The Buddhist Architecture
The Buddhist architecture has its root deeply implanted in the Indian soil- the birthplace of the Buddha's teachings. The Buddhist architecture began with the development of various symbols, representing aspects of the Buddha's life (563 BCE - 483 BCE). For the first time, it was the Indian emperor Ashoka, who not only established Buddhism as the state religion of his large Magadh empire, but also opted for the architectural monuments to spread Buddhism in different places. Distinctive Buddhist architectural structures and sculptures such as Stupas, Pagodas, monasteries and Caves, which have been mere spectators of different eras quietly speaks about the phases of the Buddhist stages.
Caves or grottoes are the oldest form of the Buddhist architecture. They are also known as the rock-cut monasteries, which were hewn from the cliffs and rock walls of the valleys. The Buddhist caves traces back their beginning around 100 BCE. In India, the most significant cave is Ajanta caves, near modern Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The Indian Buddhist monks carried this art of cave hewing to China, where the earliest cave temples were built in the 4th century in Dunhuang or Tun-Huang, which were further decorated with relief carvings, paintings and stone images of the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas.
The Stupas holds the most important place among all the earliest Buddhist sculptures. A Stupa is a dome-shaped monument, used to house Buddhists' relics or to commemorate significant facts of Buddhism. Though the Stupas are the most prominent sculptures throughout the world, but Myanmar or Burma is credited to have more Stupas than anywhere else. In India, the most important and well preserved site is at Sanchi, where one can find the full range of Buddhist art and architecture from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century CE.
Pagodas are the principle form of Buddhist architecture, which are used as religious multistory Buddhist towers, erected as a memorial or shrine. They are symbols of five elements of the universe - earth, water, fire, air and ether, and along with them, the most important factor - Consciousness, which is the ultimate reality.
The early Buddhists had started using the
royal symbol of 'Pagoda', by applying an umbrella-like structure to symbolise the Buddha, which soon took over the functions of the Stupas. In the 3rd century BCE, an Indian emperor Ashoka, who had converted to Buddhism, promoted the Pagodas by building 84,000 of them throughout India, and since then, Pagodas have been an inseparable parts of all those countries, which practice Buddhism. China, Japan, Korea, India and Southeast Asia. Myanmar houses the Mahamuni Pagoda, one of the most important pagodas in Mandalay, which has an ancient statue of the Buddha, brought there by king Bodawpaya in 1784 CE.
The Indian Pagodas, full of carvings and sculptures, are mainly pyramidical in shape and taper to apex, whereas those of China and other Asian regions are stereotypical pagodas with tiled and upward curving roofs.
Temples And Monasteries
The Buddhist temples and monasteries, found in every Buddhist country, form another distinctive example of the Buddhist architecture. The Buddhist temples in India are superb examples of the temple architecture with the most prominent one at Bodh Gaya (Mahabodhi temple), the place of the Buddha's enlightenment. Other major Buddhist temples in India, which are fine examples of the golden Indian architecture, are at Sanchi(450 CE), Taxila and Sarnath. Similarly, other temples such as those at Cambodia (the famous Angkor Wat temple), Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan presents an excellent example of the Buddhist architecture. Japan boasts of being the greatest surviving concentration of the Buddhist art and architecture in its 80,000 temples, most of which retain original features from as early as the Nara period(710 CE - 794 CE).
Secondly, monasteries, a dwelling place for community of monks, presents fine example of the Buddhist architecture and charismatic Buddhist spirituality. In India, the ruins of the Nalanda monastic university and the ancient monasteries at Sarnath, whose ruins are still present along with some of the latest ones, still depicts the golden past of Buddhism and developed architectural style in India. The Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese monasteries along with others presents a very distinctive style of architecture with splendid use of colour and ornamentation. The use of images, paintings, thangkas and mandalas in these monasteries produces rich iconography not only architecturally, but artistically as well.