The Arts of the Mauryan Period - Seeker's Thoughts

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The Arts of the Mauryan Period


The Arts of the Mauryan Period

Arts of the Mauryan Period











Art of the Mauryan Period includes Stupas, Pillars, Caves and Pottery; its popularity was due to Ashoka's adoption of Buddhism.


Pillars were constructed of single stones with exquisite polish. Oftentimes they featured animal figures as capitals while resting atop either a circular or square abacus.





At its height during the Mauryan empire, art and sculpture flourished to an extraordinary degree, evidenced by numerous monuments and pieces of sculpture found throughout India - monuments like pillars, capitals, cave-architecture and pottery were built as symbols of power, and used to spread Buddhism by spreading its message - these forms included stone pillars engraved with proclamations lines as well as animal figures on top, known as capitals or bases; perhaps one such capital built by Emperor Ashoka at Sarnath now serves as an iconic national emblem symbolising India!


Pillars were installed throughout much of India's empire and this marked an important transition in Indian art from wooden to stone. This achievement marked by beautifully carved animal capitals adorning some of these pillars is among the finest works of Mauryan sculpture - Didarganj Yakshi and Parkham Yakshi are two fine examples. 


Additionally, these highly polished surfaces known as Mauryan polishs make these pillars particularly useful as diagnostic tools when dating works as they may also feature polished surfaces later on.


Notable characteristics of pillars were their central square, often stylised as an inverted lotus, with smaller squares on their circumference that served to hold inscriptions - usually Brahmi script. 


Examples can be seen at Sarnath Lion capital, Vaishali, Allahabad and Lauriya Nandangarh among many other locations.


Jainism was initially the dominant religion during the early stages of Mauryan empire, but soon gave way to Buddhism due to Emperor Ashoka's extensive missionary activities in spreading Buddhist teachings. Buddhism led to distinct sculptural and architectural styles emerging during this period - particularly among court art; Coomaraswamy divides Mauryan art into two categories - court or popular art, where pillars, Stupas and caves would fall under this category; remaining terracotta objects and smaller works would fall under popular art category.




The Mauryan period saw remarkable advances in pottery, sculpture and metalwork. Potters' wheels became refined while new shapes and figures emerged. One characteristic feature of this period was its use of black polished glaze which ranged from jet black to metallic steel blue hues.


Mauryan sculpture art was distinguished by glossy polish and intricate patterns. A prime example is the Didarganj Yakshini figure, which perfectly showcases this period's skill and technical proficiency. Each fold of clothing was meticulously stitched; tightening of garments around stomach was rendered with particular care.


Emperor Ashoka established stone pillars all across his country during this period. These pillars had an upper part known as capital which featured carvings of bull, lion and elephant figures that stood strongly atop square or circular abacuses decorated with stylized lotuses.


These pillars were composed of two types of stone; some were crafted using red-and-white spotted sandstone quarried from Mathura while others came from Chunar near Varanasi with hard, buff-colored fine grain hard sandstone with small black spots for source. Carved statues on these pillars exhibited similar designs but differed in details depending on where their origin lay.


Apart from its famed pillars, the Mauryan Empire was also well known for its monumental figure sculptures commissioned by Emperor Ashoka. Nearly 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors in battle formation were excavated at three sites located within Bihar state in India and divided into infantrymen, cavaliers and charioteers categories.


Mauryan Period sculptures included rock cut caves that served as shrines for followers of Buddhism, like Barabar Cave on Barabar Hills in Barabar. Additionally, this period saw an emergence of numerous monasteries with their respective monastic inscriptions written mostly in Pali and Prakrit; there were some Greek and Aramaic ones as well; such as on Sarnath Lion Capital Pillar; Vaishali Pillar; Allahabad Pillar and Lauriya Nandangarh Pillar to name just some examples.





The Maurya Empire reached its greatest political, religious and artistic development during the middle years of the third century BCE under Ashoka's rule. Instead of forcing religious imperialism upon his people through religious imperialism he encouraged more liberal practices of Buddhism such as Zen.


 Art and architecture during this period reflect this transition. According to Coomaraswamy, this period marks a shift away from wooden sculpture towards stone in sculpture and pillar construction and an impressive step forward for Indian stone sculpture in terms of intricate animal capitals found on Emperor Ashoka pillars, along with numerous smaller stone pieces and numerous smaller terracotta works representing popular art of this era.


Pillars during this era were typically constructed of chunar sandstone and feature long shafts topped by capitals featuring fierce animal figures like bulls, lions, or elephants; below them there was often an abacus-shaped base called an abacus with circular or rectangular bases known as an abacus; below them also lay circular or rectangular bases known as an abacus; underneath these stood bell and lotus shapes as their bases.


One key feature of these pillars was their inscriptions, written in Pali and Prakrit script. A few also have Greek or Aramaic inscriptions.


Pillar inscriptions were often used to spread the message of Dharma and can be found throughout India in many locations such as Sanchi, Vaishali, Sarnath and Lauriya Nandangarh. Furthermore, these monuments were also utilized for political and commercial gain.


Sculptures from this period are notable for their glossy polish and intricate patterns. A life-sized representation of Yakshini holding a Chauri (flywhisk) can be found at Didarganj as an outstanding example of this form.


Another noteworthy development was the refinement in pottery, particularly northern black polished ware which became prevalent during the second half of this period. 


Terracotta figures with Greek facial and physiognomic types or indigenous ones can also be found among them. Coins produced in this period consisted mostly of silver and copper coinage with various shapes, sizes, weights and designs including symbols representing trees, mountains and elephants on them.




Mauryan architecture marked an important development in Indian art, featuring rock cut cave architectures, stupas, palaces and highly refined pottery techniques and sculpture. One notable work from this era is Sarnath's Lion Capital Pillar that later became India's national emblem - it stands as one of the finest examples of Mauryan sculpture tradition.


Another notable accomplishment during this era was the creation of standardized architecture for religious structures. Ashoka set this standard through his inscriptions, capitals and pillars which gave these designs uniformity and consistency in design.


This period saw the development of a distinct style in stone sculpture, characterized by an emphasis on animal figures and stylized lotus flowers, while being heavily influenced by Hellenistic influences in India due to Chandragupta Maurya establishing his empire at the end of fourth century B.C.


Mauryan art is considered one of the finest expressions of Indian culture. This period's art reflected both social and religious realities of its time; for instance, Ashoka's pillars served to spread Buddha's message across India. These pillars often bore proclamations or images depicting animals such as lion, bull and elephant - they were even installed all across Maurya Empire!


Pillars during this era were constructed using two distinct kinds of stones; some were crafted out of red-and-white spotted sandstone found near Mathura, while others came from buff-coloured fine-grained hard sandstone quarried in Chunar near Varanasi with black spots carved onto it. Their consistent designs indicate that these were created by skilled craftspeople working under one master.


Also from this era have been discovered numerous terracotta works. Terracotta works were popular art of this period and were likely produced in large quantities, especially between Pataliputra and Taxila. Terracotta sculptures usually depict figures such as animals or humans with human features or even children in dancing positions; other pieces show evidence of both Greco-Roman and Hellenistic influence in their designs.

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