Features of Mauryan Art Forms | For UPSC, BPSC, BPPSC and BSSC

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Art and crafts represent the culture, feelings, thoughts, knowledge level and skill of the contemporary civilisations. the tradition of art and craft was started from the Indus Valley Civilization but it lost continuity in later periods. The Permanent art and craft tradition started only during the Mauryan Age and in continuation from then till now.

Mauryan art is a combined form of local and different Indian art forms along with Iranian art form. However the influence of Iranian art forms on Mauryan Art is a subject of research.

Different Art Forms of Bihar

Features of Mauryan Art 

Mauryan Art is broadly classified into two types:- 

  1. Court Art 
  2. Popular Art

1. Court Art 

There was a great influence of strong Central government (of Mauryan Empire) on the different forms of Court Art.

Court Art is subdivided into 4 subcategories i.e. (I). Palace, (II). Viharas (Caves), (III). Pillars and (IV). Stupas.

I. Palace 

One of the important examples of palaces of Mauryan Period was the Palace of Chandragupta Maurya near Kumhrar (Patna). This palace had 80 pillars, these pillars were made up of single piece of rock. The floor and ceiling of the palace was made up of wood. The length and breadth of the whole palace was 140 ft. and 120 ft. respectively.

Yunaian traveller, Arian compared the grandeur of the Palace of Chandragupta Maurya with the palaces of Susha and Ekbatna (world's most famous cities of the that time). Chinese traveller Fa-hian(or, Faxian) declared the Palace as the god's creation. The ambassador of the Seleucus Nicator, Megasthanese in the court of Chandragupta Maurya also described the grandeur of the palace in his famous book Indica.

II. Viharas (Caves)

Viharas were basically the residences of Buddhist Monks. These were made by cutting mountains in either rectangular or circular form. The walls of these caves were shiny polished and decorated with wall paintings and sculptures. 

Important examples of Viharas in Bihar are Barabar and Nagarjuni Caves in Gaya. These were made by mainly Ashoka and his grandson Dashratha.

Some other examples of Viharas(Buddhist Caves) are Sudama, Karna, Chaupar, Gopi, Vaddhika, Vishwa Jhopdi etc.

III. Pillars 

The tradition of constructing pillars was started during the Mauryan period. Similar to pillars of palaces, these pillars were also made up of single piece of rock/stone.  These contained an inverted lotus over Mekhla on which a pedestal was placed. Above pedestal a sculpture of animals were placed. 

These pillars were made out from Red sandstone which was brought from Chunar and Mathura regions. The Sarnath Pillar of Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh) is the best example of the Mauryan Pillars in India. 

  • These pillars had engraved messages of Dhamma. 

The Schematic diagram of Mauryan Pillars is given below :-

Labelled Diagram of Mauryan Pillars

Important examples of Mauryan Pillar are given below along with the sculpture  found on these pillars:-

Mauryan Pillars Location Animal Sculpture
Lauria Nandangarh East Champaran, Bihar Lion
Lauria Areraj East Champaran, BiharOx
Rampurva I & IIWest Champaran, Bihar Ox
Sarnath Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh Lion
Sankisha Sankisha, Uttar Pradesh Elephant

IV. Stupas 

The tradition of Constructing stupas was older but it got development and current form during Mauryan period.

Ashoka Constructed many stupas across the country. these stupas are important religious place for Buddhists. These contain relics of Buddha/Bodhisatavas lying inside the foundation of the stupas. Stupas are similar to inverted smioval shape (called as Anda) with Toran gate, Pradakshina Path, Medhi, Yashti, Chhatra.

The labelled diagram of Stupa is given below: -

According the scriptures of Buddhism Ashoka had made 84000 stupas across the country. But this claim is controversial as evidences of such a huge number of stupas are not found but it is possible that they were demolished in later periods.

Some important examples of stupas in the country are:-

Mauryan Stupas Location
Sanchi Stupa Sanchi Town, Madhya Pradesh
Bharhuta Stupa Dewar, Madhya Pradesh
Kesaria Stupa  Tajpur Deur, Bihar

2. Popular Art Forms 

Popular rt forms during Mauryan Period had no influence of the Central Government, instead these art forms were mixture of local and other Indian Art forms. 

Popular Art forms of Mauryan Period are classified into 3 types  (II). Potteries, (II). Sculptures and (III). Beads.

I. Potteries 

This was one of the most important popular Art form during Mauryan Period. These potteries were being made by people for their daily needs as well as for decorative purposes one of the most characteristic features. One of the most characteristic features of these potteries was its shiny black polished outer surface that's why this art form is known as Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). Many such potteries were obtained from different parts of the state was well other parts of the country.

II. Sculptures

Besides animal sculptures found on Mauryan Pillars, many other sculptures are found. These sculptures were made up of stone. On these sculptures shiny polish was used to be done, which adds to their beauty and sculptures became more realistic the most significant example of independent sculptural art of Mauryan Period is the statue of Yakshini, found from Didarganj, Patna. Besides these many other sculptures are found from different parts of Bihar and the country.

  • Yakshini statue was later considered as the statue of a goddess.

The list of some of the most famous sculptures found different parts of the country are given below:-

Popular SculpturesLocation
Yakshini StatueDidarganj, Patna, Bihar
Woman and Child StatueBulandibag, Patna, Bihar
Jain Tirthankar's StatueLohanipur, Patna, Bihar
Yaksh's StatueParkhan, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
Elephant's StatueDhauli, Odisha

Critical Analysis

  • Many historians such as John Marshall and Persi Brown considered that the Mauryan Art was influenced with (inspired from) Iranian Art Forms. 
  • Some of them said that the Mauryan Palace was a carbon copy of the palaces of Armenian Empire of Iran.
  • Pillars of Mauryan Period was also considered as the inspiration of Iranian pillars with slight variations in their architecture.  
  • Mauryan Art (especially court Art){ was highly religious in nature, which restricted the appearance of cultural ethos and other aspects of the society of that period.

Difference Between Mauryan and Persian /Iranian Art Forms

Mauryan Art FormIranian Art Form
1. Mauryan Palace was made up of wood and stones both. 1. Iranian Palace was made up of mainly stones only. 
2. Pillars in Mauryan Period was made up of single piece of rock. 2. Iranian Pillars were made up of more than one peice of rocks.
3. Pillars had inverted lotus on Mekhla.3. Pillars had bells on Mekhla.
4. Pillars had animal sculptures on pedestal over lotus.4. Pillars had human sculptures of Human on pedestal over bells.
5. Pillars of Mauryan age had tabular platform at the base. 5. Iranian Pillars had no such tabular platform at all. 
6. Pillars in Mauryan Period are plain and shiny polished.6. Iranian Pillars have engraved lines on it.


Although the tradition of art and culture in Indian subcontinent was started during the Indus Valley Civilisation, but lost the continuity in later period of time. Art and craft tradition got continuity only during the Mauryan Period.

It developed new art traditions, such as the tradition of constructing Pillars was started during Mauryan Period.

Mauryan Art Forms indicate the Political and cultural unification of the country. It will always remain an attraction for the lovers of Indian Art and Cultural traditions.