Where Varaha saves the Earth

Religious architecture forms a major portion of India’s built heritage. These structures are not only unwritten documents of history, they are also stamps of the might of the rulers who built them and articulations of grand visions.

Religious structure

Secular and religious structures are products of their location — the material used to build them depended on what was available to the kings and workers at that time. They were also a reflection of the piety of the artisans and workers, for nothing else can explain the hard work that went into cutting through solid natural rock to carve out temples and spectacular sculptures.

When art flourished?

These caves were not just an expression of religious piety but also a political statement. They lie on two low sandstone hills between the rivers Betwa and Bes. It is possible that when these caves were carved out, they fell directly on the Tropic of Cancer and thus the name translates to Mount of Sunrise. On the day of summer solstice, the sun would have been directly overhead, making this a place of worship.

Various stages of Art development

The Gupta period was one of political stability. The Gupta rulers are well known as patrons of art and architecture. Art not only flourished but reached a peak during their rule.

The need for some material interpretation of the religious ideal gave rise to a visible form, usually an idol. After the conception of an anthropomorphic deity, a structural shrine was a natural progression.

Udayagiri has 20 caves. Alexander Cunningham, who conducted archaeological investigations in 1875, numbered 10 of these caves; later studies identified 20 of them, and they were numbered separately.


Cultural stonework in India – in the form of primitive cupule art – dates back to the era of prehistoric art of the Lower Paleolithic, around 700,000 BCE – see Bhimbetka Petroglyphs (Auditorium Cave and Daraki-Chattan Rock Shelter, Madhya Pradesh). By the time of the Bronze Age, sculpture was already the predominant form of artistic expression throughout the Indian subcontinent, even though mural painting was also popular. Sculpture was used mainly as a form of religious art to illustrate the principles of Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism.

Origins and History

Indus Valley Civilization Sculpture (c.3300-1300 BCE)

The art of sculpture began in India during the Indus Valley civilization which encompassed parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India as far south as Rajkot. Excavations at Indus valley sites at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in modern-day Pakistan have uncovered a large quantity of terracotta sculpture and steatite seals, featuring images of female dancers, animals, foliage and deities. But Indus sculpture is most famous for its figurative bronze known as The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro (2500 BCE, National Museum, New Delhi), contemporary with masterpieces of Mesopotamian sculpture such as Ram in a Thicket (2500 BCE, British Museum). For a comparison with Chinese metalwork please see Sanxingdui Bronzes (1200-1000 BCE).

Mauryan Sculpture: Pillars of Ashoka (3rd Century BCE)

The story of monumental stone sculpture begins with the Maurya Dynasty, when sculptors first started to carve illustrative scenes from India’s three main religions – Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

Chandela Stone Sculpture in Central India (10th-13th century)

The Rajput clan of the Chandelas ruled the Bundelkhand region of central India between the 10th and the 13th centuries. Chandela culture is best-known for the nagara-style architecture and erotic stone sculpture at the temples of Khajuraho – now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Chola Bronze Sculpture of South India, Sri Lanka (9th-13th century)

From the late 9th century to the late 13th century the Chola dynasty ruled much of south India, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands from their base near Thanjavur on the southeastern coast. Chola kings were active patrons of the arts, and during their reign they built a number of large stone temple complexes decorated throughout with stone carvings of Hindu deities

Mughal Relief Sculpture

From 1526 until 1857, much of northern India was ruled by the Mughals, Islamic rulers from Central Asia. During this era, the principal artistic activity was painting, while metalwork, and ivory carving as well as marble sculpturealso flourished. The quality of Mughal stonework is exemplified by a number of intricately carved sandstone screens.



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