6 History

Buildings, Paintings and Books

Learning Goals:

  • Making of Buildings
  • Paintings and their artists
  • Books and scientific discoveries

The Iron Pillar at Delhi

When you will go to visit the Qutab Minar, you will find an iron pillar near it. This pillar is no ordinary pillar as it appears at the first glance. This pillar has been standing there since last 1500 years but there is no rust on this pillar. This speaks about the technology being used in those days. There is an inscription on this pillar which shows that this pillar was probably made during the reign of Chandragupta of the Gupta Dynasty.

The Stupas

The word ‘stupa’ means a mound. Most of the stupas were made by the followers of Buddha. Following are the details of structure of a stupa:

  • A small box is usually placed at the centre of the stupa. The box may contain the bodily remains of Buddha or his followers. It may also contain precious stones or coins; which may have been used by Buddha or his followers.
  • The box was covered with a layer of soil. Then it was covered with mud bricks or baked bricks. Then it was sometimes covered with carved stone slabs.
  • A pradakshina path was usually made around the stupa. This path is used by the devotees to encircle the stupa in clockwise direction. This is a way of showing respect and devotion.
  • The pradakshina path is usually surrounded with railings. A gateway was also built at the entrance. Beautiful carvings decorate the railings and the gateway.
  • The elaborate construction of the stupa and beautiful carvings shows the level of architecture and craftsmanship during that period.

Structure of Hindu Temple:

  • The most important part of a Hindu temple was the garbha griha. The idol of the main deity was placed at this place. The priests performed at this place and the devotees worshipped at this place.
  • A tower was usually built on top of the garbha griha. This was done to mark it as the sacred place. This tower was called the shikhara.
  • Many temples had a big hall; called the mandapam. A large number of people could assemble in this hall.
layout plan of temple
REF: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_of_Kandariya_Mahadeva_temple.jpg

Some early temples were made of stones and bricks. But many temples of the later period were built entirely of stones. Some temples were made by carving out a single large rock, e.g. the temple at Mahabalipuram.

Building a Stupa or a Temple

Building a temple or a stupa was very costly. So, arrangement of money was most important. Kings or queens usually provided the money.

After arranging the money, good quality stones were found, quarried and carried to the site. The stones were then carved to make pillars, wall panels, ceilings and floors.

These stone pieces were very heavy. So some special arrangements were made to place them at a particular position.

Sometimes, other people also gave donations for making a temple. The merchants, farmers, smiths, flower sellers, etc. also gave donations.


The Ajanta caves in Maharashtra are famous for beautiful cave paintings. The colors in these paintings still look vivid. It is difficult to imagine how the artists made those paintings in such dark caves. Another surprise is that nobody knows the name of those artists.


  • This was the period when some of the best epics were written. A very large literary work which runs into thousands of pages is called an epic.
  • Around 1800 years ago; a poet Ilango composed the famous Tamil epic Silappadikaram.
  • Around 1400 years ago; Sattanar composed the Tamil Epic Manimekalai.
  • Kalidasa had written many epics and plays.
  • Puranas were written in this period. Puranas could be read by women and shudras as well. It is important to remember that the Vedas were not allowed to be read by women and shudras. Puranas were written in simple Sanskrit.
  • Mahabharata and Ramayana were also written down during this period. The Mahabharata was written by Vedvyas and the Ramayana was written by Valmiki.
  • Many stories by ordinary people were compiled in the form of books. The Jataka Tales and Panchatantra are collection of such stories.

Works on Science:

Aryabhata was a mathematician and an astronomer. He wrote the Aryabhatiyam which deals with many theories of mathematics and astronomy. He made great contributions in the field of science and mathematics. He was among the earliest scientists to propose that the earth rotates around its axis, which causes the day and night. He also developed a scientific explanation of eclipses. He also found a method of calculating the circumference of a circle. This method is as accurate as we use today.

Zero was another important discovery of this period. The discovery of zero helped in developing the decimal system. The decimal system went to Europe through the Arab world. Hence this is also known as the Arabic Numeral or Hindu Arabic Numeral.