Unit 4: India, China, and Japan

1045 words | 4 page(s)

Angkor Wat reading summary

Angkor Wat, a twelfth century temple complex in present-day Cambodia, serves at the largest religious structure in the world. Built under the order of King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat is thought to be both a monument to the Hindu god Vishnu and the final resting place of the king. Within the Khmer political tradition, huge temple construction projects signaled a ruler’s legitimacy by providing a home on earth for the gods. Further, scholars suggest the towers which help define the outline of Angkor Wat were intended to mirror the peaks of Mt. Meru, the traditional home of the gods in Southeast Asia and a place which represented the connection between earth and the divine.

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Additionally, the organization of the temple complex mirror the concept of the mandala, which explains the harmony of all the elements of the universe. Aside from the architecture and layout of the complex, Angkor Wat also features bas relief on stone walls which depict Hindu narratives central to the religious tradition. Most of these narratives are etiological in nature and portray stories which explain the emergence of life at the beginning of time. Although those who live in the region eventually embraced the Buddhist faith tradition, Angkor Wat still plays a significant role in Southeast Asian culture and religion (Rod-ari).

4a: Teaching Buddha
Teaching Buddha is a sandstone sculpture of the Buddha figure dating from the Gupta period, around 500 CE. The relief stands about 5 feet tall and features a seated Buddha in the lotus position with hands raised in the mudra, or teaching, gesture. These two symbolic compositional elements impart the Buddha’s perfect enlightenment through meditation and his position as a teacher. Likewise, the lions present on his seat represent Ashoka, an early proponent of Buddhism; his elongated earlobes represent the Buddha’s renunciation of wealth; and the sculpture’s idealized symmetry and even proportional volumes symbolize the Buddha’s religious eminence. The sculpture is more of an abstracted representation than a realistic one; the artist used abstracted and idealized lines to convey the religious importance of the subject.

4b: Temple at Khajuraho
The Khajuraho temple complex in northern India is an example of medieval Hindu architecture. Similar to Angkor Wat, the temple was intended to resemble the peaks of the Himalayas, the traditional home of the gods. This particular temple complex is dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction. However, the temple also represents a sort of religious dualism and the temple’s interior symbolizes human creation. Further, the temple’s floor plan is designed as a mandala, a representation of time and the universe. Schist, a soft stone, is the primary material and stone carvings depicting scenes of a sexual nature are found throughout the complex. The outer towers are intended to look like natural, yet geometric, extensions of the earth, but the interior spaces are quite compact.

4c: Shiva as Lord of the Dance
Shiva as Lord of the Dance is a small (32 inch) cast bronze sculpture from the Indian medieval period, about 1000 CE. It depicts the Hindu god, Shiva, dancing within a ring of fire. The subject’s form is rounded, unrealistic with its multiple limbs, and demonstrates great flexibility and movement. The placement of the asymmetrical figure within the geometric circle speaks to the importance of balance and duality within Indian culture of the period. Further, the circle of fire and Shiva’s movement within it symbolize reincarnation and the continuity of time.

4d: Army of the First Emperor Qin
Emperor Qin’s terracotta army is a sculptural installation placed outside the tomb of China’s first emperor. The installation is dated to about 200 BCE and represents the Qin dynasty’s artistic funerary traditions. Excavated in 1974, there are more than 6000 individual sculptures, each standing six feet tall, with unique, realistic features. The figures represent various positions within an army and are arranged around the still-embedded tomb. Fired terracotta was the primary material and suggests the emperor had an immense ceramic workshop. The terracotta army serves as a symbol of the emperor’s power and martial command of the region.

4e: Poet on a Mountaintop
Shen Zhou’s Poet on a Mountaintop is a landscape painting on a hand scroll which depicts a mountain scene. Created in 1500 during the Ming dynastic period, Poet is representative of the Daoist philosophical thrust to experience nature as an educational force. Like other artists of the time, Shen Zhou combined painting, poetry, and calligraphy within one piece in order to convey an appreciation of nature. The artist places the poet further away in order to both impart a sense of distance and emphasize the awe-inspiring qualities of the natural scene. While representational (one can tell this is a natural landscape), the lines and use of black ink against a white background create an abstracted image.

4f: Rock Garden in Kyoto
The rock garden at the Buddhist temple in Kyoto is an installation intended to inspire Zen-minded contemplation and an appreciation for the quiet subtleties of nature. The garden was established around 1500 CE during the Muromachi period, measures 32 x 80 feet, and features five groups of large stones within a bed of white gravel. The garden is tended by Buddhist monks who carefully rake the gravel into patterns as an element of their daily meditation. The rock garden aesthetic changes when one changes perspective, rearranges the stones, or creates different raking patterns. The simplicity of the rock garden concept reflects the value Japanese Buddhists place on natural and rustic aesthetics and materials.

4g: Evening Bell
Harunobu’s Evening Bell is a woodblock print from the Edo period (about the eighteenth-century CE) which depicts two geishas preparing for the evening. The print measures 11 x 8.5 inches and would have been mass produced for public consumption. In accordance with the erotic aesthetic of the time, the image depicts the women’s sensual femininity by emphasizing their garments, hair, and ritual makeup. The juxtaposition of the clock against the women’s preparations imparts the fleeting nature of physical attractiveness, materiality, and erotic pleasure—all elements of Buddhist philosophy. The work itself is asymmetrical, features light pastel colors, dark lines which provide contour, and a raised viewpoint which imitates the perspective of someone looking in on the women.

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