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Buddhist Art (In Praise of the Divine)

Buddhist Art (In Praise of the Divine)

Buddhist Art (In Praise of the Divine)

Item Code: IDD500
Author: Dr Shashibala
Publisher: Lustre Press, Roli Books
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 8174362177
Pages: 128
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 11.2" X 9.3"
About the Book:

Religion has been the impetus behind the greatest art traditions of the world. Buddhism is no different. The life of the Buddha, with its spectacular event of Enlightenment, forms the cornerstone of the vast edifice of Buddhist art; it informs a tradition that is more than a thousand and five hundred years old.

To encompass this whole living tradition is a challenging task - one that Buddhist Art: In Praise of the Divine does with academic finesse and assurance. Exploring the expression of art in the three different dimensions of architecture, sculpture, and painting, the book journeys through time, themes, and the grand structures of Buddhism to portray a unique world - a world at once simple and esoteric, grand and humble sombre and cheerful. In doing so, Buddhist Art becomes nothing less than a pictorial chronicle of an awe-inspiring artistic tradition.

About the Author:

Dr. Shashibala is a research scientist who specialises in the art and culture of Asian countries. She began her academic career in the field of Japanese Buddhist art and has been giving courses on the history of Japanese and southeast Asian art at the National Museum Institute even as she works as a research professor at the International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi. She has five books and fifty research papers to her credit and is widely travelled as a researcher. Her exhibitions, illustrated lectures on Indo-Asian art and culture, cinefilm and radio broadcastings are highly acclaimed abroad and in India.


In Buddhism, art is the flowering of being so that it can discover the great calm within, dialectic of light and shadow. Where in colour and form rain substance. Scrolls murals, icons, stupas, sancta and other manifestations are all Visual Dharma. They demand of us: Follow us to the spring and descend deeply within your self they create a space for meditation, they awaken cosmicity within us. They are a wave to lead us to the progressive sea, to a track of expanding consciousness, or as is said in the stirring crescendo of the Heart Sutra of the Prajna-paramita: gate gate paara-gate paara-sangate bodbi svaba.

The Vinaya-sutra on monastic discipline narrates that Anathapindada constructed the nine—storey monastery of Jetavana. Before offering it, he asked Lord Buddha about the colours to be employed and the themes to be painted. While the painters worked the monks washed near the murals, dirtying them. The monks’ fire blackened the murals with smoke. The Buddha reprimanded them; and later the care of murals became a part of monastic discipline. When the paintings were completed, people came to look, admire them, and they became paths of entry into Dharma. Beauty was a way to beatitude.

A Buddhist treatise on art, the Citra-laksana of Nagnajit (available only in its Tibetan rendering), dilates on the natural metaphors of the eyes; ‘The eyes of yogis, bespeaking equanimity, should be made to resemble a bow of bamboo. The eyes of women and lovers should resemble the belly of a fish. The eyes of ordinary persons should resemble a blue lotus. To express fright and crying, eyes resembling the petal of a red lotus should be used. The eyes of those troubled by anger and grief should be painted resembling a cowrie shell.’ These metaphors derive from natural processes wherein the artist emulates the pulsations and creative rhythms of the universe. Art oscillates between the body that is a temple and the mind which has its full awakening. The instinctive and the intuitive create supreme order. Nagnajit says that a painter or a sculptor should have a perfect understanding of the proper proportions of the human or divine body. Proportion is essential for worship as the images must be satisfying to our eyes. To paint is to evoke.

The icon is the body of the divine made real, the concrete shape of an invisible transcendent vision. The Unmanifest (amurta) concretises into a Manifest, a murti or image, to be seen with the eyes of faith. In the creative embrace of a sculptor or painter the subtle assumes plastic form which in turn, transforms the visible world into transcendence. The interlacing of the body and limbs of a couple in embrace is the reunion of Person and Nature, of Purusha and Prakriti, in the passionless contortions of rapture the cosmic creative process, the yab-yum of Tibetan iconography. The icons are a language for those in whom passion exists in the highest degree beyond which they have to ferry to the Yonder. Intimacy and passion are transformed into blissful and enlightened states of awareness.

From the understanding of the Many emerges the triumvirate of gods, goddesses, and ferocious beings known as Krodhas, Vidyadharas, and Dharmapalas in Buddhist parlance. The three constitute a central part of our cultural consciousness. They find valid space in Vajrayana art and thought and have to be transfigured; anger has to be crossed over by non-anger and violence by non-violence to reach the still centre of the Sublime. One has to draw out the Dharma that is within oneself. The body contains the entire universe (debe vishvasya mananam). In the higher stages of meditation, the body and cosmos are assimilated, the Dharmadhatu is shining light and concentration is its perception. By mystic light (Tibetan; hodgsal) one purifies the samsaric infections. The divine forms do not remain in distant heavens, but descend into us; I am the cosmos and the Buddhas are in me.

Dr Shashibala presents in this book a vivid survey of the rich morphology of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, gods, goddesses and ferocious protectors, the architectonics of the stupa, and other sacred structures. It crystallises the grandeur of meditation and the heart of panhuman culture in the mysterious intrinsic necessity of the spirit. Dr Shashibalas enunciation is an endeavour to express the basic form and meaning in the vast spaces of Buddhism; from Buryatia and Tuva in the extreme north, to Central and East Asia in between and down to the plains of India and Southeast Asia. She chronicles the immense panorama of the Visual Dharma across forbidding mountains, untamed rivers, and waterless deserts, icy howling winds, silent spaces of the plains, in the plenitude of history and in the dynamism of life, to attain to the core of existence and transcendence, to what the heart desires and the mind seeks.



Introduction: The Beginning

Architecture: Divine abodes

    Stupas: For the Buddhas
    Caves: Abode of Silence
    Indian temples: Devastated and deserted
    Indonesian temples
    Japanese monasteries
    The Burmese legacy
    Thai temples
Sculpture: Iconic representation
    Different forms of the Buddha
    Buddhas of three times
    Buddhist colossi
    Buddhas of the light cults
    Buddhas of healing and longevity
    Bodhisattvas: Saviours of humanity
    Protective divinities
    The female power
    Narrative art: Jataka stories
Painting: Devotion with beauty
    Ajanta: Final reflection of Gupta art
    Manuscrip paintings
    Thailand's mastery
    Japanese expressions
    Chinese cave art
    Tibet's Lamaist art
    Mongolian style
    Burmese brushwork
    Monastic art of Sri Lanka
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