Subscribe to Updates & Daily Quiz

Indian Sculpture

The discovery of statues, figurines of men and women in terracotta, stone and metal indicate that people of the area were great artists and sculptors.

Among the stone images found in Harappa two male statues are noteworthy. One of them is artistically decorated while the other is kept naked. The Harappan artists knew the art of bronze casting. They used the special lost wax process in which the wax figures were covered with a coating of clay. The Indus Valley people practiced sculpture in terracotta. The teracota figure of the Mother Goddess was discovered in Mohen-jo-daro. The figure, with a punched nose and artistic ornamentation laid on the body and pressed on the figure, shows the Mother Goddess as the symbol of fertility and prosperity.

Buddhist art is the artistic practices that are influenced by Buddhism. It includes art media which depict Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other entities; notable Buddhist figures, both historical and mythical; narrative scenes from the lives of all of these; mandalas and other graphic aids to practice; as well as physical objects associated with Buddhist practice, such as vajras, bells, stupas and Buddhist temple architecture.

Buddhist art followed believers as the dharma spread, adapted, and evolved in each new host country. It developed to the north through Central Asia and into Eastern Asia to form the Northern branch of Buddhist art, and to the east as far as Southeast Asia to form the Southern branch of Buddhist art. In India, Buddhist art flourished and co-developed with Hindu and Jain art, with cave temple complexes built together.

Classical Sculpture

Despite its wide spread and sophistication, the Indus Valley civilization seems to have taken no interest in public large-scale art, unlike many other early civilizations. A number of gold, terracotta and stone figurines of girls in dancing poses reveal the presence of some forms of dance. Additionally, the terracotta figurines included cows, bears, monkeys, and dogs. The animal depicted on a majority of seals at sites of the mature period has not been clearly identified. Part bull, part zebra, with a majestic horn, it has been a source of speculation.

Seals have been found at Mohenjo-Daro depicting a figure standing on its head, and another sitting cross-legged in what some call a yoga-like pose. This figure, sometimes known as a Pashupati, has been variously identified. Sir John Marshall identified a resemblance to the Hindu god, Shiva.

After the end of the Indus Valley Civilization there is a surprising absence of art of any great degree of sophistication until the Buddhist era. It is thought that this partly reflects the use of perishable organic materials such as wood.

The north Indian Maurya Empire flourished from 322 BCE to 185 BCE, and at its maximum extent controlled all of the sub-continent except the extreme south, and introduced stone monumental sculpture to India, though probably drawing greatly on existing Indian traditions in wood, as well as influences from Ancient Persia, as shown by the Pataliputra capital.

The emperor Ashoka, who died in 232 BCE, adopted Buddhism about half-way through his 40-year reign, and patronized several large stupas at key sites from the life of the Buddha, although very little decoration from the Mauryan period survives, and there may not have been much in the first place. There is more from various early sites of Indian rock-cut architecture. The most famous survivals are the large animals surmounting several of the Pillars of Ashoka, which showed a confident and boldly mature style, though we have very few remains showing its development.

Belong to the pure old tradition of Bharhut and Sanchi. By the time of the Sungas and the Saka-Ksatrapas, Mathura was already famous as an art centre. During this age, the so-called ‘God made’ Vodra Stupa of Jainas was standing in its full glory on the present Kankali Tils. Colossal figures of Boddhisattavas, Amohini stone, railing pillars, lion capital and a few architectural fragments are some of the acquisitions of this period. A few of the sculptures portray Jataka tales.

Some of the important features of Sunga art of Mathura are as follows:

  1. The sculpture is not in bold relief.
  2. Both the male and female figures are adorned with a large number of ornaments.
  3. Drapery is somewhat heavy and not light as is the case with the sculptures of later periods.
  4. No efforts seem to have been made for expressing emotions and abstract feelings like peace, serenity, temptation, surprise, sobriety etc.
  5. Normally, the eyeballs are conspicuous by their absence.
  6. Female figures are seen decorating their headgears with wreaths and garlands, beads and pieces of costly cloth.
  7. The males appear with a special type of fluffy turbans generally decorated with a crest above. A lock of hair frequently appears out of the turban.
  8. Absence of the figure of Gautama Buddha is most noteworthy in Sunga art.

The Satavahanas patronised Prakrit language instead of Sanskrit.[9] The Satavahana king Hāla is famous for compiling the collection of Maharashtri poems known as the Gaha Sattasai, although from linguistic evidence it seems that the work now extant must have been re-edited in the succeeding century or two. Through this book, it was evident that agriculture was the main means of livelihood. Also many sorts of superstitions had prevailed. Also, Gunadhya, the minister of Hala was the author of Brihatkatha.

Sculptures of Amravati represents the architecture development of the Satavahana periods. They built Buddhist stupas in Amravati (95 feet high).

They also constructed a large number of stupas at Goli, Jaggiahpeta, Gantasala and Amravati Bhattiprolu and, Shri Parvatam. Ashokan Stupas were enlarged the earlier bricks and wood works were replaced with stone works. In the field of carving and paintings, Satavahanas art was marked, in the caves of Ajanta the paintings was started with the Satavahanas. The most famous of these monuments are the stupas. Among, them the Amravati Stupa and the Nagarjunakonda Stupa are most famous.

Several metal figurines are found that could be attributed to the Satavahanas. A hoard of unique bronze objects were also found from Bramhapuri. Numerous articles obtained from there were Indian but also had Roman and Italian tastes to it. A small statue of Poseidon, wine jugs, plaque depicting Perseus and Andromeda were also obtained from the house from where the objects were found.[62] The fine elephant in Ashmolean museum and Yaksi image in British museum [63] the cornucopia found in Posheri, kept at Prince of Wales Museum[64] can also be attributed to the Satavahana period. Along with some of the above major Satavahana sculptures some more sculptures existed namely Dvarapala, Gajalaksmi, Shalabhanjikas, Royal Procession, Decorative pillar etc.

Kushana Art

Kushana art is the defining style of the Mathura school of art. In the history of Mathura, it was during the time of Saka-Ksatrapa rulers that local people came into contact with foreigners. But more than the Sakas, the Kushanas were responsible for the deep-rooted foreign influence that is noticeable in the local art and traditions. New rulers, new environments and traditions seem to be the factors which ushered in a news school of art- the Kushana art. This was the period when Kushana art reached a ripe stage and all of its characteristics were fully evolved.

The sculptures of this period can be divided into the following categories- Jaina Tirthankara Figures; Jaina Tablets of homage (Ayayapattas); Figures of Gautama Buddha and the Boddhisattavas; Images of Brahmanical deities; images of the semi-celestial deities like Yakshas, Yakshinis, Nagas and the Bacchanalian scenes; Stone Slabs showing different stories and episodes; Railing pillars, cross bars, door lintels, door jambs, grills etc; and statues of Kushana kings. The image of the Buddha is an assemblage of a Hellenistic Buddha statue with feet represented and spread apart in the same fashion as that of the Kushan king.

Solar Dynasty

The temple was originally built at the mouth of the river Chandrabhaga, but the waterline has receded since then. The temple has been built in the form of a giant ornamented chariot of the Sun god, Surya. It has twelve pairs of elaborately carved stone on the right and 3 on the left. The temple follows the traditional style of Kalinga architecture. It is carefully oriented towards the east so that the first rays of sunrise strikes the principal entrance. The temple is built from Khondalite rocks.

The original temple had a main sanctum sanctorum (vimana), which was supposedly 229 feet (70 m) tall. Due to the weight of the superstructure (70 m tall) and weak soil of the area, the main vimana fell in 1837. The audience hall (Jagamohana), which is about 128 feet (39 m) tall, still stands and is the principal structure in the surviving ruins. Among the structures, which have survived to the current day, are the dance hall (Nata mandira) and dining hall (Bhoga mandapa). The Konark temple is also known for its erotic sculptures of maithunas.


The Chandelas are well known for their art and architecture. They commissioned a number of temples, water bodies, palaces and forts at various places. The most famous example of their cultural achievements are the Hindu and Jain temples at Khajuraho. Three other important Chandela strongholds were Jayapura-Durga (modern Ajaigarh), Kalanjara (modern Kalinjar) and Mahotsava-Nagara (modern Mahoba). Other smaller Chandela sites include Chandpur, Deogarh, Dudahi, Kakadeo and Madanpur


Pallava art and architecture represent an early stage of Dravidian art and architecture which blossomed to its fullest extent under the Chola Dynasty. The first stone and mortar temples of South India were constructed during Pallava rule and were based on earlier brick and timber prototypes.

Starting with rock cut temples, Pallava sculptors later graduated to free-standing structural shrines which inspired Chola temples of a later age. Some of the best examples of Pallava art and architecture are the Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram, the Shore Temple and the Pancha Rathas of Mahabalipuram. Akshara was the greatest sculptor of their time.


The Cholas, in addition to their temples, also built many buildings such as hospitals, public utility buildings and palaces. Many such buildings find mention in their inscriptions and in contemporary accounts. The golden palace that Aditya Karikala supposedly built for his father Sundara Chola is an example of such a building. However, such buildings were of perishable materials such as timber and fired bricks and have not survived the ravages of time.


The Badami Chalukya architecture was a temple building idiom that evolved in the 5th – 8th centuries in the Malaprabha river basin, in present-day Bagalkot district of Karnataka state. This style is sometimes called the Vesara style and Chalukya style.

Their earliest temples date back to around 450 A.D. in Aihole when the Badami Chalukyas were vassals of the Kadambas of Banavasi. According to historian K.V. Sounder Rajan, the Badami Chalukyas contribution to temple building matched their valor and their achievements in battle.


Vijayanagara architecture of 1336-1565CE was a notable building idiom that developed during the rule of the imperial Hindu Vijayanagar Empire. The empire ruled South India, from their regal capital at Vijayanagara, on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in modern Karnataka, India. The empire built temples, monuments, palaces and other structures across South India, with a largest concentration in its capital. The monuments in and around Hampi, in the Vijayanagara principality, are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In addition to building new temples, the empire added new structures and made modifications to hundreds of temples across South India. Some structures at Vijayanagara are from the pre-Vijayanagara period. The Mahakuta hill temples are from the Western Chalukya era. The region around Hampi had been a popular place of worship for centuries before the Vijayanagara period with earliest records dating from 689 CE when it was known as Pampa Tirtha after the local river God Pampa. There are hundreds of monuments in the core area of the capital city. Of these, 56 are protected by UNESCO, 654 monuments are protected by the government of Karnataka and another 300 await protection.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *