This volume speaks about the quest for the idea and image of a Universal Being which can be all things to all beings. It moves afar, looking for parallels, precedents and progenies, in Asia and the world, of the unique, hydra-limbed, massive 5th century AD Rudra Siva image found at Tala in Chattisgarh in India in 1987. It explores the immense vitality of its presence, simultaneity, ambiguity and profundity of its denotative and connotative meaning.
Based on excavations, explorations, conservation and restoration, led by the author, the volume separates chaff from grain by a penetrating historiographic investigation; conceptually reconstructs dismembered monuments and sites on archaeological evidence; digs deep into epigraphic, philosophical, religious, botanical and artistic texts to recover the polyvalent script of the art; substantiates this script ethnoarchaeologically by retrieving, from oral evidence and ritual practices, corollary tribal imagery and monastic rites; rebuilds the composite stylistic movement in architecture and sculpture, in a rigorous, comparative analysis of the spatial temporal context of unities and variations; and, opens up new vistas in Indian Art History, by using cross-disciplinary methods, and, effecting a fine-tuned fusion of Indian and Western interpretative horizons.
The volume provides, in 687 illustrations and maps, extensive notes and references, glossary and index, a close view of the large ground traversed by Dr. Chakravarty. It corrects the amnesia and aphasia, loss of memory and speech, about an eternal flux of being and becoming, of human and non-human communities, dramatically staged in the theatre of the universe. The author's fascinating enterprise brings to light a new and neglected school of art in Daksina Kosala-Cakrakotya- Vidarbha- Kalinga region, created in the deepest and poorest recesses of hilly and forested tribal tracts of India. The daring innovation, experimental ardour, fervid curiosity, pent-up energy and ardent humanism of the art remain an example for succeeding generations and explode the notion of its primitive, retrograde nature, nursed earlier.
About the Author
Dr. Kalyan Kumar Chakravarty, IAS (retired in the rank of Secretary, Govt. of India), M.A. (Kolkata), M.P.A. (Harvard), Ph.D., Fine Arts (Harvard), is President, People's Council of Education, Allahabad and Distinguished Professor, Centre for Knowledge Societies, Centurion University of Technology and Management, Paralakhemundi, Odisha. Dr. Chakravarty has been Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi; Director General, National Museum; Member Secretary, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi; Chairman, National Screening and Evaluation Committee, Archaeological Survey of India (AST); Director, National Museum of Mankind (IGRMS), Bhopal; and Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). He has headed the Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management (DIHRM) as Vice Chairman. He has also chaired the Bhasha Trust, Baroda.
His publications include exhibition catalogues, edited journals on Art, books and articles on Family, Tribal Identity, Indigeneity, Education, Rock Art, Folk and Tribal Art, Khajuraho, Gwalior Fort, Orccha, Bodhgaya, Ujjayini, Vidisha, New Museology, Archaeology, Indology and Sanskritic traditions.
Dr. Chakravarty has reinvented cognitive categories; nurtured relations among cultures, disciplines and arts; strategised culture specific governance and diplomacy; restored vanishing links of cultural, linguistic, biological diversity; regenerated community habitats as living museums; and rebuilt crumbling bridges between culture and development. He is known for fusing theory and practice in promoting cultural survival, environmental self-determination and sustainable knowledge systems of marginalized communities.
This volume seeks to correct marginalization and exclusion of Daksina Kosala, of which the Indian state of Chhattisgarh has been a part, from the archaeological and art historical frame of contemporary interpreters. It counters the historicist characterization of dynastic, imperial, metropolitan, fine, conventionally natural art, as more valuable, of higher priority and originality than the popular, artisanal, suburban, seemingly non-natural art. It describes the itinerary of Siva, who is credited with the origin of all arts, philosophy, sciences, and presides over the most radical and asocial cults. The itinerary bridges the divide between collective memory and orality, Agama and Nigama traditions, transmitted through Sruti and Smrti, votive and invocative inscriptions.
Despite the absence of texts that could provide ready explanation of the shape and meaning of the art in the region, there has been a logocentric obsession with exclusive iconographic identifications, on the basis of isolated textual canons. An inclusive and harmonious construction of texts and traditions shows that diverse identities and contrarieties, derived from many sources, coexist in the concepts and stylistic attributes of this art. Formal and conceptual approaches have, therefore, been combined to explain the roots and appreciate the fitness of this art for describing the idea and image of Siva.
The Devarani temple at Tala in Bilaspur district of eastern Madhya Pradesh was already known to specialists for a most unusual plan and one of the finest door jambs with many inexplicable iconographic features. Attracted by these features, I visited Tala in October 1987, and was fascinated by the unique three door Jethani temple revealed in an earlier 1986 excavation. My curiosity and knowledge of Indian art were stretched to utmost by these two temples at Tala, and I was moved by a great desire to study and understand the unique remains. The prospect was a challenging one for the art of the region had been little studied, and the monuments of Tala even less so. Earlier studies had dismissed Tala art rather cavalierly as a tribal aberration from the ecumenical styles of India, and suggested that the temples had no relevance for the development of Indian art within or outside the region. The perception was readily explained by the fact that Tala was situated in the midst of a hilly, forested, inaccessible tribal hinterland, and its art could not be pinned down to any iconographic or architectural text, but this was difficult for me to accept. Instead, Tala suggested to me a classical power, naturalistic observation, volume and grace recalling 5th century Vidarbha art, and it also evoked in me memories of a medieval mannerism, that characterized the work of the other temples of the region, notably those of Malhar and Sirpur.
If a fascinating though baffling ambivalence between unconscious simplicity and conscious complexity was the fatal attraction of Tala art, it was also engrossing because of the overwhelming strength and opulence of its forms, replete with a sense of the sacred. This art was nothing like we had seen before in Indian art in its attempt to transcend all canonical boundaries for expressing the inexpressible and measuring the immeasurable. A quality of strange yearning, fervent energy and reaching for the unknown, latent in the sacred hymns of the early texts, seemed to inform this art. Its enormous vitality and creative zest incited in me a restless spirit of adventure, leading me to look for its stylistic and cognitive origins and to trace the influence, which I instinctively felt it to have exercised on the monuments that followed it in the Daksina Kosala region of India. An assessment of the viability of art as a vehicle for attaining a knowledge of human life and destiny in the fathomless immensity of this universe appeared to depend on the feasibility of this enterprise. It was this quest which drove me to guide the clearance conducted by Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, on the mound surrounding the Devarani at Tala in 1987. The clearance revealed a colossal Pasupati image of brute power, iconographic features and experimental freedom, unprecedented in the history of Indian art. I followed up the Tala clearance by extensive surveys in Daksina Kosala and located numerous mounds in Bilaspur, Raipur, Surguja and Bastar districts of Madhya Pradesh. I helped the Govt. organize successive clearances at Deepadih and Belsar in Surguja, and Bhongapal and Garh Dhanaura in Bastar and unearthed numerous temples, monasteries, and architectural fragments ranging from the fifth to the eleventh century AD. Many of these possessed remarkable correspondences to Tala art. As I extended the scope of my investigations to eastern, western and central India, I discovered distinct elements in these areas which seemed to be connected to the art of Tala and Daksina Kosala. In fact, the unusual combination of ancient, tried elements, simultaneous preoccupation with overpowering scale or minutiae of ornament, interpenetration of meanings and forms, architecture and sculpture, use of processional, terraced access, punctuated by intrusive architectural members, the bold, playful, experimental concern with dynamic movement, created by asymmetrical arrangements, gestures and postures, diverse expressions, patterns, tones and hues of light and shade were elements of the art of Daksina Kosala which were adapted in different mutations in later Indian art.
Since most the ground covered by me is fresh and untrodden, and the sites are new and virtually unpublished, I have been unable to assume prior information about these areas. Since I have suggested the formation of a new regional style of Daksina Kosala which germinates at Tala, I have found it necessary to put Tala in the overall historical context by making an extensive discussion of its similarities and differences with other relevant sites. I could have excluded such details only at the risk of lending to Tala either an impossible isolation from or an all encompassing role in later Indian art. In the absence of relevant canonical texts, I have interpreted the iconography by going back to sacred texts, and by taking a holistic and eclectic rather than an orthodox or exclusivist view. Since I find the meaning or function of this collective art remarkably constant through the centuries inspite of its apparently individual expressions, I have harnessed references from different periods, looked for and found a firm and continuing core of meaning in them for the elucidation of this art. I have listed primary Sanskrit literary sources by categories, though my general references also include commentaries elicited from inscriptions, coins, foreign accounts edited by scholars, and texts on the theory and practice of arts the world over. I have grouped the illustrations by iconographic types in order to facilitate visual comparisons. References in the text to the illustrations, therefore, are not sequential. I have explained the unusual architecture by reference to the terminology used for approximately similar architectural segments or their modifications in Odisha and Central India. I have shown the irrelevance of southern terminology used for Tala art in certain earlier studies. Since the art of this period has to be understood, to the extent possible, in terms of its makers, and since the Sanskrit terms which give this art functional validity and meaning cannot be given in English translation alone without inpairing their integrity, I have used them as part and parcel of the text with diacriticals as is the growing practice. I have refrained from italicizing such terms and analogous "terms in other languages not only for avoiding visual clutter but also because they have already passed into common scholarly use. Nevertheless, I have added a glossary of architectural terms from different regional vocabularies at the end, for the English reader's convenience. Otherwise, I have bracketed the translations with the literary and iconographic terms in the text itself. Diacriticals have been used only for less known names and place names (except for Tala, ethani and Devarani which are in frequent use) to induce a correct understanding of etymological derivation and pronunciation. I have put the footnotes and numbered them serially at the end of each individual chapter. However, I have numbered the illustrations serially through the volume. I have put Tala art in the background of the confluence of cults engendered by a surge of devotional faith and practice, using data from contemporary inscriptions and ethnoarchaeological studies. With new material pouring in from Daksina Kosala, my conclusions are bound to undergo modifications. I have assigned approximate dates to temples and associated sculptures, on the basis of a comparative stylistic study bolstered by examples of dated structures. In the list of illustrations, I have indicated the period in general terms. My chronology is not to be taken as absolute, but only as a code for establishing a sequence of styles. This broad sequence, it is hoped, will survive.
The volume explores art history at the interface of archaeology, art history, cultural theory, ethnology, intellectual and religious history and philosophy, in the contested space of east-west cultural encounter and interaction in research. Those who lived and experienced the past in the art world of Daksina Kosala, could not fully know or understand it. Those of us who are trying to know or understand this past, cannot experience it, and our knowledge is doomed to arrive too late on the scene of experience. Hence, my exercise in recapitulation, recollection and reconstruction of the past in the region, cannot but be imperfect. My attempt to move back and forth between cultural sites and the cultural landscape is not new. What is new in the art history of the region is the cross-disciplinary quest to locate the art in the backdrop of Indian ideological history and the global history of shape and meaning; to synthesize domains of thought, to induce understanding about the deep and simmering connection between the physical ingredients of style and the deep, incorporeal structures of meaning.
The volume begins with an analysis of the southeastern geographical and eco-cultural situation of Daksina Kosala, on the north-south trade route. The hilly, forested topography, tribal demography, dynastic rule, respectful of local, institutional autonomy in Daksina Kosala, and the rich artistic traditions nurtured in the adjacent cultural provinces in its neighborhood, account for the autochthonous and complex artistic developments in the region. Since the boundaries of cultural provinces are not impermeable, such developments acknowledge and innovatively transform the ideological and stylistic influence of art in surrounding areas. The second chapter on history analyses the fusion of Gupta Vakataka families and scripts, leavened by regional influences, to provide a historical background to the autonomous and experimental trends in the art of Daksina Kosala. The third chapter on archaeology describes the tendency, in Daksina Kosala, revealed through several excavations, towards growing rarification, ethnicization and experimentation in art and architecture, through successive structural and sculptural additions.
In the fourth chapter on historiography, reason for the limited scholarly attention received by Tala, the type site chosen for analysis, is analysed. It is shown that Tala art has tended to be misunderstood as a clumsy, idiosyncratic, xylographic tribal misinterpretation of the Gupta Vakataka, Pallava or Calukya dynastic art rather than as a bold local interpretation of pan- Indian traditions. The problem of understanding would appear to lie as much with the predilection for dynastic attribution of the motifs and patterns of Daksina Kosala art as with the limited evidence accessible at the time of analysis.
The fifth chapter on architecture charts a transition, at Jethani and Devarani temples at Tala, from an additive, spread out, sculpturesque structure to a more integrated, architectonic, compact structure; from relative simplicity to complexity of forms; measured curvilinear rhythm to accelerated movement and sharp rectilinear accents; tactile and placid to visually mobile, chromatic surfaces. The stylistic transition is underwritten by the increasing refinement of the theme of emanation and resolution, in the multiplication, abstraction, interpenetration, merger of floral, faunal, geometric, figural patterns.
The sixth chapter on sculpture speaks of the coexistence of the volumetric and linear, heavy and slender, asymmetric and symmetric, simple and ornate, organic and geometric styles, unity and variation of iconographic elements, discontinuous and continuous narratives in the sculptures of Tala and analogous sites. Despite a simultaneity of 'classical' and 'medieval' features, or an internal movement towards greater stylization, linearization, geometricization, Tala sculpture remains integrally one in its central Indian preference for volume, naturalism and humanism. It is experimental, not demonstrative, expressive not expressionistic, large not ponderous, loyal to, not mimetic of nature, a complex whole, not a disparate sum of parts. This is explained through a comparison of Tala with earlier sites of Daksina Kosala and Vidarbha and later sites of central India or, rest of India. The study focuses on formal features of objects in the background of their epigraphic, numismatic, literary and epistemic associations.
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