buddhist art in asia

Author: austin-macauley-publishers-ltd

Post on 02-Jun-2018




3 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    About the Author

    Dr AS Bhalla ( MA Cantab; Ph.D Manchester) is a former Fellow ofSidney Sussex College, Cambridge, UK. His recent publications

    include the Royal Tombs of India: 13th

    to 18th

    Century (Mapin, 2009);and Poverty and Exclusion of Minorities in China and India (PalgraveMacmillan, 2013).

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    To Praveen, Ranjan and Arman

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    A . S . B h a l l a

    B U D D H I S T A R T I N A S I A

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Copyright A. S. Bhalla (2014)

    The right of A. S. Bhalla to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the

    Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by anymeans, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,without the prior permission of the publishers.

    Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this

    publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims fordamages.

    A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the BritishLibrary.

    ISBN 978 1 78455 059 2


    First Published (2014)Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.25 Canada SquareCanary Wharf

    LondonE14 5LB

    Printed and bound in Great Britain

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia




    The publisher and author acknowledge the following for their help andcopyright clearance:

    Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) (New Delhi) for Figs. 33 and 34

    (Chapter 6) taken from Ajanta Murals: An Album of Eighty-five Reproductions in Colour edited by A. Ghosh (New Delhi, 1987) and for Fig.39 supplied by the ASI.

    Attinger SA of Neuchtel (Switzerland) for Fig. 59 (Chapter 9) taken fromThailande: Art et religion (Neuchtel, 1974), Audio-Visual Department(DAV) of the Library of the City of Chaux-de-Fonds, Fernand Perret Fund.

    Terence Faircloth, Atelier Teee, Inc., California for Fig. 58 (Chapter 9)

    downloaded from the website:sacreddestinations.com.

    Dr John Listopad of California State University Sacramento for Fig. 49(Chapter 8) taken from Art from Thailand edited by Robert L. Brown (Mumbai, Marg Publications, December 1999).

    British Museum, London, for Figs. 9, 10 and 11 (Chapter 2) and Figs. 30, 31and 32 (Chapter 5), Trustees of the British Museum.

    Kolkata Museum for Fig. 29 (Chapter 5), taken by the author.

    Lahore Museum (Pakistan) for Fig. 6 (Chapter 2) taken by Ranjan Bhalla.

    Oriental Museum, Lisbon (Portugal) and the Berardo Collection for Fig.1,taken by the author.

    Wikipedia for Fig. 12 (Chapter 2).

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia




    List of Figures and Tables 7

    Preface 9

    Chapter 1 11

    Buddhism in India and Abroad

    Chapter 2 24

    Buddhist Art in Asia

    Chapter 3 51

    Bodhgaya: The Seat of Enlightenment

    Chapter 4 64

    Sarnath: Site of the First Sermon

    Chapter 5 74

    The Stupas of Sanchi, Bharhut and Amaravati

    Chapter 6 89

    The Cave Temples of Ajanta, Ellora and Karle

    Chapter 7 103

    The Temples and Sculptures of Angkor

    Chapter 8 121

    The Temples and Paintings of Ayutthaya

    Chapter 9 134

    The Temples of Bangkok

    Glossary 147

    Bibliography 150

    Illustration Credits 159

    Index 160

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    L i s t o f F i g u r e s a n d Ta b l e s

    1. Bodhisattvas Lokesvara and Manjushri, China2. Sarnath stupas, India3. San Fa Si pagodas, Dali, China4. A stupa, Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand5. A Japanese pagoda, Nikko Toshogu Shrine6. An emaciated Buddha, Gandhara, Pakistan7. A standing Buddha, Sarnath, India8. A Khmer Buddha, Angkor Thom, Cambodia

    9. Buddha footprints, Amaravati, India10. A medallion showing worship of Buddha relics, Amaravati, India11 A relief showing worshippers, a throne and Buddhas feet, Amaravati,

    India12. A rock painting from Sirigiya, Sri Lanka13. Banteay Srei temple, Cambodia14. Stone carvings, Banteay Srei15. Mahabodhi temple, Bodhgaya16. Granite railing, Bodhgaya Museum

    17. Current railing around the temple18. Daijokyo Buddha of Japan, Bodhgaya19. Great Buddha, Kamakura, Japan20. Tibetan temple and monastery, Bodhgaya21. A Buddha statue and tantric decorations, Bhutanese temple22. Clay carvings, Bhutanese temple23. Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath24. Floral and geometric patterns on the Dhamekh stupa25. A decorated pediment, Sarnath

    26. Round stone pillars, Sarnath27. Great Stupa, Sanchi28. Northern gateway to the Great Stupa, Sanchi 29. A Bharhut yaksi30. A limestone pillar showing the conversion of Nanda, Amaravati31. Great Departure of Prince Siddharatha, Amaravati32. Floral decoration on a limestone pillar, Amaravati33. Round floral decorations, Ajanta34. A close-up of an apsara, Ajanta35. Carvings on the facade of Cave 19, Ajanta36. Nagaraja and his consort, facade of Cave 19, Ajanta37. Chaitya interior with a standing Buddha, Ajanta38. Facade of Cave 10 (Carpenters cave), Ellora 39. A loving couple on the facade of the Karle monastery40. A naga hood, Angkor Thom

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    41. Nagas on a pediment, Banteay Srei42. General view of Angkor Wat43. Painted ceiling and columns, Angkor Wat44. A group of dancing apsaras, Angkor Wat45. Demon gods, Angkor Thom

    46. Bodhisattvas as guardians, Angkor Thom47. Khmer army marching into battle, Bayon48. A devata from the central sanctuary, Bayon49. A jataka scene on a wall painting, Wat Ratchburana, Ayutthaya50. Wat Mahathat behind a meditating Buddha, Ayutthaya51. Khmer-style central tower, Wat Ratchburana, Ayutthaya52. Stupas of Wat Ratchburana, Ayutthaya53. Golden Buddha statue in royal attire, Wat Na Phra Men, Ayutthaya54. A close-up of the reclining Buddha, Wat Po, Bangkok

    55. Buddhas feet with mother -of-pearl inlay, Wat Po, Bangkok56. Wat Arun from the river, Bangkok57. Temple guardians, Wat Arun, Bangkok58. General view of Wat Phra Keo, Bangkok59. A mur al painting depicting a scene from Buddhas life, Bangkok


    Table 2.1Ancient Indian dynasties and patronage of Buddhist art

    Table 4.1Differences between Sarnath and Mathura images of Buddha

    Table 5.1Characteristics of the railings in Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati and Bodhgaya

    Table 7.1Temples of Angkor

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    P r e f a c e

    Buddhism, which originated in India in the sixth century BC, faded into nearoblivion by the thirteenth century. However, it spread to other countries in Asia,and along with it, Buddhist art. Tracing the Indian influence on Buddhist art inAsia is a central theme of the book.

    Why did Buddhism disappear in India? This question has not yet found asatisfactory answer. Some scholars and historians believe that Buddhism was sotolerant of other faiths that it was gradually reabsorbed by the Hindu tradition. Itmay have lasted as long as it received royal patronage during Ashokas reignand that of his successors. This religion was also popular among the mercantilecommunity which provided financial support to the Buddhist temples andmonasteries. The decline of the mercantile community may have lowered thestatus of Buddhism. Lack of resources to sustain a new religion may havefurther contributed to its downfall. The arrival of Islam in India in the thirteenthcentury was perhaps the final blow to Buddhism.

    Chapter 1 presents a brief history of Buddhism in South Asia, SoutheastAsia and East Asia as a background to a discussion of monuments (temples,monasteries, stupas), sculpture (Buddha statues, medallions and relief panels) aswell as paintings in Ajanta, Bodhgaya, Ellora, Karle Sarnath and Sanchi inIndia, Angkor in Cambodia, and Ayutthaya and Bangkok in Thailand. It

    examines reasons for the spread and later downfall of Buddhism in India and itsexpansion in countries such as Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Sri Lanka andThailand.

    Chapter 2 discusses the patronage of Buddhist art by kings, rich merchantsand ordinary people as well as Indian influence on Buddhist art in South Asiaand the rest of Asia particularly Southeast Asia (that is, Cambodia, Indonesiaand Thailand). There are wide variations in the features of Buddhist art(especially Buddha sculptures) across countries and regions. We examinewhether these differences are due to history, culture, legends or geography.

    Early conservative form of Buddhism did not present Buddha in a human form.His presence was shown by such symbols as the Wheel of Law, lotus, a tree,footprints, a stupa and an empty throne. However, later the form of Buddhism

    broke away from the above symbolism and allowed Buddhas humanembodiment for worship. Buddha sculptures grew rapidly throughout Asia andreplaced the earlier symbols.

    Chapter 3 on Bodhgaya discusses its importance as a Buddhist holy placewhere Buddha attained enlightenment. It is a small town of internationalsignificance. It contains Buddhist temples and monasteries built by Bhutan,

    Burma (Myanmar), China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Tibet (China), whichrepresent different styles of architecture. Similarly, Buddhist sculptures varyfrom temple to temple.

    Sarnath is another important Buddhist holy place where Buddha deliveredhis first sermon. At the end of the first sermon, five monks became the firstmembers of sangha (order) in search of dharma (truth). Chapter 4 discusses and

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    illustrates the Dhamekh stupa, the only surviving monument as well as the ruinsof monasteries and stone pillars.

    In Chapter 5, the railing pillars of Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh) are comparedwith those in Bharhut (Madhya Pradesh), Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh) andBodhgaya (Bihar). Sanchi is known for the Great Stupa and its richly-decorated

    gateways. Although the Bharhut and Amaravati stupas have not survived, theirrailings preserved in the National Museum in Kolkata and the British Museumin London respectively, offer a rich source of information on Buddhist art.

    Chapter 6 discusses Ajanta, Ellora and Karle rock-cut temples inMaharashtra. The Ajanta mural paintings are some of the oldest Indian paintingsto have survived. The themes of these paintings and sculptures are discussed andillustrated.

    Chapter 7 is devoted to the Khmer temples of Angkor Wat and AngkorThom. Angkor was the seat of Khmer kings from the ninth to thirteenth century.

    King Yasorvarman I moved his capital to Angkor and built Hindu templesdevoted first to Shiva and later to Vishnu. Later, these temples became places ofBuddha worship. Buddhist art is discussed notably, bas reliefs of devatas,heavenly nymphs as well as Buddha sculptures which are displayed inabundance in the various temples.

    Chapters 8 and 9 deal with Thailand where Buddhism influenced art fromthe first century AD onwards. The two chapters discuss temples, sculptures and

    paintings in Ayutthaya and Bangkok respectively as well as the Ayutthaya andBangkok Schools of art.

    The Indian influence on Buddhist art pervaded South Asia (in Burma,Ceylon and Nepal, for example) and Southeast Asia (in Cambodia, Indonesiaand Thailand). Different chapters of the book provide concrete examples of thisinfluence in architecture, sculpture and paintings.

    Most illustrations in the book are based on my fieldwork in the variousBuddhist holy places covered in the book.

    I owe a debt of gratitude to several friends and relatives, notably, Ingvarhman, for the scanning of rare photographs; my two sons, Arman Bhalla andRanjan Bhalla, for supplying photographs of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom inCambodia and Ayutthaya in Thailand; Sandra Zysset for providing photographsof Buddhas from Japan: and Anjali Ghate for willingly offering assistance inlibrary searches.

    I would like to thank the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, and anumber of museums for permission to use illustrations, notably, the BritishMuseum in London, the Oriental Museum in Lisbon, National Museum Kolkatain India and the Lahore Museum in Pakistan.

    Finally, I am grateful to the staff of the following libraries in Geneva andCambridge for their valuable assistance in the course of my research work:Library of the Museum of Ethnography,Geneva;Library of Art and Archaeologyof the City of Geneva; India Office Section of the British Library, London andthe Cambridge University Library.

    Commugny, Switzerland A.S. Bhalla

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    C h a p t e r 1

    Buddhism in India and Abroad

    Buddhist religion was a driving force behind the evolution of what is commonlyviewed as Buddhist art architecture, sculpture and painting. While one mayquibble about whether religion can stimulate art or art can be defined inreligious terms, there is no denying the fact that much of Buddhist art, mainlysculpture, centres around Buddha, his life before birth, after nirvana and thereligion he founded.

    Buddhism originated in India in the fifth or sixth century BC. Hinduism was

    the prevailing religion at that time which believed in sacrificial rituals,transmigration of soul and karmas.

    Gautama Siddhartha, later Lord Buddha, was the founder of Buddhism. Hewas born in around 563 BC in a southern clan of Sakyas in Nepal, borderingIndia. He came from a wealthy family and grew up in the midst of comforts oflife. Since his childhood, Gautama was known to be contemplative. A Brahmin

    predicted that he would become a saint by renouncing the world. Therefore, hisfather was particularly keen to keep his son away from any discomforts. He wasmarried at the age of sixteen and was blessed with a son, Rahula.

    Gautama was disillusioned with family and social life, and soon decided toabandon it. At the age of twenty-nine, he left his home, wife and son. He rodeaway on his horse, Kanthaka, accompanied by his charioteer, Channa. Thisevent is known as the Great Departure. He was deeply influenced by the sight ofmisery of a decrepit man, a sick man and a dead man.

    Buddha learned Yoga, a meditative discipline, and practised it whilesearching for the Truth. He attained enlightenment (or bodhi) under a pipal treein Gaya (later called Bodhgaya, see Chapter 3) in Bihar in about 525 BC.

    Birth, Principles and Types of Buddhism

    Buddhism originated in the northeast of India, bordering UP and Bihar, what isnow Nepal, as a reaction to Hindu idol worship, rituals and caste hierarchy.

    During Buddhas life time (approximately 563 480 BC), India was repletewith small religious movements centred around a few well-known andcharismatic yogis. People were increasingly dissatisfied with the Hindu practicesof rituals and sacrifices. This is when tri-ratna (three jewels) emerged involving

    Buddha, Dharma (the doctrine) and Sangha (the community). Buddha himselfspent the first seven years as a yogi. But at the end of this period, he realised thatthis was not the right path to salvation. This is when he adopted the middle path

    between self-indulgence and self-mortification.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    The M iddle Path and F our N oble Tr uths

    Buddha decided to teach Dharma to others for their salvation. He delivered thefirst sermon in Sarnath (see Chapter 4) which is called setting the Wheel ofLaw in motion. It enunciated Four Noble Truths about:

    Suffering ( dukkha ) The cause of suffering ( samudaya ) which originates within us from the

    craving for pleasure. The removal of the cause of suffering ( nirodha ), and The path leading to the removal of the cause of suffering ( marga ).

    Suffering can be eliminated by following a middle path, defined as theEightfold Path for the attainment of salvation or release from rebirths (nirvana).

    The purification of the soul and the elimination of suffering and miseryrequires:

    Continual meditation Right mode of seeing things Right thinking Right speech Right action Right mode of living Right effort in every mode of being Right mindfulness

    The adoption of the Eightfold Path involved the creation of such institutionsas the Buddhist Order or sangha, Buddhist councils and monasteries. The sanghawas created with the core membership of the first five disciples of Buddha. Itsoon accepted others in its fold, for example, Yasa, the son of a wealthy bankerfrom Varanasi, his parents and lay devotees.

    The sangha rapidly grew due to the simplicity of local dialects in which theBuddhist message of equality and charity was preached. A number of rulesgoverning the new Order were introduced.

    Initially, only monks were accepted by the Order. However, nuns were alsoadmitted in due course. It was possible for women to be ordained if they agreedto follow stringent rules.

    In the early days of Buddhism, those who gave up family life startedwandering and living on alms as mendicants. They adopted a guru and startedwandering with him. During the rainy season ( vassa) from July through August,they stayed at fixed retreats in villages. After Buddhas death, rain retreats werereplaced by more permanent monasteries called viharas.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Di fferent Types of Buddhi sm

    Buddha died at the age of eighty. After his death, Buddhism and his doctrinedeveloped in three different directions Theravada, and Tantra. About 100years after Buddhas death, divisions began to appear in the Buddhist Sangha

    (Council). It was perhaps a consequence of a rapid growth of the Order from arather small number of monks to a large community. In this context, the ThirdBuddhist Council at Pataliputra (present-day Patna) in c250 BC was quitesignificant. At this conference, the Theravada Buddhists attempted to excludedissidents from the Buddhist Order. It was also at this Council that the Buddhistcanon ( Tripitaka ) was completed and it was decided to send missionaries toSoutheast Asian countries. At this stage, there were two main schools (1) Aconservative group which adhered strictly to the original principles and practicesof Buddhism and (2) a more liberal school which offered greater freedom.

    Subsequently, the liberal form of Buddhism started incorporating Hindu Tantricrituals which may have eventually led to its decline.The three types of Buddhism are briefly discussed below.

    1. Theravada Buddhism (Hinayana or Lesser Vehicle): It is the oldest andoriginal form of Buddhism that adhered to the teachings of Buddha. Ithad three main elements: The sphere of desire ( kamadhatu ). The sphere of material form ( rupadhatu ); animals, demons, ghosts

    and goods. The fear of the formless ( arupadhatu) .

    At the Third Council, a controversy arose between the reformists and theearly Theravidans over the reality of states of consciousness ( cittas ). The formergroup believed that these states actually existed whereas the latter condemnedthis view. The former sect at this stage decided to leave the Ganges Valley andmove to Madhura in the northwest. It is in Madhura that a more reformed schoolof Buddhism or Greater Vehicle developed.

    Theravada believes that an ideal form of Buddhism is reached when anascetic attains nirvana through his own efforts. It lays greater emphasis on hisDharma than on Buddha himself. It also believes that an ascetic and a laymanhave very different roles to play in religion as well as society.

    2. Buddhism : This adaptation of the original form of Buddhism was presumably meant to bring a larger number of followers within its fold.It spread to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Southeast Asia after the gradualdisappearance of Buddhism in India. It believes in Buddha as atranscendent being who multiplies himself. In several temples in andoutside India, a large number of Buddha statues are found in differentforms, especially in Southeast Asian countries which adopted the formof Buddhism.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Unlike the Theravada form of Buddhism, focuses more on Buddha andBodhisattvas (Buddhas-to- be) than on Buddhas doctrine (Dharma). This isevidenced by the existence of a large number of Bodhisattva images, forexample in Ajanta in India and Angkor Thom in Cambodia (see Chapters 6 and7) as well as in China. Figure 1 of Bodhisattvas Lokesvara and Manjushri date

    back to the Jin or Yuan dynasties of the thirteenth century. There was also a practice in China of carving them in stone. Often Bodhisattvas are adorned withgarments and jewels unlike Buddha images which are invariably very simple.

    Fig. 1 Bodhisattvas Lokesvara and Manjushri, China

    Under Buddhism, Buddha is seen as one of many Buddhas who appeared indifferent universes. While Theravada Buddhists believe that a Buddhist canachieve salvation on his own by following the Eightfold Path, the followers

    believe in turning to Bodhisattvas.

    3. Tantrism (or Vajrayana): This form of Buddhism is associated withdeities, for example, the goddess of fertility, magical rites, geometricalsymbols, formulae and diagrams and even sexual freedom (sexual

    orgies are known to have been allowed). In early stages, Tantrismappeared in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The objective of this form ofesoteric belief and practice was to attain a state of mystical union of adeity with his consort. Hence the symbolism of sexual union was a wayof realising an ultimate mystical experience. Morals, celibacy andasceticism were rejected in favour of indulgence of the senses. This

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    form of Buddhism became open to abuse and misinterpretation of thetrue tenets of Buddhism. That is why it is considered by some critics asa degeneration of true Buddhism. It spread to Ceylon, India, Nepal andTibet.

    This form of Buddhism is said to be a simplification of the Hindu Vediccults. It accepts spouses of male Bodhisattvas as Taras or Saviouresses (Thapar,1990:261-2). Revered as a goddess, Tara was the female equivalent of theBoddhisattva Avalokitesvara who became important in Tibet. In sixth-centuryIndian art, Tara first appears along with Avalokitesvara as the Mother of allBuddhas. The mother image was respected, as a woman is the source of allcreation. The fifth century witnessed the emergence of a new cult worshippingfemale deities such as the goddess of fertility. This may have been the precursorof Tantrism, which developed in the sixth century and centred on magical

    formulae and symbols as well as worship of a mother image as the source of allcreation.

    Spread of Buddhism in India

    Several factors account for the rapid spread of Buddhism and its doctrine. Thisreligion was open to all and did not recognise caste differences (an importantfeature of the Indian society at that time). The only differences recognised by

    Buddha were those that derived from diverse moral maturity of individuals.However, this could not have been the only reason for a new religion to surviveHindu critics and prosper. Royal patronage of the Mauryan, Gupta and Sungakings as well as financial support from the mercantile community must havealso played an important part in the propagation of the new religion.

    The rapid spread of Buddhism in India is associated with the conversion ofMauryan King Ashoka to the Buddhist doctrine and principles after the battle ofKalinga (in present-day Orissa) in 260 BC. The battle for the supremacy of thetrade routes to South India involved a lot of bloodshed, the deaths of a large

    number of people and the displacement of those who survived. The king felt permanent remorse and horror after the bloody battle. He decided to adoptBuddhism because it preached peace and non-violence.

    Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan dynasty inIndia (322 BC to 185 BC), is known to be the earliest and most well-known ofthe patrons of Buddhism in India and the rest of Asia. He was a Hindu when heascended the throne and was converted to Buddhism much later, after the battleof Kalinga, as noted above. One scholar (for example, Thapar, 1963) believesthat Ashokas conversion to Buddhism was a way to attract support from non -

    orthodox elements. Apparently, his rise to power was not without difficulties.He did not receive whole-hearted support from the orthodox Brahmanicelements.

    The Sunga kings took over after the fall of the Mauryan Empire. In 185 BC,Pushyamitra murdered the last Maurya king and established the Sunga dynasty(185-72 BC). Although the first Sunga king is said to have persecuted

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Buddhists, the kings who followed him either tolerated or actually promotedBuddhism. Controversy surrounds the belief that the first Sunga king actively

    persecuted Buddhism. It is known that he was a Brahmin and as such may nothave been enthusiastic about Buddhism. But both religions were practisedduring the Sunga dynasty.

    There is some historical evidence to suggest that the orthodox Sunga kingswere tolerant of Buddhism and that this religion prospered during the SungaEmpire. The following two inscriptions found at the Mahabodhi temple inBodhgaya suggest royal support:

    The gift of Nagadevi, the wife of King Brahmamitra. The gift of Kurangi, the mother of living sons and the wife of King

    Indragnimitra, son of Kosiki. The gift also of Srima of the royal palaceshrine (Barua, 1934).

    The Gupta period (fourth to seventh century), the golden age of India as it issometimes called, saw Buddhism flourish further. The two Chinese pilgrims, FaHsien 1 and Hsuan Tsang 2, who visited India in the fifth and seventh centuryrespectively, testified that both Hinayana and forms of Buddhism had prosperedin the Gupta Empire.

    During the Gupta period, Buddhism had spread beyond India, into China,Southeast Asia and Central Asia. Buddhism drove out the more orthodoxHinayana form. This period also witnessed the development of Tantrism. It is

    also during this period that the King of Ceylon sought permission from KingSamudragupta to build a Buddhist monastery in Gaya. As discussed in chapter 6on Ajanta and Ellora, this period also witnessed the construction of rock-cutBuddhist shrines and temples in the Deccan. The literature of this periodfrequently mentions the Buddhist wall paintings of Ajanta cave temples.

    To conclude, the royal court continued to accept both Hinduism andBuddhism. Even when some kings practised Hinduism (they were Brahmins)they did not oppose Buddhism and the construction of its temples andmonasteries.

    Even before the advent of the Mauryan dynasty, Hinduism (or moreappropriately, Brahmanism) had developed a complex system of rituals andcaste beliefs. It had become a religion of the high-caste princes and priests, and

    possibly wealthier members of the commercial class. The lower castes wereeither marginalised or excluded. The merchant class (vaishyas) becameeconomically and financially prosperous with the opening of trade to SoutheastAsia and West Asia. Building of the road infrastructure by Ashoka must havehelped such trade. In the north, Indo-Greek and later Indo-Roman connectionsopened the trade route with West Asia and the Mediterranean. Settlement ofIndian traders in Cambodia and Thailand must also have encouraged theexpansion of trade with that part of Asia. It is logical that the merchant classwould be attracted to Buddhism which did not recognise the caste system and

    1 Fa Hsien is a title. His real name was Gong.

    2 Hsuan Tsang is a title. His real name was Chen.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    thus offered social mobility to anyone who adopted it. Adoption of Buddhism bythis class may have been a kind of resentment against the caste-ridden Hinduorthodoxy. Buddhism may have also been more popular with the Greeks andRomans due to its egalitarian principles and greater degree of openness.

    Decline of Buddhism in India

    During the Gupta Empire both Buddhism and Hinduism prospered at the sametime. Buddhism, a more recent religion than Hinduism, did not believe in thetraditional Hindu thought of ultimate reality in things. Buddha believed in theimpermanency of everything. Unlike Hindus, Buddhists do not believe in soul oratman. They argue that nothing within us is metaphysically real. They believe inthe theory of the non-existence of an eternal I, or atman ( anatta ). Buddhism

    does not recognise caste, social class or ethnic origin. But caste is thecornerstone of Hindu religion. Buddhism preaches celibacy for monks and nuns.Were these differences not strong enough for Buddhism to hold its own ground?What accounts for the decline of Buddhism in India and its spread in the rest ofAsia?

    Scholars and historians do not agree on the contributing factors. A popular belief is that Buddhism became so tolerant of other faiths that it was reabsorbed by the Hindu tradition. In respect of both worship and rituals, it hadcompromised with the brahmanical religion to such an extent that it could

    almost have been regarded as a sect of the latter (Thapar, 1990:159). Thisargument does not seem to be all that convincing considering that Hinduism andBuddhism happily coexisted for several centuries. Many Hindu kings who

    practised Hinduism continued to patronise Buddhist art and architecture not onlyin India but also in Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Indonesia andThailand.

    Why would the two religions prosper side by side in Southeast Asia but notin India? Indeed, Hinduism was strong in Cambodia before King SuryavarmaVII adopted Buddhism. This is amply visible in Angkor Wat bas-reliefs of

    scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, not to speak of the celestial Hindudeities, devatas and apsaras . Perhaps the roots of Hinduism were not as strongabroad to dominate Buddhism? In both India and Southeast Asia, Buddhismwent through different adaptations and phases which must have weakened it vis--vis Hinduism.

    Buddhism lasted as long as it received royal patronage during the reign ofAshoka and his successors. It was also popular among the mercantilecommunity which provided financial support to the Buddhist temples andmonasteries (see Chapter 2). The decline of this community may have lowered

    the status of Buddhism. A lack of resources to sustain this young religion mayhave contributed to its downfall in India. The arrival of Islam in India in thethirteenth century was perhaps the final blow to Buddhism. Muslim invadersdestroyed the Buddhist monasteries in many parts of India, which may have ledto the exodus of Buddhists from eastern India to Southeast Asia. However,

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Muslim invasions cannot be a primary explanation for the decline of Buddhismin India. After all, both Hinduism and Jainism survived the Muslim onslaught.

    Another explanation may be that Tantric Buddhism was regarded by manytrue Buddhists and non-Buddhists as a degenerate form which brought a badname to Buddhism. Internal causes of the decline of Buddhism were perhaps as

    important as the external ones. Buddhism relied too heavily on costly monasticinstitutions enjoying royal patronage but not popular support. Buddhistmonasteries remained isolated from the surrounding village communities (TheEncyclopaedia of Religion, 1987:380).

    Hindu Brahmin priests had a strong hold on kings who were generally veryreligious at that time. The kings turned to royal priests for ceremonies, ritualsand good omens. With the spread of Buddhism, the royal priests lost their powerand influence and must have resented this situation. They would make everyeffort to ensure that Hinduism and its ritual practices were reinstated.

    Spread of Buddhism to Asia

    The Mauryan kings, especially Ashoka, were largely responsible for the spreadof Buddhism in South Asia (Burma, Ceylon and Nepal) and Southeast Asia(Cambodia and Thailand).

    In the third century BC, Ashoka sent missionaries to Ceylon and SoutheastAsia. There is historical evidence (chronicles of Ceylon) of close relations

    between the Mauryan kingdom and the kingdom of King Tissa of Ceylon. Thechronicles note that Ashoka sent to the Ceylon king a branch of the originalBodhi tree (pipal) under which Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree isknown to have survived in Ceylon although it was cut in India by an anti-Buddhist fanatic (Thapar, 1990:75).

    Theravada Buddhism, which spread to Southeast Asia in the early eleventhcentury, also took roots in Ceylon. In the beginning, it had to struggle againstentrenched Hinduism, Tantrism and various forms of practised there at that time.Although rather conservative, Theravada Buddhism of Ceylon was flexible and

    accommodating. It accepted the worship of Hindu gods as well as local spirits.The Tamil kings may have been partly responsible for this flexibility.Missionaries played an important role in the spread of Buddhism outside

    India, which took hold in Ceylon with the arrival of King Ashokas son,Mahinda and his companions. The king sent them there as missionaries to

    propagate Buddhism. Mahinda and his companions were successful inconverting King Tissa and many nobles to Buddhism. Many monasteries were

    built during the kings reign. After King Tissas death in around 207 BC, thecountry was taken over by a Tamil king from South India (Elara) who was aHindu. He was opposed to Buddhism and threatened to absorb the new religioninto Hinduism. It is only when Dutthagamani, a descendant of King Tissa,overthrew the Tamil king that Buddhism was revived in Ceylon.

    In Burma, Buddhism was established by the fifth century. It was spread bythe Ceylonese missionaries. Both Theravada and forms were practised.Theravada was popular in the north and in the south.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    During the reign of King Anawrahta (1044-77) the north and south ofBurma were united. Theravada Buddhism received royal patronage during this

    period and remained popular until Burmas independence in 1948. The traditionof the councils was preserved. In 1961, Buddhism became the state religion.However, religion lost its political influence soon after General Ne Win took

    over the country. The Armys programme of modernisation and a politicalframework of moderate socialism weakened the religious influence on theaffairs of the state.

    The Mon in the south of Burma, the first to be influenced by Buddhism,were influential in converting the Burmese people to Theravada form ofBuddhism. Tantrism flourished in upper Burma at this time. However,controversy arose about ordination when Upper and Lower Burma were unitedduring the reign of King Anawrahta. One school believed that the ordinationdating back to Ashokas missionaries in the second century BC was still valid.

    Another believed in the ordination in the line of succession established by theSinhalese monastery of Mahavihara. Finally, King Dhammazedi (1472-92)decided in favour of the latter.

    Buddhism also spread to the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal, Bhutan andSikkim. Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal, but Buddhist religion developedthere much later. The Indian form of Buddhism based on Sanskrit textscontinues to be used in rituals in Nepal. Inscriptions provide evidence of theexistence of Buddhist monasteries in the country during the fifth century. By theeighth century, Nepal had fallen under the Tibetan cultural influence which is

    visible even today in such symbols as prayer wheels. In Bhutan, a Tibetan Lamaintroduced Buddhism in the seventeenth century. Tibetans also introduced thereligion in Sikkim which they usurped in the seventeenth century.

    Buddhism spread to Central Asia through northern India. However, notmuch is known about who brought Buddhism to this region. Did KingKanishkas missionaries spread the religion there? A son of Ashoka is believedto have founded the kingdom of Khotan in around 240 BC and his grandsonintroduced Buddhism there. In around the first century BC, Buddhism was

    practised in Eastern Turkistan which had several Indian colonies. Buddhismmust have declined in Central Asia after the spread of Islam in the seventhcentury.

    Buddhism was brought to Tibet from India in the seventh century. So theIndian influence was to be expected. But the form of Tibetan Buddhism andTibetan art were also influenced by China and Central Asia.

    Buddhism in Tibet was a curious mixture of shamanism. Tantrism andIndian Madhyamika gradually became the core of what came to be knownerroneously as Lamaism, the religion of the superior ones (The NewEncyclopaedia Britannica, 1981a:411). 3 It represented a synthesis of andVajrayana types prevalent in the north of India during the seventh to eleventh

    3 Barbara Lipton and Nima Dorjee Ragnubs ( Treasures of Tibetan Art , Oxford, 1997), p.19,note that Lamaism is an anachronistic and pejorative term that mistakenly suggests that thereligion of Tibet is not Buddhism. Indeed, Tibetan Buddhism is a valid religious traditionwhose influence extended well beyond the national boundary.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    century. While the former stressed a gradual process of understanding anestablished doctrine, the latter preached the use of mystical means to achievequicker results. The Buddhist religion also adopted some practices of the Boncult (which believes in local divinities and divine kingship) that prevailed at thetime of the advent of Buddhism. The Bon cult favoured Tantric principles,

    performed rituals and sacrificed animals.In the eighth century, Indian monks went to Tibet to preach Buddhism.

    Clearly, their major task was first to subdue the Bon spirits that were being practised. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, Indian monks went to Tibetto translate sacred Buddhist texts. Rivalry between different groups of monksfollowing different masters developed in the seventeenth century. It was a caseof gaining political power rather than religious supremacy. 4 The Theravada formof Buddhism in Cambodia was perhaps introduced there by Ceylonese monks.There is evidence of frequent contacts between Ceylon and Cambodia. 5 Chinese

    influence spread to North Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand through merchantsand missionaries.The Khmer kingdoms of Chenla (sixth century) and Angkor (ninth century)

    inherited many features of Buddhism from Funan. At the time of its arrival,Hinduism was the state religion. First, Shiva was worshipped and later Vishnu.Buddhism was practised at the same time. First, the Hinayana form wasintroduced. Later in the fifth century, under King Kamdinya Jayavarman,Hinduism and Buddhism began to be practised.

    Shiva worship declined in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and Buddhism

    and Vaishnav Hinduism became stronger (the existence of Vaishnu temple atAngkor Wat bears testimony to this). Buddhism was declared the state religionunder King Jayavarman VII (1181-1215) whose reign represents the heyday ofthe Khmer Empire.

    However, when the Thai captured Angkor Wat in 1431, the Mon startedspreading Theravada Buddhism (1200-1350). The Khmer conversion toTheravada Buddhism was completed by the time of the Thai capture of Angkor.

    In Thailand, Theravada Buddhism is the state religion. During the reign ofKing Chulalongkorn (1873-1910), Buddhism was considered to be a peacefulreligion good for the unity of the country. The Thai came into contact with theform in China in the ninth century. Later during the twelfth and thirteenthcenturies, Thailand was swept by the reformed Sinhalese form of TheravadaBuddhism which had been spreading fast through Southeast Asia. In thethirteenth century, two Thai kingdoms were established in Sukhotai andChiengmai. A powerful Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 in Ayutthaya. By thesixteenth century, Chiengmai had become the leading centre of Theravada

    4 The head of one religious order Dge-Lugs-Pa known as the Dalai Lama, approached a

    Mongol chieftain, Ghri Khan, for help against a rival group Karma Pa, a sect patronised by the rulers of Gtsang. When Khan defeated the Gtsang forces, he awarded Tibet to the DalaiLama. Thus from 1642 till the Chinese Communist rule in 1951, the Dge-Lugs-Pa has beenthe dominant sect in Tibet (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, London, 1981a), p. 388.5 Prior to the arrival of Buddhism, Hinduism had spread to Cambodia. It had also spread to

    Indonesia and Thailand.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Buddhism. The Khmer people at this time followed Brahmanic Hindu tradition,some elements of which were absorbed by the Thai in Ayutthaya. King Rama I(1782-1809), who established the kingdom in Bangkok, also followed thistradition. The kingdom of Bangkok became the state of Thailand afterAyutthaya fell into the hands of the Burmese in 1769.

    At present, there are two Buddhist sects in Thailand. First, a larger sect orMahanikaya, and second, a sect of the followers of Dhamma (Dhammayuttika-

    Nikaya). The king names a patriarch who is accepted by the heads of the twosects. The sangha is state-directed and carries out such social functions aseducation, public works and the administration of religious property.

    In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is the only country where both Theravada and(mainly Zen and Pure Land) forms of Buddhism continue to be practised side byside. In Laos, Buddhist statues of style date back to the eleventh and twelfthcenturies, suggesting that Buddhism arrived during this period under the Khmer

    influence. However, in the fourteenth century, Theravada form became more popular.Different forms of Buddhism and Hinduism were found in Indonesia before

    the thirteenth century when Islam had established its roots there. As inCambodia and Thailand, the Indian influence travelled to Indonesia throughBrahmins who were invited by Indonesian princes to dedicate temples andexplain their beliefs (Fahr -Becker, vol. I, 1998:326). The Buddhist Srivijayadynasty in Sumatra and the Shailendra dynasty in Java bear testimony to theIndian influence (also see Chapter 2). Hinduism continues to be practised on the

    Indonesian island of Bali today even though Indonesia is a predominantlyMuslim country.In China , historical records suggest that Buddhism was known and practised

    as far back as the third century BC when Ashoka ruled in India and promotedBuddhism far and wide. It seems to have become popular during the Handynasty (206 BC-AD 220). There were close links between Taoism (which wasthen practised) and Buddhism. Taoism believed in magical practices and folk

    beliefs; it may have been influenced by Buddhism which preached nirvanathrough various ascetic practices. 6

    Buddhism prospered particularly well during the Tang dynasty (618 -907)whose emperors favoured the religion. They brought the Buddhist monasteriesand the legal status of monks under government control. Buddhist temples andmonasteries expanded rapidly. Many pilgrimages to India were organised;several foreign monks visited India in the seventh century and wrote aboutBodhgaya and other Buddhist centres.

    During the Sung dynasty (960-1279), Buddhism spread throughout China. It became popular because of its pragmatism and worldly outlook compared withBuddhism practised in India at that time. For example, monasteries owned andoperated oil presses, lent money and maintained roads. The Indian-style sanghawas reorganised from a democratic institution to one controlled by the state.

    Buddhism was brought to Korea from China in the fourth century and itgradually spread to several kingdoms. The unification of different kingdoms into

    6 Many Buddhist sutras were translated into Chinese during the Han dynasty.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    one country led to the adoption of the religion throughout the territory.Buddhism began to decline during the Koryo period (935-1392). Thegovernment gradually curtailed privileges offered to the monks. Confucianismreplaced Buddhism as the state religion.

    Korean refugees and craftsmen carried Buddhism to Japan in the sixth

    century. Its introduction was not without controversy. While the powerful Sogaclan accepted it, others rejected it out of a sense of nationalism. They felt thatthe introduction of Buddha statues was an insult to local deities. The fortunes ofBuddhism were revived by Prince Shotoku Taishi (573-621) who became regentin AD 593. He introduced a Seventeen Article Constitution which attempted toharmonise Confucianism and Buddhism as a spiritual foundation of the state.

    Shinto was the dominant religion in Japan when Buddhism arrived there.Those practising Shinto worshipped the gods of the sky and the sun. Buddhismhad to overcome the scepticism of these followers. The spread of the new

    religion was facilitated by the conversion of Prince Shotoku to Buddhism as wasthe conversion of Emperor Ashoka in India much earlier.Buddhism became the state religion during the Nara period (710-784). Nara,

    which is home to the Great Buddha Statue, Daibutsu , became an importantBuddhist centre. Several Buddhist sects developed: Hinayana, Shingon and PureLand. In the thirteenth century, Zen Buddhism (Chinese Chan) became popular,especially with the military.

    Buddhism gradually incorporated some elements of Shinto andConfucianism. Local divinities worshipped under Shinto were accepted as

    incarnations of the Buddha. In turn, in AD 767 an imperial decree announcedthat kami (sacred objects and symbols of Shinto) were to guard the Law of theBuddha. Buddhist monks were also permitted to officiate in Shinto temples.

    In the thirteenth century, Japan witnessed the emergence of its own Buddhistmonk, Nichiren (1222-82), who was considered a prophet. He preached thatsalvation could be achieved by reciting the Lotus Sutra. During the later periods,Zen Buddhism became popular. Several schools of Zen thought and practicedeveloped. During the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), Buddhism was promotedas the state religion. Temples were used to register population in order to

    prevent the spread of Christianity. 7

    The association of Buddhism with the Tokugawa regime made it unpopularduring the Meiji period (1868-1912) particularly among the elite who wanted to

    bring back Shinto as the state religion. This led to the separation of tworeligions. Lands were confiscated from the Buddhist temples and many Buddhist

    priests were dismissed.Many new religions emerged in Japan during the inter-war and post-war

    periods. This plurality of religions is rare if not unknown in other Buddhistcountries.

    Thus, it can be seen from the above brief account that Buddhism spread farand wide in South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia despite itsdisappearance from India. But India continued to wield important influence inthese regions especially in Southeast Asia.

    7 Francis Xavier introduced Christianity to Japan in 1549.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Indian Influence in Southeast Asia

    From the very beginning of Christian era, the Indian influence has been feltoutside India particularly in Southeast Asia. Indian seafarers went out in searchof trade and commerce despite Hindu strictures against travelling overseas.

    There was a continuation of earlier contacts between pre-Aryan India andSoutheast and East Asia (Groslier and Arthaud, 1957). The Indian expansion toSoutheast Asia was in sharp contrast to that of China southwards. 8 Ren Goussetconsiders Indian spiritual colonies of Borobodur and Angkor constitutingIndias greatest title to fame, her contribution to mankind (cited in ibid.:16).

    There is no consensus on why Indians moved outwards in ancient times. Nosingle explanation is satisfactory. The following are several plausible reasons.

    Internal population pressures in India.

    Expansionist policies of South Indian states. Political upheavals in northern India which may have triggered exodusfrom India.

    Emergence of Buddhism which was much more tolerant andegalitarian than Hinduism.

    Development of maritime technology and the building of large ships. Growth of trade and commerce. When trade with the Mediterranean

    reached its peak, Indians needed new sources of supply of spices,gold, precious stones and perfumes which might have led them toSoutheast Asia in search of these goods. Combined with this wasAshokas desire to spread the message of Buddhism.

    Buddhist sculpture, architecture and painting spread from India to theSoutheast and East Asia along with the spread of Buddhist religion. Buddhist artis discussed in the following chapters with special reference to Indian (Buddhistand Hindu) influence on it. Chapter 2 discusses the subject in general in Indiaand the rest of Asia. Chapters 3 to 9 are devoted to Buddhist sculpture,architecture and paintings, particularly to the places of importance to Buddhist


    8 Bernard Philippe Groslier and Jacques Arthaud ( The Arts and Civilization of ANGKOR ,

    New York, 1957), p.15, note: The distinguishing mark of Indian expansion was that it was peaceful and at first almost unnoticed, in complete contrast with the contemporary southwarddrive of the Chinese which, at any rate in Indo-China, constituted a regular process ofcolonization on the Roman model.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    C h a p t e r 2

    Buddhist Art in Asia

    Indian art is often said to be religious in the sense that it represents a particularreligion such as Hinduism or Buddhism by depicting its gods, temples and other

    places of worship. Some observers go even further and say that in India art isreligion and religion is art. However, strictly speaking it may be moreappropriate to speak of Indian art that represents Hindu or Buddhist themes. Theart form is more a function of time and space than of religion per se. Forexample, whether a piece of art or sculpture represents a Hindu deity or Buddhadoes not change the form or type of sculpture. For purposes of exposition, theterm Buddhist art and architecture is often used, but one needs to b ear in mindthis caveat.

    Any art is generally defined in terms of architecture, sculpture and painting.Buddhist architecture encompasses stupas, prayer halls and temples. Buddhisttemples in the old Hindu tradition are rare in India. The two main examples ofsuch temples are Temple 17 in Sanchi (see Chapter 5) and Mahabodhi temple inBodhgaya (see Chapter 3). Simple prayer halls (chaityas) provided places ofworship and monasteries (viharas) places of accommodation for monks. As

    discussed below, stupas were the most common form of Buddhist architecture inancient India.

    Temples, stupas and viharas were the main symbols of Buddhist art duringthe early period. For example, the Mahabodhi Temple, the Dhamekh Stupa (seeChapter 4) and the Great Stupa in Sanchi (see Chapter 5) are some of the earliestexamples of Buddhist art and architecture which remain intact until today. TheBuddhist cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora (see Chapter 6) dating back from thethird century BC to the sixth century AD depict the art of mural painting,sculpture and stone carvings. Below we shall first discuss the royal and non-

    royal patronage of Buddhist art followed by its various aspects, namely,architecture, sculpture and paintings.

    The earliest Hindu and Buddhist monuments used wood as the main building material which was later replaced by brick, clay, stone and metal. Sincewood is perishable, very little of ancient structures remain in existence today.During later periods, the use of stone became particularly popular. Most

    buildings discussed in this book are of brick or stone. Artisans, who werefamiliar with wood and clay, continued to imitate wooden forms in stone, whichis evident in many buildings that have survived.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia


  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Ashoka (Mauryan) Dynasty

    Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty was the first important patron of Buddhist art inIndia. According to legend, he built 84,000 Buddhist stupas in a single night(Rowland, 1953:40) which must be a gross exaggeration. A more realistic

    number seems to be a hundred or so. However, it is not unfair to say that he didmore for Buddhist art and religion (not only in India but also in other parts ofAsia and the Hellenistic kingdoms) than any other royal figure.

    Ashoka provided support for the building of temples, stupas andmonasteries. There is no trace of any stupas built during the pre-Mauryan

    period, which suggests that he was the first Mauryan emperor to have introducedthem perhaps as a way of unifying the empire. Historical records show that hedistributed the Buddha relics to a large number of stupas built by him in all the

    principal towns of the empire.

    Historic monuments of such holy Buddhist places as Bodhgaya and Sarnathare associated with Ashokas name. His stone and rock edicts are pieces ofBuddhist art which also offer historians useful insight into his religiousinclinations as well as economic and social life in his empire. The edict pillarshave survived more than the Buddhist monuments (with the exception of stupasof Piprawa in Nepal and Sanchi in India) which are largely ruined.

    It is suggested that Mauryan art was influenced by Persian and Hellenic art.The lion capitals on top of the Ashokan pillars reflected the ancient solar symbolin Persia, Mesopotamia and Egypt long before Buddhism was born. Rowland

    (Ibid.:43) concludes that the idea of such memorial columns is, of course, notIndian, but is yet another derivation from the civilization of ancientMesopotamia. Even if we accept the existence of foreign influence in theAshoka pillars, they were intended to convey an entirely Indian Buddhistmessage of peace. However, Rowland may be right in stating that the primaryfunction of any religious memorial built during Ashokas reign was magicaland auspicious, neither decorative nor architectural (p.45).

    Of all the Buddhist monuments built by Ashoka, the following may be citedas the most important: the Sarnath stupa (Dhamekh); the Sanchi stupa I; and theBodhgaya temple. These are discussed in subsequent chapters.

    Sunga Dynasty

    Would the Sunga Brahmins have promoted Buddhist art in the tradition ofAshoka? Historical accounts show that a good deal of it (for example, theBharhut stupa, gateway and railing, the Sanchi gateways and the Amaravatistupa) belong to the early period of the Sungas. How does one reconcile thisapparent paradox of Brahmins patronising Buddhist art? It is quite likely that thesuccessors of Pushyamitra, though Hindus, were tolerant of Buddhism andcontributed to the construction of Buddhist monuments. This view is supported

    by an inscription attributed to the Sungas found at the Mahabodhi Temple inBodhgaya (Barua, 1934).

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Several Buddhist monuments were built, renovated or expanded during theSanga dynasty, for example, Sanchi Stupa no. 2. These monuments arediscussed in Chapter 5.

    Satavahana (Andhra) Dynasty

    The Satavahana rulers (also known as Andhras) who ruled in Maharashtra andAndhra Pradesh from 230 BC to AD 220, gave financial support for the buildingof Ajanta cave monasteries and temples. They are also known to have financedthe four gateways to the Great Stupa in Sanchi. The Amaravati Stupa builtduring the Andhra dynasty north of Madras (Chennai) at the mouth of the riverKrishna is one of the most important examples of Buddhist art in South India.Thi s dynasty represents the golden age of Buddhist art (Rowland, 1953:123).

    Several Buddha statues of the Andhra period dating to the second and third

    centuries have been found in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Champa (modern Indo-China), which suggests that the Satavahana kingdom had commercial andreligious contacts with neighbouring countries.

    Kushana Dynasty

    Images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas in Sarnath are associated with the Kushanakings such as Kanishka who made popular the human image of Buddha,replacing the earlier symbolic representation. Kushanas may have sponsored the

    production of the Mathura type of Buddha image. Mathura was almost thesecond capital of the Kushanas.

    Gupta Dynasty

    Buddhist art flourished further under the Gupta patronage which is reflected inthe Buddha statues in Sarnath (see Chapter 4) and Buddhist rock-cut temples inAjanta (for example, Cave no. 19 , see Chapter 6). Thapar (1990:157-8) notesthat the Buddha images discovered in Sarnath represented t he highestachievement of classical sculpture. They reflect a serenity and contentmentwhich have come to be associated with the religious atmosphere of the age.

    This period also witnessed the construction of rock-cut Buddhist shrines andtemples in the Deccan.

    Not many buildings of the Gupta period have survived. However, thefollowing remain intact:

    The Buddhist temples such as Temple 17 near the Great Stupain Sanchi. It is a simple temple with a flat roof.

    The Ajanta cave temples, for example , cave no. 19, a Buddhistsanctuary (see Chapter 6) whose facade contains rich anddecorative sculpture of Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

    The Buddhist chaitya-hall in Karle (Maharashtra), convertedinto a temple, represents Buddhist sculpture in Western India.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    It contains a statue of Buddha flanked by the BodhisattvasAvalaokitesvara and Maitreya.

    The Buddha images discovered in Sarnath, for example, astatue of the preaching Buddha with ornamental halo aroundBuddhas head is its main feature.

    Metal statues and statuettes of Buddha , for example, thecolossal copper image of Buddha from Sultanganj in theBirmingham Museum in the UK.

    Mural paintings of Ajanta temples (1, 2, 6, 17 and 19) (seeChapter 6), the Gupta caves of Badami and paintings of Bagh.

    Gupta art, sculpture and paintings provided prototypes not only for India butalso for Cambodia and Thailand where Buddha statues have also beendiscovered (see Chapters 7 to 9). The Chinese pilgrims to India during the Gupta

    period may have taken the Gupta style to China in the sixth and seventhcenturies.

    That Buddhist art developed during the Gupta period cannot be doubted.However, was it the result of an explicit royal patronage of the Gupta rulers?One cannot be entirely certain about this point. The promotion of art during the

    period may have resulted from a combination of royal patronage, patronage bywealthy merchants and by the ordinary devotees of Buddhism.

    Subsequent Dynasties

    Pala kings, who ruled eastern India (eighth to twelfth century), appeared to havecontinued promoting Buddhist art even when Buddhism was in decline in thenorth. Chandra kings of eastern Bengal (tenth to eleventh century) and Bhaumasof Orissa (eighth to tenth century) were devout Buddhists who patronisedBuddhist monuments. However, Buddhist building art witnessed a markeddecline from the twelfth century onwards in the wake of Muslim invasions.

    In the Deccan, during the fifth and sixth centuries, the Chalukya andVakataka kings patronised early mural paintings of Ajanta. They may have also

    supported the construction of Buddhist prayer halls in Ellora.

    Patronage of the M erchant Cl ass

    Wealthy merchants provided strong financial support to the construction ofmonasteries, stupas and viharas. Inscriptions on ancient Buddhist monumentsshow that they offered individual and collective donations for the building ofshrines.

    What was the motivation behind the generosity of the merchant class? First,it is important to note that India at that time was quite prosperous which made

    philanthropy possible. Secondly, religious donations may have been made in thehope that donors would acquire better karmas in life after death. This may partlyexplain why many Hindus donated funds for Buddhist shrines even though theydid not practise the religion.

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia



    Patronage of Ordinary People

    Contributions of ordinary people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, are knownto have been made for the building of Buddhist monuments in Amaravati,Sanchi and Bharhut. Inscriptions show that a large number of ordinary people as

    well as monks and nuns gave donations for their construction. Dehejia (1992:67)notes that Sanchi brings us into contact with the everyday world of thehousewife and householder, the fisherman and gardener, the merchant and

    banker, who left as many as 631 records of donations inscribed in stone. Onlythree out of the 631 records mention royal patronage. She further adds: Nunsand lay- women were also significant donors with just under half the donations.This is particularly true of the building of Amaravati stupa. Records ofdonations on inscriptions show that two -thirds of the gifts came from layworshippers, of whom a large proportion were women (Dehejia, 1997:75). The

    remaining one-third came from monks and nuns. It is surprising that there ishardly any mention of any royal patronage for the construction of either Sanchistupa or Amaravati stupa.

    Particularly problematic are the financial contributions of monks and nunswho were not supposed to indulge in material pursuits. They lived on almswhich offered them a very simple and modest living. So when and how did they

    become wealthy enough to make donations, and where did their wealth comefrom? What was the motivation of ordinary men and women to finance art andsculpture? Religious devotion? Or expectation of better karmas in life after

    death? These questions deserve a systematic analysis.The Buddhist religion must have become affluent to be able to afford well-equipped and spacious monasteries for monks and nuns who no longer lived onalms. 9 But does this development suggest that Buddhism moved away from thecommon people?

    Having presented a general picture of the sponsorship of Buddhist art, belowwe discuss its different aspects: architecture, sculpture and painting.

    Buddhist Art


    Buddhist architecture centres around stupas, monasteries and prayer halls whichare discussed below.

    Stupas : One of the most common Buddhist monuments is a commemorativemound which generally contains relics of Buddha or his disciples. Many stupaswere built to commemorate Buddhist events.

    9 Romila Thapar ( History of India , London, 1990), p.129, notes: Gone were the days whenthe Buddhist monks lived entirely on alms [] they ate regular meals in vast monasticrefectories []. Secluded monasteries were sufficiently well -endowed to enable the monks tolive comfortably. She argues that the Buddhist Order thus tended to move away from thecommon people and isolated itself, which in turn diminished much of its religious strength, adevelopment which one suspects Buddha would not have found acceptable (Ibid).

  • 8/10/2019 Buddhist Art in Asia


    A stupa consists of a hemispheric cupola/dome (or anda ) on a base encircled by a balustrade that may be intersected by four gateways (toranas). A squarerests on the cupola railing or a balcony-like structure ( harmika) from which risesa shaft of metal or wood, supporting umbrellas (see Chapter 5).

    The dome was intended to be a replica of the dome of heaven, and the

    harmika at the top of the stupa mound may typify the Heaven of the Thirty -three Gods located at the summit of the cosmic peak. Thus, the stupa is seen asa cosmic diagram and perhaps also as representing the body of Buddha after theattainment of nirvana.

    In India, stupas are defined in terms of four categories;

    Sarrika : stupas built on the relics of Buddha and his disciples andsaints.

    Paribhogika: stupas containing objects (such as a begging bowl) used

    by Buddha. Uddesika : stupas commemorating the life of Buddha by narratingincidents.

    Votive : small stupas built by pilgrims to commemorate their visits toBuddhist holy shrines (see Mitra, 1971).

    The reliquary and votive stupas are distinguished by size differences. Thelatter are generally small such as those at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya(see Chapter 3). The Indian stupas changed form over time and grew in size and


    Some observers regard stupas as Buddhist tombs, but they were more likesanctuaries for storing Buddha relics and as places of worship for both kings andcommoners.

    Gateways to stupas and railings between them (see Chapter 5) are stoneimitations of earlier wooden portals found at the entrances of old Indian towns.The panels and the posts in the form of bas- reliefs depict jatakas from Buddhasvarious lives.

    The forms of stupas vary across Asian countries. For example, in Indiavarious shapes are found in Sarnath, Bodhgaya and elsewhere (Fig. 2). InMyanmar, the stupa is usually gilded and rests on a high base mounted by stairs.In Cambodia the cupola is generally bell-shaped. In Tibet, one finds stupas ofmany doors ( sgo-mang ) since they have many chapels attached to them withfrescoes depicting various Tantric deities. The pagodas of China and Japan can

    be described as turreted stupas. In China, various types of pagodas have beenfound: wooden and masonry pagodas, single-storeyed, multi-storeyed and multi-eaved pagodas. Although the stupa in its original Indian form was known in

    China, it was never transplanted there. It is unclear why. Fig. 3 shows the threequadrangular pagodas at the foot of Mount Gangshan in the northwest of Dali inYunnan (China). The tallest of the three, Qianxun Pagoda, is nearly 70 metreshigh, has 16 storeys and a hollow brick structure of beautiful proportions. Theywere built in AD 836 during the Tang Dynasty. The complex was an importantB ddhi t t f th B i ki gd f N h