The reign of Kanishka is famous for the progress of art in ancient India. The craftsmen produced many unique pieces of art in his times. Mathura, Sarnath, Vidisa, Gandhara and Taxila were the most famous centres of art.
(A) Gandhara School of Art: The Gandhara School of Art which developed in the times of Kanishka occupies a prominent place in the cultural history of India. Art was applied to architecture, sculpture and painting which flourished in the Gandhara region (modern Rawalpindi and Peshawar regions) from the first century A.D. to the 5th century A.D. It developed under the Kushans, especially Kanishka. It is also called Indo-Greek art because Greek techniques were employed to illustrate Indian thought and religion. Although the techniques were borrowed from the Greeks, the original conception of the Buddha figure was basically Indian. It was essentially Indian in spirit. This Art is also sometimes called the Buddhist Art of Gandhara because it produced mostly images of the Buddha and the Boddhistavas. Some features of Garidhara Art were as under:
1. The Buddha has been shown sitting and appears to be a king rather than an ascetic.
2. The Buddha has been shown sitting in the golden throne in the Gandhara Art whereas in other Indian styles he is shown sitting in the Padamasana.
3. The right shoulder of the Buddha has been shown naked. Moustaches have also been shown.
4. The hair of the Buddha are fashioned in the Greeco-Roman style.
5. Beautiful engravings, decorations, symbols and a halo round the face of the Buddha have been shown in the images.
The Gandhara sculptures have been found in the ruins of Taxila and in many ancient cities of Afghanistan and in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. The standing figure of Buddha from Hoti Mardan has Indian features, but its size and presentation of the head and drapery show the influence of the god Apollo.
Fine figures of the Buddha and Buddhistavas are paintings portraying every incident of his life and previous births are remarkably executed in blackstone. The.life of the Buddha forms the inspiring motive of this art. In fact, the Gandhara Art is the living commentary on the life and deeds of the Buddha.
(B) Mathura Art: Mathura was also an important centre of art during the reign of Kanishka. The king beautified Mathura with a number of monasteries, statues and sculptures. The well known relic of this period is a portrait statue of Kanishka. The statue is, however headless. At Mathura, besides the images of the Buddha and Boddhistavas, the idols of Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Surya and Jam Tirthankaras were also produced.
Chaitya at Peshawar: Peshawar being the seat of government, Kanishka built many buildings here. The most important monument of Kanishka in Peshawar is a relic tower of bronze called Shah Ji ki Dehn It was a hige stupa or a monastery. Hieun Tsang says that it consisted of a basement in five stages, a superstructure of carved wood in thirteen storeys and surmounted by gilt copper umbrella.
Founding of the new cities
Kanishka is said to have founded the city of Kanishkapüra after his own name. It was near modern Baramula. It is believed thai the Sirsukh city of Taxila and its monasteries and buildings were founded by Kanishka.
The art of coinage was also much developed during the Kushan rule. A large variety of copper and silver coins belonging to this period have been discovered. These coins have figures of Greek, Persian and Hindu kings. A gold coin bearing the image, of Kanishka has also been discovered. All the copper coins have images of Kanishka engraved on them: These coins throw light on the administration of Kanishka and also indicate that the art of coinage was greatly developed at this time.
The Imperial Guptas
The Gupta period is marked by great activity in the spheres of art and architecture. A large number of Brahmanical temples were built. The inscriptions show that the temples were dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Parvati. Monasteries were given over to the Buddhist Sanghas and even temples were built for the spiritual culture of the Jains. Among those which have survived, the following are well-known.
1. The Dasavatara temple at Devgarh in the Jhansi district. It had originally a pyramidical top about 40 feet in height. Its walls are decorated outside with terracota figures showing scenes from Hindu mythology.
2. The temple at Bhitargaon near Kanpur
3. Vishnu temple at Tigawa in Jabalpur district
4. Shiva temple at Bhumara
5. Buddhist shrines at Sanchi and Bodhgaya
6. The Shiva temple at Khoh (Nagod state) containing a beautiful Elsamukhi Linga
7. A beautiful Parvati temple at Nachna-Kuthara (Ajaygarh state) etc.
Dr. Bhasham points out that the Gupta temples show the same general pattern. Pillars were usually ornate with heavy bell shaped capitals. All the Gupta temples were small in size and most of them had flat roofs.
Several Buddhist buildings, stupas, chapels and monasteries have been discovered at Jaulian, Charsadda and other ancient sites near Pushkalavati. One of the Stupas found at Jarasandha-ka-Bamh at Rajgir and the Dhamek Stupa at Sarnath belong to the 6th century A.D. The Stupa at Sarnath is 128 feet high and has four niches for the Buddha images. Narasimha Gupta Baladitya built a magnificent brick temple of Buddha at Nalanda. It was about 300 feet high and was greatly admired by the Chinese travellers who visited this place. The main structure has entirely been destroyed and only its basement has been unearthed.