Mauryan Architecture – Pillars, Stupas, Pottery & Sculpture

  • Beginning of the Buddhist School of architecture in India.
  • Ashoka, first Mauryan to “think in stone”.
  • Most of the shapes & decorative forms employed were indigenous in origin, some exotic forms show the influence of Greek, Persian and Egyptian cultures.
  • Chinese traveler Fa-hien stated that “Ashoka’s palace was made by spirits” and that its carvings are so elegantly executed “which no human hands of this world could accomplish.”
  • Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador of Selucas Nikator who visited the Mauryan court described Chandragupta Maurya’s palace as an excellent architectural achievement.

Mauryan Architecture divided into 2 categories;

1.Court Artchitecture (With State Initiative) Ex:- Pillars & Stupas

2.Popular Artchitecture (With Common Man Initiative) Ex:- Sculptures, Caves & Pottery

Mauryan architecturePillars / Eddicts

  • Monolithic Ashokan pillars are marvels of architecture and sculpture.
  • Top portion carved with sculptured capitals (bull, lion, elephant etc.)
  • Sarnath pillar – finest pieces of sculpture of the Ashokan period.
  • Most important ones are located at Bharhut, Bodhgaya, Sanchi, Amravati and Nagarjunakonda.
  • Ex:- Lion capital of Sarnath, Bull capital of Rampurva & Lion capital of Laurya Nandangarh.

Mauryan architectureStupas

  • The concept of Stupa started in the Vedic Period.
  • It is a conventional representation of funeral cumulus, in which the ashes of the dead are buried.
  • It is a Buddhist monument which is a hemi spherical dome with Buddha’s relics & ashes inoide.
  • Originally 9 stupas were built after the death of Buddha; 8 of them over the relics & 9th over the vessel in which the relics were originally deposited.
  • King Ashoka the Great constructed morethan 84,000 stupas in his reign.


Sanchi stupas

  • Hemispherical in shape with a low base.
  • Symbolized the cosmic mountain.
  • Inscription by the ivory carvers of vidisha on the southern gateway throws light on the transference of building material from perishable wood & ivory to the more durable stone.

Sanchi_Stupa_from_Eastern_gate,_Madhya_Pradesh (2)Amaravati stupa

  • Built in 2nd or 1st century BC was probably like the one at sanchi.
  • But in later centuries it was transformed from a hinayana shrine to a mahayana shrine.

Gandhara stupa

  • Further development of stupas at Sanchi & Bharhut.
  • The base, dome & the hemisphere dome are sculpted.
  • Stupas of Nagarjunakonda in Krishna valley were very large.
  • Maha Chaitya of Nagarjunakonda has a base in the form of Swastika, which is a sun symbol.

Caves – Mauryan architecture

  • Earliest known examples in India of rock-cut method.
  • Caves were used Viharas.
  • Polished inside the cave.
  • Carved at Barabar & Nagarjuna hills near Gaya.

Lomas Rishi Cave (300 BC)

  • Facade of the Lomus Rishi cave is decorated with the semicircular chaitya arch as the entrance
  • Elephant frieze carved in high relief on the chaitya arch shows considerable movement
  • Interior hall of this cave is rectangular with a circular chamber at the back.
  • Entrance is located on the side wall of the hall.
  • The cave was patronised by Ashoka for the Ajivika sect. The important features of the caves of this period were;
  • Carved out of the living rock
  • Polishing inside the cave
  • Development of artistic gateway


  • Northern Black polished ware (NBPW) & made of finely levitated alluvial clay.
  • Highly lustrous polish.
  • largely used for dishes & small bowls
  • Large statues of Yaksha & Yakshini are found at many places like Patna, Vidisha & Mathura.
  • Highly polished surface

Mauryan architecture

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