South Asia is an extremely diverse region made up of an eclectic group of cultures. These cultures are centered around spiritual beliefs pertaining to the natural world, universe and individual existence. The most common spiritually influenced cultures in South Asia are Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. Each of these religions expresses their spiritual beliefs in different ways. The one similarity amongst the spiritual practices of all of these religious cultures is that they all express their values and beliefs through visual art and architecture in their place of worship. The visual art found in South Asia usually illustrates either the spiritual belief system of the particular religion in the area, symbolic representation of the particular religion, or a visual expression of nature.
Hinduism is based on a wide variety of traditions and philosophies which are illustrated through the detailed architecture of the Hindu temples in South Asia. In South Asia there are many different Hindu temples that are devoted to different traditional Hindu myths. For example, there is a temple in South Asia that was designed and constructed to proportionally resemble the human body. The portion of the temple that was created to resemble the mind is the room devoted to ritualistic prayer. The room of the temple that resembles the feet is the entrance because the feet are symbolic of the entry point to journey to God and accepting the divine. Another example of a Hindu temple that embodies the spiritual belief system of Hinduism is the
Sun Temple. The Sun Temple is located in Odisha, India and was architecturally designed to resemble a Chariot, which is a symbol of the Sun god Surya. The visual symbolism of the Hindu temples reflect the traditional beliefs that make up Hinduism.
Islam is a monotheistic religion, which means that those who practice Islam only believe in one God, and their belief system is centered around sharing compassion and giving to the less fortunate. Islamic mosques embody visual representation and symbolism of Islamic beliefs found in their one book, the Koran. A few examples of symbolic items and characters of architecture found in Islamic mosques are a manara, portal and the dome. The mantra, which is also commonly referred to as the minaret, is the notion of light which symbolizes spiritual illumination. The portal represents passing into another world spiritually. The Islamic mosques in South Asia were all architecturally designed with a large dome at the center, which symbolically represents that God is at the center of there lives. The dome was designed with the intention to draw your eyes from the ground up to the sky, which symbolizes the connection between earthly and spiritual realms. The exterior of mosques are extravagantly decorated with hand carvings and indicate designs with the intention to symbolize the path to the Divine and to Heaven in a visual manner. The mosques in South Asia are exceptional works of art and the visual athletics are heavily influenced by symbolic representation of the Islamic beliefs.
Buddhist architecture has symbolically evolved over time in South Asia. The Buddhist culture has multiple places of worship in South Asia known as Stupas and Temples. The Sanchi Stupa, located in central India was architecturally designed to represent void, wind, fire, water and earth. The stupa component of the building is the top portion which rests on top of the pagoda. The stupa symbolically resembles a seated meditating Buddha. The symbolism is extremely abstract, representing unity of nature and inspire humans to attain qualities found in nature. The Buddhists temples embody a symbolism of nature as well. For example, the Golden Temple of Dambulla located in Sri Lanka, holds golden statues of Buddhists mediating surrounded by visual representation of lotus flowers, deer, and the naga. These are all symbols of nature that is intended to inspire those who enter the temple.
Christianity is based on the belief that one God, who is all, created seen and unseen and that he sustains and judges all created. Similarly to Hinduism, Christianity is a Dharmic religion, meaning the belief system is centered on one truth. Christianity is similar to Islam in the sense that they are both monotheistic, meaning their belief system is centered around only one God. These beliefs are symbolically depicted in the Christian Churches. Bible stories are visually represented in stained glass windows as well as paintings on the wall. The common scenes illustrated are the last supper. One example would be the stained glass panels, which are a visual representation of the blessed mother holding baby Jesus, found in the Afghan church located in
Mumbia, India. The cross, with Jesus Christ nailed to it, is a symbolic visual representation of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and is found in Christian Churches.
In conclusion, South Asia consists of many diverse spiritual systems and places of worship. Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity all utilize visual representation to illustrate their belief systems. Ancient Western beliefs, Aberhamic beliefs and Dharmic beliefs have evolved in South Asia and there is clear representation in the architecture and art found in places of worship.
Sharma, M. (2016). Seeing The Divine – Love, Devotion, Freedom, Discipline – Divergent
Dehijia, V. (1997, December 17). Indian Art. Retrieved May 21, 2016 from http://asianart.class.arizona.edu/sites/asianart.class.arizona.edu/files...