Ancient Indian Art and Architecture

Ancient Indian Art and Architecture

The relics of Ancient Indian art and architecture concern predominantly religious themes. Many of these were made possible through the patronage of wealthy merchants, guilds and some royal donations. Buddhist religious architectures consisted of Viharas, monasteries, Stupas and Chaitya halls.

Viharas or monasteries were the places where the Buddhist monks lived. The relics of Buddha were placed in the Stupas. Chaitya were halls where the Buddhists-worshipped. Stupas were therefore sacred to the Buddhists.

The most famous among the ancient India stupas were the Sanchi, Amaravati and Sarnath. The Stupa at Sanchi was renovated and enlarged during the second century B.C. The renovation was due to the efforts of traders, artisans, cultivators and some members of the royalty from the Deccan and Central India. It was a stupendous structure surrounded by a massive stone railing. Later four majestic gateways were added to this structure. The sculptural designs on the gateway are products of massive artistic skill, remarkable alike for freshness and vigor. The next important stupa of Amaravati completed about 200 A.D. was not only larger but also more ornate than that of Sanchi. The remnants of these two stupas arc to be found in modern Bhopal and Andhra Pradesh respectively.

Some of the Buddhist monasteries were built at Taxila (near Peshawar) and Sarnath (in the vincity of Varanasi). Some Buddhist Stupas were built as in Sind: others were renovated as in Sarnath. Activites in Orissa resulted in continued building of Buddhist Stupas and monasteries, the most impressive being those at Lalitgiri, Ramagiri and Udaigiri, which clearly reflected patronages by the rulers and merchants. Buddhist monasteries and Chaitaras at Ajanta and Ellora are cut into a ravine and a hillside. The caves at Ajanta were decorated with sculpture and some contained rural paintings depicting the life of the Buddha, the Jataka stories and other familiar narratives that in effect provide a visual representation of contemporary life.

The art and architecture of Ancient India touched new height during the rule of Gupta Empire. The most impressive artistic achievements of the Gupta period lie in the cave painting of Ajanta. In this connection we may deal with the art and architecture of the Kushana period. From the first years of Kanishka’s reign dedicated statutes of Buddha’s and Bodhisttvas were produced from the red sandstone and some of them soon found their way as far as Sarnath and Sravasti and Sanchi, where they influenced the development of Gupta art in succeeding centuries. The ambitious Mathura craftsmen also began to try their hands at portrait sculpture. An incribed headless statute of Kanishka found at Mathura is one of the best known examples.

In the secluded valley of Bamian, west of Kabul at the foot of the Hindukush, first or second century sculpture were busy hewing from the living rock face two enormous images of Buddha—one of them no less than 170 feet high, the other 115 feet. The idea of the Banian Buddhist cave was most probably copied from the famous Ajanta caves in western India.

During the rule of the Kushanas the most important thing was the emergence of the Gandhana School of art. This art developed in Afghanistan and north-west India. It evolved a mixture of styles, one of which was the Greece-Roman style of Alexandria, from where sculpture in bronze and stucco travelled along the west Asian trade routes to influence Hellenistic and Indian models nearer home. Previously Buddha was not portrayed in the image of God or historical person.

In the Gupta epoch the role of Buddhism declined and the consequent changes took place in the character of sculptural monuments. The images of Buddha and Boddhistavas were strictly canonized, and sculptures of Hindu Gods became widespread. Temple for the worship of Vishnu and Shiva were built with royal patronage. But these temples were not in the form of caves cut into the hills as at Ajanta and Ellora. On the other band they were built of materials like brick and stone. Several temples of the Gupta age have survived: the most famous among those was the one discovered at Deogarh near Jhansi in U.P. It was probably affected in the sixth century A.D. Another temple was the Martand temple of Kashmir, probably affected in the eighth century A.D.

Temples were affected by the rulers of the regional kingdoms. Most famous among those temple were Lingaraja temple, Bhubaneswar, Jagannathdeva temple at Puri and Sun Temple of Konark. Another distinctive type of temple architecture is supplied by the Khajuraha group of temples erected by the Chandellas of Bundelkhand. Besides the most important specimens of western Indian style of temple architecture could be found in the Jain temple of Mt. Abu.

South India too made remarkable contributions in art and architecture. Cave temples were affected under the patronage of the Pallava rulers. The seven rock-cut pagodas of Mahabalipuram are regarded as the best specimens of the Dravadian style of Indian architecture. However, to the Cholas belongs the credit of developing the Dravidian style to greater perfection. Their most remarkable achievements are the great Saiva temple at the capital city of Tanjore. The Rashtrakutas too developed the art of cave temple and their remarkable achievement was the erection of the great Kailashnath temple. It is a fine massive structure built of solid rock.

The Indian contribution to the fine arts was primarily in sculpture. The attainment of the Gupta age in the realm of sculptural productions was remarkable. The plastic remains of this age are striking because of the serenity displayed therein. The carvings on the temple of Deogarh are also brilliant examples of Gupta sculptural art.

In the Deccan, too, the art of sculpture made considerable progress as is evidence by the exquisite embellishments in Bhoja and Udaigiri Caves, Amaravati Stupas and in the temples of Bhuvaneswar and Konarak. The Ajanta and Ellora cave sculptures bear traces of Pallava sculptural art. The influence of the Ajanta style of painting has been traced in the cave temples of Buddami.

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