Uttar Pradesh in one of the most ancient cradles of Indian culture. While it is true that no Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have been discovered in the State, the antiquities found in Banda (Bundelkhand), Mirzapur and Meerut link its history to early Stone Age and Harappan era. Chalk drawings or dark red drawings by primitive men are extensively found in the Vindhyan ranges of Mirzapur district. Utensils of that age have also been discovered in Atranji-Khera, Kaushambi, Rajghat and Sonkh. Copper articles have been found in Kanpur, Unnao, Mirzapur, Mathura and advent of the Aryans in this State. It is most probable that snapped links between the Indus Valley and Vedic civilizations lie buried under the ruins of ancient sites found in this State.
The roots of Indian culture and heritage can be traced in Uttar Pradesh. The state has seen a varied and dynamic past of various conquerors from different parts of the world which have resulted in the creation of a beautiful blend of different beliefs and traditions. This can be seen from the visible remains of art, architecture, literature, and arts. Home of Taj Mahal, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the place where Lord Buddha attained nirvana and turned the wheel of Dhamma introducing the world to Buddhism, meeting point or the Triveni Sangam of the holy rivers of Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati among other such incredible places.
The Mauryan Period
With the emergence of the Mauryans in 3rd century B.C., a new chapter was opened in the history of Art. It is said that Ashok visited Sarnath and Kushinagar and had personally ordered for construction of Stupas and Viharas at these two sacred places. Their traces have disappeared, but the remnants of stone pillars found at Sarnath, Allahabad, Meerut, Kaushambi, Sankisa and Varanasi give us an idea of the excellence of Mauryan Art. All the Ashokan pillars have been built with Chunar stones. The Lion Capital of Sarnath is without doubt an excellent specimen of Mauryan Art. Writes the famous historian Vincent Smith, 'It would be difficult to find in any country an example of ancient animal sculpture, superior or even equal to this artistic expression of Sarnath, because it successfully combines realistic treatment with idealistic dignity and every detail has Come out with perfection.'
The Art of Mathura
The Mathura Schools of Art reached its pinnacle during the Kushan Period. The Most important work of this period is the anthromorphic image of the Buddha who was hitherto represented by certain symbols. The artists of Mathura and Gandha were pioneers who carved out images of the Buddha. Images of Jain Tirthankars and Hindu deities were also made in Mathura. Generally, all these initial images were huge in size. Their excellent specimens are still preserved in the museums at Lucknow, Varanasi, Prayagraj and Mathura. Colossal images, in seated or standing postures, of Kushan emperors Vim Kadphises and Kanishk and Saka ruler Chashtan have also been found at Math in Mathura district.
They are stated to have been installed in Devkul (probably a place for worship of ancestors). There is no doubt that Mathura was the center of manufacturing of stone images (sculpture) during the Kushan Period. These images had a great demand in other parts of the country. Scenes depicted on Stone pillars found in Bhuteshwar and other places in Mathura district present glimpses of contemporary life including dresses, ornaments, means of entertainment, arms, household furniture, etc.
Stone carvings of intoxicated groups of people that have been found, speak about foreign (Hellenistic) influence on this school of art. Considerable construction activities have come to notice in Sarnath also in Kushan Period, ruins of several monasteries, temples and Stupas of that period lie catered there even today.
The Golden Age
The Gupta Period is known as the golden age in the history of Indian Art. Uttar Pradesh did not lag any of the country in artistic endeavor. The stone temple of Deogarh (Jhansi) and brick temple at Bhitargaon in Kanpur district is famous for their artistic panels. Some other specimens of ancient art and craft are Vishnu images, the standing statue of the Buddha in Mathura and the seated image of Tathagat in Sarnath museum. Both the Mathura and Sarnath schools of Art reached their zenith during the Gupta Period. Elegance and balance were the special features of the architecture of this period while the sculptures were characterized by physical charm and mental peace.
Uttar Pradesh witnessed unprecedented advancement in iconographic forms and decorative motives during this period. Some excellent specimens of artistic statues made not only of stone but terra cotta as well, have also been found in Rajghat (Varanasi), Sahet-Mahet (Gonda-Bahraich), Bhitargaon (Kanpur) and Ahichhatra (Bareilly).
There was a flurry of building activity again in Uttar Pradesh in early mediaeval period. Muslim historians have lavished profuse praise on cities like Kannauj, Varanasi, Kalinjar and Mathura and forts, places and temples spread all over the State.
The Mughal Period
The composite Indian and Muslim style of architecture reached its climax during the Mughal Period. The Taj Mahal described as a dream in marble is a living example of this style. Innumerable forts and places, mosques and mausoleum and baths and tanks were constructed during this period, known for their bold, graceful, and grand style. Mughal architecture is mainly associated Akbar and Shahjahan.
Doubtlessly, the most magnificent among them is the Taj Mahal which can appropriately be described as India's tribute to the grace of womanhood and a memorial to the romantic love of an emperor wrought in marble. The special features of Mughal architecture were use of marble, smooth and colorful floors, delicate stone tracery and inlay work and happy blending of Indian and Muslim styles.
Encouragement by Nawabs of Avadh
There was a sudden stalemate in the field of architecture after Shahjahan's death. But the Nawabs of Avadh kept alive some of the old traditions of buildings construction. They built many places, mosques, gates, gardens and Imambaras. The style of these buildings may be decadent and hybrid, but it has its own special characteristics such as domes with golden umbrellas, vaulted halls, arcaded pavilions, underground chambers, and labyrinths. The Bara Immabara built by Asaf-ud-Daula is both dignified and imposing. Its vaulted hall is typical of pure Lucknow style and is said to be the biggest hall of its kind in the world. Some of the Buildings of this style are, as a matter of fact, beautiful creations of art. A notable change was brought about in the policy of providing State patronage to Art during the British Rule and thereafter.
The State ceased to evince interest in religious constructions i.e., construction of temples, mosques etc. But construction of secular buildings like schools, colleges, government offices, etc. was taken up on a large scale. These buildings mark a radical change in traditional construction activity. Being utilitarian in nature and bereft of all architectural pretensions, they have indeed ushered in a new era in the history of architecture in Uttar Pradesh.