Jambudīpe Boddhakalā Paraṁparā
Indian Buddhist Art Schools

Six maps showing the provenance of six of the main art schools to arise in India from earliest times to the 12th century CE.

Note that the Empires which give their names to the art periods described below waxed and waned, sometimes over many centuries. The borders of the Empires on these maps generally show what they were like at their greatest extent, and at other times they may have been much smaller. The periods given for the Empires sometimes overlap each other when they prevailed in different parts of the country.

Mauryan Period, 322–185 BC

The remains from the Mauryan period are very few, they consist mainly of the Asokan Rock Edicts and the Pillars, which are normally inscribed and surmounted by lions, elephants or bulls (only a small selection of them are shown here). In Kumraha on the edge of modern day Patna are old architectural remains of the ancient city walls, and from Didarganj on the banks on the Ganges a splendid human-size Yakṣinī modelled in the round, and highly polished, has been found. The excavated rock caves at Barabar, although later inhabited by Buddhists, were carved out for the Ājīvaka sect, but their main importance lies in the fact that they provided the models for the great rock cave complexes at Ajāntā, Ellora and eslewhere in the coming centuries.

Mauryan Period, 322–185 bc


Sunga Period, 185–75 BC

After the fall of the Mauryans a new dynasty arose called the Sungas. The stūpas at Sāñchi and Bhārhut, although originally built during the Mauryan period, were rebuilt and expanded during the Sunga period, and it is the work carried out beginning at this later period that we see today, including the dome, the stone casing and the harmika. It was also during their reign that the Chaitya at the Bhaja Caves at Karli in Maharashtra was built.

Sunga Period, 185–75 bc


Sātavāhana Period, circa 2c BC–2c AD

With the collapse of the Mauryan Empire, the kingdoms in the south of India were united by the Sātavāhana dynasty, and it is during this time that the great railings at Sāñchi, Bhārhut and Amaravati were made. The elaborate carvings found on these monuments are the main sources for the aniconic period of Buddhist art, in which the Buddha was represented only by symbols, such as the Vajrāsana, the Bodhi Tree, the Dhamma-Wheel and the Siripāda, or Holy Feet. It was also at this time that the rock-cut Temples at Ajāntā and Ellora and the other cave complexes in the western regions were first carved out. The Sātavāhanas were succeeded by the short-lived Ikshvāku dynasty (2c AD–3c AD), and it was during this time when the great stūpas were built at Nāgārjunakoṇḍa and elsewhere.

Satavahana Period, circa 2c BC - 2c AD


Gandhāra Period, 1 BC–5 AD

Following the invasions of Alexandria in the 3rd century B.C., many of the Greek forces settled on the borders of India, giving rise to the syncetric Greco-Indic civilisations at Gandhāra, in what is modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan. In this confluence of cultures the first statues and reliefs of the Buddha were made. They were evidently modelled on the Greek statues of Apollo, and present the Buddha with Caucasian facial features, and flowing, wavy hair on the head. The halo behind the Buddha’s head is plain. During the Kuṣāṇ period (1c AD–3c AD) this empire stretched right into the heartland of India, and also gave rise to the great and influential atelier at Mathura.

Gandhara Period 1 bc - 5 ad


Gupta Period, 4c–6c AD

The Gupta Empire was centered around their capital at Pāṭaliputra in modern-day Bihar, and is normally thought of as the Golden Age of Indian artistic creation. It is during this period that the murals we find in Ajāntā and Ellora were begun, which provide the earliest examples of Indian painting. Also during this time the great universities at Nālanda, Vikrāmaśīla and elsewhere were built, and they in turn gave rise to great schools of sculpture and bronze casting, all with classical elagance. In this period the Buddha figures are modelled with the characteristic curly ringlets of hair, and sheen-like close-fitting robes. The halos are normally decorated in this period.

Gupta Period, 4c - 6c AD


Pāla Period, 8c–12c AD

The Pāla Empire grew up in the eastern areas of India, in what is now Bihar and Bengal, both east and west, but during the height of their power their Empire also reached as far as the Kabul valley in modern-day Afghanistan. The universities were still flourishing during this time, and there are very many architectural and sculptural remains from this period. The art of this period is much more elaborate and intricate in style. We see at this time a great fourishing of representations of the various Bodhisattvas and gods in the developed Buddhist pantheon. It was towards the end of their reign that the Muslim invasions finally brought Buddhism to an end in India, and with it the Buddhist art traditions there. Before that had happened though, Buddhist culture and art had spread all over Asia.

Pala Period, 8c - 12c AD


Photo Credits:
on Map 1 (Asokan Capital): mself
on Map 2 (Bhaja Cave): Elroy Serrao
on Map 3 (Amaravati Relief): Gurubrahma
on Map 4 (Gandhāran Buddha Head): Phg
on Map 5 (Standing Buddha): Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
on Map 6 (Bronze Sitting Buddha): Ānandajoti Bhikkhu

All Released with Creative Commons, Attribution, Share-Alike licenses, or into the Public Domain.