Priceless monuments | Daily News

Priceless monuments

They came from distant lands, these travelers. They all journeyed to lands far from home, lands filled with mystery and adventure. But for some it was a search for meaning in life, a search for a new purpose in life and some of them discovered this in those Buddhist temples. What they discovered was priceless.

We know that it was in Kushinagar, in a resting place prepared in a grove of Sala trees that the Buddha died reaching parinirvana. We do not know which temple these travelers visited, but it was the statue of the Buddha lying down that completely transformed them. Those eyes of the Buddha! Those eyes emanated a sense of serenity and peace. It was completely overpowering.

And in that gaze their quest was at an end. Today ArchWorld speaks to Practicing Architect, Senior Visiting Lecturer, Set Designer, Storyboard Artist, Painter, Strong Believer of Buddhist Philosophy, Architect Roshan Chandrarathne on architecture influenced by Buddhism.

Cultural beliefs

Countries where we can see distinct Buddhist architecture are Sri Lanka, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

Chandrarathne points out that Asian Architecture and Buildings are influenced by religious and cultural beliefs. When you take Buddhist architecture in Buddhist temples, the Stupa is what really stands out about the Architecture. It is the one feature that is essentially Buddhist. But even that has differences based on the region and period to period and also according to the artistic manipulation. Chandrarathne believes that the Buddha was born in 623 BC (historians admit the times of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain) and the earliest archaeological evidence for the presence of Buddhist stupas dates to the late 4th century BC in India. Sanchi, Sarnath, Amaravati and Bharhut and are among the oldest known stupas. The most elaborate stupa is the 8th century Borobudur monument in Java, Indonesia.

The Borobudur temple is a Mahayana Buddhist Temple. It is an architectural masterpiece. It is recognized by UNESCO. This amazing Buddhist temple is estimated to have been built between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century. The Buddha statues, nearly 504 are very prominent in the temple. Borobudur was built by King Samaratungga and the architect was Gunadarma. The Borobudur temple is an architectural masterpiece.

“When talking about the influence Buddhism has had on architecture in countries that converted to Buddhism, the biggest influence was the introduction of Stupa, Bodhigara and the Buddha’s Image House. The layouts had their own identities based on topography and the scale of the complex. When speaking about the unique features of Buddhist Architecture it is mainly the Stupas as they were meant to be large in scale. In most of the cases, the rulers who had built them had their power depicted on the scale of the structure. Other than that, Bodhigara and Image houses are there. Interior paintings, scale and character of the Buddha’s image in the Image Houses have their own identity based on the region and period,” explained Chandrarathne.

Monumental size statues

If readers remember, the ancient sandstone carvings in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley were once the world’s tallest Buddhas. But they were lost forever when the Taliban blew them up 20 years ago. Literature on the web tells us that they were built in the 6th century. The Buddhas of Bamiyan were two monumental size statues, standing at 115 and 174 feet tall, carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan.

The presence of Buddha’s Image and the unmatchable character and features of the Buddha and Stupa together defines the architectural character of a temple complex. However, it is also the scale, proportion detailing such as the robe of the image, the textures of material and style of paintings that also contribute to making a difference. This too differs from one country to another.

Chandrarathne added that if you take Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, it is only different when it comes to ideology and that has no influence on the physical character of the buildings.

“Over the centuries Buddhist architecture has evolved and changed into what it is today. Those day’s rulers built the temple complexes deploying their own artist/architects to implement the work and complete it. Once completed the complexes were offered to the monks. At present most of the religious complexes and organizations based on Buddhist teaching are financed and built according to the head of an institution. So I feel there is a mix of good and bad when it comes to the renovation of old complexes and newly built complexes. Beauty and Perception is in the eye of the beholder and it is a very subjective matter to be taken in to consideration.”

The depiction of the Buddha varies when it comes to different cultures. For example, take the laughing Buddha statue. The laughing Buddha statue is not used in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka the Buddha is depicted as serene and sober. Why is there a difference when it comes to depictions of the Buddha as statues?

“Actually laughing Buddha is not the reflection of Buddha. He was a person whose name is Budai and was very wealthy. He used to have a big belly and as it was too big, it was his habit to scratch it. He sometimes had children scratch it and used to give them money. And for that reason where ever he went, he used to carry a bag full of money to be dispersed among the small fellows who used to flock around him to scratch his belly.

After a while he became popular for his generosity and he also became happy by giving his wealth to people in need. After his death he was considered as a God and people started worshiping him and called him ‘Laughing Budai’. With time its pronunciation has evolved in to Laughing Buddha. According to Chinese tradition, ‘Budai’ was an eccentric Chinese Zen monk who lived during the later Liang dynasty (907-923 AD) of China. He was a native of Fenghua and his Buddhist name was Qieci (Chinese: Pinyin). His large protruding stomach and jolly smile have given him the common designation ‘Laughing Buddha’ pointed out Chandrarathne.

Buddhist architecture

In temples in Sri Lanka the Buddha statues are not the only things to be seen. For example, there are statues of Lord Kataragama and so many other statues of Gods. Now this is may be a Hindu influence. ArchWorld asked Chandrarathne if this is a case of Hindu architecture amalgamating with Buddhist architecture? He assured us that it has nothing to do with Architecture. It is with the commercialization of the temple culture that these characters are being affiliated with some temples to attract a gathering.

Travelers searching for meaning in life are not the only ones to have experienced a remarkable transformation in life when they came into contact with Buddhism. According to The Edicts of Ashoka the Great - World History Encyclopedia,

Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BCE) was the third king of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE). He converted to Buddhism after realizing the extent of the carnage he was responsible for.

Ashoka invaded the Kingdom of Kalinga, slaughtering 100,000 inhabitants, deporting 150,000 more, and leaving thousands of others to die of disease and famine. Buddha’s remains, before Ashoka’s reign, had been placed in eight stupas  around the country. Ashoka had the relics removed and is said to have decreed the construction of 84,000 stupas throughout the country, each to have some part of the Buddha’s remains inside. Of course 84,000 could be an exaggeration. But he really did construct a large number of them. Most historians believe that his renunciation of war was due to a gradual acceptance of Buddha’s teachings.


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