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Behl’s work has helped scholars see early Indian art in a fresh light, as part of a more extensive and continuous tradition. The Ajanta paintings were once viewed, Behl says, as a “flash in a pan,” an isolated, extraordinary achievement. His photographs and films make it clear that the splendors of Ajanta emerged from earlier trends, and their influence spread far and wide. “Because of Benoy’s photographs,” says Joan Cummins, curator of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, “we no longer see the art of Ajanta as a solitary island; now we see it as part of a long archipelago.”

Developments in sacred imagery fed the artistic blossoming at Ajanta. This was the era when the figure of the Buddha achieved an idealized, perfected human form. At first, artists had relied on symbols—footprints, a tree, an empty throne—to represent the historical Buddha. But followers wanted a more personal focus for their devotion. The likeness invented on the Indian subcontinent in the first centuries A.D.

That this flowering took place simultaneously within both religions is not surprising. The essential tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism arose from similar ideas, best described in the Upanishads, a set of Hindu treatises set down in India largely between the eighth and fourth centuries B.C.

Photographer and filmmaker Benoy K. Behl has captured the art and architecture of hundreds of temples and other monuments in India, Nepal, and China.
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