Buddhist Art and Architecture in Nepal

Erberto Lo Bue

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2011 | | DOI:
Buddhist Art and Architecture in Nepal

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The earliest evidence of the presence of Buddhism in the Nepal Valley belongs to the 5th century. According to inscriptions of the Licchavi dynasty, the Buddhist ruler Vrsadeva (fl. c. 400 ce) founded a monastery at Svayambhu. Most Licchavi foundations have disappeared, but a few, such as the Gum monastery near Sankhu, have survived. The Buddhist pantheon in Nepal is obviously related to the Indian tradition, in which Buddhism and Hinduism coexisted and influenced each other through many centuries. Although the sophisticated artistic production in the Nepal Valley represents to some extent the continuation of the aesthetics prevailing in India under the Gupta, Pâla, and Sena dynasties, the art and architecture of its original inhabitants, the Newars, developed in a unique way. Even after their Buddhist tradition was cut off from its sources following the destruction of all Indian monastic universities by the 13th century, Newar artists continued to produce images for Buddhists not only in Nepal, but also in other countries, particularly Tibet. At least two Buddhist traditions and related styles may be distinguished in Nepal: the Newar ones of the Nepal Valley, where Buddhism followed its own local development; and the Tibetan ones, in areas inhabited by people of Tibetan stock and language, such as Lo (Mustang) and Dölpo, and in the Nepal Valley itself, where the number of Tibetan monasteries has increased significantly since the 1960s. That accounts for iconographic and stylistic differences in images produced even by the same artist, who traditionally can adapt easily to the requests of his client. The traditional style of architecture characterizing most of the 363 monasteries in the Nepal Valley, the earliest ones dating to the Licchavi dynasty, may be traced to Buddhist monastic structures such as those found at Sanchi, Ajanta, and Ellora, representing stone versions of now-lost Indian wooden architecture, but at the same time prototypes of the brick and wood monasteries of the Nepal Valley. Newar monasteries are characterized by three essential elements: the main shrine, a small stupa in the middle of the courtyard, and a tantric temple above the shrine. Their courtyards are surrounded by rooms that do not necessarily conform in their function to their Indian models, since, following the decline of Buddhism in the Nepal Valley, they have sometimes turned into residential buildings. Another feature deriving from Indian architecture is the tòrana, originally a decorated arch leading to a shrine, which in the Nepal Valley turned into a semicircular panel placed above the doors of shrines or gates.

Article.  5005 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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