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Museums of Varanasi

The Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi

The Bharat Kala Bhavan

The city of Varanasi (or Banaras), evokes a thousand vivid images. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, most ancient pilgrim centres for Hindus, and the Ganga river, on the banks of which it is located, is believed to absolve all the sins of those who take a ceremonial dip in its holy waters. The craft tradition is still strong here, and Varanasi is famous for its exquisite silk weaving, brocades, pottery and metalware. Red sandstone rliefs from the 2nd century B.C and the Buddhist stupa from Bharhut are among the prominent attractions of the museum.

The museum has a fine collection of ancient Indian terracottas, some found in excavations in and around Varanasi itself. Most of them date back to the Mauryan, Sunga and Gupta periods; a few belong to prehistoric times, unearthed at the Indus Valley sites. Indus Valley terracottas have a special charm; they are often tiny - only two or three centimeters (an inch) in height. Other larger ones belong to the Gupta period.

There is an entire gallery of Indian terracottas on the first floor and some objects are also displayed on the ground floor, in glass cabinets. On the ground floor, one entire gallery is devoted to stone sculptures, a collection of masterpieces of different styles and from various periods of history. Just past the entrance to the gallery, to your right, the wall space has been divided into niches, each containing a sample collection of items illustrating one style of Indian sculpture. The earliest ones are Buddhist. There are a few relief sculpture sculptures in red sandstone from Bharhut, dating back to the second century BC. One is a Yakshi on an elephant mount, a tall figure carved onto a vertical railing post. The yakshi's height gives an indication of the massive proportions of the railing and the stupas, that no longer exist.

The Timingila Jataka (Bharhut, second century BC) is depicted here in stone. there is one beautiful and rare sculpture from Amravati of the first century entitled, Buddha taming the Mad elephant, Nalagiri, in which the figure of the Buddha is shown standing straight and fearless on one side, while the elephant that was running riot stumbles to the ground to render obeisance to the Buddha, who miraculously quietens his range.

One, entitled Toilet bearer, is from Mathura. It depicts a woman carrying a jug of exquisite proportions, with elaborate carving, in one hand; in her other hand she carries a wicker basket, with a conical cover, overflowing with trinkets. The figure of the woman is delicately carved, adorned with jewellery, with belts of many loops and chains worn round her waist to support the lower garment that falls gracefully, clinging to her lovely legs.

The second Kushana sculpture is from the first century (Mathura). It is a rather mischievous one of a Lady riding a Griffon, in which the woman, with an elaborate hairstyle, sits on a griffon that grimaces in an effort to free himself from the control of the woman who pulls firmly on the bit in his beak. Sundari is shown seated, with an attendant combing her hair. It is a masterpiece, almost theatrical in detail, and important because it shows how Indian and foreign influences were synthesised in the Gandhara School.

There are some damaged, sculptured heads of the Buddha that are almost skull-like, depicting a stage in Buddha's meditation during which he practiced severe penance in search of the path to truth and enlightenment. There are many sculptures of Surya, the Sun God, whom art historians believe was a deity adopted from foreign lands, for he is the only Hindu god shown wearing boots in sculptures. One such sculpture of Surya, belonging to the Gupta period (sixth century), has a distinctly Persian or Zoroastrain appeareance. Surya is shown standing, his tunic held in place by an ornate metal belt with a very interesting buckle, and his hair is in ringlets and layered curls.

Hara Gauri (Chandella period, 11th century, from the Banaras region); Brahma (11 century, Banaras), the powerful goddess slaying the demon bull Mahisha, whom she has caught by his hair, her multiple arms full of energy. Among the Shiva sculpture on display, the one entitled Ravana Nugraha Murti (tenth century) is the most poetic. Another interesting piece depicts the Marriage of Shiva and Paravti (Prathihara school, tenth century, Etah, Uttar Pradesh). This sculpture, the stances are a trifle, captures the scene of the marriage ceremony that commemorates the great love of two major deities, the perfect male and female ideals.

There is a Gupta sculpture of the fifth century, from the Varanasi region, of the young chief of Shiva's army sitting astride a peacock whose glorious tail spreads out like a canopy behind him. The Dancing Ganesh (Prathihara school, ninth century, Kannauj) is poised for movement, his foot ready for action. Alasa Kanya is a languorous woman, yearning with desire.

The Museum's Paintings

In the first gallery room as you enter, there is a colossal statue of Krishna holding Mount Govardhana (Gupta, fourth century, Varanasi) and in the painting gallery, towards your left, are two paintings that depict the same story. One is from Krishangarh (18th century, Rajasthan) and the other from Mewar (18th century). In the Gupta sculpture, of Krishna holding Mount Govardhana, many of these painted details have been eliminated, and Krishna's youthful body is larger than life as he carries the mountain of rocks and boulders on one hand. The illustrated text Astasahasrika Parjnaparmita is a Buddhist manuscript of the 12th century, which has well-composed pages with handwritten text and illustrations of episodes from the life of the Buddha.

From the Mughal School, there are some exquisite examples such as the scene of an Assault on a fort, from the Hamzanama (Mughal, Akbar period 1567-82). The 'Akbari style' also uses architectural details as a woven pattern in the composition and not as a separate entity. From the Pahari-Guler School of the 18th century, there are some lovely paintings depicting Radha with Krishna, their love-making, their trysts and of Radha waiting for her lover to arrive. these paintings have a backdrop of green that represents the forest, shady groves, flowering scented trees, birds and a river rippling by.

The Approaching storm is a very moving painting, full of grace and felling despite its tiny scale. the composition is simple and quite abstract. One of the most maligned characters of Indian history is the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, the not-so-favorite son of Shah Jahan.

Address : Bharat Kala Bhavan, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
Hours : 11am - 4.30 pm (July-April); 7.30am - 12.30 pm (May-June) except on Sundays and University holidays.
Suggested viewing time : One hour.

Ramnagar Palace museum (**)

It has a good collection of weaponary. The fortified palace is on the Ganga ghat and the ferry by boat will be enjoying. 18 km from Varanasi city. No Photography.

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