The Bharhut stupa may have been first built by the Maurya king Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, but many works of art, particularly the gateway and railings, were apparently added during the Shunga period, with many reliefs from the 2nd century BCE, or later. Alternatively, the sculptures made have been added during the reign of the Sughanas.
Bharhut is a village located in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, central India.
Bharhut Sculptures are tall, like the Mauryan depictions of Yaksha and Yakshini, and the sculptural volume is modelled in low relief to ensure linearity.
The illusion of three-dimensionality is conveyed with slanted perspective in the relief panels displaying storytelling. The narrative’s clarity is improved by focusing on key occurrences.
At Bharhut, narrative panels are exhibited with fewer characters, but as time passes, other characters begin to appear in the picture area, in addition to the main character in the story.
Occasionally, more than one event in a single geographic location is shown in the pictorial space, or only one major event is depicted in the pictorial area.
At Bharhut, narrative reliefs demonstrate how artisans employed pictorial language to effectively transmit stories.
Architectural Significance of Bharhut Sculptures
Unlike the Mauryas’ imperial art, the reliefs and figures in Bharhut stupa were provided by lay people, monks, and nuns, according to inscriptions on the railings. As a result, it is considered one of the earliest instances of Maurya popular art.
The Buddha’s previous incarnations’ birth stories, known as Jataka tales, are depicted on the railings.
The aniconic phase of Buddhist art is represented by the Bharhut stupa. Buddha has been shown as a series of symbols.
Except for one foreigner, presumed to be an Indo-Greek soldier, who is represented wearing the Indian dhoti with Buddhist iconography, the style is mainly flat, with low bass relief, and all figures are depicted wearing the Indian dhoti.
The Bharhut stupa railings feature several depictions of yakshas and yakshis, who have long been a part of Indian society.
The earliest depictions of the Yakshas and Yakshis, which later became part of later art, may be seen at Bharhut. These represent the spirit of nature and help to remind us of the divinity that lurks beneath all we see.
The Yakshas and Yakshis represent nature’s protection and plenty, which ensures the continuation of life.
Kubera, whom the Yaksha and Yakshis attend, is depicted on the north gateway of the Vedika at Bharhut.
The photos of Yakhsi Chandra and Krishika, who are seen entangled with a tree, can be found. Another Yakshi, Ashok Dohada, holds an Ashoka Tree leaf in her palm as well as a kid in her womb (two hearts) and weaves her way through the tree like a creeper, symbolizing fertility.
One of the sculptures depicts Laksmi on the Bharhut’s railing, which is the earliest representation of the goddess.
The sculptures on the Bharhut railings are in low relief and do not have the depth of later Indic art.
A Greek warrior is depicted on a pillar of the vedika. He has short hair and a headband and is dressed in boots and a tunic.
A Nagaraja, the serpent king, is shown on another fence, dressed in human form but wearing a serpent hood. Naga deities, like yakshas and yakshis, serve to remind us of the power, protection, and fertility of nature.
The railing of the Bharhut “stupa” depicts Queen Maya’s dream, which occurred before the Buddha’s birth.
The figure of the Buddha was never depicted in early Buddhist art. Instead, symbols of him were there, including a seat, footprints, the Bodhi tree, the wheel, and the “stupa.” The railings’ sculptural reliefs are a veritable collection of early Buddhist iconographic elements.