Ancient Art and Culture: Cave Paintings

As we have discussed that Gupta Period was the watermark period of Art and Culture in Ancient India. This was the Golden age of Indian Architecture. The Temple architecture in North India reached at its climax during Gupta Period.

Though the religion of the Gupta Rulers was Brahmanical. But they also patronised the Buddhism and Jainism. So, they were tolerant rulers. But before the Gupta Period, the chief architecture of the Ancient India was Stupas and Caves. Initially, the caves were carved mostly by the human and nature relationship. But after the 6th Century BCE, the Caves became the Vihara for the Buddhist, Jaina or Ajivikas Monks.

We have studied that Buddhist Monks lived in Vihara and their Prayer Halls were Chaitya. Later on, these Caves developed as the centre of religious meetings. So, here we will have a look on the Cave Paintings of Ancient India.

Cave Paintings

The earliest example of Cave Painting was Caves in Bhimbetka (Madhya Pradesh). The caves at Bhimbetka shown the relationship between Animals and Human.

Bhimbetka Cave Paintings
Bhimbetka Cave Paintings

We found may Cave Paintings in Deccan region. The oldest Deccan cave, at Bhaja near Poona, was the meeting hall for the Buddhist Monks.

Buddhist Monks attending an Assembly: Bhaja Cave Paintings
Buddhist Monks attending an Assembly: Bhaja Cave Paintings

The most famous of the Cave Paintings in India is Ajanta and Ellora Caves.

Ajanta Cave Paintings

Ajanta is near to Aurangabad in Maharashtra State. There are 29 Cave in Ajanta, dated from 2nd Century BCE to 7th Century CE. The Caves at Ajanta are entirely dedicated to the Buddhism theme. Out of the 29 Caves, 4 are Chaityas and remaining all are Viharas of Buddhist Monks.

Ajanta Cave Painting
Ajanta Cave Painting

These Caves are carved on the perpendicular cliff of Mountains. The excellent sculpture and lovely Paintings which adorned these caves, make the Ajanta Cave as the most glorious monuments of Ancient India. The theme of the Painting of the caves is inspired by the Jataka Tales of Buddha.

Jataka Tale Depiction
Jataka Tale Depiction

Everyone in their life should visit Ajanta Caves at least once. Because the Cave Paintings are the best example of the Indian Ancient Art. Chinese Traveller Fa-Hein and Hiuen Tsang also mention about the Ajanta Caves in their Texts.

Ellora Cave Paintings

Ellora is also near to the Aurangabad, Maharashtra. It is some thirty miles away from the Ellora. There are total 34 caves, dated from the 5th Century to 8th Century CE. Though most of the Caves here are associated with Hinduism. But Ellora Caves are the most secular in nature. (Although the meaning of secularism in the west is nothing but the separation of the church from the political system 😉 )So, one should not use the term secular here. Because, India was, is and will always be a tolerant country. Here, one respect all religious sects and also gave them equal importance.

So, one can say that the Ellora caves have pieces of evidence related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Out of 34 caves, dominant are of Hinduism, 12 are of Buddhism and 5 are of Jainism. However, in contrary to the Ajanta Caves, these caves carved out on the sloping side of the hill. Here most of the temples have a courtyard.

Cave number 16: Kailashnath Temple

Kailashnath Temple, Ellora
Kailashnath Temple, Ellora

The most splendid achievement of Ellora is the Great Kailashnath Temple, carved out of a Monolith Rock. This extraordinary example of the Ancient Indian Civil Engineering is excavated on the instruction of Rashtrakuta Rular Krishna-I (756-773 CE). This temple was by the Labours with extraordinary skills. As the temple was carved from the beginning at the top of the cliff and working down to the base.

Bagh Cave Paintings

Bagh caves are near to the Bagh river in Madhya Pradesh. There are 9 Buddhist Caves dated 6th Century CE.

Bagh Cave Painting
Bagh Cave Painting

Junagarh Cave Paintings

Junagarh Caves are located in Gujarat. The main distinguishing feature of these caves is Uparkots ie Citadel. The Uparkots are 30-40 feet high artificial platform connected by the staircase to the Hall.

Junagarh Uparkot Caves
Junagarh Uparkot Caves

Nashik Cave Paintings

There are 23 Buddhist caves belonging to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. Caves dated around 1st Century CE found here. Also called as Pandav Leni.

Pandavleni Caves at Nashik
Pandavleni Caves at Nashik

Montpelier/ Mandapeshawar Cave Paintings

These caves are near by Mandapeshawar in Maharashtra State. The caves, dated 8th Century CE. However, these caves were initially of Brahmanical origin. But later on, these caves converted into the Christian caves.

Mandapeshawar Caves
Mandapeshawar Caves

This was brief about the Cave Paintings of the Ancient India. The art and architecture of the Ancient India were so vast that one can not compile it in a post of the few counted words. Even in this post also I have described the cave paintings in very few words. India is the country to explore. The more you explore it the more you will get.

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Ancient Art and Culture: Nagara Temple Architecture

In the last post we have read Ancient Cave Paintings. Now we will have a look on the Temple Architecture of Ancient India. As we have read that Gupta Period was the watermark of the Ancient Indian Temple Architecture. The earliest form of temples came into existence during the Mauryan Period as Buddhist Stupas. Soon, after the establishment of Gupta Empire, Temple Architecture reached on its climax, due to the contribution of the Gupta Rulers.

Temple Architecture

The development of Temple Architecture took place in the various different steps. Initially, there were flat-top temples, square temples on low platforms. Soon, a Sanctum Sanctorum (Garbhagriha) came into existence. The best example of this kind of temple was Parvati Temple at Nachnabuthara in Madhya Pradesh.

Panchayatan Style of Temple Architecture
Panchayatan Style of Temple Architecture

Later after Panchayatan style temple making came into existence. In this style, there were 4 subsidiary shrines and 1 main temple shrine. The Shikhara “low and squared curvilinear tower” also was the feature of the temples. The Dashavatar Temple at Deogarh (Uttara Pradesh) and Durga Temple at Aihole, Karnataka. From here started the Nagara style of Temple Architecture.

Basically, Nagara Style of Architecture is North-India Temple Style. The main features of the Nagara Style are,

Nagara Style

Nagara Style of Architecture
Nagara Style of Architecture

It is the temple making style of north India. Unlike Dravidian Style, Nagara Style temples do not have a tank. The temple crucified on the square ground. The division of each wall into three vertical planes called Rathas. Sculptures made of this three plan. All three as a whole are called Triratha.

Later Pancharatha, Saptaratha and even Navratha plan also originated. As we know this style of Temple Architecture was prominent in Northern and Central parts of India. So, the 3 Subschools developed under Nagara Style are,

  • Odisha School
  • Khajuraho School
  • Solanki School

Odisha School

The best example of this school is Konark Temple, which is also called as Black Pagoda. The unique features of Odisha School are that exterior walls of the temple are exorbitantly decorated through extensive carvings. But the interior walls are plain.

Konark Temple, Odisha
Konark Temple, Odisha

In Odisha School Pillars are not used to support the roof. Instead of Pillars iron griddles used. We call Shikhara as Deula in Odisha School. Jagmohana was the name for the Mandapa. Ground plan of the main temple is square. These temples dated around 8th to 13th Century.

The other examples of Odisha School are Jagganatha Temple (Puri) and Lingaraja Temple etc.

Khajuraho School

These temples developed by the Chandel Rulers. So, it is also called as Chandel School. The unique feature of these temples is that both exterior and interior walls of the temple are intricately carved. Sculpture based on erotic themes found on the walls of Khajuraho Temples. These temples are on UNESCO’s World Heritage site.

The best example of the Khajuraho School of Temple Architecture is Kandaryia Mahadev Temple.

Khajuraho Temple, Madhya Pradesh
Khajuraho Temple, Madhya Pradesh

Solanki School

Solanki Rulers were of Gujarat. So, the Solanki School of Nagara Style of Architecture developed in the Gujarat. Solanki Rulers were the branches of Chalukyan Rulers in Gujarat. The walls of the Central Shrine of this school are devoid of carvings. As the temple faces the east and every year at the time of equinox the Sun shines directly into this Central Shrine.

Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat
Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat

The best example of the temples of Solanki School are,

  • Modhera Sun Temple.
  • Dilwara Temple at Mount Abu.

This was a brief description of Nagara Style of Temple Architecture. So, in the next coming post, we will discuss Dravidian Style and Vesara Style of Temple Architecture. So, enjoy learning.

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Temple Architecture: Dravidian Style in South India

In the last post we have read Nagara Temple Architecture. Nagara Temple Architecture was prevalent in North and Central India. Now in this post, we will discuss South Indian Temple Architecture. We call it as the Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture. The Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture is the oldest style of architecture. This style developed in many stages. Here are the following one.

Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture

During the reign of Pallava Rulers Dravidian Style developed. It has two sub styles too. One is Nayaka Style and other is Vijayanagara Style, which developed during the reign of Vijayanagar Kings.

Though initially, Rock-Cut architecture was present in South India. But later temples started into existence. As rulers of South India was mainly of the Hindu origin so, we found temples of Hindu Deities in South India. South India is also culturally rich as compared to India. And till now South Indians have very much affection and attachment to their culture. So, they follow it religiously and consistently.

Initially, Mandap word used to indicate temple in Dravidian Style of Architecture. Slowly and steadily the Mandap became Rathas. The biggest Ratha was Dharamraj Ratha and smallest was Draupadi Ratha. The basic architectural diagram of the Dravidian Style is shown below.

Dravidian Style of Architecture Diagram
Dravidian Style of Architecture Diagram


Description of Dravidian Style of Temples

The Shikhara is a crowning element of the temple that is the head of the temple was Shikhara. The shape of the Shikhara was octagonal. And Vimana was the name for the Dravidian Shikhara. The Vimana of the Dravidian Temples is usually in the shape of rectangular branched pyramid.

Kailashnatha Temple at Kanchi
Kailashnatha Temple at Kanchi

Temple building in South India got patronage from the Pallava and Chalukya dynasty in the early ages. The best example of the early temples is Shore Temple of Mamallapuram and Kailashanatha Temple of Kanchi. The later on the Temple Architecture of South India got patron from the Chola Rulers.

So, the temple architecture reached its peak during the Chola Empire. The Rajaraja the Great and Rajendra Chola built many magnificent temples in South India. The example of the magnificent temples is Gangaikondacholapuram near Kumbhakonam, Temple of Shiva at Thanjavur (Tanjore).

Gangaikondacholapuram Temple
Gangaikondacholapuram Temple

It is evident that the Pallava Rulers started building temples in Southen India but the Dravidian Style flourished during the rule of Cholas.

Features of Dravidian Style

In the Dravidian Style of architecture, the chief shrine of the temple as in the Nagara Style had the chief deity. From the 12th Century onwards it was seen that the temples were fortified with three square concentric walls and with gates on the four sides.

The entrance gate of the temple was Gopuram. The Gopuram also had a tower like Vimana which was smaller than the Vimana over the chief shrine of the temple. This was due to the influence of the Pandyan Kingdom after the Cholas Kingdom. Now, the Temples became more and more splendid.

Functions of Temples

The temple was the centre for the religious meetings. They were also the centre for the Education. So, the rulers of the State usually donated the land for the temples and patronised temples.

Sub Styles of Dravidian Architecture

Nayaka Style

Meenakshi Temple Madurai
Meenakshi Temple Madurai

The famous example of this style is Meenakshi temple of Madurai. All the features of this temple are same as the Dravidian style with an additional feature called Prakarms. Prakarms are huge corridors along with roofed ambulatory passageways of Temple.

Vijayanagara Style

Vitthala Temple of Vijayanagara
Vitthala Temple of Vijayanagara

There were some variations from the Dravidian Style in temple architecture. And these were,

  • Enlarged Gopuram that is the entrance of the temple.
  • High enclosure walls.
  • More intricate decoration.
  • Sculpture of motif of supernatural horses.

The school of Vijayanagar Style reached its apogee in the 16th Century. The most important feature of the Vijayanagara Style was that the Amma, the God’s chief wife’s Shrine was also present there. The Vitthala Temple at Hampi is the finest example of the Vijayanagar Style of Temple Architecture.

This was a brief for the Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture. In the next coming post, we will complete the temple architecture by covering the last remaining Vesara and Hoyasala Style.

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Vesara and Hoysala Style of Temple Architecture

In the previous posts, we have read Nagara and Dravidian Style of Temple Architecture. In this post, we will study about the Vesara and Hoysala Style of Temple Architecture.

Vesara Style of Temple Architecture

The Vesara Style is a hybrid temple architecture. It has features of both the Nagara and Dravidian Style of Temple architecture. As we know that the Nagara Style is prevalent in North and Central India Dravidian Style is prevalent in South India. So as the hybrid that is the Vesara style of temple architecture is mainly found in Deccan and Central India region.

Vesara Style of Temple Architecture
Vesara Style of Temple Architecture

The Vesara Style emerged during the reign of Chalunkyan Rulers. Though the trend of the Vesara Style of temples started by the Chalukyan Rulers. But it flourished during the Rashtrakutas Period. Rashtrakutas were the feudatories of Chalukyas. So, after the decline of Chalukya Empire, they captured the throne.

Features of Vesara Style of Architecture

The main important feature of the Vesara Style is that they have Northern Indian Style (Nagara Style) of Shikhara and the Mandap was designed in Southern Indian Style (Dravidian Style). In the Vesara Style of temples Shikhara (top of the temple) and Mandap (main shrine) are joint by the Antarala. So, the temples do not have ambulatory passageway around Sanctum Sanctorum.

Dodda Basappa Temple at Dambal
Dodda Bassapa Temple at Dambal

These temples do not have ambulatory passageway around Sanctum Sanctorum. The pillars, door frames and ceilings of the temples are intricately carved.


  •  Dodda Bassapa Temple at Dambal.
  •  Ladkhan Temple at Aihole.
  • Temples at the Chalukyan Capital Badami etc.
Badami Temple
Badami Temple

Hoysala Style of Temple Architecture

The later Chalukyan Rulers and Hoysalas (11-14th Centuries) developed a more extraordinary style of temple architecture. These temples did not have the rectangular base. The ground plan of these temples was the Stellate plan. The plan which raised on tall solid platforms of the same shape as the buildings.

Multiple shrines were there in the Hoysala Style of Temples. So, the temples have intricately carved. So, the temples made up of soft soap stone, which was easy to be carved. Both the exterior and interior of the temple of Hoysala Style intricately carved especially the carved ornamentation of the God is the splendid feature of Hoysala Style.

Dwarasamundra: Hoysala Style of Temple
Dwarasamundra: Hoysala Style of Temple

The temple was on the upraised platform of about a metre. This is Jagati. Jagati follows a star shaped design and the walls of the temple have a zig-zag design. The largest and most famous temples of this style are Dwarasamudra and temple at Belur.

So, this was the brief description of the Vesara and Hoysala Style of temple architecture. Finally, this post completes the Temple architecture of the Ancient India.

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The Age and Administration of Harsha

After the Skandagupta, the successive Gupta rulers did not able to fight with the external Huna invasion. So, the Gupta Empire started declining. When the central power became dilapitated many feudal lords declared their independence from the weak central power. So, aftermath of Gupta Period, Indian Subcontinent saw the rule of many feudal lords over the north-western India.

So, approximately 10 feudal lords parcelled out Gupta Empire among themselves. But gradually one of the feudal lord ruling at the Thanesar in Haryana empowered itself to such extent that all other feudal lords surrendered to the Thanesar. And this great feudal lord was Harshavardhan.

Sources of Harsha Empire

Chinese Pilgrim

Xuan Zang Chinese Pilgrim during the reign of Harsha
Xuan Zang Chinese Pilgrim during the reign of Harsha

Xuan Zang (629-644 CE) was the Chinese pilgrim, who came in India during the reign of Harsha. His book Si-Yu-Ki describes the Harsha’s Reign. He defines that Shudras as peasants. He also said that there were 60000 elephants in Harsh’s Army. Most of the Indians were vegetarian during his period.

Xuan Zang spent a lot of time at Harsha’s Court as a Royal Guest. But he writes that roads during the reign of Harsha were not free from the robbery. Even, he himself was once robbed. However, royal police were able to find out the robbers.


Banabhatta was the court poet of Harsha. He wrote Harshacharita, Kadambari, Parvati Parinaya, Chandi-Satak etc. In his work, he praised his Emperor. Harshacharita is the biography of the Harsha. Banabhatta wrote Harshacharita in Sanskrit.

Aihole Inscription

Aihole inscription of Chalukyan King Pulkeshin-II mentions about Harsha. It actually mentions that Pulkeshin-II stopped Harsha’s southward campaign at the Narmada Valley. So, the Ravikirti, court poet of Pulkeshin-II said that after the defeat at the hand of Pulkeshin-II, “Harsha was no longer Harsha (Happy)”.

Harshavardhan’s Work

Harshavardhan had written three plays

  • Priyadarshika
  • Nagananda
  • Ratnavali

He also wrote two Buddhist poems

  • Suprabhat
  • Ashthamahashree

Banskhera Inscription

It gives an account that writing of Harshavardhan was very nice.

Other Inscriptions

Madhuban, Paskhera and Kurukshetra copper plate inscriptions give an account of land grants given during the reign of Harshavardhan.

Harshavardhan Accession to the Throne

Harshavardhan's Empire
Harshavardhan’s Empire

Harshavardhan, also known as Siladitya ascended the Pushyabhuti throne in 606 CE at the age of 16th and ruled for 41 years. Actually, his father Prabhakarvardhan gave his kingdom to his elder son (who was the elder brother of Harshavardhan) Rajyavardhan. But he was killed in a conspiracy by rulers of Malwa and Bengal. So, Harshavardhan also called as Harsha ascended to the throne thereafter.

Harshavardhan proceeded towards the east against Shashank of Gauda. Shashank of Gauda was the killer of Rajyavardhan and Grahavarman (Brother-in-Law of Harshavardhan). Harsha got the support from the Bhaskarvarman, the King of Kamakhya or Kamroop. With the help of Bhaskarvarman, Harshvardhan succeeded to defeat Shashank.

Administrative System of Harsha

Though Harshavardhan governed his Empire in a similar way as of Gupta Rulers. But there was a more feudal character in the administrative system of Harshavardhan. His first capital was Thanesar. But then he shifted his capital to Kannauj. Because Kannauj was situated at the higher elevation. So, it seemed to be easy to fortify the Capital there.

It is evident that the feudatories contributed him by their elephants, horses and army men, whenever needed. So, there was a great role of feudal lords during the Harshavardhan’s reign. Harshavardhan divided his income into four parts,

  1. One part was saved for the Royal Family.
  2. Second part for the Army Officials and Public Servants.
  3. The third part was for the Scholars.
  4. Last part was for the Religious purpose.

Harshavardhan was the last important ruler of the north India in ancient times. It is said that he was influenced by the Buddhism. So, it seems under the influence of Buddhism the severity of punishment was not present during his reign. During the reign of Harshavardhan, the Mahayana Buddhist sect flourished and spread over the North Asia.

Kannauj Assembly and Prayag Mahotsav

Kannauj Assembly During Harsha Period
Kannauj Assembly During Harsha Period

All religions conference took place in his capital Kannauj. It was Kannauj Assembly. All the scholars and priests from the different religions and sects came to attend this assembly. Xuan Zang presided the Kannauj Assembly. Xuan Zang was the supporter of Mahayanist Sect of Buddhism.

In every 5 years, Prayag Mahotsav or Mahamoksha Parishad was organised during the reign of Harshavardhan. In this festival Lord Shiva, Ganesha, Buddha was worshipped. However, one day of this festival was devoted to the Charitable purpose, in which land grants were given for the religious or any purposes. Harshavardhan personally participated in this festival.

Birth of Samantas

The term Samanta, which meant an independent neighbour, according to Arthashastra. Manu Smriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti used Samanta term in the sense of those persons with whose help boundaries disputes were resolved. Now the meaning of term Samanta changed. During the Harshavardhan’s reign, Samanta meant to be high government officials. And their post became hereditary during his reign.

This was all about the Harshavardhan’s Empire and administration. We have completed all the main important rulers of the north India. Now from the next post, we shall start to journey for the Southern Kingdoms.

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