Features of Pal Art Forms of Bihar | For BPSC, UPSC and Civil Services Examinations

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Pal Art is one of the best contemporary art forms of the country. It developed during the medieval period between 8th-12th century under the aegis of Pal rulers. Pal rulers were Buddhist followers, which can be seen in the art forms of Palas very easily.

Pal Art included various forms of art and crafts which include a splendid Architectural art forms (Mahavihar, Chaityas, Temples and Stupas), sculptures (bronze and stone made) and Paintings (manuscript and wall Paintings). Let's see all of them one by one.

Different Art Forms of Bihar

Features of Pal Art

Pal Art can be divided into three categories:-

  1. Architectural Art Forms:- It is further divided into four types i.e. (I). Mahaviharas, (II). Chaityas, (III). Temples and (IV). Stupas.
  2. Paintings:- These were divided into two subcategories i.e. (I). Manuscript Painting and (II). Wall Painting.
  3. Sculptural Art Forms:- These are also divided into two subcategories i.e. (I). Bronze Sculptures and (II). Stone Sculptures.

1. Architectural Art Forms

In terms of architecture, Pal period was very important. In this many architectural art forms such as Mahavihar, Chaityas, Temples and stupas were developed. To make these architectures burnt bricks were used.

I. Mahaviharas

Mahaviharas were made during Pal rule mainly for residential purposes for Buddhist monks. But Mahavihars also served as important Buddhist educational centers.

Mahaviharas were generally in rectangular in structure, which included an open courtyard in the middle. All around the courtyard, porch/veranda was used to be made, in which gates of rooms were opened. Some Mahaviharas in which gates of rooms were opened. Some Mahaviharas had double storeyed rooms and stairs for the 2nd storey rooms were made in the courtyard.

The diagrammatic representation of Mahavihar is as given below:-

Some important Mahavihars were :-

Mahaviharas Location Constructed By
Vikramshila Mahavihar Bhagalpur, Bihar  Dharmapal
Odantpuri Mahavihar Biharsharif, Bihar Gopala
Simpur Mahavihar  Naogaon, Bangladesh Dharmapal

II. Chaityas

These were basically a kind of Buddhist temples. The tradition of building Chaityas were old but these got diversification during Pal rule. Many remains of Chaityas can be found from different parts of Bihar.

III. Temples

Although Pal rulers were Buddhist but they also made many temples of Hinduism. These temples were basically made in the famous Nagar style. Some important examples of temples were:-

  1. Gufa Mandir, Kahalgaon (Bhagalpur) 
  2. Vishnupad Mandir (Bodh Gaya) (Important feature of this temple is Ardh Mandap)

IV. Stupas

Although culture of stupas were ancient but some stupas were also made during Pal period with slight differentiation. Stupas contain the relics of Buddha and Bodhisatavas. Basically stupas were made to hide the relics of Buddha/Bodhisatavas inside them.

Stupas had multiple parts, which include  Yashti, Chhatra, Harmika, Gumbad, Pradakshina Path, Vedika, and Toran Dwar.The schematic diagram of Stup is given below.

2. Paintings 

There were two types of paintings which were used to be done during Pal rule:- 

  1. Manuscript Painting  
  2. Wall Painting 

I. Manuscript Paintings 

Manuscript paintings were done generally on copper plate. These were used for decorating purposes. The colours used in these paintings were red, black, blue, green, white and violet.

Important examples of manuscript paintings are 'Ashtasahasarikpragyaparamita' and 'Panchraksh'. Both of these paintings are archived in Cambridge Museum (England).

II. Wall Paintings

Besides manuscript painting, wall paintings were also used to be done on the walls of Mahavihar, Chaityas, temples etc. In these paintings various elements like fruits, flowers, animals, humans, birds and trees were imprinted.

One of the best examples of wall paintings of Pal period is a wall painting found from Saraikila (Nalanda). In this painting a woman can be seen doing make-up, while looking into a mirror. This painting shows the human emotions along with art simultaneously.

3. Sculptural Art Forms

Besides architectural and painting art forms. Sculptural art also got phenomenal development. mainly two types of sculptural art is found from Pal period i.e. 

  1. Bronze Sculptures 
  2. Stone Sculptures

I. Bronze Sculptures

These are made up of bronze using molds. One of the main characteristic features of these sculpture were excellent ornamentation used in them. Another important feature of these sculptures was that they were plain from behind despite being ornamented and decorated from front.

  • Dhiman and Vithpal were two important sculptors of Nalanda, they were contemporary of Dharma Pal and Devpal (Pal rulers).

Bronze sculptures are found in large numbers from Kulkihar (Gaya), Nalanda and Sultanganj.These sculptures can be compared with the aesthetics of the Natraj sculptures of Chola Empire. 

These sculptures were mainly religious in nature, which include sculptures various god and goddesses of Hindus and Buddhists. Important examples of this sculpture style were of Buddha, Vishnu, Balram, Bodhisatavas etc. 

II. Stone Sculptures

Besides Bronze sculptures, sculptures were also made out of stones. The stones used for making these sculptures were mainly basalt. Which were brought from either Munger or Santhal Pargana.

  • Similar to bronze sculptures, ornamentation was also done in stone-made sculptures.

Critical Analysis of Pal Art

  • Architectures in Pal period were  generally made out of burnt Bricks instead of stones and rocks, which resulted into lesser permanence and availability now.
  • Sculptures of Pal art were plain from behind and only focus was on front.
  • Ornamentation was heavily used in the Pal sculptures, which hide the real beauty of the sculptures. 
  • In Pal art religious aspects had more prominence that social, cultural and political aspects.


Multiple art forms developed vehemently during the period of Pal rulers. Despite the triangular conflict among Palas, Rashtrakutas and Gurjar-pratihars for occupation of Kannauj, various art forms were flourished during the Pal periods without any impediments. 

The Pal rulers maintained the tradition of art and culture  developed during Mauryan Period raised them to a new level.