Mauryan art and architecture ; All important facts(UPSC PRELIMS 2017 ,Ancient History )


Mauryan art and architecture

We have tried to summarize all the important aspects related to Mauryan art and architecture, still if some important points have been left, please add your inputs in the comments below, we would edit the post and include the mentioned important aspects

Maurya was the first empire to rule over most of the Indian subcontinent. It represented an important transition in Indian art from use of wood to stone.
Mauryan art can be divided into: court art and popular art.
Court art includes Palaces, pillar and stupas
Popular art includes sculptures and potteries


As of now only 10 pillars are in existence.
Sarnath pillar is one of the finest pieces of sculpture of the Ashokan period
Why Inscribed pillars
• As a symbol of state
• To commemorate battle victories
• To propagate imperial sermons
Parts of the Pillars:-
• A long shaft made up of a monolith (usually chunar sandstone)(Famous for polished finish)
• On the top of the shaft, lay the lotus or bell shaped(Iranian influence) capital with one or more animal figures
• Above capital, there is a circular or rectangular base known as Abacus.
• On abacus there lies the animal figure. Most notable are lion capital of Sarnath, the bull capital of Rampurva and the lion capital of Lauria Nandangarh


• Stupas were burial mounds
• Prevalent in Vedic period, but popularized in Mauryan times
• Used for keeping: relics and ashes
• Medhi and Torana were decorated by wooden structures
• Originally the stupa was made of bricks and surrounded by a wooden railing.
• But later stone was adopted in the place of wood
• The existing stupa at Sanchi encloses the original stupa and has been enlarged and enclosed within the stone railing
Stupa consists of following parts:-
o A domical structure (Anda)
o A base (Circular or square)
o A circumambulatory path (Medhi)
o Stone railing with four elegantly carved gateways in the four cardinal directions.
o the Harmika(a square Buddhist railing), on the top of the dome
o From Harmika, rises the shaft that holds the imperial umbrella
• Famous stupas are:
o Bharhut, Sanchi and Bodh Gaya in north
o Amravati and Nagarjunakonda in the South
• These stupas are famous for their carved out railing and gateways
• On these surfaces are carved the favourite symbols of Buddhism:-
o the lotus,
o elephant,
o bull,
o lion and horse
o and some of the Jataka stories of the previous births of Buddha
Sanchi stupa:
• This Stupa is the oldest stone structure in India
• Enlarged in subsequent centuries
• Four ornamental gateways facing four directions were added later
• Enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1989
• Lord Buddha has been depicted symbolically by figures like thrones, wheels and footprints among others.
Amravati stupa
• It was transformed from a Hinayana shrine to a Mahayana shrine.
• It had free standing columns surmounted by lions near the gateways.
• The dome was covered with sculptured panels
• It is made of brick and consists of a circular vedika which depicts Lord Buddha in a human form over an elephant.
• There are beautiful carvings and sculptures which interpret the life of Buddha and his incarnations from the Jataka tales.
• Bharhutstupa may have been first built in the 3rd century BCE by the Maurya king Ashoka
• Many works of art were added during the Sunga period
• Railings, posts, gateways and capping stones are all fashioned in beautiful red sandstone
• Many carvings of the Bhurhut are yakshis
• Buddha has been represented in the form of symbols.
• The railing medallions display a variety of lotus design, sometimes incorporating in yaksha busts.
• Some of the other themes include scenes of everyday village life, Lakshmi bathed by elephant, deer, peacock and elephants.


• Wooden fort constructed in the era of Chandra Gupta Muarya along the Ganges in Bihar
• Palaces of Chandragupta Maurya was inspired by Achaemenid palace at persipolis
• Megasthenes described the palace as greatest creation of mankind
• Use of stone made famous during the times of Ashoka.
• Ashoka’s palace near Patna was a masterpiece enclosed by a high brick wall
• This palace had a three storey wooden pillar

  • Sculptures mainly for decoration of stupas in torana and Medhi
  • Famous sculptures of Mauryan period includes: Yakshand yakshini
  • Yakshini holds a chauri (flywhisk) in the right hand
  • Stone elephant at Dhauli
  • Image of the elephant emerging from the rock is a most impressive one
Yaksha and yakshini
Yaksha worship was very popular even before the advent of Buddhism
They are object of worship related to all 3 (Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism) religions.
Earliest mention found in Tamil text Silappatikaram


  • Most famous pottery of Mauryan times known asNorthern Black PolishedWare (NBP).
  • NBP ware characterized by Black paint and high quality polish
  • It was obviously a more expensive ware than the other varieties

Cave architecture

  • The caves at Barabar hills near Bodh Gaya are wonderful pieces of Mauryan architecture
  • Used as Viharas by Jain and Buddhist monks
  • Early caves were used by Jain aajivika sect.
  • Characterized by: High quality polished interior walls and decorative gateways
  • The caves are simple in plan with plain but highly polished interiors. The only sculpture ornamentation is a relief carving on the doorway of a cave known as Lomas Rishi cave.
  • Seven rock-cut caves were excavated during the Mauryan period in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills near Gaya in Bihar
  • 3 rock-cut caves in the Nagarjuni hillswere donated to the Ajivikas.
  • Pillars inside these caves appear to be superfluous

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