Tree and Serpent
high-definition creative commons photographs from an exhibition of early Buddhist scupture and reliefs held at the Metropolitan Museum, together with further information.
This exhibition presents the origins of Buddhist art in India through the lesser-known sculpture of southern India. It traces these beginnings from images of pre- Buddhist nature deities that populated the religious landscape to the fully realized Buddha image. The authority of the nature spirits was acknowledged by the Buddha and he, in turn, was honored by them. A Stūpa – the burial mound to house the Buddha’s relics – is at the heart of this exhibition, ever present and always visible as you progress these galleries.
The Buddha’s cremation remains were interred in such a mound following his death, beginning the practice of venerating the relics, the central act of Buddhist worship. Almost all the sculptures displayed here once decorated monastic Stūpas. The Buddha is thus ever present – through his relics, in auspicious signs and symbols, and ultimately represented in human form.
Buddhist monasteries were not only sanctuaries for retreat and meditation but also places of intense social activity, frequented by local worshippers, pilgrims, and traveling merchants alike. Regular religious festivals honoring the Buddha included celebratory music and robust chanting in an atmosphere redolent with fragrance. These lived traditions of everyday Buddhism in early India are foregrounded here. The teachings of the Buddha radiate from this art: his simple message of compassion for all living beings and respect for the habitat that we share.
from the Introduction in the Exhibition Catalogue
The video below has an introduction to the exhibition by the curator John Guy and the Buddhist scholar Donald S. Lopez
use j/k or left/right arrow
to navigate through the photos below
The Bharhut Stūpa, 2nd-1st century BCE
The Amaravatī Stūpa, 3rd century BCE, onwards
The Nāgārjunakoṇḍa Site, 3rd-4th century CE
Other Southern Sites
Photographs by Leow Chai Yee, edited by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
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