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Blog / 11 Aug 2020

(Video) Indian Art & Culture in English : Buddhist Art and Architecture : Paintings and Sculpture


(Video) Indian Art & Culture in English : Buddhist Art and Architecture : Paintings and Sculpture

In this last part of Buddhist art and architecture we will be discussing about paintings and sculptures associating with Buddhism. What separates Buddhist art from other religious symbolism is that physical representations of Buddha and also his teachings which began after his death. Throughout his life, Buddha spoke on the value of respect, peace, honesty, and wisdom. However, it wasn’t until after his death that artists depicted his teachings as an act of contemplation and a focal point for those looking to achieve nirvana.

In order to convey Buddhist teachings visually, artists have used multiple strategies. The spiritual value of the stupas drove artists to create other statues and monuments that could serve as a place of worship and deep reflection for those looking to follow Buddha’s path. Aniconic symbolism, or symbolism that represents the idea of the religious figure, was the first to emerge. Some early Buddhist sculptors used the Tree of Enlightenment with the absence beneath it indicating the Buddha. Other sculptors convey the same message by showing the Buddha’s footprint, indented with the auspicious marks of his sole. Yet others show the symbolic wheel of dharma, which rolls throughout the cosmos establishing the Buddhist law.

Footprints of Buddha, a horse without a rider, and an empty chair are some of the best-known representations of Buddha in the first century B.C. During this time, the artists from India started adopting stone instead of brick, thatch, bamboo, and wood. They built stone gateways and railings to the stupas and covered them with sculptures that depicted the events from the life of the Buddha.

Later on some Buddhist artists portrayed the Buddha in his human form. In western India, near to Mumbai, the Ajanta Caves contain some of ancient India’s finest representational art. Around 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments date roughly from the 2nd century B.C. The walls of some of these caves comprise of highly refined paintings of the Buddha, the events of his life, and the world around him.

The 1st century AD. brought new aspects to the Buddhist art. The artist started to depict Buddha in his human form, and one of the first examples of this was found in the North-West India in the area known as Gandhara, the ancient name for today’s Pakistan. They created young Buddha’s with curly hair that resembled the Roman statues of Apollo, they dressed him in the robe that covered both shoulders with heavy folds that reminded of the toga. By the 2nd century, the philosophers of the Mahayana found that the artworks could serve as a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, and not just as the figure of worship. The first images of Buddha appeared during the Kushan Dynasty and the time of King Kanishka and can be found at two locations, Mathura, and the previously mentioned Gandhara.

Now talking about the sculptures- The earliest historical sculpture in India is of the Mauryan age in the 4th-3rd centuries B.C. The great Buddhist Emperor Ashoka caused the erection of monolithic pillars of sandstone, 30 to 40 feet high. These pillars were crowned by animal figures like the bull, lion and elephant, and had them inscribed with the Buddhist concepts of morality, humanity and piety, which he wished his people to follow.

Ashokan pillars from Lauriya Nandangarh in Bihar, Sanchi and Sarnath are famous.

The most remarkable one is the highly polished monolithic lion-capital found at Sarnath, which is now the Emblem of the Government of India. It represents four roaring lions back to back facing the four cardinal directions.

The round abacus is decorated with four dharma chakras or wheels of law, alternating with an elephant, a bull, a horse and a lion, all carved with masterly skill. The abacus is supported by a bell-shaped base consisting of a lotus with dharma chakra. It symbolized the victory of righteousness over physical force.

Fragments of pillars belonging to Mauryan times and later were found at Sanchi, Sarnath, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda as well.

Another Ashokan Pillar worthy of being noticed is the one at Lauriya Nandangarh in Bihar. Erected in the 3rd century BC it is made of highly polished Chunar sand-stone. Standing tall it rises from the ground and has no base structure. It is surmounted by a bell-shaped inverted lotus. The abacus on it is decorated with flying geese and crowning it is a sitting lion. The pillar is an example of the engineering skill of the craftsmen of Mauryan times.

Lastly we will talk about the paintings. Paintings which has been an accepted art since early times attained heights of excellence in Gupta period. These paintings or frescos are to be seen in the caves of Ajanta. The entire surface of the caves is exquisitely painted and shows the high standard of painting during those times.

The theme of the painting on the walls mostly is about the life of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and the Jataka stories. These topics cover a continuous narration of events like life from birth to death of humans. Every kind of human emotion is depicted. The paintings reflect the contemporary life of the times, dress, ornaments, culture, weapons used, even their beliefs are portrayed with life-like reality. The paintings include gods, Yakshas, kinneras, gandharvas, apsaras and human beings.

The paintings depict their intense feeling for nature and an understanding of the various aspects of all living beings. The ceilings are covered with intricate designs, flowers, plants, birds, animals, fruit and people. The ground for painting was made by paving it with a rough layer of earth and sand mixed with vegetable fibres, husk and grass. A second coat of mud mixed with fine sand and fibrous vegetable material was applied. A final finish was given with a thin coat of lime-wash, glue was used as a binder. On this prepared surface, the outlines were drawn and the spaces were filled with the required colours.

Some of the famous paintings are that of the Bodhisattva holding a lily (cave 1), the painting of Padmapani, the Apsaras with a turban headgear (cave 17) the painting on the ceiling (cave 2) and the toilet scheme (cave 17) considered to be a masterpiece of the painter.

Shades and tones of colours for various topics were kept in mind and also they were given utmost importance. Red, yellow, black, ochre, blue and gypsum were mostly used.