What were the salient features of Amaravati School?

In Amaravati, situated in the eastern Deccan, a different type of art form evolved and flourished for nearly six centuries commencing from 200-100 BC. Patronized first by the Satavahanas and later by the Ikshvakus and also by other groups (feudatories, officials, and merchants), four periods of activity are easily discernible.

Through the successive stages, one may observe an advance in technique and refinement. The first period dating from 200-100 BC, is evidenced at Jagayyapeta, where a few slabs on decorative pieces at the base of the stupa have been found. These slabs depict pilasters at intervals with animals above bell-shaped capitals and devotees adoring the Buddha, who is symbolically represented.

The casing slabs above the platform are to be attributed to the second period. Dating from 100 BC to AD 100, these slabs contain superposed panels depicting the Buddha in preaching form. The figures are more graceful and natural than those of the first period.

They depict the principal scenes of Buddha's life, the Buddha almost always being represented by a symbol, though in two or three places he is personified, the earliest cases of his personification on record.

The important remains include the much weathered panel showing Ashoka watering the Bodhi tree and the attempt of Mara's daughters and the gnomes to entice the Buddha. The sculpture showing Siddhartha leaving his palace on his journey, is typical of symbolic representation.

The railing round the stupa belonging to the third period (c. AD 150) was carved carefully on either fac«. An inscription informs that in Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi's reign, additions were made to the stupa and the Tibetan tradition associated the Buddhist Acharya Nagarjuna with the construction of the rail.

The sculptures form the high watermark of this school and the most outstanding in the whole of India. A new feature, absent in the earlier sculptures of Amaravati, is the delineation of different planes. The figures of the first plane are carved in deep relief, and the depth of cutting gradually diminishes with the successive planes.

Most remarkable of all is the skill displayed in representation of scenes of action. This is clear from the story of Udayan a, the story of the subjugation of the elephant Nalagiri by the Buddha, portraying the confusion created by the elephant running amock in the streets of Rajagriha and the lively battle scene from the coping. In this period the symbol most often used is a flaming pillar above the paired feet resting on a lotus base and crowned by a trishula.

The casing slabs of the fourth period, AD 200- 250 show richer and elaborate carvings than the rail. The figures in the sculptures of this period tend to grow taller and slimmer. Also, one sees the finest miniature sculptures on the small circular bosses, in the friezes and on the casing slabs.

The statues of the Buddha dating from the third century AD are magnificient and powerful creations. They are severe, but the features are full and the body is far from slender, the expression aristocratic and benign. The head is crowned with short curly hair.

The sculptures ofNagarjunikonda on the light- green limestone were a sequel to the Amaravati School and had their beginning contemporary with the third period of Amaravati art. The panels on the carved vertical slabs contained scenes illustrating the Jatakas.

Among the events of Buddha's life, the most popular to be depicted, are his descent from heaven in the form of a white elephant, queen Maya's conception, the casting of his horoscope after his birth, the great renunciation, the transportation of Gautam's head-dress to heaven, the scene of temptation, the Naga- Muchalinda protecting the Buddha from rain with broadhood, the first sermon, and the mahaparinirvana represented by the stupa.