Artefacts of Harappan civilisation
An illustrated catalogue of stone sculptures, bronze figurines, jewellery, glyptic art, terracotta, and pottery
HARAPPAN ART: Deo Prakash Sharma; Sharada Publishing House, 2094/165, Ganeshpura, Tri Nagar, Delhi-110035. Rs. 3900.
After an introduction to the Harappan civilisation in this book Sharma discusses Harappan art under the rubrics of stone sculpture, bronze figurines, jewellery, glyptic, terracotta figurines, and pottery. All categories are profusely illustrated (some items like the “double head” from Kalibangan being shown in no less than five photographs in different parts of the book) with material from the National Museums of Karachi and Delhi, from the Islamabad and Boston
museums, and from collections from different excavated sites with the Pakistan Department of Archaeology and the Archaeological Survey of India. For this reason alone, this is an important book.
Neither the author nor the publisher has cared to remove repetitions, misspelt words and site names, and incorrect citations from the text and the captions. Does our past glory shine more brightly when we cloak it in present-day indifference? The forte of the book is the quantum of illustrations it offers—even if there are, quite unnecessarily, plates on Cambay, which has by now turned out to be an embarrassment rather than a find, and photographs with low resolution and gaudy backdrops (Plates 66, 69, 70, 71) which could have been dropped too.
Many of the other illustrations are, however, clear and immensely useful. There are, for instance, two close-ups of the Dancing Girl from the Karachi Museum (pp. 108-9): details such as the clasp of her neck ornament at the back of the neck, and the hair are a delight to drool over. I would go so far as to say that this girl comes truly alive only when we have had a chance to see her up close, in Figure 87 of this book. There is also an illustration (Plate 83) of a male in action in bronze: an instance of Harappan art that is rarely illustrated. So too, we get to see the items of the hoard from Mandi, and an unusually clear image of the seal impression that shows a man attack a bull with a spear, his foot on the animal’s head (Plate 115).
As we get to see, amongst the terracotta, the “mother goddesses” of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in juxtaposition to the figurines from Banawali and Dholavira, it becomes clear that the peculiar forms of the Indus plains sites have no counterpart (with one possible exception) in Haryana or Kutch. There thus appear to be different forms of expression, or else different subjects, even if the material is the same and is handled with the same elementary techniques. It was also a treat to observe the various details with which the bull, with or without hump, is modelled in the Harappan world.
The text is largely in the form of a catalogue. Wider aspects of artistic production in the urban world of the Harappans, thus, find no place. I wish the author had expanded on the enigma of the terracotta having, on the whole, “an unexplained crudeness, clumsiness, and seeming lack of creativity” and on the limited use of moulds for clay sculpture. There is a welcome — and thorough — appendix on the un-stratified material from Mandi, but a few other details would have been welcome. For instance, it needs to be clearly stated that the magnificent bronzes of Daimabad were not found in the prehistoric mound, much less in a stratified context, so that any similarities we may see in the faces of the charioteer and the “dancing girl” are only fortuitous.
Not unexpectedly, there is a reference to the Harappan horse. One is thankful that Plate 208 is so good that it establishes the fact that only an overactive imagination can read this terracotta as the image of a “horse”! Similarly the reference to “sindur” on the foreheads of terracotta images only reveals that Indian archaeology has, for a century, stayed studiously away from anthropology (the systematic study of culture, material, religious, and social), so that the only interpretative mode is to make connections between the then and the now, in the quest for a spurious “Indian” essence, quite unmindful of the fact that such a notion comes from 19th-century Orientalism. In order to read finds from excavations of early sites, we need to be well-informed on kinship systems, on forms of political organisation other than our own, and on modes of exchange outside the market system. The “continuity of tradition” approach, on the other hand, requires little scholarship and has an appeal to the lowest common denominator.
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