Amaravati’s Tamil Nadu connection

Updated - October 27, 2015 07:34 am IST

Published - October 27, 2015 12:00 am IST - CHENNAI:

If one knows Amaravati is just as the newly-founded capital city of Andhra Pradesh, then here is a chance to understand its Tamil Nadu connection. One of the prized possessions in the Government Museum, Egmore, is its Amaravati Gallery, where the sculptures have managed to retain their splendour, despite many odds.

The sculptures, dating between 2 BC and 2 AD and believed to have been carved during the King Ashoka’s rule, depict the life of the Buddha. But during the centuries when the Buddhism lost relevance with the resurgence of Hinduism, Amaravati was also forgotten.

An excavation at the site in 1801 had brought to the limelight the exquisite marble sculptures. The British brought a cache of sculptures to the city in 1856. Here it lay unattended in the museum for years. A part of the sculptures was taken to Britain and remained in the stairway of the museum there until World War II, when the artefacts were stored safely. Later a museum was built to house these exquisite artworks.

In 2008, renovation of the Amaravati Art Gallery in Chennai began after the 100-year-old gallery’s walls began to give in to seepage. The gallery was refurbished and the marbles repositioned. While in Britain, the remnants of the Buddhist stupa taken from India has been recreated to offer a glimpse of the original, no such effort has been made here. Unlike the British museum the artefacts are now housed in controlled, de-humidified air conditioned rooms.

Former commissioner of the Government Museum T.S. Sridhar who was involved in the renovation here, says the high ceilings, lighting and good aeration of the hall helped to maintain the sculptures. “Remember the stupa was open to the elements (until it was brought to the museum). So long as there is proper lighting and good ventilation the artefacts may not degenerate quickly,” he reasons. On whether there were any plans to relocate the sculptures to museums in Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Sridhar says there have never been such talks ever.

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