Read this article to learn about the art and architecture from 3rd Century B.C. to 7th Century A.D.
I. Maurya-Sunga-Kanva Period:
The earliest relics of India in varied fields of art and architecture have been left behind by the chalcolithic civilisation of the Indus Valley.
The relics discovered at Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, and other sites in the Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, and further north and east clearly prove that these belong to the domain of high art with a long period of experience and tradition behind them. These express fully and significantly a highly developed, sophisticated culture-ideology of an urban people.
Like the Indus civilisation itself, the Indus art and architecture had reached the creative climax of a tradition. Although there were evidences of affinities between the Indus Valley art and architecture with those of the contemporary Mediterranean world, yet in their essential qualities and character they were Indian and the Indian art and architecture of the historical period had a link with them.
A long gap intervened between the Indus Valley civilisation and the third century B.C. when we once more come across the vestiges of a flourishing artistic culture. Absence of artistic or architectural relics cannot be taken to mean that the highly developed traditions of the earlier age died out altogether.
The only reasonable explanation is that either these remain undiscovered yet, or they perished because these were made of perishable materials like wood, etc. Though the link between the Sindhu Valley and Maurya art is missing and a complete hiatus separates the two, literary evidence leaves no doubt that the activities of both architects and sculptors continued during the intervening period.
Cities and Architecture:
Buddhist Mahaparinibbanasutta testifies to the existence of cities with large buildings even before the time of Buddha, but practically nothing has survived of these cities. We also learn from the Greek authors that cities on the banks of rivers were made of wood and those on more commanding position, not so much exposed to floods, were built of mud or bricks. Obviously the important nature of the building materials account for the absence of relics of such cities except the boundary wall of Rajagriha constructed of massive blocks of unhewn stones.
Buddhist literature, Kautilya’s Arthasastra, and Milindapanha mentioned cities with, and their municipal organisations. Milindapanha gives the details of layout and plans of cities.
It was from the Maurya period that we have references to cities and visible relics of art and architecture. More or less a clear idea of the architecture of the Maurya period may be had from the description of the Maurya capital city of Pataliputra. Dr. Spooner has unearthed fragments of huge wooden palisade of the city.
The Greek writers describe the grandeur of Chandragupta’s capital city of Pataliputra as one which neither the palaces of Susa nor Ecbatana could vie with. The Chinese traveler Fa-hien visiting Pataliputra several centuries afterwards was struck by its grandeur although it was then in a dilapidated condition.
Excavation at Kumarahar has unearthed the remains of the Maurya palace which give us an impression that the palace was an aggregate of buildings the most noteworthy part of which was the large pillared-hall. Fragments of stone pillars have also been discovered and these, from their very smooth polish raise presumption that Asoka was responsible for the construction of the pillared-hall.
In his description of Chandragupta’s palace the Greek ambassador Megasthenes mentions that the palace had a garden in its front where tamed birds, fish ponds, etc., added to the attraction of the pleasure garden. It may be mentioned here that besides Pataliputra, there were similar other cities which must have been specimens of similar town-planning and architectural skill. These were Kausambi, Ujjaini, Taxila and Pundranagar.
It is often remarked that Indian art is the hand maid of religion, and it is essentially true of Indian architecture and other formative arts. The artistic achievements of the Maurya period may be classified under the heads Stupas, Chaitya-halls, Pillars, Caves, Palaces and Sculpture.
In Mahaparinibbana Sutta Buddha is mentioned to have enjoined Ananda to erect a Stupa over the relics of his body at the crossing of four highways. Jainas also erected Stupas. It may be easily understood that the tradition of erecting Stupa was older than Buddha and Mahavira.
Stupas were solid domes of bricks or stone masonry. Their size and dimensions varied from very small structures, less than a foot and in higher diameter, called votive Stupas to very large ones built by Asoka who is credited with erecting 84,000 Stupas, large and small. The famous Stupa, it may be noted, have underwent additions and alterations in later times.
A Stupa is a plain and simple structure with a hemispherical dome placed on a low circular base with flights of steps, and surrounded by a passage for circumbulation, occasionally fenced by railings as in the caves of the Sanchi Stupa and the Stupa at Bharut.
Another structure that acquired greatest celebrity in Asia was the relic tower or pagoda which the Kushana King Kanishka created in Purushapura, i.e., Peshawar, his capital. It consisted of a basement in five stages (150 feet), a superstructure of carved wood in thirteen stories (400 feet) surmounted by an iron column from thirteen to twenty-five gilt copper umbrellas (88 feet) making a total height of 638 feet. Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien describes it to be of incomparable beauty, and that tradition says that this was the highest tower in Jambudvipa.
In the ancient Gandhara region quite a number of Stupas have been discovered which bear the traditional plan and structure of the Stupas. The Stupas in the post-Christian era in particular, in the Gandhara region were heavily ornamented.
Stupas were also erected in South India, most important of these being in Amaravati, Bhattiprolu, Jaggayyapeta, Ghantasala, Nagarjuni- konda, etc.
Chaitya-Hall and Caves:
The Chaityas are a variant of the Stupas. The Chaitya-hall is a shrine which occupies the altar and serves as a place of congregation. Traces of Chaitya halls have been found at Sanchi, Saranath, Sonari, etc. After Asoka Chaityas were excavated in the body of the rocks. The convenient physical structure of the Indian rocks gave a special encouragement to rock-cut architecture and Chaitya-halls were excavated in the rock-cut caves. The Chaitya-halls in their fully developed form resembled Christian Church. Asoka caused the excavation of Sudama (Nyagrodha) cave for the Ajivikas but it was after his time that rock-cut caves became more common.
The rock-cut caves at Barabar hills, the most important of them being the Lomasa Rishi cave, is, however, supposed to have been of the Maurya period. Asoka’s grandson, Dasaratha, also excavated cave dwellings for the monks. The interiors of the caves, burnished like mirrors are wonderful monuments of patient skill and infinite labour.
Very few specimens of Maurya art during the reign of Asoka have reached us, but of them the most beautiful and characteristic specimens are furnished by his Stone Pillars. About thirty to forty pillars were erected as his command. Monolithic columns, weighing nearly fifty tons prove the extraordinary skill of the engineers and stone-cutters of Asoka’s time.
Sculpture under the Mauryas flourished under the patronage of the Court, especially during the reign of Asoka. The best specimens of sculpture during the period are represented by the majestic animal capitals found near Vaisali, Lauriya, Nandangarh, Rummindei, Saranath, Sanchi, and at other places.
The capital is monolithic and divided into three parts, by an inverted lotus, abacus, and a crowing sculpture in the round. The surface is chiselled and shows that Mauryan workmanship can clearly be traced. The Bhakira pillar is the first specimen with its crude and clumsy workmanship which improved through experience to reach culmination in the artistic effort reached in the Lauriya-Nandangarh column and the wonderful lion-capital of Saranath.
Figure of elephant carved out of rock at Dhauli in Orissa shows much more sense of creative form and is artistically far superior. Carved figures of animals like bull, horse, etc. also show close observation and realistic vision of the workmen of the time.
It is held by some scholars that the Maurya art impetus originally came from outside from Iran and Achaemenid emperors. But one relevant point has to be borne in mind that while the Achaemenid columns were monolithic, the polish, the inverted lotus called the Peraepolis bell, etc., point to Achaemenid and Hellenistic artistic infuence on Maurya art. But whatever might have been the origin of inspiration, the Mauryan column has never been surpassed in later Indian art.
In the post-Maurya period the bas-relief on the railings of Bharut, Bodh Gaya, and Sanchi, as also the friezes of Khandagiri and Udayagiri caves closely follows on the art of the Mauryas. Spiritually and formally the Sunga-Kanva art was opposed to Maurya art and stood for different motive and direction. The bas-reliefs of Bharut, Bodh Gaya, Sanchi, Amaravati, etc., provide an illuminating commentary on the contemporary Indian life and attitude to life. These bas-reliefs were charana-chitras translated into stone.
Although depicting high technical skill, Asokan caves were neither very large nor richly carved. But in the next period the large caves at Bhoja, Kondane, Bedisa, Junnar, Nasik, Ajanta, Ellora in the west and in Udayagiri and Khandagiri in Orissa in the east depict a considerable development in style but also in fine ornamental sculpture which ranks very high in artistic development.
Another noteworthy development of art in this post-Maurya period is to be noticed in the ornamented gateways of the Sanchi Stupa. The sculpture represents the scenes in the life of Gautama Buddha, Sylvan Scenes, groups of ordinary and extraordinary animals, processions, etc. The gateways and railings of the Bharut Stupa, the railings and stupa itself at Amaravati were also decorated with fine sculptures. In variety and in ornamentation the sculptures of this period have not been surpassed by the whole history of art.
The artists of the Sunga-Kanva period seem to have a special knack in depicting figures in all conceivable shapes, positions, and attitudes. If in Bharut the figures show the great efforts of the artists Bodh Gaya distinctly shows the figures as work of better skill, more free and lively. Gaya was a step forward from Bharut.
The ornamental reliefs of the Sanchi gateways are in the continuous line of evolution of Bharut and Bodh Gaya. The ornamental sculptural reliefs of the four gates depict the contemporary Indian life in all its mundane love and delight, pageantry and grandeur, peace and beauty, idyllic romanticism and violent struggle.
The reliefs also depict the episodes of the life of Buddha. The Sanchi artists appear to have been more engrossingly interested in the life in this world and the human figures carved by them are more harmonious, free, happy yet not as sensuous as is Bodh Gaya. An extensive representation of fauna and flora depicted the naturalistic feelings of the Sanchi artists.
In Udayagiri and Khandagiri in Orissa contain numerous sculptured friezes and panels although fall under the art generally called art of Madhyadesa, nevertheless depict a local or provincial style. Manchapuri Cave relief in Udayagiri and Anantagumpha reliefs in Khandagiii are characterised by vigorous movements and robust vitality.
The long friezes of the Ranigumpha and Ganesagumpha which belonged to a date probably not earlier than early second century A.D. are equally provincial in outlook but much more advanced in conception and execution.
In western India Bhoja and Karle rock-cut reliefs were conceived from the roots of aboriginal, almost primeval and executed with great vitality. The Bhaja reliefs were ethnically conditioned yet they are aboriginally Indian.
Karle reliefs, a century later, although touched by the plastic exuberance of Bhaja was vigorously disciplined. The human figures, male and female, were heroic specimens of humanity, strong, self- assured and animated.
Painting and Terracotta:
Brahmanical and Buddhist literature contain numerous references to art of painting. Painting had already acquired a long tradition by the time of the Mauryas. Mahabharata refers to Chitralekha a gifted portrait painter, Vinaya Pitaka mentions Amarapali engaged many painters to paint her walls with figures of kings; traders and merchants seen by them and seeing the portrait of Bimbisara she fell in love with him.
We have references to king Prasenjit’s pleasure hall containing Chitragara, i.e., portrait galleries. Besides portrait and mural paintings, we find mention of lepya-chitra, lekhyd-chitra, and dhidi-chitra. From literary records we come to learn that from very early times paintings, both secular and religious, were considered an important form of artistic expression.
No specimen of ancient painting has reached us. The earliest example of painting that we come across consists of a row of human figures painted in yellow and ochre in the ceiling of the Jogimara cave in the Ramgarh hills in the Surguja State. There is also another band of large aquatic animals makara painted in the same yellow and ochre.
From the remains of the murals show that human figures which are depicted in three-quarter people are lively and rythmical. From the similarity in garments of the human figures depicted in the Jogimara and the early reliefs of Sanchi, it is believed by scholars that the former belonged to the middle of the first century B.C.
After another century and half, the Indian mural paintings on the walls of Ajanta caves represented the next and more developed phase of the Indian painting. The very scanty specimens of the Ajanta phase of paintings that have been preserved show that the work is mature and belongs to contemporary Indian plastic art. In the fullness of composition and aesthetic effects only the Amaravati reliefs can perhaps vie with these paintings.
Terracotta represents the artistic expression of the humbler folk to whom stone was not easily available and more expensive. A large variety of terracotta work has been found at sites like Pataliputra, Buxar, Taxila, Mathura, Vaisali, Ahichchatra, Kausambi, Banaras, Mahasthan, etc. Terracotta made of clay and sand were shaped and modelled by hand or mould. These contained representations for religious purposes, for decoration, seals, children’s toys, amulets, etc. Terracotta art of India although did’ not acquire the dignity of sculpture was an important vehicle of human expression.
A few of the terracotta plaques discovered belonged to the Maurya period. Generally these were baked to various shades, black, grey, ochre or red. In the Sunga-Kanva period majority of the terracotta work consisted of female figures, richly dressed, well-disciplined body, magnificently modelled busts and elaborate hair-dressing.
Terracotta of Saka-Kushana period exhibit a great variety of ethnic types and nomadic factions. Musicians, horsemen, etc., have been represented with a good deal of ethnic touch during this period.
II. Indo-Bactrian-Saka-Pahlava-Kushana Period:
During this period the north-west India became the meeting ground of the East and the West. The effect in art and sculpture was seen in the rise of the Gandhara School of art with Peshwar as its Centre. This region was under the rule of the Greeks for long before the Kushanas held sway over it.
Gandhara art which reached culmination under Kanishka during the second century A.D. covered the regions of Jalalabad, Hadda and Barriyan in Afghanistan, the Swat Valley, and Peshwar. As Dr. Smith points out the Gandhara school of art was based on cosmopolitan art of Asia Minor and Roman Empire.
A large number of Graeco-Roman craftsmen seem to have been employed in the execution of the Gandhara art. According to N. R. Roy the Gandhara art covered the period from first century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. It is difficult to precisely fix the period of the Gandhara art out there is no doubt that it began to flourish long before Kanishka and continued long after him. Much of the best work of this school was executed during the reign of Kanishka and Huvishka.
Dr. Kramirst observes that the Gandhara represented an eastward expansion of Hellenic civilisation mixed with Iranian elements. Sir John Marshall is of the opinion that mix-up of the Iranian and Hellenistic elements took place in Bactria and its neighbouring countries after Alexander the Great had colonised them.
He is also of the opinion that the hybrid art was introduced into India as a result of the friendly intercourse between the Greek world and the Mauryas, or as a result of the subsequent invasions of India by the Bactrian Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, and Kushanas who must have been influenced by the Graeco-Iranian culture.
The Hellenistic influence was, however, more prominent. Buddha was transformed into the likeness of Apollo and Bodhisvatta’s flowing drapery giving a sense of Greek realism. The starving Buddha of Lahore exemplifies the decadent Greek realism. Yet, the Gandhara art though represents, Graeco- Roman-Iranian influences, with a Greek overtone, yet in its content and subject matter it continued to be Indian.
In the first century A.D. we notice a degeneration in the Gandhara art, the figures became shorter, stumpy and treated in a rough manner. This must have been due to the Saka-Kushana influence from Mathura. But there was a distinct revival in the third century onwards, of the artistic excellence that characterised the Gandhara art of the first century A.D. and it was the revived art that was spread to Central Asia and China.
Opinions vary as to the influence of Gandhara art on the Indian Art as a whole. According to Havell the influence of the Hellenic art on Indian art was confined to technical aspects only and was in no way a spiritual or intellectual force. In fact, the spiritual centre of Buddhist in Mahayana form was Magadha, which received Kanishka’s patronage.
Will Durant also of the opinion that Gandhara art had but little influence on the sculpture form of the Indian art. Dr. R. C. Majumdar remarks that the Gandhara art failed to penetrate into the interior of India and had no share in the later development of the Hindu art of Amaravati, Bharut, and Mathura. Outside India, however, the Gandhara School achieved spectacular success and became the parent of the Buddhist art of Chinese, Turkistan, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan.
R.D. Banerjee and Paul Mason-Oursel hold that the Gandhara art had influenced all other schools of Indian art as well as those of Central Asia, China, Korea, Japan, etc.
But as Rene Grousset and others point out that the Gandhara art bears no comparison with the school of Sanchi or with the schools of art under the Guptas and Palhavas in their inspirations, sincerity, emotion, and spontaneity.
It has to be added that both schools of Mathura and Amaravati flourished under the lavish patronage of the Scythian kings. The portrait statue of Kanishka added a novel feature to the sculptural art of this period. During the Kushana period beautiful Stupas were constructed at Amaravati, Jagayyapeta, and Nagarjunikonda. The striking difference between those Stupas and those of the northern India has had to the classification of these Stupas and figures as belonging to a new school called Amaravati School.
Kushana period is, however, not much rich in architecture as in sculpture. Yet the famous tower of Kanishka at Purushapura, i.e., Peshawar, his capital, was one of the wonders of the world of the time. Besides, there were number of beautiful temples and monasteries constructed during this period and a large number of Chaityas was also constructed during this period. A Chaitya was a fine work of art with a Central hall for worship. The Chaita Caves at Nasik, Bhaja, Bedsa, Karle and others have already referred to.
The Gupta Art:
With the Gupta period begins the classical phase of the Indian Art. In one respect, it is an age of culmination and ultimate exhaustion of earlier tendencies and movements in architectural types and forms. In another, it marks the ushering in of a new age, which is particularly connected with the formative age, with immense possibilities for the future, an age associated with the foundation of the typical style of Indian temple architecture.
As a result of the efforts of preceding several centuries, the techniques of sculptural art had reached perfection during this period and definite types were evolved and the ideals of beauty were executed with masterly precision. A highly developed aesthetic sense, an intelligent grasp of the aims and ideals and a masterly execution characterised the sculpture of this Age. The standard reached during this period did not only remain models of Indian art for all time to come, but served as models of sculptures of the Malayan peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Champa, Cambodia, and even Celebes.
The main object of the Gupta sculpture was human figure. Greatest contribution of the Gupta art was the evolution of perfect types of Buddhist and Brahmanical divinities. A large number of the images of Buddha have been unearthed at Sarnath near Benares; one among these has been regarded by common consent, the finest in the whole of India. Stone and bronze images of Siva, Vishnu, and other Brahmanical gods have been discovered at Deogarh and other places.
There were sculpture, human, and animal figures, also in the preceding age at Mathura, Amaravati, and other places. Vegetal patterns were also worked out. But during the Gupta period, a deeper qualitatively meaningful transformation of human figure takes place, and here, too it is the vegetal life that causes this transformation .
As the inner movement of life finds its fullest expression naturally the Gupta artists invariably adopts youth to represent their artistic conception. The largeness of their conception endows the human figure with a mental and physical discipline that discards the earthiness of Mathura and the sensuousness of Vengi and raises it to a rational and spiritual existence.
From the specimens that have reached us of the Gupta period, the artistic conception of the time seems to have its birth at Mathura. The Mathura laboratory used to export its products to Sravasti, Prayag, Sarnath, and presumably to other places as well. The practice continued in the fourth century as well and we find Mathura artists and Mathura inspiration working at Kasia, Bodh Gaya, and also at Sarnath . The process and experience that Mathura and Sarnath went through had influenced the Gupta sculpture.
The art of metal casting reached a wonderful degree of development during this period. The Nalanda copper image of Buddha, bronze image of Buddha found at Sultanganj and the iron pillar at Meherauli in Delhi belong to the Gupta period.
Compared with sculpture, Gupta architecture, to judge by the extant remains, must be regarded as poor. Rock-cut caves which represented an important aspect of the Indian architecture of the earlier period persisted during the Gupta Age. Two conventional types of rock-cut arhcitecture were Chaitya hall, i.e., shrine proper and Vihara, i.e., monastery.
Of the twenty-eight caves at Ajanta five belonged to the pre-Gupta period while twenty-three belonged to the Gupta Age. For the twenty-three only two are Chaitya caves and the rest are all Viharas. Apart from Ajanta, other places where notable groups of caves have been found are Ellora, Aurangabad in the State of Hyderabad and Bagh in Madhya Bharat.
The cave halls which were constructed during this period although not far removed from the earlier prototypes in general plan, there was a great difference in ornamentation. The decorations and motifs belonged to a different school of thought and were far richer than others. Another noteworthy innovation was that figurine sculptures covered every possible space of the interior as well as the outer walls.
The Viharas were constructed in the nature of cells in rows. About twenty Viharas belonged to the period under discussions. The Central halls of the Viharas were supported by pillars. There is at least one example of a two-storied cave at Ajanta. The technique of construction, decorative sculpture, etc., show that Indian architecture attained its perfection in Ajanta.
The Vihara caves at Bagh in Madhya Pradesh are closely related in plan arrangement to those at Ajanta. The Bagh series comprises nine caves excavated by A.D. 600. Highly ornate porch, ornamental feature inside monastic hall, and its extraordinary appearance are not found in any other caves of the time.
The rock-cut caves art of Aurangabad comprises twelve excavations, one of the series is Chaitya cave and the rest are Viharas. The Aurangabad artistry excelled in figurine sculptures and figures of men and women show striking individuality and characterisation.
Ellora excavations cover a mile in a low ridge of hills overlooking a vast plain. These have three series of caves—Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jaina. The most important of the caves are two double-storeyed monasteries, called Don Thai and Tin Thai. Don Thai is a cave for it is in fact a three-storeyed monastery, the bottom floor remaining long hidden under accumulated debris.
Rock-cut Brahmanical shrines were also not rare during this period. The earliest of these being those at Udayagiri. The Udayagiri shrines consist of rock-cut as well as stone-built caves. Two caves at Udayagiri contain inscriptions belonging to the reign of Chandragupta II, dated 401 A.D.
The next phase of rock-cut Brahmanical shrines are to be found at Badami in Bijapur district. These belonged to the early Chalukya Dynasty. Three of the shrines belong to Brahmanical faith, one of them bears inscriptions dated in Saka year 500, that is, A.D. 578 and supplies 4 valuable data for dating the other caves.
The Brahmanical caves at Ellora date from 650 A.D. Sixteen of the caves belong to Brahmanical faith. The most important of these being Dasavatara, Ravan-ka-Khai, Ramesvara, Dhumar Lena, and the famous Kailasha temple. The Elegant cave in the island of Elephanta near Bombay is a Brahmanical cave and similar to the cave of Dhumar Lena but less regular and far smaller.
Besides Buddhist and Brahmanical caves, there were Jaina caves excavated during this period. The number of Jaina caves was comparatively very small. Two Jaina caves of celebrity were one at Badami and another at Aihole. Both appear to date from the middle of the seventh century.
In structural buildings the Gupta Age marked the beginning of a new epoch in the history of architecture. Hitherto before structural buildings were made of impermanent materials like wood, bamboo, etc. and naturally there was limited scope for the application of the principles and plans of architecture in construction of buildings with such materials. But from this period the Indian architects began to built buildings with permanent materials such as dressed stone and bricks and apply their new outlook.
From epigraphic evidence of the period we get a fair idea of the large number of temples erected during this period as also of their beauty and decorations. Hiuen T-Sang who visited shortly after the Gupta period was over bears testimony to the innumerable buildings and temples that had studded the whole country.
Most of the buildings and temples of this period have perished but the few that have survived bear stamp of primitiveness and insufficient techniques. Yet because of their bearing upon the future development of Indian architecture and their initiating a new technique of structural building with permanent materials, their importance cannot be underestimated.
Cave excavations were found to be unsuitable for enshrinement and ritualistic worship of images of gods and goddesses. The new movement was, therefore, concerned with construction of structural temples widely different in details of form and general appearance. A wide variety of forms and types gave the architecture of the period its special importance.
The varieties of the temples of this period fall under several heads, viz., (i) flat-roofed temples with a porch, (ii) flat- roofed square temples with ambulatory passage around, sometimes two-storeyed and with a porch, (iii) Square temple with a Sikhara at the top, (iv) rectangular temples with barrel vaulted roof, (v) circular temples with two roofed projections at four cardinal points.
The fourth and the fifth varieties, that is, rectangular temples with barrel vaulted roofs and circular temples with four projective bear resemblance to former Chaitya halls of the Buddhists and the Stupa designs of Andhra country of second to fourth century A.D.
The Durga temple at Aihole belongs to the sixth century A.D. It is a flat roared temple with Sikhara at the top. The temple known as Maniyar Math—the shrine of Mani Naga at Rajagriha is a peculiar structure made of cylindrical bricks. The temple belongs to the fifth group mentioned above.
There were three other groups of structural temples which may be regarded as the precursors to the medieval Indian architecture. Of these three groups the first is flat-roofed square temples. Temples at Sanchi, Tigawa and Eran are best examples of this group.
The second group is also flat-roofed temples. Its plan is rather novel. It has a sactum in a smaller Square within a large Square which forms the covered gallery for perambulation, i.e., Pradakshina round the inner sactum. The Parvati temple at Nachna Kuthara, Siva temple at Bhumara, Kant Gudi and Meguti temples at Aihole belong to this group.
To near about the same period belong the rathas of Mamallapuram, the seaport city founded by Narasimhavarman Mahamalla, south of Madras. These are free-standing separate Monoliths shaped as rathas. There are eight rathas, the Dharmaraja ratha, Arjuna ratha, Bhim ratha, Ganesa ratha, Nakula ratha, Sahadeva ratha, Draupadi ratha, etc. The connection between Arjuna and Dharmaraja rathas and the storeyed temples of the Gupta period is unmistakable.
The third group is nothing but elaboration of the first group but its importance lies in its innovation of a Sikhara. From epigraphic source we come to know that already in the fifth century A.D. high and lofty towers came into existence. No Sikhara temple can, however, be placed before the sixth century A.D.
The most important and representative is Sikhara temple in the Dasavatara temple at Deogarh in U.P. Another example is the Siva temple at Nachna Kuthara. The brick temple at Bhitargaon and Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya as seen by Hiuen T-Sang are also examples of Sikhara temples. The Durga and Hucchimallagudi temples at Aihole are temples with tower at the top.
The art of painting reached its highest water mark during this period. While the stone sculpture during this age was concerned with religion, painting assumed a secular character. Again sculpture was the work of the professionals only, painting was considered as an essential social and cultural accomplishment not only in the urban areas or among the upper strata of society including princes, nobles of the Court and highborn ladies but also among members of various professional guilds and was practised even by amateurs and ordinary people.
Vatsyana in his Kamasutra mentions painting as one of sixty-four Kalasa, i.e., arts. Yasodhara, a commentator on Vatsyayana, mentions that during this period an increasing number of professionals and amateurs received regular training in the art of painting; these are as Coomaraswamy translated them as distinction of types (rupa-bheda), proportion (Pramana), expression of mood (bhava), charm (labanya vojana), points of view (Sadrisya), and preparation of colours (Varni kabhanga).
A work Vishnu-dharmottaram of the Gupta timedevotes a chapter to the art of painting. This work mentions the technical details of painting such as how to prepare the ground for mural application of colour, adding high lights and also classification of painting as realistic, lyrical, secular, and mixed.
From the literary evidences of the time we can easily understand that the intellectual -ferment of the Gupta culture-period led to serious and detailed thinking about the theory and technique of painting and that it was during this period that the aesthetic canons in respect of the art of painting were formulized. These canons are similar to those of the art of dancing, such as gesture, poses, attitudes, and proportions.
Vishnu-dharmattoram distinguishes different kinds of paintings suitable for palaces, temples, and private houses. The remains of paintings at Ajanta, Bagh, Badami, and Sittannavasal show them to be ecclesiastical in theme and designed to serve religious purposes. But in inner meaning and spirit, and in their general direction and atmosphere nothing could be more secular or even more courtly and sophisticated.
The royal palaces and houses of the rich were elaborately decorated with mural paintings and were furnished with picture galleries. That the Scytho-Kushana monarchs had also their picture galleries is mentioned by Bhasa.
Fresco-painting on the walls and ceilings of the Ajanta caves have forced unstinted admiration of the whole world. But of twenty-nine caves sixteen contained paintings which survived till the end of the nineteenth century and thereafter most of these have been destroyed and others are gradually crumbling to dust.
But whatever remains till today shows an excellent conception executed in brilliant colours with masterly skill. Decorative designs are as graceful as fanciful. These paintings mostly belong to the Gupta Age and depict incidents of the life of Buddha. The paintings captioned, The Dying Princess and The Mother and the Child, the Figures of Monkeys, have won highest admiration.
There are also faint traces of paintings in the Badsa caves supposed to have been painted in the 3rd century A.D. Kanheri and Aurangabad caves belonging to the sixth century A.D. contain faint traces of painting. In the Bagh caves some fresco painting of merits still survive.
The Gupta Age attained an unprecedented height in all the spheres of national life and its cultural achievements gave it a celebrity unsurpassed in subsequent periods of Indian history.
Religious Developments (From 3rd Century A.D. to 6th Century A.D.):
During the whole period of ancient Indian history there was never any hindrance to the freedom of religious speculation. This freedom which led to the rise of philosophical thoughts of the Upanishads also had characterised the subsequent periods and led to the rise of new philosophical tenets and religious sects in the sixth century B.C.
The Vedic religion had by then lost credit and a twofold reaction began, namely, (i) a movement challenging the Vedic gods and the pre-eminence of the Brahmanas in spiritual matters and (ii) a monotheistic movement which accepted devotion (Bhakti) as the only way to please a personal God.
Two of the numerous revolutionary religious movements of the sixth century B.C., namely, Jainism and Buddhism had arisen and struck their roots. Two more religious movements were also to follow. These were Vaishnavism and Saivism. Interestingly enough, Jainism, Buddhism, and Vaishnavism were all founded by the Kshatriyas and their origin was in the eastern and western parts of India which were outside Madhyadesha which was the home of orthodox Vedic religion. Saivism also developed as a sectarian religion in western India.
Jainism and Buddhism had no veneration for Vedic gods or for any god whatsoever. But Vaisnavism and Saivism were two theistic religions which centred round two Vedic deities Vishnu and Siva. Jainism and. Buddhism, however, possess a common background of Aryan culture and inspired by ascetic ideals and philosophy of the Upanishads. Both may be viewed as a revolt against Brahmanical religion and emphasise self-denial, renunciation and ahimsas.
About the life and tenets of Buddha and Mahivira discussion has already been made. Here we shall confine our discussion to the history of the Buddhist and Jama movements as well as of the Brahmanical-cults and sects.
In the history of Buddhism we notice four distinct stages of development which helped the religion to become a powerful factor in the culture not only India but also of a large part of the world.
The first stage of the development of the Buddhism movement is marked by the First Buddhist Council held by King Ajatasatru soon after the death of Buddha.
This council was convened by Mahakassapa, a distinguished disciple of Buddha, in order to put all scattered sayings of the teacher relating to Dhamma and Vinaya. The result was the compilation of the two pit-akas known as Sutta Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka. To what extent Buddhism had developed before the First Council cannot be determined. But the three jewels of Buddhism—Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha remained in the Sangha and were growing and Devadatta’s attempt to create division in the Sangha failed.
Till we reach the time of Asoka, the Nandas Maurya emperors, Chandragupta, and Bindusara were continued to be Brahmanical Hindus, although there is reason to believe that Chandragupta adopted Jainism towards the end of his life. It was Asoka that imperial patronage was fully extended to Buddhism and Buddhism spread not only within India but also beyond India’s borders and became a world religion.
The most important events associated into the Buddhist Church were the two Councils, the second and the third, both held during the reign of Asoka according to some scholars. According to this the Second Council was convened under the auspices of Kalasoka or Kakavarna, son of Sisunaga. According to N. K. Sastri traditions do not agree with this identification and this Kalasoka may have been Asoka Maurya. The Second Council was held at Vaisali.
According to Buddhist traditions there arose difference among the followers of Buddha about the ten rules of discipline which the Buddhist of eastern India followed although the westerners protested against that. The then rules were: storing salt for use, taking food after mid-day, over-eating by taking a second forenoon meal, observance of Upasatha at different places, to take sanction for an action after it has been done, use of precedents for an act, drinking whey after meal, use of a seat without border, drinking of unfermented palm juice, and acceptance of gold and silver.
A sub-committee with four members from the easterners and the westerners each was formed which declared the ten rules as unorthodox. The easterners called Vajiputtakas did not accept the decision and called another Council which they named as Mahasanjiti and accepted the ten rules as valid. According to some later texts the difference between the two groups related not only to the rules of the discipline but also to doctrines.
According to Dipavamsa the seceding monks made certain changes in the texts of the Tripitaka and excluded. Abhidhamma Pitaka from the sayings of Buddha. The easterners came to be known as Mahasanghikas and the westerners as Theravada. The Mahasanghikas were also known as Acharyavada.
This diversion in the Sangha began to grow upto its logical conclusion and Achariyavada was divided into seven sects while the Theravada was divided into eleven sects. But all the eighteen sects were Hinayanists. A few sub-sects of Achariyavada group later introduced a new doctrine called Mahayanism. The deification of Buddha by certain important sects which branched off from Mahasanghikas, i.e., Achariyavada, and introduction of Bodhisattva concept were the precursors of Mahayanism.
The next stage of the development of Buddhism was the rise of a large number of monastic organisations and the history of Buddhist monastic organisation ceased to be one and unified. The important of these different monastic organisation compiled their own set of Pitakas and passed them as the original saying of Buddha.
Despite these differences Buddhist monks belonging to any sect could live in any monastery but gradually dispute arose in regard to Upasatha ceremony. Every fortnight this ceremony used to be held and like the Christian confession, every monk had to declare that he had not committed any breach of any rule of discipline.
But while an Achariyavada (Mahasanghika) would declare him as pure even after taking a meal in the afternoon, Theravad would regard it as impure. Asoka in order to rid the Sangha by dismissing all those were not believers in Theravad soon called a Council under the Chairmanship of Moggaliputta Tissa who refuted the views of the non-Theravadins. His refutations were compiled under the title Kuthavattu which became the fifth book of Abhidhamma Pitaka of the Theravadins.
The holding of this Council (3rd) by Asoka is not considered authentic by many scholars basing their arguments on Sanskrit traditions and the records of the Chinese travelers. It is, however, conceded that Council might have been a sectarian one meant for the Theravadins and Asoka or his ministers had nothing to do with it.
The excess of zeal shown by Asoka for Buddhism led to a reaction and his successors were not favourably disposed towards Buddhism. The reaction against Buddhism reached its climax under Pushyamitra Sunga. But despite this antipathy Buddhism enjoyed great popularity for a time and reached phenomenal development by the beginning of the Christian era.
One of the important factors in the development of Buddhism was the patronage it received from foreign rulers like King Menander. The Milindapanha or the questions of King Milinda answered by Nagasena is an evidence of the interest taken by Minander in Buddhism which he helped in spreading in the hilly regions of Hindukush and Sindhu.
Other Greek kings also followed Menander’s example. The Kushana King Kanishka was a great patron of Buddhism. Although initially disinterested in Buddhism Kanishka later adopted this religion. He was perplexed by the different interpretations of Buddha’s sayings by different teachers.
He, therefore, convened a Council at Kashmir (Jalandhar according to some) in which Vasumitra was elected chairman. The discussions held in the meeting were compiled in a commentary known as Vibhashasastras. This Council was also a sectarian affair and was held by Sarvastivadins as the Third Council was of the Theravadins.
The Fourth Council held during the time of Kanishka marks the great split of the Buddhist Church and its fundamental doctrines. With it emerged Mahayanism as a distinct movement of a large section of Buddhists. The beginning of the movement may be traced to a much earlier period.
Buddhism retained its originality for the first hundred years of its existence but after that a new liberal outlook and inauguration of a new movement in interpreting the doctrines and the rules of discipline in a more pragmatic and liberal way are noticed. Emphasis on monastic life was still there, but a new Bodhisvatta ideal was incorporated in the doctrine. The doctrine of Bodhisvatta implied that any one, be he a recluse or a house holder, was entitled to perform certain meritorious deed (Paramitas) in order that ultimately he might attain Buddhahood.
Paramita means the highest acquisition of a particular virtue. These virtues are: liberality (Dana), righteousness (Sila), forbearance (Kshanti), mental strength (Virya), mental concentration (Dhyana), realisation of truth (Prajna), skilfulness in expedients (Upayakausalya), vow (Pranidhana), attainment of certain power (Bala), and knowledge (Jnana). Gautama and all other Buddhas had to acquire these virtues in several of their existences before attaining Buddhahood.
Mahayana Buddhism at first began with the Mahasanghikas and by the time of Kanishka had become a recognised form of Buddhism. But it led to a formal and clear split in the doctrines and rules of discipline from the time of Kanishka and attained its full glory under the care of Nagarjuna, Aryadaqa, Asanga, and Vasubandhu. The con tendon that Asvaghosa, the contemporary of Kanishka was the earliest exponent of Mahayana philosophy is not acceptable to many of the modern scholars.
Nagarjuna and Asanga’s masterly exposition of Mahayanism made a strong appeal to the intelligentsia, and development of Buddhism as a popular cult all over India and even far beyond its frontiers was due to the growth of Mahayanism. Introduction of theism in Buddhist religion by deification Buddha made Mahayanism more easily understood by common people as well as foreigners. The pristine Buddhism which went by the name Hinayanism was atheism and very much symbolic, therefore difficult of comprehension by common people.
This Mahayanism meant a greater vehicle in the path of religion and Hinayanism a lesser vehicle. Worship of Buddha images gave an opportunity to the masses to satisfy their religious emotions, for they found a visible means for expressing their devotion. They covered India with temples and monasteries filled with images of Buddha in the belief that there would be meritorious deeds both for the donors and the artists.
The rise of Mahayanism effected a significant revolution in Buddhism, both in thought and in practice. It is indeed a great vehicle for its universal sympathy, it invited all to aspire for the highest goal of Buddhahood, its outlook was broad and its aim infinitely great like the infinite sky, its all embracing doctrine of universal emptiness and also of universal compassion, its capacity to accommodate various shades of religious beliefs and popular practices; and its uncompromising intellectualism. All these factors contributed towards its growth and popularity. Mahayanism is also called Bodhisattvayana, the vehicle for future Buddha. The Mahayanists claim superiority over the Hinayanists Vasubandhu regarded Hinayana as milk and Mahayana as the cream of milk.
Mahayanism becomes an infinite inspiration to literary and scholastic activities among the Buddhists. The most famous and important literature of Mahayanism is the Prajna-Paramita literature.
Emergence and development of Mahayanism as a theism and image-worship brought it near to Hinduism. Image-worship and bhakti, i.e., loving devotion became the common features of Mahayanism and Hinduism. The Bodhisattva like Avalokitesvara, and Manjusri and goddesses like Tara and Harti appear to be similar to Siva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Parvati of the Hindu religion. The Gupta period has been regarded as the golden age of -Indian civilisation and it saw all-round progress of Indian Culture including Buddhism. Under the Gupta the Mahayana philosophy reached its climax.
Besides common practice of image worship in Buddhism and Hinduism, the fact of common patronage, those two faiths received at the hands of the Gupta rulers brought Buddhism nearer to Hinduism. About the middle of the sixth century A.D. Buddha seems to have been accorded the status of an avatara, i.e., incarnation of Vishnu in the Puranas.
In Mahayanism Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and goddess Prajna-paramita assumed paramount position. The cult of Amitava Buddha grew during the Gupta period and it seems to have attracted such eminent philosopher as Vasubandhu. Worship of images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas with elaborate rituals had become a universal practice during the period.
The sixth century A.D. reveals two important trends, one was the emergence of the Buddhist version of the science of logic and beginning of intense controversy between the Buddhist and the Brahmanical schools, and the other was the emergence if Vajrayana. In the development of the Buddhist version if the science of logic the works of Nagarjuna, Maitreyanath, Asanga, and Vasubandhu had furnished the background. It was Dinnaga who actually put it on a firm foundation and initiated the scientific study or Pramana, i.e., means of proof and has been regarded as the father of Indian Logic.
Emergence of Vajrayana led to gradual transformation of Buddhism into a new faith and the result was the Tantrika Buddhism with which grew popularity of mantras, dharanis, spells, charms, worship of many male and female deities, cult of Avalokita and Tara and Buddhism made nearest approach to Hinduism and eventually made it easy for the latter to assimilate Buddhism after about two centuries.
We may now turn off discuss at some length the concept of Bodhisattva about which reference has been made above. The term Bodhisattva means one whose essence is knowledge but is used in the technical sense of a being who is in the process of obtaining but has not yet obtained Buddhahood.
The concept of Bodhisattva emerged out of the idea that a Buddha being so superior to ordinary humans should be born suddenly. He was not an incarnation in the strictest sense. It was, therefore, thought logical to suppose that Buddha was the product of a long evolution of virtue, of good deeds and noble resolutions extending -countless ages, culminating in Buddhahood—a being superior to the Devas, i.e., gods. The Pali canon although recognizes the Bodhisattva as a type, if rare, yet makes its appearance at intervals, and does not suggest that one should try to become Bodhisattva in order to attain Buddhahood.
The concept of Bodhisattva is characteristic of the Mahayanism and its doctrine, is that man can try and should try to become Bodhisatta with the ultimate object of attaining Buddhahood.
In the Pali canon we come across Arhats, Pacceka, Buddhas, and perfect Buddhas. The ultimate goal of the three being Nirvana. A Pacceka Buddha is superior to a Arhat and a perfect Buddha is superior to a Pacceka Buddha from the points of view of intellectual power and omniscience. The virtues of a Bodhisattva were similar to those of Arhat. A Bodhisattva must be strenuous and concentrated; he must cultivate strict morality, patience, energy, meditation, and knowledge.
He should also be a bhakta—a devotee, adoring all past, present, and future Buddhas. Asanga, however, gives a more technical and scholastic description of the stages that mark the Bodhisattava’s progress towards complete enlightenment, that is complete Buddhahood. These stages are: joyful, immaculate, light-giving, radiant, hard to gain, facing transmigration and Nirvana, immovable and good- minded.
The Mahayana texts give the minutest details about the duties of a Bodhisattva for completing each of the different virtues called Paramita in the process of progress to Buddhahood. Thus virtues are Dana-paramita, Sila-paramita, Kshanti-paramita, Virya-paramita, Dliyana-paramita, Prajna-paramita. The virtues have differently mentioned as five, seven, and ten. The Mahayana texts refer to the above six. Stress was also laid on two other virtues: Karuna, that is, compassion and Maitri, that is, love.
The Jainas had twenty- four Tirthankaras or ford-makers of whom Parsva was the twenty-third and the twenty-fourth and the last was Mahavira. All Tirthankaras before Parsva were mythical and Parsva was the first historical person. The historiocity of Parsva has been confirmed by the Jaina canons and Jacobi has adduced strong arguments to prove Parsva’s historical existence.
The origin of the religion which came to be known as Jainism existed even before Mahavira. The founder of this religion was- Parsva but the Jaina traditions preserved only the points where Parsva’s religion differed from the religion of Mahavira. The few differences that are known make Mahavira definitely a reformer of an existing faith, and addition of a vow, the importance of nudity and a more systematic arrangement of its philosophical tenets may be credited to his (Mahavira’s) reforming zeal.
Mahavira must, therefore, be regarded as a reformer of an existing religion rather than the founder of a new religion. Even Jaina tradition does not make any such claim for Mahavira. The Pali canon also shows that it regarded Mahavira merely as a leader of a religious sect already in existence but not a founder of a new sect.
From the Jaina Bhagavati Sutta we come to know that Gosala Manukhaliputta became a pupil of Mahavira in the second year of his monkhood and stayed with him for six years, and then there came a breach between the two. Soon after he proclaimed himself a Una and began to live at Sravasti.
From the Buddhist source some information may be had of the doctrines of Gosala who became the head of the Ajivika sect and a parallelism between Gosala’s doctrines and those of the Jainas is noticed. It is probable that the rules about the diets of the Jaina monks have been taken from those of the Ajivikas.
Mahavira wandered eight months in a year, resting during the rainy season, preaching his doctrines to all kinds of men. From the Jaina tradition we know that he stayed and preached in places like Champa, Vaisali, Rajagriha, Mithila, and Sravasti. But the list is not exhaustive. During forty-two years of his wanderings he must have covered many more places.
Gosala’s Ajivika doctrines had very close ties with Jainism and it became the effort of the Jaina canon to refute the Ajivika doctrines. But the Ajivikas as a sect continued to exist.
Jainism also received royal patronage and Srenika king of Magadha became devoted to Mahavira. Later Jaina tradition, unconfirmed by any other source, mentions that all kings of north India in those days related to Mahavira through their marriage with the daughters of Chetaka, maternal uncle of Mahavira. This assured the royal patronage to Mahavira’s religion.
From the very start there were signs of dissension in the Jaina religion, Gosala differed from Jainism. His doctrine of fatalism was not acceptable to Mahavira. After Mahavira Jamali struck a note of dissension. There were seven schisms in Jainism but most of these could not leave any permanent mark. But the last schism split the Jaina community into Digambara and Svetamvara sects, each claiming greater authenticity.
The spread of Jainism was effected more by the process of migration than by any continuous expansion. The migration took place due to famine of twelve years’ duration which caused the spread of this religion. Wanderings of Mahavira included, besides the places mentioned in the Jaina tradition, kingdoms like Kosala, Videha, Magadha, and Anga.
According to Kappasutta the Jaina monks wandered as far as Anga-Magadha to the east, Kausambi to the south, Sthuna to the west, and Kunala to the north. From the inscription of Kharvela King of Kalinga showed a decided inclination towards Jainism. The numerous Jaina caves in the Udayagiri and Khandagiri in Orissa show that Jainism continued to exist in this part of the country.
Another migration brought Jainism to Mathura. There is a large number of votive tablets, dedicatory inscriptions, arches belonging to first and the second century A.D. which suggest flourishing condition of Jainism in this region. The region round Ujjaini was also a stronghold of Jainism. The story of Asoka’s son King Samprati’s conversion to Jainism, and the story of Kalacharya of Malwa show that Jainism had spread to the Malwa region.
Junagarh inscriptions of Jayadamana testify to the spread of Jainism in that area.
Extension of Jainism to South India is associated with the migration of Digambaras when there was a great famine in Magadha. According to Digambara tradition Bhadrabahu along with his royal disciple Chandragupta and a large group of followers took shelter in, the South. This was how the Digambar Jainism spread into the South with Sravana Belgola in Mysore State as its centre.
Svetambara Jaina tradition ascribes the spread of Jainism to the South through a migration from Ujjaini in Malwa. Dr. Ghartage points out that a close scrutiny will show that neither Bhadrabahu nor Chandragupta Maurya had anything to do with the migration to the South. He is of opinion that the first migration was of the sect known as Senayana from Gujarat through Maharastra to Karnataka and thence to the countries to the extreme South, and this is quite probable.
During the six centuries from 300 years B.C to 300 years A.D. Jainism had taken its roots practically all over India. Starting from its original home in Magadha, it had slowly spread to different countries like Kalinga to the South-east, Mathura and Malwa to the west, and Deccan and Tamil lands to the South. At the same time it appears to have lost its hold over Magadha, the land of its origin.
Initially Jainism received royal patronage in the North but the patronage was enjoyed only for a short time, although merchants, bankers in the North continued to extend Jainism their support. But if it had lost royal support in the North it more than compensated the loss by winning support of many ruling houses of the South and during the third to sixth centuries the countries to the South of the Vindhyas became the stronghold of the Jaina religion.
The Gupta imperial age marked a revival of Hinduism and of classical literature. It was an age of decline for both Jainism and Buddhism. The decline was primarily to the loss of royal patronage and it is found that Jainism still continued to be popular among the middle classes. During the reign of Kumaragupta a Mathura inscription mentions dedication of a Jaina image by a lady and another inscription at Udayagiri at Malwa mentions erection of a Statue of Parsva by a private individual.
The Kahaum inscription of the time of Skandagupta refers to the setting up of five images of Jaina prophets in the village Kahaum. These records definitely prove that Jainism was practised in such distant places as Mathura, Udayagiri, and Kakubha. But in Bihar and Bengal Jainism had, however, lost much of its influence. In Paharpur copper plate of 478 A.D.
There is record of the donation of some land by a private individual and his wife for the maintenance and worship in a Jaina Viliara at Vata Gohali which was presided over by nirgrantha Guhanandin of Banares. This vihara was unearthed at Paharpur in the Rajshahi district of Bengal now in Bangladesha.
In the post-Gupta Age there is the testimony of Hiuen T-Sang about the existence of Jainism of both the Svetambara and Digambara sects near Taxila to the west and Vipula to the east, and the Digambaras were very numerous in Pundravardhana and Samatata in the east The Brahmin writers had a very low estimate of the Jainas.
This is proved by the reference to the naked Kshapanaka by Bana in his Harsha-charita and the fun that Dandin made of the conversion of the poor wretch to Jainism. Two Gurjara Kings Jayabhatta I and Dadda II of the seventh century A.D. were given the epithet of Vitaraga and Prasantaraga in their grants which show that they patronised Jainism. In the early medieval period as well, the presence of the Jainas in Kathiawar and Gujarat is proved by epigraphic and archaeological evidence.
In the Deccan Jainism obtained royal patronage. Many rulers, their ministers, and chieftains showed definite inclination to Jainism. The Ganga Kings of Mysore were associated with Jainism. Likewise the Kadamba rulers of Vaijayanti are often regarded as of Jaina persuasion.
About the Chalukyas of Badami there is no definite evidence of their Jaina and Kirtivarman mentions a few Jaina teachers. Although it is difficult to know precisely the position of Jainism in South India during the early centuries of-the Christian era, yet from the Jaina tradition as well as literary works it shows that Jainism was in a prosperous state in South India during the Gupta and the post-Gupta periods.
The growth of Jaina doctrines is neither easy to trace nor was it very rapid. We do not know what exactly the preaching of Mahavira was and what additions were actually made. As Brahmanical philosophy, Jaina thought, has remained very much conservative. Jacobi has demonstrated how the original Jaina philosophical tenets have not changed in the course of centuries.
Mahavira was no founder of a new religion but in reality he was a reformer of an existing religion. While Parsvanath taught only four vows, Mahavira taught five. Confession of sin was his own innovation. Apart from these reforms in ethical teaching, it is difficult to ascertain what additions Mahavira made to the ontological and psychological system of his predecessor. It is likely that Mahavira was responsible for the codification of the unsystematic mass of beliefs into a set of rigid rules of conduct of monks and laymen.
As a result of different schism only minor changes were effected in superficial details. The schism which led to division of community into Svetambara and Digambara sects also did not mean much important dogmatic change. Jaina system did not undergo any fundamental change in later days.
But the Jaina sacred literature called Agama underwent several alterations. Such has been the nature of alteration in the Jaina canon that the original version when the Jaina community was not split into Svetambaras and Digambaras is not available. The one version claimed by the Svetambaras as original took its present form after about a thousand years of the death of Mahavira and in all probability not the original Jaina canon.
Both the Svetambara and the Digambara Jainas postulate the original Jaina canon to consist of twelve Angas and that the last Anga includes fourteen Purvas. Apart from Acharanga and Sutrakritanga, it is difficult to say the extent to which the other Angas contain the original form. Bhagavata Sutta, however, contains to some extent the original contents.
According to Jaina Philosophy the world consists of two eternal, uncreated, co-existing yet independent categories, the Jiva, i.e., conscious and Ajiva, the unconscious.
In Jainism Jiva means life which could inhabit in a plant, an animal or a human body. It is born and reborn, it knows and feels. Its highest endeavour is to free itself from bondage.
The A jiva or the unconscious is, according to Jainism, the entire world minus the Jivas. It includes not only matter but also time, space, virtue and vice, etc.
The Jainas do not recognize God or Creator and man’s emancipation from sufferings does not depend on the mercy of God. Man is the architect of his own destiny and by living an austere life of purity and virtue he can escape the evils of life. The best life was the life of renunciation. It was thus the shortest way to salvation. Jainism is thus a moral code than a religion in the modern sense.
Vaishnavism is a theistic religion of which Vishnu is worshipped as the supreme God. Origin of Vaishnavism may be traced to Rig-Veda. In Rig-Veda, however, Vishnu is associated with Sun, but it is difficult to say if Vaishnavism had developed into a theistic sectarian religion in the Vedic times. It was in the fifth century B.G that Vaishnavism, that Panini in his Ashtadhyayi Vasudeva, is mentioned as an object of Bhakti, i.e., devotion.
In the fourth century B.C. Megasthenes mentions that the people of Mathura region held Heracles in special honour. Heracles was the Greek name for Vasudeva-Krishna. Vasudeva-Krishna, the hero of the Jadava clan, was deified and- was styled Bhagavat. In the second century B.C. we find the deification of Vasudeva complete and the Greek ambassador Heleodorus created a pillar at Besnagar in the honour of Vishnu, the God of Gods.
Vasudeva, i.e., Vishnu is identified with Rama as well as Krishna. In north India he is adorned more under the name, Krishna, but in the South a number of great temples has been, dedicated to him. In Travancore, however, he is worshipped under the name, Padmanabha.
In the Bhagavata Purana there is mention of 22 incarnations of Vishnu. Bhaktamala gives the number as 29 and Panchatantra gives 39. But most commonly ten incarnations are mentioned, the first five being mina (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Nri-Singha (Man- Lion), and Bamana (dwarf). The sixth incarnation is Parasurama. The seventh incarnation of Vishnu is Ramachandra. Krishna is also regarded as an incarnation of Vishnu and in fact was completely identified with. Buddha is also accepted as an incarnation of Vishnu. The last incarnation is Kalki.
In the Chhandogya Upanishad there is a reference to Krishna, son of Devaki and disciple of sage Ghora, and the religion associated with Ghora and Krishna is supposed to have been based on Bhakti. Chhandogya Upanishad mentions virtues like asceticism (tapas), charity (dana), simplicity (arjava), non-injury (non-violence) and truthfulness (Satyavachana) to be inculcated in this religion. Interestingly, the same virtues have been extolled by Krishna in the Gita.
The first step in the evolution of Vaishnavism was the identification of Vasudeva-Krishna with God Vishnu of the Veda. This identification was complete by the time Bhagavat Gita was composed and from that time Vasudeva cult or Bhagavata religion came to be known as Vaishnava religion.
The next step in the evolution was the identification of Vasudeva, Krishna and Vishnu with a deified sage named Narayana. In Taittiriya Aranyaka Narayana, Vasudeva, and Vishnu have been regarded as the one and the same. Here Narayana is also identified with Hari.
Panini, Megasthenes referred to the worship of Vasudeva, but lack of reference to the worship of Vasudeva in the Buddhist texts or in Asokan inscriptions, raises the presumption that Vasudeva worship had not become very prominent by that time and perhaps remained confined to Mathura region and neighbouring areas.
In the second century B.C. we have the information from a Besnagar inscriptions of the erection of Guruda dhvaja at Besnagar in the honour of Vishnu. Another Besnagar inscription of the first century B.C refers to the erection of Garuda column of an excellent temple of Bhagavat, i.e., Vasudeva. Garuda is the Vahana, i.e., the vehicle of Vishnu.
From both epigraphic and literary evidences we come to know of the spread of Vaishnavism outside Mathura to western India and northern Deccan. a Satavahana inscription at Nanaghat shows than some people in the first century B.C. regarded Vasudeva as an equal to Indra and other gods.
But another Satavahana inscription of the second century A.D. shows that the Satavahana claimed himself to be equal of Rama and Kesava that is Vasudeva-Krishna. In the same century an inscription at Krishna district begins with an adoration to Vasudeva. All this shows the growing importance of the worship of Bhagavat Narayana in South India.
Representation of Vishnu by image cannot be traced before the beginning of the Christian era. A deity with four arms and holding a Chakra in one is found inscribed on the coin of a Panchala King named Vishnumitra. In a seal, identified by Cunningham as that of the Kushana King Huvishka, represents Vishnu with Sankha, Chakra, Gada, and a ring like object instead of Padma.
Some coins of Huviska bear the figure of a four-armed God name Ooshna, obviously Vishnu. The adoption of the name Vasudeva by Huvishka’s successor who had one of his important centres at Mathura, the original centre of Vasudeva cult, is an added proof of the Bhagavata learning’s of the Kushanas.
The best exposition of the Bharata doctrine is to be found on Bhagavadgita, also called simply the Gita. The Bhagavadgita holds a unique position in the Indian religion and literature. It imparts lesson in philosophy, religion, ethics, etc. At a moment of psychological crisis Arjuna became pessimistic and was almost reluctant to tight with his own Kinsmen; and he was about to withdraw from the sinful fratricidal battle.
Krishna who served as Arjuna’s charioteer dissuaded him from the cowardly course of withdrawing from the battle field and his advice and teaching to Arjuna in this connection formed the subject-matter of Bhagavadgita. It is this specific situation involving a moral dilemma which gives a perennial charm and universal appeal to the poem. The Gita also teaches the doctrine of rebirth.
The theory of Avatarvad, i.e., incarnation is also mentioned in the Gita and Krishna is regarded as Purushottama or Perfect Man. When piety, i.e., dharma diminishes and impiety, i.e., adharma raises its ugly head, says Krishna in the Gita, He is born and protects the righteous and punishes the sinful. The most reassuring spirit expressed in the Gita is the rise of an Avatara when the world is faced with a moral crisis is the message of the Gita.
The spirit of toleration is another very heartening message of the Gita where it states that all roads to salvation lead but to Lord Krishna, i.e., God. The roads of salvation mentioned therein are through Jnana, i.e., knowledge, Karma, i.e., action, and Bhakti, i.e., devotion.
Jnana or knowledge is incomparable in its purifying power and removes the intellectual fog, trains the mind, and cleanses the soul for attainment of final emancipation.
Karma-Yoga in the Gita means sacrifice of sense pleasures. This sacrifice is nothing but self-restraint and self-surrender. A Karma-Yogin surrenders to God whatever work he does, and does not think of the result. It is a complete surrender.
The Bhakti-Yoga is the way of love and worship or an emotional attachment to God as distinguished from knowledge or action. Bhakti is according to the Gita the royal road to moksha (salvation). A true Bhakta may be a Karma-Yogin, but in the midst of his activities if he keeps his mind steadfastly on God.
During the Gupta period we find Vaishnavism receiving royal patronage under Chandragupta II who was a devout follower of Vaishnavism. He assumed the title Parama-Bhagavata, a title which his successors also followed to assume. Samudragupta did not, however, assume the Vaishnava title of Parama-Bhagavata, but from his claim to be have been an incarnation of the Inscrutable Being and his adoption of the emblem of Garuda-dhvaja prove beyond doubt that he was also a Vaishnava.
The patronage of Vaishnavism by the imperial Guptas was the cause of the growing importance of the new religious creed during the Gupta Age. From the end of the fourth century A.D. this religion gradually grew in popularity all over India and many royal families in different parts of India assumed the title of Parama-Bhagavata or Parama-Vaishnava.
During the Gupta Age avatara worship became popular. This is testified by the epigraphic records of the period from the 4th to the 8th century A.D. Kalidasa (c. 400 A.D.) in his Raghuvamsa gives the description of Vishnu on the coil of the Great Serpent (Anantanaga) in the ocean of milk with Lakshmi massaging his feet, as is mentioned as have been born as Rama, Dasaratha’s son, for the destruction of sinful Ravana.
In his Meghaduta, Kalidasa refers to the foot-prints of Raghupati, i.e., Rama on the Ramagiri. This incarnation of Vishnu, that is, Rama is worshipped even today along with Sita and Lakshmana in the temple at Ramtek. Worships of Rama in the sixth century A.D. is borne out by Varahamihira who formulated the rules for making Rama’s image. In the Junagarh inscription of Skandagupta worship of the Bamana avatar, i.e., Dwarf is referred to Likewise Varaha, Nri-Sinha avatars were also worshipped.
There are evidences of the existence of differences among the Vaishnavas during the Gupta period. It is illustrated in Harshacharita, not long after the Gupta period by mentioning two types of Vaishnaviies, namely, the Vishnu-Bhaktas, i.e., devotees of Vishnu and Vishnu-bheda, i.e., a sect of the Vishnu worshippers.
One important feature of Vaishnavism during the Gupta period is the concept of Sri or Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu. A second wife of Vishnu was supposed to be the Earth called Vashnavi. It is supposed that the Sankhya doctrine of Purusha and Prakriti influenced the concept of Lakshmi and Vishnu, as also that of the Devi and the Siva.
The cult of Siva goes back to the Pre-Aryan period of Indian history. From the evidence so far available the earliest form of Siva was the Pasupati of the Indus civilisation as also stones discovered there of the shape of Siva-ling or the phallus. In the Rig Veda Siva is represented as Rudra, the god of Natural violence and destruction. In the Yajurveda the Rudra is given a long string of epithets and is given the name Sankara and is begged to be propitious.
He is described as patron of the violent and the unruly, his haunts being mountains, deserts, and uncanny places, but he is also described as the patron of craftsmen, huntsmen, and the lord of hosts of spirits. He is also regarded as a great cosmic force who dwells in the flowing streams, in billows and tranquil water. He becomes in a sense a representative of all forces, good and evil, and is on the way to become an All-God.
In the Atharva-Veda he is conceived as a lord of spirits and animals. He is described as the lord of beasts and birds, natural elements, in fact, of everything animate and inanimate. It was out of the concept of all pervasiveness that the character of Siva grew.
In the Mahabharata reference is found of Pasupata along with the systems of Sankhya, Yoga, Pancharatna, and the Veda and it is stated that consort of Uma, namely, Pasupati, i.e., Siva, son of Brahma revealed Jnana called Pasupata.
The Saivas believe that Siva was the first preceptor of their doctrine. According to Vayu Purana Mahesvara is said to have mentioned to Brahma that he would incarnate himself as a brahmachari named Nakulin when Vishnu would be born as Vasudeva. He is also mentioned to have said that he would make Kushika, Gargya, Mitruka, and Rushta as his disciples.
The Linga Purana gives the same legend but calls Nakulin as Lakulin and among the disciples Kaurushy in place of Rushta. From epigraphic source as well we find mention of a teacher of Saivism named Lakulin or Nakulin who was regarded by his followers as an incarnation of Siva. Likewise in inscription dated 971 in the Natha temple near that of Ekalinga near Udaipur it is mentioned that Siva was born in Bhrigukachha (Broach) as a man bearing a lakula, i.e., club in his- hand.
Thus from various sources we find Lakulin to be the person who taught Saivism. According to Bhandarkar he flourished in the second century B.C. but the Mathura inscription of Chandragupta II places him in the second century A.D.
Nakula’s four disciples were the founders of four different schgols of Pasupata, i.e., Saivism. According to the Pasupatas Mahesvara, i.e., Siva taught five methods for the release of the Jiva, i.e., life from bondage. There are Karya, Karana, Yoga, Vidhi, and Duhkhanta, i.e., effect, cause, path, rule, and end of misery. The acquisition of these fivefold knowledge is regarded as essential for release from the bond of life.
Karya-Karana, i.e., relation of cause and effect is a highly abs- truce philosophical concept. Yoga is the path to connect the individual soul with God. Vidhi, i.e., the rule which takes the aspirant to the proximity of Dharma, i.e., the Lord. Duhkhanta, that is, the final deliverance from sorrow.
Megasthenes’ account is the earliest historical record of Siva worship. He mentions two Indian deities worshipped by the Indian as Dionisus and Heracles who are identified with Siva and Krishna respectively. PatanjaK in his Mahabhashya in the second century, B.C. refers to Siva-Bhagavatas as also two images of Siva and Skanda which were sold by the Mauryas for raising money. The Maurya King Jalauka, successor of Asoka, was also a Saiva. In the early Christian era some of the Kushana rulersalso adopted Saivism.
The epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as also the Puranas refer to the family of Siva, his consort Uma, daughter of Himaval. All this shows the growing popularity of Saiva cult.
That the supremacy of Siva was not recognised by the worshippers of other gods is evident from the story of Daksha who refused to recognise Rudra, that is, Siva as a god worthy of propitiation and did not invite him in the sacrifice performed by him. This legend at least testifies to the growing popularity of Saiva cult and the opposition is created in the non-Saiva religionists.
From the earliest times Saivism was gaining in popularity in South India and in the literature of the Sangama period refers to Siva as the greatest God. Writer, Nakkiran, compares the Pandya King of his time to Siva who is described as having long braid of matted hair, having a bull as his ensign and mentioned as the God of creation, of death, and destruction.
Siva has been worshipped from the earliest times as Pasupati, with an image in human form as also in phallic, i.e., linga form. In the Mahabharata we find references to the orthodox Brahmins rather unwilling to worship Siva in the linga form. It may be noted that while the emblem of Siva—the linga—was realistic in appearance in early times it gradually underwent a modification due probably to the aversion of a section of the people to such realism. In the medieval times the linga moved away from its original realistic forth and Ha veil Ven goes to the extent of suggesting that the linga was modelled on votive Stupas of the Buddhists.
In the Gupta Age when there was a Hindu revival, although most of the Gupta rulers became Vishnu-worshippers, Saivism also flourished along with other forms of Hinduism. This was possible due to the non-sectarian and tolerant attitude of the Gupta rulers. Kumargupta who was a follower of Vaishnavism also favoured Saivism for he worshipped Skanda (Siva) as well.
The Vayu Purana and Matsya Purana which are devoted to Siva are assigned to the Gupta period. Patronage of the rulers is an index of popularity of a religion. In this context like the early Kushana kings, Saivism as a religious cult not only received patronage from some of the Gupta rulers but even Huna King Mihirakula became a patron of Saivism and was a devout Saiva. King Sasanka of Bengal, some kings of the Pushyabhuti family of Kanauj, the Maitraka rulers of Valabhi were devout Saivas. King Harsha also in his eclecticism honoured Siva.
In South India the great rival of Saivism at this period was Jainism. The Pallava King Mahendra I (600-630 A.D.) was originally a Jaina and followed a policy of persecution of the Saivas and other non-Jaina religionists. But later he came under the influence of Saint Appar and was converted into Saivism. It was due to the devotional poetry that the leading Saints of the Saiva cult of this period flowed led to a great upsurge of Saivism in the South.
There were as many as sixty-three canonical saints of Saivism and many of these saints called nayanars or adiyars flourished during this period. A body of Saiva literature that grew up during this period testifies to the growth of Saivism, the most noteworthy of the works being Tirumular’s Tirumandiram which is a highly abstruse work on Siva doctrine full of mysticism.
The image of Siva was being worshipped besides anthropomorphic form by Siva’s emblem Linga from a long time past. During the Gupta Age the same spirit which was already there of subduing the realism in the form of the linga continued. Yet it may be noted that, in some seals of the Gupta period found at Bhita the Siva linga is depicted in its older aspects.
Images of Siva in human form during the Gupta Age show a bewildering multiplicity. One specimen preserved in Calcutta Museum, found at Kosam, bearing the inscription of Skandagupta represents Siva and Uma in standing posture. Likewise rock-cut shrines at Ellora (8th century A.D.) have a variety of images of Siva in human form. Similarly besides the lingas, there is a great variety of Siva images in human form in the South India as well as in other parts of the country.
Other Religious Sects:
During the Vedic Brahmana period Prajapati was regarded as the creator of gods, men, and demons. Later he was identified with Brahma the infinite and impersonal, Absolute of the Upanishads and the Vedanta. But gradually worship of Prajapati fell into disuse and a new name in place of Prajapati was adopted, it was Brahma and gave him the first place in the Hindu Trinity, namely Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesvara.
From the Vedic times worship of Surya, i.e., the Sun can be traced. It came down through ages with slight modifications and in the 3rd century B.C. Sun worship became very popular. The Greek writers refer to Sun god and the Kushana rulers issued coins with the name and image of the Sun. The infiltration of the Persian Sun worship into India and Multan is supposed to have been the original Seat of Sun temple although the fact is not incontrovertible.
The Puranas narrate the introduction of the solar cult into India from Sakadvipa, i.e., Eastern Iran. The Brihat-Samhita also refers to the foreign features of Sun God which are to be noticed in North Indian specimen of god. Sun worship did not penetrate Southern India and in later times when it spread in a limited way into the South it was uninfluenced by the Persian innovation and imitated also in certain areas of norhern India.
Uma or Durga:
Saivism did not develop an elaborate avatarvad, i.e., incarnation theory as did Vaishnavism. Siva was regarded as the head of a family each member of which is even today a cult object. A Saivite owes religious allegiance to one or other of the members of Siva’s family. In one of the Samhitas Ambika was described as the sister of Rudra, later came to be regarded as his wife and was given the title Great Mother. The Great Mother became great object of veneration in the Sakta cult and she was called by various names such as Uma, Parvati, Haimavati, etc.
These names are also to be found in Taittiriya Aranyaka and Kena Upanishad. During the Kushana period, the figure of Uma is represented in the coins of Huvishka either with her consort Siva or alone. The popular belief was, and even today, is that Siva and Uma are bound by marital relations. In Bhismaparva and Virataparva hymns the new name of Uma was coined and she is called Durga.
Durga gives victory and is also Mahisasuramardini, i.e., one who killed the demon who took the form of a buffalo. Later she has been given various epithet such as Chandi, Kali, Kapali, Kumari, Mahakali, Karali, Katyayani, Vijaya, etc. In the Durga Saptasati and Markandeya Purana, She is extolled for saving gods from the Mahisasura demon.
Her name is also glorified in other Puranas as well. The family of Siva and Uma comprising Ganesa, Kartikeya, Lakshmi, and Saraswati are also worshipped with varied importance in different parts of the country. Each of these members was the object of an independent cult. This is proved by the literary as well as numismatic data.
Karttikeya was worshipped for vigour, Ganesa for bounty. The latter is still counted as one of the major gods. He is giver of success (Siddhi).
In early-coins, sculptures and carvings of Sri or Lakshmi has been represented as either standing or sitting cross-legged on a lotus and two elephants bathing her by water poured from jars held by them from two sides. At Bharut four representations are seated and the rest standing have been found. Goddess Lakshmi is regarded as beauty, i.e., Sri, and is the goddess of hope, faith, modesty and fortune. She is also represented as seated or standing on lotus with a lotus in hand.
The Worship of Lakshmi became widespread from the third century B.C. to first century A.D. Lakshmi representing plenty is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata and the tradition of her being the goddess of fortune and this tradition has travelled down the ages.
Lakshmi had come to be regarded as Rajalakshmi, the Fortune- giver of the king and would stay with her bounty for the king so long as the king practised virtues and protected his subjects. Lakshmi is also referred to in literature and coins as city goddess as in the case of Rajagriha, Kapisa, Ujjaini, etc. The Gupta Kings also represented Lakshmi in the coins as goddess of fortune.
There were numerous other cults and objects of worship from the earliest times and it is difficult make out their different methods of worship.
From the Vedic times, serpent as cult-object has penetrated into all major Indian sects. All through the centuries down to the present times Snake worship has persisted. Even at the Indus Valley during Mohenjo-daro period Snake has been associated with a figure in Yogic posture which anticipated serpent’s association with the Saiva cult In Panchala Adi Naga was the presiding deity.
The coins of Agnimitra and Bhanumitra snake has been represented on the reverse. In later Samhitas and Sutras the Nagas, i.e., Serpents are supposed to be of semi-divine origin and fit to receive adoration and worship. In the Kushana period veneration to serpents is attested by tradition, folk-lore, and literature.
The growing importance of the Naga cult is borne out by the fact that only Saivism, but also Vaisnavism, Buddhism, and Jainism accorded the serpent a position, although subordinate, in their religious systems. Siva, Durga, even Ganesa, and Surya wear Snakes. The Vaishnavas adopted the snake in a different fashion. Garuda, the carrier (Vahana) of Vishnu, was hostile to the snakes but later snake was taken in a friendly way and the coil of Ananta Naga became the seat of Vishnu.
In imitation of the hood of Ananta Naga, the figure of Baladeva in Mathura and the adjoining regions is furnished with the hood of the Naga. The Snake, Naga Basuki or Basuki, is regarded as the associate of Varuna, lord of waters. Serpent cult still continues to exist in different parts of India.
Secular Literature: Gupta Renaissance:
The Gupta Age witnessed an unprecedented development in Sanskrit literature and learning, which alone has marked the period as most significant in Indian history.
After the political disintegration, foreign invasions and rule during the post-Maurya period, India rallied herself into a political unity and prosperity under the Guptas which resulted in the flourishing of Sanskrit literature in all its branches. But the most significant developments took place in secular literature.
The most brilliant luminary that shed lusture on the Sanskrit literature of the Gupta Age was Kalidasa. The greatest poet and dramatist that India ever produced was Kalidasa whose works have enjoyed high popularity and reputation down the centuries. Many legends and anecdotes have gathered round his name which although not of much historical value, at least prove the great popularity his name enjoyed.
Kalidasa is usually regarded as one of the nine gems associated with the King Vikramaditya. Most scholars regard Kalidasa’s association with Vikramaditya of Ujjaini as a historical fact, although they feel that all the scholars comprising the nine gems could not have been contemporaries. The general opinion is that Kalidasa lived at the Court of Chandragupta II, Vikramaditya, not King Vikramaditya or Bhoja or Dhara, as held by some scholars.
The best known of Kalidasa’s works is his drama Sakuntala. This play has been regarded as not only the best in Sanskrit literature, but one of the best in the world literatures. The theme of the play was taken from the Mahabharata but Kalidasa breathed a style and spirit into it which made the play so neat and immortal. Kalidasa’s genius as a playwright, his mastery in delineating sentiments, constructing the plot and characterising the dramatic personae revealed his dramatic genius and poetic gift. His work has elicited highest praise and admiration in the whole literary world.
His other plays Malavikagnimitra, Vikramorvasiya, his lyrical poem Meghaduta, his two epics Kumara-Sambhava and Raghuvamsa, his lesser poem Ritusamhara, etc., have made Kalidasa unquestionably the finest master of Indian dramatic and poetic styles. His skill in use of simile has become proverbial.
His charming and graceful diction, the refinement of his language and sentiments, his minute observations of man and nature, his innate sense of beauty, his masterly use of metaphors and other figures of speech, his elevation of thought and suggestiveness of expression have immortalized him and as has been aptly expressed, his works will endure so long as human beings retain taste for great literature.
In the literary world—in drama and poetry—Kalidasa is not only unsurpassed but even unrivalled. He has been very aptly compared to Shakespeare of Elizabethan England and if one Shakespeare would have been enough to make Elizabethan Age immortal in literature, one Kalidasa would have been enough to make the Gupta Age immortal in literature.
But among Kalidasa’s successors in the field of drama was Bhavabhuti. Of his three plays, two were based on the Ramayana and the third is a social drama. In depicting pathos and tenderness Bhavabhuti is said to have even surpassed Kalidasa. Bharavi, the author of Kiratarjuniya, an epic, and Magha, the author of Sisupalavadha, rivalled Bharavi in every respect. Bharavi is noted for his diction, while Magha combined the metaphors of Kalidas, diction of Bharavi, and the rhythmic beauty of Nishad.
Bhatti, the author of Bhattikavyam or Ravanavadha, flourished during this age. In this work he has illustrated the rules of grammar and alankara, i.e., rhetoric.
Among the fables and romances the only work that strictly belongs to this period is Brihatkatha of Gunadhya written in Paisachi Prose.
Varahamihira was himself a great versifier who used a large number of classical Sanskrit meters in his Brihat-Samhita and Brihat-Jataka. He has illustrated about 60 meters in the former work.
The Gupta Age also has given us a rich harvest of works on various scientific subjects. Lexicography in India is as old as the Vedic age, but lecon in the real sense of the term we come across in Amara’s work usually known as Amarakosa. His predecessors in this type of work were Vyadi, Dhvanantari, Vararuchi, Katyayana, Vachaspati, etc.
Chandragomin evolved a system of grammar called Chandra which was free from the Brahmanical element His work contains 3,100 aphorisms. The other form of grammar called Jainendra Vyakarana was a condensation of Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and Katya- yana’s Varttikas.
Varahamihira who lived in the sixth century A.D. preserved in his work Panchasiddhantika some of the contents of five astronomical works which were regarded as authoritative at that time. These five works or Siddhantas are Paitamaha, Romaka, Paulisa, Vasishtha, and Surya. Paitamaha Siddhanta belonged to pre-scientific period.
But the remaining four indicate knowledge of Greek and Roman astronomy. The name Romaka Siddhanta is indicative of this. In Varahamihira we come across the names of other astronomers such as Lata, Simha, Pradyumna, Vyayanandin, and Aryabhata. Of the works of these astronomers a few works of Aryabhatta named Aryabhatiya, Dasagitika Sutra, and Aiyashtasata have reached us.
Aryabhata was first to treat Mathematics as an independent subject and dealt with evolution and involution, area and volume, equation and algebraic identities, etc. He was also first to hold that the earth is a sphere and rotates on its axis and that eclipses were not the eating of the Sun or Moon by Rahu but the shadow of the earth falling upon them.
But these views were rejected by Varahamihira and Brahmagupta. The other revolutionary feature of Aryabhata’s Mathematics is his system of decimal which was unknown to the peoples of the world then but in use now throughout the world. Aryabhata occupies a high place of honour among the Indian astronomers.
There were also many works on Horoscopes during this, period among which Bhrigu-Samhita, Jataka-Sutra, Minaraja-Jataka, Javana-Jataka, etc. Texts on various subjects are like architecture, music, dance, paintings, etc.
From the above details it is evident that the secular Sanskrit literature covered a wide range of subjects during the classical Age. Some important sciences such as Grammar, Mathematics, Astrology, and Astronomy reached an unprecedented development during this period. This period is also singularly fortunate to have a galaxy of litterateurs who by their contributions made the period the Golden Age of Hindu learning and literature covering almost every branch.
This period produced the very best of authors in almost every branch of literature. This is evident from the fact that dramatists and poets like Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bharavi, Magha, and prose writers like Dandin. Sambhu and Bana, rhetoricians like Bhamaha, grammarians like Chandra or Chandragomin, Vamana and Bhartrihari, lexicographer like Amara, Philosophers like Gaudapada, Kumarila, and Prabhakara, and astronomers like Aryabhata, Varahamihira, and Brahmagupta, all flourished during this period which may, therefore, aptly be described as the Golden Age of Sanskrit Literature.
The literary exuberance of the period was the result of the political unity and prosperity brought about by the Gupta ruler and their enthusiastic patronage of Sanskrit literature. The contacts with foreigners that came into India between the fall of the Maurya Empire and the rise of the Guptas led to the widening of the mental horizon of the Indians which gave rise to a virile, literary, and scientific productivity which won the period the name Classical Age or Golden Age.
It was customary at one time for the scholars to regard the spurt of literary activities of the Gupta Age as a revival or renaissance of the Sanskrit literature. The basic spirit of renaissance or revival is a re-birth, a re-awakening after a period of mental stupor, the one that had taken place in the West in the fifteenth century.
But use of the term revival or renaissance in regard to Sanskrit literature in the Gupta Age will be technically incorrect. For there was no forgetfulness of the past nor any cessation of literary activities prior to the Gupta Age. Sanskrit literature was never eclipsed before the Gupta Age and its influence and activities continued in the centuries preceding the Gupta Age.
Bhasa, Asvaghosa’s works as well as the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta and the Mandasor inscription of Vatsabhatti show that Sanskrit language and literature had already reached maturity early in the fourth century A.D. What the Gupta Age saw in Sanskrit literature was a Sanskrit literary exuberance, a short of an efflorescence. But it cannot be called a revival or renaissance.