Mural in new Parliament

Context: Ministry of External Affairs characterized mural within recently constructed parliament building as a representation of expansion of the ancient Ashokan empire. The mural illustrates the Ashoka empire’s growth and conveys concept of accountable and citizen-centred governance that Ashoka embraced and promoted.

Mural in new Parliament

About Mural Paintings

  • Murals are artworks displayed on solid structures, such as walls, and have rich and extensive history. 
  • Spanned from 2nd century BC to 8th-10th century AD. 
  • Murals are found predominantly within natural caves and rock-cut chambers.
  • Examples: Ajanta, Ravan Chhaya Rock Shelter, Bagh caverns, Sittanavasal caves, and Kailasanatha temple in Ellora.
  • Main Themes: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Features of Mural Paintings 

  • Distinguishing feature lies in grand scale, as they surpass confines of traditional paper and are meant to adorn the walls of expansive structures, typically caves and temple walls.
  • Two notable qualities: organic integration with architecture and their significant public significance.
  • Mural paintings possess a truly three-dimensional nature, as they interact with and inhabit space they occupy.
  • To create vibrant pigments used in ancient Indian mural paintings, natural sources like terracotta, chalk, red ochre, yellow ochre were blended with animal fat. 
  • Subjects: human and animal figures, hunting scenes, family life, courtly settings, deities, and narratives from the Buddhist Jataka tales.

Examples of Mural Paintings

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Ajanta Cave Paintings

  • Carved during 4th century AD from volcanic rocks, Ajanta caves comprise a remarkable collection of 29 caves.
  • Created over a span of four to five centuries under the patronage of the Mauryan Empire.
  • Caves no. 9 and 10 house murals from the Sunga period, while the rest belong to the Gupta period.
  • The cave walls showcase a combination of murals and fresco paintings, the latter being created on wet plaster.
  • In Cave 1, one can find paintings of several Bodhisattvas: Vajrapani (a protector and guide), Manjusri (a manifestation of Buddha’s wisdom), and Padmapani Avalokitesvara (a symbol of Buddha’s compassion).

Sittanavasal Cave (Arivar-Kovil) Paintings

  • Situated in Tamil Nadu, these rock-cut caves are distinguished for their Jain temple paintings.
  • These murals bear a striking resemblance to artworks found in Bagh and Ajanta.
  • The thematic focus of paintings revolves around Jain Samavasarana (Preaching-hall), where Tirthankaras delivered sermons following their attainment of kevala-gnana (enlightenment).  
  • Scholars have attributed caves to the Pallava period when King Mahendravarman I excavated the temple. 

About Ashoka (Mauryan Emperor)

  • Ashoka, also known as Chakravartin Samrat Ashoka, was the third emperor of the Mauryan Empire from 268 to 232 BCE.
  • He was the son of Bindusara and grandson of the dynasty’s founder, Chandragupta. During his father’s reign, Ashoka served as governor of Ujjain, Central India and according to Buddhist legends, he suppressed a rebellion in Taxila.
  • He is credited with the construction of various stupas and viharas and notable ones are: Sanchi and Bharhut stupa in Madhya Pradesh; Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh; Mahabodhi Temple, Barabar Caves and Nalanda Mahavihara in Bihar and Sannati Stupa in Karnataka, India.  
  • Ashoka played a crucial role in dissemination of Buddhism throughout ancient Asia. 

Kalinga War and conversion to Buddhism

  • According to Ashoka’s inscriptions, he achieved victory over the Kalinga region in his eighth regnal year.
  • Edict 13 of Ashoka Rock inscriptions reveals deep remorse experienced by the king upon witnessing the devastation in Kalinga.
  • However, epigraphic evidence suggests that his transformation was a gradual process. For instance, Minor Rock Edict issued in the 13th regnal year, mentions that he had been a practicing Upasaka (lay Buddhist) for over two and a half years.

Third Buddhist Council

  • Convened in Pataliputra, under the patronage of Ashoka, around 250 BC.
  • Aimed to unite, various Buddhist schools and purify the Buddhist movement.
  • Moggaliputta Tissa, a Buddhist monk, presided over the council.
  • Sthaviravada sect, which upheld the belief in the simultaneous presence of past, present, and future, was established as an orthodox school.
  • Compilation of Abhidhamma Pitaka (third Pitaka), which explains the tenets of Dhamma.
  • As a result of this Buddhist council, Ashoka dispatched Buddhist missionaries to various regions, including Gandhara, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka. 

Edicts of Ashoka

  • Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka as well as cave walls.
  • Language and Script: Mostly in Brahmi script and Magadhi and Prakrit languages; Kandahar inscriptions are in Greek and Aramaic, and inscriptions in north-western Pakistan are in Kharosthi script.
  • The geographical distribution of these edicts outlines the vast expanse of the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka’s rule, stretching from present-day Afghanistan in the west to present-day Bangladesh in the east, with its capital at Pataliputra.
  • In one such inscriptions, lands beyond Ashoka’s borders are mentioned, including Chodas (Cholas), Pandyas, Satiyaputa and Keralaputa (Chera). 
  • Maski Inscription, Karnataka:
  • The site has a minor rock edict and was first edict of Ashoka containing the name Ashoka instead of ‘Devanampriya’ or ‘Piyadassi’.
  • The inscription was ‘dharma shasana’ which tells people to follow the tenets of Buddhism. 

Kalsi Inscription, Uttarakhand:

  • The only place in North India where Ashoka has inscribed a set of fourteen rock edicts.
  • It reflects the policies for commitment to non-violence and restriction of war.
  • Kanganahalli inscription at Sannati, Karnataka:
  • An inscription in Brahmi script reading ‘Ranyo Ashoka’ (King Ashoka) and a sculpture of King Ashoka. 

The edicts emphasize:

  • Ashoka’s commitment to peace, righteousness, and justice, as well as his deep concern for welfare of his subjects.
  • By renouncing violence and war, and promoting peace and pursuit of dhamma (righteousness), Ashoka diverged from prevalent philosophy of statecraft.
  • Shows his efforts to spread and develop dharma throughout his kingdom.
  • Edicts mainly focus on social and moral precepts rather than specific religious practices or philosophical dimension of Buddhism.

Mains Practice Question

Q. The significance of Ashoka’s Dhamma lies in the fact that it emphasised on promoting religious and cultural harmony in ancient India, rather than imposing a single religious system. Comment. (10 marks; 150 words) 

Previous Year Question (2017)

Q. The painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani is one of the most famous and oft-illustrated paintings at:

(a) Ajanta

(b) Badami

(c) Bagh

(d) Ellora

Answer: (a)

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