Category Archives: Aesthetics

A Point of View: The sacred and sensuous in Indian art

William Dalrymple
04 April 2014

Paintings and carvings in ancient Indian temples challenge Western ideas of the relationship between spirituality and sexuality, says writer and historian William Dalrymple.

Sculpture from temple in Khajuraho

In the early summer of 1819, a British hunting party, lost in the arid mountains of the Western Ghats, made a remarkable chance discovery.

Following a tiger into a remote and narrow river valley, the hunters stumbled onto what was soon recognised as one of the great wonders of India – the painted caves of Ajanta.

On the walls of a line of 31 caves dug into an amphitheatre of solid rock, lie the most ancient and beautiful paintings in Buddhist art, the oldest of which date from the 2nd Century BC—an otherwise lost golden age of Indian painting. Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, Ajanta represents the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world and the most comprehensive depiction of civilised classical life that we have.

The Ajanta murals tell the Jataka stories of the lives of the Buddha in images of supreme elegance and grace. The artists produced images that subtly explore a wide variety of human situations, from ascetic renunciation through portraits of compassionate Bodhisattvas of otherworldly beauty swaying on the threshold of Enlightenment, through to more earthy scenes of courtly dalliance in long lost ancient Indian pleasure gardens. Continue reading

Buddhism and Beauty

A discussion on the nature of art and the role of aesthetics is ongoing at the Buddhist Forum Free Sangha.  The opening paragraph is posted below.  Follow the link to read more.  – Ed.

What is the position of Buddhism on beauty? I understand that some forms of Buddhism would maintain that all external reality, which would include aesthetic beauty such as art and music, to be illusory and without use. However, it seems other forms of Buddhism, like Shingon example, which sees all of reality as the expression of Dainichi Nyorai, has room for beauty and art, hence the employment of art as a tool in these traditions (mandalas, icons, sculpture, etc.) Overall though, what is the relationship of beauty, particularly artistic beauty but also natural beauty, to the Buddhist worldview?