G. B. Sharma and Manmohan Kumar, Coins Seals and Sealings from Sanghol, Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology and Museum, Punjab, Chandigarh, 1986, p. 1.

[ii] D. C. Bhattacharya, ‘The Glory that Was Sanghol’ in J. S. Ahluwalia ed., Historico-Archaeological Linkages of Punjabiat, Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology and Museum, Punjab, Chandigarh, 1987, p. 11. ; Handa, ‘Sanghol Coinage System and Trade networks’, p. 184.

[iii]Ardhendu Ray, “A Study of Early Historic Sanghol (200 BCE – CE 400)”, Unpublished PhD dissertation submitted to the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2014.

[iv] This elaborate discussion mainly based on five major sources apart from short reports of IAR. These are: S. P. Gupta, ‘Coexistence of Mathura and Gandh?ra Schools of Art at Sanghol’ pp. 17-22. ; G. B Sharma, K. K. Rishi and Kuldip Singh, ‘Catalogue of Sculptures from Sanghol’,  in S. P. Gupta, ed., Kush??a Sculptures from Sanghol (1st-2nd Century A.D.), Vol. I, 2nd edn., National Museum, New Delhi, 2003. pp., 123-164. ; Shashi Asthana, The Kush??a Art of Sanghol, Lalit Kala 24, pp. 9-13. ; Sandrine Gill, ‘Celestial Women in a Ring around the Buddhist Stupa’, in Himanshu Prabha Ray, ed., Sanghol and the Archaeology of Punjab, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 143-165.; D. C. Bhattacharya, ‘The Glory that Was Sanghol’ In J. S. Ahluwalia ed., Historico-Archaeological Linkages of Punjabiat, Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology and Museum, Punjab, Chandigarh, 1987, pp. 10-14.

[v]Asthana, The Kush??a Art of Sanghol, Lalit Kala 24, p.10.

[vi]For details description with literary information are available in U. N. Roy, Salabhanjika in Art Philosophy and Literature, Lokbharti Publications, Allahabad, 1979.

[vii]This scene recalls a scene from R?ja?ekhara’s Karp?rama?jari where the heroine described as her wet hair almost in the same manner described in the sculpture.  Devangana Desai, Reflection on Art and Literature: A Dialogue (1st-13th centuries), Proceedings of the Indian Art History Congress, Mumbai, 2013, pp. 10-11, 17., G. B. Sharma, K. K. Rishi and Kuldip Singh, ‘Catalogue of Sculptures from Sanghol’ , in H. P. Ray ed., Sanghol and the Archaeology of Punjab, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2010,p. 125.

[viii] Sadhana Parashar, Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara, DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2000, pp. 194, 225, 218.

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