Indian Stone Sculpture

Select sculptures from the museum collection (1st century A.D - 1999)

Figure (9th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

History of Indian stone sculpture

In ancient and medieval times sculpture was the favoured medium of artistic expression.  Indian buildings were profusely adorned with it.  The subject matter was  human forms that were used to instruct people in the truths of the Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain religions.

Sculpture Sculpture (6th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Symbolism in sculpture

The figures are conceived of as shapes that are more perfect than anything to be found in the merely transitory appearance of human models. The multiple heads and arms of sculptured Hindu divinities were thought necessary to display the manifold attributes of these gods' power.

Red sandstone pillar capital (1/99)British Museum

Timeline of Indian sculpture

The tradition extends from Indus valley civilization of 2500 to 1800 BCE, during which terracotta figurines were produced. The great circular stone pillars and carved lions of the Mauryan period (3rd century BCE) gave way to figurative sculpture in the 2nd and 1st centuries.

Stele (9th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Timeline of Indian sculpture

A wide range of styles and traditions subsequently flourished in different parts of India over the succeeding centuries, but by the 9th–10th centuries CE Indian sculpture had reached a form that has lasted with little change up to the present day.

Stele (12th–13th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Schools of Indian sculpture

There have been various schools according to the timeline in India's history which gave us sculpture in architecture and free sculptural forms as well. The schools include Sunga, Gandhara, Mathura, Pala, Chola, Pallava, Vijayanagara, Chalukya, Hoysala and Rashtrakuta. 

Head Head (ca. 4th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gandhara School

Flourished in the Gandhara region (present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) during the 1st to 5th centuries CE, influenced by Hellenistic and Roman styles due to the region's connection to the Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms.

Relief (2nd–3rd century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mathura School

Thrived in the ancient city of Mathura (in present-day Uttar Pradesh, India) from the 2nd century BCE to the 12th century CE, known for its distinctive style characterized by sensuousness and realism.

Bust of Tara (Ca 5th Century CE)Indian Museum, Kolkata

Gupta School

Associated with the Gupta Empire (4th to 6th centuries CE), considered a golden age of Indian art. Known for its refined style, idealized figures, and spiritual symbolism, seen in the famous sculptures of temples like the Dashavatara Temple at Deogarh.

Stele with a standing figure of Vishnu (1000/1099)British Museum

Pala School

Flourished in the eastern regions of India, particularly Bengal and Bihar, during the 8th to 12th centuries CE under the Pala dynasty. Known for its Buddhist sculptures, especially those found in Nalanda and Vikramashila.

Stone figure of Brahma (1001/1050)British Museum

Chola School

Associated with the Chola dynasty (9th to 13th centuries CE) in southern India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. Known for its magnificent bronze sculptures, such as the Nataraja (Shiva as Lord of the Dance). Stone sculptures were made as well.

Celestial Dancer - F|S Sculpture of South Asia and the Himalayas (1100) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art

Hoysala School

Flourished in the Hoysala Empire (10th to 14th centuries CE) in the Karnataka region of southern India. Known for its intricately carved temple sculptures, characterized by their attention to detail and ornate decoration.

Marble pillar from a Jain temple (1150/1199)British Museum

Maru-Gurjara School

Emerged in the western regions of India, particularly Gujarat and Rajasthan, from the 8th century onwards. Known for its temple sculptures, including elaborate carvings on sandstone and marble.

Salar Jung Museum (2000/2010)Salar Jung Museum

The Salar Jung Museum collection

There is sculpture from different schools; Sunga, Gandhara, Mathura, Pala, Gujarat, Rajasthani, Chola and Kakatiyan examples. They are in different stages of preservation due to passage of time. 

Let's have a look at some sculptural artefacts from an eclectic collection!

Railing stone with lotus medallion designSalar Jung Museum

Railing stone with lotus medallion design

Railing stone with lotus medallion design and bell patterns. It is an excellent example of Sunga sculpture with flower pattern. A fragment of the railing erected by the Sungas around the stupa at Bharhut, a magnificent remain of the Mauryas, 1st century A.D.

A Scythian head (100/199)Salar Jung Museum

A Scythian head

The sculpture is carved with a turban in belt pattern which is in conical shaped, the face is chipped off at places. It reflects the culture of Scythian in the time of Kushanas, from Mathura, 2nd century A.D.

Salabhanjika (100/199)Salar Jung Museum

Salabhanjika

Salabhanjika  is an important motif of Indian art, particularly Buddhist art. A young lady with simple ornaments  is standing in dwibhanga posture beneath a tree holding its branch, an auspicious symbol of fertility, Mathura, Kushana dynasty, from the 1st/2nd century.

Head of Shiva (100/199)Salar Jung Museum

Head of Shiva

'Head of Shiva', with curly hair and diadem. The third eye on forehead is prominent. Naga (snake) encircles the head of Shiva, the head of naga is missing, nose and chin of the god is seen chipped off. It is from Mathura, Kushana dynasty, dated to 1st/2nd century A.D.

Buddha (0101/0199)Salar Jung Museum

Standing Buddha

Standing figure of Buddha found at Nelakondapalli, Telangana, a stone carving centre. He has curly hair elongated ears and a 'tilak' on forehead. He wears a wavy lined robe covering at the left shoulder. His hands are damaged, limestone, Ishkavaku dynasty, dated to 3rd century.

Head of female figure (200/599)Salar Jung Museum

Head of female figure

Female head with attractive coiffure arranged at the left side of the figure. The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire existing from the mid-to-late 3rd century CE to 590 CE. In stone, from Kausambi, Uttar Pradesh, Gupta period.

Vishnu with his consorts, Sridevi and Bhudevi (400/499)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Vishnu with his consorts

Lord Vishnu with his consorts, Sridevi and Bhudevi, He is sthanakamurthy with four hands, has necklace and vanamala. He wears makuta and holds sankha in his front hands, the lower right hands holds a gada, red sandstone, Bundelkhand/ Mathura School, Gupta period, 5th Century A.D.

Jaina prabhavali, 1100/1199, From the collection of: Salar Jung Museum
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Jaina prabhavali, in marble, from Gujarat, dated to the 12th century.

Standing Lord Surya, 1100/1199, From the collection of: Salar Jung Museum
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Standing Lord Surya, Pala School, dated to the 12th century.

Statue of pancha tirthi Mahavira (1100/1199)Salar Jung Museum

Standing figure of 'pancha tirthi' Mahavira

The figure in basalt under a canopy with ornamental pattern on its circular sides. Four seated small sized 'Mahaviras', the lower two with canopies; they sit in the four corners of the circular ring. Kannada inscription on the pedestal, Kakatiya, Koppal, from the 12th century.

Standing Shiva, 1200/1299, From the collection of: Salar Jung Museum
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Standing Shiva, in stone, Chola dynasty. 13th century.

Bhoodevi (1300/1399)Salar Jung Museum

Bhoodevi

Figure of  Bhoodevi, one of the consorts of Lord Vishnu, she is wearing profuse jewellry, her crown, necklace and two anklets are prominent, in stone, from Mysore, dated to the 14th century.

Nandi (1300/1399)Salar Jung Museum

Nandi

Nandi is shown here in crouching pose with small horns and mupuram (hump) decorated with bells, twisted ropes and other ornaments. This is a similar Nandi to that of Nandis in 'Thousand pillars' temple, Warangal, in stone, Kakatiya, 14th century A.D.

Lakshminarayana, 1400/1499, From the collection of: Salar Jung Museum
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Lakshminarayana, Vijayanagara School, South India, dated to 15th century.

Royal lady (1500/1599)Salar Jung Museum

Royal lady

Standing figure of a royal lady in 'S' curve, wears necklace. She has rich hair style.  Her half-opened eyes and straight nose are carved prominently. She also wears necklace, waist band, anklets and padasuras, sandstone, from North India, dated to the 16th century.

Lord Surya (1500/1599)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Surya

Lord Surya with four hands riding a two wheeled chariot, being drawn by seven headed horse, stone, from India, dated to the 16th century.

Mahishasuramardini (1500/1599)Salar Jung Museum

Mahisasuramardini

One of the terrible manifestations of Parvathi is Mahishasuramardhini. The goddess wears ornaments and holds several attributes in her ashtabhuja (8 hands). Her vehicle, the lion is depicted and the buffalo demon, Mahishasura, who she is s suppressing, South India, 16th century.

Fragment of stone with Buddha images (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Fragment of stone with Buddha images

Archaeological remain, a black stone slab carved in panels with figures of Buddha. from India, dated to the 18th century.

Lord Ganesha (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Ganesha

Figure of Lord Ganesha, with his usual symbols. In his left bottom hand rests the trunk, in stone, from South India, dated to the 18th century.

Figure of a Hindu god (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Figure of a Hindu God

Standing figure of a Hindu god wearing a crown, chest and neck ornamented as well, waist girdled and hands resting on the side of hips, in stone, from India, dated to the 18th century.

Garuda in 'anjali mudra' (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Garuda in 'anjali mudra'

Garuda in anjali posture with emblems of Lord Vishnu, discus and conch on the top sides. He is a kite with powerful open wings and attendant and devotee of Lord Vishnu, and his vehicle or vahana. Figure is in samabhanga, in black stone, from Andhra, South India, 18th century.

Figure of a Vaishnava saint (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Figure of Vaishnava saint

A seated figure of Vaishnava saint; sankhu marks on either shoulder and nama on the forehead, in stone, from India, dated to the 18th century.

Mahisasuramardini (1600/1699)Salar Jung Museum

Mahisasuramardini

A eight handed Goddess Mahisasura mardini, her right leg on the demon-bison, who she is overpowering, a lion under her raised folded foreleg, in black stone, India, dated to the 17th century.

Goddess Saraswati (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Goddess Saraswati

Carved Hindu Goddess Saraswati with veena in standing posture against the base carved with floral designs, in stone, from Madhya Pradesh, dated to the 19th century.

Brahma and Saraswati (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Brahma and Saraswati

Marble or soap-stone carving representing Brahma and Saraswati, Saraswati riding on peacock, a child and lamb at the bottom; diamond shaped base, India, dated to the 20th century.

Goddess Lakshmi (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Goddess Lakshmi

Stone figure of Lakshmi Devi under an arch with a Kirtimukha  on the top of the arch, holding lotus in three hands. In stone, from India, dated to the 20th century.

Lord Ganesha (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Lord Ganesha

Stone sculpture of Lord Ganesha with his trunk held in his left hand, in stone, from India, dated to the 20th century.                                

Nandi (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Nandi

Nandi caparisoned, seated on pedestal. A snake on its body. Its ornaments gold tinted, black stone, from India, dated to the 20th century.

Standing sculpture (1973/1973) by Yadagiri RaoSalar Jung Museum

Standing sculpture

Contemporary stone sculpture in standing pose by Sri. A.Yadgiri Rao. The sculpture may be a modern Sivalinga. Sri. Yadagi Rao was professor in sculpture at JNTU, Hyderabad, in granite, dated to 1973.

Credits: Story


Text and Curation: Soma Ghosh 
Photography: M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Research Assistance: Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Special thanks to : Shri Ashish Goyal, IIS, Director,  Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.
Dr. G. Kusum, Curator, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India. 


References -

1.       https://www.britannica.com/art/Indian-sculpture(accessed on 02/03/2024)
2.       https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pala-art (accessed on 02/03/2024)
3.       https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1992/chola-art--architecture/(accessed on 02/03/2024)
4.       https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mathura-art(accessed on 02/03/2024)
5.       https://www.britannica.com/art/South-Asian-arts/Gupta-period-c-4th-6th-centuries-ce (accessed on 02/03/2024)

Credits: All media
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