BY AVTAR MOTA
Harwan is the name of a small village situated about 12 km to the north-east of Srinagar city (in Kashmir ) beyond the Shalimar garden. Harwan is one of the earliest archaeological sites in Kashmir to throw up significant and vital artistic remains. The Buddhist monastery at the site is believed to have been founded during the Kushan (2nd century A.D.) rule and later enlarged in the period of the Huns (mid-fifth century A.D.) . The terracotta tiles ( See Pic.1 and Pic.2 ) relating to a period ranging from the 3rd up to the 5th century A.D. obtained from Harwan are indicators of many key historical facts of ancient Kashmir.
The moulded tiles obtained from the excavations of 1925 at Harwan depict designs and images of conventional flowers, combinations of leaves, leaves of lotus plant, ducks, cocks, cows, elephants, deers, archers on horseback chasing a deer, lady carrying a flower vase, a dancing girl, semi nude male and female figures , a female musician beating the drum, a soldier in armour, men and women conversing, emaciated Yogis ( naked ), etc. Each tile has a number in the Kharoshti language that ceased to be in vogue in North-Western India, where it had principally flourished, around 5th century A.D.
As per the Nilamata Purana and Rajatarangini, dance and music were quite popular in ancient Kashmir. The archaeological evidence also corroborates the Nilamata Purana and Rajataringini. At page 105 of her book “ The Nilamata Purana ( Volume 1) “, Ved Kumari Ghai writes this:-
“A tile from Harwan, with Kharoshti letters which can not be later than 4th century A.D., shows three musicians. The one to the left plays the flute, the centre one plays the cymbals; the third, a pair of drums. Another tile represents a female musician playing the drum. One more tile shows a dancer. The statute of a female dancer was also obtained from the courtyard of Kotisar temple in Kashmir. “
In his book ‘ Ancient Monuments of Kashmir ‘, R.C.Kak, who supervised the Harwan excavations in 1925, writes this :-
“ The fact that the Kharoshthi numerals at Harwan were intended for the guidance of common labourers indicates that the script must have been at the highest pitch of popularity at the time the tiles were made. I should accordingly place the date of the tiles, and consequently that of the diaper pebble masonry with which they are associated, at about A.D. 300. This conclusion receives further support from the style of the human figures and other designs stamped on the tiles. For example, the physiognomy and, to some extent, the dress of the men and women are wholly unlike that of any of the races at present residing in Kashmir, or for the matter of that in India. Their facial characteristics bear a close resemblance to those of inhabitants of the regions round about Yarkand and Kashgar, whose heavy features prominent cheekbones, narrow, sunk, and slanting eyes, and receding foreheads, are faithfully represented on the tiles. Some of the figures are dressed in trousers and Turkoman caps. The only period when Kashmir had any intimate connection with Central Asia was during the supremacy of the Kushans in the early centuries of the Christian era when Kashmir formed part of the Kushan empire, which extended from Mathura in India to Yarkand in Central Asia.”
In his book ‘ Indian Architecture: Buddhist and Hindu Periods’ , Percy Brown writes this :-
“These terracotta plaques at Harwan each of which was moulded with a design in bas-relief, are of a character which makes them unique in Indian art. Pressed out of moulds so that the same pattern is frequently repeated, although spirited and naive in some instances, they are not highly finished productions, but their value lies in the fact that they represent motifs suggestive of more than half a dozen alien civilizations of the ancient world, besides others which are indigenous and local. Such are the Bahraut railing, the Greek swan, the Sasanian foliated bird, the Persian vase, the Roman rosette, the Chinese fret, the Indian elephant, the Assyrian lion, with figures of dancers, musicians, cavaliers and ascetics, and racial types from many sources, as may be seen by their costumes and accessories.”
About these tiles, Pratipaditya Pal writes this:-
“The earliest sites that have yielded terra-cotta objects, which, according to tradition, go back to the Kushan period, are Semthan, Harwan, Hutmurrah, Ushkur, and recently Kutbal. These sites are particularly noteworthy because of the large, stamped tiles with figural and symbolic forms that represent an independent local artistic tradition. Although tiles for paving floors and walls of monasteries were used in Gandhara, they are not as richly and diversely decorated as those from Kashmir. The figures in the Harwan tiles further show both Indian and foreign ethnic types, strange crouching ascetics unique in the Indian plastic tradition and convincingly rendered flora and fauna. Both the Harwan and the Kutbal finds reflect a mature and confident state of artistic skill but, strangely, the tradition did not continue. There is no certainty about the exact dates of these sites, although the consensus is between the third and the fifth century.”
….to be continued
Autar Mota is a noted writer and columnist