details on bull capital at rampurva
The 8’9" Rampurva Bull capital comes from one of a pair of pillars found at the same site on the Gandak river, about half way from Pataliputra, the Maurya capital and Lumbini the Buddha’s birth place. It is carved in the light-coffee-colored sandstone of Chunar and likely carried from there. Its design is divided into the lotus bell base a narrow abacus of floral forms and the great bull zebu above. It was once finished in a fine polish, but years of weathering and possibly the time lying in bog where it eventually fell has worn off most.
The lotus bell is a highly refined shape we find in a good number of other capitals and destined to become a stable of later Indian design. It is a full round shape bulging gently but firmly above to produce a double-curving silhouette. Its outer surface is finished in a set of ridges that alternate abstractly between angled ribs surrounded by rounded ones. Above the bell is a narrow necking finished in the form of a twisted rope. Above this is a wide abacus carrying a repeat pattern of three spread out flower and rosette forms.
It is John Irwin’s contention that such animal capitals were originally made in wood or copper and then lashed with ropes to the tops of wooden pillars. If that is so this design may preserve in its alternating ribs the form of the ropes circling the base of the animal on top and hooking around pegs on the pole below.
Atop the design we find the great bull. It has lost its horns and its neck folds, but otherwise stands in relatively fine shape after two-and-a-quarter millennia. The bull stand majestically erect. All four legs are planted firmly on the platform. The stone between its legs has been left intact. Its genitals marked strongly in relief. If it is an idealized image in its symmetrical precision, it is also a relatively naturalistic one with its careful attention to realistic proportions and anatomy. All in all the swelling of the belly and its contrast against the ridge of the haunch behind and the soft swelling of the shoulders and hump in front are quite effective.
So what does Lee mean when he goes on to compare it with Hittite and Persian bulls? Why compare them to something from so far away in time and space? One of the Orientalist principles is to trace Indian designs to other supposed sources. The suggestion being that Indians could not create on their own. Since the Hittites were a thousand years earlier we can do best to see how this image compares with the Persian bulls, of the style that the Mauryas do actually share.
The Achaemenid Persians used animals in saddle linked pairs as architectural motifs. These pillars always had molded bases and usually fluted sides. They commonly also had polish. When they had bull capitals here is what the bull looked like.