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Styles

Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

ORIGINS | STYLES | SYMBOLOGY



Gandhara stucco, 5 CE


6th Century India


Thailand - 15th C


Sri Lanka


Buddha & Meitreya

As Buddhism spread to other countries so too the range of styles used to produce images grew, with each culture tending to use the features of its local people as the human model. So, quite logically, a Japanese Buddha image comes to look like a Japanese person. The basic symbols of a Buddha image that had evolved in India during the early years continued to be represented. These were sometimes modified in relation to local culture and philosophical developments. These pages aim to give you some appreciation of the different devotional expressions that have developed in the main Buddhist countries of the world.

• Thailand, Laos and Cambodia:
These countries contain a range of quite distinct cultures - the Mons (early), Khmers (Cambodia) and Thai (originally from Sth. China) - each with their own art style. Buddhism arrived in the area around the 1st century CE but the earliest surviving sculptures are 4th century, typically from India or Sri Lanka, and these would have been the original models. The Mon style was initially prominent - recognisable by the high cheek bones, full lips and broad nose. The eyebrows join in a sweeping curve. This style developed as late as the 11th century. Strong influence from the Khmer kingdoms began around the eighth century and the full, heavy bodied style can be seen best in the stonework at Angkor Wat. In 1260 the kingdom of Sukhothai was established and this heralded a style of great individuality characterised by long smooth curves and rounded full volumes. The walking Buddha is its most striking contribution. These images have a head flame with the legs in the half lotus position.
View: five heads - two faces - four shrines (two large, two small).
Indonesia:
Indian culture reached Indonesia by the 5th century CE. The sculptural styles drew on peninsular and northeastern India. There was also an influence from Bengal via sea trade as there was between the Khmer and the Javanese. View images
• Burma:
Legends link the foundation of Burma's ancient cities to the time of the Buddha or to the distribution of his relics. The earliest evidence dates from the 5th century CE and certainly important early influence was from Bengal and Bihar in India. The jataka tales were very popular subjects for illustration in temples and this can be seen as a possible influence in some distinctive sculptural features - the ornate crown/head dress/aura, the sometimes bejeweled robes with a pleated front drop, a wide (jeweled?) head band. A slightly tapering face with an almost pointed chin is common. Many images are carved in wood and finished with lacquer and gilt, set with mirrors and gems. Marble or alabaster images are common. Many standing images are seen holding a myrobalan (medicinal) fruit. Such is the devotion of the Burmese that some famous images are so overlaid with gold leaf that their original form has been lost. View images
• China:
Some of the oldest Buddhist manuscripts and Indian objects have been found here, largely due the Silk Road. The development of Buddhist art in China runs parallel with the translation of the Canon. Pilgrims returning from India brought new sets of scriptures and their translation inspired new philosophies and schools of thought each with their own imagery styles; the adoption of the Mahayana concept of the Bodhisatva and its development as Avolokitesvara - locally known as Kuanyin - being the most popular. The most notable remains are the rock-cut temples, the earliest being dated about 450 CE. These contain a wealth of sculpture, paintings and detailed decoration. Buddhism has always had a very unstable relationship with Chinese rulers and by the ninth century it was in decline. In the 13th century there was a revival period of Tibetan-Mongol influence. View images
• Japan:
Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century via Korean-Chinese Buddhism. Due to the maintenance of some 80,000 temples Japan can claim one of the greatest concentrations of Buddhist art. Initial styles were Korean influenced but when the capital moved to Kyoto in 794 a more native style began emerging. Images took on a more softly human yet detached look - notable in the merciful Amitabha - seen as Avalokitesvara (Kuanyin - China; Kannon - Japan). In the 12th century the influence of the samurai class inspired a more energetic and warlike image with an impressive body of muscular and violent sculpture. In the 17th century changing political positions had Buddhism in decline but the support of ordinary people proved its salvation. Images were thus often smaller with recognisably human attributes. The Zen sect had come to dominate the arts by the 14th century. View images
• Sri Lanka:
Buddhism was introduced here by the son and daughter (both ordained) of King Asoka about 200 BCE. Kings of Sri Lanka have generally extended patronage and some splendid sculpture has resulted. Art styles can conveniently be divided into two major periods - Anuradhapura (3rd - 10th century) and Polonnaruva ( -13th). A series of invasions and colonisation resulted in a diminishing inspiration. Early Anuradhapura was closely related to the northeast Indian styles. One distinctive sculptural element to evolve was the almost flat, lyre shaped head flame. Legs are commonly in the half lotus position. View images
• Nepal - Tibet:
Buddhism arrived in Nepal about the 5th century and by the 8th a distinctive style had developed. Indian influences ceased with the Muslim invasions there. The pantheon of Mahayana deities and Buddhist philosophy has gradually merged with Hinduism. The introduction of Buddhism into Tibet in the 7th century met with some resistance but by the 10th native elements were merging with a form of east Indian and Kashmir Buddhism. The two main sculptural influences were Nepalese and Chinese. Nepalese metalwork was 'world' renowned with a more svelte and linear treatment of the body than its Indian model. So skilled in metal were the Nepalese that one master was sent to the Chinese court of Kublai Khan in the late 13th century. The extensive use in both countries of a range of deities and their associated symbolism has produced often complex and heavily ornamented works. View images
ORIGINS | STYLES | SYMBOLOGY