A Vegetable Motif in Central Indian Art [Part 2]

Published: 16.05.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

§ 2. Technical and methodical remarks

We use the term “banana plant“ (“banana plant) both in descriptive and in analytic contexts. To demonstrate this difference we mention in connection with the word “kalaśa“ the phrases “Devī with kalaśa“ on the one hand (descriptive) and “pillar with pūrṇakalaśa capital“ on the other (analytic). Occasionally, the fuller form “banana plant motif“ seemed preferable in analytic language. For an individual realization of a particular motif, e.g. a banana plant on a particular stele, we use the terms “specimen“ and “occurrence“. Following the terminology of Cl. Bautze-Picron for Pāla art, we use “stele“ for large (or fairly large) images in contradistinction to small panels etc. Our chronological figures are a means of orientation rather than precise statements. We generally express our dates in terms of half-centuries and centuries. The designations for periods (later Gupta art, early medieval art, medieval art) are mainly gauged to the special case of the development of the banana motif. However, they also conform more or less to general usage. Further technical details will be found at the beginning of § 10.

In the course of our study, we noticed a number of motifs (to be more precise “specimens“ of certain motifs) which belonged to, or appeared close to, the lower corners of the composition and which showed similarities with the banana plant (or with the related motifs I-III of § 1). Some of them seem to be isolated, but we feel that under careful examination all of. them can be connected with well-known vegetable motifs. Since such an analysis cannot be undertaken in the present context, we have: left the relevant images unmentioned. The metal image Gupta Pa 25b would be a case in point.

In certain cases it is advisable to disentangle a methodical problem by distinguishing different planes. One such problem would be the relation between the part and the whole, mentioned already in our Introduction. In order to achieve a maximum of transparency we posit different planes,

  1. The propaedeutic plane. Here we would merely emphasize that attention should not only be paid to the whole (e.g. to a stele) but also to the part (e.g. to a subsidiary figure or to a vegetable motif). It has to be added that the part is relevant in its own right, and not only as the key towards a better understanding of the whole.
  2. The methodical plane in the strict acceptance of the term. In this case we have to decide inter alia how we can reconcile the requirements of a “study of the whole“ with the requirements of a “study of the part“. Ultimately, we can never study the whole alone or the part alone.
  3. The apologetic plane. Here we could enumerate cases where specific partial motifs have been ignored or misunderstood due to the premise that it is mainly the whole that matters.
  4. The didactic plane. The great number of motifs in the more complex compositions (and sometimes even single motifs in simple compositions) create a barrier between the object (in a collection or in situ) and the unexperienced observer. Here it should in principle bi possible to extend the discourse about the main figure (“Jina“ in the case of a “Jina image“) to a complete analysis of all noteworthy elements.
  5. The plane of planning. Here we have to consider both the technical aspect (creation of a rigorous terminology and publication of numerous close-up views) and the problem of economy (to which extent is monographic research on all motifs a practical proposition?).

Although our article may contain a few hints pointing in other directions, we are in principle only concerned with the second plane.

A further theoretical observation is called for in connection with the concept of evolution. The situation is again best described by positing a “classical“ concept, in this case a “classical“ concept of evolution from which reality differs in more than one respect. According to this classical concept, evolution passes in a given case in a clear movement (einsträngige Entwicklung) from form A (period I) via form B (period II) to form C (period III). In connection with the absence of such simple patterns in the real world we only want to stress one single point, viz. the difference between less complex units (simple images, small shrines) and more complex units (steles, door-frames, temples). An example of deviation from the classical concept is the case where synchronous images seem to be non-synchronous (for one reason or another) and vice versa. In all such cases, the advantage seems to be on the side of the more complex units due to the law of probability. Thus a simple image or an architectural member may follow closely earlier conventions (or foreshadow future developments), but the same state of affairs is very unlikely in the case of a rich stele or a complete temple. Complexity produces a certain neutralization of evolutionary irregularities. This is, however, not to say that the general prospects of absolute chronology will be bright. From our material at least (A.D. 500-1100), we conclude that good and comprehensive results can only be achieved with the method of P. Stern where the emphasis is on relative rather than on absolute chronology.

The reader is referred to §§ 7 and 9 below for further theoretical discussions.

§ 3. A.D. 500-600: The banana plant in later Gupta art

This period uses the banana plant motif mainly as a pictograph indicating landscape. It occurs on two panels from the plinth of the Gupta Temple at Dcogarh. The Rāma-Lakṣmaṇa panel has been reproduced as fig. 2. For the Sunda-Upasunda panel the reader is referred to the original publication (Vats Gu 20a). There the motif on our left is a sort of standard form which helps in identifying many other specimens of the banana plant motif. Between, or rather behind, the two figures we observe a second banana plant with palmlike tuft. Three panels from Nachna, published as Deva Na 11-13, all show Aśoka trees as landscape pictographs for Rāmāyaṇa scenes. But the last panel also shows a banana plant (to the proper right of Lakṣmaṇa). Ignoring specimens which are doubtful or untypical (e.g. Harle Gu 147), we shall conclude by mentioning two specimens from the Ajanta paintings. A general discussion on the relation of painting and sculpture is not necessary in this case since the murals to be quoted show, in their treatment of the banana plants, obvious connections with the vocabulary of sculptural art. We mention one occurrence in Cave 1 (AFR I, Pl. 35, on our left; Pl. 34a, bottom) and one in Cave 2 (AFR II, Pl. 32, on our left).


Makaranda - Essays in honour of Dr. James C. Harle

Compiled by PK

Revised online edition by HN4U 2012

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