The Gupta Period (4th-7th c AD) is often described as "the
Golden Age of art and architecture in India". During this
period, Sarnath emerged as a school par excellence in the
Buddhist art. Some of the most beautiful images of Buddha are
products of this School. One of the best sculptures from Sarnath
depicts Buddha giving his first sermon in the Deer Park. The
image of the Buddhist pantheon include Indra, Surya, Yakshas,
Yakshis, dwarapalas, Mithuna couples, winged horses and mythical
animals in Hinayana stupas and viharas as at Sanchi, Bharhut,
Bodhgaya, Bhaja, Karle, Bedsa, Pitalkhoda and others and the
Bodhisattvas, the Buddha, Tara and others in the Mahayana
monuments as at Ajanta, Ellora, Auragabad, Karle, Bedsa,
Pitalkhoda and Kanheri.
This period witnessed a tremendous resurgence of Hinduism when
it became the official religion of the Gupta Empire.
Consequently, this era was also marked by the emergence of
innumerable images of popular Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Images
of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Lord Krishna, Surya and Durga
evolved in this period. The Udaigiri caves in Madhya Pradesh
house a colossal image of Lord Vishnu. Other statues of this
period found in various temples and museums are indicative of
the various dimensions of early Hindu art and sculpture.
During the Gupta period a firm foundation of temple architecture
was laid when the basic elements of the Indian temple consisting
of a square sanctum and pillared porch emerged. The evolved
Gupta temple also had a covered processional path for
circumambulation that formed a part of the worship-ritual.
Earlier temples of the period had a flat slab-roof, often
monolithic, but the later temples in brick and stone developed a
shikhara. The gradual evolution of the Gupta style is traceable
through development of the plan and the ornamentation on the
pillars and door-frame, the later introducing new decorative
motifs like goblins, couples, flying angels, door-keepers and a
figure relief in the centre of the lintel emblematic of the
deity consecrated in the temple.
Sculptures of deities their consorts, celestial beings, couples,
directional deities, composite animals and decorative motifs
formed the mass of images that adorned the walls of the temples
and their interiors. The deities consecrated in the sanctum were
carved strictly according to religious cannons and installed by
performing a special consecration ceremony. The genius of the
Indian sculptor lay in his visualization of the deities' ideal
proportions, youthful bodies and benign expressions. Temple
sculptures were not necessarily religious. Many drew on secular
subject matters and decorative motifs. The scenes of everyday
life consist of military processions, royal court scenes,
musicians, dancers, acrobats and amorous couples. Another group
of non-religious figures is the apsaras or devanganas (celestial
women) and vyalas (composite animals).
The Parvati temple at Nachana, the temple of Bhitaragaon, the
Vishnu temple at Tigawa, the Shiva temple at Bhumara and the
Dasavatara temple at Deogarh are among the best examples of the
Gupta style of temple architecture.
The cave architecture also attained a great degree of refinement
during the Gupta period. The Chaitya and Vihara caves at Ajanta
and the Ellora caves are the best specimens of cave-architecture
of the period. The rock-cut caves at Khandagiri, Udayagiri and
Undavalli also belong to this period.