Buddhist art

From the Guardian‘s series, 1000 artworks to see before you die:

One of Buddhism’s earliest artistic inventions was the stupa – a shrine in the form of a building that was not designed to be entered but to be beheld. The early Indian stupa evolved from Hindu burial mounds and took the form of a hemispheric dome surmounted by a column. The sculptures carved to decorate the great stupa at Amaravati between the first century BC and the third century AD are among Buddhist art’s earliest treasures; their proliferation of narrative scenes strongly resembles Roman and Hellenistic art from the same period. They depict scenes from the life of the Buddha in his incarnation as Siddharta Gautama, a scion of north India’s warrior class who rejected his comfortable life and became an ascetic for seven years, then a teacher who preached the ultimate goal of escaping the endless cycle of rebirth.

Among the key works:

• Sculptures from the Great Stupa of Amaravati, India, now in British Museum (1st century BC to 3rd century AD)
• Sculpture of Yakshi or river goddess from Begram, Afghanistan, now in Kabul Museum (circa 1st century)
• Parinirvana, reclining colossal figure in Cave 26 at Ajanta, India (late 5th century)


Also in the series:

All about Hindu sculpture

Shiva dances. He balances on his right leg, his left raised in a gesture that signifies Release. He gestures with his arms too — all four of them. Each arm is elegantly posed in mid-movement with the flattened palm in a different position, each of which has symbolic meaning — he is saying, “Have no fear.” In one hand Shiva holds the flame of destruction, in another the drum of creation. Around him is a great nimbus of fire, symbolising the cosmos.

Among the key works:

• Stone figure of mother and child from Tanesara in Rajasthan, now in LA County Museum of Art (6th century)
• Relief of Shiva holding a trident and a snake, Malegitti Shivalaya temple, Badami, India (7th century)
• Shiva with Nandi, open-air sandstone sculpture, Durga temple, Aihole, India (8th century)


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