Category Archives: HINDU MYTHOLOGY

Evolution of Hinduism

Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world is spanned by multitude of gods and goddesses. Shrouded by thousands of mythologies these gods evolved in to thousands of regional gods all over the Indian contiment with specific attributes. Shiva is known by many forms and names, the most iconic of them being the Natarja. His other symbolic representation is Ardhanushvara where he emanates his power through gender: both as a male and his female consort. Of the

BRAMAH HEAD

Bramah

Trimurti or Trinity in Hindu religion, Brahma enjoys the least popular worship inthe present times. The next of the Trimurti Vishnu who is a Vedic god is diversified through his many avatars, at least eight, all of whom are gods in their own right contributing to the vast Hindu pantheon worshipped in millions of temples all over India.

The early elements of Hinduism are witnessed in the pre-Aryan culture of the Indus Valley 5000 years ago. Sir Mortimer Wheeler referring to Indus findings states “…… thus by far is the largest unitary civilization of pre-classical times.” The proto-Hindu images of Lingam,

INDUS SEAL
Indus Seal

Yōni and Pasupathi found in Indus supports a Dravidian origin for Hinduism. Around 1700 BC the Aryans arrived at the Indus region bringing with them their gods of nature: Varuna, the controller the cosmos, Indra, the ruler warrior of the sky and wind, and the terrestrial Agni or the god of fire.  The Vedas were composed by the Aryans over the next 500 years but not put down in writing until a thousand years later.  The Dravidian personified gods such as Shiva, Muruga, Ganesha, Valli, Krishna, goddess Shakti (Parvati, Durga, Kali) merged with the nature gods of the Aryans  in to the present form of Hinduism.

GOLD SHIVA 1
Kushan Kanishka 1 gold coin 100 AD

Kushan kings of North East India in 100 to 300 AD were the first to depict Shiva and Nandi on a coin which we able to hold in our hands with marvel today. The oldest iconic Hindu Art and Sculpture emanates from South India as seen in the dancing deity of creation and destruction, Nataraja from the Chola and Pallava period. Lord Shiva’s physical and symbolic mergence with his consort  Parvati, as Ardhanarishvara encompasses the entire principle of Hinduism: creation as a union of female and male forces driving the cosmic power.

A Diverse Collection of Hindu Art & Sculpture

Visit Hinduism on Coins 

Visit Iconic Sculptures of the Hindus

Gods on Coins and Stamps,

There are more animals and immortals depicted on coins than Gods.  Yet religion is the oldest culture in the world. Religion and deities depicted on coins are construed by some pious people as effacing the value of their gods. Coins are a part of everyday life for everybody, and religious coins can also be a reminder to the presence god in daily life. In a puritan’s sense the use of religious coins in monetary transactions could mean that god looks over honesty and integrity when his image is used. 

It is notable that the first ever mortal figure of Buddha (Boddo) too was on a coin by Kanishka I (the Great) who was the emperor of the Indo-Greek Kushan Kingdom in 127–151 AD.

BOODOO
First depiction of Buddha , King Kanishka ca 100 AD,

The Hindu religious coins have been issued since at least 2000 years ago, first by the Kushan kings of India in Greco-Roman style. Often made of gold, they are an expression of the power and pomp of the kings when it comes to religion. The high value of these coins is one of the reasons for then being preserved in such pristine condition, but unfortunately they are far and  few and rare.

GOLD SHIVA 1
Shiva and Nandi, Kanishka 100 AD from Anton Sebastian Private Collection

The Shiva and Nandi coin of the Kushan kings of Indo-Greek Empire, originating in Bactria (the present Afghanistan, Peshawar and Pakistan) is not only an example of exquisite expression in Hindu Art, but also the earliest known depiction of Shiva and his sacred vehicle, Nandi.  

RAMA AND SITA RAMTAKA DURBAR
Rama and Sita on the Darbar, Temple Token, 19th Century

In India Temple Tokens were produced since 19th century but more recent productions to generate funds for temples are common. Most of these coins carried the effigies of Rama, Sita, Lakshamanan and Hanuman. The Jain tokens were relativly rare. It would be difficult to precisely date them but the wear and tear and pattern would be of guidance in valuing them. However almost all the  gold tokens usually genuine. It is an experience and pleasure to hold these old
Hindu coins in our hands.    


Hinduism on Coins, 

 

With the advent of postage stamps in the mid 19th century the gods found another forum in daily life. However it is is not until the mid 20th century that they found their way into postage stamps.

Hinduism on Stamps

NATARAJA STAMP
Shiva as Nataraja

Birth of New Buddhist-Hindu Fusion Art

Angkor, the lost capital of Kambuja (Cambodia) was rediscovered by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860. only about 150 years ago. Yet it has revealed culture, art and architecture that is unparalleled in South East Asia. Following the fall of Kambuja to the Siamese in 1431 AD, the splendor of the capital was lost to the jungle for the next four centuries. As the vegetation took grip on these magnificent buildings, their roots failed to shake the robust structures built through the masonry of ancient architects and artisans. Lost to man, snakes took shelter and the wild animals roamed claiming the territory that the humans took from them. Gods and nature mingled once again hidden from the greed and breed of the human race.

KHMER TRIAD 1
Khmer Triad, Anton Sebastian Private Collection,

Upon its discovery, the world was stunned by the cultural treasures that it  revealed. Here was a fusion of two most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, with no signs of conflict between the two. Vishnu and Buddha mingled sometimes as one, Shiva’s serpent (Naga) guarded the Buddha. Uma shared the platform with Buddha and Vishnu, while Linga adored the temple with Buddha. The mythology of Hindus adapted to Buddha’s philosophy of life was in harmony.

VISHNU KHMER ALTER BASIN 3
Vishnu, Anton Sebastian Private Collection

Having remained undisturbed for generations,  now a prolific number of magnificent work of art and sculpture from Angkor started emerging.  As these arefacts from the Khmer state started to reach the western world. If all these artifacts were to be real how did such a large number of objects survive? Or all these fake! the invention man’s greed.

According to legend an Indian named Kaundinya on arrival to the larger Malay Peninsula, called Funan, formed an alliance with a Nagini princess, hence probably the early Naga influence on the state. For the next 1000 years Kambuja remained a Hindu state with a balance of Brahma, Shiva (Linga) and Vishnu as deities. Almost all art, bronzes and culture are centered on these deities from 600 to 1200 AD until Buddhism arrived in the 13th century. A remarkable peaceful union of the two religions followed with their sculpture encompassing the Hindu deities and Buddha.

Upon its discovery, the world was stunned by the treasures that it  revealed. Here was a fusion of two most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, with no signs of conflict between the two. Vishnu and Buddha mingled sometimes as one, Shiva’s serpent (Naga) guarded the Buddha. Uma shared the platform with Buddha and Vishnu, while Linga adored the temple with Buddha. The mythology of Hindus adapted to Buddha’s philosophy of life was in harmony.During the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century in Kambuja religious fervor set in fueling  an output of a large number of smaller bronzes. This new demand exerted pressure on the craftsmen, contributing to some poor quality bronzes. Good quality pieces became relatively less. By the time Khmer State starting to fade in the 15th century its treasures had got redistributed to rest of South Asia where they have survived into modern times. In addition, continuous wars and invasion by the neighboring states contributed to redistribution of Khmer treasures and artifacts in Siam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and as far as Tibet, Malaysia and China.

 

Khmer Antiques from Antiques International

During the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century in Kambuja religious fervor set in fueling  an output of a large number of smaller bronzes. This new demand exerted pressure on the craftsmen, contributing to some poor quality bronzes. Good quality pieces became relatively less. By the time Khmer State starting to fade in the 15th century its treasures had got redistributed to rest of South Asia where they have survived into modern times. In addition, continuous wars and invasion by the neighboring states contributed to redistribution of Khmer treasures and artifacts in Siam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and as far as Tibet, Malaysia and China.

Some of my early collections are from these countries. Even as late as early 18th century the hostility between Siam and Cambodia continued causing further outflow of Khmer art and sculpture into other parts of the region. It is not surprising to encounter such relatively large number of ancient Khmer artifacts in the west over the past century, given the high output of Khmer bronzes for over a millennium. Some may be fakes or reproduction of the past century but certainly some jewels in sculpture cannot be painted with the brush.

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Durga as an Inspiration to Hindu Art & Sculpture

Durga is a representative of female power in Hinduism and is also identified by the Hindus as Adi Parashakti, Devi, Shakti, Bhavani, Parvati and numerous other female forms. She is a warrior goddess and the source of Hindu mythology for combating evil and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and dharma of the good. Many of Hindu Art and sculpture represents her fierce role as the protective mother goddess ready to unleash her anger against evil. Given her multirole it is not surprising to see the Hindu religious artisans throughout the ages focussing their skills in depicting Durga’s power and emotions.

Hindu Art & Sculpture

Hindu Mythology

Hindu Art and Religion

Hindu Religion

Female Power through Hindu Art

Some of her artistic and sculptural representations of Durga are as a goddess riding a lion or tiger, with many arms carrying weapons. Her most ferocious form of defeating Mahishasura ( buffalo demon) with its head in her hands is the ultimate display of fate of the evil demons in her hands,

Her antiquity is takes its roots in the Vedic literature, such as in the Rigveda literature and the Atharvaveda. While the Vedic literature uses the word Durga, the description therein lacks the legendary details about her that follows in later Hindu literature.

Not only venerated as a destroyer of evil but also she is equated with the concept of ultimate reality called Brahman for creation of the universe. Durga has a significant following all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal, particularly in its eastern states such as West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar. Durga is revered during the festival of Navratri celebrated by Hindus all over the world.

Art and Sculpture of Durga

Hinduism through Hindu Art

Shiva and Parvati are primordial powers of the world demonstrating gender as the basic of human life. The Lingam representing male force, and Yoni, the female power are both the concept of love and procreation taking their roots in Indus culture of the proto-Dravidians or Pre-Aryans. The power of both the female and male

Ardharnishwara, Anton Sebastian Private Collection

force is represented in the image of Ardharnishwara, an androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. This concept of unified power of the male (Shiva) and the female (Parvati) takes its origin in the 9th and 10th centuries of the Chola period. One of the earliest images of Ardharnishwara from the 9th century AD was found in Sri Lanka and is displayed at the Colombo Museum demonstrating the Hindu influence on the adjacent island during the reign of the Raja Raja Cholan when Hindu culture reigned supreme. Incidentally the Hindu images unearthed at Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka constitute strong evidence for the Hindu influence in the island off the tip of south India.

Meenakshi, Anton Sebastian Private Collection

The current Hinduism is a fusion of nature gods of the Aryans and the personified tribal gods of the Dravidians, looking at the religion in a broader sense. The Hinduism of southern India is more representative or mother or female guardian culture with innumerable female deities such as Shakti, Parvati, Meenakshi, Kali, Durga, Valli and scores of others. In the same tone the family aspect Hinduism is reflected in Shiva and Parvati, their son Ganesha, and the couple Vishnu and Lakshmi. While the latter predominate in Vaishnavism, Shiva and Parvati iconography is the hall mark of Shaivism, second only to Tandava of Shiva as Nataraja. The mythologies of these deities have provided the playing field for the artisans in their display of their art and skill in gifting us with Hindu Art and sculpture from the glorious past.

The Hindu iconographies such as Durga slaying Maheshasuramardini, Krishna stealing cheese, Kaliya serpent submitting to Krishna, Shiva courting Parvati, Vishnu holding Lakshmi and the Tandava dance of Shiva are not only awe inspiring for the Hindu devotees, but also an immeasurable pleasure for the eyes and souls for the connoisseurs of Hindu Art: to them the magic of Hindu art itself has become a religion.

Hindu Art and Religion

©AntonSebastian

The Ramayana Connection, Sri Lanka

The Sanskrit epic Rāmāyana is perhaps the most depicted epic in the world today. Some of the most exotic historic sites in India and the rest of the east, such as the  Ellora caves, Mahāvalipuram,  Cambodian temples, and several other places in Thailand portray Rāmāyana scenes and characters in their sculptures and paintings.  Its literary contents have continued to inspire artists and artesans to depict the Rāmāyana scenes in paintings, on stone and other media for sculptures. Consisting

of 24,000 verses, it is supposed to have been written around 250 to 300 BC, although the events described in it appear to be much earlier, around 1000 BC.  Although generally looked upon as a religious epic of the Hindus the contents in relation to Lanka reveal some contents that may be historic.

Many other religious beliefs to stake a claim to Lanka, the present Sri Lanka. To the Mohammedans it was the paradise of Adam and Eve. One Islamic legend says that when Adam and Eve were cast out of the paradise, Adam fell on the island of Ceylon, and Eve near Jeddah, the port of Mecca. They later met each other and lived in Ceylon. Adam’s Peak is a legacy of this legend.

For the Buddhists, it was the island chosen for salvation of Rakshas and Nagas by the Buddha.  With such a variety of claims it is not entirely surprising to see Lanka having a multitude of ancient names. The Island’s ancient name, Lanka (Laka or Laksha, thousands) is supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit language, to refer to a multitude of islands around its western coast. In the Pandiyan Saṅgam  literature, the southern region in the peninsula is referred to as MaveIlaṅkai (great Lanka), while Lanka, known for its supply of rice to the Tamil kingdom, is referred to as Ilaṅkai. The Sinhalese called the island Sīhala, after the Siṃha (lion) of the Vijaya legend. This name was corrupted to Sinhaladipa, and became the Serendib of the Arabs around the 2nd century AD. During the colonial period Sieladipa became Ceilão, and later ‘Zeilan’, and ‘Ceylon’ under the Dutch and British.

To the Hindus, it was the scene of the epic Rāmāyana battle where Rāma and Rāvaṇa fought over Sītā. The Hindu epic poem, Rāmāyana refers to the island as Ilaṅkai, the most antiquated name for the island. Many holy places in the island are implied in the Rāmāyana. Rāma is said to have prayed for his victory over Rāvaṇa, at the shrine for Siva at Muniswaram (Tamil: mun, ancient or before, Īśvara, Hindu god) in the Chilaw district. The narrow causeway between Ramēśvaram (Hindu gods: Rāma, Īśvara,) in India and Talaimannar served as the crossing   point for Rāma   before   his battle with the Lankan  king Rāvaṇa, and we know that this is geographically true. Dandaka forest, the northernmost wildernes of South India (Penninsular India) is where the first conflict between Rama (Aryan) and Surpaanakai, the sister of king Rāvaṇa (Dravidian), began. The legend in many ways is a rerun of the Aryan invasion that occurred thousand years previously in the

RAMA-1-684x1024
Rama, a silver sculpture from Anton Sebastian Private Collection

Indus which probably captured the imagination of Valmiki.

Following the Rig Veda of the Aryans (c 1400 BC), the next earliest quasi historic document that we can find is the Rāmāyana. The classical historian and Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1910) quotes: “Imagination, mother of all poetry, is likewise mother of all history.” In the epic a divine monkey from the tribe of Vānarar comes to the island of Ilaṅkai  in search of  Rāma’s wife, who was abducted by  Rāvaṇa, the king of Lanka. Shortly before entering Lanka he stands on Pavalamalai (Pearl Mountain) near Lanka, and observes the island which is regarded as a paradise. In the Kamba Rāmāyanam, a Tamil version of the Rāmāyana written later in the 12th century AD, the divine city of Lanka was built by the architect of God. Its palaces reached for the skies, with shining precious stones embedded in gold. Divine women of the giant race (Rākṣasas) and divine   lords     were     serving  giants    like King Rāvaṇa. According to Kambar’s description Wind and  God       could     enter              the        city only with Rāvaṇa’s consent; such   was the the defence and           glory of Lanka.  Men and women happily lived here without the slightest care. Only happy people were seen about, and Hahnuman could not see any signs of discontent as he sifted through Lanka looking for Sītā.

The episode on war, the Uttara- kāṇḍa in the classic, between the Lankan Dravidian king and the Aryan king of India, constitutes 68 chapters out of a total of 537 chapters, in six books. Although  in these verses the Rāmāyana narrates unlikely supernatural feats such as            the flight of Hahnuman, a monkey god over Lanka,  some geographical framework such as the Rama’s Bridge is noted. Rāma and Sītā’s legend  still lives on in Sri Lanka    through several  place-names: Sītāvaka in the

Sitavaka Temple in Nuwara Eliya

Avissawella district where Sītā is believed to have been held in captivity: Sītākoṭuva, near           Gurulupota in Minipe, on         the        Kandy-Mahiyangana road where Sītā       is supposed to   have     been     initially held      by the        Lankan  king:     Rāvaṇa,              Älla,      in Ella              (near     Badulla), a scenic cave  behind  waterfalls              where   Rāvaṇa hid Sītā: Ariṣṭa   mountain Riṭigala) where Hahnuman is       said       to          have      dumped the earth containing medical      herbs from Himalayas: MunĪśvaram Temple     where   Rāma    prayed  for his   victory:              Sītā       Amman Kovil, near Hakgala Gardens, where the monkey god Hahnuman found Sītā,     and the Rāma’s Bridge (Adam’s              bridge)  built      by Hahnuman and his tribe for Rāma to cross over to Lanka.

HINDU ART & MYTHOLOGY

 

The Indus Axis to Buddhist & Hindu Art

Throughout early history the nature has had more control over the course of mankind than man himself. The ancient civilisations on the banks or the regions of rivers, such as Indus and Ganges in India, Euphrates and Tigris in Mesopotamia, and the Nile in Egypt were destined by the state of water levels in the rivers, either too high or too low. Man could either prosper or perish at the mercy of the rivers. Among these, the Indus civilisation is one of the ancient of the river colonies dating back to about 2500 BC. The first invasion of the Indian continent was at Indus region by a set of nomadic people from the west whom we now call the Aryans. The people inhabiting the Indus before the arrival of the Aryans are termed pre-Aryans most of whom seem to have moved towards the south or elsewhere, although a small proportion such as Baluchistanis stayed back in the region. The culture of the pre-Aryans, inferred through their architecture, beliefs, seals indicate that they were possible the fore-fathers of the present Dravidians whose religion evolved through the millennia into the current form of Hinduism.

Indus Seal, prototype of Shiva (Pasupathy)

To many eminent scholars, the Dravidian culture encompassed almost the whole of India before the arrival of Aryans. In referring to the vast area of pre-Aryan Indus culture, the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976) states: “…… thus by far is the largest unitary civilization of pre-classical times.” The proto-Hindu images similar to Lingam, Yōni and Pasupathi found in the Indus Valley supports the theory of a Hindu based Dravidian origin to the present Hinduism. The fact that Dravidian dialect (Tamil) is still spoken in the Indus region (Baluchistan), renders support to the proto-Dravidian theory before the immigration of Aryans to Indus. Recent Radio Carbon dating of the Indus artefacts estimates the life span of Indus civilisation to be from about 2400 BC to 1400 BC.

In contrast to the well documented Greek invasions of North-western India, we have no written records for the Aryan migration to the Indus region. However, we learn of the struggles and conflict between the original inhabitants of Indus and the invading Aryans through   the   Rig   Veda, composed   by the Aryans at the beginning of ca 1400 BC.  The pre-Aryan Indus people, believed to be the proto-Dravidians, have left us with objects and undeciphered texts on their seals. The images on their seals, their sculptures, architecture and planned towns   over a vast area of over 600 miles, have given us a fair idea of this highly advanced ancient race. The Aryans themselves refer to the ruins left by the Indus valley people as arma (ruined site) and make the following reference to their predecessors of the Indus Valley: “The people whom these ruined sites, lacking posts, formerly belonged, these many settlements widely distributed, they, O’Vaisnavara, having been expelled by thee, having migrated to another land.”  In these words, here lies the clue to the destiny of the original pre-Aryan Indus people: they did not perish but simply moved on to new frontiers.

The earliest recorded history of India starts around 1400 BC, with the oral composition of Rig Veda, the sacred text of the Brahmins. Consisting of over a thousand hymns and more than ten thousand verses, composed over a few centuries, this collection became the ‘canon’ of the Vedic religion. These mystical hymns: the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda and Atharva Veda were first put down in archaic Sanskrit writing only as late as the 12th century AD. Before this time these hymns were chanted methodically and accurately by the Brāhmīns through successive generations, without the need or intention to write them down. These incantations were regarded as the greatest possession of the Brahmins granting them the privilege, monopoly and hegemony over all other casts of Hindus. Writing the Vedas down not only would have been a sacrilege, but also be inviting lesser castes to their profession.

The culture left behind by the pre-Aryan people in the Indus valley, in many aspects, is cognate with the Dravidian culture. Objects resembling phallus and Yoni, seals bearing images of proto-Hindu god Pasupathi and images of mother goddess are some striking examples of a proto-Hindu culture left behind by the pre-Aryans in the Indus region. The English Indologist, Arthur Llewellyn Basham in his book The Wonder that was India (1954) states: “The modern South Indian is usually a blend of Mediterranean and Proto-Australoid, the two chief ethnic factors in the Harappa culture; more over the Harappa religion seems to show similarities with those elements of Hinduism which are specially popular in the Dravidian country. In the hills of Baluchistan, where people of the Nal and Zhob cultures built their little villages, the Brahui, though ethnically now predominantly Iranian, speak a Dravidian language.”  In his chapter on The End of the Indus Cities, Basham states: “First to suffer (the Aryan invasion) were the Baluchistan villages…. When the end came it would seem that most of the citizens of Mohenjo- daro had fled.” Indologist, Father H. Heras (1953), one of the authorities on the Indus scripts, believes that the text on the Indus seals is a form of primitive Tamil, although his theory is disputed by other scholars.

The British archaeologist Sir Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895), who deciphered the cuneiform tablets of the Persians in 1849, gives us a glimpse of India in the 6th century BC, through the eyes of the Persians and Greeks. His younger brother, George Rawlinson (1812-1902), the Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oxford, in his commentaries on the history by Herodotus, says: “The Indians included within the empire of Darius were probably the inhabitants of Punjab, together with those of the lower valley of Indus.” The boundaries of India described by Herodotus is limited to the north by the Gandhārians (in upper Punjab and Kashmir): to the west by the Pactyans (in Afghanistan), Arachosians (in the present Kandahar) and Gedrosians (in Baluchistan): on the east by the Great Indian Desert (Deccan): and the south by the sea.” Herodotus does not seem have been much aware of the southern peninsular India that intervened between that part of India known to the Greeks, and the sea, the Indian Ocean. However, we can still find the first description of Dravidians in the work of Herodotus: “The tribes (of) Indians are numerous, and do not all speak the same language…. Eastwards of these Indians are another tribe called Pandaeans who are wanderers and live on raw flesh…. They all have the same tint of skin which approaches that of the Ethiopians…. Their country is a long way from Persia towards the south: nor had king Darius ever any authority over them.” As there is no historic record of any expedition into the peninsular south India by Persians or the others before the time of Herodotus (c 500 BC), it is likely that the Greek historian obtained his information on South Indians, through hearsay from travellers.

About the Indians (in the North West), Herodotus states: “They were warlike race in the time of Darius.” Through Herodotus we come to know that the Indians served in the Persian army, against the Greeks. It was not until the military expedition of Alexander the Great (reigned 336-323 BC) in 329 BC that the curtain   came down between the East and  the West.     Megasthenes (350-290  BC)  the  Greek ambassador   to the court of Emperor Candragupta during his stay at Pāṭalīputra (311 to 302 BC, wrote Ta Indika, which proved to be one of the earliest records of the Indian region by any westerner. Pāṭalīputra, known as Patna today, became the first imperial city of India with the establishment of Chandragupta’s Empire during the time of Megasthenes. The grandson of Candragupta, King Aśoka, later completed the conquest of the entire north India by subduing the adjacent Kāliṅga Kingdom, but the cruelty of war that he witnessed made him convert to Buddhism. However, Asoka could not as assert his military influence over the South, but he had more powerful weapon: religion, namely Buddhism.

Thus, Buddhism was born as a reactionary force to Hinduism which was underpinned by animal sacrifices and the monopoly of religion by the Brahmins. Buddha’s philosophy was never meant to become a religion, but only a way to eternal peace, Nirvana. Buddha never endorsed personal worship or imitation of his image. His early disciples complied with his directive by worshiping images of his foot prints or stupas until the Greeks arrived in the region. In Gandhara located in the present Pakistan arose the first representation of the Buddha in human form. This was the beginning of Buddhist art which spread to most eastern regions of the world. The adjacent Swat Valley, the land of romance and beauty, is celebrated as the holy land of Buddhist learning and piety. It is said that the Swat was filled with fourteen hundred imposing and beautiful stupas and monasteries, which housed as many as 6,000 gold images of the Buddhism for worship and education. This culture has left us with more than 400 Buddhist sites covering and area of 160 Km in Swat valley alone.

The earliest discovered statue at Gandhara is that of the seated Buddha from 2nd or 3rd century AD. Other Buddha images from this period too are of Greco-Roman style. They seem to have flourished during the adjacent Kushan reign of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh). Since then the schools of Gandhara and Mathura each independently evolved their own characteristic depiction of the Buddha from about the 1st century CE. The Gandhara school mostly drew from the traditions of Rome and Greece and represented the Buddha with a youthful Apollo face, dressed in royal garments. The ancient Gandharan artisans in their composition of Buddha’s images and his experiences have transformed the religion into Buddhist Art. The first depiction of Buddha on a gold coin was released by King Kanishka I in the first century during which time the first image of Shiva and Nandi too appeared on a gold coin.

Nearly a millennium later Tantrism brought mythology and mysticism to the religion. Vajrayāna, Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and “Secret Mantra”, which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet and East Asia around the 7th century AD. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayāna, while in China it is generally known as Tángmì, and in Japan it is known as Mikkyō. The new philosophy opened a vast scope to Buddhist art with each country adopting its own culture to Buddhism. A unique turn in the history of religions occurred in the 12th century with the fusion of the two religions in Khmer Empire during the reign of Jayavarman VII. He embraced Buddhism which coalesced with the pre-existing culture of Hinduism for a millennium.  Vishnu and Buddha were seated in the same alter, guarded by the Naga, with goddess Uma too appearing as consort of Vishnu. The great temples of Khmer became the ultimate seat of art accommodating Hindu mythology such as Ramayana and heavenly dancers or Asparas, along with Buddha bringing the two oldest religions together without conflict. The fusion brought a whole new spectrum of Hindu-Buddhist art to the south east encompassing many countries including Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam and other regions of Indochina.

In the meantime, the parallel development of Hindu Art continued mostly in the Southern Peninsula of the Indian continent. The Pandyan dynasty was probably the most ancient of the Tamil dynasty, the other two being the Cholas and the Cheras. Pandyans excelled in Tamil literature and poetry along with performing arts. The Tamil Sangam was the legendary depository of literary works of the Tamil poets at  Korkai, a seaport on the southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula. Following a deluge, the Pandyans shifted their capital to Madurai. Strabo, the Greek philosopher and geographer (63 BC- 24 AD) vouches to the antiquity of the Pandyan king when he sent gifts to Augustus Caesar in Rome. We also see legacy of the Padyans in their ancient coins often depicting a fish in the pre-Christian era. The three dynasties of South India were referred to as the Three Crowned Kings of Tamilakam and were known to King Asoka. Earlier to this time the Greek ambassador Megasthenes at the court of Chandragupta in the 3rd century BC had described the Pandyan kingdom as Pandyan Mediterranea and Modura Regia Pandionis.

Hindu art, architecture and sculpture reached its zenith during the Pallava period (275 CE to 897 AD) and Chola period (848-1279 AD). The gap in Hindu art and architecture from about early Christian era until this period could be partly explained by the rise of Buddhism through King Asoka’s efforts to promote Buddhism in South India. Buddhist monasteries prevailed over Hindu centres in the 5th century at Kanchipuram and adjacent regions. Buddhism started to recede later at the instance of Saivites and the last stand of Buddhism in South India was at Nagapattinam.

The history of Hindu art in India is as old as Indian civilisation itself before the Aryans. Present day Hinduism in India is an interactive product of the nature gods of the Aryans and native gods of Hinduism. The concept of mother goddess prevails strongly since the pre-Aryan times to the multiple forms of goddess such as Shakti, Parvati, Devi, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and so on depicting the one and the same of female power in many forms. While on the other hand the male deities are mostly representative of male primordial power with female consorts. The Hindu philosophy surpasses most religious ideologies in making the female and male not only a power on their own, but an inseparable power as one and the same in the image of Ardharnishvara, a god who is both male and female. Although the iconic representation Ardharnishvara probably evolved in the 8th to 9th century AD, the concept power of genders itself was conveyed through Linga and Yoni as the primordial genders of procreation much earlier.

Hindu art was born of Hindu deities but propagated through native interpretation of their gods generating thousands of mythologies that empowered the gods by strengthening Hindu faith through fear of these gods. In contrast the compassionate side of the Hindu religion is seen in gods and goddesses such as Sarasvati who bestows prosperity and knowledge, Lakshmi who grants wealth, Vishnu who maintains harmony of the universe, Ganesh who removes obstacles and Durga who protects her devotees.

SOUTH EAST ASIA, Hinduism, Buddhism, Antique Religious Sculpture and Statues, Ancient Coins,