Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 10:51 PM
The earliest historical paintings in India belong to the Satavahana period. The Satavahanas were the most dominant power in the Deccan from the second century B.C. to the second century A.D. During the time of these monarchs, some of the most glorious Buddhist caves were excavated in the living rock, many of them in western India; the Nasik, Bedsa, Bhaja, Karla, Kondane caves are famous. The earliest caves at Ajanta are also of the Satavahana period. Paintings closely resembling the early sculpture of the Satavahanas at Bhaja, Amaravati and Sanchi are found in Ajanta. These paintings are concentrated in Caves 9 to 10.
The paintings cover the walls, pillars and ceilings and illustrate scenes from the life of the Master and his previous lives, comprising the jatakas and avadanas. There are also floral and animal motifs dexterously created.
Inscriptions in Caves 9 to 10 reveal to us the early date of the paintings here, which is already confirmed by the features and characteristics that bring them close to Bhaja, Sanchi, Jaggayyapeta and the early phases of Amaravati. It is interesting to compare Satavahana sculptures in the first two centuries B.C. with paintings from Ajanta in these two caves. The script of the inscriptions is early Brahmi of the second century B.C. The paintings may, therefore, be assigned to the early phase of the Satavahana rule, probably the time of Satakarni, to whose time the Sanchi gateway carved by the ivory carvers of Vidisa, as recorded in an inscription thereon, may be assigned. These paintings thus form the predecessors of all the Gupta, Vakataka and medieval paintings all over India.
Early art in India has almost a similar form all over the land. The Sungas and Kushanas in the north, the Kalingas in the east and the Satavahanas in the Deccan were the inheritors of common traditions from the Mauryas, and striking similarities in the Sunga, Satavahana, Kalinga and Kushana art cannot but strike the eye of connoisseurs. Common motifs with striking resemblance in distant parts of the land do arrest attention. It is interesting to compare the earlier figures from Bharhut, Amaravati and Cave 10 of Ajanta. Turbans, necklaces, earrings, facial features and the position of the hands joined in adoration may be noted. The fan-shaped headgear of the toranasalabhanjika at Sanchi has its counterpart in Mathura and Amaravati. There are other figures from Amaravati that agree with those at Karla. The traditions of the Satavahanas are great, but these are the result of the development of art all over the land for some centuries, and the unity of Indian art accounts for such similitude of details in concept.
Cave 9 is a chaitya hall with a fine facade, its nave, apse and aisles composed by a colonnade of pillars running the entire length. Towards the apsidal end is an uddesika stupa. The pillars and other parts composing the chaitya present the early characteristics of the sculptural art of the second century B.C. The cave has two layers of paintings, the earlier contemporary with the structure and the later of the fifth century A.D.
Cave 10 is the earliest chaitya hall here, with a votive stupa towards the apse end. It has an inscription of the second century B.C. mentioning one Vasithiputa Katahadi as the donor of the facade. The paintings here show the worship of the Bad hi tree, the Sama Jataka and the Chhaddanta lataka.
The Sama Jataka is briefly this; the Bodhisattva, born of blind parents, living as hermits in the forest, supported them, and was known as Sama. Once when filling his pot in the river, the boy was shot by the king Banaras, who was out hunting. Too late, the king learnt of the sad mistake he had commmitted, and coming to know of the helpless parents of Sama from the dying boy, he offered himself to them to take the place of their beloved son. A goddess, moved by the intense grief of the helpless parents, not only restored their eye-sight, but also their son to life. The painting represents the hunter-king, Sama hurt by an arrow, the king in a penitent mood, the grieving parents of Sama and the hermit-boy restored to life.
The Chhaddanta Jataka, which is often repeated in Buddhist monuments, narrates the story of the Bodhisattva, who, born as a noble elephant, lived in great state as the leader of the herd, along with his two queens, Mahasubhadda and Chullasubhadda, in a lotus lake near the Himalayas. Chullasubhadda envied Mahasubhadda as the favourite of her lord, and died with a prayer on her lips, to be born as the queen of Banaras, to wreak vengeance on the six-tusked elephant who was partial to his co-wife. When born princess, she pretended illness, and demanded the tusks of Chhaddanta, to be cured of her malady. The hunter Sonuttara, who was sent for this purpose, wounded the animal who, however, forgave the wicked man and willingly gave away his tusks. The queen, however, fainted at the sight of the tusks. Filled with remorse, she collapsed and died.
The paintings show the happy life of the six-tusked elephant and his queens in the lotus lake, near the huge banyan tree, the queen of Banaras pretending illness, the hunter sent to fetch the tusks, his cutting and bringing them to the queen, and her fainting at their sight.
Fragments of painting resembling late Satavahana sculpture towards the end of the second century A.D. were discovered in the Bedsa cave by Professor Jouveau Dubreuil. The figure of a damsel here is a lovely one. She wears an eicavali and stands in graceful flexion recalling similar figures in sculptures from Amaravati and Karla. It is interesting to compare this with the picture of a girl in a lotus pool from Dandan Oiliq in Chinese Turkestan, where Indian ideals in art had spread early in the Christian era.
Writer – C.Sivaramamurti