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The History - Art forms - Architecture

The History

The Art of Nepal with a few exception is based on the religious themes taken from Buddhism and Hinduism. An understanding of Nepalese, Art. therefore, requires a knowledge of these two religions, their nature, idiosyncrasies and development.

The spread of Hinduism and Buddhism from the Indian subcontinent brought with it the strong influence along with. Nevertheless, Nepalese Art in time developed characteristics of its own. The reasons lay in the Nepal's geographic location and the extraordinary ingenuity of Nepalese Artists. specially the Newars-the original inhabi tents of the Kathmandu valley.

In fact, Nepal's history of Art has been influenced since earliest times by the Newars. They carried their craft and Artistic skill beyond the borders of Nepal to Tibet and China as well. The renowned Artist and architect, Arniko (1245-1306 A.D.), who came from Patan, worked in Lhasa and Peking on the commission of the emperor of China, Kubilai Khan.

The Art history of Nepal is divided into five major period prior to the beginning of Gorkha dynasty.

Pre-Licchavi Art until 200.A.D.
Licchavi Art 200 to 800
The transitional period 800 to1200
Early Malla Art 1200 to 1400
Late Malla Art 1400 to 1768

Only a few examples of Pre Licchavi Art have been found. Some terra- cotta figures from the period indicate the high - quality Artistic workmanship was already in existence. A systematic research should reveal more evidence of this period.

The Licchavi period has left us hundreds of stone sculptures which bear witness to the deep Artistic achievement and talent of the people of the time. The sculptures demonstrate not only their deep religious roots but also the harmonies and integration of the two religions. Hinduism and Buddhism in nepalart1.jpg (9172 bytes)Nepal. Most of the figure show Vishnu in his different incarnations, (Shiva embracing his consort Parvati), Lokeswara, the munificent Bodhisattva and other different manifestations of Lord Buddha. The features of the sculptures are the Pre-classical, well - formed bodies and limbs, Artistically fashioned head dresses, figures depicted hips or breasts. Embellishment and the polished stone - work are also typical characteristic of this period. The records provided by the Chinese travellers to Nepal reveal about metal- working skill during Licchavis. Among other things, it tell us that King Narendra Deva wore a tiny golden figure of Buddha at his waist. The works in bronze, copper and gold reached the high skill of the Licchavi craftsmen.

Inscriptions of the time mention that copper and silver coins were minted in Nepal. However only some examples in copper have been found and these are now on display in the Nepale National Museum. The few excavations under taken in the Kathmandu valley have also brought to light many terra-cotta products of the Licchavi period.

Ancient documents testify that the Art of painting also played an important part in the Artistic life of the time. With the exception of a few painted wooden book cover. other examples are yet to be indentified. Finely executed illustrated manuscripts and pictures on book bindings, depicting the various forms of the deities of both religions, have been preserved from the period of transition. The typical features of the paintings of the period reveal that except the central character, other figures are mostly depicted in profile. The head dresses, crowns and other ornaments are portrayed with a finer sensitivity than in the Licchavi period.

The sculptures of the transitional period can be clearly differentiated from their predecessors. For example, the reliefs of Shiva and Parvati in Pashupatinath can be compared with that of the Kumbeshvar temple in Patan. Or the figure of the sun god Surya in Saugal Tole in Patan can be compared with that in Thapathhiti, in Patan. The Licchavi sculptors have powerfully executed with a simplicity and severity of line. Those of the transitional period are sumptuous in their detail, the stress on motion and the figures displaying a subtle grace. Few bronze sculptures discovered bear remarkable similarity of execution.

The works of Art of the early Malla period discovered are mainly of stone or metal depicting numerous deities of both religions. The figures of the period take on a far more elegant form and the ornamentation. It shows the influence of Tantrism on the rise. Worship of the Sun and Moon is expressed in a variety of sculptures. The image of Vishnu and Garuda are depicted on a disc representing the sun. Gold and bronze statues are embellished with semi precious stones.

Taken as a whole, Nepalese Art reached its zenith during the lateMalla period. Bronze work made remarkable progress especially because of the flourishing trade in Nepalese Art products carried on with neighboring Tibet. Trade routes traversed difficult terrain and took several weeks but it continued to Vorish. Figures in bronze or other metals which were hollow inside remained very popular inside Nepal and Tibet. Sculptures in stone therefore, declined and could not display the quality of the Licchavi period. There are, however, some well known exceptions. The figures of Narsimha and Hanuman in front of the royal Palace in Bhaktapur, the stone image of Garuda in Hanuman Dhoka, the stone window in the Shiva - Pravati temple, in Kathmandu, the royal bath in Sundari Chowk in Patan are excellent examples of stone works of Malla period. These works of Art all date from the17th end 18th centuries.

Fine examples of metal work specially bronze dating to the late Malla period are the Buddha in Hiranya Varna Mahavihar monastery and the gilted figure of Garuda in front of the Krishna temple in Patan. Other examples of the period are the statue of King Bhupatindra Malla and the Golden gate in Bhaktapur.

Wood-carvings, too, reached its classical peak during the late Malla period. Many intricately carved windows of the private houses, palaces, temples and the numerous tympanas in the Kathmandu valley are the fine examples of the achievements in wood works. The period also witness the count less roof struts on pagodas and other edifices, richly decorated with wood splendid carvings. Many excellent examples of wood works are also preserved in the museums of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The wood used for these carvings are Michaelia excelsis and shores robusta-both found in the vicinity of Kathmandu.

This period also produced the finest Nepalese examples of paintings specially the, Paubhaspainted scrolls, frescoes or the wall paintings from the late Malla period the famous frescoes are to be found in the temple of the Kumari in Kathmandu, Bagh Bhairava temple in Kirtipur and in the Durga temple in Panauti. The National Museum in Kathmandu has a good collection of many miniature paintings on manuscripts, wooden book covers and jewellry boxes.

Work in ivory also made its first appearance during this period and the examples that have been discovered display a high quality of Artistic skill. They include a small hand mirror with a figure of Vishnu,- flanked by lakshmi and Garuda carved on the handle. A figure of Bhringi, an attendant beating a drum, several book covers and an ivory window in the ancient royal palace of Kathmandu are also good examples of the period. Terra-cotta works of the period are Mahabauddha temple in Patan, the figure of Ananta Narayan in Pashupatinath, and some statues of animals in the courtyard of Kumari.

Another important aspect of Nepalese Art from this period are the strong influence of Tantrism sculptures. Paintings of the late Malla period are depicted with symbolic figures and emblems evidenced the strong influence of Tantrism. Tantrism displays a true religious harmony and tolerance elaborate and Artistic ornamentation. Decorative floral motifs and the frequent portrayal of Mongoloid faces are also the other features of Tantrism.

The greatest achievements of the late Malla period lie in the field of architecture. The majority of pagodas, shrines, temples, and mediavel palaces in the Kathmandu more either mode or renovated during this period.


Art forms

In conclusion, a few comments on the Art forms in Nepal Stone Sculpture, bronze - casting, terra cotta sculpture and architecture, painting & temple construction.

Stone-sculpture in Nepal can be traced back to the middle of the 3rd century B.C. The Ashokan Pillar in Lumbini is the earliest monument. The relief of the Vishnu Vikrantamurti in Pashupatinath is one of the earliest dated stone sculptures found in Nepal. The stone image of Vishnu Narayan on a bed of snakes in Budhanilkantha and the standings Buddha in Swayambhunath are also works from the period between the 8th and 10th centuries. The sculptors worked mainly in sandstone, granite and limestone. In order to protect sandstone sculptures from the ravages of the weather, a special technique was evolved over the years. The figures were covered with a thin film of liquid metal, left to cool and then given a highly - polished finish.

Bronze Casting- In ancient Nepal, the Licchavis already produced attractively decorated copper coins, bronze gargoyles with gift crocodile heads provided an unusual attraction in the royal palace. The Pala school in India (Pale dystany in Bihar and Bengal, 8th -12th centuries) also influenced Nepalese Art which, developed a original form and reached a high standard of Artistic achievement in the 15th century.

For the most part, the figure portray deities of the Buddhist Pantheon. The Buddhist deities of Tantric origin are most often cast in bronze. The imageof Hevajna, Samvara and the various shaktis (The female equivalents of the gods are some of the example. All these figures were produced for the ritual services but were also sent to Tibetan market. Solid or hollow cast bronze figures were and still are produced by means of the cire- perduce (or last-wax) technique. Hollow casting is usually used for large works of Art to save metal and minimize the weight of the statue. To make the cast, a core of clay is first produced and it is covered with a uniform layer of wax which is carefully modeled. Two coats of clay one fine and the other cares are then applied Several air and casting holes are mode before the figure is placed in a special over.

nepalart2.jpg (9646 bytes)The wax flowsout through the holes and the clay becomes firm enough to take the liquid bronze poured through the space left by the wax. Special care is taken to see that the core and the mould remain aligned. Solid casting is less complicated and is normally used for small figures. The process is similar except that a compact wax figure without a core is used. In both processes the mould can only be used once. The finished product was often gilded and sometimes studded with semiprecious stones like corals, garnets and turquoises.

Another highly developed method of producing Art work in metal was the use of hammered sheet copper. Fine examples of this method are the Golden Gate in Bhaktapur and the Jamuna state in Mul Chowk Patan.

Terra-cotta sculpture and architecture clay and loess have been excellent, economical materials for the production of a great variety of sculptures for thousand of years. During excavation work in the townships of. Tilaurakot, Banjarahi and Kudan in Terai, terra-cotta figures from the 3rd to 1st centuries B.C. were found.

Apart from various sculptures in the museums of the three forums royal cities, the most beautiful terra-cotta works of Art are the larger than life figure of Ananta Narayan (Vishnu) in Pashupatinath and the Mahabauddha temple in Patan.

Painting :- The oldest preserved Nepalese paintings date from the 10th and 11th centuries A.D. These painted manuscript covers and the various manuscript illustrations display a high level of Artistic skill. They are mostly miniatures of the different manifestations of Shiva, the incarnations of Vishnu, and many deities of the Buddhist pantheon. The colours have weathered the centuries well and still retain the original brilliance. The favorite colours of the Nepalese painters were yellow, white, indigo, lamp black, green and vermilion, The paints were made from plants earth and minerals. The use of natural pigments by the Nepalese continued till the 1 9th century. Gold was often used for crowns and special ornamentation.

After the 1 3th century, many 'Paubhas' - the painted scrolls were painted and they are mostly kept in temples and shrines. They are primarily painted as objects of spiritual and religious inspiration displayed on certain occasions only.

Various themes are portrayed in the portrayed in the 'paubhas'. The Newars in the kathmandu valley observe a certain fistula when a member of the family attends the age of 77 or 99. During the celebration the elderly person man or woman is seated in a carriage and pulled through the stoniest by
descend dants and relatives. To honor this person, it is customary to paint a 'Paubha.'

In such a 'Paubha' the domestic deity is painted as the central figure and heveath if the portrayal of the festival and its participants are depicted. Paubhas are also painted in memory of the departed family members of the Buddhism communities in Nepal and Tibet. A large number of the painted
scrolls have legendary or historical themes and portray the life story of Buddha, the heroic deeds of Rama, Krishna and other gods, famous gurus, great lames, and the founders of various sect 'Paubhas' can also provide a Vistual aid to meditation and contain mandalas with varying geometrical designs.

The mandala stands for the comas - the sanctified area of the great mystery in the center of which the domain of the gods is to be found. In some paintings spiritual world is revealed. Such Paubhas are dominated by countless Buddha and Bodhisatlvas depicted together with their female counterparts often accompanied by benign and fierce deities, and mythical figures Temple construction. The Kathmandu valley has been known since time immemorial as the dwelling place not only of man but also of the gods. As the time passably population of the valley grew, so the number of their gods remarked that this is why there are more temples than houses in the valley and more gods than people.



The pagoda style of construction is most probably a creation of Nepalese architecture. Chinese travelers who visit Nepal in 7th century have left us their impressions in the ancient documents. They speak of magnificent palaces and temples of several stories and many roofs built one above the other. Therefore it could be easily concluded that buildings in the pagoda style were already in existence at that time.

Their descriptions and the praise of the architecture indicate that the Chinese were totally unacquainted with this style of building and lend weight to the belief that the pagoda originated in Nepal and later spread to the other parts of Asia.

It is believed that the ancient builders were motivated more by a desire for beauty and splendor that by utilitarian consideration. The style was developed in the first centuries of the Christian calendar and reached its full flowering in the middle Ages.

Temples are usually two-storeyed and only seldom rise to a height of five storeyes as in Kumbhesvar Mandir in Patan or the Nyatapola in Bhaktapur. The roofs are of copper and often gilded or covered with tiles. A number of small bells are affixed to the edges and tinkle when moved by the very gentlest of breezes. A typical example of the five-storeyed temple of Nyatapola. The Nepalese Art of wood- carving achieved its finest expression in these countless roof struts of such pagoda style temple.

nepalart3.jpg (10276 bytes)Most often the temples are decorated with the images of both Hindu and Buddhist pantheon added with dragons, mythical figures and erotic cameos. The ground floor of the pagoda is considered the abode of the god for whom the temple was built. Only a few instances are available where the Sanctum - Sanctorum of the deity is found on the upper floors of a temple.

Shikhara style temples were also quite popular during the period. The style is believed to have been in the Indian plains. It is primarily a stone and brick construction. The world Shikhara means a mountain peak and thus it indicates to a certain extent the shape of the temple. The finest and best known construction in this style in Nepal is the Krishna Mandir in Patan, built temple stands on a three - tiered platform and has three open verandas, each smaller than the one below and supported by pillars. The stone relief on all sides of the building depict motifs from the two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata .

Another important form of Buddhist structure in Nepal is 'Stupas'. Although the evolution of stupa is developed as a burial mound as in the ancient tradition of India, the Nepalese stupas are primarily a place of worship since time immemorial. Popular stupas Swoyambhunath in the west and the
Bouddhanath in the east of Kathmandu are built during the period of Licchavi period. The primary elements of a stupas are the plinth or the pedestal upon which it stand a dome or mound and a multistaged finial or spire. The pinnacle consists of a three elements; a cube like base called 'Harmika' -where in each side all seeing eyes of pre-mordial Buddha are painted; a tapering 13 section rings and a crowning parasol. And in each compass point of the dome form out of five of celestial Buddhas like Aksobhaya, Ratnasambhava, Amtitabh and Amongsiddhi are enshrined (metal/stone images) and the first Buddha' Vairochana is considered within the dome (Garbha) and is often represented in the south east.


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