Day 1 – Q 3. The subject matter of Indian sculpture is almost invariably abstracted human forms that were used to instruct people in the truths of the Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain religions. Elucidate. 

  • IASbaba
  • June 10, 2020
  • 0
Art & Culture, GS 1, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. The subject matter of Indian sculpture is almost invariably abstracted human forms that were used to instruct people in the truths of the Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain religions. Elucidate. 

भारतीय मूर्तिकला की विषय वस्तु लगभग अपरिवर्तित मानव रूप है जो हिंदू, बौद्ध, या जैन धर्मों की सच्चाइयों में लोगों को निर्देश देने के लिए उपयोग की जाती थी। स्पष्ट करें।

Demand of the question:

It expects students to write about role played by Indian sculptures to express the ideas of prevailing religions of those times like Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism.  


The art of sculpture, the most highly respected medium for artists, was widely practised throughout the subcontinent, and buildings were profusely adorned with it. Indians right from the time of Indus valley civilisation used sculptures to express their ideas of truth.  


Sculpting in India dates back to the Indus Valley civilization (2500-1800 BCE), when small items of bronze sculpture and terracotta sculpture were produced. Female terracotta sculpture perceived by archaeologist as Mother Goddess or Shakti gives ideas about possibility of matrilineal society or ideas of faith like belief in fertility goddess. 


  • Jataka stories became part of stupa decoration in post mauryan phase. Depiction of showing Queen Mayadevi’s dream; mother of Siddhartha Gautam indicates ideas of Buddhist symbolism used in sculpture.
  • The empty seat was meant to indicate the meditation of the Buddha, and the stupa was meant to represent the mahaparinibbana. Another frequently used symbol was the wheel. This stood for the first sermon of the Buddha, delivered at Sarnath. As is obvious, such sculptures cannot be understood literally – for instance, the tree does not stand simply for a tree, but symbolises an event in the life of the Buddha.
  • The shalabhanjika motif suggests that many people who turned to Buddhism enriched it with their own pre-Buddhist and even non-Buddhist beliefs, practices and ideas. 
  • Various schools of Buddhist sculpture emerged in India like Mathura school in which, abhayamudra of Buddha or depiction of bodhisattvas, in Gandhara school depiction of meditated peace and in Amravati school depiction of jataka tales propagate lessons of Buddhism.  
  • With the rise of Vajrayana Buddhism many Boddhisattva images were added as a part of the personified representations of certain virtues or qualities as propagated by the Buddhist religious principles for the welfare of the masses.


  • Vedic sanatan dharma under the influence of Buddhism adopted the art of sculpting. Sculptures of mainly Vishnu and his various forms and Shaiva mainly the lingas and mukhalingas found at Mathura.
  • Mamallapuram sculpture of Varaha incarnation of Vishnu saving Bhudevi- mother earth indicates Hindu idea of incarnation.
  • Nataraja sculpture identifies Shiva as god of destruction and ideas of cycle of life. 
  • Huge Nandi sculpture in Lepakshi temple or Brihadeeshawara temple highlight relationship of ardent devotee with Shiva. 


  • Sculptures of Jainism can clearly give idea about the streams of Jainism as it depicts fundamental differences between Shwetambara and Digambara
  • Naked sculptures of teerthankars indicate Digambara stream of Jainism, lack of decoration in sculpting highlight ideas of extremity.

  • Bahubali sculpture practicing meditation in ‘Kayotsarg’ posture in Shravanbelagola.
  • In Yogi Position sculpture of Buddha and Mahavir in Shwetambara stream may resemble similar yet the style of clothes indicate differences.  


Indian religious sculptures used abstracted human forms to express the ideas of various religions in their urge to popularise the truth among masses effectively. Art of sculpting made it possible to realise the ideas or truth of religions into tangible physical marvels. 

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