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Pet Sins Issue 65: The International Influence of Ancient India

Indian sculpture as 'International Style'

Much of India's international influence came through the spread of Buddhism, and religious sculpture was one of the ways in which India influenced international aesthetics. The Gupta Empire (280-550), also known as the Golden Age of India, saw great achievements in medicine, education, mathematics and the arts.1 Visitors from other parts of the world came to Gupta India and carried Indian cultural influences back to their home countries. One famous visitor was the Chinese pilgrim Faxian (337-442) who came to India to study Buddhism and returned to China with Buddhist scriptures and statues.2

The sculptural style of Gupta India moved beyond India's borders to influence Buddhist iconography in Central Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. It came to be called the Gupta International Style.3

India's international influence on sculpture continued in the succeeding Pala Dynasty (750-1174). The Pala style of sculpture was derived from the late Gupta style but eventually developed a distinct look.4 Buddhist sculptures from 8th-11th century Indonesia reflected Pala influences.5

Yet another Indian 'international' style of sculpture, the 'international Nalanda style', was adopted in China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Siam and Srivijaya (a Malay empire including parts of modern day Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka) from the 7th century onward.6 The Nalanda style, while akin to the classical Gupta Style, was nevertheless considered a new school of art. This sculptural style spread to different countries through foreign pilgrims who visited the famed center of Buddhist learning and art in Nalanda, India and then returned home with three-dimensional art objects.7

Other Indian centers of Buddhism also had an influence on the art art of Indian's Eastern neighbors. Tang Dynasty sculptures found in China's Shanxi Province and in the capital Xi'an show Kashimiri aesthetic influences, reflecting the prominence of the Kashmir region as a religious center in the 7th and 8th centuries.8

Much has been written on the cultural connections between India and Southeast Asia. For those interested in reading more on the topic, books such as Temple Art, Icons and Culture of India and South-East Asia explore the Indian influence on the architecture and iconography of Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.


Notes
  1. 'The Gupta Empire' on IndianChild.com
  2. Gauri Parimoo Krishnan, On the Nalanda Trail: Buddhism in India, China and Southeast Asia, p29
  3. 'The Gupta Dynasty' in University of Washington Silkroad Exhibit,
    Sherman E. Lee, An Early Javanese Bronze, the Gupta International Style and Clay Technique,
    Visual examples of sculptures given in "On the Nalanda Trail: Buddhism in India, China and Southeast Asia", p34 (Example from China), p84 (Example from Malaysia)
  4. 'Pala Sculpture' on banglapedia.org
  5. Krishnan, p85-86
  6. Krishnan, pp54-55,58
  7. Krishnan, p54
  8. Denise Patry Leidy, The Art of Buddhism, p95