Post-Mauryan Trends in Indian Art and Architecture

By Shubham Verma|Updated : April 6th, 2021

Hello Aspirants, 

Here is the article on Post-Mauryan Trends in Indian Art and Architecture which also includes Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta Caves, Mathura and Gandhara schools of Art. This article is important for upcoming state exams like PSC, Police, and others. Around 4-5 questions are asked from Art and Culture section.


Post-Mauryan Trends in Indian Art and Architecture


Various rulers established their control after the Mauryan Empire: the Shungas, Kanvas, Kushanas, and Guptas in the north and parts of central India; the Satvahanas, Ikshvakus, Abhiras, Vakatakas in southern and western India. This period also witnessed the rise of the main Brahmanical sects like the Vaishnavas and the Shaivas.


  • Bharhut sculptures are tall, like the images of Yaksha and Yakhshini in the Mauryan period.
  • The illusion of three-dimensionality is present. Space is used to the maximum extent.
  • Narrative panels are shown in the pictorial space with fewer characters along with other characters.  Jataka tales are also seen.
  • Initially, the carvings were shown with flat images, i.e., projection of hands and feet was not possible due to shallow carving of the picture surface, but later on, they emerged with deep carvings and a much naturalized representation of human and animal forms.


Sanchi Stupa – Lion Capital, Sarnath

  • One of the finest examples of Mauryan sculpture in a dilapidated condition.
  • Though Stupa 1 is the oldest stupa, the carvings of images on the vedika of Stupa 2 are earlier than those on Stupa 1.
  • The Ashokan lion-capital pillar with an inscription is found on the southern side of the stupa.
  • Each torana consists of 2 vertical pillars and 3 horizontal bars on the top. Each horizontal bar is decorated with various sculptural themes on the front as well as at the back.
  • There are guardian images on pillars and the shalabhanjika (i.e., lady holding the branch of a tree) sculptures.
  • Carving techniques appear more advanced than Bharhut.

Mathura and Gandhara Schools

Gandhara School of Art:

  1. The sculptural tradition in Gandhara was influenced by Bactria, Parthia, and the local Gandhara tradition.
  2. The Buddha image has Hellenistic features.
  3. The Gandhara images have physiognomic features of the Greco-Roman tradition but they display a very distinct way of treating physiognomic details that are not completely Greco-Roman.
  4. The source of development of Buddha images has its genesis in its peculiar geopolitical conditions.
  5. The northwestern part of India (now Pakistan) always had continuous habitation from protohistoric times. It continued in the historical period as well.


Mathura School of Art:

  1. Mathura’s local sculptural tradition spread to other parts of northern India, for example, stupa sculptures at Sanghol (Punjab).
  2. A large number of images dating back to the Kushana Period.
  3. The Buddha image is modelled on the lines of earlier Yaksha images.
  4. Images of Vaishnava (mainly Vishnu and his various forms) and Shaiva (mainly the lingam and mukhalingam) faiths, represented by their ayudhas (weapons), are also found at Mathura but Buddhist images are found in large numbers.

Sarnath and Kosambi

  • Many Buddha images in Sarnath have plain transparent drapery covering both shoulders, and the halo around the head has very little ornamentation whereas the Mathura Buddha images continue to depict folds of the drapery in the Buddha images and the halo around the head is profusely decorated. 

Buddhist Monuments of South India

Amaravati School of Art:

  • Amaravati has a mahachaitya and has many sculptures. It also has pradakshina patha enclosed within a vedika on which many narrative sculptures are depicted.
  • The domical stupa structure is covered with relief stupa sculptural slabs which is a unique feature.
  • Events from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka stories are depicted. It was first built in the first century CE and in later centuries developed or enhanced.
  • The early phase is devoid of Buddha images but during the second and third centuries CE, the Buddha images are carved on the drum slabs and at many other places.
  • Interior space in the composition is created by different postures of the figures such as semi-back, back, profile, frontal, semi-frontal, side, etc.
  • Figures are slender, have a lot of movement, bodies are shown with three bents (i.e. tribhanga), and the sculptural composition is more complex than at Sanchi.
  • Linearity becomes flexible, dynamic movement breaks the staticness of form.
  • The animated movement in the figures gets reduced in the sculptures of Nagarjunakonda and Goli in the third century CE, protruding surfaces of the body look very integral.
  • Independent Buddha images are also found at Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, and Guntapalle. Guntapalle is a rock-cut cave site near Eluru.
  • Small apsidal and circular chaitya halls have been excavated belonging to the second century BC.



Cave Tradition in Western India

  • Many Buddhist caves dating back to the second century BCE onwards have been excavated.
  • Mainly three architectural types were executed:

(i) Apsidal vault-roof chaitya halls (found at Ajanta, Pitalkhora, Bhaja)

(ii) Apsidal vault-roof pillarless hall (found at Thana-Nadsur)

(iii) Flat-roofed quadrangular hall with a circular chamber at the back (found at Kondivite).

  • The front of the chaitya hall is dominated by the motif of a semi-circular chaitya arch with an open front which has a wooden façade and there is no dominating chaitya arch window at Kondivite. In all the chaitya caves a stupa at the back is common.


  • It is located in the Aurangabad District of Maharashtra.
  • It has 29 caves. Ajanta also has excavated double-storeyed caves.
  • The caves of the early phase also have paintings with considerable naturalism and there is no over-stylization especially Cave Nos. 9 and 10. Paintings in Cave No. 10 shows plastering over the early inscriptions. The paintings in Cave No. 9 are part of the preplanning. They belong to the first century BC.
  • The figures are broad with heavy proportion and arranged in the picture space in a linear way. Lines are sharp. Colors are limited.
  • Figures appear like the Sanchi sculptures which indicate how the lithic and painting traditions were progressing simultaneously.
  • The architectural setting is simple and the arrangement of figures is delineated in the circular form to create three-dimensionality.
  • The themes of the paintings are the events from the life of the Buddha, the Jatakas, and the Avadanas. Some paintings such as Simhala Avadana, Mahajanaka Jataka, and Vidur Pandita Jataka cover the entire wall of the cave. 


  • This cave site is located in Aurangabad District in Ellora.
  • It is located 100 km from Ajanta and has 32 Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jain caves.
  • It has monasteries associated with the three religions dating from the fifth century CE onwards to the eleventh century CE.
  • It has a confluence of many styles in one place. The caves of Ellora and Aurangabad show the ongoing differences between the two religions—Buddhism and Brahmanical.
  • There are 12 Buddhist caves having many images belonging to Vajrayana Buddhism like Tara, Mahamayuri, Akshobhya, Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya, Amitabha, etc. Buddhist caves are big in size and are of single, double, and triple stories.
  • Ellora has triple-story caves. All the caves were plastered and painted.
  • The shrine of Buddha images is big in size; guarded by the images of Padmapani and Vajrapani.

Elephanta Caves

  • Located near Mumbai.
  • Originally a Buddhist site but later dominated by the Shaivite faith.
  • Its sculptures show slenderness in the body, with stark light and dark effects.
  • The other cave site is Bagh located near Indore (Madhya Pradesh). 

Cave Tradition in Eastern India

  • Buddhist caves have been excavated in the coastal region of Andhra Pradesh (Guntapalle in Eluru district), and in Odisha.
  • The Guntapalle chaitya cave (2nd century BC) is circular with a stupa in the circular hall and a chaitya arch carved at the entrance.
  • The main vihara caves of small dimensions have been decorated with chaitya arches on the exterior. They are rectangular with vaulted roofs and are carved single-storeyed or double-storeyed without a large central hall.

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