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Art and Architecture

Indian Art and Architecture

diffusion of Buddhism, Indian painting, voluptuousness, Indian civilization, conceptual view

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Indian Art and Architecture, the art and architecture produced on the Indian subcontinent from about the 3rd millennium bc to modern times. To viewers schooled in the Western tradition Indian art may seem overly ornate and sensuous; appreciation of its refinement comes only gradually, as a rule. Voluptuous feeling is given unusually free expression in Indian culture. A strong sense of design is also characteristic of Indian art and can be observed in its modern as well as in its traditional forms.

The art of India must be understood and judged in the context of the ideological, aesthetic, and ritual assumptions and needs of the Indian civilization. These assumptions were formed as early as the 1st century bc and have shown a remarkable tenacity through the ages. The Hindu-Buddhist-Jain view of the world is largely concerned with the resolution of the central paradox of all existence, which is that change and perfection, time and eternity, and immanence and transcendence operate dichotomously and integrally as parts of a single process. In such a situation the creation cannot be separated from the creator, and time can be comprehended only as a matrix of eternity. This conceptual view, when expressed in art, divides the universe of aesthetic experience into three distinct, although interrelated, elements—the senses, the emotions, and the spirit. These elements dictate the norms for architecture as an instrument of enclosing and transforming space and for sculpture in its volume, plasticity, modeling, composition, and aesthetic values. Instead of depicting the dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit, Indian art, through a deliberate sensuousness and voluptuousness, fuses one with the other through a complex symbolism that, for example, attempts to transform the fleshiness of a feminine form into a perennial mystery of sex and creativity, wherein the momentary spouse stands revealed as the eternal mother.

The Indian artist deftly uses certain primeval motifs, such as the feminine figure, the tree, water, the lion, and the elephant. In a given composition, although the result is sometimes conceptually unsettling, the qualities of sensuous vitality, earthiness, muscular energy, and rhythmic movement remain unmistakable. The form of the Hindu temple; the contours of the bodies of the Hindu gods and goddesses; and the light, shade, composition, and volume in Indian painting are all used to glorify the mystery that resolves the conflict between life and death, time and eternity.

The arts of India expressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, jewelry, pottery, metalwork, and textiles, were spread throughout the Far East with the diffusion of Buddhism and Hinduism and exercised a strong influence on the arts of China, Japan, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Java. These two religions with their various offshoots were dominant in India until Islam became powerful from the 13th to the 18th century. With Islam, which forbids representation of the human figure in religious contexts, geometrical patterns became the most common decoration in the arts patronized by the Muslim rulers.

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