The Great Mauryan ruler Ashoka embraced Buddhism (as a part of shraman tradition) and the immense Buddhist missionary activities that followed during his rule paved the way for the development of Mauryan sculptural and architectural styles.
King Ashoka patronized the shraman tradition in the third century BCE.
The shraman tradition refers to several Indian religious movements parallel to but separate from the historical vedic religion.
It includes Jainism, Buddhism, and others such as Ajivikas, and Carvakas.
Mauryan Art and Architecture
Mauryan architecture can be divided into Court Art and Popular Art.
Mauryan Court Art: Implies architectural works (in the form of pillars, stupas and palaces) commissioned by Mauryan rulers for political as well as religious reasons.
Palaces: Greek historian, Megasthenes, described the palaces of the Mauryan empire as one of the greatest creations of mankind and Chinese traveler Fa Hien called Mauryan palaces as god gifted monuments.
Persian Influence: The palace of Chandragupta Maurya was inspired by the Achaemenid palaces at Persepolis in Iran.
Material Used: Wood was the principal building material used during the Mauryan Empire.
Examples: The Mauryan capital at Pataliputra, Ashoka’s palace at Kumrahar, Chandragupta Maurya’s palace.
Pillars: Ashoka pillars, (usually made of chunar sandstone), as a symbol of the state, assumed a great significance in the entire Mauryan Empire.
Objective: The main objective was to disseminate the Buddhist ideology and court orders in the entire Mauryan empire.
Language: While most Ashoka pillar edicts were in Pali and Prakrit language, few were written in Greek or Aramaic language also.
Architecture: Mauryan pillars mainly comprise of four parts:
Shaft: A long shaft formed the base and was made up of a single piece of stone or monolith.
Capital: On top of shaft lay the capital, which was either lotus-shaped or bell-shaped.
Abacus: Above the capital, there was a circular or rectangular base known as the abacus.
Capital Figure: All the capital figures (usually animals like a bull, lion, elephant, etc) are vigorous and carved standing on a square or circular abacus.
Similarities with Persian (Achamenian) Pillars
Polished Stones and Motifs: Both Maurya and Achaemenian pillars, used polished stones and have certain common sculpture motifs such as the lotus.
Proclamations: Maurya’s idea of inscribing proclamations (related to Buddhist teachings and court orders) on pillars has its origin in Persian pillars.
Third Person: Inscriptions of both empires begin in the third person and then move to the first person.
The Capital Figure: It was absent in Mauryan pillars of the Kumhrar hall whereas pillars at Persepolis have the elaborate capital figures.The Shape and Ornamentation: The shape of Mauryan lotus is different from the Persian pillar.
Pillar Surface: Most of the Persian pillars have a fluted/ ridged surface while the Mauryan pillars have a smooth surface.
Architectural Scheme: The Achaemenid pillars were generally part of some larger architectural scheme, and bit complex and complicated, while the Ashokan pillars were simple and independent freestanding monuments.
Shaft: Unlike Mauryan shafts which are built of monolith (single piece of stone), Persian/Achaemenian shafts were built of separate segments of stones (aggregated one above the other).