Nepali art and architecture

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Nepali art of the different periods reflects various aspects of the society of those ages. Originality in the form and the content shows the process of civilization in its unique nature.

Here, attempts are made to take account of salient features of Nepali stone sculpture, bronze art, wood art and painting of different ages.

Religion has played an important role for the development of art. Art of the old age, middle age and even some aspects of the modern art cannot be studied in isolation from the religion. In fact, religious fervor has inspired the artistic creation. Some aspects of Nepali art manifested in the making of things of religious importance are described in the chapter devoted to pilgrimage. So, some points are not brought under discussion in order to avoid repetition.

Stone Sculpture Stone sculptures in Nepal are believed to have emerged long before the birth of Christ. There is a common believe that stone image of Virupaksya, and a series of images entitled ‘Parvati Tapasya’ belong to the Kirata period. However, such conclusions are made only on the bases of the physical and formal features of the images since no inscriptions explaining the dates are found so far.

From Lichhavi period onwards, stone images with dates and other descriptions are found. The images of Padmapani Buddha, Vishnu Vikranta, Vishworup, Uma Maheshwor, Bhagavatis, Shiva Lingas and a number of other images were built in the period. Furthermore, the images of the period can be found at Hanumandhoka, Changu Narayansthan, Dhumbarahi, Shovabhagvati, Naxal Bhagvati and Pashupati. The stone images of that period have certain distinctive features that distinguish them from the images of the earlier periods. The images supposedly belonging to Kirata period have round faces, curly hair, well developed forehead, robust body and short stature whereas the stone images of Lichhchavi period have long oval faces, Aryan nose, thin dresses, ornaments and crowns on heads. In addition, they have intricately donned hair. The most striking thing about them is that they have picturesque vividness and they are lively. The material used for making images is also good. Mostly, hard blue or black stone is used.

Nepali stone sculpture entered another important phase of its development in Thakuri and Malla period. Some of the famous images built in this period are: Nrisimha’s image at Hanumandhoka, the images of Radha-Rukmini with Krishna, a dozen of images in Patan Darbar Square, Krishna with Dashavatar at Krishnamandir of Patan, Garuda, Vishnu, Uma Maheshwor, Nrisimha, Bhairav-Bhairavi and Surya of Bhaktapur etc. Various characteristic features distinguish them from the works of Lichhchavi period. The distinctive features are:

• Relatively inferior material such as soft sandstone is used to make the images, • The vividness and fluency of the Lichhchavi period are lacking in this period because many artists of the period were using metal as a material, • Various parts of the body of the images are not proportionately worked out, • Secular images were also made in the period, • The facial structure of the images is the mixture of Aryan and Mongolian structure:

Furthermore the images are decorated more and are adorned with a halo. In spite of those conspicuous characteristics, there are certain exceptions too; some out of trend images were undoubtedly made in the period.

Bronze Art The history of bronze art is not as old as that of stone sculptures. Description of the Chinese visitors and some of the coins of Lichhavi period hint that the development of Bronze art began in the early years of the Lichhchavi period or just before that.

Some of the oldest metal images of Nepal are kept at the museum of Los Angeles and Boston of the USA. The most important among them are the 9th century image of Padmapani Avalokiteshwor and Buddha in the meditative pose.

Nepal witnessed a swift development in the field after the Lichhchavi period. The images of stars related to Buddhism, Avalokiteshwor, Buddha, Padmasambhar, Dipankar, Vishnu, Laxami, Indra, Ganesh, Bhairav and Kuber were made in the middle age.

Two methods of making metal images were used in the period – out of wax and molding metal sheets.

Both the methods were used in making religious as well as secular images. In this age, a significant addition to the store of images was made. That is the design of the images in the Tantric mode. Various deities with several hands and other symbolic icons were made. Furthermore, bronze images of the period have certain special features that distinguish them from the stone images of the same age. The most remarkable features are: long eyes, clear and distinct eyebrows, imposing ornaments and the use of gaudi colors.

Wood Art Wood is a less durable material. So only the descriptions of the wood art of the old age are found. The works themselves decayed long ago. Most of the works that have survived the weather for hundreds of years belong to that of 15th to 18th century.

The works of art can be divided into two groups. Firstly, portable images and other artistic things and secondly, the works of art that form the integral parts of temples, monasteries, palaces and rest houses (Sattalas). Decorative doors, windows, struts and tympanums belong to the second group. The works of art belonging to the first category are kept in the National Museum of wood craft. The image of Nrityadevi (15th century), the image of Basundhara (15th century), the image of Vishworup (17th century) and the image of Marvijaya are some of the artistic creation kept safely in the museums.

Historical buildings, palaces and temples offer finest examples of the artistic creations of the second group. Some features are described below.

Artistic Struts Struts of the temples of Nepal are considered to have great artistic merits. The struts protrude from the main body of the temple making 45 degree angle and they have the function of supporting the structure of the roof. The roofs of Nepalese temples are mostly multi tiered and the upper ones are proportionately smaller than the lower ones. Almost all the struts of a temple have intricately carved images. In all the four sides of the temple, there are struts with the images of an extraordinary animal called Sardula. In some temples, images of an extraordinary animal with the horns of the sheep are pictured on the struts protruding on all the four sides. Other struts have the images of the deities and other things related in one way or the other with main deity kept on the sanctum. In general, they depict three categories. The struts of the main places depict the principal deity of the temple; the struts of the upper part depict various scenes of the heaven and the lowest ones depict the various aspects of this phenomenal world.