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04 Jan 2021

With the introduction of Buddhism and Jainism part of Shraman tradition against the varna and jati systems of the Hindu religion, major changes were brought in the religious and social structure of the Northern part of India.

The Kshatriya rulers provided patronage to the Buddhism and Jainism as they were opposed to the Brahmanical supremacy.

Magadha was a powerful kingdom and Ashoka was the powerful ruler of Mauryan dynasty who patronised Sharaman tradition during 3rd century BCE.

Worship of Yakshas and mother goddesses was also prevalent during that time.

The Mauryan Art includes the following:

  • Court Art
    • Palaces
    • Pillars
    • Stupas
  • Popular Art
    • Caves
    • Pottery
    • Sculptures


The palace of Chandragupta Maurya was inspired by the Archemenid palaces at Persepolis in Iran.

Megasthenes described the palace as one of the greatest creations of mankind.

The Ashoka’s palace at Kumrahar had high central pillar and was a three-storey wooden structure.


  • This period introduced the use of stone for the first time. The common stones that were used were red and white sandstone.
  • The pillars were usually made of Chunar Sandstone.
  • The structure of pillars included:
    • Crowning: An animal figure.
    • Abacus: A circular or rectangular base.
    • Capitol: Either lotus shaped or bell shaped.
    • Shaft: A single piece of stone                                                                      
  • Stone pillars are rock-cut with inscriptions engraved on them. Top portion contains capital figures like the bull, the Lion, elephant etc.
  • Lion Capital i.e. Sarnath Pillar is the most important one. It symbolizes Dhammachakrapravartana (the first Sermon by Buddha).
  • The common scripts used on the pillars were:
    • Kharoshti script: right to left by Ashoka for inscriptions.
    • Brahmi Script
  • Some important places:
    • Basarah-Bakhira,
    • Lauriya-Nandangarh,
    • Rampura,
    • Sankisa and
    • Sarnath.


  • Stupas are burial mounds where the relics and the ashes of the dead are kept.
  • Stupas were popularised by the Buddhists.
  • Stupa, Vihar and Chaitya are part of Buddhist and Jaina monastic complexes.
  • During early phase of Buddhism, Buddha was depicted symbolically through footprints, stupas, lotus throne, chakra etc. Gradually narrative (post-Gupta period) became part of Buddhist tradition i.e. Jataka stories depicted on railings and torans of the stupas.

Structure of Stupas

  • Stupa consisted of cylindrical Frum and a circular anda with a harmika and Chhatra on the top which remain consistent throughout.
  • The core of the stupa was made of unburnt brick while the outher surface was made by using burnt bricks. It was then covered with a thick layer of plaster.
  • The medhi and the toran were decorated by wooden scuptures.
  • The devotees walk around the pradakshina patha or open ambulatory passageway as a token of worship.
  • Stupa’s best example is at Bairat in Rajasthan.
  • The great Stupa of Sanchi is made of bricks.
  • During later period, Stupas built with circumambulatory path with railings and sculpture. New additions were made in second century bce.

Main events of Buddha’s life represented in Stupas:

  • Birth: represented by Lotus and Bull
  • Renunciation: represented by Horse
  • Enlightenment: Bodh tree
  • Dhammachakrapravartan: Chakra
  • Mahaparinibbana: Empty Chair

Main Jataka stories:

  • Chhadanta
  • Vidurpundita
  • Puru
  • Sibi
  • Vessantara
  • Shama jataka.

These narratives or jatakas are mainly synoptic, continous and episodic.

Cave Architecture

  • Emergence of rock-cut cave architecture during this period.
  • Caves were generally used as viharas (living quarters for Jain and Buddhist monks).
  • Initially they were used by the ajivika sect, later, they became popular as Buddhist monasteries.
  • Examples: Nagarjuni caves in Bihar.
  • Rock-cut cave at Barabara Hills near Gaya is also called Lomus Rishi Cave.
  • Lomus Rishi Cave was built for Ajivika sect. It is decorated with semi-circular Chaitya arch as the entrance.
  • Other important places include: Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakapa, Ramagrama, Kuchinagar, Pava, Pippalvina, Avanti and Gandhara.


  • Famous images of Yaksha, Yakhinis and animal pillars are found in Patna, Vidisha, Mathura.
  • The earliest mention of yakshi can be found in Silppadikaram.
  • All the Jain trithankars were associated by a Yakshi.


  • Northern Black Polished Ware is the pottery found during this period.
  • They were generally used as luxury items.
  • It has been referred as the highest level of pottery.