Buddhist Art

“It can be surmised that transmission of Buddhism would have been lively and joyful, accompanied by the arts including music and dancing from various ethnicities.”

– Yasushi Inonue and Kengo To,  on China Dunhuang Wall Paintings Exhibition

Art had been a way of translating, transmitting and revering the Buddha’s teachings. This came in many grand and intricate forms including architecture, sculptures and paintings, providing clues on the prosperity of Buddhist civilisations and the passion of its practitioners.

Creation of images of the Buddha

The origin of the Buddha image is shrouded in myth and mystery. The Buddha, in early Indian art, was never represented in human form, but only by symbols consisting of the Dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree, footprint and pedestal.
On the other hand, Hellenistic art of the Gandhara period portrayed anthropomorphic images of Buddha as Greek sculptors have been commissioned to do so by the city’s rulers. Since then, people were able to visualize the Buddha, and the availability of concrete objects of devotion contributed to the popularity of Buddhism among various ethnicities.

Sculpture of head of Shakyamuni

Buddha sculpture with Herculean figure 

Caption: A Buddha sculpture flanked by a Herculean figure which stands guard, highlighting the fusion between Eastern and Western civilization. This sculpture is found at a Buddhist temple in Tepe Shutur (Hadda in present-day Afghanistan), which was a center for Buddhist practice that was later destroyed by the turmoil in the 1980s.

Buddhist civilisation prospers

Great Stupa at Sanchi Built by King Ashoka 

Caption: Ashoka was responsible for building many stupas over northern India and other territories under the Mauryan dynasty in areas now known as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. Today three stupas stand in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India. At the Great Stupa, pictorial representations of the Buddhist teachings, as well as Buddhist narratives and stories related to Ashoka were inscribed on the pillars and beams.

Mural, King Kaniska and attendants 

Caption: A mural painting of King Kanishka (center) and his attendants, which as excavated from ruins of a Buddhist monastery at Fayaztepa around the 1st to 2nd centuries CE. King Kanishka was the fourth king of the Kushan dynasty, who was also a great patron of Buddhism and gave great support for its expansion into Central Asia.

Celebration of Life:
A philosophy of peace and harmonious co-existence

Reliefs on gateways of Great Stupa 

Caption: Reliefs found on one of the four gateways of the Great Stupa standing in India today. The replica of reliefs here depict a scene of the Buddha attaining enlightenment. In the center is the Buddha’s seat under the Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya, indicating that the Buddha has attained enlightenment. At the left, heavenly deities are celebrating the Buddha’s enlightenment by playing musical instruments. At the right are grotesque figures of the devil’s army, routed in confusion after failing to obstruct the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Musicians of the Musical Cave of the Yungang Grottoes in Datong China 

Caption: Three-dimensional images and decorations found on the wall in Cave 12 of the Yungang Grottoes (also known as Musical Caves) in Datong, China. The scene here depicts musicians playing in a grand concert of 47 instruments consisting of 14 types, such as string, woodwind, percussion and others. The expressions of the musicians are dynamic and filled with vitality. Transmission of Buddhism could have been carried out in this same lively and joyous spirit.