Wednesday 15 May 2019

The National Museum

It was a rest day in Noida so I decided to make a visit to The National Museum. I had read and heard about it a lot so I thought it might be worthwhile to see for myself what it is.
Indus Valley Civilization There is a large exhibit on Indus Valley and it has some good artifacts in the section.

Indus Valley Chronology

The Shunga Dynasty (2 - 1 Century BCE)
Pushyamitra Shunga (185-149 BCE), who was the commander-in-chief for the Mauryan army killed Brihadratha Maurya (c. 187-185 BCE), the last Mauryan king and established the Shungan dynasty. They ruled only a part of the territory that was under the Mauryans. This period saw development in the indigenous form of sculptures and ornamentation and absence of the distinct Mauryan polish. The stone sculptures were mainly used to decorate Stupas, which were architectural edifices built as votive act or to store corporeal remains of Buddha or his important disciple monks, in Bharhut (MP), Sanchi (MP) etc. Most of these sculptures depict scenes from the life of Buddha, Jatakas (Buddhist folk tales), folk deities and a variety of ornamental motifs. There was a sudden increase in terracotta figurines during this period probably due to the change in the technique of production, i.e. a single mould was used to make the entire figure. They are made of extremely fine fabric, uniformly baked, pale red or orange in color and were probably expressions of art from the poorer society. This period witnessed development in peoples' art in form, theme and execution.

Evolution of Terracotta Art : From Mauryan to Satavahanas
Terracotta has been the medium for art since the Harappan civilization. But the techniques used differed in each time period. In the Mauryan times, they were mainly figures of mother goddesses, indicating a fertility cult. Moulds were used for the face, whereas the body was hand-modeled. In the Shungan times, a single mould was used to make the entire figure and depending upon baking time, the color differed from red to light orange. The Satavahanas used two different moulds -- one for the front and the other for the back and kept a piece of clay in each mould and joined them together, making some artifacts hollow from within. Some Satavahana terracotta artifacts also seem to have a thin strip of clay joining the two moulds. This technique may have been imported from Romans and is seen nowhere else in the country.

Sculptures in Buff Sandstone
The Mauryan sculptures are characterized by their distinct shiny polished surface, which according to some historians is a western influence. All of Ashoka's pillars and their capitals exhibit this feature. However, there is no clear reason as to how they achieved it. While earlier historians were of the opinion that these sculptures were rubbed against the fine-grained sand and then buffed with cloth or animal skin, some historians now are of the view that these sculptures were actually coated with a layer of pink sandstone mixed with haematite pellets and then chiseled and not polished. So while the lower surface was rough, its upper surface had a polished lustrous appearance.
Principle Sculpture Sites of India
The Satavahana Dynasty (2 to 1 century BCE)
The Satavahan monarchs were political successors of the Mauryan in the Deccan (South and South-West India) and ruled from Pratishthana (modern-day Paithan in Maharashtra) and expanded their rule into the Easter Deccan, Andhra, and the Western Coast. Example of art from Amaravathi, Nagarjunakonda, Jaggayyapeta in Andhra Pradesh, Bharhut and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, Ajanta and Bagh in Maharashtra, indicate common heredity and ramifications of the great imperial art of the Mauryas. It was during their long and prosperous rule that significant contributions were made towards the promulgation of Buddhist art. Art in Satavahana times was broadly in the form of stone structures, sculptures, and terracotta. The maha Chaitya or the Amaravathi Stupa built in Limestone during this time showcases a distinct style of carving. The terracotta art in this time was made from the double mould technique using Kaolin or Chinese Clay. The Amaravathi school represents the high watermark of the Satavahanas, giving rise to a much-evolved style, mature in form and technique and aptly portraying the sculpture in human form with a better perspective.

The Goddess or Devi image in India has evolved from fertility figures in the very early centuries to complex forms bearing special iconographic features. Devi figures are commonly seen in Indian Bronzes. The Devi Mahatmya, a Hindu religious text, articulates the idea that all goddesses are a manifestation of the ultimate Devi or Mahadevi. Manifestations of Devi began in the Gupta period (4th to 5th century CE). Devis appear as consorts of male Gods such as Parvati as a consort of Siva, Lakshmi appears with Vishnu, and Saraswati, the Goddess of music and learning as the consort of Brahma. In Buddhist too, female consorts of Bodhisattavas known as jina prajna, begin to appear with their partners in about 5th century CE. The development of the final phase of Buddhism, known as Vajrayana (Thunderbolt way), or Tantrayana (Tantric Way), saw the goddess achieving greater importance and becoming indispensable in realizing the goal of enlightenment.

In western India, the Jain community patronized metal-smiths for making icons of Jina. This is evident from the discovery of several hoards of Jain images, including the famous Akota hoard discovered in 1951 near present-day Vadodara, Gujarat. These bronzes aid in tracing the development of Jain art iconography from the 6th to 10th century CE in southern Rajasthan and Gujarat. However, the images belonging to the 6th-7th century CE are more sensitively carved and bear character and grace similar to the Gupta period images. Bronzes of the later period are highly ornamented and elaborately carved.
The Gurjara-Pratihara around this time were also active in creating elaborately carved Brahminical images in metal. For example, in the western Chalukyan tradition, the Vishnu image is sensitively modeled, while the aureole is delightfully decorated.

The eastern Indian bronzes, mostly belonging to the Pala period (8th-12th century CE) form a glorious phrase in the history of Indian bronzes. Some exquisite bronzes from Nalanda in Bihar are characterized by a tall slender figure, rich ornamentation, gliding, and bearing and oval-aureole rimmed with flame tips. The bronze art of Palas highlights the fine tradition among the craftsmen from the region for several centuries. The influence of this style is also visible in the bronzes from Nepal. A number of miniature bronzes, mostly Buddhist deities like Prajnaparamita, Vasudhara, and Tara and displayed here.

Nataraja, the lord of dance, represents the five essential aspects of Siva -- creation, preservation, destruction, veiling, and grace. The dance he performs is called the Ananda Tandava or the dance of bliss. He is believed to have danced the world into extinction only to dance it back into existence as part of the cyclical concept of time in India. In his mountain home of Kailasa in the Himalayas, Siva is said to have invented 108 types of dances, commonly seen as 108 karnas or poses of Indian classical dance. Siva dances in the triumph of defeating demons or for the pleasure of his consort.
The image of Nataraja is bedecked with three eyes and four arms, from left hand is depicted in danda-hasta or the gaja-hasta pose, thrown on the right side, while the rear one holds agni denoting the power of destruction. His front right hand is in abhay-mudra symbolizing protection and the one at the back holds a damaru or the drum symbolizing the power of creation. On the forearm of his hand is placed Bhujana Valaya. The left leg of Nataraja is raised diagonally, the right one with his foot up in the air, denoting the path of salvation he tramples the demon Apasmarapurusha. Adorning the head of the lord is a Jata-Mukta, embellished with the river goddess Ganga, a snake, Jewels, flowers, a crescent moon, and a human skull. Strands of his hair spread horizontally on either side of head representing his vigorous dance with a circular prabhamandal (aureole) framed with five tipped flames representing the universe. Siva's expressions are however serene and calm and show his complete control over the univrese.

The bronzes from South India embody one of the highest achievements of India art. Of all the bronzes from Indian, none are better than those from South India, especially the Pallava and Chola bronzes. Movable bronze icons were an intrinsic part of the Chola temples. Most Siva temples enshrined bronze images of Nataraja, the lord of the dance. Metal-smithing was zealously patronized during the later Chola, Vijayanagar and Nayaka periods as well.  Scholars, however, believe that the bronzes of these periods were much conventionalized and dynamic and rhythmic movement characteristics of early bronzes seem replaced by mathematical schematics.

Indian Miniature Painting

Indian Coinage
Indian coinage has a long and varied historical tradition providing a rich source of information. Its value as a record of political and economic changes ls enhanced by its narrative and aesthetic impact reflecting the cultural developments of different periods and regions. In fabric and execution, Indian coins show remarkable skill and interesting techniques.
Ancient Indian coinage begins with a uniform currency in silver and copper known as the Punch-marked coins, found all over India. Issued between the 6 century BC and 1 century AD by merchant guilds and a few ruling families. It was mainly a trade currency belonging to a period of intensive trade activity and urban development. Trade also brought into India towards the close of this period, Roman coins in gold and silver, those of the emperors, Augustus and Tiberius being most common. South India has a concentration of Roman coin finds, especially along the trade routes and coastal areas (in Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Andhra).

To the same period belong a series of local and regional coins viz., uninscribed cast copper coins and inscribed cast coins of the Janapadas I. e. Monarchical and Republican states of North India. These early Indigenous issues starting from Punch-marked coins bore symbols of unknown import, perhaps drawn from tribal and popular cults, gradually giving place to those of the Buddhist and Brahmanical religions.

Regular dynastic coin issues begin with those of the foreign conquerors of India between the 2 century BC  and 2 century AD, viz, the Indo-Greeks. The Saka-Pahlavas and the Kushans. Hellenistic traditions characterize the silver coins of the Indo-Greeks, with Greek gods and goddesses figuring prominently, apart from the portraits of the issuers. These coins with their Greek legends are historically significant, for the history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed almost entirely on their evidence. The Saka coinage of the Western Kshatrapas are perhaps the earliest dated coins, the dates being given In the Saka era of AD 78, popular in the Indian tradition of dating to this day.
It is with the Kushans that a variety of interesting features emerge in Indian coinage, While portraiture is common to all the foreign issues and the early indigenous issues inspired by them, the Kushan gold coins introduce us to a series of new concepts, attributing divinity to royalty, iconographic forms drawn from Greek, Mesopotamian, Zorastrian and Indian mythology, Siva, Buddha and Kartikeya being the major Indian deities portrayed on them. The Kushan gold coins were
undoubtedly the prototypes of the subsequent indigenous issues, especially those of the Guptas. However, for sheer variety, aesthetic sensitivity and rich narrative content, the Gupta gold coins remain unsurpassed by any other coinage of Ancient India.

With the Gupta coinage (4-6  centuries AD.) begins a process of indigenization, Greek and West Asian deities replaced by Indian divinities and Greek legends by Brahmi. Apart from legitimizing dynastic succession, Gupta gold coins commemorate significant socio-political events, like marriage alliances (king and queen type coin of Chandragupta I) and artistic and personal accomplishments of royal members (Lyrist, Archer, Horseman, Lion-stayer, etc.). More significant is the iconographic
representation of Puranic deities indicating the religious predilections of the Gupta monarch and the grandiose royal titles and epithets as coin legends in versified Sanskrit. Indeed the Gupta coinage reflects the classical art and literary idiom of the period. Gupta silver coins represent one of the few early dynastic issues in silver.

Post-Gupta coinage (7-12 centuries AD ), is represented by a monotonous and aesthetically less interesting series of dynastic issues including those of Harsha (7 °centuries AD ) and early medieval Rajputs (9-12 centuries AD).

South Indian coinage of the early period belongs to a different tradition, remarkably conservative. The only exception is that of the Satavahanas (1-2 centuries AD) whose coins with portraits and bilingual legends were inspired by the Kshatrapa types. On the rest of the South Indian coin issues, the symbols are confined to dynastic crests such as the boar (Chalukya), bull (Pallava), tiger (Chola), fish (Pandya), bow and arrow (Chera) and lion (Hoysala), etc. Coin legends refer to names or titles of the issuer in local scripts and languages. Decorative features are rare and divinities are almost absent until the medieval Vijayanagar period (14-16 century AD).

Among the foreign coins found in South India, mention must be made of the Chinese and Arab coins, which found their way into this region during periods of intensive trade i. e beginning of Christian era and between 9 and 12  centuries AD.

Medieval Indian coinage, represented by the Arab, Sultanate and Mughal coins, is dominated by Islamic traditions. Religious formulae such as the kalima (Islamic creed)the names of the Caliphs as spiritual heads, Quranic verses In beautiful calligraphy as coin legends are characteristic of all the issues, although deviations from this practice are not unknown.

Indigenous elements also have not been ignored. They are incorporated in various forms from the time of Mahmud Ghazni (10-11 centuries AD.) whose coins bear legends both in the Arabic Kufic and Sanskrit-Nagari scripts. Goddess Lakshmi was featured on the coins of Muhammad Ghori

The Deccan gold, which filled the coffers of the Khiljis, was turned Into an interesting series of coins of Alauddin Khiljl with titles like Sikander-al-Sani. But It is Muhammad bin Tughlug who is known to history as an innovator and reformer of currency, His currency is economically significant.

Originality and innovative skill characterize the Mughal coinage, which ranks among the greatest currencies of the world. Jahangir in his Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri speaks with justifiable pride of the innovations he made in his coinage. The zodiacal signs, portrait and literary verses in excellent calligraphy that he introduced on his coins were preceded by the ilahi coins of Akbar, which commemorate the religious ideals the emperor cherished. In contrast, Aurangzeb's omission of the Kalima on his coins is believed to be an indication of his firm devotion to Islam, as it was done in order not to defile the creed.

Mint names with honorific prefixes like Darai-Khilafat Shahjahanabad (Delhi) and dates of Issue are the other characteristic features of Mughal coinage. It is, however, to Sher Shah Suri (AD. 1540-45), whose reign was an Interlude in Mughal history, goes the credit of standardization of currency the silver coins of a specific weight i.e. tola, 178 grains = 11.2-11.6 gms which formed the basis of all the subsequent silver issues leading to the emergence of the modern rupee.

The Vijaynagar contemporaries of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughals were the only Hindu dynasty whose currency presents a rare example of a standardized issue, which later provided a model for the European and English trading companies. Particularly significant are the Vijayanagar coins with the deity of Tirupati i. e. Venkatesvara represented either singly or with his two consorts inspiring Single Swami pagodas of the Dutch and French and the Three Swami Pagodas of the English East Indian company.

Modern Indian coinage is represented by the issues of European and English trading companies and the Indian states under British rule The coins of the Indian states continue the Mughal tradition with some deviations such as the introduction of local rulers' names till they were finally absorbed Into the single currency system Introduced by the British after 1857. Exceptions to this are a few states such as the Travancore, Hyderabad, etc. Notable among the Indian state issues are those of the Mysore sultans (1772-1799AD.). Haider Ali issued 'Pagodas' depicting Hindu deities while Tipu Sultan, is known for his variety of gold coins Incorporating typical Islamic and Hindu features. His gold coins were named after the orthodox Caliphs, his silver coins after the twelve imams and copper after astronomical phenomena.
The European and English trading companies (17th-19th centuries AD.) brought with them their respective currencies such as the Dutch Stuiver, Venetian Ducat, Portuguese Cruzado, and English Angelina and Carolina. However, imitation of local coins was a common practice among the trading companies with Vijayanagar coins providing well-known prototypes. The adoption of the Mughal rupee by the trading companies and British rulers of India marked the end of independent currency systems and the beginning of a uniform currency for India.
August 1950, when the designs and the speci¢ications of coins were changed. With the adoption of the decimal system from 1st April 1957, a new era was ushered in the history of Indian coinage: rupee was divided into 100 units instead of its 64 pice. With the sudden increase in the prices of copper and nickel in 1962, a new alloy was introduced in the coinage. Since 1964 onwards commemorative coins were issued from time to time.

The museum contains lots of more interesting stuff. It is very time-consuming to talk about everything here. I am just going to add some random pictures from other sections of the museum.

If you are in Delhi. do pay a visit to the place.

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