The Kingdom of Nepal, particularly its capital valley of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur is considered to be an open air museum of ancient arts and architectural masterpieces of their own unique class that have lived the test of time since early centuries. Most of these art forms emerged out of the religious concepts extracted out of Buddhist and Hindu mythological perceptions. Hence knowledge of both Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as their nature, idiosyncrasies and pattern of development, since the pristine eras is necessary in order to clearly understand the modes of depictions in the Nepalese art.
Cultural evolution arising out of ancient Hinduism and Buddhism of the volatile India from the south made a strong influence on the then civilization of Nepal to considerable extent. In the expanse of time scale, as artistic patterns assumed gradual sense of maturity with different creative variations, Nepalese Art resultantly developed forms and characteristics of its own exclusive class, and thus the earlier influence from the south slowly eroded away over the centuries to project its own unique styles through manifold visual media. The crucial role was played in this regard by Nepal's own geographic position and the extraordinary creative genius of Nepalese Artists, particularly of the Newar community the natives of the Kathmandu valley.
Hundreds of fine stone sculptures of the Lichhavi period bear testimony to the tremendous achievement and artistic talent of the people of that time. The sculptures and images depict their deep religious bearings as well as the harmonious blend of the two religious faiths Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. Most of these figures project Vishnu in his different incarnations, (Shiva embracing his consort Parvati), Lokeswara, the magnificent Bodhisattva and other varied manifestations of Lord Buddha. The features of the sculptures are reckoned to be pre-classical, well formed bodies and limbs, artistically fashioned headdresses, figures depicted hips or breasts.
Embellishment and the polished stone work are also typical characteristic of this period. The records provided by the Chinese travelers to Nepal make vivid revelation about the skill of metal craft during Lichhavis. Among other things, it also reveals that even King Narendra Deva wore a tiny golden figure of Buddha at his waist. The Lichhavi craftsmanship achieved high level of skill in the works of copper bronze and gold.
Numerous inscriptions of the time mention that even copper and silver coins were minted in Nepal. However only few examples in copper are discovered and these are exhibited in the Nepal National Museum. Some excavations carried out in the Kathmandu valley have also unearthed a number of terra cotta products rampant during the Lichhavi period many ancient documents also testify that the Art of painting played a vital role in the Artistic life of the period. With the exception of a few painted wooden book cover other examples are yet to be indentified. Finely executed illustrated manuscripts and pictures on book bindings, depicting the various forms of the deities of both religions, have been preserved from the period of transition. The typical features of the paintings of the period reveal that except the central character, other figures are mostly depicted in profile. The headdresses, crowns and other ornaments are portrayed with a finer sensitivity than in the Lichhavi period.
The sculptures of the transitional period can be clearly differentiated from their predecessors. For example, the reliefs of Shiva and Parvati in Pashupatinath can be compared with that of the Kumbeshvar temple in Patan, and the figure of the sun god Surya in Saugal Tole, Patan can be compared with that of Thapathali, in Patan. The Lichhavi sculptors have been powerfully executed with a simplicity and severity of line. Those of the transitional period are sumptuous in their detail, while the stress on motion and the figures display a subtle grace. Few bronze sculptures discovered bear remarkable similarity of execution.
The artistic creations of the early Malla period discovered is mainly comprising of stone or metal craft depicting numerous deities of both religions. The figures of the period take on a far more elegant form and the ornamentation. It shows the influence of Tantrism on the rise. Worship of the Sun and Moon is expressed in a variety of sculptures. The image of Vishnu and Garuda are depicted on a disc representing the sun. Gold and bronze statues are embellished with semi precious stones.
In sum total it may be stated that Nepalese Art reached its zenith during the late Mall period. Bronze work made remarkable progress especially because of the flourishing trade in Nepalese Artifacts and handicraft products carried on with neighboring Tibet. The early trade routes had to cross through hostile terrains and involved several weeks of journey, yet it continued to flourish. Bronze and other metal craft with hollowness inside remained sought after inside Nepal and Tibet. Sculptures in stone therefore, declined and could not display the quality of the Licchavi period. There are, however, some well known exceptions. The figures of Narsimha and Hanuman in front of the royal Palace in Bhaktapur, the stone image of Garuda in Hanuman Dhoka, the stone window in the Shiva Parvati temple, in Kathmandu, the royal bath in Sundari Chowk in Patan are excellent examples of stone works of Malla period. These works of Art all date from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Fine examples of metal craft especially bronze dating to the late Malla period are the Buddha in Hiranya Varna Mahavihar monastery and the gilded figure of Garuda in front of the Krishna temple in Patan. Other examples of the period are the statue of King Bhupatindra Malla and the Golden gate in Bhaktapur. Woodcarvings, too, reached its classical peak during the late Malla period. Many intricately carved windows of the private houses, palaces, temples and the numerous temples in the Kathmandu valley are the fine examples of the achievements in wood works. The period also witnessed the countless roof struts on pagodas and other edifices, richly decorated with splendid wood carvings. Many excellent examples of wood works are also preserved in the museums of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The wood used for these carvings are Michaelia excels is and shorea robusta both found in the vicinity of Kathmandu.
Finest examples of Nepalese paintings were also produced during this period. These specially comprised of the Pauwas painted scrolls, frescoes or the wall paintings from the late Malla period. The famous frescoes are to be found in the temple of the Kumari in Kathmandu, Bagh Bhairava temple in Kirtipur and in the Durga temple in Panauti. The National Museum in Kathmandu has a good collection of many miniature paintings on manuscripts, wooden book covers and jewelry boxes. Work in ivory also made oats forest appearance during this period and the examples that have been discovered display a high quality of Artistic skill. They include a small hand mirror with a figure of Vishnu flanked by Laxmi and Garuda carved on the handle. A figure of Bhringi, an attendant beating a drum, several book covers and an ivory window in the ancient royal palace of Kathmandu are also good examples of the period. Terra-cotta works of the period are Mahabauddha temple in Patan, the figure of Ananta Narayan in Pashupatinath, and some statues of animals in the courtyard of Kumari.
Another important aspect of Nepalese Art from this period is the strong influence of Tantrism sculptures. Paintings of the late Malla period are depicted with symbolic figures and emblems evidenced the strong influence of Tantrism. Tantrism display a true religious harmony and tolerance elaborate and Artistic ornamentation. Decorative floral motifs and the frequent portrayal of Mongoloid faces are also the other features of Tantrism. The arts of Nepal since ancient times till today have retained the traditional touch and uniqueness of a cultural characteristics stemming out of the harmonious religious blend of Hinduism and Buddhism. Continue to learn more about metal craft, please visit Yomari.
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