Iron pillar, stupas and buildings of stones and bricks

Iron pillar, stupas and buildings of stones and bricks

The Iron Pillar

The iron pillar at Mehrauli, Delhi, is a perfect example of the skill of Indian crafts persons. It is made of iron, it’s height is  7.2. m, and weighs over 3 tonnes. You will be amazed to know that the pillar has not rusted in all these years.

Building of bricks and stones

The skills of Indian crafts persons are also evident in the structure like stupas.  The word  stupa  means a mound. However you will find stupas of various shapes and sizes like round and tall, big and small. There is a small box placed at the centre or the heart of the  stupa. This may contain bodily remains (such as teeth, bone or ashes) of the Buddha or his followers, or things they used, as well as precious stones, and coins.

This box, is known as a relic casket, laid deep beneath the earth. Later, a layer of mud brick or baked brick was added on its top. The dome like structure was sometimes covered with carved stone slabs. A path, known as the pradakshina patha,  was laid around the  stupa. This was surrounded with railings. Entrance to the path was through gateways. Devotees walked around the  stupa,  in a clockwise direction, as a mark of devotion. Both railings and gateways were often decorated with sculpture. Some of the earliest Hindu temples were also built at this time. Deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, and  Durga were worshipped in these shrines. The  most important part of the temple was the room known as the garbhagriha, where the image of the chief deity was placed.  It was    here that  priests performed religious rituals, and devotees offered worship to the deity.

At Bhitargaon, a tower, known as the shikhara, was built on top of the  garbhagriha, building shikharas  required careful planning. Most temples also had a space known as the  mandapa. It was a hall where people could assemble.

How were stupas and temples built?

Often, kings or queens decided to build these as it was an expensive affair There were several stages in building a  stupa  or a temple.

  • First, good quality stone had to be found, quarried, and transported to the place where the building has to be built.
  •  Rough blocks of stone had to be shaped and carved into pillars, and panels for walls, floors and ceilings.
  • Then these had to be placed  right position.

Kings and queens  spent lots of money on the crafts persons who worked hard to build these splendid structures. Even the devotees who visit the temple or the  stupa, brought gifts, which were used to decorate the buildings. For example, an association of ivory workers paid for one of the beautiful gateways at Sanchi. Even the merchants, farmers, garland makers, perfumers, smiths, and hundreds of people paid for the decoration.

Paintings & books

Paintings and books

Ajanta is a place where you will find several caves. Most of the caves  were made into monasteries for Buddhist monks, and some of them were decorated with paintings. As the caves are dark inside, you will be amazed to know that most of these paintings were done in the light of torches. The colours, which are vivid even after 1500 years, were made of plants and minerals.


Some of the best–known  epics  were written during this period. Epics  are grand, long compositions, about heroic men and women, and include stories about gods. A famous Tamil epic, the Silappadikaram, was composed by a poet named Ilango, around 1800 years ago. It is the story of a merchant named Kovalan, who lived in Puhar and fell in love with a courtesan named Madhavi, neglecting his wife Kannagi. Later, he and Kannagi left Puhar and went to Madurai, where he was wrongly accused of theft by the court jeweller of the Pandya king. The king sentenced Kovalan to death. Kannagi, who still loved him, was full of grief and anger at this injustice, and destroyed the entire city of Madurai.

Another Tamil epic, the Manimekalai was composed by Sattanar around 1400 years ago. This describes the story of the daughter of Kovalan and Madhavi. These beautiful compositions were lost to scholars for many centuries, about till their manuscripts were rediscovered, about a hundred years ago. Other writers, such as Kalidasa, wrote in Sanskrit.

Recording And preserving old stories

Number of Hindu religious stories were written down around the same time. These include the Puranas.  Purana literally mean old.  The Puranas contain stories about gods and goddesses, such as Vishnu, Shiva, Durga or Parvati and how they were to be worshipped. Besides, there are accounts about the creation of the world, and about kings. The Puranas were written in simple Sanskrit verse, and were meant to be heard by everybody, including women and  shudras, who were not allowed to study the Vedas. They were probably recited in temples by priests, and people came to listen to them.

Two Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana had been popular for a very long time. Some of you may be familiar with these stories. The Mahabharata is about a war fought between the Kauravas and Pandavas, who were cousins.

This was a war to gain control of the throne of the Kurus, and their capital, Hastinapura. The story itself was an old one, but was written down in the form in which we know it today, about 1500 years ago.  Both the Puranas and the Mahabharata are supposed to have been compiled by Vyasa. The Bhagavad Gita, was also included in the Mahabharata. The Ramayana is about Rama, a prince of Kosala, who was sent into exile. His wife Sita was abducted by the king of Lanka, named Ravana, and Rama had to fight a battle to get her back. He won and returned to Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala, after his victory. Like the Mahabharata, this was an old story that was now written down. Valmiki is recognised as the author of the Sanskrit Ramayana.

Stories told by ordinary people

Ordinary people told stories, composed poems and songs, sang, danced, and performed plays from their daily experience. Some of these are preserved in collections of stories such as the Jatakas and the Panchatantra,  Stories from the Jatakas were often shown on the railings of  stupas  and in paintings in places such as Ajanta.

Books on science

This was also the time when Aryabhata, a mathematician and astronomer, wrote a book in Sanskrit known as the Aryabhatiyam. He stated that day and night were caused by the rotation of the earth on its axis, even though it seems as if the sun is rising and setting everyday. He developed a scientific explanation for eclipses as well. He also found a way of calculating the circumference of a circle, which is nearly as accurate as the formula we use today. Varahamihira, Brahmagupta and  Bhaskaracharya were some other mathematicians and astronomers who made several discoveries.

Concept of zero

 While numerals had been used earlier, mathematicians in India now invented a special symbol for zero. This system of counting was adapted by the Arabs and then spread to Europe. It continues to be in use throughout the world.

Discovery of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a well-known system of health science that was developed in ancient India. The two famous practitioners of Ayurveda in ancient India were Charaka (1st-2nd centuries C.E.) and Sushruta (c. 4th century C.E.) Charak Samhita, written by Charak is a remarkable book on medicine. In his treatise,  Susruta Samhita, Sushruta speaks about elaborate surgical procedures.

Invention of Paper

Paper has become a part of our daily lives. The books we read are printed on paper, and we use paper for writing. Paper was invented in China about 1900 years ago, by a man named Cai Lun. He beat plant fibres, cloth, rope and the bark of trees, soaked these in water, and then pressed, drained and dried the pulp to create paper. Even today, hand made paper is made through a similar Process.

Related Chapter Name