Hinduism Mathura
by
Vinay Kumar Gupta
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0239

Introduction

Mathura is one of the most important ancient settlements and one among the seven most sacred cities in India along with Ayodhya, Haridwar (Maya), Kasi, Kanchi, Ujjain (Avantika), and Dvarka. The city is situated about eighty-seven miles south of Delhi and thirty-one miles north of Agra on National Highway No. 2 and once served as the junction of the Western, Northern, Central, and Northeastern Railways, making it the biggest junction point of the Indian Railways until restructuring in 2003. The city is also the district headquarter, and the area of the modern Mathura district is 2075 square miles with a population of over 2.5 million people as per the 2011 census. Mathura is most famous for being considered the birthplace of Krishna, the most popular incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The surrounding area of Mathura forms part of Vraja kshetra (popularly known as Braj), considered sacred as being the location of Krishna’s childhood activities. Historically and archaeologically, the town was one of the most important trade centers of ancient India and the epicenter of the famous school of sculptural art known in popular parlance as the Mathura school, which gave form to many Brahmanical, Jaina, and Buddhist deities including the earliest imagery of the buddha. Prior to becoming a great center of art, Mathura was one of the biggest settlements during the Painted Grey Ware period, generally dated between 1200 and 500 BCE, and one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas during the Northern Black Polished Ware period, c. 6th to 4th centuries BCE. The archaeological evidence for the early periods at Mathura is limited due to a lack of large-scale excavations but with the increasing evidence of epigraphical and sculptural activities dating from 200 BCE and later, the archaeology and culture of the area is better understood. Key factors that led to the evolution of Mathura as an important city and cultural center are its strategic location on trade routes and the religious/sectarian environment where most early Indian sects and cults developed. Buddhism and Jainism along with the prevalent local and Brahmanical cults gained popularity in the Mathura region from the early historical period of c. 3rd century BCE, if not earlier. Most of the early religious art related to these sects first evolved in the environs of Mathura during the Sunga-Kushan periods. There is enough good evidence for the popularity of the cult of Vasudeva-Krishna at Mathura during the Kushan period, but the popular Krishna cult for which Mathura is renowned became more prevalent and visible during the late medieval period only, particularly with the development of the Vallabhite and Gaudiya sects. The role of Mathura in the intermediary period between the Gupta and late medieval periods is not well known due to lack of information and archaeological evidence, but it seems that the Mathura region lost its political importance during this period and yet the religious importance somehow survived until its revival as the greatest center of Krishna bhakti in late medieval or premodern times.

Historical Geography

Mathura district forms part of the fertile Ganga-Yamuna doab plains except for the hilly outcrops of the Aravallis in the western part at Govardhan, Nandgaon, and Barsana. The river Yamuna bisects Mathura district into two parts cis and trans Yamuna and is the most important stream of the area. In the district, the other smaller channels are the Patwaha and Karban and the Govardhan drain. The Ganga canal, following the course of some old water channel, forms an important part of the present-day water supply system of the entire region. Geographical features of the district would have been more or less the same throughout history as well. Drake-Brockman 1911 and Joshi 1968 provide detailed information of the geographical features, land, soil, agriculture, occupations, etc., of Mathura. Sir Alexander Cunningham for the first time tried to draw a historical (Buddhist) map of ancient India, in which Mathura also finds an important place (see Cunningham 1871). The historical geography of the Mathura region is discussed in Dalal 1989, whereas Bajpai 1989 provides a good analysis of the ancient geography of the region through the author’s study of the interregional and transnational trade route networks wherein Mathura played a great role. Moti Chandra 1953 provides a detailed analysis of ancient trading networks, guilds, commodities, etc.

  • Bajpai, Shiva G. “Mathurā: Trade Routes, Commerce, and Communication Patterns, Post-Mauryan Period to End of the Kuṣāṇa Period.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 46–58. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Describing Mathura as the node of interregional trade routes, Bajpai discusses Mathura’s connectivity to various routes of Uttarapatha, to Aparanta, to Madhyadesa and Pracya (the Ganga Plain), and to Dakshinapatha. While elaborating Mathura’s international connections, he mentions the role of Mathura on the routes linking India to West Asia and Europe, to Central Asia and China, and to Southeast Asia and China.

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  • Cunningham, Alexander. The Ancient Geography of India. London: Trubner, 1871.

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    A foundational work for all subsequent studies on the ancient geography of India. Cunningham bases this ancient geography on the accounts of Greek and Latin historians and Buddhist literature, particularly the accounts of Chinese traveler Hwen Thasang (Xuan Zang). He identifies “Methoras” and “Klisoboras” as mentioned by Arrian and Pliny with Mathura and Vrindavan, respectively.

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  • Dalal, Roshan. “The Historical Geography of the Mathurā Region.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 3–11. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Examines the role of the topography and environment of the Mathura region in the location and growth of settlements in relation to other factors. Postulates three circles of ancient routes along radial routes converging toward the city of Mathura.

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  • Drake-Brockman, Digby L., ed. Muttra: A Gazette. District Gazetteers of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh 7. Allahabad, India: Government Press, United Provinces, 1911.

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    The gazetteer provides important information about the general geographical features of Mathura district, the agriculture and commerce, the people, administration, revenue, and history. Important cities, towns, and villages (e.g., Vrindavan, Chhata, Mahaban, Sadabad, etc.) are described in some detail.

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  • Joshi, Esha Basant. Uttar Pradesh District Gazetteers Mathura. Lucknow, India: Government of Uttar Pradesh, 1968.

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    Remains the latest gazetteer on Mathura enlarging on the information provided by Drake-Brockman in his gazetteer on geographical features, agriculture, commerce, people, administration, revenue, and history, particularly through the addition of chapters on industries; banking; trade and commerce; occupations; education and culture; medical and public health services; law, order, and justice; and various aspects of administration.

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  • Moti Chandra. Sarthavaha. Patna, India: Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad, 1953.

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    An important work on ancient Indian trade and commerce. Moti Chandra provides detailed accounts of ancient trade routes, important towns, commodities, the nature of trade guilds, etc. Mathura, being one of the important trade centers of the ancient world, finds an important place in the work. In Hindi.

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Archaeology

Mathura has long been considered one of the most important archaeological sites of India, but many of its treasures have been destroyed over time. Archaeologically, Mathura is associated with the second urbanization phase in India during the first millennium BCE and with the arrival of certain early radiocarbon dates of the Painted Grey Ware and Northern Black Polished Ware periods in recent years, there is a need to reconsider the early chronology of north Indian cultures, particularly in the context of Mathura. What makes Mathura unique is the fact that it is one of the few cities in India that has great mythological and historical significance. Ayodhya, Varanasi, and Ujjain can be cited as other such sites in north and central India but none surpasses Mathura as a historical settlement with such a long lasting impact on ancient culture and society. During the Painted Grey Ware culture period, Mathura was the biggest settlement that continued to be significant during the succeeding period of Northern Black Polished Ware culture and the Mauryan period. During the Sunga-Kushan periods (2nd century BCE–3rd century CE), Mathura achieved unparalleled significance, which is clear from the epigraphic records and the sculptural and other cultural findings. Archaeological studies in Mathura started with Sir Alexander Cunningham who visited Mathura many times and reported his findings in Archaeological Survey of India Reports (see Cunningham 1871–1887). During that time a number of Buddhist, Jaina, and Brahmanical findings were reported but, unfortunately, no structures were documented by Cunningham. Based on extensive explorations in the area, Gupta 2013 reviews all the past archaeological work done in Mathura. Gupta 2014 notes that archaeological cultures in the region begin with Ochre Colored Pottery, but at Mathura proper, the earliest culture is still considered Painted Grey Ware. Gupta and Mani 2017 analyzes two early dates of c. 2200 BCE from the Painted Grey Ware period from Gosna, Mathura, and substantiate early dating of this culture. Vogel 1911–1912 provides the only available brief account of two important excavations at Mathura: the Kushan devakula site at Itokari Tila, Mat, and the famous Vrishni temple site at Mora. The first scientific excavation at Mathura took place at the site of Katra by M. Venkataramayya and Ballabh Saran of the Archaeological Survey of India (see Venkataramayya and Saran 1955), and then excavations at selected spots of Mathura city took place between 1973 and 1977, the results of which have never been published except for a brief summary by the excavator (Joshi 1989) and a brief analysis of its chronology (Joshi and Sinha 1978–1979). Chakrabarti, et al. 2004 covers the results of a rapid survey of Mathura and surrounding districts. The most important archaeological work in the entire district was conducted by Professor Herbert Hartel and his German team from 1966 to 1973 at the site of Sonkh, about fifteen miles south of Mathura. Hartel 1993, through the author’s meticulously written excavation report, provides the basis for dating sculptures, terra-cottas, coins, pottery, etc.

  • Chakrabarti, Dilip Kumar, Rakesh Tewari, and Ravindra N. Singh. “Bateshwar, Mathura and Ahar: Sites in the Agra-Mathura-Aligarh-Bulandshahr Sector of the Upper Ganga-Yamuna Doab in Uttar Pradesh.” South Asian Studies 20 (2004): 57–59.

    DOI: 10.1080/02666030.2004.9628636Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Based on the archaeological explorations in Mathura and nearby districts of Uttar Pradesh, this paper provides a good idea of the location of archaeological sites, their nature, and various ancient routes of the region.

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  • Cunningham, Alexander. Archaeological Survey of India Reports. 23 vols. Calcutta: Archaeological Survey of India, 1871–1887.

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    Specifically, see Volume 1, Four Reports Made during the Years 1862–63–64–65 (pp. 231–244); Volume 3, Report for the Year 1971–72 (pp. 13–46); Volume 17, Report of a Tour in the Central Provinces and Lower Gangetic Doab in 1881–82 (pp. 107–112); and Volume 20, Report of a Tour in Eastern Rajputana in 1882–83 (pp. 30–54). In these four volumes of the Archaeological Survey of India Reports, Cunningham provides valuable information on the early explorations and excavations in Mathura, including the identification of various mounds as archaeological sites particularly of Buddhist affiliation, and various antiquities/sculptures from excavations of a few of them.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. Mathura: An Art and Archaeological Study. New Delhi: Kaveri, 2013.

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    Based on thorough explorations in the Braj region, attempts to provide a complete archaeological picture of the entire region. Based on the village-to-village survey, maps around a thousand sites in the region, more than 90 percent reported for the first time. Chapters on Buddhism, Jainism, Saiva cult, Vaishnava cult, Sakta cult, Surya cult, Ganesa, Skanda, Revanta, Yaksha and other deities, terra-cottas, and Mora evidence.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. “Early Settlement of Mathura: An Archaeological Perspective.” Lecture delivered at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 18 September 2012. In NMML Occasional Paper. History and Society, New Series 41. New Delhi: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 2014.

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    A basic introduction to the archaeology of Mathura, this paper discusses the nature of archaeological sites in the Braj region with a case study of the site of Gosna from which two early radiocarbon dates were obtained. Also discusses the ancient trade routes inside the Mathura region that finally became part of pan-Indian trade routes.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar, and Buddha Rashmi Mani. “Painted Grey Ware: Changing Perspectives.” Heritage: Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies in Archaeology 5 (2017): 370–379.

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    Discusses issues related to the chronology, authorship, origin, and association with the epic Mahabharata of Painted Grey Ware culture afresh in light of the new radiocarbon dates obtained from various sites and the first author’s detailed archaeological survey in the Mathura region, a core area of Painted Grey Ware culture. Argues for a change in the accepted chronology of this culture.

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  • Hartel, Herbert. Excavations at Sonkh: 2500 Years of a Town in Mathura District. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1993.

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    With contributions by Hans-Jurgen Paech and Rolf Weber. One of the most comprehensive and well-written excavation reports in Indian archaeology. Gives descriptions of the excavations at Sonkh, which still remains the only site in the entire Mathura region scientifically excavated with a proper excavation report.

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  • Joshi, Munish Chandra. “Mathurā as an Ancient Settlement.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 165–170. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Provides a brief report on the excavations at Mathura conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India from 1973 to 1977. This is the only source of information of the excavated spots and their chronology in the absence of any detailed report of the excavations.

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  • Joshi, Munish Chandra, and Ashok Kumar Sinha. “Chronology of Mathura—an Assessment.” Puratattva 10 (1978–1979): 39–44.

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    One of the few articles available on the excavations at Mathura. It discusses the chronology of Mathura on the basis of radiocarbon dates obtained through analysis of charcoal samples.

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  • Venkataramayya, M., and Ballabh Saran. “Mathura.” In Indian Archaeology 1954–55: A Review. Edited by Amlananda Ghosh, 15–16. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1955.

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    The brief report of excavations done at the Katra mound in Mathura during the field season of 1954–1955. The excavators observed two ringed fortifications at Katra, the inner elliptical and outer quadrangular. On the surface, Painted Grey Ware was found in abundance. In the excavations, the earliest deposit was of a culture that used handmade pottery and plain grey and polished black pottery.

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  • Vogel, Jean Phillip. “Excavations at Mathura.” In Archaeological Survey of India—Annual Report, 1911–12. Edited by John Marshall, 120–133. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1911–1912.

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    The only available brief report of excavations done by Pt. Radhakrishna at the important sites of Itokari Tila, Mat, and Mora. The old black-and-white photographs, drawings, sculptural findings, inscribed bricks, inscriptions, and the firsthand information of the digs make the paper very useful.

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Epigraphy

The epigraphs discovered from the Mathura region are mostly small and fragmentary private records of a dedicatory nature and are engraved on statues, pillars, arches, votive tablets, etc. Some of them are dated and others undated. They are written in Brahmi characters, except the lion-capital inscriptions of Ranjuvula and Sodasa, which are in Kharoshthi. There are a few fragmentary Kharoshthi inscriptions found from the Rawal village in Mathura. The chronology of Mathura epigraphs goes back to the 3rd century BCE. There are a few early inscriptions that have been found carved on ancient bricks and are datable to the Maurya-Sunga period. Some of these bricks have been found from the Madan Mohan Temple, Vrindavan, Gosna mound, Mora site, etc., of which the Vrindavan and Mora inscriptions are significant for establishing an early chronology of the Bhāgavata cult in the Mathura area. Some early inscriptions in stone have also been found from the Ganeshra mounds. Most of the early inscriptions are very fragmentary. During the 1st century BCE–1st century CE period, there was a significant rise in the number of dedicatory inscriptions, mostly from the Kankali Tila and Jamalpur/Jail mounds, two so-called excavated sites. During the Kushan period, the number of dedicatory inscriptions increased further and during the Gupta period too, some very important inscriptions are found from Mathura; two of them testifying to the early genealogy of Gupta kings were obtained from the Rangeshwar Mahadev Mandir Bagichi and from near the Katra mound. The majority of epigraphic records from Mathura relate to Jainism and Buddhism, but there are a few inscriptions that testify to the presence of Brahmanical cults at Mathura, sometimes preceding the later heterogenous establishments. Examples can be cited of a few Saka-Kshatrapa–period (early 1st century CE) inscriptions from Birjapur, Chaurasi, Jamalpur, and a Kushan-period Yupa inscription from Isapur. Two studies specifically dedicated to inscriptions of Mathura are Luders 1961, the basic study that forms primary-source material for future scholars, and Bajpayee 1980, a study that is derived from inscriptions. Buhler 1892 contains some important Jaina inscriptions from Kankali Tila, Mathura. Luders 1909–1910 lists Brahmi inscriptions. Luders 1937–1938 contains important Brahmi inscriptions from Mathura, including the Mora and the dedicatory inscription by Vasu mentioning a temple of Vasudeva. Agrawala 1937 provides some twenty-one inscriptions found from Mathura. Bhandarkar 1931–1932 is an important paper on the Rangeshwar Mahadev Temple pillar inscription of the period of Candragupta II, which mentions Pasupata acaryas. Sharma 1989 provides a few new inscriptions that were acquired by the Mathura Museum during the author’s tenure, including one fairly well-preserved inscription of the period of Sodasa found from Birjapur village, Mathura. Chhabra and Gai 1981 is an updated and revised version of J. F. Fleet’s Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum volume on Early Gupta inscriptions, which contains some of the Mathura inscriptions. Falk 2002–2003 challenges earlier readings of some important Mathura inscriptions, including Mihirgriha and Kasyapa Buddha.

  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Ten Inscriptions from Mathura.” Journal of the United Province Historical Society 10.1 (1937): 1–6.

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    Agrawala published a total of twenty-one inscriptions in both these articles. Most of the inscriptions are small but informative. One of the inscriptions is from Gigla (near Sadabad), which is inscribed on a Sivalinga called Jatesvara and dates to the Kushan period. Continued as “Further New Inscriptions from Mathura.” Journal of the United Province Historical Society 12.1 (1939): 22–31.

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  • Bajpayee, Kalyani Das. Early Inscriptions of Mathurā: A Study. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1980.

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    Discusses political history, administrative systems, religions, economic life, and the social life of Mathura through the study of inscriptions. In the appendix, the summaries of inscriptions are quite valuable.

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  • Bhandarkar, Devdatta Ramakrishna. “Mathura Pillar Inscription of Chandragupta II: G. E. 61.” Epigraphia Indica 21 (1931–1932): 1–9.

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    Critical study of the Mathura pillar inscription found from Bagichi of the Rangeshwar Mahadev Temple, which mentions the installation of two Sivalingas in the name of acaryas of the Pasupata sect.

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  • Buhler, Georg. “Further Jaina Inscriptions from Mathura.” Epigraphia Indica 1 (1892): 393–397.

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    Buhler, who was indirectly responsible for the excavations at Kankali Tila, was very prompt in studying and publishing the inscriptions found from the excavations. These two articles are important sources of information for the Jaina inscriptions obtained from Kankali Tila. Continued as “Further Jaina Inscriptions from Mathura.” Epigraphia Indica 2 (1894): 195–212.

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  • Chhabra, Bahadurchand, and Govind Swamirao Gai, eds. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. Vol. 3, Inscriptions of Early Gupta Kings. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1981.

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    Updated volume on Early Gupta inscriptions that was authored by J. F. Fleet. Many Gupta inscriptions from Mathura that are important to Gupta genealogy have been analyzed by Chhabra and Gai in great detail.

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  • Falk, Harry. “Some Inscribed Images from Mathura Revisited.” Indo-Asiatische Zeitschrift 6.7 (2002–2003): 31–47.

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    Falk revisits five important Mathura inscriptions of the Kushan period. One is the revised reading of “maharogahah” instead of “mihirgriha” from a famous Kankali Tila Yaksha image. Another important reading by Falk is the denial of the famous Kasyapa Buddha image from Mathura, as he suggests it to be a bodhisattva.

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  • Luders, Heinrich. Appendix to Epigraphia Indica and Record of the Archaeological Survey of India. Vol. 10, A List of Brahmi Inscriptions from the Earliest Times to about A.D. 400 with the Exception of Those of Aśoka. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1909–1910.

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    See pp. 1–25 for an important write-up on early inscriptions of Mathura in which Luders has listed all the inscriptions known until then.

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  • Luders, Heinrich. “Seven Brahmi Inscriptions from Mathura and Its Vicinity.” Epigraphia Indica 24 (1937–1938): 194–210.

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    Analyzes seven important Brahmi inscriptions from various sites of Mathura, including the famous Mora well inscription related to pancavrishniviras (five Vrishni heroes), the inscription on the pedestal of a female statue from Mora mentioning Tosa, and an inscription on a doorjamb from the Mathura cantonment area mentioning the temple of Vasudeva.

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  • Luders, Heinrich. Mathura Inscriptions: Unpublished Papers. Edited by Klaus L. Janert. Gottingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961.

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    The most comprehensive and scholarly work on the epigraphs of Mathura. The book discusses the epigraphs found from the religious sanctuaries in the environs of Mathura, within the limits of ancient Mathura city, from the entire Mathura district along with a basic introduction of the find-spots and the nature of the findings, along with the inscriptions and the epigraphs with unknown provenance found from Mathura region. The author has painstakingly provided facsimiles of all the inscriptions that he has discussed.

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  • Sharma, Ramesh Chandra. “New Inscriptions from Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 308–315. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Sharma analyzes some new inscriptions that were found during his tenure at the Government Museum, Mathura, in the 1970s. These include an inscription of the time of Sodasa found from Mirjapur (sic), a buddha image inscription recording Kayastha from near the Triveni factory, an inscription of Gotiputra from near Chaurasi Tila, another buddha image inscription of the time of Vasudeva, a bodhisattva erected by Senaka at Vrindavan, a pillar inscription of Kanishka’s reign, and an inscription of year thirty-five from Saptarshi Tila.

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Numismatics

Just as Mathura acquires a prominent place in the study of ancient Indian art, cults, and epigraphy, similarly it finds an important place in the studies of ancient coins. How many ancient coins Mathura has provided can well be understood by the fact that V. S. Agrawala mentioned that Kushan coins were in vogue in Mathura until 1900. The earliest coinage of India, the punch-marked coins, are found in abundance from Mathura sites. The earliest issues were in silver, followed by copper. Uninscribed copper-cast coins also came into use at the same time. These were followed by punch-marked coins of the Mauryan imperial series and then the local coins of Mitra and Datta rulers. Coins of Indo-Greek rulers have also come to light from Mathura in good numbers and during the Kushan period, Mathura’s supremacy as a trade center is well known. Kidara Kushan coins have also been found in good numbers from Mathura. For the study of Gupta coins, the largest hoard comes from a field on the boundary of the villages Nagla Chhaila and Hullanpur near Karauli and Bayana, about fifty miles south of Mathura and a part of the Braj region. The first important study of ancient Indian coins including issues from Mathura is Allan 1936. Prasad and Gupta 1954 studies the clay molds of punch-marked coins found from Mathura. The most important and specific work on early coins of Mathura is Gupta 1989. The chapter on coins in the excavation report of Sonkh written by Professor Hartel is valuable. Srivastava 1989 discusses five treasure trove lots from the Mathura area. Singh 1989 studies the religious motifs as depicted on local coins of Mathura. Macdowall 1989 studies the patterns of pre-Kushan copper coinage. Mitterwallner 1986 is a detailed and important study of Kushan coins. Bhandare 2019 updates the study of Mathura coins with the addition of some new coins that have come to light from private coin collections. Altekar 1954 is the author’s landmark study on the coins of Bayana, cataloguing 1821 Gupta gold coins. Verma 1983 presents a catalogue of seals and sealings housed in the Mathura Museum.

  • Allan, John. Catalogue of Coins of Ancient India. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1936.

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    One of the landmark studies that has become foundational for any study on the coins of ancient India. Allan prepared this study on the basis of Indian coins housed in the collection of the British Museum, London. Coins of Mathura also form an important part of the work.

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  • Altekar, Anant Sadashiv. Catalogue of Gold Coins in the Bayana Hoard. Bombay: Numismatic Society of India, 1954.

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    Catalogue of one of the most precious discoveries in Indian history, the hoard of Gupta coins found in an accidental discovery by three boys from village Hullanpur/Nagla Chhaila near Bayana in 1946. The pathbreaking study revolves around 1821 gold coins that were retrieved from the villagers, out of some 2100 gold coins.

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  • Bhandare, Shailendra. “The Numismatic Chronology of Mathura and Its Bearing on Art.” In Indology’s Pulse: Arts in Context; Essays Presented to Doris Meth Srinivasan in Admiration of Her Scholarly Research. Edited by Corinna Wessels-Mevissen and Gerd J. R. Mevissen, 145–168. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2019.

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    Edited with the assistance of Arundhati Banerji and Vinay Kumar Gupta. Presents a brief survey of early coinage from the Mathura region. Inclusion of some recently found coins from private collections belonging to Mathura makes it interesting.

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  • Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal. “Early Coins of Mathurā Region.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 124–139. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Perhaps the most important study on the early coins of Mathura. Gupta postulates that even before the rise of the Mauryas some of the punch-marked coins were indeed issued in Mathura for the kingdom of Surasena, one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. He identifies certain symbols punched on them as indicative of the Mahajanapada or its chief city, Mathura.

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  • Macdowall, D. W. “The Pattern of the Kuṣāṇa Copper Coinage and the Role of Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 153–161. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    By drawing attention to various local copper coinages derived from the Kushans, Macdowall very aptly demands more comprehensive study of these later coinages. He proposes that the late Kushan copper coins appear more as a “series of coins” and not as “issues of individual kings.”

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  • Mitterwallner, Gritli von. Kuṣāṇa Coins and Kuṣāṇa Sculptures from Mathura. Proceedings of F. S. Growse Memorial Lectures delivered at the Government Museum, Mathura, 13–14 March 1984. Mathura, India: Government Museum, Mathura, 1986.

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    A good study on Kushan coins and sculptures prepared as part of the F. S. Growse Memorial Lectures that Professor Mitterwallner delivered at Mathura in 1984.

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  • Prasad, Durga, and Parmeshwari Lal Gupta. “Clay-Moulds of Punch-Marked Coins from Mathura.” Journal of the Numismatic Society of India 16 (1954): 166–176.

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    Analyzes various coin molds found from excavations at Katra Keshavadev, Mathura, in 1917 by Pandit Radhakrishna. The paper further extends the analysis done by Pannalal on these molds in his paper “A Find of Clay-Moulds for Forging Coins at Mathura,” Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society 1 (1918): 137–140.

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  • Singh, Jai Prakash. “Study of Local Coin Types of Mathurā with Particular Reference to Religious Motifs.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 146–152. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Concludes that “the local kings of Mathura did not use coins to publicize their own religious leanings and beliefs” (p.117) and that the use of Lakshmi on Saka-Pahlava coinage only shows that these foreigners followed a policy of religious tolerance. Numismatic conservatism in continuing the use of a coin-type transcends not only personal and dynastic but also ethno-cultural associations.

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  • Srivastava, A. K. “Treasure Trove Finds from Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 119–123. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Srivastava refers to five treasure trove lots from the Mathura area and analyzes the coins found in those lots. The huge bulk of these coin lots belonged to the Kushan kings and some to the post-Kushan Kidara Kushans.

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  • Verma, Thakur Prasad. A Catalogue of the Seals and Sealings in the Government Museum Mathura. Mathura, India: Government Museum, Mathura, 1983.

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    The seals and sealings housed in the Government Museum, Mathura, are here published along with photographs and readings of the legends/inscriptions.

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Political, Social, and Economic History

Not much information about the protohistoric society of Mathura is available except for the cultural sequence that begins from the Painted Grey Ware period with a strong possibility of the presence of Ochre Colored Pottery culture. It is highly probable that it was during the Northern Black Polished Ware culture period that Mathura formed part of the sixteen Mahajanapadas (kingdoms) as the capital of Surasena janapada. The Sixteen Mahajanapadas are associated with the second urbanization of India, and Magadha emerged as the strongest among them. Silver and copper punch-marked coins of this period and the use of baked and unbaked bricks to construct houses attest to the economic life of the society. During the Mauryan period, Mathura became a fortified city and possibly an important center of trade and commerce. Thapar 1989 provides an idea of Mathura’s society and economy up until the Mauryan period. During the post-Mauryan period (2nd century BCE) we get coins of sixteen rulers whose names end in Mitra and Datta, generally related to the Sungas, from Sonkh before the arrival of the Saka-Pahlavas. During this period, Mathura became a prosperous city as Patanjali notes in his Mahabhashya that residents of Mathura were even more prosperous and happier than those of Samkasya and Pataliputra. Indo-Greek rulers, particularly Menander, are believed to have won and ruled over Mathura. All these ruling tribes of Saka-Pahlavas, including the Kushans, became merged with the Indian population and accepted the religious beliefs of the defeated populace as indicated by coins of Agathocles representing Vasudeva-Krishna and Sankarshana; Vima Kadphises representing Siva; and coinage of Kanishka, Huvishka, and Vasudeva with various Hindu divinities. During the rule of the Kushans, Mathura became their second and largely cultural capital. During the Gupta period, the Mathura region formed an important part of the Gupta Empire as the inscriptions and coins indicate. During post-Gupta times, Mathura lost its importance as a great political and commercial center but continued to be an important religious center and a city of some repute. The same has continued through the Islamic and British imperial period until recent times. Chattopadhyay 1989 provides a historical outline of Mathura from the end of the Mauryas up to the arrival of the Kushans. Mukherjee 1981, Mukherjee 1989, and Satya 1981 give detailed information on the society and economy of Mathura during the Saka-Pahlava phase up to the Kushan period. Salomon 1989 discusses daily life at Mathura during this period, whereas Sharma 1989 talks about the economic life of Mathura from 300 BCE to 300 CE. Joshi 1967 delves into the material civilization of Northern India from c. 200 BCE to 300 CE, as revealed by the sculptures, terra-cotta, and coins. Mitra 1974 provides a good idea of the early history of Mathura. Lohuizen de Leeuw 1989 presents the foreign elements in Indian culture introduced during the Scythian period with special reference to Mathura.

  • Chattopadhyay, Braja Dulal. “Mathurā from Śuṅga to the Kuṣāṇa Period: An Historical Outline.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 19–30. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Explores the period marked by a definite shift in the pull of political gravity in north India, caused largely by an impressive series of population movements from across its northwestern frontier.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. Life in Ancient Uttarāpatha: Material Civilisation of Northern India from c. 200 B.C. to 300 A.D. as revealed by the Sculptures, Terracotta and Coins. Varanasi, India: Hindu Vishvavidyalaya Nepal Rajya Sanskrit Granthamala, 1967.

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    A significant part of this work on life in ancient north India is related to Mathura. Identification of various items as mentioned in Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit literature with those depicted on the period’s art is remarkable along with a large number of line drawings of various architectural members/articles.

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  • Lohuizen de Leeuw, Joanna Engelberta van. “Foreign Elements in Indian Culture Introduced during the Scythian Period with Special Reference to Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 72–82. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    In analyzing the foreign elements, Lohuizen de Leeuw suggests that the role of the Scythian and Parthian tribes was mostly that of middlemen passing on Iranian, Hellenistic, and later Roman elements to their newly acquired territories. Their own contribution to Indian culture was rather limited.

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  • Mitra, Debala. “Mathura: Early History.” In Jaina Art and Architecture. Vol. 1. Edited by Amalanand Ghosh, 49–68. New Delhi: Bharatiya Jnanapitha, 1974.

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    A good account of the early history of Mathura from the earliest times up to the late Kushan period. She particularly looks into the pre-Kushan early inscriptional mentions of Jaina temples from Mathura as well as the Kushan inscriptions related to Jainism, Jaina art, and architectural heritage.

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  • Mukherjee, Bratindra Nath. Mathurā and Its Society: The Śaka Pahlava Phase. Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1981.

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    Detailed study of Mathura and its society during the Saka-Pahlava phase up to the end of the Kushan period, based on information retrieved primarily from inscriptions and coins, and also from literature, archaeology, and art.

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  • Mukherjee, Bratindra Nath. “Growth of Mathurā and Its Society (Up to the End of the Kuṣāṇa Age).” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 59–71. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Discusses the societal conditions of Mathura during the pre–Common Era and post–Common Era periods until the end of the Kushan Empire. He concludes that it appears that from the initial phase of the development of Mathura, outside elements played a part in the growth of its society.

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  • Salomon, Richard. “Daily Life in Ancient Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 39–45. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Addresses dress and ornaments, different vocations of people, buildings and houses, food and drink, sports, games and entertainment, utensils and furniture, and various modes of transportation as discernible from various sculptures, inscriptions, and excavated material remains.

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  • Satya, Shrava. The Śakas in India. New Delhi: Pranav Prakashan, 1981.

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    A critical study of Saka history in India. Mathura being an important center of Saka presence in India finds a significant place in the work, particularly as a political and strategic center of the time.

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  • Sharma, Ram Sharana. “Trends in the Economic History of Mathurā (c. 300 B.C.–A.D. 300).” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 31–38. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Sharma writes of various arts and crafts practiced at Mathura from the Mauryan period to the Kushan period. Sharma emphasizes the importance of the strategic location of Mathura on the ancient trade routes and booming trade for its rise as a cosmopolitan center during the Kushan period and attributes the decline in trade as the reason for it losing its importance as a great center during the Gupta period.

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  • Thapar, Romila. “The Early History of Mathurā: Up to and Including the Mauryan Period.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 12–18. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Reviews extant references to Mathura in the Vedic, Epic, Puranic, Buddhist, and Jaina literature, and considers Mathura as one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Also reviews the economic and social conditions during the Mauryan times based on findings from the Sonkh and Mathura excavations.

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Religious Sects

Mathura has been important for various religious sects not just as the artistic center of evolution of cultic sculptures but also for the religious meanings attached to the place. Many of the important festivals in India are either believed to have originated at Mathura or are celebrated at Mathura with maximum pomp and show. The festival of five days, or Dipavali, and the festival of colors, Holi, may be included in this list besides a number of festivals related to the cult of goddesses like Sitala Saptami (Basora), Ahoi Ashtami, etc. The early religious life of Mathura is not well understood due to a lack of archaeological excavations and a dearth of inscriptional and numismatic evidence. But from about 200 BCE, more numismatic and epigraphic evidence is available along with sculptural art remains. The popularity of the Bhagavata cult during the 3rd century BCE is evidenced by the presence of figures of Vrishni deities and their emblems, like the disc and mace, on early coinage from Mathura as well as brick inscriptions from the Madan Mohan Temple, Vrindavan, followed by inscriptions from Mora and Mathura in the 1st century BCE–1st century CE. There is inscriptional evidence of the presence of a Saiva cult as well as a Sri-Lakshmi cult during the early 1st century CE in the form of inscriptions. The presence of Buddhism in Mathura is attested by the Buddhist literary accounts particularly related to Upagupta who later on became the religious preacher of Asoka the Great (3rd century BCE), as well as by some slightly later sculptural findings related to Buddhist religious edifices datable to the Sunga period (c. 185 BCE–50 BCE). There were many sacred Buddhist religious spots in the area related to the activities of Mahakatyayana, Upagupta, and possibly the buddha himself who according to the Sanskrit avadana literature visited Mathura twice. Many of the stupas mentioned by Xuan Zang might have come into existence during Asoka’s reign, as the area formed an integral part of the Mauryan Empire. Similarly, for the Jaina faith, Mathura was an important center of religious activity as testified by early Jaina canonical literature, for example, the Acarangacurni and Avasyakacurni, and their most sacred stupa(s) was located at Kankali Tila, Mathura, and the sculptural evidence from the site dates back to early 1st century BCE. Prior to that, the stupa might have existed at the site but it might have been a plain construction of either mud or bricks. As per Jaina texts, the twenty-second tirthankara Arishtaneminatha was born at Sauripura in Mathura and was a cousin of Vasudeva-Krishna and Balarama. Most of the sites of Mathura with religious affiliation have shown a multireligious presence. Examples can be cited of Katra, Kankali, Bhuteshwar, Gokarneshwar, Pali-khera, Maholi, Jamalpur, Sonkh, and other sites. From the nature of the sites, it appears that all three sects were in some kind of harmony, at least during the Kushan period, and the sites developed either from the preexisting local cults or simultaneously with them.

Brahmanical Sects

Mathura’s association with Krishna is well known as it is considered to be his birthplace on the basis of the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, other Puranas and ancient literature. Even Jaina texts like the Dasavaikalika-curni and Harivamsa Purana mention Mathura as Krishna’s birthplace. Since premodern times, the identity of Mathura is connected with Krishna just as Rama and Ayodhya are interconnected. In present day circumstances, Mathura cannot be viewed in isolation from Krishna. This section mentions those works that address the sectarian evolution of cults of Krishna and other important Brahmanical deities who were worshipped in ancient Mathura. Krishna was part of the Vrishni kula at Mathura, and Gupta 2019 presents Vrishnis in ancient literature and art in some detail. Bhandarkar 1982 makes the earliest pioneering effort at tracing the historical origins of such major religious systems as Vaishnavism and Saivism and other sects such as Sakta, Ganapatya, and Saura, the earliest important evidence of all these cults being found in the Mathura region. Gonda 1954 studies the cult of Vishnu, and Bhagavatism and Krishna are an important part of it as the cult evolved at Mathura itself. Gonda 1970 presents another important study of cults of Vishnu and Siva that again relate to Mathura as it was the place where many of the sectarian dogmas were taking shape in sculptural art. Jayaswal 2015 also traces the origin and development of Vaishnavism from a sectarian basis and it is again helpful to understand the sectarian developments at Mathura. Getty 1936 traces the origin and development of the Ganesa cult in Hinduism and also in Buddhism in and outside India. Some of the earliest Ganesa imagery is from the Mathura region datable to the late Kushan period (c. 3rd century CE). The earliest imagery of Surya, Durga, Sri-Lakshmi, Skanda-Karttikeya, Agni, Matrikas, Parvati, and many other deities first originated and evolved at Mathura. This evolution must have been accompanied by some sectarian doctrine as well, due to the religious importance attached to Mathura.

  • Bhandarkar, Ramakrishna Gopal. Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, and Minor Religious Systems. Pune, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1982.

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    In order to show how Bhagavatism gave rise to a full-fledged theistic theology of Vaishnavism, Bhandarkar thoroughly examines the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata. In a similar manner he deals with the development of Saivite thought. Reprint, first published in 1913.

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  • Getty, Alice. Gaṇeśa: A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936.

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    Possibly the first detailed work on Ganesa. It traces the origin of Ganesa in Indian literature; the iconography of the God in Hindu texts; Ganesa in Hindu sculptures and paintings; and also Ganesa in Buddhism, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, etc. The earliest images of Ganesa are again from Mathura.

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  • Gonda, Jan. Aspects of Early Viṣṇuism. Utrecht, The Netherlands: Oosthoek, 1954.

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    One of the important works that consolidates evidence from the early Vedic texts and later Puranas to show that certain traits of Vishnu persist and are developed further, such as his concern for human welfare.

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  • Gonda, Jan. Viṣṇuism and Śaivism: A Comparison. London: Athlone, 1970.

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    An excellent source for exploring the theology, ritual, and mutual interaction of these two traditions, with numerous references to primary sources and exhaustive notes.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. “Vṛṣṇis in Ancient Literature and Art.” In Indology’s Pulse: Arts in Context; Essays Presented to Doris Meth Srinivasan in Admiration of Her Scholarly Research. Edited by Corinna Wessels-Mevissen and Gerd J. R. Mevissen with the assistance of Arundhati Banerji and Vinay Kumar Gupta, 71–94. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2019.

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    Discusses the Vrishnis in ancient literature, particularly in the Mahabharata, Harivamsa Purana, Ashtadhyayi, and Indian art, particularly highlighting their presence in the Mathura region.

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  • Jayaswal, Suvira. The Origin and Development of Vaishnavism. 3d rev. ed. New Delhi: Mushiram Manoharlal, 2015.

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    Jayaswal traces the early origin and development of Vaishnavism by focusing more on sectarian doctrines than art. She suggests the merger of some cults that gave rise to the Vaishnavism of the Kushan-Gupta periods, in particular at Mathura. Enlarged edition.

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Local and Non-Brahmanical Sects

It is believed that before the popularity of the mainstream religious cults of Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Jainism, folk and local gods and goddesses were worshipped in Mathura, the most important among them being Yaksha and Yakshis, and Naga and Naginis. Coomaraswamy 1928–1931 and Misra 1981 study the Yaksha cult in great detail. Vogel 1926 is a significant contribution to the study of the Naga cult. For Buddhism also, Mathura was important because according to the Sarvastivadin Vinaya, the buddha is said to have visited Mathura twice, and one of his most famous disciples, Mahakacchayana, resided at Gundavana in Mathura. Jaini 1989 discusses all references related to Mathura and the role it played in the development of various Buddhist doctrines. There were many important stupas at Mathura dedicated to Ananda, Upali, etc., and some are thought to have contained the relics of the buddha and his great disciples too. The famous Buddhist teacher Upagupta, who is considered equal to God in some Southeast Asian countries, was a native of Mathura and was instrumental in the propagation of Buddhism in those countries. Strong 1992 gives detailed information on his cult and legend. Huntington 1989 proposes the possibility of an early chronology of various Buddhist doctrines like the Sukhavati vyuha, and the cult of Avalokitesvara based on inscriptional and sculptural evidence from Mathura. Bailey and Mabbett 2003 looks into the socioeconomics of the early spread of Buddhism, including the urban center of Mathura. Likely for Jainas, Mathura served as an Atisaya Kshetra, but before that, Mathura had the most revered Jaina stupa, that is, devanirmita stupa at Kankali Tila, Mathura, along with one or more stupas in the vicinity. The last kevalin after Mahavira, Jambusvami attained nirvana at Mathura and the twenty-second Tirthankara Arishtaneminatha is considered a cousin of Krishna and Balarama, and he was reputedly born at Sauripura in Mathura. Shah and Bender 1989 provides a brief survey of important references related to Mathura in Jaina literature and the role of Mathura in the development of Jaina doctrines. Folkert 1989 presents the partial behavior of imperial scholars toward Jainism, the majority of whom in the 19th century considered Jainism as a late offshoot of Buddhism. This view was challenged first by H. Jacobi and finally settled by Georg Buhler and led to the excavations at the Kankali Tila, Mathura.

  • Bailey, Greg, and Ian Mabbett. The Sociology of Early Buddhism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511488283Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The authors look into the spread of Buddhism in the early period (from the 5th century BCE) in northern and northeastern India. They take into consideration the socioeconomic condition of the society and its impact on the spread of the new religion. The role of monks in the spread of Buddhism in urban centers is also addressed.

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  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. Yakshas: Essays in Water Cosmology. 2 vols. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1928–1931.

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    Published in coordination with the Freer Gallery of Art. Coomaraswamy traces the origin of the Yaksha cult in Vedic and later ancient Indian literature; various forms of Yakshas in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism; their temples and shrines; water cosmology; and Yakshas in art.

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  • Folkert, Kendall W. “Jain Religious Life at Ancient Mathurā: The Heritage of Late Victorian Interpretation.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 103–112. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Discusses the circumstances leading to the excavations at Kankali Tila, Mathura, in 1888 and afterward. Focuses on inscriptions and negligence in proper excavations and documentation, and the excavator A. Fuhrer leaving the Archaeological Survey of India, which resulted in a lack of proper data on the excavations. Hence the report authored by Vincent Arthur Smith on the excavations at Kankali Tila, Mathura, is not fully reliable.

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  • Huntington, John C. “Mathurā Evidence for the Early Teachings of Mahāyāna.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 83–92. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Huntington raises doubts regarding the existing chronology for the beginning of various Mahayana doctrines based on the literature of the Chinese canon that contains documented and authentic early translations from Sanskrit and other, mostly western Asian languages. He suggests revision of this chronology based on the findings related to the Amitabha Buddha image, the Avalokitesvara image, and the presence of bodhisattva Vajrapani in early sculptures from Mathura ateliers.

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  • Jaini, Padmanabh S. “Political and Cultural Data in Reference to Mathurā in Buddhist Literature.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 214–222. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    In this learned paper, Jaini provides in a nutshell all references related to Mathura as found in early Buddhist literature. Based on that, he also tries to locate certain towns and cities and probable trade routes.

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  • Misra, Ram Nath. Yaksha Cult and Iconography. New Delhi: Mushiram Manoharlal, 1981.

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    Possibly the most comprehensive study on the Yaksha cult in India about half a century after the monumental work of Coomaraswamy on Yakshas. Misra delves into the Vedic Yakshas, the development of the cult, the pantheon, Yakshas in Jainism and Buddhism, and Yaksha iconography. Mathura as one of the important centers of the Yaksha cult figures centrally in the study.

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  • Shah, Umakant Premanand, and Ernest Bender. “Mathurā and Jainism.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 209–213. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    Brief study of the early literary references related to Mathura in Jaina canons, with discussion of various aspects of life and religion in Mathura based on that information.

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  • Strong, John S. The Cult and Legend of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India and Southeast Asia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400887149Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this monumental work, John Strong offers a systematic presentation of the Indian and Southeast Asian legends and rituals surrounding the popular saint Upagupta. Once considered by Buddhist authorities as only marginally important, Upagupta emerges here as a central, ubiquitous figure within the Buddhist world. He was a native of Mathura and used to reside at Natabhata Vihara before going on his mission of propagating Buddhism.

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  • Vogel, Jean Philippe. Indian Serpent Lore or the Nāgas in Hindu Legend and Art. London: A. Probsthain, 1926.

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    Meticulous research on the Indian serpent cult. Explores the mythological and Buddhist references and depiction in art. Mathura being closely related to the Naga cult benefits from his study.

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Mathura School of Art

During the Sunga-Kushan period, Mathura evolved as a great school of art. The oldest known sculptures from Mathura are the Yaksha from Parkham and Yakshi from Nagla Jhinga, which are dated to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. These two sculptures were carved by two different artists who were both pupils of Kunika, the master sculptor. This indicates that during this early period, the Mathura region had masters and disciples learning the art of sculpting. Moreover, the large number of terra-cottas found from the Mathura area, and belonging to pre-Mauryan and Mauryan periods, further attest to Mathura being an important art center. During the Sunga period, Mathura served as an independent center of art along with Bharhut, Sanchi, and Bodh Gaya. The biggest collection of Mathura art is housed at the Mathura Museum. Significant collections of Mathura art form part of collections of the State Museum, Lucknow; the Indian Museum, Kolkata; the Allahabad Museum, Prayagraj; Bharat Kala Bhawan, Varanasi; and the State Museum, Bharatpur. Objects from the Mathura school are spread across the world, and in London, the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum house a large Mathura collection that they acquired during the colonial period. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Freer and Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC; the Cleveland Museum; the Norton Simon Museum; the Brooklyn Museum and some other museums in the United States; and the Berlin Museum in Germany also house significant Mathura objects. Almost all the big museums around the world have some Mathura pieces in their museums, but a proper database of all the Mathura sculptures has never been prepared. The early sculptures of Mathura region dating to the pre-Kushan period are remarkably studied in Quintanilla 2007. Coomaraswamy 1927 is a much-acclaimed history of Indian and Indonesian Art in which the Mathura school of art was given due importance. Vogel 1930 attempts the first detailed study of the Mathura school of art. Agrawala 2003 is a collection of forty-five previously published learned research articles on various aspects of the Mathura school. Joshi 1966 is an important handbook on Mathura sculptures. Dynastic arts of the Kushans were studied in a brilliant publication, Rosenfield 1967. Carter 1982 presents a study on the bacchants of Mathura, and Basu 2015 studies the Jaina Sarasvatī image from Kankali Tila, Mathura, in comparison to other seated images of deities. Sharma 1994 provides an evolutionary pattern of development of the Mathura school and the reorganization of museum galleries. Gupta 2019 discusses the issue of smuggling art objects belonging to the Mathura school and the problem of fakes in the art world.

  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. Studies in Indian Art (45 Papers, with 165 Line Drawings & VIII Plates). Varanasi, India: Vishwavidyalaya Prakashan, 2003.

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    A collection of forty-five papers including some on early symbols, Sunga art (a new Yakshi from Mehrauli, Vasudhara), and fifteen papers on various topics of Mathura art of the Kushan period. First published in 1965.

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  • Basu, Chandreyi. “The Inscribed Sarasvatī and Other Squatting Deities from Early Mathura.” Paper presented at an international conference held in Paris, 2–6 July 2012. In South Asian Religions and Visual Forms in Their Archaeological Context. Vol. 2 of South Asian Archaeology and Art 2012. Edited by Vincent Lefèvre, Aurore Didier, and Benjamin Mutin, 395–406. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2015.

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    Looks into the iconographical features of the Jaina Sarasvati image of the Kushan period from Mathura and compares its seating position with various matrika images and other Jaina female deities. Also compares Sarasvati with other Kushan-period images having similarities.

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  • Carter, Martha L. “The Bacchants of Mathura: New Evidence of Dionysiac Yaksha Imagery from Kushan Mathura.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 69.8 (October 1982): 247–257.

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    Based on the analytics of a bacchant figure from the Mathura region in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the paper points toward the Hellenistic impact on the Yaksha imagery due to a certain commonality with the cult of the Greek god Dionysus.

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  • Coomaraswamy, Anand Kentish. History of Indian and Indonesian Art. London: Edward Goldston, 1927.

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    A foundational study highlighting the role played by Mathura in the origin and development of the iconography of various deities.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. “Retrieval of Indian Antiquities: Issues and Challenges.” Art Antiquity and Law 24.2 (July 2019): 101–124.

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    Discusses issues of theft of antiquities with emphasis on the Mathura region. Also looks into the process of making fakes and disusses a fake parinirvana image in a foreign collection that was forged by copying a parinirvana panel from the Varaha Temple, Mathura.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. Mathura Sculptures: A Handbook to Appreciate the Sculptures in the Archaeological Museum, Mathura. Mathura, India: Archaeological Museum of Mathura, 1966.

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    A very good selection of important Mathura sculptures from the Government Museum, Mathura, along with their description. He analyzes sculptures in the light of literary mentions of various deities in ancient religious texts.

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  • Quintanilla, Sonya Rhie. History of Early Stone Sculpture at Mathura ca. 150 BCE–100 CE. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004155374.i-490Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Establishes in this meticulous and discerning study the existence of two vital and important periods of sculpture at Mathura before the Kushan period that had not been clearly formulated earlier. Also makes an important contribution to the study of Jaina Ayagapatas, the iconography of tirthankaras.

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  • Rosenfield, John M. Dynastic Arts of the Kushans. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

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    A landmark study of Kushan art. Gives a detailed outlook of the Kushan Empire, its history, and art, particularly the dynastic art that relates to royal portraits and coins. The study of Kushan royal sanctuaries/portraits from Mat, Surkh Kotal, Shami, Nimrud Dagh, Kuh-i-Khwaja, Toparak Kala in Khwarezm, and Hatra is a valuable contribution. He also studies the Kushan figures as donors and devotees in Buddhist sculpture, hence adding a new perspective.

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  • Sharma, Ramesh Chandra. Splendour of Mathura Art and Museum. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1994.

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    Sharma brings to light the salient features of the evolution and development of Mathura sculptures on various themes including Jaina, Buddhist, and Brahmanical. The book is an up-to-date document of the then-new researches, fresh arrivals, and reorganization of the museum’s galleries.

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  • Vogel, Jean Philippe. La Sculpture de Mathura. Ars Asiatica 15. Paris and Brussels: Les Editions G. van Oest, 1930.

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    First important publication in the form of a book specifically dedicated to the Mathura school of art. Vogel describes Mathura sculptures with great acumen.

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Catalogues

Vogel 1910 is the first catalogue of Mathura art housed in the Mathura Museum, then-named the Curzon Museum of Archaeology. Agrawala 1948, Agrawala 1950, Agrawala 1951, and Agrawala 1951–1952 provide updated catalogues of the Mathura Museum collections in four parts, three of which belonged to Buddhist, Jaina, and Brahmanical images, respectively, whereas Agrawala 1951–1952 was based on architectural pieces that might be related to any religious or secular edifice. Srivastava and Misra 1973 further updates the list of the Mathura Museum collection acquired between 1939 and 1972. Asthana 1999 is a catalogue of Mathura sculptures in the National Museum in New Delhi. Chakrabarti 2006 is a catalogue of Mathura sculptures in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. Czuma 1985 is an excellent catalogue of sculptures of the Mathura school, which were displayed in an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum. Gupta 1985 provides the findings of Mathura sculptures at Sanghol (a site about 217 miles from Mathura in Punjab State), which is considered the largest cache of Mathura art outside Mathura.

  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Buddha and Bodhisattva Images in Mathura Museum.” Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society 21 (1948): 43–95.

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    This catalogue by Agrawala provides a complete inventory of the buddha and bodhisattva sculptures in the Mathura museum, the majority of which are acquired from sites in Mathura and environs. The majority of Buddhist art objects are covered in the catalogue of architectural pieces.

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  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Catalogue of the Mathura Museum: Jain Tirthankaras and Other Miscellaneous Figures.” Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society 23 (1950): 35–147.

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    This catalogue provides a complete inventory of Jaina sculptures in the Mathura museum, the majority of which are acquired from the excavations at Kankali Tila, though a major part of the Mathura collection is still at the State Museum, Lucknow, and the Indian Museum, Kolkata, and is not a part of this catalogue. This catalogue also includes Kushan royal statues, miscellaneous images, female figures, miscellaneous fragmentary figures, and bas-reliefs either decorative or depicting the narrative scenes of the buddha’s life.

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  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. A Catalogue of Brahmanical Images in Mathura Art. Lucknow, India: United Provinces Historical Society, 1951.

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    Provides important information on the Brahmanical sculptures in the repository of Mathura Museum, which includes images of Brahma, Vishnu, Balarama, Siva, Ganesa, Karttikeya, Krishna-lila, Indra, Hari-hara, Agni, Hanuman, Lakshmi, Durga and Parvati, Mahishasuramardini, Matrika, Vasudhara, Surya, Kubera and Yakshas, Hariti, bacchanalian groups, and Nagas.

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  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Catalogue of the Mathura Museum: Architectural Pieces.” Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society 24–25 (1951–1952): 1–160.

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    This catalogue provides a complete inventory of architectural pieces acquired by the Mathura Museum until 1939 and includes railing pillars, coping stones, cross-bars, torana architraves and brackets, stupas, lion figures, miscellaneous architectural pieces, and Buddhist and Brahmanical inscriptions.

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  • Asthana, Shashi Prabha. Mathurā Kalā: Catalogue of Mathurā Sculptures in National Museum. New Delhi: National Museum, 1999.

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    Well written catalogue of sculptures of Mathura housed in the National Museum, New Delhi, one of the important repositories of Mathura art. A few of the important sculptures include the famous bacchanalian scene from Maholi; an Ahichchhatra Buddha; a Maitreya image; and a number of Vaishnava, Saiva, Sakta, and Yaksha images.

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  • Chakrabarti, Mangala. Mathura Sculptures: A Catalogue of Sculptures of Mathura School in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. Kolkata: Indian Museum, Kolkata, 2006.

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    This catalogue of Mathura pieces includes two bacchanalian scenes from Mathura, important buddha and bodhisattva images, Yaksha images, and other beautiful Kushan and Gupta sculptures.

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  • Czuma, Stanislaw. Kushan Sculpture: Images from Early India. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1985.

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    Compiled with the assistance of Rekha Morris. Scholarly catalogue of an exhibition of Kushan sculptures that was organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art at Cleveland. The majority of the pieces in the exhibition originated from the Mathura region and include buddha and bodhisattva images, females as part of railing pillars, Yakshis, an important pillar with a bacchanalian scene, and Brahmanical images.

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  • Gupta, Swarajya Prakash. Kushan Sculptures from Sanghol (1st–2nd Century A.D.): A Recent Discovery. New Delhi: National Museum, 1985.

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    Important findings of Mathura sculptures found from Sanghol (Punjab). After the collection of Mathura sculptures from the Mathura area, this is the largest collection of Mathura sculptures outside Mathura and is of high aesthetic quality. The sculptures include a good number of female themes on railing pillars and Buddhist architraves.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. Catalogue of the Brahmanical Sculptures in the State Museum, Lucknow. Lucknow, India: State Museum, Lucknow, 1972.

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    The catalogue includes separate sections on Siva, Vishnu, Agni, Skanda, Kubera, Sri-Lakshmi, Durga, and other divinites, the majority of which are acquired from the Mathura area.

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  • Srivastava, Arvind Kumar. Catalogue of Śaiva Sculptures in Government Museum, Mathura. Mathura, India: Government Museum, Mathura, 1999.

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    A catalogue of all Saivite sculptures in the Mathura Museum including the Sivalingas, mukhalingas, and anthropomorphic sculptures.

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  • Srivastava, Virendra Nath, and Shivadhar Misra. “Inventory of Mathura Museum Sculptures since 1939 up to Date.” Bulletin of Museums and Archaeology in Uttar Pradesh 11–12 (1973): 42–122.

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    This fills up the gap in the inventory of the Mathura Museum after the four catalogues of V. S. Agrawala (published between 1948 and 1952), which included collections only up to 1939. It catalogues the collection acquired between 1939 and 1972.

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  • Vogel, Jean Philippe. Catalogue of the Archaeological Museum at Mathura. Allahabad, India: Superintendent, Government Press, United Provinces, 1910.

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    First ever catalogue on the collection of the Government Museum, Mathura, acquired up until 1909. The high scholarship of Vogel makes it still relevant to scholars. He divides the whole collection into various categories such as the buddha and bodhisattva images, railing pillars, female divinities, Yakshas and Yakshis, Surya, Vishnu, and Saivite images.

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Hindu/Brahmanical Art

Mathura can undoubtedly be considered the most important center of Brahmanical art in India. No study of Brahmanical arts or cults could be complete without the inclusion of Mathura. With few exceptions, all the early iconographical evolution took place at Mathura. Exceptions are Gudimallam (near Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh) and Bhita (near Prayagraj) Sivalingas, Malhar (District Bilaspur, Chhatisgarh) Vasudeva image, Bhaja (near Pune, Maharashtra), and the Bodh Gaya Surya reliefs. These predate the images of these deities at Mathura whereas the Musanagar (near Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh) and Nand (Ajmer, Rajasthan) Saivite images of the Kushan period can be considered a product of the Mathura school at large. Bharhut, Bodh Gaya, and Sanchi were more or less contemporary centers of Mathura, but their role in the development of Hindu iconography is limited. The Gandhara school of art in Northwest India emerged as an independent center of Hindu art during the Kushan period, though primarily it was a center of Buddhist art, hence the number of Hindu images from Gandhara is quite limited in comparison to Mathura. Agrawala 1951 is a catalogue of Brahmanical sculptures in the Government Museum, Mathura, the biggest repository of Hindu sculptures from the Mathura region. Joshi 1972 presents a catalogue of Brahmanical sculptures in the State Museum, Lucknow, the second largest repository of Mathura sculptures. Banerjea 1956, an important publication, discusses the development of Hindu iconography, which includes most of the popular Brahmanical deities in the art of Mathura. Paul and Paul 1989 and Singh 2004 discuss the general scenario of Brahmanical religious cults at Mathura for imagery and in terms of cults and shrines, respectively. Maxwell 1988 presents a remarkable study of Visvarupa cult and icons, with Mathura again a base for the development of such an iconography. Srinivasan 1997 brings out a brilliant study on the ritual and cultic aspect of Hindu iconography while delving into the multiplicity convention, and here the author’s center of focus is again at Mathura. Srinivasan 2016 further establishes the Vrishni/Vasudeva and other cults in the art of Mathura, as the author worked extensively on Vasudeva, Siva, and Warrior Goddess (Durga) icons at Mathura.

  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. A Catalogue of Brahmanical Images in Mathura Art. Lucknow, India: United Provinces Historical Society, 1951.

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    Important publication on the Brahmanical images of Mathura Museum that include Vaishnava, Saiva, Sakta, and a number of other important Brahmanical and local deities.

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  • Banerjea, Jitendra Nath. The Development of Hindu Iconography. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1956.

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    A comprehensive study of the development of Hindu iconography in a single volume delving into the literary references and the deities in art and iconography. A majority of gods and goddesses discussed had a close link with Mathura as far as development of their iconography is concerned.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. Catalogue of the Brahmanical Sculptures in the State Museum, Lucknow. Lucknow, India: State Museum, Lucknow, 1972.

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    A number of Brahmanical sculptures including Saiva, Vaishnava, Saura, and Matrika images from the Mathura area are described in this catalogue.

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  • Maxwell, Thomas S. Viśvarūpa. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Explores the evolution of iconography of Visvarupa images, Vaishnavite as well as Saivite; Parel heptad is one of the culminating points of this development. Mathura played a very significant role in this evolution, which is discussed in the first two chapters, “The Experimental Phase” and “The ‘Classical’ Phase.”

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  • Paul, Pran Gopal, and Debjani Paul. “Brahmanical Imagery in the Kuṣāṇa Art of Mathurā: Tradition and Innovations.” East and West 39.1–4 (1989): 111–143.

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    This paper presents a brief survey of Brahmanical art at Mathura during the pre-Kushan and early Kushan periods, including a cursory look at the literary allusions, numismatic issues, and epigraphic records.

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  • Singh, Upinder. “Cults and Shrines in Early Historical Mathura (c. 200 BC–AD 200).” In Special Issue: The Archaeology of Hinduism. Edited by Umakant Premanand Shah and Krishna Deva. World Archaeology 36.3 (September 2004): 378–398.

    DOI: 10.1080/0043824042000282803Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This paper uses archaeological evidence to identify some of the multiple religious strands and layers that mark the rich cultural heritage of ancient Mathura. It highlights the importance of the old cults of the goddesses, yakshas, yakshis, nagas, and nagis, and their interface with emerging Puranic pantheons. It delineates the architectural forms of early temples in the Mathura area, their source of patronage, and the religious dimensions of royal policy, bringing into focus the great resilience of some of the older cults.

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  • Srinivasan, Doris Meth. Many Heads, Arms and Eyes: Origin, Meaning and Form of Multiplicity in Indian Art. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1997.

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    Srinivasan takes references from ancient religious texts like the Rigveda, Mahanarayana Upanishad, etc., to understand the origins, development, and meaning of the convention of multiplicity in Hindu icons. Particular emphasis is given to the early images of Siva as mukhalinga and ashtamurti; Vishnu as caturbhuji, vyuha, visvarupa; Mahisamardini as multi-handed warrior goddess; Shashthi as multiheaded goddess; and Skanda-Karttikeya as multiheaded deity. According to her, Mathura played a pivotal role in the development of the multiplicity convention in Indian art.

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  • Srinivasan, Doris Meth. Listening to Icons. Vol. 1, Indian Iconographic and Iconological Studies. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2016.

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    An anthology of Srinivasan’s previously published articles. Many of the articles are closely related to Mathura; see especially “Significance and Scope of Pre-Kushan Saivite Iconography,” “Bhagavan Narayana: A Colossal Kushan Icon,” “Early Vaishnava Imagery: Caturvyuha and Variant Forms,” “Early Krishna Icons: The Case at Mathura,” “Monumental Naginis from Mathura,” and her recent work on “Mathura’s ‘Personality’ and the Development of Narrative Art.”

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Vaishnava Art

Joshi 1967–1968 for the first time identifies devi Ekanamsa in Mathura art, thus making a significant contribution toward the existence of the Vrishni cult at Mathura. Joshi 1968 examines early Vishnu icons in Mathura and suggests that the four-handed Vishnu images may be identified as Vasudeva/Krishna. Joshi 1965 reports the finding of a Kushan-period inscribed Varaha image, a cult that later on was developed and popularized in Central India during the Gutpa period. Balarama/Sankarshana in Mathura art is discussed in Joshi 1979. Schmid 2010 is a comprehensive study of the early Krishna cult at Mathura. Desai 1973 discusses various aspects and forms of Vishnu in Indian art, including Mathura art, and Banerjee 1978 is a survey of Krishna in Indian art, including sculptures and paintings.

  • Banerjee, Priyatosh. The Life of Krishna in Indian Art. New Delhi: National Museum, 1978.

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    Traces the life of Krishna in Indian art, particularly sculptures and paintings. The theme as represented in paintings, which in essence originates from the Mathura area, is given more emphasis.

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  • Desai, Kalpana S. Iconography of Vishnu (in Northern India up to the Medieval Period). New Delhi: Abhinav, 1973.

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    A work on the development of the iconography of Vishnu in northern India. Some of the earliest Vaishnava forms originating from Mathura form an important part of the work.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. “Kuṣāṇa Varāha Sculpture.” Arts Asiatiques 12 (1965): 113–119.

    DOI: 10.3406/arasi.1965.939Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An important write-up on a broken Kushan period Varaha image that was acquired by the Mathura Museum in 1965. The image, which also had a small inscription, has been well analyzed by Joshi. The inscription was also independently published by K. L. Janert the following year.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. “Ekānamśā in Early Kuṣāṇa Art.” Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, New Series 2 (1967–1968): 34–36.

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    For the first time, Joshi identifies various female icons forming part of a few triads at Mathura as that of goddess Ekanamsa, the sister of Vasudeva-Krishna, and Samkarsana.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. “Prarambhik Vishnu Murtiyan (Hindi).” Bulletin of Museums and Archaeology in Uttar Pradesh 2 (1968): 7–26.

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    A pathbreaking study on the early Vaishnava imagery of Mathura. Joshi identified the famous Caturvyuha image and various caturbhuja icons as representative of Vasudeva, thus establishing the presence of the Vasudeva-Krishna cult at Mathura during the Kushan period.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. The Iconography of Balarāma in North India. Delhi: Abhinav, 1979.

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    Provides early literary references as well as the iconographic details of early icons of Samkarsana/Balarama in Indian art, the majority of which are from the Mathura region. The earliest icon is the one from Jansuti village, Mathura, presently housed in the State Museum, Lucknow. He also searches for the Naga association of Balarama as many Naga images closely resemble Balarama.

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  • Schmid, Charlotte. Le Don de voir: Premières représentations krishnaïtes de la région de Mathura. Monographies 193. Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 2010.

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    Meticulous survey of first representations of Krishna in the Mathura area. She proposes that the available documentation leads us to believe that from Krishna Vishnu and from Skanda Siva (from son a father) have taken birth, that is, the former deities occur earlier in Mathura art and only after them Vishnu and Siva.

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Saiva Art

Srivastava 1999 is a catalogue of Saiva sculptures in the Government Museum, Mathura, whereas Kreisel 1986 brings out the most exhaustive study of Saiva art at Mathura. Meister 1984 is an edited volume of the proceedings of a seminar on Saivism. This volume is one of the most significant contributions on Saiva art, particularly of Mathura. Siddiqi 1978 brings out the findings of two pre-Kushan Mathura sculptures from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand (about 230 miles from Mathura), one of them a larger-than-life image of a standing urdhvaretas Siva.

  • Kreisel, Gerd. Die Śiva-Bildwerke der Mathura Kunst: Ein Beitrag zur Frühhinduistischen Ikonographie. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Weisbaden, 1986.

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    Most comprehensive documentation and analysis of iconic and aniconic representations of Siva produced in the region of Mathura from the 3rd century BCE to the 5th century CE. Analyzes the meaning of these forms within their social, political, and religious contexts.

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  • Meister, Michael, ed. Discourses on Śiva: Proceedings of a Symposium on the Nature of Religious Imagery. Proceedings of a conference held at the University of Pennsylvania, 27 April–1 May 1981. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

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    Collection of a number of learned papers by renowned scholars of Indian art. Gritli von Mitterwallner traces the evolution of the linga. Doris Srinivasan addresses the significance and scope of pre-Kushan Saivite iconography in which Mathura plays the most significant role. N. P. Joshi discusses early forms of Siva. T. S. Maxwell discusses Nand, Parel, and Kalyanpur Saiva images. U. P. Shah talks about the cult of Lakulisa, and Odile Divakaran—Durga, the great goddess.

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  • Siddiqi, Waqarul H. “Two Newly Discovered Pre-Kuṣāṇa Sculptures from Ṛṣikeśa (Uttar Pradesh).” In Special Issue: Dr. Moti Chandra Commemoration Volume. Edited by Umakant Premanand Shah and Krishna Deva. Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art 8 (1978): 76–80.

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    Reports the important discovery of two pre-Kushan sculptures from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, one of these was a larger-than-life standing urdhvaretas Siva sculpture in spotted red sandstone of Mathura workshops.

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  • Srivastava, Arvind Kumar. Catalogue of Śaiva Sculptures in Government Museum, Mathura. Mathura, India: Government Museum, Mathura, 1999.

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    A useful catalogue of all Saivite sculptures in the Mathura Museum.

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Sakta, Others, and Local Deities in Art

Agrawala 1967 presents the cult of Skanda-Karttikeya in literature and art, which was one of the popular cults during the Kushan period at Mathura as well as in Gandhara. Agrawala 1958 is an important article on the early Mahishasuramardini images, a cult that was also very popular at Mathura. Agrawala 1969 discusses the six-headed goddess Shashthi in Mathura sculptures. Mathura was also an important center of the matrika cult: Agrawala 1971 is an erudite article discussing matrika reliefs, and Joshi 1986 is a small book on matrikas in Mathura art. Gupta 2013 examines early images of the goddess Sri-Lakshmi from Mathura and her association with other male and female deities in early art. Srivastava 1972 is a publication on the Sun cult for which Mathura was again a very important center during the Kushan period. Vogel 1912 in an important paper that discusses the Naga cult, one of the most popular cults at Mathura. Mitterwallner 1989 discusses the Yaksha cult at Mathura, which is again a very popular local cult in Mathura. Srinivasan and Sander 1990 discusses the finding of two life-size statues of Yakshas from the Bharna Kalan village, Mathura, belonging to the 2nd century BCE, one named Agni in the inscription.

  • Agrawala, Prithvi Kumar. Skanda-Kārttikeya: A Study in the Origin and Development. Varanasi, India: Banaras Hindu University, 1967.

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    An important study on the origin and development of the cult of Skanda-Karttikeya, emphasizing Mathura, one of the most important centers of the Skanda cult during the Kushan period.

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  • Agrawala, Ratna Chandra. “The Goddess Mahiṣamardinī in Early Indian Art.” Artibus Asiae 21, Part 2 (1958): 123–130.

    DOI: 10.2307/3248870Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Agrawala divides the Mahishasuramardini icons into two varieties: (1) six-armed variety, and (2) four-armed variety. Starting with images of the goddess from Mathura, he discusses two terra-cotta plaques from Nagar, probably inspired by Mathura art, and presents a survey of goddess images from various parts of Rajasthan, extending up to the medieval period.

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  • Agrawala, Ratna Chandra. “Goddess Ṣaṣṭhī in Mathura Sculptures.” Bulletin of Museums and Archaeology in Uttar Pradesh 4 (1969): 1–6.

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    An important paper on the cult of a six-headed goddess identified as Shashthi, who is sometimes considered the wife of Skanda-Karttikeya and sometimes his sister. She is found generally on triads along with Skanda and Visakha on either side of her. Her independent images are also available in Mathura art.

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  • Agrawala, Ratna Chandra. “Mātṛkā Reliefs in Early Indian Art.” East and West 21.1–2 (1971): 79–89.

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    Discusses the matrika reliefs in early Indian art, many from Mathura. He also gives emphasis to matrika reliefs found from Rajasthan.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. “Śrī/Lakṣmī and Her Association with Other Deities in Early Indian Art.” Berliner Indologische Studien 21 (2013): 53–72.

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    Discusses various images of goddess Sri-Lakshmi in the Kushana art of Mathura and her association with various male and female deities with whom she is found.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. Mātṛkās: Mothers in Kuṣāṇa Art. Delhi: Kanak, 1986.

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    A small but important publication on the cult of matrikas in Mathura art. He shows exemplary ability in finding references in old Brahmanical texts and identifying various matrika images whether as a single deity, in small groups, or as seven mothers.

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  • Mitterwallner, Grittli von. “Yakṣas of Ancient Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 332–367. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    An important piece on the Yakshas of ancient Mathura. Mitterwallner divides Yaksha representations from Mathura into two categories: images carved in round or high relief that would have served as cult images, and the representations of those Yakshas that were not meant to be objects of worship per se, but rather accompanied another worshipped personage or cult emblem.

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  • Srinivasan, Doris M., and Lore Sander. “Newly Discovered Inscribed Mathura Sculptures of Probable Doorkeepers, Dating to the Kṣatrapa Period.” The Archives of Asian Art 43 (1990): 63–69.

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    Analytical article on two Yaksha figures found from Bharna Kalan village of Mathura district in 1987. Based on the inscription, one of the figures is identified as Agni and the other one as a Yaksha carrying a male, similar to one Yaksha image from the Sunga period in the Mathura Museum identified by V. S. Agrawala as representing Sutasoma Jataka.

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  • Srivastava, Vinod Chandra. Sun-Worship in Ancient India. Allahabad, India: Indological Publications, 1972.

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    A detailed study of Surya worship in ancient India. Srivastava discusses all the literary references including the Vedic, Puranic ones in detail and presents an art-historical and iconographic study. Mathura finds important mention in the work because it was an important center of the Sun cult.

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  • Vogel, Jean Philippe. “Nāga Worship in Ancient Mathura.” In Archaeological Survey of India—Annual Report, 1908–09. Edited by John Marshall, 159–163. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1912.

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    Early important write-up on the Naga cult in Mathura. Vogel identifies the famous Chhargaon Naga along with the inscription and all other Naga images known until then, including the one being worshipped as Balarama in the Dauji Temple in Baldeo; an inscription mentioning Dadhikarna naga from the Jamalpur mound; Nagas from Kukargam, Khamni, Itauli; etc.

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Buddhist Art

After the parinirvana of the buddha, Mathura must have become a popular center of Buddhism through the attempts of Mahakatyayana who resided at Gundavana in Mathura, and Upagupta, a native of Mathura. In none of the early Mathura pieces is the buddha represented in human form but rather by symbols like the turban, stupa, empty throne, parasol, and bodhi tree. It must have been around the second quarter of the Common Era that the buddha in human form came to be represented in art. Quintanilla 2007 discusses the transition between the aniconic and iconic phases. Vogel 1909 makes the first art-historical studies of Buddhist pieces obtained from the Mathura region and the issue of the first buddha image. It is Coomaraswamy 1927 that counters the view of priority given to the Gandhara school and suggests that due to the prevailing tradition of sculpture carving and Indian thought, the first image of the buddha was carved at Mathura. Agrawala 1948 (cited under Catalogues) is a catalogue of the buddha and bodhisattva images housed in the Mathura Museum. Lohuizen de Leeuw 1949 examines the art of Kushan Mathura and Gandhara and suggests the priority of Mathura in making the first buddha image. Sharma 1984 is a detailed study of Buddhist art of Mathura, particularly the origin and evolution of the buddha image and the findings from the Govindnagar mound. Myer 1986 contends that the ubhayansika samghati of the Mathura Buddhas was not copied from Gandhara. Rhi 1994 refutes the identification of the kapardin-type Mathura Buddhas (as per images wearing ekansika samghati) as the buddha himself, and contends they are rather bodhisattvas post-renunciation and pre-enlightenment. Gupta 2009 makes a survey of the Buddhist art of Mathura with the addition of finding some important Buddhist sites in the area. Gupta 2015 discusses the archaeological landscape of the ancient Mathura city in relation to its art workshops that are generally considered Buddhist monasteries due to the location of Buddhist sculptures and pieces. Gupta and Zin 2016 is a new mahaparinirvana stele from Mathura and makes a critical survey of the role of Mathura in depicting narratives, particularly the parinirvana. Krishnan and Tadikonda 2012 makes a case for the priority of Gandhara as the producer of the first buddha image due to the impact of the Indo-Greeks and their following of the Sarvastivadin school of Hinayana. Collier 2016 makes an interesting survey of scholars both in support of and in opposition to the priority of either Mathura or Gandhara as the first creator of the buddha image; the author also looks into the ideological background of the scholars making such claims.

  • Collier, Simon. “The Origin of the Buddha Image: Gandhara and Colonialism vs. Mathura and Anti-colonialism? A Study of the Scholarship Regarding the Origin of the Buddha Image from the Late 19th Century until the 21st Century.” Art of the Ancient World, CX903–30, ID no. 1127318. University of Warwick, 2016.

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    This essay explores the origin of the buddha image in human form at the Mathura and Gandhara schools and the history of scholarship that surrounds it to observe how it feeds into colonial and postcolonial attitudes.

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  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. “The Origin of the Buddha Image.” The Art Bulletin 9.4 (1927): 287–328.

    DOI: 10.1080/00043079.1927.11409514Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The seminal paper of Coomaraswamy for the first time advocated an indigenous origin of the image of the buddha. He compared the early buddha images with those of earlier Yakshas, Nagas, and Jinas and cited the existing tradition of image worship for the need to carve out a buddha image in a human form. The combined features of Yaksha imagery and cakravartin finally gave shape to a buddha image at the Mathura school.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. Buddhism in Mathura. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan, 2009.

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    The author provides identification of various places mentioned in ancient Buddhist literature in and around Mathura. The description provided by two Chinese pilgrims, Fa-xian and Xuan Zang, has also been analyzed. A number of archaeological sites in and around Mathura possibly connected to Buddhism have also been mentioned.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. “Archaeological Landscape of Ancient Mathura in Relation to Its Art Workshops.” Indian Historical Review 42.2 (2015): 189–209.

    DOI: 10.1177/0376983615597173Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The paper draws upon the archaeological landscape of ancient Mathura in respect to find-spots of various stone carving centers and the Buddhist monasteries and presents a holistic picture of ancient Mathura that is much different from the hitherto believed Buddhist landscape.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar, and Monika Zin. “Parinirvāṇa Representations in the Art of Mathura: A Study Based on the Discovery of a Unique Parinirvāṇa Stele from the Varāha Temple of Mathura.” Art of the Orient 5 (2016): 37–60.

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    An analysis of a temple relief from Mathura that represents the parinirvana of the buddha in a complete stele. The other depictions of the parinirvana in Mathura art that are discussed in detail are part of a narrative related to the life of the buddha. The finding of this stele changes the conceived role that Mathura played in the development of Buddhist narrative imagery.

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  • Krishnan, Yuvaraj, and Kalpana Krishna Tadikonda. The Buddha Image: Its Origin and Development. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2012.

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    Establishes that the aniconic character of early Buddhist art is not rooted in orthodox Buddhist doctrine but in Vedism, that the first buddha images are to be found in Gandhara, that the Buddhism of Gandhara and early Central Asian Buddhist settlements was the Sarvastivada school of Hinayana, and that the credit for representing Buddha in human form goes to the Indo-Greeks who owed allegiance to the Hinayana. Revised edition; first edition published in 1995.

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  • Lohuizen de Leeuw, Joanna Engelberta van. The “Scythian” Period: An Approach to the History, Art, Epigraphy and Palaeography of North India from the 1st Century B.C. to 3rd Century A.D. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1949.

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    The work of Lohuizen de Leeuw has remained a milestone in which she describes in detail the arts of pre-Kushan, Saka Parthian, and Kushan periods northwest of India, including Gandharan art and mainland India including the Mathura school. She contends the Mathura school was responsible for carving out the first image of the buddha slightly earlier than the Gandhara school.

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  • Myer, Prudence R. “Bodhisattvas and Buddhas: Early Buddhist Images from Mathura.” Artibus Asiae 47.2 (1986): 107–142.

    DOI: 10.2307/3249969Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The paper presents a good analytic survey of early buddha and bodhisattva images of Mathura. The author refutes the foreign (Gandharan) influence to explain the invention of the samghati type, in which both shoulders of the buddha image are covered with thick overrobes.

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  • Quintanilla, Sonya Rhie. “Observations on ‘The Representation of the Buddha’s Birth and Death in the Aniconic Period.’” In Buddhist Art: Form & Meaning. Edited by Pratapaditya Pal, 36–51. Mumbai: Marg, 2007.

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    Furthers the proposition put up by Lohuizen de Leeuw by citing examples of a relief in the Allahabad University Museum depicting the birth scene of the buddha, and another from Amaravati in the British Museum. See also Joanna Engelberta van Lohuizen de Leeuw. “The Representation of the Buddha’s Birth and Death in the Aniconic Period,” (2007).

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  • Rhi, Ju-Hyung. “The Beginning of Iconic Representation in Buddhist Art.” Artibus Asiae 54.3–4 (1994): 207–225.

    DOI: 10.2307/3250056Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Rhi presents a useful survey of Buddhist icons at Mathura one century prior to and after Kanishka. She suggests identification of kapardin buddha (wearing ekansika samghati, which covers his left shoulder only) as the bodhisattva or Siddhartha after renunciation but before enlightenment, and refutes the argument of the majority of scholars who suggest that the kapardin-type images represent the buddha himself in spite of being mentioned as the bodhisattva in the dedicatory inscriptions.

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  • Sharma, Ramesh Chandra. Buddhist Art of Mathura. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 1984.

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    Attempts to present a comprehensive picture of Buddhist art at Mathura, providing a brief account of history and archaeology. Particularly important is the addition of the sculptural findings from the site of Govindnagar in Mathura that Sharma had himself acquired for the Mathura Museum. Sharma argues that the earliest buddha image originated at Mathura, thus advancing the arguments in Coomaraswamy 1927 and Lohuizen de Leeuw 1949.

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  • Vogel, Jean Phillipe. “The Mathura School of Sculpture.” In Archaeological Survey of India—Annual Report, 1906–07. Edited by John Marshall, 137–160. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1909.

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    One of the early works on Buddhist art of Mathura in which Vogel critically analyzes the famous Katra bodhisattva (Mathura Museum No. A1) and the Anyor Buddha (Mathura Museum No. A2) and offers his explanation for the use of word “Bodhisattva” and “Buddha” for similar types of images. Narrative reliefs, torana architraves, and gods and goddesses of the Buddhist pantheon are also described in the article. See also Archaeological Survey of India—Annual Report, 1909–10, 63–79. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1914.

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Jaina Art

Mathura was similarly important as a center for Jaina art as it was for Brahmanical and Buddhist art. Many of the Jaina finds, particularly the ayagapatas and tympanums, can be dated between the late Sunga and Kushan periods. Not much was known to the scholarly world about the early Jaina art and the existence of Jaina stupas before the excavations at Kankali Tila. The findings from Kankali Tila excavations were published in Smith 1901, though the author was not associated with the excavations. One of the Jaina stupas at Kankali Tila was known as “devanirmita” or “vodva” stupa. A good quantity of Jaina sculptures has been found from Kankali Tila as well as some other parts of Mathura city that belong to the Kushan period and afterward. From the Jaina inscriptions, it is clear that they had a well-developed system of gana, kula, sakha, and sambhoga. One early important write-up on Jaina art is Agrawala 1943 on the ayagapatas found at Mathura, and Quintanilla 2000 presents a detailed analysis on the subject. Ayagapatas are rectangular slabs carved with Jaina religious figures and manglika cinhas. Agrawala 1950 is a catalogue of Jaina tirthankara and other miscellaneous images in the Mathura Museum. Shah 1952–1953 is an important article on Harinegamesin, the goat-faced god who is considered responsible for the transfer of Mahavira’s embryo. His icons as well as his female counterpart are found frequently in the Kushan art of Mathura. Possibly the first detailed study of Jaina art in India is Shah 1955, which the author extended immensely in Shah 1987. Joshi 1989 presents a brilliant study on Jaina icons of Mathura. The tirthankara images are either found seated in meditation or standing in kayotsarga pose, where a srivatsa symbol on their chest differentiates them from a buddha image. Lanchanas of twenty-four tirthankaras had not developed in the Kushan art of Mathura. The only identifying feature of two of the tirthankaras in Kushan icons is long hair for Rishabhanatha, and Krishna and Balarama as attendants for Arishtaneminatha. At Mathura, the tirthankaras are found either independently or as a sarvatobhadra or Jaina caumukhi caturmukhi where four Jinas are represented opposite each other. A division between Digambara and Svetambara Jainas is not discernible in the Kushan art of Mathura. Jaini 1995 is a study on Jaina monks in the art of Mathura by looking into early Jaina literature, such as the ardhaphalakas. Pal 1994 contributes to Jaina studies through a catalogue on the Jaina exhibition held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharan. “Mathura Āyāgapaṭṭa.” Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society 16, Part 1 (1943): 58–61.

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    In this brief article, Agrawala discusses the concept of Ayagapattas in Jainism, their use in worship, and their iconographic features and symbols.

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  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Catalogue of the Mathura Museum: Jain Tirthankaras and Other Miscellaneous Figures.” Journal of United Provinces Historical Society 23 (1950): 35–147.

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    The catalogue includes all the Jaina tirthankara images from the Mathura Museum along with other miscellaneous images such as the Kushan royal statues.

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  • Jaini, Padmanabha S. “Jaina Monks from Mathura: Literary Evidence for Their Identification on Kuṣāṇa Sculptures.” Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies 58.3 (1995): 479–494.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X0001291XSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Attempts to identify the depiction of Jaina monks on Kushan sculptures with the help of literary evidence as observed from Buddhist atthakathas as well as ancient Jaina texts such as the Bhadrabahu-kathanaka narrative in the Brihatkathakosha of Harishena and its later versions, Yapaniya-tantra, etc.

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  • Joshi, Nilakantha Purushottam. “Early Jaina Icons from Mathurā.” In Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage. Edited by Doris Meth Srinivasan, 332–367. New Delhi: Manohar, 1989.

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    A significant contribution toward the study of Jaina art of Mathura. Joshi identifies various symbols in Jaina art that were worshipped by the devotees and describes the pre-Kushan and Kushan tirthankara images, sarvatobhadrika figures, attendants, devotees, and various male and female divinities.

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  • Pal, Pratapaditya. The Peaceful Liberators: Jain Art from India. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1994.

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    Catalogue of an exhibition based on the theme “The Peaceful Liberators,” organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It includes a number of Jaina pieces from the art workshops of Mathura and write-ups from scholars, including Pratapaditya Pal.

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  • Quintanilla, Sonya Rhie. “Āyāgapaṭas: Characterstics, Symbolism and Chronology.” Artibus Asiae 60.1 (2000): 79–137.

    DOI: 10.2307/3249941Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Discusses characteristics of Ayagapatas, their original context, the donors and chronological characteristics, their symbolism, and function.

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  • Shah, Umakant Premanand. “Harinegameśin.” Journal of Indian Society of Oriental Art 19 (1952–1953): 19–41.

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    An important and early write-up on the cult of the Jaina god Harinegamesin or Naigamesa/Nemesa. The deity invoked at the time of childbirth was considered responsible for transferring the embryo of Mahavira to Trisala and was frequently represented in the Kushan art of Mathura, as Shah elaborates.

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  • Shah, Umakant Premanand. Studies in Jaina Art. Banaras, India: Jaina Cultural Research Society, 1955.

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    Another important study on the Jaina art of India. While tracing the origin and development of Jaina art, Shah outlines the importance of Mathura and its environs where the earliest and important Jaina tirthankara icons and associated art were produced. More emphasis is given to symbol worship in Jainism for which Kankali Tila, Mathura, served as the most important center.

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  • Shah, Umakant Premanand. Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana (Jaina Iconography). New Delhi: Abhinav, 1987.

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    An exhaustive work on ancient Jaina literature and art. The importance of Mathura is well emphasized in discussing the origin of the Jina images, their iconography, pantheons and narratives related to their life, the schism between the Digambara and the Svetambaras, and the Yapaniya sect.

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  • Smith, Vincent Arthur. The Jain Stupa and Other Antiquities of Mathura. Allahabad, India: Archaeological Survey of India, 1901.

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    Important publication on the excavations and findings from the Jaina stupa at Kankali Tila, Mathura. The only source of information on the subject through some old photographs, line drawings, and descriptions of a number of sculptural findings.

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Terra-cotta Art

Mathura had become a great center of terra-cotta art long before becoming a great center for sculptural art. Terra-cottas from many north Indian cities are quite similar, so it is sometimes difficult to differentiate terra-cottas from Mathura, Ahicchatra, Bhita, or Kaushambi, for example. Terra-cotta discs with nail-type marks on the periphery were popular during the Painted Grey Ware period. The majority of the terra-cottas during the pre-Mauryan and Mauryan periods were female figurines, possibly ritualistic mother goddesses, and most from that period are black or grey in color, though red terra-cottas are also found. The pre-Mauryan mother goddesses had bird-shaped mouths, but during the Mauryan period a human face appeared and generally was mold made. During the Sunga period, the majority of terra-cottas were made by using a single mold with very fine craftsmanship, and red in color. Some good examples of handmade terra-cottas were also in use. During the Kushan period, the general size of terra-cottas increased. These were either made by using a double mold technique or handmade. During the Gupta period, terra-cottas became quite refined and many terra-cottas were carved on molded bricks that were part of temple architecture. Many religious themes are noticed in the terra-cottas of the Kushan, Gupta, and later periods. Mathura continued to be a center of terra-cotta manufacture until the British period, though the later terra-cottas are quite different. The first important work on early Indian terra-cottas is Coomaraswamy 1927. Agrawala 1936 is a useful paper on Mathura terra-cottas specifically, followed by the author’s important publication (Agrawala 1947–1948) on Ahicchatra terra-cottas, which were obtained from excavations conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India under director Rai Bahadur Kashi Nath Dikshit. Joshi and Margabandhu 1976–1977 is a paper on terra-cottas obtained from excavations at Mathura from 1973 to 1976. Dasgupta 1961 is an important study on Indian clay sculptures, and Gupta 1972 is a book on Gangetic valley terra-cotta art. Dhawalikar 1977 is a book on masterpieces of terra-cotta art, and Kala 1980 is an important catalogue on the terra-cottas of Allahabad Museum. Poster 1986 is a valuable contribution to the study of terra-cotta art that is based on an exhibition of Indian terra-cottas organized in the Brooklyn Museum. Ahuja 2018 is the latest study on Indian terra-cotta art in which the author studies Indian art and archaeology on the basis of terra-cotta art from the earliest times up to the 6th century CE.

  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Mathura Terracottas.” Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society 9, Part 2 (July 1936): 6–38.

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    Among all the studies on terra-cottas, this one is the only work fully dedicated to Mathura terra-cottas. The Mathura Museum has thousands of terra-cottas in its collection, and this work includes all the important typologies.

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  • Agrawala, Vasudeva Sharana. “Terracotta Figurines of Ahichchhatrā.” Ancient India: Bulletin of the Archaeological Survey of India 4 (1947–1948): 104–179.

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    An exhaustive study (nearly a catalogue) of terra-cotta figurines found from the Archaeological Survey of India excavations at Ahicchatra during the 1940s.

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  • Ahuja, Naman P. Art and Archaeology of Ancient India: Earliest Times to the Sixth Century. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2018.

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    A recent study of Indian art, particularly based on objects housed in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University. A large number of terra-cotta objects, many belonging to the Mathura area, have been described by Ahuja.

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  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. “Early Indian Terracottas.” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1927): 90–96.

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    First important study on terra-cotta art of India identifying and classifying it in terms of chronology and features.

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  • Dasgupta, Charu Chandra. Origin and Evolution of Indian Clay Sculpture. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1961.

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    A detailed study of the origin and evolution of early Indian terra-cottas that includes some unpublished Indian terra-cottas, including some from the Mathura region preserved in the Francis Hopp Museum of Asiatic Arts; Musée Guimet, Paris; and the British Museum.

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  • Dhawalikar, Madhukar Keshav. Masterpieces of Indian Terracottas. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1977.

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    Dhawalikar has included a number of masterpieces of terra-cotta art in India and has given a lucid description of them. Few of the important terra-cotta pieces mentioned in the work are from Mathura art.

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  • Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal. Gangetic Valley Terracotta Art. Varanasi, India: Prithvi Prakashan, 1972.

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    A detailed study of terra-cotta art of northern India from Uttar Pradesh to Bengal covering the important centers of Mathura, Kaushambi, Rajghat, Buxar, Patna, Tamralipti, and Chandraketugarh.

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  • Joshi, Munish Chandra, and C. Margabandhu. “Some Terracottas from Excavations at Mathura—a Study.” Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art 8 (1976–1977): 16–32.

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    A brief report on the terra-cotta objects unearthed from the excavations at Mathura from 1973 to 1977. The terra-cotta findings are divided into five cultural periods: period 1 is dated from the 6th century BCE to the close of the 4th century BCE, and period 5 from c. 4th to the 5th century CE. The other three periods are dated to the intervening period comprising Sunga, pre-Kushan, and Kushan periods.

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  • Kala, Satish Chandra. Terracottas in the Allahabad Museum. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1980.

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    A well-written catalogue of an important repository of terra-cotta objects, Allahabad Museum, which includes many objects from the Mathura region.

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  • Poster, Amy G. From Indian Earth: 4,000 Years of Terracotta Art. New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1986.

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    A collection of well-written and informative articles on various aspects of terra-cotta art, some treating the Mathura region, including those by Amy Poster, Devangana Desai, and Vidya Dehejia, and a catalogue of terra-cotta objects displayed in an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.

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Vraja/Braj

Vraja is perhaps the most important region related to Krishna-bhakti in all of India. Vaudeville 1976 possibly for the first time brings “Braj” as a subject to Western academia when the author suggests that the bhakti cult in Braj owes itself to the works of Vallabhacarya and Caitanya and their disciples, as it was claimed to have been rediscovered during the 16th century. Entwistle 1987 furthers the study of Braj by analyzing various evolutionary stages of the Krishna cult from the Kushan period to the Krishna-lila episodes and the development of the Krishna cult during the medieval and post-medieval periods. Dwivedi 1972, through a number of edited write-ups by different scholars, provides a glance into the literary references related to Braj in Vedic, Epic, and Puranic literature; festivals of Braj; and traditions of Braj. Goswami 2001 and Nārāyaṇa Mahāraja 2001 provide a resident devotee’s perspective on the region and its rituals, illustrated by numerous colorful photographs. Vaudeville 1996 offers research into the myth of Govardhan hill, the lord of Govardhan, and Gopla-Krishna, suggesting that the Govardhan myth in its early stage was associated with Balarama, and the author linked the development of the Krishna cult with the cult of the supreme goddess Durga or Kali. Hawley 2020 and Kumar 2019 present a modern picture of changing Vrindavan in contrast to the classical image of this most sacred town of the Braj region.

  • Dwivedi, Radhey Shyam, ed. Braj Vaibhav. Mathura, India: Bharati Anusandhan Bhawan, 1972.

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    A collection of papers by different authors on various aspects of Braj that include the nomenclature of Braj, Braj in Vedic literature, epics, Puranas, the geography of Braj, forests and groves of Braj, Ban-yatra, spirituality of Braj, festivals, and important places of Braj (including the Yamuna River, Govardhan Hill, etc.). In Hindi.

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  • Entwistle, Alan W. Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage. Groningen Oriental Studies 3. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1987.

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    One of the most comprehensive studies on Braj focused on Krishna myths and pilgrimage throughout the historical development of the region. Provides an account of the medieval bhakti movement in Braj; the great propagators Caitanya and Vallabhacarya and all the sampradayas including Hit Harivamsa, Haridasi, Radhavallabha, Nimbarka, etc.; the cult of Srinathaji; other important cults and temple histories; and the Braj yatra pilgrimage, including the twelve vanas.

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  • Goswami, Shrivatsa. Celebrating Krishna. Vrindavan, India: Sri Caitanya Prem Sansthan, 2001.

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    Presents beautiful, dynamic color photographs of Krishna icons, temple rituals, rasa-lilas (Krishna’s love dance with the gopis and other exploits), performances, and popular festivals. Brief but informative text provides sufficient context without detracting from the visual splendor and joyful exuberance of devotional life in Vraja.

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  • Govindadas, and Ram Narayan Agrawal, eds. Braj aur Braj Yatra. Delhi: Bharatiya Viswa Prakashan, 1959.

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    A collection of important papers on Braj and Braj yatra (pilgrimage) from which all the later scholars including Vaudeville and Entwistle benefitted. The papers treat themes such as the history of Braj yatra, Braj in Vedic and Puranic literature, sacred groves of Braj, etc. In Hindi.

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  • Growse, Frederick Salmon. Mathurā: A District Memoir. Allahabad, India: North-Western Provinces and Oudh Government, 1882.

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    A work on the heritage, tradition, and history of the Braj region by a British officer who, for a few years, served as district collector of Mathura. The book is a great source for understanding the early findings from various sites uncovered before 1880. This book is a mine of information on old Braj traditions, festivals, heritage, and history. The chapter on the etymology of local names is also an important contribution.

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  • Gupta, Vinay Kumar. “Braj 84 Kos Parikramā: History, Tradition and Archaeology.” In The Mahābhārata: Its Antiquity, Historicity and Impact on Society. Edited by Neera Misra and Vinay Kumar Gupta, 283–299. New Delhi: Research India, 2019.

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    Looks into various references in the ancient literature about Vraja. Various vanas, upavanas are mentioned and an analysis is made of the history of the Braj yatra and the yatras of Caitanya, Vallabhacarya, and their disciples. The route of 84 kos parikrama is discussed and so is the archaeology of sites on this route.

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  • Hawley, John Stratton. Krishna’s Playground: Vrindavan in the 21st Century. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190123987.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This volume turns aside from the ideal Vrindavan envisioned in old Sanskrit literature and tradition and reveals the Vrindavan that has come into existence since approximately 2000: the real estate revolution that has redefined the town, the pollution, and inaccessibility of the Yamuna. Hawley devotes chapters to the upcoming Chandrodaya Mandir Vrindavan now being constructed by ISKCON Bangalore, contrasting efforts to provide for Vrindavan’s famous widows, and the celebrated life of Shrivatsa Goswami.

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  • Kumar, Samrat S. Vrindavan’s Encounter with Modernity: Changing Environment and Life-Worlds in an Indian Temple Town. Zurich, Switzerland: LIT Verlag, 2019.

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    This book, built upon an Oslo dissertation submitted in 2015, is an attempt to assess the ways in which Vrindavan has been reshaped by its encounter with modernity. Kumar himself being a resident of Vrindavan provides revealing interviews with a considerable spectrum of the town’s population, contrasting the “New Vrindavan” with the culture that preceded it.

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  • Mittal, Prabhu Dayal. Braj Ka Sanskritik Itihas. Mathura, India: Rajkamal Prakashan, 1966.

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    One of the most important publications on Mathura, covering all the aspects of Braj and Mathura including history, literary references, vanas, Braj yatra, history of religious sects, art, important places, festivals, tradition, literature, geography, animals, birds, crops, etc. In Hindi.

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  • Nārāyaṇa Mahāraja, Tridaṇḍisvamī ŚrīŚrīmad Bhaktivedānta. ŚrīBraja Maṇḍala Parikramā. New Delhi: Gaudiya Vedanta, 2001.

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    Colorful and lucid account of the entire Braj region through the pen of a Gaudiya bhakta. All the places in Mathura as mentioned in the Varaha Purana account have been described. All the sacred spots of Vrindavan, Govardhan, Barsana, Nandgaon, Unchagaon, Kamai-Karahla, Gokul, Mahavan, Baldeo, and other important sites and important vanas on the circumambulatory route are described in detail with the associated legends.

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  • Vaudeville, Charlotte. “Braj, Lost and Found.” Indo-Iranian Journal 18.3–4 (1976): 195–213.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00162688Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Influential study on Braj in which Vaudeville raises doubts about whether any specifically “Krishnaite” cult, other than a primitive form of nature worship combined with some form of devi worship, existed among the rural populations of Braj before the arrival of the great Vaishnava reformers in Govardhan and Vrindavan at the beginning of the 16th century.

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  • Vaudeville, Charlotte. Myths, Saints and Legends in Medieval India. Edited by Vasudha Dalmia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    A compilation of previously published articles of Vaudeville. Six papers in its Part 1, The Lord of Govardhan Hill, are specifically dedicated to god(s) and environs of Braj. These include the oft-cited “Braj, Lost and Found,” “The Govardhan Myth in Northern India,” “Kṛṣṇa, Gopāla, Rādhā and the Great Goddess,” and “The Lord of Govardhan Hill.”

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