The Mauryan Empire, which lasted from 321 to 185 BCE, was a pivotal period in Indian history, marked by significant cultural and artistic developments. The emergence and spread of Buddhism during this period played a crucial role in shaping the art and architecture of the Mauryan period. This article will explore the evolution of Mauryan art as Buddhist art and the influence of Buddhism on its development.
Emergence of Buddhism in Mauryan Art
Buddhism, as a religion and philosophical movement, emerged in India in the 6th century BCE. However, it was during the Mauryan period that Buddhism gained widespread acceptance and patronage. Emperor Ashoka (r. 268-232 BCE), who was a devout Buddhist, played a key role in spreading Buddhism across India and beyond. His patronage of Buddhism had a significant impact on the art and architecture of the period, which increasingly featured Buddhist themes and iconography.
Influence of Buddhism on Mauryan Art
Buddha as a Central Theme: Buddhism had a profound influence on Mauryan art, with the Buddha and his teachings becoming a central theme. The Buddha was portrayed in various forms, including as a seated figure, standing figure, and in his iconic pose of meditation. The Buddha’s teachings were also depicted in the form of symbols, such as the wheel of law, the lotus flower, and the bodhi tree.
Buddhist Architecture: The Mauryan period saw the development of significant Buddhist architecture, such as the stupas and viharas. Stupas were large, dome-shaped structures that housed relics of the Buddha or his followers. Viharas were Buddhist monasteries where monks lived and studied. These structures were decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures depicting Buddhist themes and motifs.
Use of Stone: Mauryan art saw the extensive use of stone as a medium for sculpture and architecture. This was partly due to the influence of Buddhism, which placed great importance on the preservation of relics and monuments. Stone sculptures of the Buddha and other Buddhist figures were created with great skill and detail, and they were often painted or gilded to enhance their beauty.
Non-Anthropomorphic Art: Mauryan art also saw the development of non-anthropomorphic art, which represented the Buddha and his teachings in symbolic form. This included the use of the wheel of law, the lotus flower, and the bodhi tree, which represented the Buddha’s teachings of dharma, purity, and enlightenment, respectively.
Influence on Later Buddhist Art: The impact of Mauryan art on later Buddhist art was significant. The Buddhist art of the Gupta period (320-550 CE), for example, was heavily influenced by Mauryan art, particularly in terms of the depiction of the Buddha and Buddhist themes.
Examples of Mauryan Art as Buddhist Art
The Sarnath Lion Capital: The Sarnath Lion Capital is one of the most famous examples of Mauryan art as Buddhist art. It is a sculpture of four lions standing back to back, with the Dharma Chakra (wheel of law) in the center. The lions are symbolic of the Buddha’s teachings, and the Dharma Chakra represents the Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath. The Lion Capital is now the national emblem of India.
Bharhut Stupa: The Bharhut Stupa is another significant example of Mauryan art as Buddhist art. It is a large, dome-shaped structure that was decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures depicting Buddhist themes and motifs. The carvings include scenes from the life of the Buddha, such as his birth, enlightenment, and death. The Bharhut Stupa is now housed in the Indian Museum in Kolkata.