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Archaeology

Ganga

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Ganga
5th century A.D. (Gupta Period)

Place of Origin: Ahichchhatra, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh
Materials: Terracotta
Dimensions: Ht: 172 L: 74 W:40 cm.
Acc. No. L.2

This statue, simply a miracle in sculptural art: a large size image, even a rock not easily yielding such massive form, moulded out of simple clay, a breach, crack or even a clay's layer not betrayed when cast or baked, represents the river goddess Ganga, the parasol holding maid attending on her, and her mount 'makara' she rides on. One of the rare treasures of art this terracotta image of the river goddess has been cast using the same image-idiom as defines the doorjambs of Hindu temples assigned to Gupta period as also thereafter. Otherwise plain without a tower, or walls with niches or offsets, the sculptures of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna comprised the only sculptural element that the Gupta architects incorporated in their temples.

Recovered in excavation from Ahichchhatra, the ancient Ahi-kshetra, capital of Northern Panchala, one of the Janapadas that played a vital role in the Mahabharata, the sculpture of the river goddess is contended to be the part of a Shiva temple, perhaps a contention born of myths that perceive Ganga's links with Shiva right since the river's descent on the earth. Maybe, the temple was brick-structured like those at Bhitargaon from around the same period and this terracotta statue along with the statue of the river goddess Yamuna, also recovered from the site, defined its entrance. Significantly, excavations of the site have revealed a number of brick-structures, the characteristic feature of the region and the era, and thus the temple, these statues were recovered from, might quite possibly have been a brick temple now completely washed. As temple deities both Ganga and Yamuna icons were believed to purify and enlighten the devotees' minds.

In this terracotta statue the river goddess has been represented as an elegantly bejeweled and clad youthful goddess abounding in rare beauty. She is standing on the figure of a 'makara' - crocodile, that the mythical tradition identifies as her vahana - mount, the symbol of untamed energy. The Goddess is wearing an upper garment : a simple piece of cloth partly covering her breasts known as 'stanotariya' or 'stana-pata' - breast-band, and a tight-fitting skirt - chandataka. She is carrying a water pot, one of Ganga's other attributes. The graceful posture and the relatively modest ornamentation reflect the standard convention of the period. The attending maid is almost alike costumed and bejeweled, and her figure, identically gesticulated. The sculpture represents the peak of great creativity, technical perfection and refinement of Indian terracotta art around the late 5th century.

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