The Indian Region and the Far
Between the ancient and modern eras, sophisticated civilizations were
developing or already in existence in places as distant as India, Java,
and Japan. Inspired by differing- and sometimes overlapping - forms of
and life, these cultures produced a varied array of art and
In Asia, the cultures of India and China have developed rich artistic traditions
over thousands of years. Both have had a profound and widespread influence upon
the cultures of surrounding peoples, often developing in tandem with the
existing local cultures.
Indian Art from the Mauryato the Gupta
During its long development, Indian art has reflected the
constant endeavour to give artistic shape to the divine. The
principles of this pursuit remained unchanged over the
centuries, but the style of expression took different forms. The
pre-classical age is exemplified by the artistic activity of the
Maurya (fourth to second century bc) and Sunga (second to first
century bc) periods, and later in the art of the important city
of Mathura in the Kushan period (first to third century ad). The
powerful moulding of Maurya figurative sculpture in polished
sandstone and the frontal forms of the Sunga figures at Bharhut
and Sanchi were the stylistic examples for the typical Kushan
statuary. During the early centuries ad, the abundant production
of statues using local pink sandstone provided the foundations
for the development of sculpture and the rich Hindu and Buddhist
iconography of future years. Some of the most typical images of
the Indian world are found at Bharhut and Sanchi; these are the
yaksa and yaksini - male and female nature spirits associated
with trees and fertility. The male figures are usually in a
rigid standing position with a round face and spherical eyes.
Female figures reveal characteristic features of Indian grace
and beauty: the supple body bent in the trib-hanga posture with
the weight on one leg, the sensual shape of the hips and
breasts, and the expressive details in the face. There are
stupas (domed edifices) and reliquaries dating " to the Sunga
period, the earliest of which contain the remains of the Buddha
and act as the true focal point of Buddhist culture. These
buildings were characterized by an ancient hemispherical shape.
On the top of this, a square wall surrounded a pole that passed through the
stupa and came out through two or more parasols. The monument was bordered by a
circular balustrade, with four gate walls, or toranas, facing the four cardinal
points. Stupa 2 at Sanchi was decorated with low relief, as were the four
gateways at Bharhut. Amaravati was another artistic centre,
which existed at the same time as Mathura, and its sculpture is
distinguishable by an image of the Buddha with delicate and
elongated features, his robe falling in heavy folds.
Sandstone statue of preaching Buddha, fifth
century ad. Archaeoiogicai Museum, Sarnath.
The Gupta period (ad370-550) was an important part of the
classical phase of Indian art. It embodied all Indian aesthetic ideals
and formulated the rules for the representation and iconography of Hindu
and Buddhist divinities. It was also the period when the shape of the
Hindu temple was defined and a formal mode of expression was developed
in the arts. The more localized styles of artistic production, which had
typified the earlier periods, were replaced by a more unified style.
This was first elaborated in Mathura and later exemplified by the school
of Sarnath, which established itself as the principal artistic centre of
the fifth century. Achieving a balance of form and decoration was both
the goal and culmination of Gupta art. However, political, religious,
and social changes in the sixth century were to bring distinct changes
to the forms of art in medieval times.
Relief showing Vishnu Anantasayana. Vishnu Temple.
Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh The
thick and animated network of figures on a variety of levels,
and the luminosity
and sensuality of the high-relief sculpture are very striking.
obvious to the Western observer is the theological content of this sacred work
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Gandharan schist statue
of a standing Buddha,
In the early centuries of the first millennium ad, during the reign
of the Kushan sovereigns, two important schools of art developed in
the regions of Gandhara in the northwest of modern Pakistan and
Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, India. Both centres inherited an ancient
artistic tradition, which was manifested in the formulation of
well-defined sculptural styles. These two major art schools
developed different formal solutions to the anthropomorphic
representation of the Buddha. Characterized by an original artistic
language enriched by various contributions from other cultures,
including the Romano-Hellenist, the Gandharan style can be seen in
the production of schist statues of Buddha and narrative reliefs
inspired by the Master's life. On the other hand, the sandstone
images of the Buddha from Mathura are based solely on Indian
Temple of Vishnu, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh, second half of the fifth century. This
the standard design of temples in the formative Gupta period.
THE ORIGINS OF THE INDIAN TEMPLE
True Indian temple architecture dates from the Gupta period. Prior
to this, there had been centuries of religious activity associated
with sanctuaries hewn from rock walls, particularly in
central-western India. Among the most famous examples of cave
temples are the Buddhist grottoes of Ajanta, which were entirely cut
out of the rock. In the Gupta period, the format of many Indian
temples followed a standardized plan that was to remain the
blueprint for later temples. The heart of the building was the
cubical cella where the divine image was placed. Raised slightly on
a low platform, it was situated inside a square room with an
antechamber. A passage surrounded the shrine for the ritual walk
around the sacred image. The architraves and jambs of the entrance
portal were often richly decorated with plant motifs and the male
and female figures of the temple protectors. Images of the Hindu
deities also adorned the walls.
ANONYMOUS MASTER: "COURT LIFE SCENE"
The rock-cut temples and "cave" paintings of Ajanta are religious in
character and inspired by sacred texts. This particular painting
refers to the Vishvantara Jataka, a work narrating the life of
Buddha. It shows part of an episode in which the prince tells his
wife of his wish to renounce the pleasures of court life and become
a monk in his new life as Buddha. Seated on a bed, the princely
couple converse, surrounded by three figures. The four columns of
the bed and the eyelines of the three figures frame the couple,
highlighting them as the subjects of the painting.
Detail from the wall paintings in Cave XVII of Ajanta.
Stupa of Ruanveli, Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura period.
The art of Sri Lanka (previously known as Ceylon) from the fourth
century bc to the tenth century ad is best seen in the regions of
the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The art was
inspired mainly by the form of Buddhism that was introduced to the
island in the third century bc. Among the most typical monuments are
the stupas. such as those of Thuparama and Ruanveli at Anuradhapura,
which follow the famous Indian example of Amaravati, but without the
narrative reliefs that decorate its body and balustrade. Also
typical are the monasteries and the characteristic bodhigham-sanctuaries
erected around the sacred bodhi ("illumination") tree. The sculpture
in stone and bronze, also influenced by the Amaravati style,
consists of statues of the Buddha, clad in a tightly pleated cloak
with his right shoulder uncovered. A new, refined sensibility is
evident in the carvings of the "moon stones" - engraved slabs
situated at the base of the entrance steps to the Buddhist temples.
During the last centuries of Anuradhapura's dominance, Sinhalese
sculpture reveals the influence of other Indian schools, such as the
classical Gupta style and the Pallava style from southern India
(seventh to eighth century). These styles were preserved by Sinhalese art, and
transmitted to regions of Southeast Asia.
HINDU AND BUDDHIST IMAGERY
The representation of the human figure, which occupies a central
position in Indian art, is not concerned with the achievement of
realism or individuality. The artists did not seek to illustrate any
notion of empirical reality, but chose to represent the spiritual in
human form. This is reflected in the bodies of the Hindu gods
(rarely defined with anatomical accuracy in order to ensure a
harmony of the whole); in the serene and controlled expression of
their faces (portraying celestial sovereignty and dominion over the
passions); in the multiplication of limbs (sign of divine
omnipotence); and in attributes that identify supernatural power.
Similarly, the Buddha's image is conveyed through the rapt gaze, the
gestures of his hands, and the characteristics that mark him out as
a superior being - protruberant skull, open hand, and the symbol of
the wheel on the soles of his feet. These sum up the whole spiritual
experience as lived and transmitted to his disciples.
Wall-painting from Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, last quarter of the fifth century.
THE WALL-PAINTINGS OF AJANTA AND SIGIRIYA
Some compensation for the absence of ancient Indian painting is afforded by the
wall-paintings of Ajanta in Maharashtra, India, and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, both
dating from the fifth century. Painted in water colours on dry plaster on the
walls of the rock-carved rooms and galleries, both show the influence of
classical Gupta art, albeit interpreted in differing fashions. The Ajanta
paintings, drawn freely and confidently along conventional lines, illustrate
Buddhist narratives, with crowded scenes of people in palaces and gardens. The
full, sensual forms of the figures are created by the soft lines of the contours
and by the interplay of colour, light, and shade, which accentuates the shapes
and creates subtle effects in the expressions of the people. In the figures from
Sigiriya, however, there is a sense of greater simplicity. The paintings contain
less variety of colour and stylistically place more emphasis on outline.
Wall-painting from the first cave, Ajanta, India, fifth century.
Burmese, Khmer, and Champa Art
Temple of Ananda, Pagan. Burma, late 11th century.
This temple is a magnificent
example of Pagan architecture.
The spread of Indian culture was partly a result of commercial contacts with the
peoples of Southeast Asia and partly the interaction between the Indian and
Southeast-Asian courts of the day during the first centuries of the modern era.
Among these kingdoms were ancient Funan at the mouth of the Mekong, Sriksetra in
Burma, Dvaravati in Thailand, and the more easterly Linyi in Vietnam - all
inhabited by people of diverse ethnic stock and language and and influenced by
different aspects of Indian culture. Subsequently, from about the seventh or
eighth century, each of these areas was involved in a process of unification,
culminating in the foundation of the Cham and Khmer civilizations, and later, in
the 13th century, the Thai civilization. Different religious beliefs determined
the artistic orientation of these cultures -Buddhist in the case of the Burmese
and Thai, Hindu and
Buddhist in the case of the Khmer and Cham. By now, these were mature artistic
styles, acting independently of Indian models. Local variations produced
original results in architecture and sculpture, notably the stupas and
sanctuaries of Pagan in Burma, the mountain temples of Angkor and its provincial
towns in Cambodia, the distinctive style of bronze manufacture in Sukhotai, and
the unusual sculptures of the Champa at Dong Duong. From the 9th to the 13th
century, the cities of Angkor and Pagan were the main political and cultural
centres of two profoundly different civilizations, the Burmese and the Khmer.
Although they differed in their aspirations, the two cultures nevertheless
helped each other develop, as exemplified by the Buddhist sanctuaries of Pagan
and the Hindu monuments of Angkor. Burmese architecture made exclusive use of
brick and stucco. Sanctuary walls were typically lined with plaster, which acted
as a surface for the interior wall-paintings, while exterior decoration was
confined to the simple moulding and projecting pediments that framed the doors.
Panels of glazed terracotta, illustrated with didactic scenes, were sometimes
placed around the hemispherical, bell-shaped stupas. Classical Burmese sculpture
consists of bronze, stone, and stucco images of Buddha, partly derived from
Indian art but distinguished by the stylized modelling and the
development of a flamelike skull protuberance. The best examples of
classical Khmer art and architecture can be found at the remains of
the awe-inspiring ancient city of Angkor. Its sculpture is
predominantly Hindu in influence, with rounded statues and shallow
reliefs carved on temple walls. The high technical level of Khmer
artists is evident in both architecture and sculpture. It is
manifested in the skilled use of sandstone blocks in building and in
the freestanding statuary, which displays smooth lines and a strong
frontality, conveying magnificently the supernatural power of the
Hindu divinities. Khmer sculpture is also characterized by the faint
smile on the faces of the deities. To a large extent, Champa art
parallels that of its neighbouring civilization and is manifested in
numerous Hindu temples, particularly at My Son in the north and in
the ninth century Buddhist complex of Dong Duong. Rich and
imaginative sculpture was also produced, in which diverse influences
were blended with great originality.
View of the richly decorated Khmer mountain-temple of Bayon. Cambodia.