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Ancient History / Mauryan Era

Art and Architecture of Mauryan Empire

We can see different kinds of art and architecture of Mauryan empire that got developed during Mauryan period. The Mauryan art and architecture includes Ashokan pillars, Caves and Cave architecture, Stupas, Mauryan Sculpture, Mauryan Pottery, etc.

Ashokan Pillars

  • The Ashokan Pillars are monolithic columns with an approximate height of 50 feet and a weight of 50 tonnes. The pillars of Ashoka are highly lustrous (polished to look like metal or glass). Ashoka has used two different rocks for pillars, (i) Red sandstone from Mathura quarries and (ii) Buff colored sandstone (wheatish) from Chunar quarries.

  • On the trunk of the pillars of Ashoka, an inscription is written. Every pillar has a capital on its top (at the top of the column). It is made of a separate stone. Capital is beautifully executed animal in one stone. Some important capitals are Rampurva Bull capital, Lion capital of Lauriya Nandangarh, Rummindei Horse capital, Sarnath capital, etc.
  • Lion Capital of Sarnath

    In the Lion Capital of Sarnath, 4 roaring lions are standing back to back. Below the lions, Ashoka Chakra with 24 spokes is present. Around the Ashoka Chakra, there are 4 animals - Bull, Galloping Horse, Elephant and Lion. At the bottom, there is an inverted Lotus.

    National Emblem is taken from Sarnath Capital with some modifications. Inverted Lotus is taken out from the emblem. In place of it, a saying from Mundaka Upanishad, "Satyameva Jayate" is placed. Elephant and lion are also removed from the Sarnath pillar animals.

Cave Architecture of Mauryan Period

  • If we talk about the cave architecture of Mauryan period, in the history of India, Ashoka was the first king, who started building artificial caves. These caves were used by monks for residential purposes.

  • First caves like Lomas Rishi Cave, Sudama Cave, etc. that were built by Ashoka in Barabar Hills were related to Ajivika religion. Dasaratha built 3 caves at Nagarjuni hills (near to Barabar Caves). The Nagarjuni Caves were also dedicated to Ajivikas.


According to Divyavadana, Ashoka built 84000 Stupas. Sanctum sanctorum was absent in these Stupas.

Mauryan Sculpture

Mauryan Sculpture mainly consists of images of Yakshas and Yakshis of Mauryan period. A Didarganj Yakshi image of life size is found in Didarganj, Bihar and Parkham Yaksha image is found at Parkham near Mathura. We can also find rock-cut elephant at Dhauli in Odisha.

Mauryan Pottery

During Mauryan period, potter's wheel was extensively used. The Mauryan pottery consisted of many types of ware. A special kind of pottery known as Northern Black Polished ware, which was a highly developed technique, is seen in the art and architecture of Mauryan Empire. It was made from finely levigated alluvial clay.