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Hindu Sculpture of the Gupta Empire (flourished 320-550)

Founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta, the Gupta Empire unified a large portion of northern
India and led to an extended period of stability and cultural creativity. The Gupta era is
often referred to as the Classical or Golden Age of India, and was characterized by
extensive inventions and enormous progress in technology, engineering, literature,
mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, that laid the basis for what is generally termed
Hindu culture. During this period Hinduism became the official religion of the Gupta
Empire, which saw the emergence of countless images of popular Hindu deities such as
Vishnu (see the colossal image of Vishnu in the Udaigiri caves in Madhya Pradesh),
Shiva, Krishna and the goddess Durga. But the period was also a time of relative
religious tolerance: Buddhism also received royal attention, while Jainism also
prospered. In fact, thanks to the influence of the Mathura school, the Gupta era is
associated with the creation of the iconic Buddha image, which was then copied
throughout the Buddhist world.
The Gupta style of sculpture remained relatively uniform across the empire. It
incorporated the earlier figurative styles practiced in Gandhara and Mathura, but
introduced new and more sophisticated forms and motifs. It is marked in particular by
sensuous modelling of bodies and faces, harmonious proportions and more subtle
expressions. The most innovative and influential artistic centres included Sarnath and
Mathura. The Gupta idiom spread across much of India, influencing artists for centuries
afterward. It also spread via the trade routes to Thailand and Java, as well as other
countries in South and Southeast Asia.
Note: Characteristics of Jain sculpture
Practiced in India since the 6th century BCE, Jainism is a religion that advocates nonviolence towards all living things, along with an austere lifestyle. Currently it has some
six million adherents. The word "Jainism" comes from from jina (meaning liberator or
conqueror), the name given to the 24 main adepts and teachers of this faith. Also known
as also known as tirthankaras (river-forders), these 24 individuals are the principal focus
of Jain sculpture. The highest form of life in Jainism is the wandering, possessionless,
and passionless ascetic, which is why jinas are typically portrayed in statues or reliefs as
itinerant beggars or yogis. Invariably they are depicted in only two positions: either
sitting in the lotus posture (padmasana) or upright in the Jain body-abandonment
posture (kayotsarga).