Buddhist Art



Buddhist Art Work - Buddha Statues

The Buddha's emergence eclipsed the reigning dogmas of Vedik religion. His birth is likened to the rising of another sun; his enlightenment, to the sacrificial fire of Agni; while in his turning of the wheel of law he assumes the power of a world ruler.

Buddhism formed an early alliance with the popular cults of the soil and of nature. This explains the presence of yakshis and nagas, dryads and water spirits that appear in all monuments of early Buddhist art. The mythology of Buddhism also came to include a collection of moral tales purporting to relate the events in earlier incarnations of Buddha when, in either animal or human form, he was acquiring the merit that enabled him to attain enlightenment.

Buddhism was such a powerful influence that many dynasties subscribed to it. Each dynasty-be it the Mauryas, Sungas, Guptas, Kushans, Palas, or the Senas-produced stupas, sculptures, paintings and frescoes that are regarded as heritage art today.

The worship of Buddha as an absolute was reflected in the iconography of the time-as in the trikaya, or three bodies of Buddha. Other Buddhas were added later and, around the eighth century, we have the complete mandala or

magic diagram of the cosmos, with a universal Buddha at the center of the cosmic machine surrounded by four mythical Buddhas located at the four cardinal points of the compass. This concept of five Buddhas goes back to earlier beliefs such as the five elements and five senses.

Buddhist Art under Mauryas

The conversion to Buddhism of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (272-232 BC) led to the highest moment of artistic development. The ruins of a stupa at Piprawa in Nepal and the core of the great stupa at Sanchi mutely testify to his zeal. Stone memorials, which consisted of great pillars crowned by sculpted animals of metaphysical significance, were set up at sites associated with Buddha. On these pillars and rocks were inscribed Ashoka's edicts on Dharma in Pali. The Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang, who visited Sarnath (the scene of Buddha's first preaching) in the seventh century, speaks eloquently of the monument: "A stone pillar about seventy feet high. The stone is altogether as bright as jade. It is glistening and sparkles like light…"

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