After the decline of the Mauryan Empire in 2nd century BC, strong –centralized empire of Mauryas disintegrated and small dynasties sprang up in various parts of India. Among them, Shungas, Kanvas, Kushanas and Shakas rose to prominence  in the north and Satvahanas, Ikshavakus, Abhiras and Vakatakas in Southern and  Western India. Similarly, in the religious sphere emergence of Brahmanical sects such as the Shaivites, Vaishnavites and Shaktites is noticed. The art of this period started reflecting the changing socio-political scenario as well. The architecture in the form of rock-cut caves and stupas continued, with each dynasty introducing some unique features of their own.


  1. Caves:
    This period saw the development of two types of rock caves – Chaitya and Vihar.

    • Vihars were residential halls for the Buddhist and Jain monks
    • the Chaitya halls: used as prayer halls. They were also decorated with human and animal
    • Examples: Karle Chaitya hall, Ajanta caves etc.
  • Karle Caves:
    • Largest Chaitya-griha among all Buddhist monuments in India
    • Has a huge lion pillars in front of Chaitya-griha. (only two caves have this design- Karla and Kanheri)
    • stupa has cylindrical drum shape
    • Octagone shaped pillars behind Stupa, without any decoration
  • Kanheri Caves :
    • Second largest Chaityagriha in India, after Karle caves.
    • Lion Pillars at the Entrance. (Just like Karle caves)
    • Podhis: water cisterns for rainwater harvesting
    • Images of both Standing Buddha and sitting Buddha flanked by Bodhisattvas
    • Famous Satvahan king Gautamiputra Satakarni’s name mentioned in the inscriptions here.
    • Vihara for resting monks with rock cut seats and benches.
  • Bhaja Caves :
    • Hinayana faith
    • has Wooden ceiling over Chaitya-griha.
    • Stupa has a hole on top, for inserting wooden umbrella.
    • Verandaha has wooden reliefs showing royal women driving chariots over a demon.
  • Ajanta Caves ( Covered elaborately under Gupta Age )
  • Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, Odisha:
    • They were made under the Kalinga King Kharavela in 1st-2nd century BC near modern-day Bhubaneswar. They were possibly carved out for residence of Jain monks.
    • Udayagiri caves are famous for the Hathigumpha inscription which is carved out in Brahmi script. The inscription starts out with “Jain Namokar Mantra” and highlights various military campaigns undertaken by the King Kharavela.
    • Ranigumpha cave in Udayagiri is double-storied and has some beautiful sculptures.
  1. Stupas:
    Stupas became larger and more decorative in the post- Mauryan period. Stone was increasingly used in place of wood and brick. The Shunga dynasty introduced the idea of torans as beautifully decorated gateways to the stupas. The torans were intricately carved with figures and patterns and were evidence of Hellenistic influence.
    Examples: Bharhut stupa in Madhya Pradesh, the toran at Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh, etc.
  1. Sculptures:
    Three prominent schools of sculpture developed in this period at three different regions of India – centred at Gandhara, Mathura and Amaravati.
  • Gandhara School:
    • The Gandhara School of Art developed in the western frontiers of Punjab, near modern day Peshawar and Afghanistan.
    • The Greek invaders brought with them the traditions of the Greek and Roman sculptors, which influenced the local traditions of the region. Thus, Gandhara School also came to be known as Greco-Indian School of Art
    • The Gandhara School flourished in two stages in the period from 50 B.C. to 500 A.D. While the former school was known for its use of bluish-grey sandstone, the later school used mud and stucco for making the sculptures.
    • The images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas were based on the Greco-Roman pantheon and resembled that of Apollo
  • Mathura School
    • The Mathura School flourished on the banks of the river Yamuna in the period between 1st and 3rd centuries B.C.
    • The sculptures of the Mathura School were influenced by the stories and imageries of all three religions of the time – Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The images were modelled on the earlier Yaksha images found during the Mauryan period
    • The Mathura School showed a striking use of symbolism in the images. The Hindu Gods were represented using their avayudhas. For example, Shiva is shown through linga and mukhalinga. Similarly, the halo around the head of Buddha is larger than in Gandhara School and decorated with geometrical patterns. Buddha is shown to be surrounded by two Bodhisattavas – Padmapani holding a lotus and Vajrapani holding a thunderbolt
  • Amaravati School
    • In the southern parts of India, the Amaravati School developed on the banks of Krishna river, under the patronage of the Satvahana rulers.
    • While the other two schools focused on single images, Amaravati School put more emphasis on the use of dynamic images or narrative art. The sculptures of this school made excessive use of the Tribhanga posture, i.e. the body with three bends.
  • Differences Between Gandhara, Mathura and Amaravati Schools.
  • Greek Art and Roman Art
    • There exists some difference between Greek and Roman styles and Gandhara School integrates both the styles. The idealistic style of Greeks is reflected in the muscular depictions of Gods and other men showing strength and beauty. Lots of Greek mythological figures from the Greek Parthenon have been sculpted using
    • On the other hand, Romans used art for ornamentation and decoration and is realistic in nature as opposed to Greek idealism. The Roman art projects realism and depicts real people and major historical events. The Romans used concrete in their sculptures. They were also famous for their mural paintings.
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