Mauryan Architecture

Salient features of Mauryan Art & Architecture

  • Change in material used: There was a shift toward non-perishable period i.e., stone as a medium of cultural goods production during Mauryan period. This was due to rise of an empire, concentration of wealth in the hands of urban elites and increased institutionalisation of religious activity.
  • Influence of foreign cultures: During the Mauryan period, there was influence of Greek and Persian art and architecture in the Indian art forms. This is evident in the motifs and techniques. However, there was not a blind imitation in art but an indigenisation of foreign elements in the political, social and religious landscape of India.
  • Influence of Politics on Art: Art & architecture during the Mauryan times, was not art for the sake of art or art having its own autonomous existence. But art during Mauryan times was deeply intertwined with the political and religious ideology of Mauryan state. This can be seen in the patronage and forms of art found during this time.
  • Art of Mauryan period was dignified and aristocratic court art.
    • Made in round: Art & Architecture during Mauryan times is made in the round, i.e., they can be seen from all sides.
    • Animals in Mauryan art: Animals also figure prominently in it

Classification of Art & Architecture During Mauryan Times

Art historians have classified Art & Architecture during Mauryan times into two categories:

  1. Court Art: This category of art & architecture from the Mauryan times was made because of the direct patronage of Mauryan empire rulers, especially Ashoka.
  2. Popular Art: This category includes stone sculptures and terracotta figurines, ring stones, disc stones etc which are believed to be attributed to the common people of Mauryan times.

Mauryan Architecture

Architecture during Mauryan period can be divided into two categories

(i) Residential structures: Very few residential structures have survived from this phase as most such buildings were built of perishable material like wood.

(ii) Religious monuments:

Fortifications found during Mauryan times

  • Sections of a wooden wall have been found have been found around Patna. The wooden wall have been found at a depth of 6.6 m.
  • 72 pillars arranged in a chessboard pattern have been found at Kumrahar in Patna.

Ashokan Pillars

  • Ashokan Pillars are quite like each other in form and dimensions.
  • They are monoliths i.e., carved out of a single piece of stone.
  • They are made of sandstone quarried at Chunar.
  • They have a lustrous, polished surface
  • Pillar without inscriptions: Bull capital pillar at Rampurva, Lion capital pillar at Vaishali and Kosam pillar without a capital.
Capitals of Ashokan Pillars
Sarnath capital

Meanings of sculptural motifs used on Ashokan pillars

  • Sculptural motifs used in the Ashokan pillars were chosen with great care in line with the message of dhamma. All the symbols associated with Ashokan pillars have a special significance in Buddhist literature.
  • Lotus: Symbol of purity and fertility. According to Buddhist texts, Lotus flowers grew at the place where Siddharth took first seven step after his birth.
  • Wheel: Symbolises Dharmachakra, which points to the first sermon of Buddha at Sarnath.
  • Lion:
  • Elephant: According to Buddhist tradition, Queen Maya (Mother of Buddha) saw a dream when she conceived Buddha as a white elephant entering her womb.
  • Bull: Represent the observed pattern of stars when Buddha was born.
  • Horse: Symbolises departure of Buddha from his home.

Persian Influence in Ashokan Pillars

Scholars have highlighted Persian influence because of the following regions:

  • Ashoka got the idea of inscribing proclamations on pillars from the Achaemenids.
  • Some words like dipi and lipi occur in the inscriptions of Darius as well as Ashoka.
  • Inscriptions of both Darius and Ashoka begin in third person and then later in first person.
  • Polished surface of Ashokan pillars and capitals is reflects Greek & Persian influence.

Differences between Mauryan & Persian Pillars

  • Pillars at Kumrahar hall do not have capitals whereas those at Persepolis have elaborate capitals.
  • Bases of Persian pillars are composed of bell (inverted lotus) or a plain rectangular or circular block while in Mauryan pillars inverted lotus appears on the top of the shaft.
  • There is a typical bulge in the lotus found in Mauryan pillars which is absent in Persian pillars.
  • Persian pillars usually have a fluted surface while Mauryan pillars have smooth surfaces.
  • Capitals of Persian pillars are decorated with palm leaves and have two semi-bulls, lions or unicorns or an upright or invest. Mauryan Pillars have independent animals carved on them.

Rock-Cut Architecture During Mauryan times

  • Mauryan period is the beginning of Rock-cut architecture in India.
  • Rock-cut Caves excavated during Mauryan Times are found in Nagarjuni hills and Barabar hills north of Bodh Gaya. Ex. Lomash Rishi cave
  • Caves in Barabar hills inscriptions attributing them to Ashoka while caves in Nagarjuni hills have inscriptions dedicating them to Dasharatha, the son of Ashoka.
  • These caves consist of a rectangular chamber leading into a small circular room.
  • These caves were modelled on wooden architectural prototypes.
  • Barabar Caves: Cluster of four caves, Lomash Rishi Cave, Sudama Cave, Vishwakarma Cave & Karan Chaupar Cave
  • Nagarjuni Caves: Cluster of three caves: Vadathi-ka-kubha, Vapiya-ka-Kubha & Gopi-ka-Kubha.
image 328

Fig: Plan of Sudama & Lomash Rishi Cave in Barabar Hills

image 329

Fig: Entrance of Lomash Rishi Cave

Features of Mauryan Rock-Cut Caves

  • Mauryan caves are simple in plan and generally lack any sculptural ornamentation.
  • They have plain but highly polished interiors.
  • Longer side of the caves are parallel to the rock face.
  • Only sculptural ornamentation found in these caves is the carving on the entrance of Lomash Rishi cave. This doorway is modelled on wooden doorways.
  • The inscription at Barabar hills notes that Ashoka dedicated these caves to Ajivikas.
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