Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology

by Sreyashi Ray chowdhuri | 2018 | 90,477 words

This page relates ‘Amaravati impact on later schools of Indian art’ of the study on Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology, including museum exhibitions of the major archeological antiquities. These pages show how the Buddhist establishment of Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh) survived from 4th century BCE to 14th century CE. It includes references and translations of episodes of Buddha’s life drawn from the Avadanas and Jatakas which are illustrated in Amaravati art.

Amarāvatī impact on later schools of Indian art

Amarāvatī idiom matured and created its impact on later schools of Indian art. In fact certain characteristics of the Amarāvatī art was reflected in the Gupta art. Amarāvatī art along with the Kuṣān art contributed a great deal to the foundation of the Gupta art. In this regard it may be pointed out that Amarāvatī contributed pliability to the Gupta art. Beside this iconoplastic characteristic, several iconographic similarities can be witnessed in the Amarāvatī and the Gupta art.

Similarity in the figural form of a makara from Amarāvatī and that of a depiction in Gwalior in the Gupta period is mentionworthy. A relief on a pillar from Amarāvatī illustrate a pair of women with flower offerings on the back of makaras. It may be suggested that these female deities standing on makaras are the earliest prototypes of the Brāhmaṇical images of Gangā and Yamunā viewed in the later temples of the Gupta period. In this regard mention may be made of a relief on the Varāha cave, Udayagiri, Gwalior[1]. Here two river goddesses Yamuna and Ganga are represented standing on tortoise and makara respectively. The makara carving has striking resemblance to the makara of Amarāvatī.

It is well known that iconographically the developed form of Ganeśa occurs in the Gupta period (Pl 44c). However, it is interesting to note that an elephant headed dwarf yaksa or gaṇa appears as a garland bearing figure at Amarāvatī (Pl 44d). Though Ganśa with his big belly comes close to the yakṣa type, but he is not cited by name in any yakṣa list.

The full face makara which appears as an architectural motif in late Gupta period appears as a part of the headdress (makarikā) in the Amarāvatī repertoire. It may be highlighted that the makara motif found frequent representations in the Amarāvatī art. The makara motif further matured and attained the designation of makara-vaktra[2]. It took its place as the crowning element of “caitya window” or arch, which in turn developed into the makara torana also known as kirtimukha (glory head).

The collateral branch of the Guptas, the Vākaṭakas continued the Sātavāhana tradition. The wall paintings of Ajanta have its nearest affinity in the reliefs of Amarāvatī art. The art is essentially influenced by Andhra, both in feeling and technique. The feminine ease and grace at Ajanta (Pl 45a) is reminiscent of the Amarāvatī reliefs (Pl 45b). The heavy anklet on legs of unduly slenderness at Ajanta again reminds us of the physiognomy of the Amarāvatī figures. In case of the depiction of the Campeyya Jātaka the poses of the ladies are almost similar to that of the feminine beauties represented in the Amarāvatī art.

The influence of Amarāvatī is again seen in adaptation and representation of similar composition in the art of Ajanta. A panel from Amarāvatī preserved in the British Museum illustrates herdsmen holding the animals by their tails or ears in the act of controlling them. The subject is again seen in a painted frieze from Cave IX of Ajantā and a carved band in Cave VI at Kuda[3].

Beautiful lotus depictions are seen in Ajantā. It can be suggested that the lotus design at Amarāvatī had a great impact on later art idioms. The lotus designs occupying the circular or semi-circular panels of the upright posts of the railings in Amarāvatī are sculpted with great dexterity. It became more developed and refined and ultimately influenced the Gupta sculpture and paintings at Ajantā[4].

The manner in which architectural elements divide the scenes in Amarāvatī again reappear in the paintings of Ajantā where architectural forms are used as device to separate diverse scenes. Again moments associated with the same event is separated by architectural devices[5]. Among several examples from Amarāvatī which demonstrate this feature mention may be made of a drum slab illustrating the birth of Buddha. The panel is divided into four sections illustrating Māyā’s dream, interpretation of the dream, birth of Buddha and the presentation of the child to yakṣa. Each section is divided by architectural elements.

Like Andhra sculptures, the Ajantā painting exhibit contemporary life in vivid details. Different sections of the society like the kings, nobles, sages, beggars, dancers, musicians, soldiers, hunters, princes, maids, apsaras, kinnaras, nāgas, gandharvas etc fill up the narrative scenes. However, this feature is also noticed in other narrative art. But the deep appreciation for sexual beauty and unconventional social life conveyed by both the art of Ajanta and Amarāvatī seem to be removed from austere ideals of Buddha.

Amarāvatī art later enriched the bold and imposing compositions of the Pallava, Chālukya and Chola sculptures. In and around Bezwāḍa may be seen the rock cut cave temples of Mogalrajapuram, Sitanagaram and Uṇḍavalli. They have been attributed to the early Pallavas and Viṣṇukuṇḍins. In these shrines the dvārapālas and the pillars with lotus vase reminds us of the Buddhist sculptures from Amarāvatī. The presence of Chandraśilā in Mogalrajapuran recalls Amarāvatī moonstones. At Uṇḍavalli large number of sculptural panels is discovered. Some of the panels display Śiva’s Lingodbhavamurti, Narasiṃha, Trivikrama, Gajendra mokṣa, Krishna lifting Govardhana and scenes from Rāmayaṇa. Remarkable similarity in the stances and postures and in the slender tall elongated figures emphasizes the continuity of the Amarāvatī idiom in the later period[6].

The art of the Viṣṇukuṇḍin period reveals the continuity of the art tradition of Amarāvatī. A rectangular limestone panel from Kondamatu (Guntur District) reveals standing figures of Pradumna, Viṣṇu, Narasiṃha, Vāsudeva, Sankarsana and Aniruddha. The figures are in tribhanga position. In this type of modelling and ornamentation especially seen in the headresses, beaded hair, keyuras, valayas and the flowing tassels on the sides and semi circular tassel flowing across the thighs are reminiscent of the Ikṣavāku period sculptures of Amarāvatī and Nāgārjunākoṇḍa.[7]

The early antiquities from Yeleswaram in Nalgonda district and Keesaragutta in Rangareddy district belonging to the Viṣṇukuṇḍin period recall features present in the Amarāvatī sculptures. An early Viṣṇu sculpture from Yeleswaram (Pl 45c) recalls features reminiscent of a Padmapāṇi image of the Amarāvatī school preserved in the Archaeological Museum, Amarāvatī (Pl 45d). A stone plaque from Keesaragutta depicting the Mother Goddess bears resemblance to one sculpture from Nāgārjunākoṇḍa[8]. The similarity is seen in the sitting posture of the specimen preserved in the Archaeological museum, Nāgārjunākoṇḍa.

The Amarāvatī influence percolated to the great sculptural styles of the Pallavas at Kanchi and Cholas of further South. Certain features in Pallava and Chola idiom were adapted from the lower Kṛṣṇa valley and were assimilated in the art style of the Pallavas and the Cholas. In this regard mention may be made of the lions with human heads found at the Rath temple, Govardhana Kṛshṇa Maṇḍapa and Mahisasura Mardini Cave at Mamallapuram[9] which can be considered as the models from Amarāvatī. Even the stately lions sculpted at the thresholds of the temple gateways of the Pallavas (pl 46a) and Cholas recall the guardian lions of the Amarāvatī art (Pl 46b). The Amarāvatī guardian lions are characterized by elegant mane, big staring eyes and mouth open. The powerful rendering of the animal with heavy rounded muscles and large paws of the guardian lions found in Amarāvatī are also seen in Pallava and Chola sculptures. However, the element of stylization is more in the lion figures of the Chola sculptures.

The Cūdāmanimakarikā on the crown of the Nāgarājā and the women in the sculptures of Amarāvatī repertoire developed as a double headed makari of Pallavas and kiritas of early Chola deities[10]. Again Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa and cluster of curls at Kṛshṇa mandapa show Amarāvatī’s influence. It is interesting to note that in the Kṛshṇa Maṇḍapa though the figure of Kṛshṇa is attempted but it gives the appearance of Buddha of the Amarāvatī art.

Dwarfs or ganas always formed a part of the iconoplastic representation in Indian art. In Amarāvatī art dwarfs are visible in several reliefs (Pl 46c). The chubba or little dwarfs seen in the Pallava (Pl 46d) and Chola sculptures display reflection of the Amarāvatī gaṇa[11].

The Sātavāhana-Ikṣvāku cultural influence into the Toṇḍaimaṇḍalam area is revealed by the coins of Rudra from Kāñchī. There seems to be a virtual transportation of cult objects and pillars of Pālnad limestone. This is understood from the discovery of ruins of square pillar stumps under the granite floor slabs facing Rāja Siṃheśvara gṛha at the Shore temple complex. A lime stone panel of the Amarāvatī-Nāgārjunākoṇḍa type is also reported from a temple at Rayapettaḥ in Chennai[12].

Excavations at Kāñchī, Uraiyur and Kaveripumpattinam have yielded several antiquities. Among them the discovery of chaitya with Buddhapada bears close similarity to the Buddhapadas of Nāgārjunākoṇḍa[13]. In addition to it a copper image of Buddha from Kaveripumpatinam recalls the Amarāvatī examples preserved in the Madras Government Museum.

In the pre-Pallava period Kāñchīpuram was perhaps under the later Sātavāhanas and later the region came under the Ikṣavāku influences. Hence the impact of Amarāvatī art percolated in the region which is clearly evident in some of the antiquities documented in the region.

According to Benjamin Rowland the Pallava sculptures retain the graceful attenuation of forms of the Amarāvatī art and are characterised by the same feeling for movement and expressive poses and gestures. However, though Pallava art continued the slender and elongated form, the emotional intensity of Amarāvatī became less in the hands of the Pallava artists. Moreover the pliability of Amarāvatī art gave way to disciplined vitality in the Pallava creations. This is visible in the figures with strong and broad shoulders supported on an elongated torso[14]. The linear rhythm and the dramatic content of the Amarāvatī idiom were borrowed by the Pallavas and Chalukya artists clearly seen in the reliefs[15].

The Chalukyas succeeded the heritage of Amarāvatī in the Vengi region and carried their impulses forward in the structural temples at Bādāmi and Paṭṭadakal, followed by the rich sculptural achievements of their feudatories in Ellora of the Rāshtrakuṭa dynasty. The Palnad marble even found its imprints in the Hampi sculptures in the Karnātaka region[16].

From the above analysis it can be undoubtedly stated that the Amarāvatī art exhibited some parallelism with contemporary art movement. In fact the art of Amarāvatī repertoire carried the traditions of early Indian art, developed them and exerted its impact on later art traditions of India. The artistic impulses of Amarāvatī on later art movement is highly significant as it signals the continuity of Amarāvatī tradition beyond its territorial domain.

Footnotes and references:


Coomaraswamy Ananda K, 1993, Op.cit, pl 43a, pl 43b


Ibid, p 143.


Ibid, pp 33-34.


Ibid, p 34 pl XXVII b.


Hungtington Susan L, 1985, The Art of Ancient India, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, New York, p 177.


Prasad B, Rajendra, 1980, Art of South India, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, p 72.


Ibid, p 67.


Rao K, Ramamohan, 1992, Perspectives of Archaeology, Art and Culture in Early Andhradesa, Delhi, pl 14.


Ramachandran A, Op.cit, p 56.


Ibid, p 56.


Ibid, p 56.


Sarma I.K, 1985, Buddhist Monuments in China and South East India, Delhi, p 91.


Ibid, p 89.


Saraswati S.K, Op.cit, p 173.


Rowland Benjamin, 1967, The Art and Architecture of India, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, London, p 211.


Sarma I.K, 1985, Op.cit, p 91.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: