The ancient Indian masons and craftsmen produced wonderful works of art, starting from Harappan times.
In the historical period, the monolithic pillars erected by Ashoka are famous for their gloss and polish, which match the gloss on Northern Black Polished Ware.
It is still a mystery how the craftsmen were able to achieve this kind of polish on pillars and pottery.
The Maurya polished pillars were mounted on statues of animals, especially lions. The lion capital has been adopted as the national emblem of the Republic of India.
We may also refer to the cave temples of Ajanta as well as the famous Ajanta paintings, which go back to the beginning of the Christian era.
In a way Ajanta is the birthplace of Asian art and has as many as thirty cave temples constructed between the second century BC and the seventh century ad. The paintings started in the second century ad and most of them relate to the Gupta period. Their themes were borrowed from stories about previous incarnations of the Buddha and from other ancient literature. The achievement of the Indian painters of Ajanta has been justly and greatly lauded by all art connoisseurs.
The lines and colours used at Ajanta display a proficiency that was unmatched in the world until the Renaissance in Europe. Indian art, moreover, was not limited to India but spread to Central Asia and China, at one end, and to Southeast Asia on the other. The focal point of the spread of Indian art into Afghanistan and the neighbouring parts of Central Asia was Gandhara. Elements of Indian art were fused with those of Central Asian and Hellenistic art giving rise to a new art style called the Gandhara style. The first statue of the Buddha was fashioned in this style.
Although its features are Indian, the size and the presentation of the head and the drapery show Greek influence. Similarly, the temples constructed in south India served in some ways as models for the construction of temples in Southeast Asia. We may recall the temple at Ankor Vat in Cambodia and the temple at Borobudur in Java.
In the field of education, writing was first undertaken in the mid-third millennium BC in the Harappan culture, though this script has not so far been deciphered. In historical times we find provision for higher education in the huge monastic establishment of Nalanda which attracted students not only from different parts of India but also from Tibet and China. The standards of examination were stiff, and only those who could pass the test prescribed by the dvarapandita or the ‘scholar at the gate’ could be admitted to the university. Nalanda is one of the earliest examples of a residential-cum-teaching institution which housed thousands of monks devoted to learning, philosophy, and meditation.
In the field of literature, the Indians produced the Rig Veda which is the earliest specimen of the Indo-Aryan language and literature, and on its basis an attempt has been made to determine the nature of the Aryan culture. In Gupta times Kalidasa wrote his fine works, and his play Abhijanashakuntalam has been translated into all the important languages of the world.