Lord Buddha has not only given to the world the immortal message of non-violence and truth, but the great preacher in the subcontinent has left an undying legacy of innovation and absorption to Indian art and culture. Lord Buddha and his life constitute a subject of immortal art and painting as well as architecture in the annals of Indian Civilisation. Life of this great saint has become a pivotal part of Buddhist painting, evolved even during his life. Subsequently, his followers created some of the masterpieces of the great son of the soil. His life and teachings are the focal points of a specific genre of art style that evolved over a period of time as Buddhist Art.
Buddhist art evolved under the Great Kushanas during the first century AD in Mathura and Gandhara.
A realistic idealism, combining realistic human features, attitudes and attributes with a sense of perfection and serenity was the theme point of this art genre. The Buddha came to be identified both as man and God and it laid the foundation for an iconographic canon for subsequent Buddhist art.
During the Golden Age of the Guptas, Buddhist art took more concrete form with lot of refinement.
Subsequently, Buddhism travelled to other Asian countries and along with the religion its art form also spread its wings to these countries.
Viharas initially were only temporary shelters used by wandering monks during the rainy season, but later were developed to accommodate the growing and increasingly formalised Buddhist monasticism. An existing example is at Nalanda (Bihar). A distinctive type of fortress architecture found in the former and present Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas are dzongs.
The initial function of a stupa was the veneration and safe-guarding of the relics of the Buddha. The earliest surviving example of a stupa is in Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh).
In accordance with changes in religious practice, stupas were gradually incorporated into chaitya-grihas (temple halls). These reached their high point in the 1st century BC, exemplified by the cave complexes of Ajanta and Ellora (Maharashtra). The Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya in Bihar is another well known example.
Buddhist architecture emerged slowly in the period following the Buddha’s life, building on Brahmanist Vedic models, but incorporating specifically Buddhist symbols.
Brahmanist temples at this time followed a simple plan – a square inner space, the sacrificial arena, often with a surrounding ambulatory route separated by lines of columns, with a conical or rectangular sloping roof, behind a porch or entrance
area, generally framed by freestanding columns or a colonnade. The external profile represents Mount Meru, the abode of the gods and centre of the universe. The dimensions and proportions were dictated by sacred mathematical formulae. This simple plan was adopted by early Buddhists, sometimes adapted with additional cells for monks at the periphery .
In essence the basic plan survives to this day in Buddhist temples throughout the world. The profile became elaborated and the characteristic mountain shape seen today in many Hindu temples was used in early Buddhist sites and continued in similar fashion in some cultures (such as the Khmer). In others, such as Japan and Thailand, local influences and differing religious practices led to different architecture.
Early temples were often timber, and little trace remains, although stone was increasingly used. Cave temples such as those at Ajanta have survived better and preserve the plan form, porch and interior arrangements from this early period. As the functions of the monastery-temple expanded, the plan form started to diverge from the Brahmanist tradition and became more elaborate, providing sleeping, eating and study accommodation.
A characteristic new development at religious sites was the stupa. Stupas were originally more sculpture than building, essentially markers of some holy site or commemorating a holy man who lived there. Later forms are more elaborate and also in many cases refer back to the Mount Meru model.
One of the earliest Buddhist sites still in existence is at Sanchi, India, and this is centred on a stupa said to have been built by King Ashoka . The original simple structure is encased in a later, more decorative one, and over two centuries the whole site was elaborated upon. The four cardinal points are marked by elaborate stone gateways.
As with Buddhist art, architecture followed the spread of Buddhism throughout south and east Asia and it was the early Indian models that served as a first reference point, even though Buddhism virtually disappeared from India itself in the 10th century.
Decoration of Buddhist sites became steadily more elaborate through the last two centuries BCE, with the introduction of tablets and friezes, including human figures, particularly on stupas. However, the Buddha was not represented in human form until the 1st century CE. Instead, aniconic symbols were used. This is treated in more detail in Buddhist art, Aniconic phase. It influenced the development of temples, which eventually became a backdrop for Buddha images in most cases.
As Buddhism spread, Buddhist architecture diverged in style, reflecting the similar trends in Buddhist art. Building form was also influenced to some extent by the different forms of Buddhism in the northern countries, practicing Mahayana Buddhism in the main and in the south where Theravada Buddhism prevailed.
By Team GangesIndia