The Gupta Period which lasted from 4th to7th AD is popularly also often referred to as "the Golden Age of art and architecture in India". The reason for this being that, it was during this period The Gupta period, ushered in a new era in the history of Indian temple-architecture as well as resuscitation of structural activity.
Additionally, Sarnath also emerged as a school par excellence in the Buddhist art. Some of the most beautiful images of Buddha are results produced by this noteworthy School. Like for instance, there is one sculpture from Sarnath which depicts Buddha giving his first oration or 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 along with the Bodhisattvas, the Buddha, Tara and others in the Mahayana monuments as at Ajanta, Ellora, Auragabad, Karle, Bedsa, Pitalkhoda and Kanheri..
This was the period when the Buddhist art flourished and reached the peak of its glory. As a matter of fact, there is a very famous rock-cut monastery at Ajanta which consists of several chaitya halls and numerous residential viharas. Both facades and interiors contain elegant relief sculpture, with the interiors covered with painted murals which mark superb figures drawn with a gracefully supple line.
Like in case of all other periods, there is a negligible difference in the images of the major Indian religions, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain. Large stone figures, stone and terra-cotta reliefs, along with large and small bronzes were made in the refined Gupta style with the level of production being uniformly high.
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 and became popular. The evolved Gupta temple also had a covered processional path for circumambulation that formed a part of the worship-ritual.
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.
These temples which were so built during the Gupta reign came to be destroyed by the subsequent invaders. A few still survive and are living examples of the architectural standards of the era. The temples of the Gupta period ushered the new concept of installing statues of Gods in temples, a practice which prior to this dynasty’s rule did not take place.
The temples were constructed on top of a high base which was accessible by stairs located on all four sides. Earlier temples of the period had a flat slab-roof, often monolithic, but the subsequent temples in brick and stone developed a ‘shikhara.’ The roof and pillars of the temples were artistically decorated but the interior of temple was left undecorated and simple. With the advent of image worship,
However, there were changes in the concept of temples. It was no longer considered appropriate to house deities inside caves, and hence the concept of a free standing structure became prevalent. This gave artisans a much wider scope in design and style and Hindu architectures began progressing by leaps and bounds.
In the subsequent time the temples grew more and more majestic with rich sculptures and even more detailed ornamentation. The main deity was soon surrounded by several other 'helper' deities. An interesting development was the creation of manuals which described how temples were to be constructed and apparently these manuals were faithfully followed.
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 and landmark examples of the Gupta style of temple architecture.
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 blessed 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 theapsaras or devanganas who were the celestial women and vyalas which were the composite animals.
This period witnessed somewhat of renaissance 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.
Like for instance, the Udaigiri caves in Madhya Pradesh dwells an immense 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.
Apart from this, 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.
In addition to this, secular buildings which came to be created during the Gupta regime also became popular. However, none of these buildings could stand through the test of time as they were not well taken care of.
However, after viewing certain structures at Amravati and Nagarjunikonda, a rough idea of these structures can be laid down. The different kinds of windows were arched with finial, rectangular or a latticed one with terraces being occasionally open and occasionally covered with separate entrances and exits with arched ‘taranas.’
After the 7th century, however, in spite of the rulers of the Pala and Sena dynasties being Hindus, significant amount of Buddhist art came to be created. Images in bronze and in hard black stone from Nalanda and some other places also reveal a development of the Gupta manner, with extensive detailing done with regard to the ornaments so depicted in those creations.