The Gupta Empire – Art and Patronage

Very few examples of temple architecture have survived from the Gupta period. Architecture of the Gupta period temples was still in its formative period. Rock-cut Buddhist caves at Ajanta and Ellora are the best examples of architecture. These were inspiration for the later Vaishanva and Shaiva, rock-cut temples at Ellora, Elephanta and Aurangabad. Buddhist stupas at Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri in Orissa continued to be build with patronage from rules and merchants. The caves at Ajanta were decorated with sculpture, mural paintings depicted the life of Buddha and the Jataka stories literary references to painting are frequent.

The earliest temples were single cell housing the image, as at Sanchi, Aihole, Tigowa, Bhumara, Nachua Kothara, Lodh Khan and Deogarh among others worship is such temples was generally of Puranic deities-Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati, Durga and Varaha. The Dashvalara temple at Deogarh is, as the name implies, among the earliest dedicated to the incarnations of Vishnu. The architecture of the Shaiva and Vaishnava temples was constructed around the sanctum cella, the garbha-griha (literally the womb-house) the room in which the image of the deity was placed. The Buddhists in the Deccan continued to excavate rock-cut chaityas and the Vaishnavas, Shivas, and Jains imitated these in later centuries, often excavating temples adjacentable to the Buddhist caves. Temples that were free-standing and not rock-cut were generally built in stone became the medium for the increasingly monumental style (although there is an early brick temple at Bhitargaon).

Classical sculpture reflecting a high aesthetic sensibility is visible, particularly in the Buddha images from Sarnath, Mathura, Kushinagara and Bodh Gaya. These sculptures inspired the portrayal of the more important Vaishnava and Shaiva deities as impressive coins. Vaishnava representations were either of the deity or of an incarnation, which allowed a wider range of images Shiva was most often represented as a lingam. Terracotta images continued to be popular and more accessible to masses. Stone sculptures were patronized by the rich only. A rare example Bronze sculpture of this period is the statue of Buddha found at Sultanganj.

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