Buddha's Life Depicted in the Sculpturs of Kakrebihar

Article excerpt

The Context

For quite some time Kakrebihar has been an archaeological enigma for the students of cultural history of Nepal, more precisely of west Nepal hills. The site of Kakrebihar (28[degrees]34' north 81[degrees]38' east) lies in the southern fringe of the Surkhet Valley, almost three kilometers from Birendranagar, the headquarters of Surkhet district in the mid-western development region of Nepal. The ruined site of Kakrebihar is known for the conglomeration of its superb art and architectural remains associated with Hinduism and Buddhism.

This article is intended to identify some of the notable sculptures whose descriptions have not been published yet. More specifically, the rich art of Kakrebihar shows the distinct knowledge about the advancement of Buddhist religion and art skill that had long been fostered in the region.

The Valley of Surkhet was popularly known as the central point, an entrepot of trade in the medieval period. This valley links the northern Himalayas to southern plains of Nepalgunj bordering India. From Tarai the route enters the Surkhet Valley and then passing through the mountainous regions, embracing the towns of Dullu and Sinja, capitals of the Khasa Malla rulers of the medieval period, proceeds further north towards the Tibetan border. During the medieval period this area was important not only for trade and commerce but also for peculiar forms of culture and art.

The site of Kakrebihar, well known as the centre of Buddhist art and culture of medieval times, yields many masterpiece sculptures as well as designs carved on independent stone slabs of the frieze which must have been the part of old shrine. The temple, which might have been plunged by the attack most brobably from outsiders, indicates the northern Indian sikhara styled (i.e. curvilinear) temple fully decorated with Buddhist sculptural art and several other designs. The remains of carved doorjambs confirm the entrance of the temple was beautifully delineatd with several figures of minor Buddhist deities in the niches and decorative scroll motifs around. In the year 2003 the Department of Archaeology of Nepal excavated the Kakrebihar site and successfully unearthed the debris of ruined structure of a stone-temple. Hence, many sculptures of the Buddha and Buddhist subsidiary deities are recordable. This made us possible to assess the popularity of the developed form of sculptural art in this region.

Early attempts to identify Kakrebihar

Interestingly, the famous Italian Orientologist Prof. Giuseppe Tucci has not mentioned Kakrebihar in his book. He must have missed to visit the site during his historical survey of western Nepal. Yogi Naraharinath reported briefly about the site during the time of his exploration in 2012 VS (1956 A. D.). According to Yogi, the site could be linked to Asokachalla, a ruler of Mafia dynasty during 12th century A.D. (Yogi I ii 2013 VS: 170-172). Before excavation only a handful of sculptures and limited number of carved stones were recorded on the surface of the mound.

Although the name, Kakrebihar, implies a vihara or monastery but, in fact, the site is nothing more than a sikhara styled temple that consist of several miniature sikharas in successive layers of the superstructure. We can easily discern skillfully carved images of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and other minor Buddhist deities. Many such images are now preserved in the Birendranagar Regional Museum of the Government of Nepal. The rest of the sculptures and other artistic carvings can be seen still lying on the site. Thus, the art activity of Kakrebihar features the beautifully carved images indicating the spread of the Buddhist art belonging to the Mahayana school of Buddhism in that part of western Nepal. The interesting part of the images can be ascertained exclusively carving the life history of the Buddha. No such other sites of the region have done so.

The tradition of the depiction life scenes of the Buddha in stone art can be traced out from the inspiration of Gandhara and Mathura School at the beginning of Christian era. …