Dynamic forms

Print edition : October 19, 2012

THE BUDDHA, 5TH CENTURY C.E., SARNATH, UTTAR PRADESH (Collection: National Museum, New Delhi). The Buddha personifies the bodhi, the potential of enlightenment within us. The inward look of the Buddha directs us towards the peace that can be found within.-THE BUDDHA, 5TH CENTURY C.E., SARNATH, UTTAR PRADESH (Collection: National Museum, New Delhi). The Buddha personifies the bodhi, the potential of enlightenment within us. The inward look of the Buddha directs us towards the peace that can be found within.

The Buddhist art of the 5th century C.E. onwards is filled with beauty and grace, which provide an elevating experience.

THE purpose of the earliest Buddhist art was to take us far from the images of the material world around us. By the 5th century C.E., we see a change in the artistic representations. Now, beauty and grace are used to transport us, to elevate us through the joy of the aesthetic experience. Perfected beings, full of sublime compassion, are painted and sculpted. They look within and guide us towards an inner journey.

The Buddhas message was one of self-discipline. He pointed out that there was pain in our lives, and that the cause of this pain was our desires. Therefore, in order to escape the pain, we had to do away with our desires. We would then leave behind the illusions of the material world and attain Buddhahood.

In the first millennium C.E., in vast Buddhist establishments in eastern India and in Kashmir, many intellectuals worked on the creation of a logical path that would lead us towards the attainment of this knowledge. The styles of art which were born in vast universities such as Nalanda and that in Kashmir are different from the simple and compassionate art of ancient Buddhism. Here, the focus has shifted to the dynamic intellect, which analyses the philosophic propositions in order to create an irrefutable path towards the truth that is sought.

MAHAPARINIRVANA, 6TH CENTURY, CAVE 26, AJANTA, MAHARASHTRA. This colossal sculpture represents the moment when the Buddha shed the bindings of his mortal body and attained salvation. This is a magnificent presentation of the theme, and the serenity upon the face of the Buddha moves the worshipper. The solemn occasion is beautifully communicated by the sensitive portrayal of the many monks, who grieve the passing away of their master.-

THE AJANTA CAVES, 2ND CENTURY BCE TO 6TH CENTURY C.E. The site of 31 caves at Ajanta is in the gorge of the Waghora river. On account of the pre-eminence of the Ajanta paintings in the mural traditions of Asia, the sculptures of Ajanta are often not given the attention they deserve. Both the sculptures and the paintings here are among the finest ever created at any site in India.-

CAVE 19, AJANTA, 5TH CENTURY. While the earlier chaitya-grihas had a simple though grand facade, the chaitya-grihas of the later period were sculpted profusely with numerous Buddha figures. Their grace and beauty awaken the sense of the divine within us.-

BODHISATTVA PADMAPANI, MURAL, 5th century, Cave 1, Ajanta. Bodhisattva means one who is on the path towards enlightenment. Padmapani means one who bears a lotus. This gentle figure is one of the masterpieces of the art of India.-

MURAL, 5TH CENTURY, CAVE 1, AJANTA. King Mahajanaka rides out from the palace, renouncing the pleasures of his royal status and worldly life. The inward look is already in his eyes.-

BULLS, MURAL, BAGH CAVES, MADHYA PRADESH. All the walls and ceilings of temples and cave temples of the early period in India were painted profusely. The foreshortening of the bull is a remarkable instance of the excellence of ancient Indian paintings.-

THE NALANDA UNIVERSITY SITE, BIHAR. In the entire history of the development of Buddhist philosophy, the Nalanda Mahavihara holds a supreme place of importance. At least for half a millennium from the 5th century, this may have been the most vibrant and vast institution of research and teaching in the entire world. Many scholars made long and arduous journeys from distant lands, even as far as China, to come to study here.-

BODHISATTAVAS, NALANDA UNIVERSITY. Stucco-faced wall with relief sculptures in niches, next to the Sariputta stupa. The art here is different from the soft and gentle art of early Buddhism. The lines have become more dynamic, reflecting the vibrant intellectual life of the great university.-

DETAIL OF A SCULPTED FIGURE WITH A SWORD, NALANDA UNIVERSITY. This is one of the many representations in the plinth of a temple in the complex. Such sculptures were made in the plinths of most Buddhist structures of the medieval period, across Bihar, Tripura and Bangladesh. The dynamic movement seen here is a stylistic feature in the sculpture of this period.-

REGAL FIGURES IN SCULPTED MEDALLION, recently discovered sculptures, 1st century C.E., Panigiri, Andhra Pradesh. There is an exquisite grace in the early sculpture of the Deccan, right from Ajanta in the west to the remains of stupas in Andhra Pradesh. This entire area was extremely prosperous in the BCE and early C.E. period on account of the vast quantities of cotton grown here. In fact, there were many colonies of Romans here, as they regularly bought the textiles of the Deccan.-

URBAN COUPLE IN SCULPTED MEDALLION, recently discovered sculptures, 1st century, Panigiri. A sophisticated urban lifestyle is seen in the early sculptures of the eastern Deccan. We are reminded that this area was one of the most cosmopolitan trading centres of the ancient world. Besides being a flourishing centre for trade in Indian textiles, the ports of eastern India were also re-trading centres. Goods from South-east Asia were picked up from here by the Romans.-

BUDDHA SCULPTURE AND STUPA, 3RD-4TH CENTURIES, ANDHRA PRADESH. The site of Nagarjunakonda has been reconstructed on an island in the Nagarjunasagar lake. The site had many Mahayana and Hinayana stupas and shrines. The coexistence of different sects within the Buddhist path is commonly found in such sites in Andhra Pradesh.-

CAVE 1, GUNTUPALLI, ANDHRA PRADESH. The rich Buddhist heritage of the Krishna valley spans more than a millennium. The facade of this cave at Guntupalli is reminiscent of the earliest rock-cut shrines in India, at Barabar in Bihar. The Guntupalli rock-cut caves are dated to the 3rd/2nd century BCE. and other structural remains at the site go up to the 5th/6th century C.E.-

VIKRAMSHILA UNIVERSITY, BIHAR. The university site is near Antichak village in Bhagalpur district. This university was founded by the Pala king Dharmapala in the 8th century. It became the most important centre of Vajrayana Buddhism between the 8th and 12th centuries. Atisa, who was one of the most important founders of Buddhism in Tibet and the Indian Himalayas, was a teacher here.-

TARA, SCULPTURE, RATNAGIRI, ODISHA. Many large sculptures have been found at the Buddhist monastic site of Ratnagiri, which flourished from the 6th to the 12th century. The deity Tara is the female aspect of Avalokitesvara, who is the Bodhisattva of compassion. Together they represent wisdom and compassion, which lead us to enlightenment. Some of the earliest representations of Tara are seen in the 5th century caves of Maharashtra.-

RELIEF IN DOORWAY OF TEMPLE, RATNAGIRI. The pulsating and endless vine of the fruitful abundance of nature is one of the earliest themes in Indian art of all faiths. This wonderful vine moves upon the doorways of shrines and gateways of stupas, bringing with it the exuberance of the natural forms of the world around us.-

PADMAPANI, PANDERATHAN, KASHMIR (Collection: Shri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar). The valley of Kashmir is a place where the Indian philosophy of aesthetics flowered. Some of the earliest, gentle and beautiful images of Buddhist and Hindu deities were made here. The Kashmiri style of art travelled to Tibet and the Indian trans-Himalayas, where it was preserved intact up until at least the 12th-13th centuries.-

BUDDHA IN DHARMACHAKRAPRAVARTANA MUDRA, SARNATH, UTTAR PRADESH, 5th century (Collection: Archaeological Survey of India site museum, Sarnath). One of the finest images of the Gupta period is this blissful image of the Buddha preaching the first sermon at Sarnath. The smooth blending of the planes of the body conveys the harmony and perfection of the Enlightened One.-

BUDDHIST SITE, HARWAN, CIRCA 4TH CENTURY, NEAR SRINAGAR, KASHMIR. Kashmir remained a great Buddhist centre until the 12th century. The Kushana ruler Kanishka held the Fourth Buddhist Council near Srinagar in the 1st century. Many believe that Harwan is where the great council was held. Many terracotta tiles of the 4th-5th centuries have been found at this site, where there used to be a major stupa.-

REMAINS OF MONASTERY, 8TH CENTURY, PARIHASPURA. In the 8th century, King Lalitaditya's capital, Parihaspura, had many magnificent stupas and temples which were built by him and by Chankuna, his Tokharian minister. A mural of the 12th century in the Alchi monastery in Ladakh displays what may have been the architectural style of the stupas of Kashmir at that time.-