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Gupta Period 320 - 647 CE
The Gupta Period began in 320 CE and ended around 500 CE. It emerged as a powerful new empire, and eventually dominated North Central India. This is considered a high point in Indian civilization, because of the outpouring of science, visual art, music and literature that occurred. It is also when Buddhism began to spread into China and Eastern Asia.
Hindu art began to emerge and develop its own stylistic imagery. There were two areas of sculptural style, one in Mathura and one in Sarnath. The difference between the two is the image of drapery. Sarnath does not include folds to indicate drapery.
The Standing Buddha from Mathura
The sculptural style in Mathura, seems to have grown out of the Kushan style. There are attributes similar to the Kushan style in Mathura: the halo has ornate details, the figure is fleshy, and the garment emphasizes the form of the figure.
Unlike the Kushan style, in Mathura there is a slight weight shift of the figure. It isn’t quite contraposto, but the figure is less static than in the Kushan Period. The hair is more stylized in that the snail-shell curls become the way to portray hair. The figures proportions are more elongated, and the eyes are downcast, which portray a mood of meditation.
The tension that used to be apparent in Mathuran sculpture has given way to a sense of calm.
Standing Buddha, Muthura, Late 5th C. CE
The Seated Buddha from Sarnath
This is considered the quintessential Buddha image. The only indicators that the Buddha is wearing a garment are the neckline and cuff-lines at the wrists and ankles. The halo is still detailed, the eyes are downcast, and the hair holds the same snail-shell curl.
The figure is less robust. The figure's hands are making the teaching gesture that indicates the turning of the wheel of the law. The gesture of the first finger indicates that it is the first teaching.
Featured at the bottom of the throne, are figures which represent the disciples of the Buddha. They are paying homage to the central wheel which is flanked by two deer; an image which represents Deer Park, where the Buddha gave his first teaching.
Buddha from Sarnarth, Gesture symbolizing the first teaching
The Ajanta Caves:
The Ajanta Caves are one of the most famous sites. It was patronized by princes that controlled the region around the site. They created rock cut caves to promote Buddhism. There are thirty-some caves, along the horseshoe bend of the Waghora river. It was designed to be used by monks during the rainy season. By the seventh century AD Buddhism was waning and the caves were abandoned. They weren't rediscovered until 1817.
On the exteriors and interiors of the caves are scenes from the Buddha’s life. The imagery was used to explain and teach the Buddhist doctrine.
The Ajanta Caves
is a Caitya cave, or a cave of worship. It’s been carved to look as if it were constructed of wood to mimic traditional architecture. Inside are great wooden beams that serve a strictly ornamental purpose.
There are many images adorning the cave's surfaces. Outside of the cave is an image of Nagaraja, or the king of serpents. He is an important god because serpents control rain, which is relevant to the waxing and waning of the neighboring Waghora River. It is also an example of how indigenous gods were incorporated into Buddhism.
There is an image of the Buddha, surrounded by different Buddhas from around the universe. They are there to participate in the Buddhas teachings. There is a huge stupa at the center of the shrine with a Buddha seated on it for a worshiper to circumbulate. The huge scale must convey a sense of awe and worldliness to its visitors.
Interior of Cave 19, Ajanta
is a Vihara cave, a cave of dwelling. There are columns which provide no structural support, and are there simply for ornamental reasons. Inside is an antechamber and shrine. Originally the walls were covered in paintings done over dry plaster, which are the earliest surviving examples of paintings in India. The shrine is of a
with two Bodhisattvas. The sculpture is clumsy, large and provincial, probably because it had to be carved inside the dark cave and out of what ever stone was there. It is made in the Gupta style, which is evident by the Buddha's hair, garments and halo.
There are murals of attendant Bodhisattvas on either side of the entrance way to the shrine. The one on the left is
who holds a lotus flower, which is a symbol for transcendence, as pristine lotus' grow out of muddy swamps. He is supposed to embody the compassion in Buddhism. The figure has broad shoulders and a narrow torso. Behind the figure there is detailed imagery. There are images of monkeys to represent the distractions and animal urges one must overcome in life. There is no real light source in the painting. The edges of the figure are dark and the center lightens in order to create a three dimensional form.
On the right side is the image of the Bodhisattva
. He holds a vajra or a trident, which is a symbol of indestructibility. He embodies the wisdom of enlightenment. Wisdom and compassion are both needed to achieve enlightenment.
Padmapani and Vajrapani
images from: personal.carthage.edu/
Hinduism Art and Architecture:
Hinduism is not one organized religion. There are many religions that recognize and follow the same basic principles and central premise. Its core ideas come from the Vedic period. It recognizes many different gods that are different manifestations of characteristics of the universe. The primary role of these gods is to preserve the world and universe order, and to help people achieve spiritual awakening. People pick and worship particular gods that they deem best suited to them. They can be picked based on family tradition, the age, or the temperament of the worshiper. The most popular gods and goddesses or aspects of Gods are Visnu, Brahma, Laxmi, Siva, Parvati and Saraswati.
17 in Sanchi
The complex in Sanchi contains both Buddhist and Hindu temples, showing that there was no religious animosity. Temple 17 is the earliest surviving Hindu temple. It is small and simple with basic characteristics. It is cut from stone and has been divided into a porch and a shrine area. This type of porch is called
and shrines are known as
or "womb-essence". The exterior porch is larger and more open than the inside shrine area. As you go in towards the shrine, the room narrows. This is to help the worshiper focus on God. By tightening the physical space it is intended to give the worshiper a more intimate experience with God. There was no congregational worship, worshiping was individual, so there was no need for a large space around the shrine.
Temple 17, Sanchi
The Vishnu Temple has been partially rebuilt. It was constructed in c.525. Only the foundations and main shrine remain. It had been a five-shrine temple, and originally had a large tower. Like most temples, the Vishnu Temple has a western orientation that had been patroned by Gupta rulers. It was a mortuary for a king, which we can tell by the counter-clockwise layout of the temple. The imagery used was meant to connect the kings with the divine, or
Divine King. Because Vishnu is the protector of the earth, Gupta kings wanted to associate themselves with him.
The tomb was dedicated to the god Vishnu. Vishnu was meant to save the world and his devotees from trouble and perils by changing his form. He takes forms, called avatars, which are depicted on the temple to show spiritual progression and development.
On the south side of the temple is the
relief. This depicts the creation of the universe from the body of Vishnu. The image of Vishnu is seen lounging on a giant serpent. He’s getting his foot rubbed by Laksmi, representing a devotee seeking refuge in the god. She is also the female force that pushes Vishnu to action. Vishnu represents
or latent potential, and Laksmi is the female energy, or
that encourages Vishnu to actually get up and create the world. Vishnu has multiple limbs to signify his overwhelming powers, and how God can be everywhere at once.
The god Ganesh, the elephant, is also depicted. He’s the lord of obstacles, representing obstacles that distract a worshiper spiritually. The lord Ganesh removes these obstacles. He’s represented outside the temple to serve as a reminder that he removes the obstacles from your life, and to free your self of inner obstacles and distractions that might hinder your goal of spiritual awakening.
On the east side of the temple is the relief of the god Vishnu in the form of
Nara and Narayana
, two brothers. Nara is a normal man and Narayana has multiple limbs. They represent the two aspects of Vishnu: man and god-like, which conveys the idea that the universe is constructed on duality.
On the north side is the relief
. It shows the world being taken over by an evil serpent and an elephant is fighting him for equal power. Then Vishnu came down and helps the elephant defeat the serpent. Inadvertently, he also helps the serpent by turning the serpent’s power into good power. The elephant is a symbol of the untrained mind, which the gods help in overcoming these obstacles. Vishnu is depicted by his familiar attributes; a mace and a winged human figure that he rides on.
Vishnu, Elephant, and Serpent
All major deities are depicted here. The entire complex is huge, but the heart of the shrine is extremely cramped, again to allow for a more intimate religious experience.
In cave 5 is the
relief that is is a human sized relief depicting the god Vishnu defeating a great serpent demon. In the story, the world is about to be swallowed up and drowned by the demon. Vishnu, who can transform into animals, comes to save the world by taking the form of a boar, an animal he is often associated with.
The relief depicts the world as a tiny woman, hanging from the tusk of a boar. The boar is Vishnu and he is saving the earth and saving our souls.
Cave #3 is a smaller cave. Inside there is a linga monument with the face of Shiva on it. Shiva is associated with destruction but also creation. He is placed on the linga, which is the symbol of male fertility. The linga is also representative of the central axis of the universe. The Linga rests on a yoni, which acts as a pedestal associated with the female.
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