THE GUPTA PERIOD: AGE OF THE GOLDEN ARCHITECTURE

 

Introduction

The Gupta Empire established by Chandragupta I  (c. 320 CE), lasted till 550 CE, which was governed in North Central India between the 4th and 6th centuries CE (Mark Cartwright, 2015). This era was known as the Golden Age of artistic accomplishments (Mark Cartwright, 2015). Art and literature became popularized during the Gupta period and it paved the way for other Indian masterpieces such as temples. Developments in temple design and construction were carried out during this period. 

Before the Gupta period, temples were made out of wood. On the other hand, temples were made from dressed stones during the Gupta period. The temples were built for both Hindus and Buddhists during the Gupta period. Before that, the two faiths had different temples. The Guptas were very committed to create incredible temples for their people which were thought to be masterpieces.

One of the Gupta Empire’s best achievements were the variety of towers and elaborate carvings which adorned the temples that were built from stone which was new to India during that time (Mark Cartwright, 2015) . The paintings in the caves and temples disclosed more intricate human characteristics, expression and moods compared to Indian art before the Gupta era. Unlike other eras in India’s history, the Gupta Period was not defined by excessive material wealth or by complicated trade activity. Rather, it was defined by creativity, booming arts, astonishing literature and astounding scholars. These are only a few things which represent the Gupta period. Sadly, few of the many Gupta temples built have lasted (Mark Cartwright, 2015). 

 

The map of Gupta Period, illustrating the throne of the Empire. By Deepak Gupta via Wikimedia Commons.

The map of Gupta Period, illustrating the throne of the Empire. By Deepak Gupta via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Nalanda University

The Gupta period was known for its architecture, different forms of art and much more, one of its greatest architectural sites is the Nalanda University which was one of the first residential universities of India. It was an ancient learning centre of higher education, situated in the state of Bihar, located about 55 miles away in the south east city region of Patna, India. This well established learning centre flourished from 427 CE to 1197 CE, it has been called, “ one of the first great universities in recorded history.”  This consisted of the students not only from all over the country, but also the world. This university was considered an architectural masterpiece, marked with lofty walls and one gate. Nalanda University comprised of eight separate and divided compounds and ten different temples, it also consisted of several meditation halls and classrooms; also, consisting of a prestigious library which was located in a nine story building where many copies of texts were produced (Prisht, 2011). This university was sadly burned to the ground by Muslim invaders. Though only ruins of this monument live, it will be an important part if the Indian history as it was one of the greatest universities to be build and produced some noble students. It gave rise and inspiration to the upcoming universities in India which served as an influential example.

 

 

The Nalanda University depicting the brick style architecture of the Gupta Period. By Vyzasatya via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Nalanda University depicting the brick style architecture of the Gupta Period. By Vyzasatya via Wikimedia Commons. 

 

BHITARGAON TEMPLE

The Gupta period gave rise to some of the most famous and beautiful temples of India. Built in the mid-fifth century BCE and known to be one of the oldest temples, it was established in the outskirts of Kanpur district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is 50 kms away from the city situated in the Northern parts of India. This temple does not seem to be dedicated to any of the Hindu Gods but certain sculptures show the designs of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and other gods that were worshipped in this temple. These terracotta carvings depict scenes from the Hindu mythology. The architecture of the temple is simply amazing, it is constructed entirely of brick which is fronted with a terracotta panel and bricked double layered terraces supporting the wall. The temple stretched at a height of 68.25 feet from ground level, its main chamber had 15’x 15’ space only and the platform ranged from 36’ x 47’. The Bhitargaon temple is the largest temple that was built during the reign of the Gupta’s. This temple is not like other temples of the Gupta period that have flat roofs, this temple is one of the first to have a tall trapezoidal structure (shikhara) above the inner sanctum (garbha-giraha). This temple became a typical design or feature for the temples built later on in the nagara style (temple is a square with a number of graduated projections, with carvings). This temple was struck by lightning in 1894 and was reconstructed, yet being one of the oldest temples of India,it attracts thousands of tourists.

 

Re-construction of the Bhitargaon temple after the lightening struck the temple. By Sabyk via Wikimedia Commons. 

Re-construction of the Bhitargaon temple after the lightening struck the temple. By Sabyk via Wikimedia Commons. 

 

VISHNU TEMPLE 

 

The Vishnu temple (Dasavatra) of Deogargh is a honorable illustration of the Hindu architecture of the Gupta period which was possibly built around the fifth century CE (Anonymous, 2012). The Vishnu Temple was popular amongst the people of Deogarh, where they would go in need of comfort. The Vishnu sculpture in the Vishnu Temple was a form of ‘relief’. Initially, the temple’s platform was decorated with an endless dye depicting events from the epic Ramayana, which was a beloved text during the Gupta period for its heroic characterizations of the victory of a godly race. The main doorway of the Vishnu temple is an example of the exceptionally elegant form of doorway. The extruding lintel-cornice is an aspect which could be seen in almost all the temple doorways. There can be illustrations seen of favourable couples in the temple. It can also be witnessed in the centre of the over-door rod which is a memorial of Lord Vishnu on the great Naga (“in Indian mythology, a member of a semi-divine race, part human, part cobra in form, associated with water and sometimes with mystical initiation”) (Oxford dictionary). There are panels with sharply carved lush details in the area around the frame of the doorway. This is something that was engraved multiple times in the temples of the Gupta period. There are engravings of female divinities at the bases of the overlapping frames. This is the only earliest surviving temple of the Gupta period which has a shikhara (tower). This temple is also an example of panchayatana style where a central shrine is surrounded by four corner shrines. There are ten incarnations of Vishnu depicted in the temple in the form of sculptures. This was one of the best sculptured temples of the Gupta period. The Vishnu Temple is very significant to the people of India and it is a landmark of India too. The Vishnu structure is a ‘relief’ for the people. People go to the temple when they face problems and need answers for solving the problems they are facing.

 

Carvings of Vishnu - Vishnu Temple. By Bob King via Wikimedia Commons. 

Carvings of Vishnu - Vishnu Temple. By Bob King via Wikimedia Commons. 

MUKUND DARRA TEMPLE

The Mukund Darra temple was another creation of the Gupta empire, built after the Bhitargaon temple during the 5th century. This temple still stands in the Hadoti region of of southern Rajasthan (state in India) between Kota and Jhalawar (cities in the state of Rajasthan). This temple is a stone temple, which is erected on the jagati (platform) which enters from the lateral side. This temple facing towards the east has a unique plan that bears a shrine, it is enclosed with heavy pillars and poles, headed by a pillared nandi-mandapa (marriage ground) of which only traces and ruins remain. The shrine of the temple stands on a western platform, 77 feet long and two pillars protect this shrine. On the other hand, the upper half of the temple is decked with floral and geometrical reliefs and its ceiling bears a unique design of five lotuses, depicting the national flower of India. This temple bears an interesting and vivid sculptured architectural member that includes a figure of Ganga and a boy beating a flat metallic drum surrounded by the rich scrolls of the typical Gupta period. This temple is very important to the country’s heritage, culture and its people because it bears the marriage pavilion of Bhima, who was one of the greatest warriors of the Mahabharata. It shows off the importance of Indian mythology, and provides a supportive evidence to the existence of the Mahabharata.

 

A Mukund Darra Sculpture. By Odilia via Wikimedia Commons. 

A Mukund Darra Sculpture. By Odilia via Wikimedia Commons. 

CONCLUSION

 Bringing all our points together, regarding the Architectural monuments during the Gupta period we would like to conclude by stating the importance of these monuments in people’s life today. We can still see the designs and styles on the architectural monuments and temples of the 21st century which was derived from the monuments of the Gupta period. These monuments also act as an economical landmark that help in attracting tourists from all over the world. It helps in spreading knowledge and fame of the Indian heritage among people, giving more vision to them about the art and architecture of these monuments. It gives a sense of belonging and self to the people of India.The Nalanda University set the foundation for higher education and from then on, more Universities started showing up in India. The Gupta period was not only known for its Architectural monuments but also for it’s other working fields like Science, Mathematics, famous books like Kamasutra, poets known for court poetry and much more. The Gupta period is about creativity, not wealth or military expansion. Moreover, the gods and goddesses from the Gupta period are still worshipped today.  

 

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