Thursday, May 28, 2009

The History of Art in Nepal

The history of Nepalese stone sculpture goes back at least two thousand years according to Lain Singh Bangdel, author of "The Early Sculptures of Nepal." The survival of the oldest sculpture in the country indicates that stone sculpting was among the first art forms to have developed in the country. Unlike the lasting quality of stonework, samples of wood and terra cotta that have been found in Nepal date back only to the seventeenth century. The oldest stone image is that of the Yaksha Bodhisattva, which dates back to the first century AD. It was found at Hadigaon and is preserved at the country's National Museum in Kathmandu. Except for this sculpture, all others dating from the first century to the end of the fourth century AD are of a lesser size, are roughly carved and are coarsely formed. The author of The Art of Nepal, Stella Kramrisch, explains the recognized origin of sculpting in the Kathmandu Valley. It is believed that during the reign of King Vrishdeva, the great grandfather of King Manadeva, a farmer named Balbala made a self-portrait in stone for the first time. He soon gained recognition in his community due to his experimentation in this new field and, thus, he founded the art of sculpting in the country. During the time of the Gopalas, also known as the cow herders and the earliest settlers of the Kathmandu Valley, stone sculpting was uncommonly practiced. Even at this time, there seems to have been some influence from the Southern sculpting tradition of what is now India in Nepal. The stone sculptures found here during the early centuries seem to be reminiscent of a similar craft to those found in Mathura. Old stone works found in both countries share a similarity in stances, expressions, coiffures, ornaments, and decorations. Sculptures in the Varada mudra art from, a gesture of charity that is easily distinguished by the awkward right hand, cupped palm, and long disproportional fingers, are most common in the early stone art of Nepal, mainly from the second and third centuries. Examples of the Varada mudra art form are Vishnu of Hadigoan, Shiva of Balambu, Kumari of Balkhu, the mother goddess from Haugal Bahal, and Hari Hara of Saugal. Unlike the Brahmanical sculptures, some Buddhist sculptures of male deities from later centuries possess these features as well.