Luo Wenhua, the curator of the ongoing exhibition of ancient Indian and Chinese sculptures at the iconic Forbidden City in Beijing, crisscrossed India for two years to check 19 museums to select the exhibits. He did that twice.
The scholar of Buddhism and Sanskrit was focused on the Gupta period between 400 and 700 CE (Common Era).
He handpicked 56 sculptures from that era from nine Indian museums to be exhibited in China for more than a year – the Beijing exhibition at the Palace museum, to be followed by exhibitions in three other cities.
The exhibition titled “Across the Silk Road: Gupta sculpture and their Chinese counterparts between 400 and 700 AD” is the first such display of ancient Indian sculptures at the Palace museum.
It has been attracting a steady flow of visitors since the inauguration earlier this week.
The exhibits, which have been insured for about Rs 350 crore – were brought to China in two flights, packed tightly in specially made foam and then in wooden boxes.
“The Indian exhibits are a mix of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain sculptures. It showcases the different artistic styles of the period,” Luo said.
The parallel exhibition of 107 carvings from the Tang dynasty in the same period provides a chance to compare and contrast – especially the sculptures of Buddha. While the Indian collection has seven different Buddha statues, the Chinese have 34.
“It gives the visitors an opportunity to see the purely Indian and Chinese styles and the similarities. It is a chance to do a comparative study,” said Luo, who is the director of the Institute for Tibetan Buddhism at the Palace museum.
Speaking at the inauguration, Indian ambassador VK Gokhale said: “In India, the Gupta Empire brought two centuries of political unity and prosperity; China under the Tang dynasty reached unparalleled level of economic and cultural prosperity. The creative impulses of the Indian and Chinese people were given full play”.
“For a long period until the mid-20th century, contacts of India and China had withered away. Through the collective efforts of our leaderships, and with the support of the two peoples, Indians and Chinese are beginning to re-connect. We should value this (the exhibition),” he said.
One of Luo’s favourite Indian sculpture from the exhibits is that of Ganesha idol that was excavated from Gujarat.
“It is a very charming and cute sculpture. And also very complicated,” Luo said.