North Indian / Railing Pillar with a Woman Beneath a Tree (Shalabhanjika) / Kushan period, 2nd centuryNorth Indian
Railing Pillar with a Woman Beneath a Tree (Shalabhanjika)
Kushan period, 2nd century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Indian
Creator Dates/Places: North Indian
Creator Active Place: North Indian
Creator Name-CRT: North Indian
Title: Railing Pillar with a Woman Beneath a Tree (Shalabhanjika)
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 100
Creation End Date: 199
Creation Date: Kushan period, 2nd century
Creation Place: India, Uttar Pradesh, Mathura area
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: sandstone
Dimensions: H. 30 3/4 in. (78.1 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.001
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: Most of the earliest known images of Buddhas and other Buddhist deities were produced in northwest India during the Kushan period, about six hundred years after the religion was founded. The Kushans, descendants of nomads from various parts of Central Asia, had settled in parts of Bactria to the northwest of India and ultimately used this stronghold to form an empire that included eastern Parthia, the Kabul Valley, the Gandhara region of present-day Pakistan, and parts of Kashmir and northern India. Although the exact dates of the Kushan period remain controversial, it is now generally agreed that the 1st through 3rd centuries CE encompass the height of their rule.

There were two major centers of Kushan culture, each with its distinctive style: art from the region of Gandhara shows the impact of Hellenistic and Roman sculpture, owing in part to the sustained effect of Alexander the Great in that part of the world, while art from the city of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh displays a traditional Indian aesthetic. Whereas Gandharan art had a strong influence on early Buddhist art in Central Asia and is also briefly reflected in the earliest Chinese Buddhist material, Mathuran art had a more profound impact on the development of Buddhist art in India and Southeast Asia.

The distinctive red color of this sandstone sculpture of a woman standing beneath a tree is typical of works made in or near the city of Mathura. The proportions of the woman's figure, in particular her full breasts and hips, her physiognomy, her active pose, and the scantiness of her drapery, are characteristic of sculpture from Mathura, where Western art exerted little influence. Fertility figures such as this one play an important role in Indian art. They are among the first images known from India, and beautiful, young, fertile women are found in the religious art of all regions of India from all periods. Images such as this are often called shalabhanjikas, although other terms are also used. In general, a shalabhanjika consists of a tree and a woman, and this motif has been depicted in endless variations. The woman's youth, her voluptuous figure, and her elaborate hairstyle and jewelry characterize shalabhanjika motifs, which represent the eternal procreative forces of nature. The fertility implicit in this type is reiterated by the pose of the figure, as she touches the trunk of the tree with her left foot, a posture that is called dohada. This is a reference to an ancient Indian belief that the touch of a woman can cause a tree to burst into bloom--just as flowers and fruit have burgeoned in the tree above this woman's head.

This example of a shalabhanjika decorates a pillar that was once part of a circular railing used to create a sacred space around a monument such as a stupa, or a religious symbol such as a throne or a tree. The indentations on the sides of the pillar indicate where railings would originally have been inserted. The earliest Indian stupas and other objects of worship were generally undecorated, and most of the imagery associated with these sites are carvings on the railings and pillars that surrounded them. This figure holds a long object, probably an expensive cloth, to offer to the deity worshipped at the sacred space within. Sacred sites and shalabhanjikas were common to all of the religions practiced in Mathura, and it is not certain whether this railing pillar was from a Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain site.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 7.
Related Document Description: Czuma, Stanislaw J. Kushan Sculpture: Images from Early India. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 12, 13, 94, 95.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. New York: Asia Society, 1970, pp. 13, 30.
Related Document Description: Newman, Richard. The Stone Sculpture of India: A Study of the Materials Used by Indian Sculptors from ca. 2nd Century B.C. to the 16th Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 1984, pp. 43, 52-53, 76, 84.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 42, 43.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 37, 118.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.001
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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