Taming of the elephant
It is a work of art that fascinates, and the story of the taming of a fierce elephant. An analysis that looks at the point of circumlocation.
Picture 1 -- Subjugation of Nalagiri, Amaravathi-Satavahana art, Third period, c.a. 150 A.D.
THIS is an analytical appreciation of the monumental embossed sculptural work/relief found in the artistry of Amaravathy during the historical period of Sathavahanar (A.D. 150). It is indeed an impassioned expression of our ancestors who were delighted even by the sight of a lotus in blossom.
This is the story.
Nalagiri Buddha's Anecdote.
(Sources: Vinaya Paththaka Kulavahu chapter).
Assisted by King Ajatha Sathru, Devadatha, the ancestral foe of Gouthama Buddha conspires to assassinate Buddha. As planned, Buddha enters the City to attend a feast. An elephant, trained in combat, breaks into the Rajagraha, Market Street, frightening the public and killing passers-by. Disciples of the Buddha advise him not to venture into the street. But Nalagiri, the rampaging elephant, surrenders before the Buddha.
The essence of stories
Generally, stories are expressions/experiences of the teller and the listener. It is like an anecdote based on an incidence happened between a complainant and a respondent. The time-gap becomes the character and implied as a state expounded by the teller and listener.
The incidence between the ferocious elephant Nalagiri and the Buddha is symbolic and the intervening time is the comprehension of the teller and the listener.
Principles of the "Shaping Arts"
Stage for Scenes: It is rare to see objects against a background of a square, a triangle, and oval shapes. Let us observe the artistic excellence adapted by various artists in different shapes. We can compare two different works depicted in the Nalagiri-Buddha anecdote.
The stage is oval/circular in shape. Nalagiri enters the stage from the left. Buddha appears at the right corner (Generally, we read a text from left to right).
Nalagiri creates pandemonium after entering the street and surrenders to the Buddha. The stage is oval in shape and such scenes appear revolving in the stage.
Set up on a lengthy square stage. Nalagiri enters from the right. Buddha appears at the left corner and the story is depicted as such. Nalagiri surrenders at the outset and later creates pandemonium in the street. The stage is long and the play is straight.
Picture 2 depicts the artistry before analysis of the sculptural excellence.
Picture 5 -- Goli village, Fourth period, c.a. 300 A.D.
We do not know whether a street at Rajagraha existed or not.
We have not seen Gowthama Buddha or Nalagiri personally.
But, we heard about them and the story of Nalagiri and Buddha, as revealed by many people. We have observed the scene depicted in relief/sculptures and paintings. Those sculptures delineate several Buddhas, several Nalagiris and many Rajagraha streets surrounded by a number of people. Till then, we have watched the scene and heard the dialogue. We are familiar with the characters shown on the stage. Characters revolve on the stage and remind us of the incidents between characters. The secret behind the impression in our minds is symbolically shown in the play staged in front of us.
Picture 3 -- sequence of circles beginning first row, left and clockwise: c, d, b, a.
We strive to perceive the secret behind the shaping of the scenes. In this respect, our analysis continues to understand the stage set up in Picture 2. In this picture, look at how the scene was created before the entry of Nalagiri and Buddha in Picture 1. This will clear our perception and analysis as a sequence of scenes.
Critical analysis into the excellence of sculptures (Picture 1)
Before analysing Picture 1, we can observe the physical features of the sculpture, its character, action, etc and how they are inter-linked to one another in the course of the play or in the anecdote.
Critical analysis 1 (Picture 4) Sequence of scenes.
We can conclude that the course of the play is so arranged that the significance of characters, their appearance, the progress of the scenes are all arranged serially.
Stage 1: A person hanging with his head downwards, falls down and looks about.
Stage 2: A falling mahout, entering Nalagiri, and a surrendering Nalagiri ... the scenes are arranged in a continual sequence.
Analysis II (Picture 4) Enactment of scenes.
This shows the morphological features, message and their interrelationship in a cyclical enactment of the sculpture. The scenes are arranged without interruption in a fluid movement.
Analysis III (Picture 3) Agreement between shape and appearance.
"Elephant enters the scene and surrenders" the play is enacted thus to signify the entry of the elephant and its magnificent shape. The elephant entering the street is shown in circle (a) and the surrendering elephant in circle (b). The connecting point between these two circles is shown on a triangular stage which can be perceived to be that of the person who fell down and then looking up (b). The point of connection above on a triangular shape, is the area covered by the stage all these arrangements allow a gravitational force towards forming a triangular shape. These two triangular shapes form a diamond shape eventually. The circles of (c) and (d) contain the disintegrated shapes.The two entrance walls and the first floor blending with the invisible silent line of the ground suggestively makes a square form.
Special features of the sculpture
1. Two different scenes and situations and the progression of the main character (Buddha) in the play shown in the right corner. In general, the centre figure (of the Buddha) has been kept to the right side.
2. The characters/the Spectators from the windows in the top storey, can be deemed to be filling the gap between Nalagiri and the spectators.
But who is the attractive woman who is behind the neck of the wicked Nalagiri? Who is the man who has his hand leaning on her? Have they conspired and let Nalagiri to try and kill the Buddha? Were they in the street before the entry of Nalagiri? Did they know the anecdote of Nalagiri-Buddha? We are bound to raise such questions. There are other significant questions and scenes. We can infer that the artist leaves the answer to the inquisitive minds of spectators by such illusions.
It is generally observed that such pieces of sculpture/statues do not highlight the appearance of main characters and their characteristics. No character is isolated. The spectator starts observing the central portion of the statues and moves slowly around the figures about the main character. Eventually, a space is created at the centre, rendering the central figure insignificant.
We can conclude that such space was created by the artist to denote the gap in time, belief, thoughts beyond comprehension and to delineate the appearance of a character. It may be to even denote the gap in time and distance. In this way, the space is created intentionally by the sculptor to distinguish different situations i.e. the entry of and the surrender of Nalagiri.
We know the difference in depicting a herd of elephants and the morphological features of elephants.
It is natural for a sculptor to leave space in his artistic work to stimulate the imagination of observers. Moreover, to understand the intricacies in art, we depend upon the appearance of a sculpture, it is difficult to create space in art.
The pictures described depict prominently the movements of Nalagiri. It has been cleverly plotted in artistic skill to connect two different phases of scenes. In the space, the imagination and characteristics of different faces can be easily wrought. In Picture 5, the features of two different elephants are shown.
In the Nalagiri-Buddha anecdote, the place is clearly defined and left to the imagination, as it is enacted in the Rajagraha street.
It is rare to observe the use of space in the fine arts. It is also rare to set scenes among the central part of the stage. Above all, in embossed sculptures, it is very difficult to see such depictions.
Thus, this piece of artistry is the quintessence of an artist expressed in terms of his artistic skills.
A work of excellence indeed.
Acknowledgements: The Director, Government Museum, Chennai, and
Prathibha Jeyachandran, Pondicherry.
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