CHENNAI: Tens of thousands of people in the country can reel off details of Leonardo da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo‘s David, but, only a minuscule are aware of the famous artworks created in Amaravati, the erstwhile capital of the Satavahanas (200BC to 200AD), much before these western masterpieces. It is no surprise then that the splendid sculptures, pillars, and fragments of a dating to the 2nd century BC at the Amaravati gallery of the government museum in Egmore don‘t draw bigger crowds. A talk session at the gallery, at 11am on Sunday, will seek to enlighten people about the country‘s artistic heritage. It will be followed by a walk through the gallery.

Amaravati (near Guntur in today‘s Andhra Pradesh) was the site of one of the most fascinating Buddhist stupas in India, and perhaps the most magnificent in South India. “A small portion of the stupa, called a ‘Mahacetiya‘, remains today, along with a few limestone panels that decorated it. We have a great collection of Amaravati artefacts in our museum. But it is a mystery that the Amaravati gallery, whose sculptural splendour is equal to Ajanta, does not draw bigger crowds,” said R Gopu, a Chennai-based software-engineer-turned heritage activist, on “Amaravati-a talk and a walk” as part of Tamil Heritage Trust‘s monthly lecture at Arkay Convention Centre on Saturday.

In the early 19thcentury, Colin Mackenzie, a British East India army officer, rescued some of the ruined panels from a zamindar in Amaravati and shipped them to Calcutta. “The best preserved of these were then shipped to the British Museum in London (like the more famous ). A number of damaged panels called Eliot Marbles, after Walter Eliot of Madras Literary Society, were then shifted to the government museum in Madras by museum founder ,” said Gopu.

The sculptor possessed profound knowledge of composition and an intuitive sense of balance and sequencing. “For the first time, several techniques of artistic rendering such as lighter and deeper etching, differentiated planes, perspective and distance, and foreshortening are successfully introduced. The depiction of Buddha‘s begging bowl and Shaddanta Jataka are masterpieces of composition,” he said, adding that “taming of elephant Nalagiri by Buddha is unrivalled in world sculpture.”

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