Buddhism has left its mark in the field of art and architecture of India. The first human statues worshipped in India were probably those of Buddha. The Greek and the Indian sculptors worked together to create a new kind of art, which is known as the Gandhara School of Art. The early Buddhist monuments of Sanchi, Bharhut, Bodh Gaya, Amaravati and other places are illuminating examples of artistic activity. For the residence of the monks rooms were hewn out of the rocks and thus began the cave architecture at Barabar hills in Gaya and at Nasik.

Buddhist art reached its highest watermark during the Gupta period in the paintings at Ajanta (caves, I, II, XVI and XIX) and at Bagh near Gwalior (in Madhya Pradesh). Most of these paintings depict scenes of the Jataka stories but there are secular paintings as well. The painting of Great Bodhisattva in cave I at Ajanta is one of the finest pieces of painting.

Buddha figures in general can be classified under three main categories such as sthanaka (standing), asana (seated), sayana (recumbent). Each of these, when shown as a part of the composite relief, specially the standing and sitting figures, with the hands shows in particular poses (mudra) was intended to illustrate different incidents of the life of Buddha. The recumbent form is utilised to represent the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha at Kusinagar.

The mudras or the hand poses of Buddha images covey a particular meaning as for example abhaya (protection), dhyana (meditation), bhusparsa (touching the earth) and the Dharmachakra mudra. In addition to the Buddha images we come across a number of Bodhisattva images, meaning images of Gautam or Siddhartha before the attainment of knowledge such as the picture of the Great Renunciation, Gautam dressed as a monks, the royal figure with jewels and headdress holding a lotus flower or nectar flask etc.


The most popular and widely carved Bodhisattvas were the images of Avalokiteswar (looking down), Padmapani (holding a lotus in hand), Manjusri (naked sword in one hand to destroy falsehood and a book in another hand to explain th eten paramitas), Vajrapani (a thunder bolt in hand like God Indra), Maitreya (gentle), Ksitigarkha (guardian of the purgatories) etc. Similarly in Buddha form we come across images like Amitabh (immeasurable glory), Amitayus (immeasurable age) and Tathagata (one who has attained the goal).

Two of the masterpieces of sculpture belonging to Gupta period are the standing Buddha of Mathura (217 C.M. in height) and the seated Buddha of Saranath. The standing Buddha entirely carved in the monastic garment invokes feelings of adoration and deep reverence. The seated Buddha in his Dharmachakra mudra is seated in the Padmasana. Speaking about the image Rene Grossest aptly writes, “……………… the limbs are pure and harmonious, the face has a tranquil suavity, and it is inspired by an art so steeped in intellectualism as to be a direct expression of the soul through the pure beauty of form.” The recumbent form refers to Mahaparinirvana at Kusinagara.