Ancient Architecture

Between the Harappa period and the period of the Mauryas there are no significant architectural remnants to be seen. In the Mauryan period the buildings were mainly constructed with wood which only goes to prove that wood was in abundant supply while stone was rather scarce. That the Mauryan builders were well versed in stone construction is amply evident from some of their monolithic columns. The stone masons of the Mauryan period were expert craftsmen who seem to have learnt craft from the Persians and the Greeks. During the Buddhist period the stupa cult became popular. The stupa originally was an earthen burial mound in which the relics of the departed were kept and revered. Ashoka raised stupas in honour of the Buddha all over India. Those were large hemispherical domes with a middle chamber in which the relics of the Buddha were kept in a casket. The stupa was crowned by an umbrella of wood or stone and was surrounded by a wooden or stone fence with a path to enable the worshippers to go round un Pradakshina. The period between the Maurayas and Guptas were one of intense architectural activity for the Buddhists. It was during the period that the stupas existing then were enlarged and enriched. Notable among these were the Bharhut and Sanchi stupas in MP and the Amaravati stupa in the lower Krishna valley. The Sanchi stupa received particular attention and it was enlarged to a hemisphere 120' in diameter with gateways noted for their carved ornamentation. The stupas became more and more ornate in their architecture. The Amaravati stupa completed in 200 AD was larger than the Sanchi stupa and it had many carved panels depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The stupas of Sarnath and Nalanda were more famous of a later period. The stupa at Nalanda gives the impression of a brick pyramid with steps leading up to its terrace.

Practically the entire remnants of art of ancient India which have survived the ravages of time are of a religious nature or with some religious motif. Secular art also existed as for example in the wall paintings and sculptures in the palaces of kings proclaiming the transitoriness of human splendour. There are also few critics who hold the view that Indian art did not emphasize spiritual and religious ideas to the exclusion of everything else but also was an expression of the vitality of life of the people and their sense of pure joy in life. In Indian art the temple towers though tall are firmly based on earth. The figures represented are beautiful and a smile on the face is quite common. It is also worthy of note that female forms are depicted with decorative often voluptuous motif and often are made to appear strikingly beautiful. While religious literature in ancient India was the work of learned Brahmans and ascetics religious art was the work of expert craftsmen who were secular in their outlook and who enjoyed thoroughly their life without any thought of asceticism. It is their view of life that is prominently depicted in art and literature.