The architectural remains have been found between the period of the Harappans and the Mauryas because in this period buildings are not made up of stone. After the decline of Harappan civilization, long gap was generated and in the Mauryan period only monumental stone sculpture, production of masterpieces and architecture appeared. Therefore, Mauryan rule marks an important phase in our cultural history.
Mainly in the period of Ashoka, the art and architecture was at its zenith and fall within the category of court art. Ashoka embraced Buddhism and the immense Buddhist missionary activities that followed encouraged the development of distinct sculptural and architectural styles. Let us find out various art and architecture of Mauryan period, which had connected to the lives, activities and patronage of ordinary people. This can be classified into Stupas, Pillars, Caves, Palaces and Potter.
In the Vedic period burial mound of earth and bricks which were erected by the Vedic Aryans were known at that time. In the Mauryan period, mainly in the period of Ashoka numerous stupas were constructed and scattered all over the country. The stupas of solid domes were constructed of brick or stone with different sizes. The Ashoka stupas were constructed to celebrate the achievements of Gautama Buddha. Like stupa at Bairat Rajasthan in the third century B.C., The Great Stupa at Sanchi was built with bricks and several changes were done. The inner wall of the stupa was built either by terracotta bricks or by sun-burnt bricks. The top of the dome was decorated by a wooden or stone umbrella which denotes the universal supremacy of Dharma. Parikrama was also there by encircling the stupa.
The Amravati stupa was built in the Lower Krishna Valley in 200 A.D. Nagarjunakonda Ghantasala stupas built in later ages in South India. Stupa consisted of a cylindrical drum and a circular anda with harmika and chhatra on the top which remains consistent throughout with minor variations and changes in shape and size. Gateways were also added in the later periods.
The most famous and mind boggling monuments of Mauryan art were the Pillars, the pillars of Dharma. These Pillars were not used for support and stand free in columns. Two main parts of the pillars were the shaft and the capital. A monolith column made of one piece of stone with exquisite polish is a shaft. Polishing art of the pillar is very unique and seems to be like a metal. Usually animal figures are the capital figures and carved standing on a square or circular abacus. Abacuses are decorated with stylized lotuses.
Capital of Mauryan period found at Sarnath near Varanasi, known as the Lion Capital. Being one of the finest examples of Mauryan sculpture and built by Ashoka in commemoration of Dhammachakrapravartanan or we can say first sermon of Buddha. The capital has four Asiatic lions seated back to back, which symbolize power, courage, pride and confidence. The sculpture surface was polished and the drum was there on the bell base, i.e. Abacus has the depiction of chakra or wheel on all four directions and a bull, horse, an elephant and a lion between every chakra. It has 24 spokes and these 24 spoke chakra is adopted to the National Flag of India. The circular abacus is supported by an inverted lotus capital. This has been adopted as the National Emblem of Independent India, but it does not have a shaft, the lotus and crowning wheel.
Instead of pillars, rock cut caves are also an artistic achievement of Ashoka’s reign. The caves at Barabar hill in the north of Gaya and the Nagarjuni hill caves, the Sudama caves, etc. are the several examples of cave architecture. The hills of Barabar caves were donated by Ashoka to Ajivika monks and three separate caves at Nagarjuni hills were by Dasharatha to them. The cave of Gopika was excavated in the reign of Dasratha in a tunnel like fashion. The interior part of the cave is polished like a mirror.
The palace of Mauryan period had gilded pillars with golden vines and silver birds. All the towns were surrounded by the high walls with battlements, water ditches, bearing lotuses and plants.
Black polished type pottery found in North India is an example of this period. It has a burnished and glazed surface. Kosambi and Patliputra are the centres of this pottery.