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The Fourth Gupta Emperors - Samudragupta

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 3:36 AM
Samudra Gupta

Gupta Fourth to Sixth Century A.D.


The Gupta emperors were great patrons of art and literature. The aesthetic qualities of Samudragupta are very well known. His proficiency in music is narrated in the Allahabad prasasti in the highest terms and equally so his poetic skill. The lyrist type of coin confirms the statement in the inscription. His son, Chandragupta II, has a wonderful coin showing him seated on a couch with a lotus in his hand, the lilakamala, suggesting what a great connoisseur he was of everything aesthetic. This suggestive coin has an appropriate legend, rupakriti. He was a 'Prince Charming' with an aesthetic temperament. Another Gupta coin, representing the king seated on a couch with Lakshmi and Sarasvati flanking him, shows that he was the abode of learning and prosperity. It is this which has been usually called the golden age of art in India. The coinage of the period is probably the most artistic produced in India, and it is to be expected that where sculpture of the highest order flourished, there should have been equally great painting.

This phase of art of the Gupta period is amply illustrated in the caves, close to the village Bagh in the former Gwalior State, which are excavated on the slopes of the Vindhya Hills at a height of 150 ft above the river Bagh in the vicinity. There are nine caves in all but the most important are Caves 2, 4 and 5. These caves were almost rediscovered in 1818 by Lieutenant Dangerfield, but it is Col. C.E. Luard who created that interest in the study of these caves that accounts for their being known so well today. Since excellent copies were prepared of them by Nandalal Bose and Asit Kumar Haldar and others, they have very much deteriorated and probably the best are their copies which may be seen in the Gwalior Museum.

Cave 2 contains excellent sculptural examples of Buddha flanked by two attendant Bodhisattvas with chauris in their hands. The stupa here is a simple one of the early type. These are also Bodhisattva figures here carved in the best traditions of Gupta plastic art. The principal doorway of Cave 4 has river goddesses on the makara on either side at the top flanking the lintel and are very typical of early Gupta style.

Samudra Gupta With His WifeThe paintings in the Bagh caves are mostly lost, but the best preserved of the remains are found on the outer wall of the continuous verandah of Caves 4 and 5. The heavy pillars that once supported the verandah are now lost and the roof has also collapsed, leaving the paintings exposed to weather. But fortunately there is enough preserved in spite of the enormous ruination to proclaim to the world the glory of the painter's art during the age of the Guptas. The subject illustrated is clearly a jataka or avadana yet to be identified. The first scene shows a princess and her com-panion, one in great grief and the other consoling her; the second, two divine and two princely figures seated in conversation, Sakra among them clearly indicated by his peculiar crown. 

The third scene shows some monks and probably some lay female devotees, the former performing the miracle of flying in the air, the latter who appear to be musicians playing musical instruments as may be seen from a portion of the lute, vina, that is preserved. Beyond this, the fourth scene presents a mirthful hallisalasya, a folk-dance with the dancers in ring, keeping time with little wooden sticks. Two in the group of damsels play the hand-drum or hudukka, and the third plays the small-sized cymbals or kamsyatalas. The coiffure and colourful dress of these damsels and particularly of the two dancers wearing long-sleeved shirts with flowers worked on them are most interesting for a study of the life and culture of the age. The scene beyond this shows a procession of people on horse-back and on elephants. The elephants are magnificent representations of their class and can rank with any of the very best at Ajanta.

Composed of cavaliers and foot-soldiers with bows and arrows in their hands and, with the umbrella held over at least two stately figures, with princes on tuskers and high-ranking women on cow-elephants close to the royal gateway, probably in the vicinity of the palace, it suggests an important event in the royal household and the procession associated with that. It is one of the most magnificent representations of royal procession in all its glory. On other walls and on the ceiling in this cave, there are floral deco-rations most pleasing to the eye, the long meandering length of the lotus-stalk with a wealth of flowers, half-blown and in full bloom, and pairs of birds in a bight, particularly geese.

Writer – C.Sivaramamurti
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