After the decline of the Mauryan Empire in the second century BC, various rulers controlled the regions which were once under the Mauryas, like the Shungas, Kanvas, Kushanas and Guptas in the north and central India; and the Satavahanas, Abhiras, Ikshvakus and Vakatakas in the south and western India. This period also saw the emergence of Brahmanical sects like the Shaivas and the Vaishnavas. This Period saw a very rich developmet inart and architecture This is part of syllabus of Art and culture in UPSC mains GS paper 1.


  • Gandhara School of Arts
  • Mathura School of Art
  • Amrawati School of art


 The Gandhara School of Art or Greco-Indian School of Art (First sculptural representation of Buddha in human form) has its origin in Greco tradition (Greek invaders brought with them the traditions of the Greek and Roman sculptors) which was further merged with the regional or local art of the time. Initial Development: Gandhara school was developed in the western frontiers of Punjab.

Patronage: This school was patronized by both Shaka and Kushan rulers.

Major centers of Gandhara school of art were Jalalabad (Eastern Afghanistan), Hadda (ancient region of Gandhara),Begram (Parwan province of Afghanistan) & Taxila (Pakistan).

Key Features: Buddha was depicted in Gandhara Art, through four types of hand gestures called Mudras:

  • Abahayamudra: Indicates fearlessness
  • Dhyana mudra: Indicates meditative position
  • Dharmachakramudra: Means turning the wheel of law.
  • Bhumisparshamudra: Touching the earth with right hand and calling it to witness truth.


Mudras Related To Buddha of Gandhara School

Vitarka Mudra: It indicates teaching and discussion or intellectual debate.

Vitarka Mudra: Intellectual Argument, Debate, Appeasement: The gesture of discussion and debate indicates communication and an explanation of the Dharma. The tips of the thumb and index finger touch, forming a circle. All other fingers are extended upwards. Sometimes the middle finger and thumb touch, which is gesture of great compassion. If the thumb and ring finger touch, they express the mudra of good fortune. [Source:]Anjali Mudra: Indicates greetings, devotion, and adoration.

Uttarabodhi Mudra: It means supreme enlightenment

This Mudra is known for charging one with energy. It symbolises perfection.

Varada Mudra: It indicates charity, compassion or granting wishes.

Signifies five perfections: Generosity, morality, patience, effort and meditative concentration, through the five extended fingers.

Karana Mudra: It indicates warding off evil.

The energy created by this Mudra helps remove obstacles such as sickness or negative thoughts.

Vajra Mudra: It indicates knowledge.

This mudra signifies the importance of knowledge or supreme wisdom.


  • The Mathura art tradition became so strong that it spread to other parts of northern India.
    • Best example: Stupa sculpture at Sanghol, Punjab.
    • The Buddha images in the Mathura school are modelled on the earlier Yaksha images.
    • Mathura art form also has some images of the Shaiva and Vaishnava faiths but images of the Buddha are numerous.
    • There is less symbolism here as compared to the Gandhara School.
    • The sculptures are generally made of red sandstone.
    • The garments are clearly visible and they usually cover the left shoulder. Multiple folds are shown.
    • The halo around the deity is profusely decorated.
    • In the 2nd century, the images get fleshier and their rotundity increase.
    • In the 3rd century, the fleshiness is reduced. Movement is shown by increasing the distance between the legs and bending of the body. There is more softness in the surface.
    • But in the late 4th century, this trend is reversed and the flesh becomes tightened.
    • In the 5th and 6th centuries, the drapery is integrated into the mass.
  • Sarnath and Kosambi also emerged as important centres of art besides the traditional centre Mathura.
    • The Buddha images in Sarnath have transparent drapery covering both shoulders.
    • The halo around the Buddha is hardly decorated.
  • The sculptures of the Mathura school were influenced by all the three religions Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
  • Initial Development: Developed in and around Mathura.
  • Patronage: This school was patronized by Kushan rulers.
  • Major Centres: Mathura, Sonkh and Kankalitila.

Key Feature: Symbolism in the images was one of the key features of the Mathura school of art like Shiva was represented using linga and mukhalinga, Halo around the head of Buddha was decorated geometrical patterns and Buddha is shown to be surrounded by two Bodhisattavas Padmapani (holding a lotus) and Vajrapani (holding a thunderbolt).


 Unlike Gandhara and Mathura schools which focused on single images, Amaravati school laid more emphasis on the use of dynamic images or narrative art (like jataka tales).

  • Initial Development: Amaravati school was developed on the banks of the Krishna river.
  • Major Centres: Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda.
  • Patronage: This school was patronized by Satvahana rulers.
  • Key Feature: Tribhanga posture, i.e. the body with three bends was used excessively by Amaravati school in its sculptures.


  • Development of Art and Architecture: Mauryas made a remarkable contribution to art and architecture, and introduced stone masonry on a wide scale.
  • Polished Stone Pillar: High technical skill was achieved by Maurya artisans in polishing the stone pillars, which are as shining as the Northern Black Polished Ware.
  • The stone statue of Yakshini in the form of a beautiful woman found in Didarganj (Patna) is noted for its Maurya polish.
  • Pillars and Sculptor Development: Each pillar is made of a single piece of buff-colored sandstone. Only their capitals, which are beautiful pieces of sculpture in the form of lions or bulls, are joined to the pillars on the top.
  • The erection of the polished pillars throughout India shows the spread of the technical knowledge involved in the art of polishing them
  • Cave Architecture: The Maurya artisans also started the practice of carving out caves from rocks for monks to live in. Later, this form of cave architecture spread to western and southern India.
  • Development of Terracotta Art: In the central phase of the Northern Black Polished Ware around 300 BC, the central Gangetic plains became the center of terracotta art. In Maurya rimes, terracottas were produced on a large scale. They generally represented animals (elephants) and women (mother goddesses).

Gupta and Post Gupta Bronze Sculpture

  • Many standing Buddha images with right hand in abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness, the gesture of reassurance and safety) were cast in North India, during the Gupta and Post-Gupta periods (5th, 6th ,7th Century AD).
  • The sanghati (Monastic Robe) is wrapped to cover the shoulders which turns over the right arm, while the other end of the drapery is wrapped over the left arm and the whole figure is treated with refinement; there is a certain delicacy in the treatment of the torso (the head and limbs). In comparison with the Kushana style, the figure appears youthful and proportionate.
  • In the typical bronze from Dhanesar Khera, Uttar Pradesh, (Dhaneswar Khera Buddha image inscription provides an important documentation on the local Gupta dynasty) the folds of the drapery are treated as in the Mathura style, i.e., in a series of dropping down curves.
  • The outstanding example of Sarnath-style bronzes which have foldless drapery is that of the Buddha image at Sultanganj, Bihar, a monumental bronze figure and the typical refined style of these bronzes is the hallmark of the classical quality.

 Vakataka Bronze Sculpture

  • Vakataka bronze images of the Buddha from Phophnar, Maharashtra, show the influence of the Amaravati style of Andhra Pradesh in the third century CE and are contemporary with the Gupta period bronzes simultaneously, there is a significant change in the draping style of the monk s robe.
  • Buddha s right hand in abhaya mudra is free so that the drapery clings to the right side of the body contour and at the level of the ankles of the Buddha figure the drapery makes a conspicuous curvilinear turn, as it is held by the left hand.
  • As the Gupta and Vakataka bronzes were portable and thus monks carried them from place to place to be installed in Buddhist viharas or for the purpose of individual worship and due to portability also the technique of creation of Bronze Sculpture, spread to different parts of India and to Asian countries overseas.
  • The hoard of bronzes discovered in Akota near Vadodara (represent a rare and important set of 68 Jain images) established that bronze casting was practised in Gujarat or western India between the sixth and ninth centuries and two images of Jivantasvami, (representation of Mahavira as a prince), are widely mentioned examples of the early western Indian school of art. A new format was invented in which Tirthankaras are seated on a throne; they can be single or combined in a group of three or in a group of twenty-four Tirthankaras and most of the images represent the Jaina Tirthankaras (teacher) like Mahavira (Twenty-fourth Tirthankara of Jainism), Parshvanath (23rd of 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism) or Adinath (first Tirthankara) etc.
  • Female images were also cast representing yakshinis or Shasanadevis (also known as Ambai, Amba, Kushmandini and Amra Kushmandini i.e. dedicated attendant deity) of some prominent Tirthankaras. Stylistically they were influenced by the features of both the Gupta and the Vakataka period bronzes. Chakreshvari is the Shasanadevi of Adinath and Ambika is of Neminath.
  • The 9th century Kalyanasundara Murti is highly remarkable for the manner in which panigrahana (ceremony of marriage) is represented by two separate statuettes.
  • Shiva with his extended right hand accepts Parvati’s (the bride’s) right hand, who is depicted with a bashful expression and taking a step forward.
  • The union of Shiva and Parvati is very ingeniously represented in the Ardhanarisvra in a single image. Beautiful independent figurines of Parvati have also been modelled, standing in the graceful tribhanga posture.
  • During the 16th century known as the Vijayanagara period in Andhra Pradesh, the sculptors experimented with portrait sculpture in order to preserve knowledge of the royal patrons for prosperity. At Tirupati, the life-size standing portrait statue was cast in bronze, depicting Krishnadevaraya with his two queens, Tirumalamba and Chinnadevi.
  • The sculpture has combined the likeness of the facial features with certain elements of idealization.
  • The idealization is further observed in the manner the physical body is modeled to appear imposing as well as graceful.
  • The standing King and Queens are depicted in a praying posture, that is, both hands in the Namaskara mudra.

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