Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Pillar fragment with two wrestlers


    • First floor | Room 32 | India from 600

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  • Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum by J. C. Harle and Andrew Topsfield

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    The fluting which can be discerned at the top of this fragment identify it as part of a pillar and not necessarily the base, since, from the 6th century onwards, temple pillars were interrupted with median bands which were often richly decorated. Semi-circular medallions such as this one with a pearl border and bearing relief figures, accompanied by foliage work usually incorporating, a kīrtimukha are, moreover, found on a great many of the pillars which have survived from temples of the post-Gupta period all the way from Bodhgaya to Mahasthan in Bangladesh.

    The grotesque mask (kīrtimukha or “face of glory”), part human, part leonine and even with a suggestion of horns, has its remote origin in western classical antiquity [see EAX.66, EAX.67, and EAX.68]. In later times it tends to lose its human features, and the fact that this kirtimukha is still recognisably human argues for a relatively early date for the fragment, in the 8th and possibly even the late 7th century A.D. As for the wrestlers, wrestling has always been popular in the northern part of India and representations on reliefs show a knowledge of the sport. Where other indicators exist, the contestants have been variously identified as those heroes from myth or the epics who engaged in wrestling contests such as Bhīma and Jarasandha, or Kṛṣṇa and Cāṇūra, but here there are not sufficient clues to suggest an identification.

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