ARTS OF THE MAURYAN PERIOD

Buddhism was the most popular social and religious movement during the Mauryan Period. Yaksha Worship was also very popular before and after the advent of Buddhism and it was assimilated in Buddhism and Jainism. So, multiple forms of worship existed. 

Pillars, Sculptures and Rock-cut Architecture

  1. Mauryan pillars are rock-cut pillars thus displaying the carver’s skills.
  2. The top portion of the pillar was carved with capital figures like the bull, the lion, the elephant etc.
  3. All the capital figures are vigorous and carved standing on a square or circular abacus. Abacuses are decorated with stylised lotuses.
  4. Some of the existing pillars with capital figures were found at Basarah-Bakhira, Lauriya-Nandangarh, Rampurva, Sankisa and Sarnath.
  5. Erection of pillars was prevalent in the Achamenian Empire as well but those were not rock cut like Mauriyan Pillar.
  6. The Mauryan pillar capital found at Sarnath popularly known as the Lion Capital is also our national emblem.

National Emblem

The abacus and the animal part of the Sarnath pillar forms the official national emblem of India. In the abacus of the Sarnath pillar, four animals are shown representing four directions – a galloping horse (west), a bull (east), an elephant (south) and a lion (north). The animals seem to follow each other turning the wheel of existence till eternity. The Elephant depicts the dream of Queen Maya, a white elephant entering her womb. The Bull depicts the zodiac sign of Taurus, the month in which Buddha was born. The Horse represents the horse Kanthaka, which Buddha is said to have used for going away from princely life. The Lion shows the attainment of enlightenment. In the National Emblem of India, the words Satyameva Jayate from Mundaka Upanishad, meaning ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’, are inscribed below the abacus in Devanagari script. The Capital is crowned by the Wheel of the Law (Dharma Chakra).

Yaksha worship

  1. It became part of figure representation in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu religious monuments.
  2. The earliest mention of yakshi can be found in Silappadikaram, a Tamil text.
  3. These monumental images are mostly in the standing position and found in many places like Patna, Vidisha and Mathura.
  4. One of the distinguishing elements in all these images is their polished surface. 
  5. The depiction of faces is in full round with pronounced cheeks and physiognomic detail. For example Yakshi figure from Didarganj.

(from left) Yaskshini sculpture in a torana at Sanchi Stupa, Yaksha sculpture

                      Yaksha, Parkham

Few examples and their special characters:

  1. Terracotta figurines show a very different delineation of the body as compared to the sculptures.
  2. Depiction of a monumental rock-cut elephant at Dhauli in Orissa (Ashokan rock-edict) shows modelling in round with linear rhythm.

Lomus Rishi cave

  1. The rock-cut cave carved at Barabar hills near Gaya in Bihar.
  2. The elephant frieze carved in high relief on the chaitya arch shows considerable movement.
  3. The cave was patronised by Ashoka for the Ajivika sect.
  4. Barabar and Nagarjuni caves in Bihar were formed during the time of Dasharath, grandson of Ashoka.

     Decorated entrance to Barabar caves

Some Important Facts

  • Stupa, vihara and chaitya are part of Buddhist and Jaina monastic complexes but the largest number belongs to the Buddhist religion.

  Basic structure of a stupa with different parts

  • Piprahwa stupa in Uttar Pradesh is the oldest one.
  • The stupas were constructed over the relics of the Buddha at Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Vethadipa, Pava, Kushinagar and Pippalvina. The textual tradition also mentions construction of various other stupas on the relics of the Buddha at several places including Avanti and Gandhara which are outside the Gangetic valley.
  • From the second century BCE onwards, we get many inscriptional evidence mentioning donors and, at times, their profession. The pattern of patronage has been a very collective one and there are very few examples of royal patronage.
  • During the early phase of Buddhism, Buddha is depicted symbolically through footprints, stupas, lotus throne, chakra, etc. This indicates either simple worship, or paying respect, or at times depicts historicization of life events. Gradually narrative became a part of the Buddhist tradition. Thus events from the life of the Buddha, the Jataka stories, were depicted on the railings and torans of the stupas.
  • Mainly synoptic narrative, continuous narrative and episodic narrative are used in the pictorial tradition.While events from the life of the Buddha became an important theme in all the Buddhist monuments, the Jataka stories also became equally important for sculptural decorations.
  • The main events associated with the Buddha’s Life which were frequently depicted were events related to the birth, renunciation, enlightenment, dharmachakrapravartana, and mahaparinibbana (death). Among theJataka stories that are frequently depicted are Chhadanta Jataka, Vidur Pandita Jataka, Ruru Jataka, Sibi Jataka, Vessantara Jataka and Shama Jataka.
  • In the hilly areas, a good example can be seen from the monolithic carving of the rock cut temple at Masrur in the Kangra district.