The Mauryan Empire was known for more than its illustrious emperors. It was also known for exceptional expansion in the fields of art, architecture, and literature, among other areas. During this time, Indian art underwent a significant transformation from wood to stone. Pottery was also refined during this time. Following Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty, acquired the Punjab area from Alexander the Great’s old empire’s southeastern boundaries.
Many monuments and sculptures were constructed during this period, which promote the culture of the Mauryan age.
Sources Promoting the Mauryan Age
During the Mauryan Empire, art took numerous forms. The Lion Capital of Sarnath, the Bull Capital of Rampurva, and the Lion Capital of Lauriya Nandangarh are examples of sources showcasing the culture of the Mauryans. The national emblem of the Republic of India is the Lion Capital of Ashoka in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, which is one of the monuments constructed during the Mauryan age.
Pataliputra, which is located in the Patna district of Bihar, is home to a vast collection of ancient Mauryan art. The city, being the capital, had palace walls, magnificent towers, and pavilions. The majority of them were made of brick or baked clay.
Sites of Mauryan Monuments
Stupendous images of yakshas and yakshinis (male and female deities, respectively) as well as animals from the third century BCE have been located in different parts of India. It brings to attention the popularity of the worship of such deities in the Buddhist and Jain periods.
- Enormous statues of yakshas and yakshinis were constructed in places like Patna, Vidisha, and Mathura.
- Yakshini figures from Didarganj in Patna, is the most exceptional model of the sculptural traditions of the Mauryan Period.
Lion Capital of Ashoka
The Lion Capital of Ashoka was constructed by Ashoka around the third century BCE and is located at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh.
- It has five parts:
- Lotus bell base
- Drum on the bell base with four animals
- Four majestic lions
- Features of the abacus:
- It represents a wheel which has 24 spokes in all four directions
- It features four animals: a horse, a bull, a lion, and an elephant
- It is supported by an inverted lotus which can be viewed from all sides
- The surface of the sculpture is steadily polished, which is a classic of the Mauryan period
- The Lion Capital of Ashoka, consisting of four lions without the crowning wheel and the lotus base, has been adopted as the national emblem of India.
- Modelling with linear rhythm is present on a rock-cut elephant at Dhauli, Odisha. It additionally has an Ashokan inscription.
- The Lomas Rishi Cave is a rock-cut cave near Gaya in the Barabar Hills. A semicircle S-shaped arch decorates the cave entrance. On the arch, an elephant is sculpted in great relief. The cave’s inner hall is rectangular in shape and has a chamber at the back which is circular in shape.
The Didarganj Yakshi is a life-size stone sculpture which is located in Didarganj, in Patna, Bihar. Here are some of its features:
- The right hand is grasping a chauri (flywhisk), while the left hand is broken
- The sculptor’s understanding of the spherical muscular body is evident
- The necklace beads are fully encircled and dangling from the belly button
- The bulging look is created by modifying the garment around the belly button
- Like most other sculptures, it has a shiny finish
Reasons to Make Monumental Buildings
In many cases, monuments were intended to represent concepts such as imperial power. These monuments allowed the Mauryans to express their desire to recreate a familiar landscape in an unfamiliar environment. The Mauryans believed that Western fashions were the most appropriate way to represent their superiority, authority, and power. The Mauryans reasoned that buildings which appeared to be of Western design would serve to distinguish between the colonial masters and their Indian subjects and therefore, establish a sense of separation and distance.
The building of stupas, or mound-like or hemispherical monuments that house relics, were a part of the monuments constructed during the Mauryan age. Apart from these, stone pillars, rock-cut caves, and colossal figure sculptures were carved in a number of locations throughout this time period.
The custom of creating pillars is quite old. The pillars constructed during the Mauryan age differed from those in other empires. The Mauryan pillars are rock-cut, which demonstrates the carver’s skill and talent. Such stone pillars with inscriptions were built throughout the Mauryan Empire.