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From Siddharth to Buddha: Retracing the birth of a religion

An exhibition of India’s Buddhist art traces the religion’s progress from the birth of the Buddha to the growth of the doctrine and its journey through time.

art and culture Updated: Nov 14, 2015 12:55 IST
Poulomi Banerjee
Buddha in meditation. Buddhist Art exhibition is up for viewing at National Museum in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, November 10, 2015.
Buddha in meditation. Buddhist Art exhibition is up for viewing at National Museum in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)

There was no Freud to help Queen Mayadevi interpret her dream back in 6th century BCE, but to all who heard, it was clear that future greatness lay in store for the boy whose mother had dreamt that a white elephant had descended from heaven and entered her womb. Little wonder then that the depiction of the ‘Dream of Mayadevi’ - Buddha’s mother - is an integral part of Buddhist art, an exhibition of which, titled Buddhist Art from India, is being held at the National Museum.

The 91 pieces on display are part of the collection of the Indian Museum, Kolkata, and have been exhibited to great acclaim in China, Japan and Singapore. Journeying through the centuries and through the different stages in the development of Buddhism, the exhibits range from depictions of Buddhist symbols such as footprints, the wheel and carvings on stupas to depictions of the Buddha’s miracles, statues of the Buddha and of Buddhist deities, and plates and bowls carved with tales from the sutras and jatakas (stories of the Buddha’s previous births). It is believed that statues of Buddha and Buddhist deities were first created in Gandhara and Mathura during the Kushana dynasty.

The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)
A standing Buddha made of bronze from Tamil Nadu. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)
Footprint of Buddha. Symbols like footprints or the wheel were common depictions before statues of the Buddha began to be made; an inscribed plate showing the Vessantara Jataka; a model of a pagoda from Myanmar; the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)
A model of a pagoda from Myanmar. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)

The exhibition also includes works from countries like Myanmar. Interestingly, the Buddha’s features vary slightly from one image to the next depending on the age and the place of origin. An engaging show especially for those interested in spirituality and its impact, the only drawback seems to be the paucity of detail on the background to each piece. But as Sayan Bhattacharya, education officer, Indian Museum, points out: “Giving more details about each exhibit would have made the display too text-heavy”. The Indian Museum and the National Museum are discussing the possibility of holding workshops focussed on the exhibition.

A Buddha from Myanmar. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)
An inscribed plate showing the Vessantara Jataka. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)
A visitor admires an exhibit at the Buddhist Art of India show at the National Museum. 91 artworks from the collection of the Indian Museum, Kolkata, are on display. (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)

ART WALK
What:
Buddhist Art of India
Where: National Museum, Janpath
When: 10 am to 5 pm, till November 30 (closed on Mondays)