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Buddhist Art

Early Buddhist art, followed the Indian tradition which avoids direct representation of the human figure. Around the 1st century CE an iconic period emerged which represents the Buddha in human form. Buddhist art originated on the Indian subcontinent following the historical life of Gautama Buddha.

Buddhist art adapted, and evolved in each new host country from Central Asia to Eastern Asia and in Southeast Asia. In India, Buddhist art flourished and even influenced the development of Hindu art. But Buddhism nearly disappeared in India around the 10th century due to the vigorous expansion of Islam alongside Hinduism.

As Buddhism expanded outside of India from the 1st century CE, its original artistic form blended with other artistic influences and that leading to a progressive differentiation among the countries adopting the faith. The Northern route was recognized from the 1st century CE through Central Asia, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, in which Mahayana Buddhism prevailed. On the other hand, the Southern route, Theravada Buddhism dominated and went through Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

During the 2nd to 1st century BCE, sculptures of Buddhist art became more unambiguous. It started representing the episodes of Buddha’s life and teachings. Although India had a long sculptural tradition and a rich iconography, the Buddha was never represented in human form, but only through some of his symbols.

Human like representations of the Buddha started to emerge from the 1st century CE in northern India. The two main centers of creation have been identified as Gandhara in today’s Punjab, in Pakistan, and the region of Mathura, in central northern India.

The Silk Route transmission of Buddhism to Central Asia, China and ultimately Korea and Japan started in the 1st century CE. A range of wide contacts and missionary efforts started in this period of 2nd century CE.

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