Mauryan Empire was one of the most powerful and greatest empires in India. Founded in 311 BC by the great emperor Chandragupta Maurya, the empire lasted from 321 to 185 BC. Pataliputra was its capital. Mauryan Empire is regarded as the first major empire in the history of India.
Mauryan Empire was not only famous for the eminent rulers it had. It was also famous for its unprecedented growth in art, architecture, literature and so on. This period witnessed an important transition in Indian art from the use of wood to stone. This period also saw refinement of pottery.
Some of the important expressions of Mauryan art are the monolithic rail at Sarnath, the Bodhimandala at Bodhgaya, Sudama cave, animal sculptures, the stupa at Sanchi and so on.
Art during Mauryan Empire had many variations. The sculptures of this period include the lion capital of Sarnath, the bull capital of Rampurva and the lion capital of Laurya Nandangarh. The Lion-Capital erected by Ashoka at Sarnath in Madhya Pradesh is the national emblem of republic India.
Most importantly, the city of Pataliputra offer enormous resources on ancient Mauryan art. The city, being the capital consisted of palace walls, the splendid towers and pavilions. Most of these were constructed of brick or baked clay.
A pillar consists of one piece of stone supporting a capital made of another single piece of stone. The stone is highly polished and gracefully proportioned while the polish was lustrous. The monument at Sarnath having four lions on it is also a kind of pillar structure. The pillars of monolithic and smooth columns have more than 50 ft of height. They are carved with lotus capitals and animal figures.
Apart from pillars, there were numerous Stupas as many as 80,000. Some of them were later enlarged and enclosed. Possibly the Stupa and Sanchi dates back to Ashoka. Stupas became another name for the Buddhist art.
The stupas are solid dome like structure built with bricks and stones. Most of the stupas contain the relics of Buddha on it. The ruins of Mauryan pillars and stupas can be seen in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar etc.
The rock edicts of Ashoka were famous for the messages of love and non violence they preached.
“There is no gift like the gift of the Dhamma, (no acquaintance like) acquaintance with Dhamma, (no distribution like) distribution of Dhamma, and (no kinship like) kinship through Dhamma. And it consists of this: proper behavior towards servants and employees, respect for mother and father, generosity to friends, companions, relations, Brahmans and ascetics, and not killing living beings. Therefore a father, a son, a brother, a master, a friend, a companion or a neighbor should say: "This is good, this should be done." One benefits in this world and gains great merit in the next by giving the gift of the Dhamma.” This is from one of Ashoka’s rock edicts.
The coins issued by the Mauryans were mostly silver. Punch marked coins were typical of the Mauryan dynasty.