Mauryan Art

No significant architectural remains have been found corresponding to the period between the Harappans and the Mauryas. This is probably because buildings were not made of stone in this period. Mud & Wood structures could not withstand with remnant floods & other natural calamities. Mauryan art represents an important transition in Indian art from use of wood to stone.

Shraman tradition

6th century BC marked the beginning of new socio-religious movements in Gangetic valley in the form of Buddhism and Jainism which were part of Shraman tradition. By 4th century BC, Mauryas established their power and by 3rd century BC Ashoka patronized Shraman tradition.

  • Srama means “one who strives” or “Laborer” in Sanskrit and Pali
  • Applied to those who whole heartedly practiced towards enlightenment (Monks)
  • Shraman tradition is best kept in term parivrajaka, meaning a homeless wanderer
  • Shraman tradition gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism and some nastika schools of Hinduism such as Carvaka and Ajivika


Mauryan Art

  • Beginning of the Buddhist School of architecture in India.
  • Chinese traveler Fa-hien stated that “Ashoka’s palace was made by spirits” and that its carvings are so elegantly executed “which no human hands of this world could accomplish”
Court Art (State Initiative)

  • Pillars
  • Stupas
Popular Art (Common Man Initiative)

  • Sculptures
  • Caves
  • Pottery

Pillars / Eddicts

Red-White-Grey sandstone columns by Ashoka all over his empire – Propagating Dhammas & Ashoka’s sermons + marking a sacred site associated with Buddha’s life

  • About 40 feet tall, tapering monoliths, Highly polished
  • Incorporates fluted petals in falling elongated shape depicting a bell
  • Surmounted by an abacus ornamented with animal and floral motifs in relief
  • Top portion carved with sculptured capitals (bull, lion, elephant etc.)
  • Examples – Lion capital of Sarnath, Bull capital of Rampurva & Lion capital of Laurya Nandangarh.
Lion capital of Laurya Nandangarh

Lion capital of Laurya Nandangarh

Rampurva Bull Capital

Bull capital of Rampurva

Lion Capital Sarnath

Lion capital of Sarnath

  • 12th major Rock Edict states Honoring of other sects (religions) lies the honor of one’s own sect
  • 13th major Rock Edict states True conquest is by piety and virtue
  • Mauryan pillars are rock-cut pillars in one piece, displaying the carver’s skills, whereas the Achamenian pillars are constructed in pieces by a mason.


Sarnath Lion Capital

  • Finest example of Mauryan sculptural tradition
  • Built by Ashoka in commemoration of 1st sermon by Buddha (Dhammachakrapravartana) at Sarnath
  • Consisted of 5 component parts
  1. the shaft
  2. inverted lotus bell base
  3. a drum with four animals proceeding clockwise (a bull, a horse, an elephant and a lion)
  4. 4 back to back standing lions
  5. the crowning element, Dharamchakra – a large wheel Broken now (Not shown in picture above)

Emblem of India

The capital without the crowning wheel and the lotus base has been adopted as the National Emblem of Independent India.

Mauryan Stupas

Stupas were known in India before the time of Ashoka but when Ashoka divided up the existing body relics of the Buddha and erected monuments to enshrine them, the stupas became the objects of cult worship. Originally 9 stupas were built after the death of Buddha – 8 of them over the relics and 9th over the vessel in which the relics were originally deposited.

Mauryan Art Buddhist Stupa Plan

  • Buddha is shown symbolically as an empty throne, feet, chhatra, stupas etc.
  • The stupa consists of a cylindrical drum and a circular anda with a harmika and chhatri on the top
  • The three chhatra on the stupas represent triratnas of Buddhism i.e. Buddha (The enlightened), Dhamma (doctrine) and Sangh (order).
  • The stupa was crowned by an umbrella of wooden fence & enclosed by a circumambulatory path (pradaskshina)
  • Four gateways (Toranas) are constructed in all four directions. Each torana consists of two vertical pillars and three horizontal bars on the top.
  • Events from the life of the Buddha, the Jataka stories, were depicted on the railings and torans of the stupas

Caves – Rock-cut architecture

  • Earliest known examples in India of rock-cut method.
  • Carved at Barabar and Nagarjuni hills near Gaya in Bihar Sudama and Lomus Rishi cave

Lomas Rishi Cave (300 BC)

  • Facade of the Lomus Rishi cave is decorated with the semicircular chaitya arch as the entrance
  • The elephant frieze carved in high relief on the chaitya arch shows considerable movement
  • The interior hall of this cave is rectangular with a circular chamber at the back.
  • The entrance is located on the side wall of the hall.

Lomas Rishi Cave


  • The cave was patronised by Ashoka for the Ajivika sect. The important features of the caves of this period were
  • Carved out of the living rock
  • Polishing inside the cave
  • Development of artistic gateway



  • Northern Black polished ware (NBPW)made of finely levitated alluvial clay
  • Distinguished from other polished wares by its peculiar luster and brilliance
  • largely used for dishes and small bowls



  • Large statues of Yaksha and Yakshini are found at many places like Patna, Vidisha and Mathura.
  • Distinguishing elements in all these images Hihgly polished surface

Yakshini Didargunj The life-size standing image of a Yakshini holding a chauri (flywhisk) from Didargunj near modern Patna is one of the finest examples of the sculptural tradition of the Mauryan Period – Made of sandstone

India Yearbook English India Yearbook Hindi Economic Survey 2017


  1. Sir, i think pics of sarnath & lauria are exchanged…??

    • Thanks Saurabh, it was a typo, corrected now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>