The glorious of the Gupta age proper (C. 350-650) have been made permanent through the visible creations of its art. Different forms of art, e.g. sculpture painting and terra-cotta attained a maturity balance and naturalness of exoression that have for ever remained unexcelled. Some of our most beautiful monuments representing the very acme of India's artistic achievement among which the immortal Ajanta murals take precedence constitute the cultural heritage of the Gupta period.
It is contended that during the Gupta period the proto-type of Hindu temple came into existence. It is rather unfortunate that many of the temples were destroyed by the iconoclasm of Muslims in the first few centuries of the second millennia. Whatever that remains of the Gupta temples the practice of keeping the principal image in the Garbha-griha (womb-house) began from this period. The structure it self was enclosed by a courtyard which in the later period housed a complex of shrines. Also it is from the Gupta period that temples came to be largely built in stone leading to the evolution of the monumental style in Hindu architecture.
This practice of free standing temples was not taken up by the Buddhists. They continued to excavate hills. Some of their caves ore richly adorned with paintings like those of Ajanta. In the field of art the Gupta age witnessed classical levels in music. Architecture, sculpture and painting. The Gupta sculptures exhibit a gracious dignity never to be repeated again in Indian sculpture. Plain robes flowing over the bodies appear as though they are transparent. Transparent drapery is used not to reveal the charms of the flesh but to conceal them. If the schools of Bharhut, Sanchi and Mathura are marked by a sensual earthiness and that of Amravati by vital excited movement the Gupta sculpture suggests serenity and certitude.
It is however in the field of sculpture that classical heights were reached in the Gupta period. The Buddha images at Sarnath reflect serenity and contentment mirroring the religious atmosphere of the age. This practice of carving images was picked up by Hinduism also. Since Hinduism created the image as a symbol the image are not representational created the image as a symbol the images are not representational just like those of Buddhism. The Hindu gods of the Gupta period were primarily incarnations of Vishnu.
The Gupta sculptural style probably grew out of the Kushan style that survived at Mathura. In early fifty century a distinctive icon was greated. It is represented by a red sand-stone figure of a standing Buddha with an immense decorated hallow. The tension which activated earlier tranquility, a spiritual other worldliness which is the hallmark of the Gupta Buddhist.
According to authorities the Mathura style was refined and perfected at Sarnath. A great number of Buddhist eculptures were unearthed here. One unique group is known as the 'wet Buddhas' because the sculptures look as if they have been immersed in water. The Mathuran string fold motif is omitted and the sheer muslim Sanghati appears to cling to the body and reveal its basic form.
A great example of Gupta sculpture created at Sarnath is that of the seated Buddha preaching the Law, carved of Chunar sandstone. This piece harmonises refined simplicity and Indian love of decoration. This particular image influenced India and also had a significant and lasting effect on brahminical art. In this sculpture the Buddha is seated as a yoqi on a throne and performs the Dharms Chakri mudra.
From the end of the fifth century on first under the on-slaught of the Huns and later with the advent of Islam, many of the products of the Gupta art, both Buddhist and Hindu were destroyed.
A remarkable piece of Gupta metal-casting found at Sultanganj in Bihar is nearly feet high. Another metal figure but of a smaller size in bronze was found in U.P.
A group of small ivory images of Buddhas and Bodhisattavas founding the Kashmri area are prime examples of late Gupta art from about the eighth century.
Now for brahminical art. Even during the Kushan period sculptures of Hindu subjects such as the Sun God Surya and of Vishnu were produced at Mathura and else where. During the Gupta period an major group of brahminical sculptures appeared dealing with the various aspects of Vishnu. In the Udaigiri rock-cut shrine near Bhopal Vishnu is presented as the cosmic boar Varaha. The figures of Yakshi were also culled in the Udaigiri shrine. They now appear as river deities. This transformation can be clearly seen in a figure from the doorway of a Gupta temple at Besnagar nearby. It appears to represent the sacred river Ganga. The goddess stands in the classic tribhanga.
Paramount among Hindu sculptures of the Gupta period are the reliefs on the exterior walls of the ruins of the Dasavatara Temple at Deogarh near Jhansi. Vishnu is shown asleep on the coils of the giant multi-headed serpant Ananta. Brahma is depicted separately seated on a lotus blossom. In the upper reaches of the relief deities including Indra and Shiva are represented. At the base of this sculptural relief there is a panel depicting events from the epic poem the Ramayana.
Also it is interesting to note that the earliest surviving examples of painting in Ajanta Caves belong to the Gupta period. In Cave 1 we see Gupta architecture wrought from solid stone. This cave is also a virtual museum of Buddhist art. From every part of the cave we see paintings depicting the rich and complex Buddhist world of the late fifth century. The subject matter of the paintings is the various lives and icarnations of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales. The Bodhisattava Padmapani in the tribhanga pose of sculpture holds a blue lotus. This figure expresses remote calm. The absence of shadows suggests an unworldly light. This light is present in all the paintings of Ajanta and is partly the result of the techniques used by the artists.
Another elegant Bodhisattava figure in Cave in is shown surrounded by his queen and ladies of the court. It recreates an episode from the Jataka story. In cave 19 we have a fully developed Chaitya façade to Gupta style. It has over-abundance of Buddha images.
The characteristic features of Gupta art are refinement or elegance simplicity of expression and dominant spiritual purpose. An ensemble of these characteristics give Gupta art an individuality. In the first place this art is marked by refinemnt and restraint which are the signs of a highly developmed cultural taste and aesthetic enjoyment. The artist no longer relies on volume to give an impression of grandiose but focuses his attention on elegance with is not lost in the exuberance of ornaments. The keynote of his art is balance and freedomfrom the dead weight of conventions. The dictum is at once apparent if we compare the standing life-size figure of the Gupta Buddha of Yasadinna with the colossal standing Bodhisttava in the Sarnath Museum both from Mathura and in red sand stone.
Another characteristic of Gupta art is the concept of beauty for which we have a very appropriate term rupam used by Kalidasa. The men and women in this art-loving age applied the mselves to the worship of beautiful form in many ways. But aesthetic culture did not weaken the strong structure and stamina of life or bedim its supreme objective of yielding to the riotous worship of the sences. Art was worshipped in order to deepen the consciousness of the soul and awaken it to a new sense of spiritual joy and nobility. Kalidasa the supreme genius and poet of this age has expressed this attitude of life devoted to beauty in a sentence addressed to Paravati the goddess of personal Charm by her consort Siva: 'O fair damsel the popular saying that beauty does not lead to sin is full of unexceptional truth'. The path of virtue is the path of beauty- this appears to be the guiding impulse of life in the Gupta age. To create lovely forms and harness them to the needs of higher life - this was the golden harmony that made Gupta art a thing of such perpetual and in-exhaustible attraction.