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Sculpture, Amaravati

Sculpture, Amaravati

Artist: Anonymous

Medium: Pencil on paper

Date: 1816

Shelfmark: WD756

Item number: 756

Length: 28.3

Width: 44.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Drawing

Pencil drawing from the MacKenzie Collection of a sculpture from the Stupa of Amaravati, dated 1816-1818.

The great Buddhist Stupa of Amaravati, the Maha chaitya, is one of the greatest architectural achievement of ancient India. The monument was situated on the outskirts of the town of Amaravati near the ancient ruined city of Dharanikota. It was founded in the 3rd-2nd centuries BC and enlarged in the 1st-4th centuries AD under the Satavahana and Ikshvaku patronage. It was a centre of religious activities for hundreds of years and then fell to disrepair. By the mid-1790s the ruin of the Great Stupa had deteriorated into a mound of rubble with fragments of sculpture scattered about. In 1797 the British colonel Colin Mackenzie heard about the site and visited it. He was able to return again only in March 1816. In the 19th century a series of excavations took place at the site. The monument now only survives in the collections of the Amaravati sculptures kept in various museums. Stupas are the most characteristic munuments of ancient Buddhism. The Mahacaitya of Amaravati consisted of a huge, solid dome standing on a cylindrical drum-like platform; the whole was surrounded by a great railing made of tall pillars separated by crossbars and crowned by a high decorated coping. The railing was completely covered with narrative reliefs and elaborate decoration. At each of the cardinal points there was a gateway. Between the railing and the drum there was a circumambulatory passageway. The enormous cylindrical drum was elaborately decorated with sculpture. The outer surface had a series of alternating slabs and pilasters. The slabs are carved in great detail with representations of the stupa and represent an invaluable source of information about the original aspect of the Great Stupa. This drawing depicts part of a drum slab attributed to the so called 'second phase of the High Period at Amaravati', third century AD. The slab represents a stupa surrounded by a railing with pillars adorned with lotus roundels and two pot bellied dwarfs. The drum friezes depict various scenes from the Jatakas, Buddhist stories about the previous lives of Buddha. The Buddha is shown in human form and the figures have elongated limbs, typically of the later phase.

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