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The Bacchants of Mathura New Evidence of Dionysiac Yaksha Imagery From Kushan Mathura - Carter

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The Bacchants of Mathura: New Evidence of Dionysiac Yaksha Imagery from Kushan Mathura Author(s): Martha L. Carter Source: The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol. 69, No. 8 (Oct., 1982), pp. 247-257 Published by: Cleveland Museum of Art Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25159785 . Accessed: 20/05/2011 09:07Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=cma. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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The Bacchants of Mathura: New Evidence of Dionysiac Yaksha Imagery from Kushan MathuraTo theGreek historians who documented the campaigns of Alex ander theGreat inAsia, the "India" of his conquests was a re gion where the grapevine flourished, introduced, they explain ed, by the god Dionysos when he conquered India in earlier times. When the Macedonians reached a city called Nysa, Alex ander spared it in deference to its immortal founder and visited nearby shrines on the god's sacred peak, Mt. Meros.2 Dionysos had named this mountain, so itwas claimed, after the Greek word for thigh (meros) inhonor of his second birth from the thigh of Zeus.3 This name is undoubtedly aGreek corruption of its true name, Mt. Meru, well-known in Indianmythology as the fabu lous World Mountain, pillar between the earth and the heavens. On its slopes grew the laurel, ivy, and grapevine so familiar to the homesick Greeks who were allowed to linger there and to at tend bacchanalian celebrations.4 According to his biographer Philostratus, the sage Apollonius of Tyana visited India in themid-first century AD and left the fol lowing description of the worship of Dionysos there: On climbing [themountain] they found an area conse crated to Bacchus, which the god himself had planted round with laurels, encircling ground enough for a small temple, and hadmarried ivy and grapevines to the laurels and set up his own image in the center, knowing that in time the treeswould meet to form a roof, which has now become so closely woven that it lets in neither wind nor rain upon the shrine. Inside it are sickles, and baskets, and wine vats, with all their belongings, made of gold and silver, and sacred toBacchus as god of the vintage. The statue of Bacchus shows him as an Indian lad, carved inwhite stone, and when he begins his or gies he shakes themountain, and the towns set about its foot join in the revelry.5 So too, itwould seem thatmembers of thewine god's cortege have been transformed into voluptuous Indian bacchantes in this remarkable relief acquired some time ago by The Cleveland Mu seum of Art (Cover and Figure 1). This work takes the form of a carved railing pillar of mottled Sikri sandstone approximately 80 centimeters inheight, in this case a corner post of a type known to


2. Detail,

right face central


of Figure


1. Railing Pillar. Cover and Figure inches (80 cm.). India, Sikri sandstone, H. 31-1/2 late second century AD. Mathura, Kushan Period, John L. Severance Fund. CMA 77.34 Purchase,

OF ART (ISSN MUSEUM THE BULLETIN OF THE CLEVELAND 0009-8841), Volume LXIX, Number 8, October 1982. Published monthly, ex cept July and August, by The Cleveland Museum of Art. Subscriptions: $8.00 per year for Museum members; $10.00 per year for non-members. Single copies: $1.00. Copyright 1982 by The Cleveland Museum of Art. Postmaster send address changes to CMA Bulletin 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio 44106. Second-class postage paid at Cleveland, Ohio. Museum photography by Nicholas Hlobeczy; design by Merald E. Wrolstad.


Figure 3. Detail, right face upper portionof Figure 1.



Detail, right face, lower portionof Figure 1.



5. Detail,

left face central


of Figure


pas. Although its exact provenance is unknown, its red speckled stone strongly suggests the region of ancientMathura some fifty miles south of Delhi.6 The character of the relief presents an unusual blend of stock Hellenistic elements combined with the ripe, rounded volumes of early Indian sculpture of the Mathuran School. The period to which it belongs can only be that of theKushan Empire which flourished between the first and third centuries AD and, at its height, stretched from theOxus to theGanges. This dynasty, of Central Asian origin, followed the Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms and those of earlier Central Asian Scythians and Par thians in the northwest borderlands and Afghanistan, as well as native Indian states in the Punjab, to unite a diverse population in an era of increased trade and commercial prosperity.7 Under the alien but culturally eclectic Kushans, Buddhism was encouraged to thrive, gaining many new adherents from a non-Brahmanical, ethnically heterogeneous merchant class. At this time also, nu merous developments took place which served to broaden the base of Buddhism to transform it into a trulypopular internation al faith. So too, its visual imagery mirrored changes within. A Buddha image was created where only symbols of his presence had been allowed before.8 The concept of the Bodhisattva, the active Buddha deity offering salvation, was developed along with an ever widening pantheon of supporting lesser deities gar nered from rich sources inpopular folk religon. It is to this latter class thatourMathuran bacchantes belong. The right face of the pillar (Figure 2) shows a pair of half draped female revelers. One in a typically Hellenistic three- : quarter back view holds her robe coquettishly in front of her; her partner carries a festive palm branch while unsteadily balancing a cup on her head, as if giddy from the effects of its contents. Be tween them on the ground stands a large vessel resembling a Greek kantharos, the vessel especially associated with Dionysos. Above the ladies we see half-figures of musicians (Figure 3), one with castanets similar to themodern manjira of northern India, while the other plays a triangular harp known as a trigonus, an ancientNear Eastern instrument common inHellen izedAsia.9 As if to underscore the bacchanalian implications of the scene, the background above them is filled with growing grapevines. The lower segment of the pillar's face (Figure 4) is framed by a rocky landscape and shows a nude horse-headed fe male kneeling as if in supplication before a boy clad in a leaf loin cloth and clutching an axe. On the adjoining side of the pillar (Figure 5) we find twomore female revelers, one again seen from the back in three-quarter

have surrounding Buddhist early belonged to stonerailings stu-; -,< :




6. Detail,

left face upper portion

of Figure


Railing. Figure 8. Section of Monolithic Red mottled standstone, H. 21 inches (53.3 cm.). second century AD. Kushan Period, Mathura, from the J. H. Wade Fund, CMA 43.71 Purchase


7. Detail,

left face

lower portion

of Figure


view, but here playing pan pipes, another instrument recalling Greek prototypes but well documented in India from at least the first century BC.10 The second bacchante is unfortunately not well preserved, but again is shown frontally with one arm raised holding a clapper, perhaps similar to the kartal still used to ac company dancing in Orissa."I Both figures are shown amid growing vine stalks. A ewer, a large two-handled cup, and an animal-headed types common in Hellenistic rhyton-all Asia-are shown at their feet.12Above them (Figure 6) twomore female musicians play a typicalGreek lyre and a form of Indian lute known as a kacchapi, which was probably a very early im port from Iran or Central Asia.13 In the rocky landscape below (Figure 7), a hunchbacked female ladles out a drink from a vat similar to a kantharos into a cup held by a corpulent, curly haired, large-headed being who holds an unidentifiable object in his left hand. The total effect of this sculpture is that of a strongly Helleniz ing treatment of style and form that is basically Mathuran. It is very likely the creation of an Indian sculptor of theMathuran School during theKushan era, but one who, for specific reasons, had chosen non-Mathuran elements in terms of pose, costume, drapery treatment, and proportion, while additionally emphasiz ing these exotic elements with foreign musical instruments, ves sel forms, and above all the grapevine itself, which was never in digenous toGreater India but which was found only on itsnorth west frontiers inGandhara, Swat, Kashmir, and the valleys of theHindu Kush.14 Such Graeco-Roman feature

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