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Mathura art

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Mathura art

Mathura art: an ancient style of Buddhist art

Mathura art was initiated from the city of Mathura, in central northern India. It was mainly flourished alongside the Buddhism in India. It is recorded that the art of Mathura is usually contrasted with the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara. It is observed that people usually debate over the origin of Buddha statue. There are people who believe that it was originated from Gandhara while other belief from Mathura. Whatever may be the reality, each school of Buddhist art has contributed their own artistic features to the statues.

At later periods with the spread of the teaching of Buddha, these Buddhist arts are also found to be dispersed in all areas. First, it is observed that the style of the Buddhist arts confirms with this style but later they also created more localized ones.

Historical accounts of Mathura art

The Mathura art as it was depicted in the Buddha statues created during the 2nd century CE was not created instantly. It was slowly evolved through different dynasties that ruled Mathura. Each and every dynasty have contributed to the artistic style of Mathura art. But the Mathura art got its form only on Kushan empire.

One of the best examples of statuary from that period is the statue of Bala Bodhisattva. It is observed that the style of these statues was inspired from the earlier monumental Yaksha statues.

Other than that Buddha image was also carved on the coin in the region of Kanisha. It is also recorded that the first known representation of the Buddha can be dated precisely. It is found that only six Kushan coins of the Buddha are known in gold. Among them, the sixth one is the centerpiece of an ancient piece of jewelry and consists of Kanishka Buddha coin decorated with a ring of heart-shaped ruby stones. In these coins, the Buddha is represented wearing the monastic robe, the antaravasaka, the uttarasanga, and the overcoat sanghati. In some designs, a mustache is apparent. The palm of his right-hand bears the Chakra mark, and between his brow has the urna. It is depicted that the Buddha worns the full gown covering both shoulders. It is observed that Kanishka also issued other types of Buddhist coinage- Shakyamuni Buddha as standing and walking, Maitreya Buddha as seating.

Another important Mathura art are the Buddha statues. These statues tends to reflect the climatic conditions of Mathura. Since the climatic experience is very warm, the statues also confirm the thin clothes. Their artistic creation also progressively tend to cover only one shoulder instead of both. The faces of statues are also more Indianized.

Apart from these artistic creations, the Mathura sculptures also incorporate many Hellenistic elements, such as the general idealistic realism, and key design elements such as the curly hair, and folded garment.

One of the most popular Mathura art is the Mathura standing Buddha. The Mathura standing Buddha seems to be a slightly later development, if compared to the Bala Bodhisattvas. These Buddhist arts were only created during the reign of Gupta dynasty, therefore, it is also known as Gupta art. Therefore later Buddha statues dated after 2nd century CE often tend to display characteristics of Gupta art. In some areas, the statues also confirms with Gerco-Buddhist art of Gandhara. The similarities between them are the left hand hold the gown of the Buddha while right hand depicts Abhaya mudra. The head of the Buddha also constitutes a halo.

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