Nepali art of the different periods reflects various aspects of the society in the different stages of its development. Originality in the form and the content on a whole shows the development of a civilization with its unique qualities. In the following lines attempts are made to take account of salient features of Nepali strong sculpture, bronze art, wood art and paintings of different ages.
Religion has played an important role for development of art of the old age, middle age and even some aspects of the modern age and even some aspects of the modern art cannot be seen in isolation from the religion. In fact religious fervor has inspired the artistic creation. Some aspects of Nepali art manifested in the making of things of religious importance are described in the capther devoted to pilgrimage. So, some points are not rbougt under discussion in order to avoid repetition.
Stone sculptures in Nepal are believed to have emerged long before the birth of christ. There is a common belief that stone image of virupakshya, and a series of images entitled ‘Parvati Tapasya’ belong to the Kirat period. However, such conclusions are made only on the basis of the physical and formal features of the images since no inscriptions explaining the dates are found so far.
From the lichhavi period onwards stone images with dates and other descriptions are fund. The images of padmapani buddha, vishnu vikrant, vishworup, uma maheshrow, bhagavatis, shiva linga nad a numbe rof other images were built in the period. Furthermore, the images of the period can be found at hanumandhoka, changu narayansthan, dhumbarahi, shovabhagvati, Naxal Bahgavati, and Pashupati. The stone images of the period have certain distinctive features that distinguish them from the images of the earlier period. The images supposedly belonging to the Kirat period have round faces, curly hair, well developed doreheard, robust body and short stature whereas the stone images of Licahhavi period have long oval, faces, aryan nose, thin dresses, ornaments and crowns on heads. In addition, they have intricately donned hair. The most striking thing about them is that they have picturesque vividness and they are lively. The material used for making images is also good. Mostly, hard blue or black stone is used.
Nepali stone sculpture entered another important phase of its development in the Thankuri and Malla period. Some of the famous images built in this period are: Nirisimha’s image at hanumandhoka, the images of Radha-Bhiravi and Surya of Uma maheshwor, Nirsimha, BHairav-Bhairavi and surya of bhaketpur etc. various characteristic features distinguish team from the works of lichhavi period. The distinctive features are:
- Relatively inferior material such as soft sand stone is used to make the images.
- The vividness and fluency of the Lichhavi period and lack in this period because many artists of the period were using metal as a material.
- Various parts of the body of the images are not proportionately worked out.
- Secular images were also made in the perios and
- The facial structure of the images is the mixture of aryan and mongolian structure.
Furthermore, the images are decorated more and are adorned with a halo. In spite of those conspicuous characteristics there are certain expectations too, some out of trend images where undoubtedly made in period.
The history of bronze art is not as old as that of stone sculptures. Descriptions of the Chinese visitors and some of the coins of the Lichhavi period hint that the development of bronze art in the early Lichhavi period or even before to the Lichhavi regime.
Some of the oldest metal images of Nepal are kept at the museums of los angelas and boston of the USA. The most impratnt among them are the 9th century image of Padmapani Avolokisteshwor and Budddha in the meditateive pose.
Nepal witnessed weight development in the field after the Lichhavi period. The images of stars related with buddhism, avalokiteshwor, buddha, Padhmasambhar, Dipankar, Vishnu, Laxmi, Indra, Ganesh, Bhairav and Kuber were made in the middle age.
Two methods of making metal images were used in the period. One is the lost wax process and the other is the method of modeling thin metal sheets.
Both the methods were used in making religious as well as secular images. In this age, a significant addition to the store of image was made. That is the design of the images in the tantric mode. Various deities with several hands and other symbolic icons were made in the trend. Furthermore, bronze images of the period have certain special features that distinguish them from the stone images of the same age. The most remarkatble features are: long eyes, clear and distinct eyebrows, imposing ornaments and the use of gaudy color.
Wood is a less durable material so only the description of the wood art of the old age is found. The works themselves decayed long ago. Most of the works that have survived the weather of hundreds of years belong to the 15th to 18th century.
The works of art can be divided into two groups. Firstly, portable images and other artistic things and secondly, the works of art that form the integral par of temples, monasteries, palaces and rest houses (Sattalas). Decorative doors, windows struts and tympanums belong to the second group. The works of art belonging to the second group. The works belonging to the first category are kept in the National Museum of wood cart. The image of Nrityagevi (15th century), the image of Basundhara (15 century), the image of Vishworup (17th venturi) and the image of Marvijaya are some of the artistic creations kept in the safety of the museum.
Historical buildings, palaces and temples offer finest examples of the artistic creations of the second group some features and described below.
Artis struts of the temples of Nepal are considered to have great artistic merits. The struts protrude from the main body of the temple making a 45 degree angle and they have the function of supporting the structure of the roof. The roofs of Nepali temples are mostly multi tired and upper ones are proportionately smaller than the lower ones. Similarly, the struts of the upper roofs are smaller than those of the lower ones. Almost all the struts of a temple have intricately carved images. In all the four sides of the temples there are the struts with the images of extraordinary animal called Sardula. In some temples images of an extraordinary animal with the horns of a sheep are pictured on the struts protruding on all the four sides. Other struts have the images of the deities and other things related in one way or the other with main deity kept on the sanctum. Another interesting things about them is that they, as a whole, depict three categories of things. The struts of the main places depict the principal deity of the temple; the struts of the upper part depict various scenes of the heaven and the lowest ones depict the various aspects of this phenomenal world.