Buddhist and Jain Architectural Developments

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  • So far, although we have focused on the nature of developments in Hindu architecture from the fifth to fourteenth centuries, it must constantly be kept in mind that this was also the very period when Buddhist and Jain developments were equally vibrant, and often went handin-glove with Hindu ones.
Image Buddhist Jain Architectural Developments
  • Sites such as Ellora have Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments; however, Badami, Khajuraho and Kannauj have the remains of any two of the religions right next to each other.
  • When the Gupta empire crumbled in the sixth century CE, this eastern region of Bihar and Bengal, historically known as Magadha, appears to have remained unified whilst numerous small Rajput principalities sprang up to the west.
  • In the eighth century, the Palas came to power in the region.
  • The second Pala ruler, Dharmapala, became immensely powerful and established an empire by defeating the powerful Rajput Pratiharas. Dharmapala consolidated an empire whose wealth lay in a combination of agriculture along the fertile Ganges plain and international trade.
  • The pre-eminent Buddhist site is, of course, Bodhgaya.
  • Bodhgaya is a pilgrimage site since Siddhartha achieved enlightenment here and became Gautama Buddha.
  • While the bodhitree is of immense importance, the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya is an important reminder of the brickwork of that time.
  • The first shrine here, located at the base of the Bodhi tree, is said to have been constructed by King Ashoka; the vedika around it is said to be post-Mauryan, of about 100 BCE; many of the sculptures in the niches in the temple are dated to the eighth century Pala Period, while the actual Maha bodhi temple itself as it stands now is largely a Colonial Period reconstruction of the old seventh century design.
  • The design of the temple is unusual.
  • It is, strictly speaking, neither dravida or nagara.
  • It is narrow like a nagaratemple, but it rises without curving, like a dravidaone.
  • The monastic university of Nalanda is a mahavihara as it is a complex of several monastries of various sizes.
Nalanda University
  • Till date, only a small portion of this ancient learning centre has been excavated as most of it lies buried under contemporary civilisation, making further excavations almost impossible.
  • Most of the information about Nalanda is based on the records of Xuan Zang — previously spelt as ‘Hsuan-tsang’ — which states that the foundation of a monastery was laid by Kumargupta I in the fifth century CE; and this was carried forward by the later monarchs who built up a fantastic university here.
  • There is evidence that all three Buddhist doctrines — Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana — were taught here and monks made their way to Nalanda and its neighbouring sites of Bodh Gaya and Kurkihar from China, Tibet and Central Asia in the north, and Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and various other countries from the south-eastern parts of Asia.
  • Monks and pilgrims would take back small sculptures and illustrated manuscripts from here to their own countries.
  • Buddhist monasteries like Nalanda, thus, were prolific centres of art production that had a decisive impact on the arts of all Buddhist countries in Asia.
  • The sculptural art of Nalanda, in stucco, stone and bronze, developed out of a heavy dependence on the Buddhist Gupta art of Sarnath.
  • By the ninth century a synthesis occurred between the Sarnath Gupta idiom, the local Bihar tradition, and that of central India, leading to the formation of the Nalanda school of sculpture characterised by distinctive facial features, body forms and treatment of clothing and jewellery.
  • The characteristic features of Nalanda art, distinguished by its consistently high quality of workmanship, are that the precisely executed sculptures have an ordered appearance with little effect of crowding.
  • Sculptures are also usually not flat in relief but are depicted in three-dimensional forms.
  • The back slabs of the sculptures are detailed and the ornamentations delicate.
  • The Nalanda bronzes, dating between the seventh and eighth centuries to approximately the twelfth century outnumber the discovery of metal images from all other sites of eastern India and constitute a large body of Pala Period metal sculptures.
  • Like their stone counterparts, the bronzes initially relied heavily on Sarnath and Mathura Gupta traditions.
  • The Nalanda sculptures initially depict Buddhist deities of the Mahayana pantheon such as standing Buddhas, bodhisattvas such as Manjusri Kumara, Avalokiteshvara seated on a lotus and NagaNagarjuna.
  • During the late eleventh and twelveth centuries, when Nalanda emerged as an important tantric centre, the repertoire came to be dominated by Vajrayana deities such as Vajrasharada (a form of Saraswati) Khasarpana, Avalokiteshvara, etc.
  • Depictions of crowned Buddhas occur commonly only after the tenth century.
  • Interestingly, various brahmanical images not conforming to the Sarnath style have also been found at Nalanda, many of which are still worshipped in small temples in villages around the site.
  • Sirpur in Chhattisgarh is an early-Odisha-style site belonging to the period between of 550 – 800, with both Hindu and Buddhist shrines.
  • In many ways the iconographic and stylistic elements of the Buddhist sculptures here are similar to that of Nalanda.
  • Later other major Buddhist monasteries developed in Odisha. Lalitagiri, Vajragiri and Ratnagiri are the most famous of them.
  • The port-town of Nagapattinam was also a major Buddhist centre right until the Chola Period.
  • One of the reasons for this must have been its importance in trade with Sri Lanka where large numbers of Buddhists still live.
  • Bronze and stone sculptures in Chola style have come to light at Nagapattinam and generally date back to the tenth century.
  • Jains were prolific temple builders like the Hindus, and their sacred shrines and pilgrimage spots are to be found across the length and breadth of India except in the hills.
  • The oldest Jain pilgrimage sites are to be found in Bihar. Many of these sites are famous for early Buddhist shrines.
  • In the Deccan, some of the most architecturally important Jain sites can be found in Ellora and Aihole.
  • In central India, Deogarh, Khajuraho, Chanderi and Gwalior have some excellent examples of Jain temples.

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