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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Art and Ritual in Buddhist South Asia

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2015/2016
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

Art and Ritual in Buddhist South Asia examines key themes in the study of Buddhist art, visual and material culture from the early centuries BCE through to around 1200 in South Asia. 

Central issues that will be addressed include: 

  • relics, reliquaries and the stupa; 
  • iconography and Buddhist sculpture; 
  • pilgrimage and landscape; 
  • politics and kingship; 
  • narratives in sculpture and painting; 
  • art, cult and ritual; 
  • historiography. 

The geographical and material range will include early sculpture at Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati, the origin of the Buddha image and the Kushan empire, Gandhara and the ‘Crossroads of Asia’, monasteries and the rock-cut caves of the Western Deccan, and Bodh Gaya and the arts of pilgrimage in eastern India. 

This half-unit encourages students to explore similar themes in the art and material culture of other regions, such as Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan, and to consider the complementary approaches to Buddhism and Buddhist cultures taught by the Study of Religions department.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

 Key objectives:
  • To critically analyse sculpture, paintings and architecture from South Asia using appropriate vocabulary.
  • To examine a range of approaches to understanding works of art from South Asia, focussing on the arts of Buddhism.
Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills
  • Chronological framework for the arts of South Asia from c.250 BCE to c. 1200.
  • Knowledge of the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art.
  • Knowledge of key themes in the study of Buddhist art.
  • An understanding of how and why art objects have been made in South Asia.
  • The ability to critically analyse sculpture, paintings and architecture from Buddhist contexts in South Asia using appropriate vocabulary.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.

Method of assessment

Exam =70% , 1 essay of 1,000 - 1,500 words = 20%, 1 essay of 2,500 words = 20%

Suggested reading

  • Cribb, Joe, and Elizabeth Errington, eds. The Crossroads of Asia: Transformation in Image and Symbol in the Art of Ancient Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cambridge 1992.
  • Dehejia, Vidya. Discourse in Early Buddhist Art: Visual Narratives of India. New Delhi 1997.
  • Huntington, Susan L., and John Huntington. Leaves from the Bodhi Tree: The Art of Pala India (8th-12th centuries) and Its International Legacy. Seattle and London 1990.
  • Leoshko, Janice. Sacred Traces: British Explorations of Buddhism in South Asia. Aldershot 2003.
  • Willis, Michael D. Buddhist Reliquaries from Ancient India. London: British Museum Press, 2000.