Hidden treasures


There was a time when the school of art of Kathmandu Valley was taught to be the only art tradition in Nepal. When Kapilavastu and Lumbini were discovered a century ago, stray examples of some sculptures were unearthed. However, one could hardly take these sculptures as products of a particular art tradition developed locally.

But an art centre had developed in the kingdom of Tirhut with its capital at Simraungadh now in Bara district during the twelfth-thirteenth centuries. Sculptural products from this centre show a strong influence of a school of art other than that of Kathmandu Valley. Some recently described/published examples from different Tarai districts of the Lumbini zone have substantiated this view. (Madhuparka 28:8;19-22; The Rising Nepal, June 4, 2007).

In the course of archaeological explorations in Nawalparasi and Rupandehi, a team of teachers and MA students of TU came accross a number of sculptures in addition to architraves, stone blocks with molding and beautifully carved figures apparently used in the outer wall of temples and parts of pinnacles laying in roadsides, farms, residence and cowsheds. These pieces of art have not attracted the attention of the state authority concerned. As a result they are not yet recorded, documented and preserved. However, some artifacts from Sainamaina (8 km west of Butwal) have been kept in the courtyard of the office of the Lumbini Development Trust for safety.

It is not that these sites are unknown. Butwal and Parasi were explored almost a century ago by PC Mukherjee (1899) and Dr W Hoey (l905) in search of Lumbini and Ramagam.

The idol of Padmapani was reported for the first time from Sainamaina, Parroha VDC in The Rising Nepal on June 21, 2007. This was found on the banks of a nearby river, according to a local man. It has been kept under a tree near Rani Kunwa, Sainamaina for worshipping.

This is a high relief of 46”x28” of a standing male deity (42”x 16”) flanked by a number of subsidiary male and female figures of smaller sizes. The main deity stands at ease turning his neck and waist. He wears a crown, a finely folded dhoti and heavy ornaments in his ears, neck and upper arms. His lower arms, however, are broken and lost. The traces of a full blown lotus can be detected at the level of his left ear.

All this is the characteristic features of Bodhisattva Padmapani also called Avalokiteshvara, who is a popular Buddhist deity in Nepal.

The second example comes from a recently built temple at Bhavanipur, Kerbani VDC in Rupandehi district. Some people identify this place with Devadaha, the ancient city of the time of Lord Buddha. This is an icon of Surya standing erect on his chariot drawn by seven horses that can be seen below his feet. His right arm and left hand, however, have been broken and lost. His upturned left arm and the two full blown lotuses at the level of his cheeks on both sides suggest he held lotuses with his hands. He wears a dhoti, a crown, earrings, bangles, a double necklace and a long sacred thread or yajnopavita. The god is accompanied by tiny subsidiary figures of his wives, deities and male and female attendants.

The slender and slightly elongated bodies and their poise, the excessive use of ornaments, the symmetrical compositions, the inclusion of mythological creatures such as the shardula and makara and the presence of pilaster, arrangement of figures are some of the main features of the sculptures of these regions. All this lead one to think of an art tradition other than that of Kathmandu Valley. Most of these characteristics can be compared with that of the eastern Indian art tradition of eleventh-twelfth centuries under the Pala and Sena rule in Bengal and Bihar. These examples of Nepal Tarai however, cannot be given such an early date. The inordinately bent body of Padmapani and the arrangements of horses in the Surya’s icon can be described as a product of a late period when the tradition was followed but in a mechanical way.

A question arises on how and when did the trend enter these regions of Nepal. There is no doubt Tirhut adopted the style during the eleventh-twelfth centuries that

developed in eastern India. The political history of these regions is little known. It is not known whether these regions were included in Tirhut. However, the capital was not very far from these regions.

The founder of Tirhut is believed to have come from Karnata, a native of the founder of the Sena dynasty in Bengal and Bihar.

The Senas succeeded the Palas there.

(Dr Regmi is a professor of Culture in TU)