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The Forgotten Place- Stone Images From Kurkihar, Bihar

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Item Code: NAX438
Author: Claudin Bautze, Picron
Language: English
Edition: 2014
Pages: 642 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 11.00 X 8.50 inch
Weight 2.85 kg
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Book Description
About The Book

The present work provides a detailed study of the stone images found at Kurkihar. The material has been documented from a very early period: as early as 1847, Markham Kittoe visited the place, made drawings of images seen in situ and collected some of them, which are today displayed in the Indian Museum (Kolkata), the State Museum (Lucknow) and the British Museum (London). These sculptures and those still preserved and worshipped in the temple of the village are at the heart of the research presented here; study of them helped to define the characteristics of the local stylistic idiom, and to recognize it in images recovered in various other sites of Bihar and Bangladesh and beyond in numerous images which found their way into private collections in India and abroad.

Kurkihar was a Buddhist site holding a major position in the artistic production of the ninth century, waning thereafter without completely disappearing. In fact, the local monastery continued to be inhabited but seems to have remained aloof from the development which then completely reshaped Buddhism and its iconography. The production of the stone atelier was simultaneously brought practically to an end around the beginning of the tenth century whereas the foundry still preserved its activities up to the end of the eleventh century at least. In this context, the site lost the fame which it must have had in the ninth century - considering the fact that images carved in the local stylistic idiom were exported to far-away regions - and sank into oblivion, awaiting rediscovery in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

About the Author

Claudine Bautze-Picron studied at the Universities of Brussels, Lille, Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi and Aix-en-Provence. She is a research fellow at the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR 7528 "Mondes Iranien et Indien", Paris) and teaches Indian art history at the Free University of Brussels.

The main focus of her research has for many years been the art of eastern India (Bihar/West Bengal/Bangladesh) from the eighth up to the twelfth century, about which she has published a great many articles covering stylistic as well as iconographic issues. This research culminated in the publication of the catalogue of the collection of eastern Indian sculpture in the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin (Eastern Indian Sculpture in the Museum of Indian Art, Berlin, Berlin, 1998). She has also studied various aspects of Buddhist manuscript illuminations and of the iconography of the Buddha, having recently published a book on The Bejewelled Buddha from India to Burma, New Considerations (New Delhi, 2010).

Her research has also focused on various iconographic and stylistic features of the murals of Bagan (Burma) from the eleventh up to the thirteenth century in a series of papers and a book (The Buddhist Murals of Pagan, Timeless Vistas of the Cosmos, Bangkok, 2003).


As part of the celebrations marking the completion of 150 truly eventful years of its existence, the Archaeological Survey of India has published during the year 2011-2012 many new publications and has also revived its two major and widely acclaimed research journals Ancient India and Epigraphica Indica. In tune with the historical spirit of the celebratory event, it has also brought out three books about its own genesis and development. These are John Keay's To Cherish and Conserve: The Early Years of the Archaeological Survey of India; Custodians of the Past: 150 years of the Archaeological Survey of India (edited by Gautam Sengupta and Abha Narain Lambah), and Rediscovering India 1961-2011. The Fourth in the series is History of Archaeology-Themes, Institutions and Personalities by K. Paddayya and the Fifth one is Socio-Economic Archaeology of India by M.K. Dhavalikar. I understand that all these publications are being received enthusiastically by readers across the country.

This publication-Stone Images of Kurkihar is the Sixth in the series. It is a commendable study carried out by Claudine Bautze-Picron who is Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris and teaches Indian art history at the Free University of Brussels. The main focus of her research has for many years been the art of eastern India (Bihar/West Bengal/Bangladesh) from the eighth up to the twelfth century, about which she has published a great many articles covering stylistic as well as iconographic issues.

Kurkihar, located about 28 Kms from Gaya in Bihar was a Buddhist site holding a major position in the artistic production of the ninth century, waning thereafter without completely disappearing. Although well known for its ancient Bronze images, the Stone images from this place, though very beautiful and having been transported to far off countries sank into oblivion, awaiting rediscovery in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The present work is a comprehensive study of the stone images from Kurkihar. The material has been documented from a very early period.

The staff of the Archaeological Survey of India deserves all appreciation for bringing out this publication in a befitting manner. The author and the staff of Angkor Publishers (P) Ltd. worked in unison bridging the physical gap of distance through technology in ensuring an almost error free material of high standard. I am confident that this book will be widely welcomed.


Kurkihar (Kurkihar), long. 85°15', lat. 24°49', is a village located south of the Rajgir hills on the northern (right) side of the road connecting Nalanda to Bodhgaya, and can be reached from the nearby small town of Wazirganj, which is situated some four kilometres south-west. That the area used to be a major Buddhist settlement is amply attested by the abundance of remains noted by all visitors making their way there since the nineteenth century: bricks and stone fragments testified to the existence of architectural structures and numerous votive caityas, as well as stone images that signalled the importance of the place as a Buddhist site. Today, there is still a major mound topped by the Thakurbari Mandir close to the road leading to the village.

In 1847, MARKHAM KITTOE was still able to observe the remains of a Buddhist shrine at Purnaha (Punawan) about 4,83 kilometres (three miles) south-west of Kurkihar; this had disappeared, however, when ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM visited the site nearly 15 years later, and later the doorframe of the temple was picked up by ALEXANDER BROADLEY who added it to his collection in Bihar Sharif before it entered the Indian Museum, Kolkata where it stands today in the gallery surrounding the garden (288). While surveying the region Kittoe had collected images at the site (114, 147 and perhaps 260). Whereas one image of Avalokitesvara (114) clearly belongs to the ninth century production of Kurkihar, the image of Halahala Lokesvara (147) is a later production of the eleventh century which relates to contemporary sculptures discovered in the Hasra Kol, a valley located some 6,44 kilometres (four miles) south-south-west of Wazirganj. The valley of Hasra Kol which is located on the northern slope of the Sobhnath hill, has in fact yielded a large number of votive caityas and sculptural fragments, carried at the time of their discovery to the nearby village of Vishnupur Tandawa (or Bishenpur Tandwa), and later to be mostly preserved today in the museums of Patna and Kolkata. Like an image from Punawan included here (147),

the sculptures observed or collected at the Hasra Kol and Vishnupur Tandawa betray stylistic features of the tenth and eleventh centuries as noted at Bodhgaya. Only a fragmentary Avalokitesvara image (139) can be identified as a ninth century product from Kurkihar. As a recent study by JANICE LEOSHKO has shown, the material from Hasra Kol and Vishnupur Tandawa also relates through its iconography to Bodhgaya; thus she publishes images of Yamantaka, Kurukulla and Marici alongside images of the bejewelled Buddha today kept in Patna and Kolkata - and 147 belongs to the same Vajrayana 'esoteric' trend. Without dwelling any longer on the topic - we shall have the opportunity to return to those sites below -, but taking into consideration certain data that will be included in the subsequent chapters, it would appear that if Kurkihar was a very active site in the ninth century, it lost its attraction in the course of the tenth and eleventh centuries, which saw the construction of the temple of Punawan and great activity in the area of the Hasra Kol/Vishnupur Tandawa. Although the production of stone images came to a virtual standstill in that period at Kurkihar, it is worth mentioning that a number of images of the bejewelled Buddha were cast during Vigrahapala's reign (chapter I, appendix 12-14) and that a manuscript was drafted during Ramapala's reign (below) in the local monastery. The presence of the bejewelled Buddha at Kurkihar, also evidenced With stone images (82, 83), reflects the link to the Hasra Kol, and beyond it to Bodhgaya, in the eleventh century.

North of Kurkihar, further Buddhist remains were observed in the Rajgir hills at Jethian, Tapoban, and Rajgir, which constitutes a major site on the road to Nalanda. At the eastern extremity of the hills, Giryek also stands as a source of Buddhist remains and further east, the road running south of the hills relates directly Kurkihar to the sites of the region of Lakhi Sarai.

Most of the remains found in the village and the region are Buddhist. As a matter of fact, Hindu and Jain images from the ninth century are somewhat rare; some eighth- and ninth-century images are preserved at the Shri Rukminisarovar, Hadahisthan, in Orel (Aurel), a near-by village where they were documented by JOHN & SUSAN HUNTINGTON; an ekamukhalinga is kept in the main temple of Kurkihar (256), another early representation of Mahisasuramardini from Wazirganj is known to us (249), but images which can safely be dated in the ninth century - the period with which we are here essentially concerned - are practically non-existent. Moreover, these Brahmanical post-Gupta or early Pala images have only very little to do with the stylistic idiom of the atelier located at Kurkihar; for instance, the round lotuses typical of the style are to be seen in only one image of Surya kept at the Shri Rukminisarovar.

Some of the Hindu images, illustrating the Kurkihar stylistic idiom, were actually discovered in Gaya town, and at Konch, a village located north-west of the city where a major Hindu temple was built in the Pala period. On the other hand, the rough representation of Vismu found at Kurkihar (233), the ekamukhalinga worshipped in the local temple (256), and a depiction of Ganesa kept in the Naradah Museum (266) do not particularly reflect the local idiom. As for the hidden Durga Mahisasuramardini (248), she appears to be earlier than the images worshipped in two temples of Gaya, i.e. the Gayeswari Devi Mandir and a small shrine nearby (250-251). In the present survey, Surya is clearly the major male deity of the ninth century, with images that could at times be very large, such as the one worshipped today at the Brahmani Ghat of Gaya (240), or even exported to far-away regions, such as the image recently excavated at Mahasthangarh, Bogra District in Bangladesh (243). This however reflects a general situation: contemporary images of the god were also produced at Nalanda, and are found throughout ancient Magadha. In short, it is possible that the Hindu images of Kurkihar were brought from some atelier located in the region of Gaya. Similarly, only one Jain image is recorded here, depicting Parsvanatha, found in the vicinity of Kurkihar (269). Nonetheless, since most of the images found at Gaya and Bodhgaya, including therefore the Buddhist sculptures discovered in the latter site, do not belong to the early phases of production, it might be surmised that either sculptures were exported from Kurkihar to these places or, rather, that eventually the artists left Kurkihar and started working for other patrons.

As a matter of fact, it appears, from the extent of the remains at our disposal, that from the end of the eighth century and in a large part of the ninth century, the region was essentially Buddhist or, at least, that the artistic production was basically Buddhist. In this context, Gaya acted as a Brahmanical centre and counterweight: most of the extremely numerous images of Visnu, but above all of Uma-Mahesvara and of Surya- to be seen along the narrow lanes and at the numerous shrines of the city-belong to the same period. In both places, Kurkihar and Gaya, the material is extremely abundant, attesting to the presence of very active ateliers which specialized in Hindu or Buddhist subjects. The sculpture from Gaya town and its near surroundings still calls for appropriate study, which would prove the ateliers working there to be as important in their output as those located in the very same period in the known Buddhist centres, Bodhgaya, Nalanda or Kurkihar.

A large collection of sculptures stands in the precincts of the Devisthan Mandir, which is the main temple of Kurkihar (270). The compound of Rai Hari Prasad's kutchery lies west from it, and the villagers still show visitors the pit where the lot of bronzes now kept in the Patna Museum, was discovered in 1930; broken caityas are scattered around (280). A modern temple of Thakurbari is built on a hill, probably hiding remains of the original monastery, and located on the main road to the village, just south of the kutchery. Architectural elements, including pillars, are walled in at the four corners of the monument (287), and friezes of tiny Buddhas (273) or images like jambhala or Cunda were also incorporated in the temple when it was built (87; 271-272).

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