Although conforming to the common denominator of the art-tradition of Madhyadesa, as illustrated in the reliefs of 'Bharhut' (District Satna), Bodh-Gaya (District Gaya) and Sanchi (District Raisen), the sculptured friezes of Udayagiri and Khandagiri have a distinct place of their own in early Indian art.
The Incomparable Artifacts
The facial features of many of the figures have a provincial look. The workmanship of the carvings is by no means uniform, but taken as a whole the execution displays a decided advance on the work of Bharhut (2nd century B.C.)
The friezes on the façade of the main wing of the upper storey of Cave-1 (Rani-gumpha) of Udayagiri compare favourably with the reliefs of the gateways of Sanchi, with which they are more or less contemporaneous, and have hardly anything that savours of the archaic traits of Bharhut. The artist is no longer labouring under the law of frontality and lack of perspective but has attained sufficient mastery over form and skill in depicting figures in every position- front, back and side.
The faces are shown in full or in three-quarter and half profiles. The poses of the figures are easy and natural, their movement vivacious and elastic and emotions, like agony, pleasure, fear, determination and mental tension, tolerably well-expressed. The composition is fairly coherent and effective; the different figures bear relationship with one another. The reliefs have also matured into depth, displaying a considerable plasticity of form and naturalism of modelling. Slender figures of men and women are marked by a suavity of outline.
The reliefs on the other caves, Caves 5 ('Jaya-Vijaya-gumpha'), 9 (Manchapuri and Svargapuri) and 10 (Ganesa-gumpha) of Udayagiri and Caves 2 & 3 ('Tatowa-gumpha' and 'Ananta-gumpha') of Khandagiri, and even those on the lower storey of Cave-1 (Rani-gumpha) of Udayagiri, however, do not attain this standard. They are relatively crude and inferior in dramatic vigour and plastic treatment of figures. The figures are less elastic, modelling more coarse and grouping less coherent.
This inequality in workmanship becomes glaring when one compares the abduction scene in Cave-10 (Ganesa-gumpha) of Udayagiri with the identical scene on the upper storey of Cave-1 of the same hill. The difference in style may be due to either varied authorship or interval of time, which enabled the artist, improving through experience, to attain mastery in carving, through the interval could not have been appreciable.