The Doctrine of Indian Sculpture.

Part - 1

In the sphere of Indian art, the sculpture is one of the main aspects, however, the unavailability of related documents and discussion has thrown this great section into the deep dark; only remains few ancient books wrote in the Sanskrit language that needs to translate to discover the inner meaning of it. 


At the time of my student life, I analyzed several sculptures located at the Calcutta Museum and elsewhere. Those were just amazed me by their symmetry of form and made me curious to know more about those sculptures. I collected several books and have taken short notes. After completing my courses, I decided to visit historical places to gain more knowledge in regards to those statues. 


Before starting the discussion, we need to have the knowledge about the Indian spiritualism and related myths that had been governing in that primordial era, before the birth of christ. I’ll discuss simultaneously the Indian sculpture and related spiritual myth to understand those ancient sculpture widely. 


Indian sculpture based on rhythms, balance, modeling, proportion, and anatomy that primarily followed by the same grammar book I discussed. Only there are few changes I noticed, that might be influenced by the Indian spiritualism and beliefs. 


In the comparison of western sculpture, Indian theory of anatomy is just opposite to the western. In respect of the Indian philosophy, it was the precept that before involving in work, artists need to have a meditative mind to observe any object deeply. The meaning of observation is not related to the common outward shapes of the object, rather the observation should cover all aspects of inner and outer knowledge of the object. That is the real observation.


Ancient Indian sculpture of Deity(goddess)

It is specifically undefined why human started making sculpture, however, it is clear that they felt several utilities of it and therefore, they involved in it. The utilities have been changing according to the development of human civilization; consequently, the stream of revolution has made the impact on the sculpture art. The excavation of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, the birthplace of Indian civilization, affirmed us about the impact of the said human revolution that produced several types of models made by the soil and metals. 


Golden seal found from Mohenjo-Daro. Image resource - http://sonjatee.blogspot.in

According to the Indian theory of scripture, the unit of measurement of the human body performed as “TAL” which was similar or nearest of the word “Proportion”. The “Tal” or the unit of measurement was not applicable in all fashions, rather it depended on the mood of the figure. If the sculpture was about the common people, the Tal would not be same as the God or spiritual person. The sculpture of a devil or demon was not in the same Tal as the common people or God. 

Image of Narasimha, the lion faced Lord Narayan defending his devotee. Resource - https://aortezine.wordpress.com/

In the western sculpture, we use the face (from head to chin) as a unit of a figure and divided it into seven parts to measure the rest of the figure. It is the best way to make a good-looking sculpture, whereas according to the Indian direction, sculptors substituted the seven parts into ten parts. The first five parts they used for the upper portion of the body and next five, for the lower portion. This type of sculpture performed as the “Das-Tal” figure and this type of measurement was only relevant to the common people; however, Twelve parts (Dwadash Tal) granted for the cruel persons, no matter if the figure related to the God or God-like character. The matter of proportion only depended on the mood of the figure, not on the character! The cruelness depends on the attitude, not the identity or designation of the figure. Therefore, some of the Indian God and Goddess made by the “Dwadash-Tal” such as “Narasimha” (Lord Narayan in lion face at the time of a furious moment when he attacked the king named Hiranyakashipu to defend his 6 aged devotees), {see photo above}“Bhairava” (Lord Shiva in tempted moment at the time of death of his wife who surrendered her body to fire just to avoid the bad comments in regards to his husband, Shiva.) etc. 


In the next of “Dwadash Tal”, Indian scripture of art and sculpture advised creating the figure into sixteen parts to express the most furious or dangerous attitude. It is the highest label of measurement. In Indian mythology that based on the spiritual stories, we found some cruelest persons who were famous for their sheer brutality and they even attacked heaven and some important places repeatedly to establish their absolute control and destroy the peace and liberty performed in the imperium of God. Name of those cruel persons were “Raktabeej”( a person who had the ability to create the same figure instantly from a single drop of his own blood) “Mahishasura”( who is a man but he could able to change himself into a buffalo with an unbelievable stamina) etc. Those type of figures always obtained the sixteen parts to express their brutality. 

At last, it was the precept of the scripture, to make a figure of a little boy or girl; sculptors have to divide that figure into five or six parts since the head of those figures always comparatively bigger than the overall body. Nevertheless, in the event of making a sculpture of a child figure, sculptors have to divide the figure into four and a half by granting the head as a unit. The first half of head, second half for the chin to knee (two times bigger than the head) and the rest part have to complete with the overall figure by considering two and half times bigger than the head. 

Although I said above that, the Das-Tal (divided into ten parts) figure for the common people, but the figure of God and Goddess also made with this measurement because most of the Indian sculptures made by following the mythological stories to grow the divinity in the human mind. Therefore, here was no need to create any figure of common people. There was no further rule for the sculpture of the female figures. It was the standard method of all type of figure measurement. In that scripture, the author stated that in the time of composing a couple figure, the female figure should be one-step shorter than the male figure. 


What was the reason behind to produce this system of measurement? According to the statement of that scripture, to establish the integrity and consistency that will represent the divinity and spiritual dedication of human soul, it is necessary to have a significant form of the art and sculpture.

Continue in next episode.


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Last updated on - 07.12.2023