The reign of the Mauryans is a significant period in the history of India. During the Ashokan period, art and architecture, considered as the genre of court art, reached great heights. Following Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism, massive Buddhist missionary operations spurred the creation of distinctive sculptural and architectural styles.
Mauryan Age Sources
Mauryan art refers to art created between 322 BCE and 185 BCE under the Mauryas. The Mauryan Empire was the first empire to establish its supremacy over much of the Indian subcontinent. Mauryan rulers supported royal art. The most notable sculptures include pillars, stupas, and caverns.
Chandragupta Maurya established the Mauryan empire in 322 BCE after conquering the kingdom of Magadha and the northern Macedonian satrapies. Bindusara was the second emperor of the Maurya Dynasty. His son Ashoka is considered the greatest ruler of the Mauryan Empire. The Mauryan Empire reached its highest glory under Ashoka’s reign between 269 BC and 232 BC He continued with the expansion of the Mauryan Empire.
Ashoka’s greatest achievement lies in defeating the Kalingas in the deadly Kalinga War fought in 262 BC–261 BC Thus, Kalinga which was located on the east coast of India came under the Mauryan Empire. Upon Ashoka’s death, the Mauryan dynasty and its empire came to an end.
Chandragupta Maurya (322–298 BC)
Chandragupta Maurya established the Mauryan Empire in 322 BC He continued to reign the Mauryan Empire for about 25 years, till 298 BC
There is no clear evidence on the date when Chandragupta Maurya was born. The information available about his early life is also contradictory. Some historical sources suggest that he was born in a Kshatriya family. Others suggest that his early life was spent in poverty and misery until he met Chanakya.
Young Chandragupta was guided and protected by Chanakya who saw in him the potential to become a powerful ruler in future. From the very beginning, he looked after his training. Under his guidance, Chandragupta developed his efficient administrative, governing as well as military skills.
Chandragupta began the journey to establish the Mauryan Empire by dethroning the last ruler of the Nanda dynasty named Dhana Nanda. He chose Patliputra as the capital of the Mauryan Empire. Chanakya became his chief advisor and continued to hold the position throughout his reign.
He first decided to expand to the regions of the North-West frontiers. In between 317 BC and 316 BC, he took control over the Greek satraps, which were left behind by Alexander. After Alexander’s death, he forced Alexander’s army to move away from the west bank of the Indus River. Thus, the entire northwest India, including the Punjab region, came under the control of the Mauryan empire.
There was a Seleucid–Mauryan war (305–303 BC) between Chandragupta Maurya and Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Empire. At the end of the two-year-long war, a peace treaty was signed by the two parties.
As per the treaty, Seleucus Nikator surrendered a vast territory, including Aria (Herat), Arachosia (Kandhar), Gedrosia (Balochistan), and Paropanisade (Kabul). In return, Chandragupta gifted him 500 elephants.
After the treaty, the border of the Mauryan empire stretched up to Hindukush. For the first time, entire northern India was united under one ruler – Chandragupta Maurya.
Rock-edicts architecture is a form of Rock Art wherein a structure is carved from solid natural rock.
- The Mauryan period, particularly Ashoka (273-232 BC) and his grandson Dasharath are credited with the oldest rock edict caves in India
- Caves were commonly utilised as viharas, or residential quarters, by Jain and Buddhist monks during this period
- Caves were first utilised as monasteries by the Ajivika sect, and afterwards by the Buddhists
- The Barabar and Nagarjuna caves in Bihar were created during the reign of Dasharath, Ashoka’s grandson
Pillar edicts with inscriptions etched on them were built in the Mauryan Empire’s north Indian region.
- Unlike the Achaemenid pillars, which were built in sections, the Mauryan pillars were monolithic or homogeneous rock-cut pillars
- The pillar’s upper portion is etched with capital figures like the bull, lion, and elephant, and it stands on a square or circular abacus with stylized lotuses
- Basarah-Bakhira, LauriyaNandangarh, and Rampurva are located in Bihar, whereas Sankisa and Sarnath are located in Uttar Pradesh
- The Lion Capital is considered to be one of the outstanding specimens of Mauryan sculpture
Ashokan Edicts were sculptured on rocks and pillars
- Ashokan edicts Inscriptions were in Prakrit and Brahmi scripts
- Prakrit language, Kharosthi and Aramaic scripts were prevalent in the Northwestern region
- In Afghanistan, Aramaic script and Greek language were seen
- At Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra, the script was Kharoshti
- At Kandhar, bilingual edicts were found
- Rummindei pillar edict grants tax concessions to monasterie
- In Maski and Gurjara inscriptions, the real name of Ashoka is revealed
Chandragupta founded the Mauryan Empire and Bindusara was his son and successor of his throne. The inscriptions were developed under the Mauryan Empire, which was the first empire to rule most of the Indian subcontinent during the 4th and 2nd centuries BC. Mauryan monarchs, notably Ashoka, embraced it as a real art form. The Rock edicts architecture of the Mauryas has a significant influence on the development of ancient Indian history. Since the Mauryan kingdom spanned such a large territory, its art reached great distances and gained widespread acclaim.