Discoveries in history are replete with coincidences and the finding of the famous Chauri-Bearer statue is surely one of the most fortunate ones. The statue is 5’2” tall on a pedestal of 1’7 ½” made of Chunar sandstone finished to an incredible mirror-like polish. The discovery was made the same year as the official establishment of the Patna Museum – 1917. Reports on how the statue was found, vary. A Patna Museum publication describes how in the letter of Honourable E.H.S. Walsh, then Commissioner of Patna, credit is given to a man by the name Ghulam Rasul, who saw the base sticking out from the muddy banks by the riverside near Didarganj. Rasul then proceeded to dig up the ground to find the statue.
Most of us would like to believe the other more romantic version, which is the story most commonly told and also co-relates with the Confidential Report filed by the Inspector of Police on October 20th 1917. On the banks of the Ganges in Didarganj in Old Patna City, for years it was said that dhobis washed clothes on a slab that was sticking out of the earth. One day, a snake appeared in the precincts and as the villagers followed in chase, it slithered away into a hole in the ground near the slab. When the villagers started to dig up the earth, they found the slab was actually the bottom pedestal of a marvellous statue, which we now call the Didarganj Yakshi. The story is allegorical, reminding us of the nature of history itself, how often we casually use some part of it that is visible without really knowing the rest, which is hidden. It is also quite serendipitous, how the Yakshi made her presence felt, at the right time, the very year the Patna Museum was established. Ever since, she has been the star attraction at the Patna Museum. The Bihar Museum will display this much coveted artefact on the second floor at the Historical Art Gallery.
The Yakshi embodies close-to-perfect standards of feminine beauty of ancient India. Her figure is voluptuous with a full bust, slender at the waist and wide at the hips. *More unusual but prescribed norms of beauty are incorporated as the griva trivali – the three fold lines on the neck and katyavali – folds of flesh at the waist. Perhaps, what is most striking about the statue, after one has absorbed the obviously attractive features, is the graceful manner in which the figure endears itself to us. The Yakshi stoops slightly forward instead of standing upright, seeking a posture of humility. The smile on her lips is elusive, yet hauntingly sweet. The design of her right leg is slightly bent as if due to the weight of the fly-whisk she holds and the firmness of her grip on the chauri, show the delicacy of rendition in detailing. It is a figure in the round, which means it can be viewed from all angles.
After the find, historians had the job of dating the statue. Which era would they place the artefact by looking at the kind of stone, finish and the style of sculpture? From the high gloss of the polish and the superhuman qualities of the Yakshi, comparable to those found in the railing of the Buddhist stupa at Bharhut, R.P Chanda concludes that it demonstrates the classical learning by Magadhan artists from the foreign masters of the Asokan School. J.N.Banerjea classifies all such statues in the round with this type of lustre as Mauryan and slots it in the range of 1st century BCE or earlier. Nihar Ranjan Ray preferring to call her Yakshini, concluded that from the style it could well belong to the Mathura Yakshis of 2nd century CE. However, the regal bearing is similar to the Mauryan figures at the crown of monolithic capital columns. While opinions range in this manner, the statue has been accepted as from the Mauryan era.
The statue suffered damage over the years it lay buried. The left arm is missing and the Yakshi’s nose is chipped. Despite these disfigurations, the statue exudes a romance and magic of a time gone and is a breathtaking example of the superior level of craftsmanship thousands of years ago in Bihar. Witness her splendour at the Bihar Museum, where she now has a permanent home!
*The Didarganj Chauri Bearer female figure by Jai Prakash Narayan Singh and Arvind Mahajan. Patna Museum Publication – 2012