Friday, August 22, 2014

Sculpture Galleries of Government Museum, Chennai: Guided Walk on Sculpture Identification Skills


Management Consultant and History enthusiast, Pradeep Chakravarthy
Hero-stones Gallery at Govt. Museum, Egmore, Chennai
Sculptures @ Pallava Gallery
Lord Vishnu Pallava Sculpture
Dakshnamurthy Pallava
Reclining Vishnu with Sri Devi and Bhu Devi Early Chola
Chola Sculpture
 
 Vijayanagara Emblem
 Mahishasuramardhini - Chola
 Vishnu
Parvati

Management Consultant and History enthusiast, Pradeep Chakravarthy  guided the 45 minute walk on 10th August 2014 between 11.00 and 11.45 am around  select stone sculpture galleries  inside the Government Museum, Egmore Chennai 600008, India. About 30 history buffs  from all walks of life participated in this event.

About Government Museum, Egmore

The walk commenced with a brief introduction about the museum. The Government Museum, established in 1851 under the charge of Dr. Edward Balfour, Medical Officer of the Governor's Body guard, houses India's finest collection of stone and bronze sculptures that span several centuries. Initially it was inaugurated within the first floor of the College of Fort St. George (present DPI premises) with the 1100 geological specimens of the Madras Literary society. The museum was later shifted to the Pantheon building with huge garden spaces in 1854. Previously Pantheon aka Public Rooms or Assembly Rooms was being utilized for banquets, balls and dramatic performances. During 1856, a zoological garden with 360 animals was established within the museum.


Non-Agamic or Non-Vedic Pantheon of Gods

The statue of sun god occupied a center stage (staircase leading to balcony) in the main hall (at the entrance) of the museum. There is a serpent stone gallery on the left and a hero stone gallery on the right. Pradeep preferred to recognize the nature worship (as part of the sun god worship, serpent cult and hero stone worship) as the non-vedic or non-agamic pantheon of gods in Hinduism.  Before temples came into existence,  nature worship - including celestial objects such as the sun and moon and terrestrial objects such as water and fire - formed as a definite and complex system of belief in early South Indian civilizations. The sun worship played an important place even today in Hinduism. Serpent cult (Ophiolatry), Hero stone or Stonehenge (mother goddess worship on chastity counts (i.e, Kannagi, the heroin of Tamil epic Silapathikaram) worship also fall under the  non-agamic pantheon of Hinduism.

The serpent cult or worship of serpents (Ophiolatry) or Naga worship occupied high status in Hindu mythology.  It is considered even today as symbol of fertility and life. In olden times Lord Balarama (brother of Lord Krishna) was recognized as the Lord of snakes. Hero stone (nadukal) is the memorial stone erected between the 3rd century BC and 18th century AD in southern India to commemorate the heroic death of men in battle.  Stonehenge representing the womb of mother goddess or Sati stones (sacred relics of widow sacrifice) also occupied important place in the non-vedic worship.

Select Stone Sculptures

The museum complex comprise six buildings and 46 galleries. It's distinguished art collection includes the stone sculptures of Pallava period (300 - 897 AD.), early Chola period (850 - 985 AD.) medieval Chola period (985 - 1074 AD.), later Chola period (1074 -1350 AD.),  Viajayanagara period (1350 - 1600 AD.) and modern period (From 1600 AD. onwards). It also houses wonderful collection of sculptures of  Chalukya, Hoysala, Rahtrakudas dynasties.

Unique Features for Identification

Pradeep selected the stone sculpture galleries of Pallava period, early, medieval and later Chola periods, Vijayanagara period and modern period as the context for discussion. He analyzed the uniquely distinguishable features of the sculptures one by one commencing from Pallava dynasty.  The Pallava sculptures came into being from the 4th to 9th centuries. The sculpted human figures exhibit plain and simple, realistic anatomy, elongated (oval) faces with large eyes, broad nose with chubby tip, less ornamentation and cylindrical head gear.  The hind limbs  (third and fourth hands) of deities originate from the elbow the hand. Vishnu appear with Prayoga Chakra (discus is twisted in Vishnu's hands and its almost in a form - ready to go). Reclining Lord Vishnu with seated Bhu Devi (with breast band) and Sri Devi (without breast band) located in the Pallava gallery aroused interest.

The medieval Chola sculptures show rigid and artistic anatomy, slightly rounded face, nose with increased sharpness, conical shaped head gear and more ornamentation with detailed patterns. The medieval and later Chola sculptures exhibit shaped anatomy, distinct round face, sharpened nose, rich ornamentation and conically shaped head gear. The Vijayanagara sculptures followed the Chola style of sculpting and gave attention to details. The anatomically realistic sculpture forms of Pallava period evolved into much rigid and artistic  forms. The resource person analyzed the possible reasons.

Temple: From Places of Worship to Socio - Political Institutions

The Pallava kings provided direct  patronage, guidance and funding for the sophisticated agamic temple building and architecture. The medieval Cholas expanded their empire in all directions and became a military, economic and cultural power in South Asia and South-East Asia. They pioneered a centralized form of government and established a disciplined bureaucracy. Local self-govt was a remarkable feature of Chola administration. Temples in grandeur scales were built to commemorate the victories and achievements. They also provided liberal land endowments, gold, jewellery and developed public funds from land revenue and tax collection to the village administration that managed the temple. They either raised small and medium sized granite temples or rebuilt / converted brick structures into granite shrines around Cauvery plains, central and northern Tamil Nadu as well as adjoining regions of present Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.  The Chola temples, a socio - political institution in itself,  soon became the hub of village local self governance including daily religious rituals, temple festivals, temple staffing, land revenue administration, public finance treasury, banking and notification of royal orders , endowments and  gifts through inscriptions. The temple ran Vedic schools and medical centers and served the villagers.

From Dedicated Sculptors to Mass Producing Artisans

As the temple building was at initial stage, the Pallava sculptors concentrated with simple and natural anatomy oriented sculptures. Territory expansion, more conversion of cultivable land, more land grants for Brahman villages, growth of public funding and public demand for temple aggravated the demand for more and more sculptors and the they paid less attention to natural anatomy and produced rigidly patterned and artistic sculptures in large scale. Thus the sculptures slowly lost their natural anatomy and beauty.

How to Rate the Ability?

How the participants could rate their ability in identification of sculptures? The main purpose of guided museum walk is for creating awareness about the world of sculptures. Pradeep also suggested the participants to go around other galleries including the bronze gallery and open stone gallery and wanted to take note of the unique features of the sculptures to determine the period they belonged to. The label below the sculpture could also be verified before arriving any conclusion. If the participants are able to identify the features and relate with period correctly, then the purpose of this guided walk around the museum will be achieved.
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