India: India has been a landscape of vast and diverse artefacts and culture through Buddhist art and is a fertile ground for artistic expression. The history of India is rich with cultural heritage, which provides a tapestry of influences. Buddhist art has also left an indelible mark on the artistic history of Asia and beyond, which is no exception.
As we dive deep into the roots of Buddhist art in India, it brings the ancient art and sculptures more in light with their significance which has shaped India along with the Buddhism practice itself.
It is essential to understand the evolution of Buddhist art first. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, popularly known as the Buddha, in the 5th century BCE which falls into modern-day India and Nepal.
As per the ancient teachings of Buddha, he dedicated his life to emphasizing personal liberation and enlightenment from the circle of birth, death and rebirth.
In addition, the teachings and visual representations of Buddha arose in modern India with the spread of Buddhism in India. The teachings and speeches of Buddha reached out to the people through unique artistic language.
Furthermore, the earliest Buddhist art remains, and signs were found in the form of rock-cut cave temples, such as those found in the caves and the remains of Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra.
As per the reports, some of these caves also date back to the 2nd century BCE, a reflection of diversified styles of arts and iconography that defines Buddhist art.
Moreover, the sculptures carved in the caves depict scenes from the life of Buddha and tales of Jataka, stories related to their lives and previous experiences.
The artistic expressions of Buddhism evolved alongside Buddhism. Mahayana tradition emergence in the 1st century CE also experienced the development of the Bodhisattva ideal, which held that an enlightened being chooses to be able to postpone their liberation to assist others in achieving enlightenment.
The time period between the 4th – 6th century CE is known as the Gupta period and is often hailed and recognized as the ‘Golden Age’ of Indian art; during such period, the image of Buddha took an iconic form and became solidified as we recognize Buddha today.
The artists from the Gupta era emphasized and reflected the spiritual qualities of the Buddha through refined forms and subtle and serene facial expressions.
Notably, the roots of Buddhist art in India can be traced back to the early centuries of Buddhism, with its close development intertwined with the evolution of the religion itself.
As Buddhism continued to flourish and evolve, along with its art, acting as both a means of spiritual expression and a window into the rich cultural heritage of the Indian subcontinent.