Detail View: The AMICA Library: Railing Pillar

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Indian
Creator Dates/Places: 
Creator Name-CRT: 
India, Mathura, Kushan, late 2nd century
Railing Pillar
Title Type: 
Full View
Creation Date: 
late 2nd century
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
red Sikri sandstone
Overall: 80cm
AMICA Contributor: 
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: 
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
John L. Severance Fund
Contemporary to the Gandhara style in the north was the indigenous school of sculpture that flourished in the Ganges Valley known, after its main center, as the Mathura style. It continued earlier Maurya and Shunga traditions but remained under the control of the same Kushana dynasty that was responsible for the Gandhara style. This double-faced corner railing pillar from a Buddhist stupa provides a spectacular example of the Mathura school. It belongs to the category of madhupana (bacchanalian sculptures). Libation scenes such as this, which owe a great deal to Hellenistic influence, were popular in Kushana times. The center portion of the pillar is decorated with two scenes, each showing two young women. The first pair play the pan pipes and the clapper; one of the women in the second pair coquettishly lifts her robe, while the other balances a cup on her head. They seem to be intoxicated and dancing. On the ground is a large vase with two handles of the Hellenistic kantharos type associated with the Greek Dionysos or the Roman Bacchus, the youthful god of wine, appropriate to the libation taking place. Similar vessels of Hellenistic inspiration, including a partially broken rhyton, are also visible on the ground in the first scene. In the upper register are busts of celestial musicians among grapevine foliage, further bacchic connotations. The instruments the celestial musicians play include a lyre (kacchapi), castanets (similar to the modern North Indian manjira), and a triangular harp (trigonus). The base is decorated with two scenes set against a rock background: the first one shows a hunchbacked woman pouring a drink for a corpulent yaksha (nature spirit), and the second one probably illustrates the ogress Jataka (padakusala-manava jataka), who ate her victims. She fell in love with a handsome young brahmin, whom she chose for her husband but kept him imprisoned. Out of this relationship a bodhisattva was born who eventually rescued his father. The most unusual feature of this relief is the obvious blend of Hellenistic elements with indigenous Mathura characteristics. The costumes, the treatment of the drapery, the presence of Hellenistic vessels, and the foreign musical instruments-- not to mention the presence of the grapevine, which was cultivated only along the northern frontiers of India where the climate permitted it--all indicate strong Gandharan influence. Yet the very material of which the pillar is made, red Sikri sandstone, suggests a Mathura atelier as the workshop. Thus, one is inclined to think that it was the work of a Mathura artist familiar with Gandhara style. The unusual mingling of the two traditions can be traced to the classical subject that involves the cult of Dionysos, expressed here by voluptuous Indian bacchantes. Like Dionysos and his entourage, the Indian Kubera with his yakshas and yakshis derived from ancient folklore and essentially represented demigods of all "wet and gleaming" nature: rain, dew, sap, blood, semen, and spirituous liquor. It seems most probable that the Mathura sculptor who executed this work used Gandharan imagery in order to depict more authentically the exotic yaksha paradise far away among the snowy peaks of the northwest where grapevines flourished. S.C.
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