Mauryan Architecture

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Mauryan Architecture

Text of Mauryan Architecture

  • FROM the second century BCE onwards, various rulersestablished their control over the vast Mauryan Empire:the Shungas, Kanvas, Kushanas and Guptas in the northand parts of central India; the Satvahanas, Ikshavakus,Abhiras, Vakataks in southern and western India.Incidentally, the period of the second century BCE alsomarked the rise of the main Brahmanical sects such asthe Vaishnavas and the Shaivas. There are numerous sitesdating back to the second century BCE in India. Some ofthe prominent examples of the finest sculpture are foundat Vidisha, Bharhut (Madhya Pradesh), Bodhgaya (Bihar),Jaggayyapeta (Andhra Pradesh), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh),Khandagiri-Udaigiri (Odisha), Bhaja near Pune and Pavaninear Nagpur (Maharashtra).

    Bharhut

    Bharhut sculptures are tall like the images of Yaksha andYakhshini in the Mauryan period, modelling of thesculptural volume is in low relief maintaining linearity.Images stick to the picture plane. In the relief panelsdepicting narratives, illusion of three-dimensionality isshown with tilted perspective. Clarity in the narrative isenhanced by selecting main events. At Bharhut, narrativepanels are shown with fewer characters but as the timeprogresses, apart from the main character in the story,others also start appearing in the picture space. At timesmore than one event at one geographical place is clubbedin the picture space or only a single main event is depictedin the pictorial space.

    Availability of the space is utilised to the maximum bythe sculptors. Folded hands in the narratives as well assingle figures of the Yakhshas and Yakshinis are shownflat clinging to the chest. But in some cases, especially inlater times, the hands are shown with the naturalprojection against the chest. Such examples show howartisans who were working at a collective level had to

    POST-MAURYAN TRENDS ININDIAN ART AND ARCHITECTURE

    Yakshini, Bharhut

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  • AN INTRODUCTION TO INDIAN ART28

    understand the method of carving. Initially, dressing thesurface of stone slabs appears as the main concern. Laterthe human body and other forms were sculpted. Due toshallow carving of the picture surface, projection of handsand feet was not possible, hence, the folded hands andawkward position of the feet. There is a general stiffnessin the body and arms. But gradually, such visualappearance was modified by making images with deepcarvings, pronounced volume and a very naturalisticrepresentation of human and animal bodies. Sculpturesat Bharhut, Bodhgaya, Sanchi Stupa-2, and Jagayyapettaare good examples.

    Narrative reliefs at Bharhut show how artisans usedthe pictorial language very effectively to communicate stories.In one such narrative, showing Queen Mayadevis (motherof Siddhartha Gautam) dream, a descending elephant isshown. The queen is shown reclining on the bed whereasan elephant is shown on the top heading towards the wombof Queen Mayadevi. On the other hand, the depiction of aJataka story is very simplenarrated by clubbing the eventsaccording to the geographical location of the story like thedepiction of Ruru Jataka where the Boddhisattva deer isrescuing a man on his back. The other event in the samepicture frame depicts the King standing with his army andabout to shoot an arrow at the deer, and the man who was

    Queen Mayas dream, BharhutJataka panel , Bharhut

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  • POST-MAURYAN TRENDS IN INDIAN ART AND ARCHITECTURE 29

    rescued by the deer is also shown along with the kingpointing a finger at the deer. According to the story, theman promised the deer after his rescue that he would notdisclose his identity to anybody. But when the king makesa proclamation of reward for disclosing the identity of thedeer, he turns hostile and takes the king to the same junglewhere he had seen the deer. Such Jataka stories becamepart of stupa decoration. Interestingly, with the rise in theconstruction of stupas in various parts of the country,regional stylistic variations also began to emerge. One maincharacteristic in all the male images of firstsecondcenturies BCE is the knotted headgear. In many sculpturesit is very consistent. Some of the sculptures found atBharhut are displayed in Indian Museum, Kolkata.

    Sanchi

    The next phase of sculptural development at Sanchi Stupa-1,Mathura, and Vengi in Andhra Pradesh (Guntur District)is noteworthy in the stylistic progression. Stupa-1 at Sanchihas upper as well as lower pradakshinapatha orcircumambulatory path. It has four beautifully decoratedtoranas depicting various events from the life of the Buddhaand the Jatakas. Figure compositions are in high relief,filling up the entire space. Depiction of posture getsnaturalistic and there is no stiffness in the body. Headshave considerable projection in the picture space. Rigidity

    Chhatri

    Harmika

    Anda

    Medhi

    Vedika

    Pradakshinapatha

    Torana Plan of Stupa-1, Sanchi

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    in the contours gets reduced and images are givenmovement. Narration gets elaborated. Carving techniquesappear more advanced than Bharhut. Symbols continueto be used representing the Buddha and the ManushiBuddhas or the past Buddhas (according to the textualtradition, there are twenty-four Buddhas but only the firstone, Dipankar, and the last six are pictorially represented).At Sanchi Stupa-1, narratives get more elaborated;however, the depiction of the dream episode remains verysimple showing the reclining image of the queen and theelephant at the top. The historical narratives such as thesiege of Kushinara, Buddhas visit to Kapilavastu, visit ofAshoka to the Ramgrama Stupa are carved withconsiderable details. In Mathura, images of this periodbear the same quality but are different in the depiction ofphysiognomic details.

    Mathura, Sarnath and Gandhara Schools

    The first century CE onwards, Gandhara (now in Pakistan),Mathura in northern India and Vengi in Andhra Pradeshemerged as important centres of art production. Buddhain the symbolic form got a human form in Mathura andGandhara. The sculptural tradition in Gandhara had theconfluence of Bactria, Parthia and the local Gandharatradition. The local sculptural tradition at Mathura becameso strong that the tradition spread to other parts of northernIndia. The best example in this regard is the stupa sculpturesfound at Sanghol in the Punjab. The Buddha image atMathura is modelled on the lines of earlier Yaksha imageswhereas in Gandhara it has Hellenistic features.

    Images of Vaishnava (mainly Vishnu and his variousforms) and Shaiva (mainly the lingas and mukhalingas)faiths are also found at Mathura but Buddhist images arefound in large numbers. It may be noted that the imagesof Vishnu and Shiva are represented by their ayudhas(weapons). There is boldness in carving the large images,the volume of the images is projected out of the pictureplane, the faces are round and smiling, heaviness in thesculptural volume is reduced to relaxed flesh. The garmentsof the body are clearly visible and they cover the leftshoulder. Images of the Buddha, Yakshas, Yakshinis,Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities and portrait statues areprofusely sculpted. In the second century CE, images inMathura get sensual, rotundity increases, they becomefleshier. In the third century CE, treatment of sculpturalvolume changes by reducing the extreme fleshiness,movement in the posture is shown by increasing distance

    Part of railing, Sangol

    Stone carving, Stupa-1,Sanchi

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    between the two legs as well as by using bents in the bodyposture. Softness in the surface continues to get refined.The trend continues in the fourth century CE but in thelate fourth century CE, the massiveness and fleshiness isreduced further and the flesh becomes more tightened,the volume of the drapery also gets reduced and in thefifth and sixth centuries CE, the drapery is integrated intothe sculptural mass. Transparent quality in the robes ofthe Buddha images is evident. In this period, two importantschools of sculptures in northern India are worth noting.The traditional centre, Mathura, remained the main artproduction site whereas Sarnath and Kosambi also emergedas important centres of art production. Many Buddhaimages in Sarnath have plain transparent drapery coveringboth shoulders, and the halo around the head has verylittle ornamentation whereas the Mathura Buddha imagescontinue to depict folds of the drapery in the Buddha imagesand the halo around the head is profusely decorated. Onecan visit museums at Mathura, Sarnath, Varanasi, NewDelhi, Chennai, Amaravati, etc. to study the features ofearly sculptures.

    Bodhisattva, Gandhar, fifthsixth century CEMeditating Buddha, Gandhar,thirdfourth century CE

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    Early Temples

    While construction of stupas continued, Brahmanicaltemples and images of gods also started gettingconstructed. Often temples were decorated with the imagesof gods. Myths mentioned in the Puranas became part ofnarrative representation of the Brahmanical religion. Eachtemple had a principal image of a god. The shrines of thetemples were of three kinds(i) sandhara type (withoutpradikshinapatha), (ii) nirandhara type (withpradakshinapatha), and (iii) sarvatobhadra (which can beaccessed from all sides). Some of the important templesites of this period are Deogarh in Uttar Pradesh, Eran,Nachna-Kuthara and Udaygiri near Vidisha in MadhyaPradesh. These temples are simple structures consistingof a veranda, a hall and