SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Ahuja, Naman Parmeshwar (2001) Early Indian moulded terracotta: The emergence of an iconography and variations in style, circa second century B.C. to first century A.D. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (53MB) | Preview


This thesis is the first comprehensive study of Indian moulded terracotta sculpture made between the second century BC and first century AD. Over 3000 images dispersed in more than 50 international collections have been studied. They hail from archaeological sites that spread from the Northwest Frontier in Pakistan through the Indian Gangetic plain to Nepal and Bangladesh. While the stone imagery from sites like Bharhut, Sanchi and the Western Indian caves are reasonably well known, contemporary terracotta plaques have been marginalised by scholarship. Unlike their stone counterparts, the mass-produced terracotta plaques belong to a separate genre of cultic belief and patronage. Made of easily renewable and inexpensive clay, the use of these images was not precluded to the wealthier donors of contemporary stone sculpture, who were given mostly to patronising Buddhism or Jainism. Before any hypothesis could be made about the religious affiliation of the terracotta images, the first objective of this study was to collect the data, and categorise it empirically. In this process, a pattern of related similarities and differences emerged in the imagery. A stylistic study has also been conducted that compares the inter-regional relationships between the sculptures from five areas: the Northwest, the Indo-Gangetic Divide, Upper-Gangetic Valley, Middle-Gangetic Valley and Bengal. This study revealed a complex and shared iconography of images spread over the South Asian Subcontinent before the Common Era. However, identifying their iconography and nature of the cult(s) that used these images can only be speculated at this stage. A preliminary study has shown that the closest textual descriptions that mirror the iconography of these images lie embedded in the later myths of the major Indie divinities. It appears that the myths and magico-religious nature of pre-Kusan divinities were subsumed by the mythoiogies of the emerging 'great' gods like Shiva, Vishnu and Devi. These images form perhaps the first ciear iconographic programme of sculptures found in the Subcontinent. This leads us to assess what factors (religious, ritualistic, economic and artistic) might have influenced the sudden creation of this imagery in India. Finally, in so doing, this dissertation questions who would have used this imagery, and why. The thesis concludes that many Indian gods and goddesses, epic narratives and their heroes, often forgotten by the subsequent tradition, found their first visual reference in Early-Historic terracotta. It also highlights the important ritualistic and apotropaic function of early images. The vast majority of this material has never been published. Approximately 450 illustrations accompany the dissertation.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:16

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item