What is Buddhist Architecture?
Buddhist architecture denotes specifically to those monuments and paintings that existed as a means of the edification or popularization of Buddhism. It portrays the rich and diverse representations of religious sculpture, images, dance, visual mythology and symbols which have been derived from the various Buddhist communities worldwide.
Emergence of Buddha Artwork -
Buddha artwork emerged in India and Sri Lanka after the demise of Gautam Buddha (563 BCE to 483 BCE). Around the first century CE, the Greek invaded Northwestern India – this is the time when Buddhist Art started flourishing across India. During first Century B.C, an important development around this period was the depiction of Buddha in human form. The Gandharan style combined artistic elements of Greco-Roman sculptures with symbolism to create unique images. This style featured images of a youthful Buddha with wavy curls, adorned in a monastic robe that covered both shoulders arranged in heavy classical folds. Meanwhile, the Kushana period artists in Mathura, India produced a different image of Buddha wherein his body was extended by a single breath (prana) complemented with distended earlobes.
Theme of Buddhist Art and Architecture
The theme of Buddha artwork focuses on amplifying the transcendental nature of Buddha. There are majorly three kinds of structures which are associated with early Buddhism, including monasteries, viharas, stupas and temples (Chaitya Grihas). Originally, Viharas were the temporary shelters for wandering monks during rainy season. It was later evolved to accommodate a formalized Buddhist monasticism.
Stupas are the large hemispherical mounds, inside which the cremated relics of the Buddha were placed. These relics were bifurcated into several portions and then placed in relic caskets. Stupas are considered as the central monument of Buddhist monastic complexes. Later on, the transformation of religious practices led the stupas to be incorporated into chaitya-grihas (temple halls).
Why is Buddhist Architecture different?
What separates Buddhist architecture from other religions is the physical representation of Buddha and his teachings? Every Buddhist architecture showcases the “middle path of moderation.” It focuses on striking the balance between self-indulgence and self-mortification, to which Buddha devoted his life. Buddhist Art values enlightenment in one’s life. The Buddhist architecture rejects both asceticism as well as the physical desires of the current world.
Buddha Art and Architecture -
The most popular Buddhist Symbol is the statue of Buddha. It showcases various mudras (symbolic hand gestures), facial expressions and halos. Here are the common symbols and motifs in the Buddhist Art:
- Aniconic Symbols: In the earliest examples of Buddhist art and architecture, aniconic symbolism reflected the concept of nirvana. It is a state of being released from the physical body and all the earthly desires. It is only achieved after many life cycles of one entity. In order to portray this concept, a lot of paintings were created which depicted a horse without a rider, and an empty chair or so on.
- Sacred breath of Prana: The sculptures in Mathura focused more on the sacred breath of prana. The paintings depicted him with an expanded chest full of air. The idols of Lord Buddha were used to show him in deep concentration. Artists also chose to leave the right shoulder bare.
- Hand gestures: ‘Mudras’, hand gestures depicted in Buddhist Art had their own distinctive meaning. The most common mudra is chin or gyan mudra. This mudra shows that the thumb and index finger come together to form a circle. This mudra depicts the gesture of wisdom, knowledge and the unity of human cognizance.
Notable examples of Buddhist Artwork -
- Daibutsu: The sculpture known as ‘Daibutsu’ represents the importance of Buddhism outside the country of origin. Located in Japan, the bronze statue was created inside the Kotoku-in Temple in 1252. The statue allows people to enter and worship. It is one of the most valuable treasures of Buddha artworks. Today, Daibutsu is a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Buddha footprints: Buddha’s footprints depicted the fleeting nature of humanity’s time on earth. It also portrayed the path of righteousness that others must follow. Buddha artworks were showcased by Dharmachakra, or The Dharma Wheel, at the sole of the foot and takes over 3,000 different forms across Japan, Sri Lanka, India, and other neighboring countries.
- The Great Stupa: The Great Stupa was established by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka in Sanchi, India in 3rd Century B.C. The dome stands at 120 feet high and 54 feet wide. It reflects heaven enclosing the earth, and is one of the oldest Buddhist monuments of the country.
- Gedun Truppa, 1st Dalai Lama: Reflecting the teachings of Buddha, the Dalai Lama was the first spiritual leader to propagate Buddhist culture in Tibet. The Buddha art painting - Gedun Truppa reflects the “ocean of wisdom” and embodies peace, compassion and tranquility.
- Ayuthaya Buddha Head: Located in Thailand, it is one of the most beautiful Buddhist architectures. The head of Buddha is enveloped in the roots of a large tree. Later on, the statue was overtaken by the neighboring country.
1. When was earliest work of Buddhist Artwork found?
- The earliest works of Buddhist art and architecture was found in India that date back to the 1st century BCE.
2. What does Stupa reflect from Buddhist Architecture?
- When Buddha died, his body was cremated and divided into several relic caskets – these are what we know as stupas in Buddhist Architecture today.
3. What are the common symbols used to portray Buddhist Art and Architecture?
- Buddhist art is depicted through symbols like Eternal Knot, Lotus and Dharma Wheel.