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Terracotta Art Of Kashmir

By Showkat Ahmad Rather

The Valley of Kashmir has archaeological cultures from the Stone Age to colonial times. The Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Megalithic, early historic and later historic cultures are well authenticated from a large number of archaeological sites scattered on the landscape of Kashmir. Among all the periods, the early historical period of Kashmir is the most significant. The Surface finds in addition to excavations carried out at many settlements have yielded important archaeological sources that highlight the nature of historical processes of the early historical period. The most important aspect of the cultural processes of this period is the arrival of the Kushanas in Kashmir. The valley of Kashmir during the reign of the Kushana kings saw the emergence of the Kashmir school of terracotta art. The Kushana period in Kashmir is particularly known for its terracotta art. Instead of stone, which was a main material for the Kushana period artists in the Indian subcontinent, especially those related to the Gandhara School of art, artists of the Kushana period in Kashmir preferred clay as a medium for artistic expression. This is evidenced by the large number of decorated terracotta tiles, mostly cuneiform, and terracotta figurines of humans and animals and also terracotta beads, rubber, seals and various objects recovered in the region.

These terracotta figurines have a Hellenistic influence and can be explored throughout the length and breadth of Kashmir. The structures and pavements adhering to the diaper-pebble style of construction were decorated with terracotta tiles. This was an established feature in the patterning designs during the Kushana period, in and around the Kashmir Valley. Almost a dozen archaeological sites featuring this style of settlement pattern have been unearthed throughout the geographical horizons of the Valley. Among all the archaeological sites featuring terracotta figurines and tile pavements as their cultural assemblage, Harwan, Huthmura and Semthan are especially significant. Harwan and Huthmura are the two prominent archaeological sites from where the terracotta tile pavements were found in situ in proper stratigraphic context.

Harwan is the name of the small village situated in the district of Srinagar, about 2 miles beyond the Shalimar garden. Harwan is the modern name of ancient “Shadarhadvana” that means; woods of six saints’ mentioned in the Kalhana’s Rajatarangini and is said to be the centre of the fourth Buddhist Council held during Kushana Period. Harwan was accidentally discovered in 1895 and was subsequently excavated by R.C. Kak in 1920–21. The excavations at the site exposed the ruins of a Buddhist structural complex that flourished around 4 th to 7 th centuries CE. The excavations at the site reveal the remains of terracotta art along with its wonderful pavement. The moulded brick tiles unearthed at Harwan depict a unique art trend. These moulded tiles depicts designs and images of flowers,   combinations of leaves,

leaves of lotus plant,  ducks, cocks,  cows,  elephants, deer etc. There are figures of men, wearing Central Asian costumes; and curiously enough the relief figures of Scythian and Parthian horsemen, women, heads and busts appear side by side with early Gupta motifs. These tiles depict archers on horseback chasing a deer, lady carrying a flower vase, a dancing girl, semi nude male and female figures , a female musician beating the drum, a soldier in armour, men and women conversing, emaciated Yogis (naked) etc. Each tile has a number in the Kharoshti language that ceased to be in vogue in North-Western India, where it had principally flourished, around 5th century A.D. The excavator R C Kak mentions this pavement and other finds of the site, “wonderful pavement of the courtyard round the temple, consisting of large molded brick tiles having various shapes and forming different patterns. The favorite pattern seems to have been a large disc consisting of several concentric circles with a single central piece. Each circle is composed of a series of arc- shaped tiles of different dimensions, one of the tiles measure 40 cm in length, 34 cm in width and 4 cm in drat each shaped with a special motif. The primary motifs on the tiles so far discovered are:

  • Designs consisting of frets, wavy lines, fish-bone patterns, conventional flowers, and flower-designs consisting of different combinations of leaves.

  • Leaves of an aquatic plant common in the neighboring Dal lake, leaves of the lotus plant, some indigenous flowers in full bloom grouped in various ways.

  • Geese running or flying in rows with flower petals or leaves in their bills, ducks, cocks or pheasants often placed in the centre of a floral pattern, also cocks fighting

  • Rams fighting, cows suckling their young, elephants, deer looking with head turned backwards at the moon, archers on horseback chasing deer and shooting arrows at them.

  • A lady carrying a flower vase, a dancing girl, a female musician beating a drum, a soldier in armour hunting deer with bow and arrow, men and women conversing, seated in a balcony, boys carrying a floral festoon on their shoulders.

Similar to Harwan, an archaeological site explored and subsequently partially excavated in 1988, is Darad Kut-Huthmura located in Anantnag district. During the trial diggings carried out at the site, the terracotta tile pavements were exposed at three places laid in a systematic plan. The plan was similar to the tile pavement that was exposed at Harwan. The Darad Kut terracotta tiles were also inscribed in Kharosthi numerals and are equally well developed and sophisticated in treatment and fabric. There are motifs of lion and stag, lotus, trees, cock and swan motifs, different geometric designs and anthropomorphic creatures. Semthan is prominent for the recovery of the terracotta figurines of animals and humans, among other objects. Two brick tiles with a cross within a circle were also recovered from Semthan from stratified Kushana levels. Additionally, the tradition of decorating floors with terracotta tile pavements is also reported from various other Sites like Kanispora, Ahan, Ushkar, Akhnur and Lethpora.

The terracotta art of Kashmir is truly astonishing. Considered to be a part of art practiced under the Kushana rule, this particular form of art manages to maintain its distinctiveness due to the choice of material and the occurrence of local scenarios in the motifs employed. Revealing the artistic brilliance and grace of the valley as early as the early historic period, the remains of the terracotta artifacts found in sites like Harwan and Darad Kut-Huthmura have served to put Kashmir on the world map in terms of historically grounded aesthetic sensibility and artistic grace. Perhaps most importantly, a keen study of these terracotta remains helps historians to understand the quotidian life in the Kashmir valley that existed more than a thousand years ago. The creation of mass awareness about these proud relics of Kashmiri history should be of paramount importance.


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