Sculpture Traditions in Indus Valley Civilisation

The phases of sculpture making in Ancient India can be broadly divided into 5 phases:

  1. Indus Valley Civilization Phase
  2. Buddhist Phase/Mauryan Phase
  3. Post-Mauryan phase
  4. Gupta Phase
  5. South Indian Phase

Indus Valley Civilization Phase

The beginning of stone sculpture in India goes back to a very remote age. The Indus Valley or Harappan Culture flourished from C.2500 B.C. to 1500 B.C. The discovery of statues, figurines of men and women in terracotta, stone, and metal, seals indicate that people of the time had a vivid imagination and a profound artistic sense.

There were three types of sculptures found there, which are Stone sculptures, Metal sculptures, and Terracotta sculptures.

Stone Sculptures of Indus Valley Civilisation

  1. Bearded Nobleman (Priest Man, Priest-King):
  • The figure was made of Steatite.
  • The figure has been interpreted as a priest who is draped in a shawl coming under the right arm and covering the left shoulder. His shawl is decorated with trefoil patterns.
  • He has a short cut moustache and a short beard and whiskers. Hair is parted in the middle, and a plain-woven fillet is passed around the head.
  • An armlet on the right hand and holes around the neck suggest a necklace.
image 354

Fig: Bust of a Bearded Priest

2. Male Torso

  • Found in Harappa (only major art element found in Harappa).
  • Made of Red Sandstone.
  • There are socket holes in the neck and shoulders for the attachment of head and arms
  • Legs are broken.
  • Unfortunately, it is in a damaged condition, but it still reflects the great mastery with all its vitality and grace.

Metal Sculptures of Indus Valley Civilisation

Bronze casting was practiced in a wide scale in almost all major sites of civilization. The technique used for Bronze Casting was the Lost Wax Technique or Cire Perdue.

  1. Bronze dancing girl: It depicts a female dancer whose one arm is covered with ivory or bone bangles and is adorned with necklaces standing in a tribhanga position. Braided hair, head slightly tilted back, flat nose, and large eyes are the salient features of this work. It is a 4-inch figure
  2. Bronze buffalo & humped bull.

Lost Wax Technique

  • In the Lost Wax technique, initially, the figure needed is made of wax and covered it with clay. After that, the clay is allowed to dry, and the whole thing is heated so that the wax inside the clay melts.
  • The molten wax was then drained out through a tiny hole made in the clay part. The hollow mold of the clay thus created was filled with molten metal.
  • Once it cooled, the clay cover was completely removed. Human as well as animal figures, were made by bronze casting.

Terracotta Sculptures of Indus Valley Civilisation

Mother Goddess:

  • It was discovered in Mohen-jo-Daro is one of the significant terracotta sculptures of this age.
  • It reveals the concept of the Mother Goddess as a sign of prosperity and fertility.
  • These figures are usually crude standing figures Adorned with necklaces hanging over the prominent breast and wearing a loincloth and a grid.
image 355

Fig: Mother goddess, terracotta

Seals of Indus Valley Civilisation

  • Many seals of different shapes and sizes were found in the Indus Valley Civilisation. The seals were usually made of steatite (soft stone found in riverbeds) and of other materials like copper, faience, terracotta, chert, ivory, or gold. Various human and animal figures were made on the seals, and they were primarily used for commercial, identification, or educational purposes.
  • Terracotta seals were also manufactured. These seals included the carvings of peepal leaves, a female figurine with forms of deities and animals. All these definite & distinct shapes of stones or seals were enshrined and worshipped during that time by people of civilization. Some of these seals also depicted a harp-like musical instrument, which confirms the presence of stringed musical instruments that were in use in this ancient civilization. The seals show the Culture and civilization of the Indus Valley people. They indicate:
  1. Dresses, ornaments, hairstyles of people.
  2. Skill of artists and sculptors.
  3. Trade contacts and commercial relations.
  4. Religious beliefs.
  5. Some of the important seals are mentioned below:

Seals of Pashupati Mahadeva

  • Made of steatite, it was found in Mohenjo-Daro. It depicts a human figure seated in a cross-legged position. An elephant and a tiger are depicted to the right side of the figure, while on the left, a rhinoceros and a buffalo are seen. Two antelopes (deer) are shown below the seat (nearby his feet). The figure has a three-horned head.
  • This seal may throw light on the religion of the Harappan age.
  • Most of these seals have a knob at the back through which runs a hole, and it is believed that they were used by different guilds or merchants and traders for stamping purposes. When not in use, they could be worn around the neck or the arm like an amulet.
image 356

Fig: Pashupati seal/female deity

Unicorn Seal

  • The unicorn is a mythological animal. This seal shows that at a very early stage of civilization, humans had produced many creations of imagination in the shape of bird and animal motifs that survived in later art.
image 357

Fig: Unicorn seals

Bull Seal

  • This seal depicts a humped bull of great vigour. The figure shows the artistic skill and a good knowledge of animal anatomy.
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