- The art and culture questions in GS are mostly straightforward and their requirements are simple. You don’t have to, generally, provide a balanced or nuanced position nor provide the way forward. All you need are factual points.
- The approach of the answer will be conventional. All you have to discuss is the salient features of Mauryan art and architecture. Its importance lies in two facts: first, it started the Buddhist architecture in India which helped in providing it stability and second that it started the trend of royal patronage of art and architecture, which was hitherto not very common.
- Divide the discussion on Court Art and Common Art. Court Art meant Stupas, Pillars, and Palaces. Common art means Caves, Pottery and Sculpture. This will be the premise of your discussion.
The oldest art and architecture forms available today are from the period of the Mauryan empire. Mauryan Empire was a period of stability and hence encouraged art forms. The Mauryans produced architecture for various purposes. The period was marked by the mature use of stone and the production of masterpieces. The Mauryan period art and architecture, except that of the relics of the palace of Chandragupta Maurya at Pataliputra, is mainly Asokan. It can be classified into Stupas, Pillars, Caves, Palaces, and Pottery.
- It was the beginning of the Buddhist School of architecture in India.
- 6th century BC marked the beginning of new socio-religious movements in Gangetic valley in the form of Buddhism and Jainism which were part of the Shramana tradition. By 4th century BC, Mauryas established their power and by 3rd century BC Ashoka patronized Shramana tradition.
- Shramana tradition gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism and some nastika schools of Hinduism such as Carvaka and Ajivika
- The art and architecture of the Mauryan Empire are classified into two types. The first one is Court Art which was initiated by the Empire. It included Pillars, Stupas, Palaces, etc.
- The second one was Popular Art which was initiated by the common man and it included sculptures, pottery, cave arts, etc.
- Stupas were known in India before the time of Ashoka but when Ashoka divided up the existing body relics of the Buddha and erected monuments to enshrine them, the stupas became the objects of cult worship.
- The Stupas were solid domes constructed of brick or stone, varying in sizes. Samrat Ashoka built numerous stupas scattered over the country. But most of the stupas have not survived the ravages of time.
- The most striking monuments of Mauryan art are the celebrated Pillars of Dharma. These pillars were free-standing columns and were not used as supports to any structure. They had two main parts, the shaft and the capital. The shaft is a monolith column made of one piece of stone with exquisite polish. The art of polishing was so marvelous that many people felt that it was made of metal.
- The pillars are not the only artistic achievements of Ashoka’s reign. The rock-cut caves of Ashoka and that of his grandson Dasaratha Maurya constructed for the residence of monks are, wonderful specimens of art. The caves at Barabar hill in the north of Gaya and the Nagarjuna hill caves, the Sudama caves, etc. are the extant remains of cave architecture of the Mauryan era.
- The Sarnath column has the most magnificent capital. It is a product of a developed type of art of which the world knew in the Third Century B.C. It has been fittingly adopted as the emblem of the Modem Indian Republic. It is seven feet in height. The lowest part of the capitol is curved as an inverted lotus and bell-shaped. Above it are four animals, an elephant, a horse, a bull, a lion representing the east, south, west, and north in Vedic symbol.
- The gilded pillars of the Mauryan palace were adorned with golden vines and silver birds. The workmanship of the imperial palace was of very high standard.
- Chinese traveler Fa-Hien stated that “Ashoka’s palace was made by spirits” and that its carvings are so elegantly executed “which no human hands of this world could accomplish”
- The Mauryan pottery consisted of many types of wares. The black polished type found in North India is important. It has a burnished and glazed surface.
- The life-size standing image of a Yakshini holding a chauri (fly whisk) from Didarganj near modern Patna is one of the finest examples of the sculptural tradition of the Mauryan Period – Made of sandstone. Distinguishing elements in all these images was its highly polished surface
- Mauryan art and architecture depicted the influence of Persians and Greeks. During the reign of Ashoka, many monolithic stone pillars were erected on which teachings of ‘Dhamma’ were inscribed.
The art and architecture of this period was progressive, liberal and secular in nature. The value of stupa at sanchi and bull capital at sarnath depict the greatness and stand as testimony to this golden period of Indian history. Hence it can be said that the art and architecture of the Mauryan Empire constitutes the culminating point of the progress of Indian art.