According to S.K. Saraswati “The most important function of the Mauryan art was to impress and overawe the populace with the power & majesty of its rulers. Mauryan art was this individualistic in its essential character & ideology.”
Like the columns and animal figures themselves Mauryan Court art stands aloof and apart. The Mauryan dynasty unfolded a new chapter in the cultural history of India.
In this age, another progress was made not only in the administrative system but also in the field of art and literature.
The Mauryan rulers gave their patronage to the development of education, literature and various kinds of arts, such as architecture, sculpture, polishing, jewellery engineering etc.
Infact, the history of the Indian art begins with the advent of the Mauryan, because we possess no ancient monument prior to the Mauryan period which may deserve any serious consideration.
The magnificent buildings, monuments and pillars erected by the Mauryan rulers deserve to be included among the finest specimens of Indian art.
According to B.G. Gokhale, “It is only with Ashok that we can properly begin the history of the art of ancient India. It was he who substituted stone for wood, the common materials for building and purposes before his time. The Mauryan art is best on the scene with a tremendous force shown through both its technique and material used:
Development of art under Maury as:
The Mauryan rulers were Marvellous builders. They took keen interest in the construction of beautiful builders, palaces, survived till today & they present before us a true picture of the developed stage of art of that time.
(a) Royal Buildings:
The royal palaces & other beautiful buildings were erected by the specimens of architecture during the ancient period. These buildings were incomparable in beauty and elegance.
Greek writers of the age have also mentioned that the royal palaces and buildings of the Mauryan period were magnificent, the finest and grandest in the whole world. Pataliputra was the capital of the Mauryas.
In this city, Chandragupta Maurya, the first ruler of the Mauryan dynasty, built a beautiful royal palace and other builders.
These buildings were made of wood Megasthenas has given a detailed and fine description of the buildings and royal palace of Chandragupta Maurya. The palace grounds had artificial lakes, beasts, birds and the fruit trees of different kinds.
As wood was mostly used in the construction of the buildings of C handragupta Maurya, it can be presuhed that those buildings were destroyed by lire.
At the time of Ashok, polished stone was used in the buildings and thus, there began a new era in the field of architecture.
He erected a beautiful royal palace in his capital, Pataliputra, and many stupas, caves, inscriptions and many other buildings in the various parts of the country. These buildings were also unique and pecimen of architecture.
Fahien visited India during the region of Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the ruler of the Gupta dynasty. He was very much surprised to see the royal palace of Ashok in Pataliputra. He wrote about it that such a beautiful, magnificent & wonderful palace could not have been constructed by human hands.
After the war of Kalinga, there was a sea chane in the religious faith of Ashok. He embraced Buddhism & made untiring efforts to spread this religion in this country as well as in the foreign countries. Having been inspired by religion, Ashok built many stupas at different places in this country and abroad.
It is said that about 84,000 stupas were constructed during the reign of Ashok. These stupas had the solid domical structure of store or brick, resting on a round base, surrounded by a plan or ornamented stone railsing, having one or more gatewarys.
Ashok ereuted these stupas in order to enshrine some relics of the Buddha or great Buddhist saint or to commemorate some sacred place. In other words, it can be said that the stupas had religious sanctity. The stupas were surrounded with a shaft and an umbrella, which was probably the symbol of spiritual sovereignty.
Fahien, the Chinese pilgrim, saw many stupas of Ashok all over India. He appreciated the architecture of these stupas. Hieun-Isang, who visited this country in the seventh century A.D., had seen many stupas in India & Afghanistan. At present the stupa of Sanchi near Bhopai is the most prominet among all. The diameter of this stupa is 36.50 metres, the height about 23.25 metress & the heavy stone railing surrounding the stupa in 3.30 metres in height.
We come to know from the description of Hieun Tsang that Ashok built the stupas at Taxila, Srinagar, Kapil-vastu, Benaras, Ayodhya, Prayai & Kannauj also. According to him, these were three stupas of Taxila, each about 100 feet high. Besides this, Cunningham found the remains of a big stupa at Bharhest during an excarnation in 1873 A.D. The stones of the walls of this stupa were carared very efficiently. This fact indicates that architecture & painting were of very high standard during the Mauryan period.
Many pillars were set up by Ashok in order to engrave the inscriptions for the spread of his religion. These pillars are the unique & the finest example of the Mauryan art. These pillars prove that architecture, engineesing & sculpture of India were not sinferior to any other country of that time.
The pillars were 50 feet to 60 feet high & about 50 tons in weight. It is a matter of wonder that these (enghy & heavy pillars had been Chiselled & cutout of only one piece of fine-grained sand stone.
The Saranath pillar has been regarded as die best pillar of Ashok from the point of view of beauty & skill shown in its capital. The capital of Sranath pilar com contains the figure of familions standing back to back.
This figure is the living example of the progress of Mauryan art. Our modern Govt has also used the pattern of the figure of saranath capital in the modern’s currency. Undoubtedly, it was due to the capital of saranath pilar, that this pillar is considered to be the most significant piece of India art.
The caves are also some of the finest examples of the Mauryan art. As Ashok was a religions minded king, he constructed many caves for the monks to live in. These caves also served the purpose of churches & assembly halls. They were built by cutting the hard & refractory rocks.
The internal walls of the caves were polished so nicaly that they looked like mirrors. Many caves are found in the ranges of Magarjun & the Barbarahills near Gaya. Dasharatha, the grandson of Ashok, also took interest in the construction of caves & temples by cutting the rocks. This fact proves that Ashok was a follower of the policy of religions toleration.
2. Mauryan Sculpture:
Not only was the art of architects developed during the Mauryan period, but the art of sculpture also made much progress.
The states of the Mauryan period have some extraordinary features. Besides this, the monolithic pillars combine the dignified & massive simplicity of the shaft with these exquisite and skillful carving of animal figures of their capitals. The, statement of B.M.
Lunia seems to be praise worthy on the progress of the art of sculpture during the Mauryan period. He observes, ‘the majestic figures of lions, stately horses & graceful during on the Ashoka Pillars speak highly of the Mauryan sculpture.
Besides these figures, the Baksha status discovered at Didarganj. Baksha statues discovered at Dibarganj, Parkham, Patna and Besnagar, and some images of the Jain Tirthankars reveal an indigenols technique in sculputure which had attained considerable matrity in the Mauryan period. Their chief characteristics are archaic stiffness, simplification of form and nassive volume.”
3. Art of polishing:
During the age of Mauryan rulers, the monuments, pillars and the caves made of solid hard sone were polished very skillfully. Infact, the art of polishing the hard stone had developed more than that of the modern period.
The walls of the caves of Nagarjun hills and Barabar hills were polished so beautifully that they took like mirror, The burnishing of Ashok’s pillar of Firoz shah Kotla in Delhi is so equisite that several observers, like Bishop Heber, were confused to make out whether it was made of stone or metal. On the progress of the art of polishing in the Mauryan times Dr. V. A. Smith observes.
The skill of the stone cutter may be said to have attained perfection to have accomplished tasks which would, perhaps be found beyond the power of the twentieth Century.
Gigantic shafts of hard sand stone, thirty or forty feet in length, were dressed and proportioned with the utmost nicely, receiving a polish which no modern Mason knows how to impart to the material.
The art of polishing hard stone was carried to such perfection that it is said to have become a lost art beyond modern powers. The sides of Barbar caves excavated in most refractory’ rocks are polished like glass mirrors.
4. Art of Engineering:
The progress was also made in the field of engineering during the reign of Ashok. The pillars and the caves of Ashok arc the finest specimen of the engineering skill of the Maury an aye.
The pillars are very heavy. It is estimated that each pillar is about 50 tons in weight and fifty feet high. The huge rocks were cut into big pieces and these pieces were carved in to the pillars.
5. Art of Jewellery:
During the regn of Ashok the art of jewellery was also developed well. The ornaments found from the excavations of taxila prove that the ornaments were made with a standard crafts manship.
So it may be concluded that the contribution of the Mauryan rulers to the Indian art has been unique. It will not be an exaggeration, if we call the Mauryan age a brilliant period, no less than golden period, in Indian history.
Consequently, architecture and sculpture attained a level of, excellence, to rank among the greatest arts of the world. In fact, the art of j Mauryan period had advanced in skill and workmanship.