Legend by Claudine Bautze-Picron :

The scene is inserted in a frame, its vertical parts shaped like pillars; these have a polygonal shaft adorned with a criss-cross pattern rising out of a bulbous base, surmounted by a capital echoing this base in shape; this, in fact, reproduces the vase of abundance commonly found in this position in architecture. Mouldings adorned with different motifs run below and above the scene. Such a setting is typically encountered in early Indian art, with superimposed square panels covering uprights of the balustrade surrounding the stûpa. A row of thick lotus flowers carved in high relief adorns the lower part while three bands, plain or decorated with pearls, run above the scene. These different motifs are part of a decorative vocabulary which is encountered in various sites of Andhra Pradesh, like Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda (note 1) or Phanigiri where a recently discovered panel is framed by identical pilasters (Fig. 1)(note 2).

The relief was part of a set of three superimposed narrative panels topped with a depiction of a stûpa in low relief; this elaborated ornamentation used to adorn the outer surface of a pilaster recovered at stûpa 3 of Nagarjunakonda (Figs 2-3) (note 3) which has been dated to the second half of the third century during the reign of Ehuvala Câmtûla (note 4). This type of composition, with narrative scenes framed by an architectural device, such as representation of pillars or even walls, is characteristic of the early Buddhist art of Andhra Pradesh with square sections either distributed side by side or, as here, one above the other (note 5).

Episodes drawn from the previous lives of the Buddha and from his last life when still a prince in his father’s palace in Kapilavastu are often depicted with the Bodhisattva seated amidst his court, his wife at his side and other attendants all around him. Both characters nonchalantly sit here, a foot resting on a small stool placed in front of their throne, looking at each other and smiling. However, no decisive element suggests identification of a particular event in the Bodhisattva’s life; still unidentified reliefs from Nagarjunakonda similarly show the Bodhisattva seated on a throne and touching the muzzle of a ram profiled in front of his throne (note 6). As depicted here, the scene recalls Hârîtî’s children playing with two fighting rams in the high relief showing the Yakshî and her husband Panchika in cave 2 in Ajanta (Fig. 4)(note 7); a similar scene is also seen in a carving from Sahri Bahlol in Gandhara (Pakistan) showing the same couple (note 8), and it is tempting to suggest this identification for the Nagarjunakonda relief – let us remember that this goddess is known for having had 500 children and for devouring the children of the inhabitants of the city of Rajgir where she resided; having converted to Buddhism, she gave up this horrifying habit and left for Gandhara, where she married Panchika, a warrior protector of the Buddhists (note 9). Hârîtî and Panchika together then became the Buddhist tutelary couple.

Notes

1. See the grid pattern in a relief from Amaravati (Rosen Stone 1994, fig. 160) or the pillars flanking the panel in another relief from the same site (Stern/Bénisti 1961, pl. LII,b-LIII). The row of lotus flowers, carved in flat relief, is to be seen at Nagarjunakonda (Rosen Stone 1994, figs 148-149, 152) in high relief on the uprights of the balustrade surrounding the stûpa which is illustrated on drum slabs (ibid. and passim) or separating ornamental motifs or scenes in horizontal panels (ibid., figs 66, 89-91).

2/ I am grateful to Harsha Vardhan Durugadda for having sent me this photo taken by him in the site museum (With Permission from The Department of Archaeology and Museums, Telangana).
3. After Longhurst 1938, pl. XXV, b-c & XXVI,a, pp. 29-30. The whereabouts of the other parts of this pilaster remains unknown.
4. Rosen Stone 1994, pp. 6, 73 & 76.

5. See a similar composition from Amaravati showing superimposed panels: Stern/Bénisti 1961, pl. LII,b.
6. Longhurst 1938, pl. XXVI, b; pl. XXVI,c & XXXIII,c (also reproduced by Rosen Stone 1994, fig. 195 and Ramachandra Rao 1956, pl. XXIII). 7. Photo by Joachim K. Bautze.
8. Ingholt/Lyons 1957, Fig. 342 & p. 147 (with further references).
9. Péri 1917 concerning the Yakshî and her history.

Bibliography

Ingholt, Harald & Islay Lyons 1957, Gandhâran Art in Pakistan, New York: Pantheon Books.
Longhurst, A.H. 1938, The Buddhist Antiquities of Nâgârjunakonda, Madras Presidency, Delhi: Manager of Publ. (Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. 54).
Péri, Noël 1917, Hârîtî, la Mère-de-démons, Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, tome 17, pp. 1-102.
Ramachandra Rao, P.R. 1956, The Art of Nâgârjunakonda, Madras: Rachana.
Rosen Stone, Elizabeth 1994, The Buddhist art of Nâgârjundakonda, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
Stern, Philippe & Mireille Bénisti 1961, Évolution du style indien d’Amarâvatî, Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.

Due diligence : Art Loss Register document reference number S00120184

Nâgârjunakonda Relief depicting a Court Scene

  • Nâgârjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh, India
  • Amaravati Period, second half of the 3rd century
  • Marmoreal limestone
  • W. 20 x D. 9 x H. 25 cm
  • Provenance :

• Private English collection

  • Publication :

• LONGHURST A. H., The Buddhist Antiquities of Nagarjunakonda, Madras Presidency, Memoirs of The Archaeological Survey of India, 1938, plates XXVa & XXVI b-c

Photo credit : Studio Asselberghs – Frédéric Dehaen

Legend by Claudine Bautze-Picron :

The scene is clearly composed with the couple positioned in the central part, attendants filling the upper part of the relief and the ram scene covering the lower part: the surface is densely packed with no empty space, which is quite characteristic of the art of the region.

The scene is inserted in a frame, its vertical parts shaped like pillars; these have a polygonal shaft adorned with a criss-cross pattern rising out of a bulbous base, surmounted by a capital echoing this base in shape; this, in fact, reproduces the vase of abundance commonly found in this position in architecture. Mouldings adorned with different motifs run below and above the scene. Such a setting is typically encountered in early Indian art, with superimposed square panels covering uprights of the balustrade surrounding the stûpa. A row of thick lotus flowers carved in high relief adorns the lower part while three bands, plain or decorated with pearls, run above the scene. These different motifs are part of a decorative vocabulary which is encountered in various sites of Andhra Pradesh, like Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda (note 1) or Phanigiri where a recently discovered panel is framed by identical pilasters (Fig. 1)(note 2).

The relief was part of a set of three superimposed narrative panels topped with a depiction of a stûpa in low relief; this elaborated ornamentation used to adorn the outer surface of a pilaster recovered at stûpa 3 of Nagarjunakonda (Figs 2-3) (note 3) which has been dated to the second half of the third century during the reign of Ehuvala Câmtûla (note 4). This type of composition, with narrative scenes framed by an architectural device, such as representation of pillars or even walls, is characteristic of the early Buddhist art of Andhra Pradesh with square sections either distributed side by side or, as here, one above the other (note 5).

Episodes drawn from the previous lives of the Buddha and from his last life when still a prince in his father’s palace in Kapilavastu are often depicted with the Bodhisattva seated amidst his court, his wife at his side and other attendants all around him. Both characters nonchalantly sit here, a foot resting on a small stool placed in front of their throne, looking at each other and smiling. However, no decisive element suggests identification of a particular event in the Bodhisattva’s life; still unidentified reliefs from Nagarjunakonda similarly show the Bodhisattva seated on a throne and touching the muzzle of a ram profiled in front of his throne (note 6). As depicted here, the scene recalls Hârîtî’s children playing with two fighting rams in the high relief showing the Yakshî and her husband Panchika in cave 2 in Ajanta (Fig. 4)(note 7); a similar scene is also seen in a carving from Sahri Bahlol in Gandhara (Pakistan) showing the same couple (note 8), and it is tempting to suggest this identification for the Nagarjunakonda relief – let us remember that this goddess is known for having had 500 children and for devouring the children of the inhabitants of the city of Rajgir where she resided; having converted to Buddhism, she gave up this horrifying habit and left for Gandhara, where she married Panchika, a warrior protector of the Buddhists (note 9). Hârîtî and Panchika together then became the Buddhist tutelary couple.

Notes

1. See the grid pattern in a relief from Amaravati (Rosen Stone 1994, fig. 160) or the pillars flanking the panel in another relief from the same site (Stern/Bénisti 1961, pl. LII,b-LIII). The row of lotus flowers, carved in flat relief, is to be seen at Nagarjunakonda (Rosen Stone 1994, figs 148-149, 152) in high relief on the uprights of the balustrade surrounding the stûpa which is illustrated on drum slabs (ibid. and passim) or separating ornamental motifs or scenes in horizontal panels (ibid., figs 66, 89-91).

2/ I am grateful to Harsha Vardhan Durugadda for having sent me this photo taken by him in the site museum (With Permission from The Department of Archaeology and Museums, Telangana).
3. After Longhurst 1938, pl. XXV, b-c & XXVI,a, pp. 29-30. The whereabouts of the other parts of this pilaster remains unknown.
4. Rosen Stone 1994, pp. 6, 73 & 76.

5. See a similar composition from Amaravati showing superimposed panels: Stern/Bénisti 1961, pl. LII,b.
6. Longhurst 1938, pl. XXVI, b; pl. XXVI,c & XXXIII,c (also reproduced by Rosen Stone 1994, fig. 195 and Ramachandra Rao 1956, pl. XXIII). 7. Photo by Joachim K. Bautze.
8. Ingholt/Lyons 1957, Fig. 342 & p. 147 (with further references).
9. Péri 1917 concerning the Yakshî and her history.

Bibliography

Ingholt, Harald & Islay Lyons 1957, Gandhâran Art in Pakistan, New York: Pantheon Books.
Longhurst, A.H. 1938, The Buddhist Antiquities of Nâgârjunakonda, Madras Presidency, Delhi: Manager of Publ. (Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. 54).
Péri, Noël 1917, Hârîtî, la Mère-de-démons, Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, tome 17, pp. 1-102.
Ramachandra Rao, P.R. 1956, The Art of Nâgârjunakonda, Madras: Rachana.
Rosen Stone, Elizabeth 1994, The Buddhist art of Nâgârjundakonda, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
Stern, Philippe & Mireille Bénisti 1961, Évolution du style indien d’Amarâvatî, Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.

Due diligence : Art Loss Register document reference number S00120184