Monday, April 30, 2018

Pompeii Laxmi and Twin Sister from Bhokardan

In the year 1939, Amedeo Maiuri, an Italian archaeologist was searching for artifacts in the ruins of ancient Pompeii, supposed to have been destroyed by the eruption of a volcano on Mount Vesuvius in the year 79CE. Among the ruins, in a large private house facing Via Dell Abhondanza in island IX of region I, he discovered a small ivory statuette, only about 24 Cm long. The artifact, found inside a wooden box kept in a wooden almirah, was in a bad condition. Its ivory handle was badly worn out and some parts were missing. Fortunately, it was restored nicely. It is now famous, as one of the most widely known and published ivory figure. The artifact features a female, standing cross-legged and appears to be stepping forward. She is heavily ornamented, and wears such fine gossamer and transparent clothing that, it appeared to the Italians that she was nude. A close inspection carried out later, showed a broad undecorated cloth band wrapped around her hips, which provided the hint of a lower garment, and the areas adjacent to her legs, the presence of drapery folds. She is attended by a female attendant on either side, carved in same place of ivory. From the looks, Amedeo Maiuri was immediately able to confirm that the statuette was definitely of Indian origin.

A survey of Indian ivories carried out in 1976, by National Museum of New Delhi, describes this statuette in these words.

The broad full face with wide open eyes and fleshy mouth with soft and full lips give an expression of happy sensuality. She has round chin above a soft fat throat. The hips and legs are heavy and she is wearing anklets up to her knees. Similarly, her arms are covered with heavy bracelets and then bangles almost to the elbows. A heavy necklace of three strings with big beads comes down between the breasts and ends in the form of a pendulum carved like a lotus flower. The hair is parted in the middle with ellaborate braids encircling the forehead and then descending from her shoulders up to her waist. At the back of the head, there is a small hole, perhaps for inserting a small rod to sustain a mirror”.

Under the base of the statuette, there is a clear cut sign of a trident (trishula), which could have been  the sign for the Hindu God Shiva or just a mark of the maker. Amedeo and Indian archaeologist Moti Chandra both identify the statuette  with Goddess Laxmi  because of heavy ornamentation, lotus flower pendant and the trident marking on the base. However many archaeologists such as Vogel, Rowland and S.K.Sarswati do not accept this on basis that figures of Gods and Giddesses are very rarely shown on objects of utilitarian purposes such as hand held mirrors. They believe that the figure is that of a Yakshini or a courtesan.  This view is now more or less accepted.
Though the Indian origin of the statuette was never questioned by anyone. Much speculation was done regarding the actual place in India, where this beautiful work of art might have been crafted. It was thought that the work of art came from Mathura, Ujjain or Vidisha, where an ivory craver’s guild was believed to have existed in the first century BCE.

Italians believed that this rare sculpture was part of a consignment carried on a ship from India that must have disembarked at the Italian port of Puteoli (known today as Pozzuoli). This port was built in times of emperor Augustus (27 BCE-CE 14) and from where  large volumes of goods such as spices, slaves, wine, grain, ceramics and precious objects were imported from every known destination and  sold on the Roman markets. The matter ended there and the statuette was displayed in the Secret Museum in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

“Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.” is an ancient Greek text written between 1st and 3rd centuries CE, perhaps as important a book as the journal of Marco Polo. This book describes navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports like Berenice, along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Describing the nature of trade, Periplus says.

Imported into this market-town, are Wine, Italian preferred, also Laodicean (from Laodicea on Syrian coast) and Arabian; copper, tin, and lead; coral and topaz; thin clothing and inferior sorts of all kinds; bright-colored girdles a cubit wide; storax, sweet clover, flint glass, realgar, antimony, gold and silver. Coin, on which there is a profit, when exchanged for the money of the country; and ointment, but not very costly and not much. Moreover, for the King there are brought into those places very costly vessels of silver, singing boys, beautiful maidens for the harem, tine wines, thin clothing of the finest weaves, and the choicest ointments. There are exported from these places spikenard, costus, bdellium, ivory, agate and carnelian, lycium, cotton cloth of all kinds, silk cloth, mallow cloth, yarn, long pepper, agate and carnelian and such other things as are brought here from the various market towns”.

Periplus also tells us the names of the ports in India where, Roman ships birthed; the northernmost being at Bharuch (Barygaza) at the mouth of river Narmada. It says that the region south of Bharuch is known as Southern Country or “Dakshinadesha” (Dachinabades). There are number of ports (market towns) in the southern country such as Sopara (Suppara), Kalyan (Celliana), Sashti (Sandares) and Chaul (Semylla). However, where were the market towns? Wherefrom, to be exported goods were dispatched and imported goods received. Periplus gives names of two important towns.

Among the market towns of Dachinabades, there are two of special importance; Paethana (Pratisthan or Paithan of today), distant about twenty day’s journey south of Barygaza (Bharuch): beyond which about ten day’s journey east, there is another very great city, Tagara. These (Goods) are brought down to Barygaza from these places by wagons and through the great tracts without roads, from Paethana, carnelian in great quantity and from Tagara much common cloth, all kinds of muslins and mallow (rough) cloth and other merchandise brought there locally from the regions along the sea coast. And the whole course to the end of Damirica (country of the Tamil people) is seven thousand stadia (about one tenth of mile): but the distance is greater to the coast country”.

Coming back to the Pompeii statuette: it would be natural to assume that in all probability, its origin was one of the towns mentioned in Perplus, located on the Roman trade route of first century CE, with Satavahana Empire. It was thought that the statuette could be truly considered as a representative of the trade relations that existed between Rome and Western India, under rule of Satavahana Kings in the first century CE.

Out of the two cities on Roman trade route, mentioned in Periplus, Pratisthan or present day Paithan was known to archaeologists since long. However, the other city of Tagara remained elusive until 1901. In that year, J.F.fleet (a British civil service officer) suggested in an article written in “Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society” (July 1901 issue) that perhaps a village of present times, known by the name of “Ter” might be identified with ancient “Tagar“. Because of the fact that this village is about 95 miles (152 Kilometers) southeast of Paithan, and agrees substantially with the distance and direction given in the Periplus text. From Bharuch to Paithan, the actual distance by road, is about 240 miles (384 Kilometers), and from Paithan to Ter it is 104 miles (166 Kilometers), being 20 and 9 days' journey of 20 Kilometers per day respectively. This identification of “Tagar” is now more or less universally accepted.

A local collector of artifacts from “Ter”, Ramlingappa Lamature, has been collecting artifacts found around this village since early decades of last century. His priceless collection also includes a pair of ivory statuettes of females. One of the statuettes, from this pair, has been dated to fifth century and therefore does not concern us here. The second statuette however, is very relevant to us for two reasons. Firstly, it has been dated as from first or 2nd century CE and secondly, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the Pompeii statuette. National Museum survey describes the “Ter” statuette in these words.

The ivory shows a female figure, with legs broken below knees, and measures 16.4 Cms. Her ovaloid face is disproportionately larger than the rest of the body. She has large attractive eyes, heavy brows, a big nose with angular nose, a large sensual mouth suggesting a faint smile, and a short chin. Her hair is parted in middle. Around the head runs a twisted band with a rosette in the centre, a little below which appears the head jewel. Seen at the back is triple plaited hair. She wears a necklace running over her breasts, armful of bangles set off with bracelets. She wears a light, delicate, and translucent sari that emphasizes her nudity”.

Ivory Statuette found at Ter

This figure, like the Pompeii statuette, has a hole in the head to serve the same purpose, besides three other holes at other places, perhaps used to fix the statuette to some other object like a box. However, the major difference between this figure and the similar one from Pompeii appears to be the way in which the females’ sculptures stand. The Pompeii figure (as we have described above) stands cross-legged and ready to step out, whereas “Ter” figure appears just standing with legs apart. The two attendants standing on sides in the Pompeii statuette are also missing in the “Ter” ivory.

“Bhokardan” is a small sleepy town today, located at about 78 Kilometers to northeast of Aurangabad city and at about 54 Kilometers to south of famous Ajanta caves, on bank of River Khelna. In the past however, it was a large settlement known as “Bhogavardhana”, where many a rich merchants dwelled. This can be ascertained from at least three inscriptions carved on the railing or arches of great Stupa of Sanchi and one inscription carved on the railing of Bharhut Stupa, all of which mention a grant given by some or other residents of town of “Bhogavardhana”. Hindu scripture Markendaya Purana mentions “Bhogavardhana” (भोगवर्द्धन) as one of the countries in the south. More specifically, a copper plate grant (found at Abhona village in Kalvan tehasil, Nashik district) given by King Shankaragana of Katachchuri dynasty of “Mahishmati” in year 597 CE, identifies “Bhogavardhana” as a province (विषय) in which a village known as vallisika was located (भोगवर्द्धनविषयान्तर्ग्गतवल्लिसिकाग्रामे).  Bhokardan also claims to have some historic caves. These Hindu (Brahmanical) caves (known today as Tukai caves, also identified as Rameshwar caves in some references) excavated in 8th century CE, were discovered in 1935.

In the year 1958-59, M.N.Deshpande of Archaeological survey of India, visited “Bhokardan”. He immediately recognized its importance as a historical site. Detailed archaeological excavations at “Bhokardan” however were only carried out between 1972 to 1974 by Prof. S.B.Deo and Dr. R.S. Gupte from Nagpur University. They observed that modern “Bhokardan” was located on a small hillock (consisting of two mounds, about 21 meters high) with undulation (waviness) because the new settlement has taken place over the debris of the old “Bhogavardhana” only without changing the location.  During excavations, Prof. S.B.Deo’s team discovered traces and ruins of a large and prosperous town that flourished in Satavahana period (300 BCE to 400CE). The town flourished due to India's trade with the Roman culture of the period. Because of this prosperity, it became a center of artistry. Many houses of artisans have been found in excavation, some of them having smooth terraces and some with roofed terraces. Many objects of daily use such as Stone grinders ( पाटा-वरवंटा, जाते),  Ladders, Plates,  spoons, Lids, earthen pots (पळ्या, थाळ्या, डाव, झाकण्या, मडकी) etc. were also found. Houses were found to have well designed wastewater drainage systems. Besides this, some coins, terracotta figurines, and ornaments were found in the excavated ruins. The coins in different shapes and made from copper, alloys, gold plated were from reigns of different kings  such as Satavahans – shakas- Kardamak and Gupta kings. Many types of beads made from glass, shell and faience (vitrified) and some semi-precious stones such as carnelian, crystal, agate, chalcedony, jasper, ivory, opal etc. were found in various types and sizes. Pieces of bangles made from ivory, conch and especially copper were found. Prof. Dev’s report also mentions about the abundance of ivory objects, both finished and unfinished, and the recovery of ivory pieces from the ruins at Bhokardan. Based on his observations he proposes that Bhokardan was most certainly a centre of ivory carving.

Also found among the ruins were a few terracotta bullae with legends in Greek; coin moulds and seals and 700 terracotta objects, of which, sculptures of humans and animals were remarkable. Other items include earrings, pots used in worshipping of idols and items of household use such as ivory coombs, Kajal  Dabas (काजळ डब्या), Game pawns (सोंग़ट्या), plates (तबक) etc. Earrings that looked like pomegranate flowers were also found. Besides this a special cup known as Kinnari Patra (किन्नरी पात्र) and a container lid with a handle that had carving, showing upper torsos of three females, was also found.

However, the most exquisite and important of the entire find was the lower half of a female figurine, carved in the round with two female attendants in ivory. National museum survey describes this figurine in these words.

Lower portion of a female figure, attended by a maid on either side, almost in the same way as noticed in the Pompeii figure. The main figure has an elaborate girdle of three stands and her feet are almost covered up to knees with anklets. The two maids are holding toilette objects in one of their hands. The three figures stand on a rectangular base. Stylistically as well as on the basis of excavation, the figure can be assigned to 2nd century BCE”.

Comparing the Bhokardan ivory statuette with one that was found in Pompeii, Prof. G.B.Deglurkar, who is also a co-author of Prof. S.B. Dev’s report,  says (also confirmed by Prof. S.B.Dev) that both Bhokardan and Pompeii ivories are not only of the same quality standard, though one from Pompeii is better preserved. They also were produced by the same Ateliar (workshop or studio used by an artist). Extending this argument further, we can say that both the statuettes were produced by the same ivory worker or in other words, Pompeii and Bhokardan beauties, carved in ivory, can be called as twin sisters.

Bhokardan site needs to be investigated further to bring to light, the past of this once wealthy city. It would also solve many unanswered questions about the Roman trade route and more importantly, why a large monastery was located at Ajanta, a remote place- identified by Xuan Zang in seventh century as a frontier town. The answer perhaps lies in the fact that Ajanta valley is located about 54 Kilometers to north of Bhokardan and the major chunk of the goods traded at Bhokardan, would pass through Ajanta, either going to north towards Ujjain or to west  towards Bharuch for export, sustaining the monastery.  Whatever may be the truth, it is certain that twin sister of Pompeii ivory girl, found at Bhokardan, has opened a new vista for research in India’s glorious past.


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