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Indian Art



Much Indian art illustrates religious ideas.
The three main Hindu gods take different forms to show their many qualities. Here Shiva, god of destruction, appears in his loving form beside his wife Parvati.
zoom The three main Hindu gods take different forms to show their many qualities. Here Shiva, god of destruction, appears in his loving form beside his wife Parvati.

 

Much Indian art illustrates the gods and spiritual figures of three major religions that developed in India. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all teach their stories to the faithful through images.

In all three traditions, believers worship independently rather than gathered as a congregation. Works of art are the focus of their worship. With proper ritual care, some images and structures become a home for the deity itself. The more decoration at a temple or shrine, the more pleased the god honored there will be.

Art also helps worshippers imagine the world beyond the one they know. All three religions teach that the physical world is just an illusion. Studying an image can help one learn truths that cannot be grasped in the world we know. It is this knowledge that is most valuable to a believer, not the work of art itself.

Religious texts provide precise descriptions of how gods and the cosmic world they inhabit should appear. A work of art that does not follow these descriptions accurately cannot serve its purpose.


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1. Each of the three main Hindu gods has its own temples and followers. This sculpture comes from a temple devoted to Vishnu, the god who keeps order in the universe.
2. Buddhism declined in India itself but spread through Southeast Asia. Sculptors there borrowed ideas from Indian sculpture, as in this head from Thailand or Cambodia.
3. Jain artists are best known for illustrations of their holy texts.

 

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January 2004