Government of Nepal
Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation

Department of Archaeology
National Museum
Chhauni, Kathmandu

January 28, 2023

व्यावसायिक र सृजनशील प्रशासन,विकास, समृद्धि र सुशासन


The Art Gallery is located just opposite to the main historical gallery. The architectural style of this building represents typical features in many respects. The building is named as ‘Juddha Jatiya Kalashala‘ after the name od then Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher who had built the building with personal spending in 1999-2000 B.S. This building was the first building constructed for the museum purpose. In the narrative panels of the main entrance, there are beautiful images which reflect the events of nativity of Buddha as explained in the Buddhist jatak literatures. On the upper part of the entrance, there are images depicting the event of samundramanthan which means churning the ocean based on the Hindu mythological story. As the building was designed for a museum, the main entrance appears to have been a rough copy of torana of Sanchi stupa in India from first century B.C.

This building also provides numerous galleries for the exhibition of various Nepalese art forms in stone, terracotta, bronze, wood and painting.

The Stone Art of Nepal

The antiquity of Nepali Stone Art goes back to several centuries before Chirst. This fact is supported by the presence of a number of early sculptures predating the Lichchhavi period and some of them are displayed in this gallery. The stone images crafted skillfully and precisely with various themes and motifs are important to understand the civilization and culture of Nepal since they contain the psyche, sentiments and philosophy of ancient Nepali society. Besides, these images also provide valuable information to trace out the origin and development of Nepali Art.

The earliest stone images are recognized with their distinct stylistic features. These features are displayed in the form of the plain halo, very fleshy body, cupped varadamudra (hand posture), zigzag and finely plated decorative folds of the garments, lack of the sacred thread, minimal use of garments and ornamentation, the heavy earrings and the anklets. However, even with the visible influence of Mathura-Kushan Art of India, the facial features of the earliest Nepali stone images remain distinctively Nepali.

Throughout the history of Nepali stone art, the sculptures of the Lichchhavi period are highly unique and overwhelming in terms of their artistic impetus. It is believed that the Lichchhavis started their rule in Nepali around the 1st Century A.D. This was the time when the genius of the ancient Nepali stone artists came out to create the unmatched examples of stone sculptures. This gallery houses some of the masterpieces of the Lichchhavi sculptures dated and inscribed. The Lichchhavi stone sculptures found and preserved in different parts of the Kathmandu valley and displayed here as well are highly artistic with certain stylistic features such as the ornately fashioned hair-dos, proportionate limbs, plastic and mobile body, slenderness of waist, diaphanous dress, and the use of stone polish.

During the early medieval period, both Hinduism and Buddhism were deeply influenced by the Tantric practices. As a matter of fact, the sculptures of this period are deeply influenced by the concept of Tantric imagery. Both in Hindu and Buddhist imagery, very complex art form evolved with highly decorative elements and greater variety of multi armed and multi headed images. The images carved in black basalt stone tend to point to the Pala School of Art which was originated in eastern India during the 7-8 Century A.D.

The Nepali stone sculptures represent the religious beliefs, practices, social norms and values prevalent in the contemporary society. There are a large number of anthropomorphic images of gods and goddesses in which the Hindu cults such as Shaiva, Vishnava and Shakta and the Mahayanna school of Buddhism seem predominant. The early images also seem to be associated with the cults of Saptamatrika goddesses, the Nagas and the Yakshas.

The stone sculptures displayed in this gallery represent the different forms of iconographic features, styles and the philosophy of Nepali people of different period of history. These sculptures depict not only the development of Nepali stone art spanning a period of nearly 1900 years but also give expression to the atypical genius of the ancient Nepali artists.

The Terracotta Art of Nepal

It is widely believed that people from the earliest phase of history created and fostered the tradition of developing the terracotta art form to design the desired object forms as the clay is a material easy to get hold of and work with. The origin of terracotta art in Nepal can be traced as far back the 3rd century BC. with the findings of terracotta toys and potteries from South-Western Nepal Terai.

From the time of the Lichchhavis, Nepali artists introduced the terracotta art in the form of hand- pressed moulds. During the medieval period, this art form reached the height of its glory. The Mahabodhi temple of Patan is one of the magnificent examples of the terracotta art in Nepal. The whole temple is made of different size brick panel with the miniature image of Lord Buddha in the Bhu-sparsha (earth witness) posture in each piece of the brick.

The terracotta images displayed here in this gallery are from the time of 17-18th century AD. The images of Navadurga particularly Brahmayani, Shailaputri, Chandraghanta, Vaishnavi, Kusmanda, Bhavani, Mahagauri, Chamunda, Kali and Varahi are some of the chosen masterpieces of the terracotta art. The image of Matsyavatar, Ganesh and Baban Bhairav are also equally beautiful and magnificent.

The Bronze Art of Nepal

The fame of the Nepali bronze art reaches all over the world. From the art historian to the general public, everyone is deeply impressed by the bronzes from Nepal. In comparison to the stone art, the history of Nepali bronze seems to be short as it started only from the 7th century onward. The rise of the fame of the Pala- Sena School of art in Northern India had an impact on the bronzes of Nepal. But the Nepali artists were able to keep the typical and distinct Nepali features in their bronzes works. Here one has to remember a very famous Nepali genius Araniko, the artist, architect, bronze-caster and painter, who at the tender age of 18, was invited by then Emperor Kublai Khan to China. Araniko accomplished what he was entrusted to do and made a great name as the pioneer in bronze-casting in Tibet and China.

The Nepali bronzes carry the impact of both Saiva and Buddhist Tantric practices. The multi-headed and multi armed images of Tantric gods and goddesses carrying multiple attributes come within this category. In the large collection of bronzes in Nepal, the Buddhist images are predominant. Padmapani Avalokiteshwor is the most popular in the Vajrayani cult of Buddhism so the bronze images of Avalokiteshwor abound in Nepal. The overwhelming presence of the Mongol face in bronze imagery is one of the amazing features in Nepal. It happened because of the high demand of Nepali bronzes from Tibet during medieval period. The elements of Tibetan style such as sturdy body, oval face, slanting eyes, distinct chin and an upward forehead are commonly seen in the Nepali bronzes of this period.

This gallery possesses the magnificent collections of the specimens of the finest bronze art with a variety of iconographic features. During the 17th -18th century Ad, Nepali artists and craftsmen had accomplished a brilliant job in casting the bronzes of Samvara, representing Nirvana or the Supreme Bliss, through the intensive system of mediation. The images of Samvara are the best pieces of artistic excellence of the medieval period. The Nepali artists followed the concept of Vajrayana imagery in the course of making the bronzes of Samvara. The bronzes of Mahish Samvara, NaraSimha Samvara and Visha Samvara displayed in this gallery are considered to be the magnificent pieces of Nepali metal art. Simply looking at these images one can see them engaged in sexual posture, but the philosophy of such a posture is quite different. Here, the two cosmic aspects of male and female represents pragya, the female for wishdom and upaya, the male for compassion as a tangible expression of a profound metaphysical concept to attain salvation. Besides, this gallery preserves a good number of the late medieval bronzes of Tara, Vasundhara, Visvarupa, Hayagriva Mandala, and a few metal statues of the Malla kings and queens.

The Wooden Art of Nepal

Nepali wood art has gained special position in the history of Nepali art. The Nepali artists, who were able to demonstrative their outstanding skill in creating beautiful stone art, could definitely carve in the comparably soft and pliable wooden material. But the specimens of very ancient wood arts are not available today because they cannot last long and start decaying after some time. Yet the magnificent wooden art of medieval period is preserved in museums and shrines and have been a source of pride for Nepal.

During medieval period, the Nepali artists touched the height of glory in Nepali wood art. A part from the wooden images, very beautiful and superb artistic skills are found largely in the temples, Viharas and palaces of medieval Nepal. The window, the tympanum and the struts used in the temples and found around the Kathmandu Valley present excellent and attractive examples of wood art. The visitors remain spell bound while looking at the medieval wood art of Nepal.

The wooden art gallery preserves the artistic pieces of wood art from the time of 15th century AD. This gallery displays the wood art of both religious and secular themes. The most beautiful piece of wood work can be seen in the image of dancing goddess. Similarly, the tympanum of Mahishasurmardini, the images of Dipankara, Tara, Bhiarava and Mahamanjushree are equally beautiful and best pieces of artistic excellence of 18th century AD.

The Nepali art historians opine that the Nepali wood art is par excellence and not comparable to any country all over the world.

The Painting of Nepal

Paintings of Nepal date back to the Lichchhavi period along with the origination of stone art. Before carving the stone, it was quite essential to draw a painting as what they designed to make in stone. In this way, paintings were also evolved in Nepal. Inscriptions, travelers account and the chronicles are available about the history of paintings in Nepal but the earliest surviving manuscript painting belong to 10th century AD.

There was the tradition of manuscript writing on palm leaves with wooden covers during early medieval period. From 15th century onwards a new school of scroll painting (Thangka or Paubha) evolved and accordingly another school of wall painting was initiated from 17th century onward.

This gallery preserves the most appealing story painting, scroll painting and manuscript paintings with different religious themes and manifestations. One of the best attractions of this gallery is the painting of 18th century AD. that is based on the story of Markandyapurana. This gallery has proud privilege of having the most valuable collection of the Sahanama from Iran datable to 1600 AD. This Farsi manuscript with the beautiful combination of color, calligraphy and paintings was written by Firudausi and took thirty-five years to complete.

Photo Source: Bipash Mahato