Buddhist Era Art - A Milestone of Its Own - Daily Current Affair Article


The Central Asian Antiquities gallery now showcases large Bezeklik wall paintings, silk paintings and banners from the library cave of Dunhuang (China) and a large number of burial objects and textiles from Astana graves. With this, it becomes the fourth museum in the world to display such a collection, after museums in the UK, German and Russia.


From 12,000 works dating between the 3rd and 12th centuries – discovered by noted archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein during his Central Asian expeditions in 1900-1916 and brought to India – as many as 170 masterpieces have been carefully selected for the display. Besides the expansive Central Asian Antiquities gallery, the majestic building next door, that functioned as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) headquarters till 2018, has been turned into a Buddha museum of sorts (or a set of galleries), while an augmented reality-based experiential has been created for the Ajanta Caves at the National Museum. The entire makeover project is aimed at the G20 meeting scheduled to take place in 2023, when many heads of state and government, and other dignitaries will visit the Capital. The aim is to turn the museum into the country’s cultural showpiece, and showcase our Buddhist heritage to those not aware of it, the official adds. The Ministry of Tourism has executed the Ajanta experiential inside NM, with help from IIT-Bombay. “We want to establish Ajanta Caves as the origin of Buddhist Art, which was at its peak in the 5th-6th Centuries. All monasteries came up along the Silk Route.


Cause of Origin:

  • Expensive & complicated Vedic rituals, Superstitious beliefs, mantras confused the people.
  • The teachings of the Upanishads were highly philosophical, therefore not understood by all.
  • The rigid caste system prevalent in India generated tensions in society.
  • Desire of Vaishya to improve their social position due to the increase in trade and economic prosperity.
  • Unrest in society due to supremacy Brahmina.
  • practice of killing cows became hindrance to new agri economy.


  • The religion is based upon the teachings, life experiences of its founder Siddhartha Gautam, born in circa 563 BCE.
  • Buddha asked his followers to avoid the two extremes of indulgence in worldly pleasure and the practice of strict abstinence and asceticism.
  • He ascribed instead the ‘Madhyam Marg’or the middle path which was to be followed.

Literary sources

  • Ceylonese Chronicles – MAHAVAMSA by Mahanama, DEPAVAMSA and ATTAKATHA by Wattagamani.
  • TRIPITAKA/ Three baskets of Buddhist scripture –
  • SUTTAPITAKA [sutra related to Buddha and companion]
  • VINAYPITAKA [monastic rules] and
  • ABHIDHAMPITAKA [Doctrine and philosophy of Buddhism]
  • JATAKA FOLKLORE [stories related to birth of Buddha]/ In Chinese they are called SADOK.
  • MILINDAPANHA [Questions of Milinda that is greek king Meander and answers of Buddhist monk nagasena]

5 teachings of buddha ( panchsheela)

  • No killing Respect for life.
  • Abstention from theft.
  • Abstention from sexual misconduct.
  • Abstention from falsehood.
  • Abstention from intoxication

Three main schools of Buddhism

There are three main classifications of Buddhism to date:

  • Hinayana (also known as Theravada, the vehicle of the Hearers),
  • Mahayana, and
  • Vajrayana.

Vajrayana, the Diamond School, originally exclusive to Tibet (in 20th century CE the Chinese occupation of Tibet forced it out of the country), emphasizes the permanence of the Buddha’s teachings as symbolized by the vajra (thunderbolt), a ritual implement used for ceremonies, employs Tantra (techniques to reach enlightenment quickly) and focuses mainly on lay practitioners.

Mahayana uses Sanskrit as its main language, and monastic and lay followers work for the liberation of all sentient beings, making compassion and insight (wisdom) its central doctrines.

  • The perfection of these human values culminates in the Bodhisattva, a model being who devotes him or herself altruistically to the service of others.

Theravada is the only remaining school from the Early Buddhist period. Its central texts are in Pali (Pãli Canon), the spoken language of the Buddha; and its exclusively monastic devotees strive to become enlightened for their own liberation.

  • Putting aside all others-serving notions is the pursuit of self-interested, self-first liberation in the Hinayana or Sravakayana school.

It is significant that Theravada texts exclusively concern the Buddha’s life and early teachings; whereas, due to widespread propagation (spreading of the teachings), Mahayana and Vajrayana texts appear in at least six languages. Mahayana texts contain a mixture of ideas, the early texts probably composed in south India and confined to strict monastic Buddhism, the later texts written in northern India and no longer confined to monasticism but lay thinking also.


1. Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya

Situated in Bodh Gaya city of the Bihar state of India, Mahabodhi Temple is supposed to be one of most important and sacred places of Buddhism. It is a famous Buddhist temple of India, where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment during sitting under the eminent Bodhi Tree. This temple features a beautiful architecture, which is a comprehensible reflection of the diverse customs, cultures and traditions of Buddhism.

2. Mahaparinirvana temple, Kushinagar

Located in Kushinagar of Uttar Pradesh state of India, Mahaparinirvana Temple features a 6-meters long statue of the reclining Buddha. The temple is set amidst the extensive lawns and ancient unearthed ruins with a circumambulatory path. The composed 5th-century reclining Buddha of the temple was discovered in 1876. The idol depicts the dying age of Gautam Buddha and makes it one of the renowned Buddhist temples in India.

3. Ramabhar Stupa temple, Kushinagar

Located in the close proximity to the Mahaparinirvana Temple, Ramabhar Stupa Temple holds a special position due to being built at the place of the cremation of Lord Buddha. The temple features a splendid 49-feet-high stupa, which is recognized for its architectural elegance. The manifestation of this stupa is quite glorious and appealing.

4. Thikse Monastery, Leh

Situated in the north of Indus River on a hilltop, Thiksey Monastery belongs to Gelukpa Order of Buddhism. It was built in 1430 AD and features a temple dedicated to Goddess Dorje Chenmo. Being one of the major Buddhist monasteries of India, monastery complex features a number of holy shrines. Thiksey Gompa is the largest monastery in Ladakh and is also supposed to be mini Potala Palace.

5. Ghum Monastery, Darjeeling

Situated amidst the hill regions of Eastern Himalayan ranges in Darjeeling, Ghum Monastery is among the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. It is one of the largest monasteries in the state. It features a 15-foot statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Ghum Monastery is considered to be the most famous monastery of India.

6. Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath

Also called as Dhamekha or Dhamek Stupa, Dhamekh Stupa is a massive Buddhist Stupa in Sarnath. It marks the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon to his first disciples post enlightenment. This is the reason; it is considered an important religious place of Buddhism followers. This massive cylindrical Stupa is 43.6 meters high and has a width of 28 meters. This famous Buddhist shrine of India receives huge number of devotees.

Other significant pilgrimages are:

  • Namdroling Monastery & Golden Temple, Mysore
  • Rumtek Monastery, Gangtok
  • Tsuglagkhang Temple Complex, Dharamsala
  • Vishwa Shanti Stupa, Rajgir
  • Etc


Gandhara school of art

  • The Gandhara school of art had grown around Peshawar (Presently in Pakistan) in Northwest India, during the rule of Indo-Greek rulers but the real patrons of Gandhara school of art were the Sakas and the Kushanas, Kanishka in particular.
  • The Kushana kings, especially Kanishka, motivated the Gandhara artists to carve the themes from Buddha's life and the jatakas thus a large number of the images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas were produced.
  • Due to the application of Greek Techniques of art to the Buddhist subjects (beautiful images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas) the Gandhara School of Art is also known as the Graeco-Buddhist School of Art.
  • Almost all kinds of foreign influences like Greek, Roman, Persian, Saka and Kushan were assimilated in Gandhara style.
  • Jalalabad, Begram, Hadda, Bamaran & Taxila were the main centres where art pieces of Gandhara School have been found and the Bamyan Buddha of Afghanistan considered as an example of the Gandhara School.
  • Characteristics of Gandhara School of art
  • The reliefs of the Gandhara Sculpture depict Buddha's birth, his renunciation and his preaching and the best of the sculptures were produced during the first and second centuries A.D.
  • The drapery was thick with large and bold fold lines also the human body was cast in a realistic manner with minute attention being given to physical features like a moustache, muscles, and curly hair.

Mathura School of Art

  • Initially, in Gandhara style, a complex form of symbolism was present and Mathura style deviated from it by establishing the tradition of transforming Buddhist symbols into human form accordingly Buddha s first image can be traced to Kanishka s reign.
  • In Mathura, an indigenous style of sculpture developed, and it mostly used red sandstone.
  • The images of Siva and Vishnu along with their consorts Parvathi and Lakshmi were also carved out in the Mathura school moreover the female figures of yakshinis and apsaras of the Mathura school were beautifully carved too. One thing to note that the images of Shiva and Vishnu were depicted by their ayudhas (weapons).
  • The records of Jain Tirthankars are also found in Mathura Style.
  • In Mathura School of art which is noted for its vitality and assimilative character, Sarnath and Kausambi also emerged as important centres of art production while the traditional centre, Mathura, remained the main art production site. Many Buddha images in Sarnath have plain transparent drapery covering both shoulders, and the halo around the head has very little ornamentation whereas the Mathura Buddha images continue to depict folds of the drapery in the Buddha images and the halo around the head is heavily decorated.
  • Characteristics of Mathura School of Art
  • In Mathura style more, the focus was laid on the internal beauty and facial sentiments rather than bodily gesture.
  • There is boldness in carving the large images as the first Mathura image creators never aimed to sculpt an anatomically correct human Buddha.

Amaravati school of Art

  • Propogated by the Ikshvakus and also by other groups, flourished for nearly six centuries starting from 200-100 BC. Buddhist art and a large religious complex of Buddhism grew around Amravati which represent the revival of uniquely different regional art style. The doctrine changes in Buddhism well as rise and fall of dynasties influenced the evolution of the Amravati School of Art.
  • Characteristics of Amravati School of Art
  • The material used in Amravati stupas is a distinctive white marble and Amaravati sculptures have a sense of movement and energy with profound and quiet naturalism in human, animal and floral forms.
  • Prominent places where this style developed are Amravati, Nagarjunikonda, Goli, Ghantasala and Vengi.
  • Symbolic representation of Buddha's life, the Buddha almost always being represented by a symbol, though in two or three places he is personified.
  • Like the Sanchi Stupa, the Amaravati Stupa also has pradakshina patha enclosed within a vedika on which many narrative stories from the life of Buddha and bodhisattva dominating such episodes relating to the Birth, the miracles, Enlightenment and the victory over Mara, Sundari, Nanda, Tushita heaven and Angulimala are depicted.
  • Sculptural form in Amravati Art is characterised by intense emotions as the figures are slim, have a lot of movement, bodies are shown with three bents (i.e. tribhanga), and the sculptural anatomy is more complex than at Stupa of Sanchi.
  • Both religious and secular images were present in this style.
  • Later, this style got transformed into Pallava and Chola architecture


  • The Buddhist caves in India form an important part of Indian rock-cut architecture, and are among the most prolific examples of rock-cut architecture around the world. There are more than 1,500 known rock cut structures in India, out of which about 1000 were made by Buddhists (mainly between 200 BCE and 600 CE).
  • Many of these structures contain works of art of global importance, and many later caves from the Mahayana period are adorned with exquisite stone carvings. These ancient and medieval structures represent significant achievements of structural engineering and craftsmanship
  • The oldest rock-cut architecture in India is found in the Barabar caves, Bihar built around the 3rd century BCE. The earliest cave temples include the Bhaja Caves, the Karla Caves, the Bedse Caves, the Kanheri Caves, and some of the Ajanta Caves.
  • Although free standing structural temples were also being built, such as the Bairat Temple (3rd century BCE) and the various free-standing apsidal temples in Sanchi, Taxila or Ter, rock-cut cave temples continued to be built in parallel. Later rock-cut cave architecture became more sophisticated as in the Ajanta Caves, belonging to a second, and last, wave of Buddhist cave building.
  • Cave 19, Ajanta, a 5th-century chaitya hall
  • Kailash Temple, Ellora, cave 16
  • The Great Chaitya in the Karla Caves, Maharashtra, India, 1st-century CE.
  • A monastery, or vihara, with its square hall surrounded by monks' cells. Ajanta Caves, no. 4.
  • Ellora Caves. Cave 34. The yakshini Ambika, the yakshini of Neminath at a Jain Cave at Ellora

Ajanta Caves

  • This cave is located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra
  • It comprises about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments
  • Since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • All three kinds of art combined – sculpture, architecture, and paintings(mural paintings)
  • Famous fresco paintings of Ajanta are dying princess, flying apsara, and preaching Buddha.

Ellora Cave

  • It is locally known as ‘Verul Leni’
  • It is located in Maharashtra
  • This also a rock-cut monastery by the Buddhists
  • It is famous for the largest monolithic excavation in the world- the great Kailasa
  • The hills in which the caves are carved forms part of the Sahyadri ranges of the Deccan
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Chaitya cave number 19 of Ajanta group
  • Built-in Gupta age
  • Cave 19 is a very elaborate rock-cut chaitya hall from the late 5th century
  • The peripheral frontage has a large horseshoe-arched window edged by figures of yakshas and Buddhas carved in relief.
  • The curved ceiling has rock-cut ribs.
  • Vihara cave number 16 & 17
  • Vihara is a monastery
  • There are lots of mural painting in the caves 16 and 17 which are the are epigraphs of the Vakataka Dynasty
  • The murals are uninterrupted without barriers, typically representing Buddhist tales, like ‘Jataka’ stories, which describe Buddha’s earlier lives.

Elephanta Cave

  • It is located on Elephanta Islands in Mumbai
  • There are seven cave excavations in the Elephanta group
  • There is Trimurti of Shiva
  • The caves are carved from solid basalt rock.

Bhaja Cave

  • This is the oldest Deccan rock-cut cave dated on 2nd century BC
  • It is located in Maharashtra.
  • The inscriptions and the cave temple are preserved as a National Monument
  • It is famous for its decorative frontages
  • It belongs to the Hinayana Buddhism sect
  • Stone carvings are not very deep
  • It has octagonal pillars.

Karle Cave

  • Ancient India Buddhist early rock-cut architecture
  • It is located in Maharashtra
  • Related with the Mahasaṃghika sect of Buddhism
  • There is a pillar of the Asokan type with a huge sixteen-sided shaft rising over a platform.
  • It has a great chaitya hall


  • Buddhism reached its peak under the Mauryan Empire (322-185 AD). Ashoka gave royal patronage to Buddhism and made it a pan-Asian religion. He sponsored Buddhist missions to various areas within his empire and also to the Greek-ruled areas of the Northwest, Sri Lanka in the south as well as the Central Asia. After the death of Ashoka, Buddhism did not get a direct royal patronage. This led to its decline.
  • Ashoka pillars, (usually made of chunar sandstone), as a symbol of the state, assumed a great significance in the entire Mauryan Empire.
  • The main objective was to disseminate the Buddhist ideology and court orders in the entire Mauryan empire.
  • Language: While most Ashoka pillar edicts were in Pali and Prakrit language, few were written in Greek or Aramaic language also.
  • Architecture: Mauryan pillars mainly comprise of four parts:
  • Shaft: A long shaft formed the base and was made up of a single piece of stone or monolith.
  • Capital: On top of shaft lay the capital, which was either lotus-shaped or bell-shaped.
  • Abacus: Above the capital, there was a circular or rectangular base known as the abacus.
  • Capital Figure: All the capital figures (usually animals like a bull, lion, elephant, etc) are vigorous and carved standing on a square or circular abacus
  • Ashoka’s 7 pillar edicts: These were found at Topra (Delhi), Meerut, Kausambhi, Rampurva, Champaran, Mehrauli:
  • Pillar Edict I: Asoka’s principle of protection to people.
  • Pillar Edict II: Defines Dhamma as the minimum of sins, many virtues, compassion, liberality, truthfulness, and purity.
  • Pillar Edict III: Abolishes sins of harshness, cruelty, anger, pride, etc.
  • Pillar Edict IV: Deals with duties of Rajukas.
  • Pillar Edict V: List of animals and birds which should not be killed on some days and another list of animals which have not to be killed at all.
  • Pillar Edict VI: Dhamma policy
  • Pillar Edict VII: Works done by Asoka for Dhamma policy.
  • Minor Pillar Inscriptions
  • Rummindei Pillar Inscription: Asokha’s visit to Lumbini & exemption of Lumbini from tax.
  • Nigalisagar Pillar Inscription, Nepal: It mentions that Asoka increased the height of stupa of Buddha Konakamana to its double size.
  • Major Pillar Inscriptions
  • Sarnath Lion Capital: Near Varanasi was built by Ashoka in commemoration of Dhammachakrapravartana or the first sermon of Buddha.
  • Vaishali Pillar, Bihar, single lion, with no inscription.
  • Sankissa Pillar, Uttar Pradesh
  • Lauriya-Nandangarth, Champaran, Bihar.
  • Lauriya-Araraj, Champaran, Bihar
  • Allahabad pillar, Uttar Pradesh
  • Stupa: Stupas were burial mounds prevalent in India from the vedic period.
  • Architecture: Stupas consist of a cylindrical drum with a circular anda and a harmika and a chhatra on the top.
  • Anda: Hemispherical mound symbolic of the mound of dirt used to cover Buddha’s remains (in many stupas actual relics were used).
  • Harmika: Square railing on top of the mound.
  • Chhatra: Central pillar supporting a triple umbrella form.
  • Material Used: The core of the stupa was made of unburnt brick while the outer surface was made by using burnt bricks, which were then covered with a thick layer of plaster and medhi and the toran were decorated with wooden sculptures.
  • Examples:
  • Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh is the most famous of the Ashokan stupas.
  • Piprahwa Stupa in Uttar Pradesh is the oldest one.
  • Stupas built after the death of Buddha: Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Vethapida, Pava, Kushinagar and Pippalivana.
  • Stupa at Bairat, Rajasthan: Grand stupa with a circular mound and a circumambulatory path.
  • Kanishka, greatest king of the Kushan dynasty chiefly remembered as a great patron of Buddhism.
  • As a patron of Buddhism, Kaniska is chiefly noted for having convened the fourth great Buddhist council in Kashmir, which marked the beginnings of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Western influences in his reign was the Gandhara school of art, in which Classical Greco-Roman lines are seen in images of the Buddha.
  • Harshavardhana belonged to the Pushyabhuti dynasty, founded by Naravardhana close of the 5th or beginning of the 6th century A.D. It was only under the king of Thaneswar Prabhakarvardhana (father of Harshavardhana), the Pushyabhuti dynasty flourished and he assumed the title of Maharajadiraj.
  • During the period of Harshavardhan (606 – 647 AD) Nalanda served as a important Mahayana Buddhism centre. The University, meant for Buddhist monks, was maintained by Harsha. Chinese Buddhist pilgrims Hiewn Tsang and Itsing had studied in the Nalanda University. Many Chaityas and Viharas were found there which were built on the basis of sharply planned diagrams
  • His reign has several chaityas and viharas constructed.
  • Gupta art is the art of the Gupta Empire, which ruled most of northern India, with its peak between about 300 and 480 CE, the Gupta period is generally regarded as a classic peak and golden age of North Indian art for all the major religious groups.
  • Three main schools of Gupta sculpture are often recognised, based in Mathura, Varanasi/Sarnath[30] and to a lesser extent Nalanda
  • The pink sandstone sculptures of Mathura evolved during the Gupta period to reach a very high fineness of execution and delicacy in the modeling, displaying calm and serenity. The style become elegant and refined, with a very delicate rendering of the draping and a sort of radiance reinforced by the usage of pink sandstone.[1] Artistic details tend to be less realistic, as seen in the symbolic shell-like curls used to render the hairstyle of the Buddha, and the orante halos around the head of the Buddhas. The art of the Gupta is often considered as the pinnacle of Indian Buddhist art, achieving a beautiful rendering of the Buddhist ideal


  • Government has started many initiatives to preserve the rich art heritage of the country, such as, Scheme for Conservation of Wall Painting (1996-97), Ek Bharat Shresth Bharat programe, Tribal haats, GI tag to the local products, e-haat, etc. Apart from strict implementation of such programmes, Government should provide financial assistance to strengthen regional and local museums, preserve art heritage through virtual media, and promote local paintings on products like wallet, mobile cover, pillow cover, etc.
  • Schemes like 'Financial assistance for development of Buddhist Art and Culture' by Ministry of Art and Culture are propagated with the objective to give financial assistance to the voluntary Buddhist/Tibetan organizations including Monasteries engaged in the propagation and scientific development of Buddhist/Tibetan culture, tradition and research in related fields.
  • The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (or AMASR Act) is an act of parliament of the government of India that provides for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance, for the regulation of archaeological excavations and for the protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects.
  • The Archeological Survey of India functions under this act.


The step regarding the National museum is a well-thought-through global outreach plan floated by the government to position India as the Buddhist centre. India is a huge envelope of tremendously important art and architecture, reflecting the evolution of the society since ancient times. It needs dire protection and safeguards.


  • The Hindu
  • The Indian Express
  • NIOS
  • Ncerts class 6-8
  • Ministry of Art and Culture
General Studies Paper 1
  • History