Blend of Faith

Monday, September 22, 2008

Brahma, Adinath temple, Khajuraho. The Hindu and Jaina temples in Khajuraho, the capital of the Chandella kings from the early 10th to the 12th century, have a shared style that has no sectarian differences. In fact, there is a profuse depiction of Hindu deities on the walls of the Jaina temples here.
IN western India, the 2nd century B.C. ushered in one of the greatest periods of Buddhist art when, in about a thousand years, more than 1,200 caves were hewn out of the mountains of the Western Ghats. Most of them were sculpted profusely and painted in the Buddhist tradition.
The first phase of the prolific excavation continued until the 3rd century A.D. Great Buddhist prayer halls and viharas for the residence of monks were made during the rule of the Satavahanas and the Kshatrapas. Though these kings revered Hindu deities, they patronised all religious establishments.Such was the cosmopolitan culture that continued from the earliest times in the Indian subcontinent. Scholars such as Guru Padmasambhava and Santarakshita, who were responsible for spreading Buddhism across Asia, are known to have studied here.
There are no gods in the early philosophic vision of India. There are deities: deities that are the personifications of concepts and qualities. The qualities are within us and by responding to these deities brought to us in art, we awaken those fine aspects within us.
In ancient India, people were free to adore the deity of their personal choice. Within families, husbands, wives and children often followed the path of different deities.
In the Gupta period, the effort was to create deities, in a human form, that rose above themselves. It was not a human being caught in the web of the material world. It was an embodiment of that which was eternal, that which was still, undisturbed by turmoil and cravings. Meditating upon such a form, devotees awakened the best within themselves. They rose above the pains created by their desires and confusion.The magnificent rock-cut caves at Ellora near Aurangabad mark the final stage of the development of cave-temple architecture in western India. There are caves of three faiths here, of overlapping periods. The Buddhist caves date from the mid-6th century to the mid-8th century A.D.; the Hindu caves date from the 7th to the 9th century; and the Jaina caves date from the 9th to the end-10th century. These show again the simultaneous patronage of monuments of more than one faith.
Xuanzang wrote enthusiastic accounts of his travels in India. These are written from a pilgrim’s point of view. Nevertheless, they provide much in
Bahubali, Jaina Cave, Badami, 6th century. The Jaina saint Gomatesvara, or Bahubali, is believed to have meditated in a standing, still posture for so long that creepers grew about his legs and snakes and other creatures gathered around him. The play of light in the rock-cut cave enhances the experience of the sacred interior
formation about ancient India. The traveller was greatly impressed by King Harsha of the 7th century. Owing to the ruler’s generous patronage of Buddhist establishments, he descri

What remains of Nalanda University, Bihar. This internationally renowned Buddhist university flourished under the rule of the Gupta kings, most of whom revered Hindu deities. The courses of study covered Buddhist philosophy as well as Hindu shastras.

bes him as a “great Buddhist king”. However, Harsha’s own inscriptions show that he was a devout Hindu worshipper. Harsha’s dramas, written on Buddhist ethics, are performed in Japan even today.Joyous worshippers and musicians

Indra riding the elephant Airavata, his vehicle. Carved on the veranda of the vihara Cave No. 18 at the Bhaja Caves of the 2nd century B.C., this is one of the earliest-known representations of the deity. The style has similarities with the terracottas of the Sunga period. Indra continued to be popular in Buddhist art in subsequent centuries. He is also depicted as the one who, along with Brahma, receives Siddhartha on a cloth when he is born from the side of Queen Mahamaya.
are seen everywhere in the paintings of Kashmiri Buddhist monasteries. It is this sense of lyrical joy that is the hallmark of the ancient art of Kashmir. We are reminded that one of the greatest Indian philosophers of aesthetics, Abhinavagupta, lived in Kashmir in the 10th century.
Parihaspura in Kashmir was a great centre of Buddhist and Hindu worship in the 8th century. Stupas and chaityas made here would have served
The red sandstone cliffs of Badami in Karnataka offered a spectacular setting for the excavation of four caves, three Hindu and one Jaina, in the 6th century A.D. during the rule of the Chalukyas.
as the models for the Buddhist art of central Asia. The site had a Buddhist chaitya as well as a Vishnu temple dedicated by King Lalitaditya. In that cosmopolitan culture, Parihaspura also had an impressive stupa made by the king’s Tocharian minister.
In the spiritual climate that continued from ancient times, there were no boundaries between faiths in the early medieval period too. The same person is most often described as a devotee of different deities, depending upon the occasion. Examples of this are numerous. Such religious divisions are a later construct by scholars who have tried to understand Indian history from a vastly different perspective. At an international seminar on Asian religions in 2007, a message was read out by the Secretary to His Majesty King Rama IX, in which it was said: “Court Brahmins and astrologers were a fixture of the court as they were integral to the timing of auspicious days for the holding of Hindu rites for the divine God-like-kings who were personifications of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma; but at the same time being Buddhist kings. The Brahmins officiated at the ceremony of coronation whereby they opened the gates of heaven for the Hindu gods to descend and thus make the person of the king God-like and empowered with dignity and grace.”
In Buddhist Japan, after the Buddha, the second-most revered deity is Saraswati. There are many temples dedicated to her in Tokyo, as well as numerous images of her in Buddhist temples. When the great Daibutsu (Big Buddha) temple of Nara was to be dedicated in the 8th century, they could not find a suitable learned Brahmin priest for the task in Japan. Therefore, a priest was brought from Myanmar. Images of a vast range of Hindu deities are seen in the temple complex. The early Buddhist caves of China have paintings of Krishna, Siva and Parvati.


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