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A Poetic Journey into Pallava Art

Preeti Bahadur

By Elisabeth Beck
Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, in association with East West Books, 2006, pp. 262, price not stated.


This book offers a poetic journey into the art of the Pallava dynasty, celebrating its artistic triumph in inaugurating lithic traditions in southern India. The Pallavas, as is well known, came into prominence in the late 6th century through a burst of activity recorded in inscriptions and art monuments. Both have formed the subject of intense scholarship in the field, from the early writing of G. Jouveau-Dubreuil, A.H. Longhurst, C. Minakshi, A. Rea, K.R. Srinivasan, and R. Nagaswamy to the more recent studies by M. Lockwood, Susan Huntington, Marilyn Hirsh and M. Rabe. The author has distilled much of this literature, though she mostly privileges the views of K.R. Srinivasan, to bring together a lucid account of the early phase of art activity under the Pallavas focusing on their rock cut architecture and sculpture. It is aimed at the non-specialist reader, for it culls together an array of sources used in art history and archaeology to lay bare the tools for the study of these sites. The author has taken considerable pains to collate historical and art historical data, including epigraphic and paleographic sources, to tell her story. She also overlays her narrative with quotes from Shri Aurobindo’s writings in order to evoke the creative sprit of the production of this art and the wealth of human capital that went into its making.   The book is a labour of love, for the author has travelled throughout the Tamil region to photograph the natural beauty of the sites, and the stunning relationship of the caves to their pristine rock surfaces. The narrative that emerges is truly evocative, for images and text work in tandem throughout, accompanied by plan drawings.   The book begins with a context to the production of stone sculpture and architecture in India. It details lithic traditions from the time of the Mauryans to that of the Ikshvakus of Andhra, acknowledged by most scholars as the immediate predecessors of Pallava sculptural art. Possibly this lengthy preamble is justified by the fact that Pallava artists did not have any traditions in stone to follow in the Tamil region, though they would have followed sculptural and architectural traditions in ephemeral materials. The view held by several scholars that the association of stone with funerary monuments, or nadukul, in this region may have led to reluctance to work in this material is also cited.   The history of the ...

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