Mauryan Art is believed to be the beginning of the history of Indian Arts. Sandstone sculptures, Shrine and Cave architectures originated in Mauryan period influenced the various other art forms that developed later in India.
Mauryan period was known for prosperity, religious development and artistic achievements. Mauryan dynasty of Magadha ruled most part of the Indian subcontinent from 322 BCE to 187 BCE. Chandragupta was the founder of the empire. Ashoka was the greatest ruler of the Empire under which Mauryan Period Art reached its height.
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Ashoka embraced the Buddhism after the war of Kalinga and adopted the policy of Dhamma. He used the various architectural and sculptural art forms to popularise and spread the teachings of Buddhism. He also used these art forms to convey his state rules and instructions to the public.
Two forms of arts were famous in Mauryan period : Court Art and Folk Art
Mauryan Art : Court Art
- Architecture :
- Kumharar Palace
- Barabar hills caves,
- Nagarjuni hills caves
- Sculpture :
- Ashoka Pillars
Remains of the Palace of Chandragupta Maurya are found at Kumharar in Patna. The palace had 40 gilded pillars of sandstone. The floor and roof were made of wood.
Famous Chinese pilgrim Fa-hieun praised the palace in his writings. He glorified the structure by stating it as work of Gods. Megasthenese, the Greek ambassador also praised its grandeur.
Stupas are hemi-spherical structure having a small chamber inside. The chamber contains relics of Buddha or important Buddhist monks in a casket. The surface of stupas are generally made of bricks with a thick layer of plaster.
Ashoka instructed the construction of Sanchi stupa at Sanchi (near Bhopal). A path around the stupa is provided for circumambulation (Pradakshina). The monument is surrounded by a fence. The dom of the stupa has stone umbrella at the top which signifies the universal supremacy of Dharma.
Stone railings and Gateways around it were constructed later. Several other modifications were made over a period of time.
Barabar Caves And Nagarjuni Caves
Rock Cut Caves were the new type of architecture that developed during Ashoka’s reign. The extremely hard granite rock were cut in geometrical fashion.
The caves at Barabar hills and the Nagarjuni hills, near Gaya were designed and excavated during different periods of Mauryan empire .
The entrance of the caves have Ogee shaped arch over them. The interior surfaces of the caves are polished like a mirror. These caves bear the inscriptions of the Mauryan Period.
Caves made in Barabar hills are collectively called barabar caves. These are four in numbers :
- Lomas Rishi Caves
- Sudama Cave
- Karan Chaupar
- Vivsa Zopri
Ashoka donated the hills of Barabar caves to Ajivika monks. His successor, Dasharatha donated three separate caves at Nagarjuni hills to the Ajivika monks.
Ashoka Pillars made of single sandstone are great monuments of Mauryan period. Ashoka’s famous edicts are inscribed on these monolithic shiny pillars. They are about twenty in numbers.
Finely carved Capital with splendid animal figures are the most notable feature of these pillars. Generally, Lions or Bulls were carved standing on the squared or circular abacus. The whole sit on inverted lotus.
These pillars were influenced from Persia.
Sarnath Lion Capital (at Sarnath near Varanasi)
Sarnath is a Buddhist site near Varanasi where Lord Buddha preached his teachings for the first time.
Ashoka pillar at Sarnath had a Lion capital which was moved to the Sarnath museum.
It is more elaborate than the other very similar surviving capitals of the pillars.
The capital features four Asiatic lions standing back to back on an detailed base. The base carries sculptures in high relief of an elephant, a galloping horse, a bull, and a lion, separated by intervening spoked chariot-wheels. The lower part of the capital is carved into the shape of inverted lotus.
A graphic representation of it was adopted as the official Emblem of India in 1950.
The capital is carved out of a single block of polished sandstone, and was always a separate piece from the column itself.
Rampurva Bull Capital (Purvi Champaran)
The Rampurva bull capital is one of twin capitals excavated at Rampurva in Paschimi Champaran.
The capital features single zebu bull (humped bull found in South Asia) on a circular abacus supported by inverted lotus. The abacus is decorated with floral designs which is strongly influenced with Greek art.
Mauryan Art : Folk Art / Popular Art
Worship of Yaksha and Yakshi were popular in Ancient India. They refer to the nature-spirits and caretakers of the natural treasures.
During Mauryan period, making sandstone sculptures of Yaksha and Yakshi became popular form of folk art.
Large statues of Yakshas and Yakshi mostly in standing position have been found at many places such as Patna, Vidisha and Mathura.
Yakshi image found in Didarganj, near Patna is one of the finest examples of popular Mauryan art.
Most striking features of these sculptures are the polished surface and clear physiognomic details.
This is a 6.4′ tall, well built, well-proportioned, free-standing sculpture with polished surface. The sculpture is carved out of single piece of a sandstone.
The Yakshini holds a fly-whisk (chauri – tool to disturb flies) in the right hand whereas the left hand is broken.