Buddhist and Hindu Art Fact Sheet

Fast sheet for Buddhist and Hindu Art to help students prepare for lesson assessment.

1. Definition: Buddhist and Hindu art encompass the visual arts related to the religious practices of Buddhism and Hinduism, originating in the Indian subcontinent, and spreading across Asia over centuries.

2. Buddhist Art:

  • Early Buddhist Art (Aniconic Phase): In the earliest phase, the Buddha was represented through symbols such as the Bodhi tree, an empty throne, footprints, or the wheel of Dharma.
  • Iconic Phase: From the 1st century CE onwards, the Buddha was represented in human form.
  • Major Schools: The two major schools of Buddhist art are the Gandhara School (Greco-Buddhist art) and the Mathura School. Other notable styles include the Amaravati style, and the Sinhalese and Thai styles of Southeast Asia.

3. Hindu Art:

  • Hindu art is rich and varied, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. Its depictions are deeply intertwined with the religion, portraying deities, mythology, and symbols of Hindu philosophy.
  • The most prominent art forms include sculptures, architecture, and paintings, with significant regional variations across India and Southeast Asia.

4. Shared Characteristics: Both Buddhist and Hindu art are characterized by intricate symbolism, narrative scenes from the religious texts, and a focus on depicting spiritual and philosophical concepts.

5. Sculpture: In both Buddhist and Hindu art, sculptures of deities and religious figures are common, often created for temples. These are typically made of stone, bronze, or terracotta.

6. Architecture: Temples are a significant aspect of both Buddhist and Hindu art. Buddhist stupas and pagodas, and Hindu temples, are decorated with narrative relief sculptures, and are often accompanied by large sculptural programs.

7. Famous Works:

Buddhist Art:

  • The Great Stupa at Sanchi, India: One of the oldest stone structures in India.
  • The Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan: Once the largest statues of standing Buddha, carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley.

Hindu Art:

  • Kailasa Temple, Ellora, India: The world's largest monolithic rock-cut temple.
  • The Nataraja. Nataraja, meaning "the lord of dance," is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic dancer. The statue represents Shiva's cosmic dance of creation, preservation, and destruction. Shiva is shown with four arms, in which he holds a drum (symbolizing creation), a flame (destruction), and makes gestures of fearlessness and pointing towards his uplifted foot (symbolizing preservation and liberation).

8. Painting: Both Buddhist and Hindu traditions have a rich history of religious painting, including the Buddhist Thangka painting tradition and Indian miniature painting in the Hindu context.

9. Performative Arts: Dance, drama, and music are integral to Hindu and Buddhist religious expression and have contributed to distinct performative arts traditions, such as Bharatanatyam in Hindu culture and masked dances in Vajrayana Buddhism.

10. Legacy: Buddhist and Hindu art have had significant influences on the art of Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and Indonesia. They continue to shape contemporary art within these religious traditions.

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