Term Paper: Asian Art of India

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Asian Art of India

Architectural Cosmology

One of the most palpable markers of a civilization is the architecture it erects. This fact is true for a number of reasons, since architecture both reflects the level of sophistication a culture has achieved as well as different aesthetic elements of art that it embraces. Such a notion is particularly true of the art and architecture found throughout parts of Asia. Like most civilizations, those found within this part of the world primarily erected architecture during antiquity for pragmatic purposes which, for the most part, involved either housing, governmental, or ecclesiastic purposes (or some combination of these three). When examining religious temples that are demonstrative of worshippers of both a Buddhist and a Hindu faith, scholars are able to learn about various aspects of the worldview of both of these respective religions, which combine elements of astronomy and cosmology with precise statistical calculations of measurements. Although Buddhist and Hindu temples have both varying and similar points in their structure that elucidate different facets of their belief systems, a thorough analysis of eminent structures representative of each culture reveals that they each include crucial elements of their conception of both this world, the afterlife, and the deities that they believe govern them.

An excellent example of this principle is provided by the Angkor Wat temple which, although located in Cambodia and erected by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, was erected via principles of conventional Hindu architecture and demonstrates a number of tenets that are integral to the worldview and religious beliefs of Hindus. Like most Hindu temples, there is a correlation between the external surroundings of the temple with its internal ones, which are evocative of the conception of outer and inner cosmos in relation to man. This principle is demonstrated most dramatically within the Angkor Wat temple by the varying dimensions used in tis construction. The vast majority of the dimensions of the temples' width, height, length, and that of individual features represents numbers that have significance in Hindu religion and cosmology. Certain measurements within this particular temple, for instance, correspond and allude to Hindu religious conceptions such as the Kali, Dvapara, Krita yuga and Treta. These terms represent varying ages of man as understood by the Hindu religion (Encyclopedia Britannica). As writer Subhash Krak observes, "the distance of the first step of the western entrance gateway to the first step of the central entrance tower is 1,296.07 cubit" (3), which corresponds to the Treta, the second of four epochs of man. The circumferences and other measurements all directly relate to quantifiable aspects of the Hindu religion that also adhere to notions of astrology, which is one similarity shared between these temples and classic Egyptian ones.

In addition to the precise mathematical calculations with which this structure was built that delineate specific religious principles, it was also furnished with an abundance of architecture that also directly relates to important themes in this religion. There are visual representations of many crucial scenes in conventional Hindu religion within the multitude of chambers and rooms in the Angkor Wat. Among the many gods and goddesses depicted in these works of art are Vishnu, Krishna and Ravana, as well as renderings of hell and heaven as conceived by Hindu adherents, which also provide palpable markers of the cosmology and tenets of this religion. It is also significant to note the value of this temple for Hindu followers due to its reflection of this religion. Due to its affiliation with the notion of Devaraja, which represents the king of gods, this temple was a renowned pilgrimage site for many years (Kak 4).

Hindu temples originally descended from wooden structures, which were then constructed out of rock before they were built out of bricks in the early part of the first millennium a.D. An eminent example of this fact is the Chaitya Cave in Karli, which is actually considered a prototype of Buddhist temples. However, this temple also adheres to conventions that are distinctly Hindu and which transmute critical elements of this religion. Virtually all Hindu temples are representations of Mt. Meru, which was known as the dwelling place of the gods, and considered the center of creation (No author). Temples, including the Chaitya Cave at Karli, were built as earthly replicas of this mythological mountain, and had to adhere to conventions that included their heights being double their widths and the dimensions of their sanctum sanctorums being half the width of the temple itself (Kak 2). The structuring of temples that were in accordance with these and other rules elucidated within the Brihat Samhita 56 demonstrates that they are physical representation of Mt. Meru.

More importantly, the construction of the Chaitya Cave at Karli is largely based on the Vastapurusah mandala, the Hindu conception of the design of the cosmos inside the body of man-like god. The whole universe is depicted within this diagram, which includes elements such as the sun and moon and several key gods and goddesses including Brahma, who is located at the center. The square like structuring of this diagram is representative of the heavens, which accounts for the square base of the Chaitya Cave at Karli. The circular objects constructed within and as a part of this temple represent the earth. As was true of the Angkor Wat, the Chaitya Cave at Karli is ultimately emblematic of cosmos at an individual and universal level, providing the inspiration for personal transformation and growth (Kak 11).

As the preceding example of the Chaitya Cave at Karli suggests, there is a close correlation between Hindu and Buddhist temples, particularly since these religions were highly prevalent throughout Southeast Asia at the same time period. As such, there are commonalities between these two religions in structures that are decidedly Buddhist, such as the Great Stupa at Sanchi which was commissioned by Ashoka Maurya in approximately 258 B.C.E. The stupa was a structure that was viewed as a work of art and for the pragmatic means of covering the remains and representations of Buddha and his followers. In the latter respect, they serve as funeral mounds, although they came to symbolize the triumph of Buddha over the cycle of life and death by signifying his final death ().

Different aspects of the shape of the Great Stupa at Sanchi reflect the cosmology and religious beliefs of Buddhists. Its ovular design is emblematic of the world egg and of heaven, particularly in light of the fact that it was built on a box-like pedestal denoting the four cardinal compass points. This square is representative of the earth and the concept of the notion that the earth supports the rising, ovular dome of heaven, which in turn covers the earth itself (Shepherd). Yet the belief that heaven is above earth and governs it, despite the supporting base of the structure, is denoted by the fact that parasols are mounted above one another, representative of the hierarchy of heaven which is an essential part of Buddhism. A ritual circumambulatory path surrounds the monument, indicating that the structure itself is symbolic of the view of the cosmos in this religion. The structure is also surrounded by four gateways, erected after the structure was built, that depict scenes of importance in Buddhism and in the many lives of Buddha (Shepherd).

Another example of the ideals reflected in Buddhism that its temples, and stupas in particular reflect is found in the Kanishka stupa. The overarching point of these religious edifices is to quarter representations of Buddha. This particular temple was constructed by the Kushan Emperor Kanishka the Great at some point during the second century CE. Whereas other stupas were built to house objects consecrated to the memory and the likeness of Buddha, this particular structure (which is no longer existent) was built… [END OF PREVIEW]

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