Meenakshi Temple

A Brief Introduction to History of Indian Arts & Architecture

A few may be aware of the power and glory of Indian art and history. Indeed, its origin is traced all the way back to Indus valley civilization, around 3500 BC. Today, we witness country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage through what remains of ancient art practices. Early Indian art find its expression through a variety of shapes and mediums similar to its rich history. Rock art, ‘ageless’ terracotta goddess figures, seals, pottery, scroll paintings, miniatures, sculptures, panels, among other describe a variety of Indian art form. Among these, the art of Indian sculpting emerged to gain significant momentum. Image-making through sculpture played a pivotal role in spiritual devotion across India’s religions.  


Symbolic Significance of Ancient Indian Art 

Ancient Indian art had been primarily and largely driven by two factors: patronage and religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are earliest Indian religions, which provided a stimulus to the socio-political objective of reigning power. These influences could be observed in narrative depictions and Ashokan inscriptions of early Buddhist stupas, wall paintings and high-relief sculptures at exquisite and world-famous Ajanta and Ellora caves and Indian coins. 

(Inside Ajanta Caves)

Until the 15th century AD, the entire subcontinent was an unadulterated personification of religious art and architecture. Importantly, they were symbolic of iconic features, denoting pure, and blissful essence of dharmic (religious) life. The lakhshanas (bodily marks), various mudras (hand poses), and other characteristics like vahana (vehicle), and props signify an identity of specific deity. With a set of iconographical principles available through intense contemplation and practice of Vishwakarma (God of artists), the immense productivity, through trade and migration, over time, spread to the farther east of Asia. 


Ancient Indian Sculpture 

The history of ancient Indian Sculpture reports the first idol of Dancing Girl from the Indus valley civilization (approx. 3300 BC- 1300 BC). Dancing Girl is a bronze cast, decorative figure in a sensuous pose.  

Later from around 300 BC onwards, the art production centers at Gandhara, Mathura, and Nalanda proved to be a significant epicenter of Indian sculpture.  

Few of the famous examples of Indian artistic finesse are Sultanganj’s Bronze Standing Buddha and Natraja, a chola bronze, which informed us about the incredible talent of medium and aesthetic expertise of ancient Indian artists. From the brilliant rock-cut temple of Kailash at Ellora caves to the Hindu temple architecture of Gupta, Vakataka, and Pala kingdoms, ancient Indian art witnessed a commendable advancement in establishing art-making rules.  

Khajuraho, Hampi, Meenakshi temple in Madurai, Dilwara and Sun temples of Konark and Modhera denote the exemplary architectural and engineering proficiency throughout India. Apart from main halls, passageways, and sanctorum (the spot where the idol of deity is installed, also called as garbha griha or womb), the final spire of temple architecture is symbolic of nirvana, enlightenment and supreme consciousness. These temples were primarily constructed of granite, sandstone, marble, and laterite rocks. 




(Khajuraho Temple)


Influence of Indian art in Southeast Asian countries 

Irrelevant to controversial debates by many scholars, like Stella Kramrisch, James Fergusson, Anand Coomaraswamy, Alfred Foucher, and Vidya Dehejia about the influence over Indian art, the art of India had, under the guise of pure religion, spread to and influenced several southeast Asian countries. Ancient Indian dynasties have been instrumental, with extensive trading and eventual settlement, in converting the primitive stature of the southeast Asian islands into a religious-driven and civilized communities. Consequently, the arrival of Buddhist and Hindu iconography sustained and contributed an Indianized art and culture to the region. The most popular Angkor wat of Cambodia, Shwe Dagon stupa of Burma, Prambanan and Borobudur temples of Indonesia, among many others, display an Indian flavor and elegance. 

Indian art and ancient sculpture embody an intense penance of artisans, proving to be the abode of higher consciousness and eternity. Max Mueller, a critical German thinker, has right explained: "If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India." 


Author Credits: Urvi Chheda 



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