(Sample Material) IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 1 - "Culture-Architecture"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme

Subject: General Studies (Paper 1 - Indian Heritage and Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society)

Topic: Culture - Architecture


Though nothing remains of the cities built by the Mauryas, the splendour of power that the Mauryas tried to create is reflected in an account of the capital city of Pataiiputra given by Megasthenes. The city, occupying a parallelogram about 10 miles long and two miles wide, was girded by a stupendous wooden wall pierced with loopholes for the archers. The wall was topped by over 500 towers and provided with as many as 64 gates. Within the enclosure was the royal palace, which, in plan and decorative treatment, appears to have been inspired by the Achaemenid palaces at Persepolis in Iran.

The imperial palace was still standing when the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Fa-Hien saw it around 400 A.D., and he was so impressed by the walls, doorways and the sculptured designs that he felt sure that they could not have been executed by nuinan hands. Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta, embraced Buddhism and Use immense Buddhist missionary activities that followed encouraged in the field of art the development of distinct sculptural and architectural styles.

Pillars:The court art of Asoka is best seen in tne white-grey sandstone columns erected by him al! over his empire either to mark a sacred site associated with Buddha’s life or to commemorate a great event. On many of these pillars are inscribed the famous edicts of Asoka propagating the ‘Dharma’ (Buddhist Law) or the imperial sermons to his people. Rising to an average height of about 40 feet, the pillars in their rncst developed state, are tall, tapering monoliths with sculptured capitals, incorporating a series of fluted petals in elongated shape, (whicii falling together take the form of a bell, commonly known as the Persepolitan Bell) surmounted by a circular abacus ornamented with animal and floral motifs in relief.

There is a crowning animal sculpture on the round, which is usually the lion, bull or elephant, represented singly on the early capitals, and grouped on the later ones.

In the Bull capital from Rampurva (now in the National Museum at New Delhi) the bull is rendered naturalistically in a manner reminiscent of seal carving from the Indus civilisation, suggesting a continuity in tradition. The Lion capital once stood at Sarnath from where Buddha preached his first lesson. The animals around the drum of the capital — consecutively the bull, horse, lion and elephant between which are depictions of chakras — almost appear to be pulling an invisible vehicle as if to perpetuate the wheel of ‘Dharma.’

The pillar in its original form had a gigantic stone wheel crowning the top of the lions. The crisp carving, smooth polish and high quality of craftsmanship have earned this work, particularly the capital, a reputation as one of ancient India’s greatest artistic achievements.

Rock-Cut Architecture: Asoka”s reign also saw the firm establishment of one of the most important and characteristic art traditions of South Asia — therock-ci.it architecture. The series of rock-cut sanctuaries in the Barabar and Nagarjuni hills, near Gaya in Bihar, contain a number of inscriptions which show that they were donated for the habitation of certain Ajivika ascetics, perhaps followers of the Jain religion.

Architecturally, their main interest lies in being the earliest known examples in India of the rock-cut method. Also they represent a contemporary type of structure that combined wood and thatch, udama and Lomas Rishi caves are the two notable hermitages, each consisting of a circilar cell with a hemispherical domed roof attached to a barrel-vaulted ante-room with side entrances.


Before the Gupta period the chief architectural remains, other than stupas and their surrounding gateways and railings, are artificial caves, excavated for religious purposes. Early cave specimens were excavated on wooden models — standardised religious meeting places consisting of thatched huts. The early caves — two at Barabar -near Gaya) and Nagarjuni Hills — are quite unadorned.

The inner walls of the caves are finely polished, no doubt by workmen of the school responsible for the polish of the Asokan pillars. Later cave temples and monasteries arc to be found in many pais of India, but it was in the Western Deccan, under the Satavahana Empire and its successors, that the largest and most famous artificial caves were excavated.

The earliest rock-cut caves in India are attributed to Asoka (273-232 B.C.) and his grandson Dasaratha. Eventually this rock-cut architecture, initiated by Asoka, developed into a powerful and popular architectural style and gave the country nearly 1,200 excavations which are scattered in many parts. This architecture had three definite phases: the earliest dating from the 2nd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D., the second from the 5th to theJth century and the last from the 7th to the 10th century.

These developments took place primarily in the Western Ghats and only secondarily in other parts of the country. The rock architecture was suited to India, for the country had plenty of rocky mountains, and structures excavated in stone were the most durable.

The early Buddhist architecture covers the period from the 2nd century B.C. to the 2nd century A. D. The first phase of excavations in Western India was related exclusively to early Buddhism, which meant the worship of the Buddha represented symbolically. The excavations took the shape of (1) the chaitya or prayer hall and (2) the vikara or monastery. Both initiated in rock the structural forms practiced, in less permanent materials like wood. The chaitya is the more important of the two constructions.

The characteristic features of these early temples were two establishments, each self-contained and consisting of a prayer hall (chaitya) and a monastery [vihara] which contained accommodation for the monks. The square central hall was approached through a verandah or portico, and doorways led into cells for members of the brotherhood, Examples of the early Buddhist architecture can still be seen at Karla, Kanheri, Nasik, Bhaja and Bedsa and at Ajanta.

The second phase began in the 5th century. This phase was characterised by the virtual elimination of timbei and by the introduction of the Image of the Buddha as a dominant feature of the architectural design. Nevertheless the plan of the excavations, particularly of the chaitya, remained essentially the same as that of similar constructions of the earlier phase.

The statue of the Buddha sometimes assumed gigantic proportions. The vihara also underwent a slight change: the inner cells, formerly inhabited by the monks alone now housed the image or the Buddha as well.

Buddhists of the Mahayana School followed the broad architectural princir. les of their predecessors the Hinayana Buddhists, and their architecture consisted as hith jrto, of the chaitya and the vihara. Later, the Hindus and Jains extended the Buddhist architectural tradition but with certain modifications: designed to suit their own ritual. The dominant features of the Oravidian rock-cut style are the mandapa and the ratha. The mand, pa Is an open pavilion excavated out of a rock. It takes the form of a simple columned hall with two or more cells (compartments for the deity) in the back wall. The ratha (literally chariot) is a monolithic shrine carved out of a single rock.

Elephanta Caves: On the island of Elephanta off the Bombay harbour, these caves are of the 8th century A.D. The islands derive their name from the giant carving of an elephant which used to stand at the old landing stage.The Ganesh Gumpha is one of the earliest examples of the Brahmanical temple and has been excavated in a rocky terrace, the outside consisting of a columned verandah, and approached by steps flanked by sculptured elephants.

At each end of the facade is a pilaster (square pillar projecting from a wall) carved in the shape of a dvarapala (door­keeper) with a huge spear. The masterpiece is a three faced mage (Trimurti) representing the Maheswara aspect of Siva.

The left face presents the fierce male aspect of Siva, and the face on the right he gentle, feminine qualities of his all transcending nature. The other view is that the Trimurti represents Brahma [Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Siva (Destroyer). Other interesting sculptures in the cave show the marriage of Siva with Parvati; Bhairava: Siva in the tandava dance; Ravana, the demon king shaking Kailasa, Ardhanariswara “the Lo-d who is both Male and Female”.

Kanheri Caves: These caves near Bombay belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhist architecture, while the 5th century image of the Buddha in the chaitya hall suggests later additions. Altogether there are more than 100 caves here. Their main features are flights of connecting steps and stone seats which used to provide the monks with rest. Although many of the caves arc not of great artistic merit, they have some archaeological interest in as much as they cover the period from the 2nd to the 9th century A.D.

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