Art and Architecture in Mauryan Empire

By Mayank Yadav|Updated : May 16th, 2021

In this article we are going to have a brief discussion about Art and Architecture in Mauryan Empire, its features etc. Mauryan Empire can be seen as first major start in the field of art and architecture in India. There are lot of questions asked from this section in Bihar state exams, so you should not miss this topic as well. Have a good day!!

Mauryan Art & Architecture & its impact in Bihar

Bihar has been well known for its rich art and architecture since ancient time. Mauryan empire was 1st pan-India empire which extend between 4-2nd century BC extending over most part of India, Sub-continent. This period also witnessed an important transition in art and architecture from the use of wood to stone. Mauryan art can be divided into several forms, such as Architecture, Sculpture, Coins and Paintings, etc.

Mainly two types of art and architecture developed during the Mauryan period-

1. State Sponsored Art and Architecture:

During Mauryan period state protected art and architecture developed to advance stage. Their salient feature are –

(a) Architecture-  Specimen of Mauryan Arts has been found at Patna, Rajgriha, Barabar Caves near Gaya etc. A fine example of architecture is the ruins of the Palace of Chandragupta Maurya, at Kumhrar, Patna. Remains of 80 Pillar assembly hall have been found here.

Megasthenes states that the Mauryan palace at Patliputra was a splendid as that in the capital of Iran. Fragments of stone pillars and stumps, indicating the existence of eighty-pillared hall, have been discovered at Kumhrar (Patna) identified as that of Ashoka.

The increasing adoption of stone as a building medium was due partly to foreign contacts, and partly to the gradual disappearance of forests from the Gangetic Plains. Pillars were made up of sand stone. These were well polished which shows the competence of artists.

(b) Monolithic Pillars-   Other than the monolithic pillars of assembly hall, many other monolithic pillars at other places have also been found. The monolithic pillars commissioned by Ashoka consisted of three parts- the prop, the shaft and the capital.

The prop buried in the ground, the shaft or main pillar supported the capital. The capital consisting of the fine polished stone containing one or more animal figures are remarkable for vigorous design and realistic beauty. The capital of Sarnath pillar, erected to mark the spot where the “Blessed One” first turned the “Wheel of Law” is the best of the series. It has been adopted as the state emblem of India.

These pillars have been found at four places in Bihar-

  • Basarh (Vaishali)
  • Lauriya Areraj (East Champaran)
  • Luariya Nandangarh (West Champaran)
  • Rampurva (West Champaran)

(c) Stupas- Ashoka built around 84,000 stupas. Relics of Buddha other Buddhist monks are placed there. These are of hemispherical shape . Stupas of Sanchi, Sarnath, Bharhut are very famous.

(d) Caves- The art of making caves after cutting rocks or hills developed to a great extent during Mauryan period. These caves are made up of hard granite rocks. Although excavated in the hardest rock the walls of these caves are polished like glass. These caves were rectangular in shape.

These stone caves are found 24 km north of Gaya at Barabar caves and Nagarjun hills. Ashoka donated Barabar caves to Ajivika sect. Dararatha, grandson of Ashoka donated Nagarjuna  caves to monks of Buddhism and Ajivika sect.

(e) Sculpture- High quality sculptures were made by the Ashoka in the new palace at Patliputra. Sculpture of Buddha were made and inscriptions written on hills huge stones and monolithic pillars. On the monolithic pillar beautiful sculpture of animals were also made by Ashoka.

2. Folk Arts

While Court art was patronized by Mauryan kings, Folk art was patronized by local governor and rich people. Important art forms are as follows:

  • Figurines of Yaksha and Yakshinis are excavated from Besanagar. These idols are huge, lifesize and polished. A female figure is also found at Besanagar. Her face is round, body is healthy and lips have a faint smile.
  • Terracotta items were found at Bulandibagh, Patliputr, Kumhrar and Buxar. A female figure found from Bulandibagh, carrying damru in one hand.
  • Images of whisk bearer from Didargnj, Serpent hood from Rajgir, Ring stones and disc stones indicating some sort of fertility cult were found from Dhauli. A nude image of Jain Tirthankar is found from Patna. It has lean body posture with visible bones, depicting  a sage sitting in meditation.

Other than these sculpture, terracotta art, polished ware, clay statue also  developed during Mauryan period.

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