After undertaking a two-year-long research into Ashoka’s stone and bronze sculptures in South Asian countries, former Bharat Kala Bhavan director D. P. Sharma says it is high time that the Union Culture Ministry brought back rare ancient Indian art objects from abroad and displayed them in exhibitions across the country.

“Over the years, Buddhist travellers from China, Japan and other South Asian countries visiting India for pilgrimage have been gifted mementos and bronze sculptures of Ashoka. In 2001, an international exhibition of four great civilizations was mounted at established museums in Tokyo and Nagaya, where art objects from India, China, Egypt and Iraq were put on display. From India, art objects from the Indus Valley Civilisation were displayed. I led this delegation.”

Fortunately for Dr. Sharma, the Chinese delegation had brought a rare statue, which after meticulous examination he discovered was of Ashoka and had come from an ancient kingdom based on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dr. Sharma, an archaeologist, musicologist and art historian all rolled into one, told about this to the head of the Chinese delegation and he confirmed that it indeed was of the Indian king.

Emphasising the need to host exhibitions in main cities across the country on Ashoka’s statues, Dr. Sharma asserted that it can shed light on how Buddhism spread from the boundaries of India to other South Asian countries.

On Ashoka statues found in India, Dr. Sharma said one statue of the Indian king and another one of his wife were discovered at Sannathi in Karnataka about a decade ago.

“At Lal Gudi in Odisha, a stone was found with Ashoka’s inscription but there was no statue. Unfortunately, India does not have statues of the Mauryan king.”

Pointing out that King Ashoka had installed more than 40 stone pillars at different places in South Asia, Dr. Sharma said some of these pillars were discovered in Sarnath, Sanchi, Vaishali, Rampurva and Amaravati.

“These pillars are 40 feet to 50 feet high, and broad at the base and tapering at the top. While the lower part of the pillar is mostly made with a single piece of stone, the upper part is a separate piece of stone. It has the image of an animal such as the lion, bull, horse and elephant at the top.”

According to an Archaeological Survey of India official, only the statue in Karnataka has been officially declared as that of Ashoka.

“Figures have been found in Sanchi, which can be attributed to Ashoka as part of stories. So far, the ASI has not identified them as that of the Mauryan king.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharma has used his extensive research and encyclopaedic knowledge into penning a book on Mauryan art, which he plans to release this year. Another book penned by him, titled Roots of South Asian Art, was released last year.

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