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Mauryan Art and Architecture

 Mauryan Art and Architecture

    Mauryan India is also famous for its diverse art and architecture. Chaityas and Viharas with various inscriptions were also built during the Maurya period. Today in this blog we will learn about Mauryan art and architecture. In most of the competitive exams, questions are asked on the subject of art and architecture. This blog will prove beneficial for the students of history and also for the competitors.


    In the field of art and architecture, only in the Maurya period (323 - 184 BC) there are visible sights of organized activities. Before the Maurya era, wood, clay bricks and grass-thatch were used in the manufacture of artistic objects. That is why we do not get those things today. In the Maurya era itself, stone (stone) was first used in the field of art, as a result of which the artworks became everlasting.

    For the convenience of study, Mauryan art can be divided into two parts--
1- Court or state art in which monuments built by state artisans are found such as Rajprasad, Stambh, Guha-vihar, Stupa etc.
2- Folk art in which objects of folk interest were created by independent artists, such as statues of Yaksha-Yakshini, clay sculptures etc.

   Court Art

   Rajprasad - Residual monuments of Mauryan period belong to the time of Ashoka. The knowledge of Mauryan architecture before Emperor Ashoka comes to us mainly from the descriptions of Greek writers. According to the features of architecture that Chanakya discusses in his Arthashastra under the fortification, according to the deep moat (Parikha), high platform (Vapra), built on the four sides of the city, the gates, pillars and turrets (Attalaka) were built in the place. Should be It can be said that this description is not imaginary but based on reality and the city configuration of the Maurya rulers must have been according to this. This description of Kautilya (Chanakya) is also confirmed by the description of Greco-Roman writers.

Description of Pataliputra in Roman writings

     Roman writers have given details of Pataliputra, the capital of Chandragupta Maurya and his royal palace located there.

Description of Strabo - Stribo has described Pataliputra as follows --- "Polybothra (Pataliputra) was situated at the confluence of the Ganges and Son rivers. Its length was 80 stadia and width 16 stadia. It was in the shape of a parallelogram. Its There was a moat about 700 feet wide all around. The city was surrounded by a quadrangular wooden wall. In which holes were made to shoot arrows at the enemy army. It had 64 gates and 570 turret".
     The grand palace of Chandragupta Maurya was situated in this city. In fact it was a huge complex consisting of many large rooms. Its shining pillars were made of gold vines and silver birds. The most prominent building among them was the pavilion with many pillars, which was supported on a wooden high ground. This Rajprasad was situated in the middle of a big park. There were shady trees in it. There were many lakes in which different sizes and types of fish were reared. Even the royal palaces of Susa and Ekbatna could not match it in grandeur. The remains of huge wooden buildings have been found in the excavations done at Bulandibagh and Kumrahar near Patna. The credit for bringing these remains to light goes to Mr. Spooner. Bulandibagh - From here the remains of the city's palisade and the remains of Rajprasad from Kumrahar have been received. The length of the park is up to 450 feet. It has huge walls of wooden logs on both sides. Each log is 19 feet high and one foot wide. Both the walls of the log are connected by large logs of 14 feet. The soiled soil is filled in between them.
    The palace-relics of Kumrhar show that it was a building group. In the ruins of a building stand huge stone pillars, which may have been the base of the roof of a huge pillar-pavilion, this was probably the huge hall of Chandragupta Maurya. It is the first huge relic of the historical period in the form of a pavilion. In the main part of the mandapa, eight rows of ten pillars are made from east to west. On its east side two more pillars are found in a fragmented state. A wooden platform has been found on one side of the pavilion, which can be considered a wonderful example of woodcraft.
     In excavation, the lower part of a pillar resembling Ashoka Pillar is found in complete condition. This palace was in existence in the fourth century AD and Fahien was surprised to see that 'it cannot be made by the people of the world, but it seems to have been built by the gods.' Thus, during the Maurya period, woodworking reached the peak of its development. According to Illian, even the palaces of Susa and Ekbatna could not match the palace of Pataliputra in grandeur. Some scholars equate the Maurya Rajaprasad with the hundred-pillared Hakhamani Prasad from Persepolis.

By the time of Ashoka, we start getting a majority of monuments of Mauryan art. We can divide the artefacts of this time into four parts, pillar, stupa, vedika and cave-vihara.

1- Pillars-

  Pillars are the best examples of Mauryan era architecture. Scholars like John Marshall, Percy Brown, Stella Camrish call them the imitations of the Iranian pillars but this is not correct because we see many fundamental differences between the Iranian and Ashokan pillars, some of them are as follows----

1 - The pillars of Ashoka are carved out of a single stone, in contrast, the Iranian pillars are made by joining several circular pieces.

2- The pillars of Ashoka are supported on the ground without a post or base, while the Iranian pillars are supported on the post.

3- Iranian pillars were installed in huge buildings, unlike Ashoka's pillars have developed independently.

4- There are animal figures on the top of the Ashoka pillars while human figures are on the Iranian pillars.

5- The Iranian pillars are erected but the pillars of Ashoka are flat. The animal sculptures on the top of the pillars of Ashoka have a special symbolic meaning, whose proper interpretation is possible only in the Indian tradition. But there is no symbolism in the Iranian column headings.
6-The pillars of Ashoka have become progressively thinner from bottom to top, while those of Iranian pillars are the same from bottom to top.
    From this it becomes clear that the pillars of Ashoka are in no way a copy of the Iranian pillars. Spooner is of the view that the opadar polish on the Mauryan pillars has been taken from Iran itself. But Vasudev Sharan Aggarwal has discovered such examples from Apastamba Sutra and Mahabharata, from which it is clear that this polish was known to Indians long ago. According to him, in the Apastamba Sutra, the words "Slakshikaranai" and "Slakshanikurvanti" (it was used to make it smooth by means of lubrication) have been used in the context of the method of making pottery shiny, which is indicative of the antiquity of Opadar Polish. The metal garlands of Piprahwa Buddhist Stupa, the Yaksha statues of Patna, the torso of Jain Tirthankaras found from Lohanipur, etc. have all been used in bright polish. A remarkable fact in this regard is the fact that there are bright black colored pots from various sites in North India of the pre-Mauryan era, which have been dated to 600-200 BC. Takes it away. In such a situation, there was no need for the Indians to take the knowledge of polishing the pillars from Iran. Therefore, the Mauryan pillars and their polish are completely Indian.
    The number of Ashoka Pillars is not fixed. It must have been more than 30. Now only fifteen of these are safe.

 There are two types of pillars of Ashoka -
1- The pillars on which the Dhamma-scripts are inscribed.
2 - Absolutely plain column.
In the first type, the pillars of Delhi-Meerut, Allahabad (now Prayagraj), Lauria Nandgarh, Lauria Arraj, Rampurwa (Lion Shirsha, Sankisa, Sanchi, Sarnath, Limbini, Nigali Sagar etc.)
In the second type, Rampurva (bull head), Basadh, Kosam etc. are prominent.
   All the pillars are shiny, tall, shapely and monolithic (made of a single stone). They have become progressively thinner from bottom to top. The main parts of the column are -
(1) Yashti
(2) On top of the yashti, the lotus-headed (hourglass shape,
(3) Falak (Abacus),
(4) Animal-figure adorning the pillar.
      The pillars are carved out of a single stone. Not sure how it's still so shiny? It is the specialty of the polishers of that period that they still shine like glass. Some scholars compare it with the Bell-Capital of Persepolis (the capital of the Hakhamani emperors).
   Dr. Vashudev Sharan Agarwal has described it as the symbol of Indian 'Purnaghat' or 'Maha Kalash'. Above it the plank is established by copper nails. It is square in some pillars and round and ornate in some. The figures of different animals like swan, lion, elephant, bull etc. are found on the panel. The pillar-top of Lauria Arraj has been destroyed. R. P. Chanda has estimated the shape of Garuda on it.

Various animal figures on top of Ashoka Pillars

1- Basad pillar - lion
2- Sankisa pillar - elephant
3- Rampurva Pillar - Taurus
4- Lauria Nandgarh - Singh
5- Sanchi and Sarnath - together with the figures of four lions.
     All these pillars are completely independent in themselves and stand without any support. All are made of Chunar sandstone. It seems that there may have been a pillar manufacturing factory in Chunar (Mirzapur). The length of the pillars is 35 to 50 feet and the weight of each is about 50 tons.

    Sarnath Pillar

         Among these pillars, the lion-head of the pillar of Sarnath is the best. Four living lions are seated firmly on its plank, with their back to the back and facing the four directions. The taut body muscles of lions, wavy hair and stocky accompaniments are made with utmost subtlety and finesse. These Chakravati are symbols of the power of Emperor Ashoka. These give information about the propagation of his kingdom and religion in all four directions, or they can be considered a symbol of the power of the Shakya-Singh Buddha who was born Chakravati. The Mahadharma Chakra was installed on the head of the lion, which originally had 32 spokes. It symbolizes the victory of Dharma over Shakti which is visible in the personalities of both Buddha and Ashoka. There are four chakras on the lower face of the lions in all four directions, which are symbols of Dharmachakravartan.
     Similarly the figures of four animals – Gaja (elephant), Horse, Bull, and Lion – are carved which are shown in a moving state. Many opinions have been expressed regarding their symbolic meaning. Bogel considered these as mere ornamental objects with no symbolic meaning. Bloch considered them to be symbols of the four Hindu gods - Indra, Surya, Shiva, and Durga, because in Hinduism the elephant is the vehicle of Indra, the horse the sun, and the lion the vehicle of Durga. According to them, the purpose of the craftsman behind this was to show them the descendants of Buddha. Phuse holds that these animals represent the four great events of Buddha's life such as the elephant in his womb (in which his mother Maya saw a white elephant descending from heaven and entering her womb), taurus birth ( The sign of Buddha was Taurus ) , Horse is the symbol of renunciation and Leo is the symbol of Buddha ( who was himself a Sakya lion ) .

   2-  meaning of stupa

   After the Mahaparinirvana of Mahatma Buddha, his ashes were divided into eight parts and samadhis were built on them, generally these are called stupas. The practice of building stupas dates back to the pre-Buddha period. The literal meaning of stupa is 'heap' or 'thorough'. Since it was made in place of the pyre, hence it got a name Chaitya. The first mention of a stupa comes from the Rigveda where the rising flames of fire are called Agni. The relationship of the stupa was associated with the great man even before the Buddha. After the cremation, the stupa was born out of the practice of keeping the remaining ashes in a vessel and covering them with soil. Later on, the Buddhists included it in their sangha-system. These stupas housed the metal of the Buddha or his chief disciples, so they became the main centers of reverence and worship of the Buddhists.
    types of stupas
      There are four types of stupas
1- Body - In this the bones of Buddha and his chief disciples and various parts of their body (teeth, nails, hair etc.) were kept.

 2- Paribhogik - In this the objects used by Buddha (begging pots, step-padukas, asanas etc.) were kept.
3- Purpose - These included stupas which were built in memory of the events related to the life of Mahatma Buddha or at places sanctified by his travels. Such places are Bodh Gaya, Lumbini, Sarnath, Kushinagar etc.
4- Sankalpit - These were small in size and were installed by devotees at Buddhist pilgrimage sites. In Buddhism, it is described as an act of virtue.
The initial form of the stupa is semi-circular. In this, on top of a platform (Medhi), a spit was made in the shape of an inverted bowl, which is called 'Anda'. The top of the stupa was flat at the end, on top of which a metal vessel was placed. It is called Harmika. Harmika means abode of the gods.
     A yashti was placed in the middle of Harmika. Three umbrellas were placed on the upper end of the Yashti. A wall was built around the stupa. It is called Vedika (railing). The space between the Stupa and the Vedika for circumambulation was called 'Pradakshina'. Later on, entrance gates were made in all the four directions of the Vedika. Arched pylons were made at the entrance.
    Thus Medhi, Vedika, Anda, Pradakshinapatha, Harmika, Yashti, Kshattra, Torana etc. Stupas were the main parts of Vastu.
  Emperor Ashoka is credited with the construction of 84 thousand stupas. Most of the stupas have been destroyed. In 1818 AD, General Royalt first discovered the stupa of Sanchi located in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. Mauryan stupas are made of bricks.
30-Stone Vedika - Mauryan era stupas and viharas were surrounded by altars. The ruins of some of them have been found. The remains of an altar have been found from Bodh Gaya. These were built during the time of Ashoka. It is called 'Bodhimanda'. From the excavation of Pataliputra, fragments of three altars have been found, which are considered to be of Mauryan age due to their shiny polish.

4- Guha-vihara - 

   In the Maurya era, the art of making residences by cutting caves was fully developed. In the time of Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha, houses were built for the Ajivakas by cutting the hills of Barabar and Nagarjuni. The ceilings and walls of these caves have shiny polish. The caves of 'Sudama's cave' and 'Karan Chaupad' are famous among the caves of Barabar hill during the time of Ashoka. The first was built in the twelfth year of Ashoka and the second in the nineteenth year. The fourth section of the Barabar hill is called the 'hut of the world'.
    The 'Gopika cave' is important in the Nagarjuni cave which was built by Dasharatha in the year of Abhishek.

Mauryan Sculpture

    The best specimens of Mauryan sculpture are visible in the various animal figures adorning the Ashoka pillars. The elephant figure carved out of the Dhauli rock of Orissa shows the excellence of stone sculpture. Similarly, on the rock of Kalsi (Dehradun, Uttarakhand), the shape of a stick is found carved. In the middle of the elephant's legs, 'Gajatme' (Gajottamah) meaning the best elephant is inscribed in the Brahmi script of the Mauryan period.

Mauryan folk art

   The following statues can be mentioned under folk art ------
1- Yaksha idol found from village of Mathura district which is called 'Manibhadra'.
2- Baroda village Yaksha-Statue of Mathura district.
3- Statue of Yakshi obtained from Jhing-ka-Nagra village of Mathura.
4- Yaksha statue received from Mathura.
5- Yaksha-Statue obtained from Padmavati (Gwalior M.P.).
6- Statue of Chamar Grahini Yakshi received from Didarganj in Patna city.
7- Two Yaksha statues received from Patna.
8- Statue of Yakshi received from Beshnagar (Vidisha)
9- Statue of Trimukh Yaksha obtained from Rajghat (Varanasi).
10- Two Yaksha statues received from Vidisha.
11- Yaksha statues received from Shishupalgarh (Orissa).
12- Statue of Yaksha received from Mehrauli.
       Thus Mauryan art itself is unique in architectural art and sculpture. Ashoka completed various construction works during his lifetime.

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