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Updated: November 27, 2009 15:33 IST

An inquiry into Chalukya sculpture

K. T. NARASIMHAN
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In Indian indigenous sculptural art and temple architecture, Karnataka holds a pre-eminent place. The lower Deccan is known as the innovative nuclear zone for all three types of sculptures, Sayana, (reclining), Aseena (seated), and Sthanaka (standing), besides Nagara, Dravida, Vesara and Mandapa architecture.

In this book, Kulkarni has succeeded in encapsulating Pan-Indian reminiscences through Jain, Buddhist, and Brahmanical sculptures unearthed at early Buddhist sites in the valleys of the Bhima and Krishna rivers, and throwing light on the Chalukya sculptural treasure from Aihole and Badami. He has handled the idolised and immeasurable subject with meticulous care and ample material proof, a commendable job indeed.

Pre-historic period

Of the six chapters in the volume, the first provides an introduction to art in Karnataka from the pre-historic period up to the 7th century AD. During the period of Ashoka, Karnataka was the heartland of art in southern India. From the 4th century onwards, the ardent Hindu royal families like the Kadambas and the Gangas were responsible for the sudden blossoming of Hindu religion. The Badami Chalukyas were succeeded by the Rashtrakutas. Hence Ca. 500-645 AD is designated as the ‘early Chalukya’ phase and Ca. 655-754 AD as the ‘late Chalukya’ phase.

In the second chapter, the author has strenuously documented the works carried out by several scholars — quite a few of them foreigners — in Karnataka. The excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India at Kanaganahalli (Sannati) during the 1990s was an eye-opener as far as Karnataka’s art history and material evidence are concerned. A dome slab of Ashoka’s portrait with a label inscription in the Brahmi character, excavated at Sannati, is an unparalleled discovery in the Indian subcontinent.

The political and historical ambience of Karnataka, right from the days of the Satavahanas to those of the Chalukyas, is coherently depicted in the third chapter. It provides a deep insight into every dynasty, and the changes witnessed under it in different areas — geographical, political, cultural, art, and architecture. The Kadambas of Vanavasi, the Gangas of Talkad, and the Chalukyas of Badami were responsible for making Karnataka a nuclear zone in art and architecture.

The next chapter is a synthesis of art and architecture. In India, the Sungas were the first rulers to patronise Buddhism and the Brahmanical faith on the same scale. This might have lured the Satavahanas and their successors to patronise all religions in an equal degree.

Brahmanical sculpture

The fifth chapter speaks about the emergence of the Brahmanical sculpture in an expensive fashion with the help of Plates right from the Kadamba period. In fact, there was a perceptible veer country-wide from the 4th century. Hinduism became dominant because of royal patronage. The author uses the word ‘Kevala’ as an adjective to Lord Narasimha and it is not acceptable. Out of the nine forms of Narasimha, none goes by the name ‘Kevala’.

The concluding chapter narrates the development of early Chalukya’s sculpture at Aihole and Badami. Here the author very rightly, and authentically, declares that the Chalukya’s scriptural art is not a borrowed one from the North but indigenous because we have several touch-stones in the South during the contemporary period. One can vouch for it on looking at some plates of Harihara, Mithunas, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and so on at Aihole and of Ardhanareeswara, Rathi, Seshasayi Vishnu, and the churning of the ocean at Badami. Thus Karnataka is a treasure-house for the cut-in, cut-out, structural, mandapa and bas-relief art and architecture. Similarly it has Stupa, Chaitya, and Vihara in Buddhist and Jain pantheon and Nagara, Dravida and Vesara of the Hindu temple architecture.

The author has handled the subject with meticulous care and ample material proof.

PRE AND EARLY CHALUKYA SCULPTURE — Origin and Development: R. H. Kulkarni; Harman Publishing House, A-23, Naraina Industrial Area, Phase II, New Delhi-110028.

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