Mathura is a bustling city in Uttar Pradesh in present day India. The region has a long history of human occupation. Great art has been created there under different patronages by different dynasties who ruled the area from ancient times. This genre of art which grew around the town of Mathura, an important city in central northern India since Mauryan times and which has been differently known as Madhura, Madhupuri, Madhuban and Mathula. It is believed that the demon Madhu is the founder of the city. His son lost it to Shatrughna, brother of Lord Rama. Mathura is the birthplace of Lord Krishna and has been a centre for art, religion and literature. It is debated that the first image of Lord Buddha was created here. Lord Buddha visited Mathura twice. and Buddhism flourished here.
Standing Buddha, Mathura, India, 1st century AD, Sikri sandstone – Fitchburg Art Museum, U.S.A
Around 70 B.C the Indo-Greeks occupied this area for a century, while the Sunga dynasty stayed eastward of Mathura. The art which developed around the region started with sculptures of the yakshas,yakshis; earthly divine beings dating to 2nd-1st century B.C during the Mauryan rule. These sculptures showed Greek influence. The Indo-Scythian rule happened under the northern satraps under Rajuvula who had taken over from the Mitra dynasty which had come to power around 70 B.C. The Rajuvula dynasty recorded their events on the Mathura lion capital. The capital has two lions and the Buddhist triratna symbol at the centre within a flame palmette, which is again Hellenistic in character. The art of Mathura is a blend of Indian art of Bharhut and Sanchi and Gandhara art with the use of Hellenistic motifs. The images of yakshas, yakshis, nagas, Bodhisattvas and Lord Buddha, several forms of Tirthankaras and the Hindu pantheon of Gods and Goddesses have contributed to this art school. Pre-Mauryan burnt clay or terracotta figurines from 4th century B.C have been found of the Mother Goddess. One can find amorous couples from the 2nd to 1st century.
The Mathura lion capital, British Museum, London.
During Mauryan times folk art representations like huge yakshas, yakshis, Kubera figures have been found, though not very refined in form.The Sunga period sculptures were not very refined too with a lack of emotion on the face, heavy ornamentation, flat features, fluffy one-sided turban with a crest are seen. Basement stones, pillars, gateways with both secular and religious themes are found. The worship of the Buddha are denoted by sacred symbols only.
Emperor Kaniska I of the Kushana dynasty issued the first known representation of Lord Buddha on a coin. He also depicted Maitreyi Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha. Mathura art incorporated many Hellenistic elements like curly hair, folded garment, covering of only one shoulder given India’s climate Gandhara influence on the art is also seen especially in the Bacchanalian scenes, statue of Heracles strangling the lion. From the Kusana period focus was on stone sculpting, during 1st century to 3rd century wherein the range grew and artists mingled with foreigners and all religions flourished together. Lord Buddha is the human form was generated in stone during the Kushana empire; drapery was seen having folds, the women had beautiful expressions on their faces. The Jataka stories were also being depicted during the time.
Sibi Jataka, 2nd century, Mathura, Indian Museum, Kolkata.
The art of Mathura has seen many upheavals along with political currents. Many objects and sculptures have been found in and around the region with archaeologists like Alexander Cunningham and F.S Growse recovering many during excavations. The Chinese traveller Fa-Hien, came to Mathura in 4th century A.D and mentions twenty monasteries along both sides of the river Yamuna. They are now seen in the form of mounds; Kankali Tila, Saptarsi Tila, Jail Tila among others.
Bodhisattva, 2nd century, Mathura, Musee Guimet, Paris.
The Hindu art at Mathura started to develop from the 1st century to 2nd century B.C. The Hindu deities were well represented. Also explicit and stylised images of women. Yaksha worship was an ancient cult and an inscribed one has been found at Parkham village of Mathura. The Gupta rule between 325 AD to about 600 A.D saw the finest sculptures produced with transparent drapery, love and beauty got depicted, light ornaments, straight nose, curved eyebrows and thick lips were seen. From the 7th century, a general decline happened with the art of Mathura.
Vishnu statue from Mathura, 5th century, Gupta period.,Uttar Pradesh State Museum, Lucknow.
Manibhadra, ”yaksha” from Parkham, 3rd to 2nd century, Mathura.
Frieze with Worshippers from Mathura, Uttar Predesh, India, c. 150 A.D, sandstone, Norton Simon Museum, California, U.S.A
- Masterpieces of Mathura Museum/Jitendra Kumar, New Delhi : Sundeep Prakashan, 2002.
- Images from Wikimedia Commons