Stupa Architecture: Tracing Hindu-Buddhist Influence and Indo-Cambodian Relations

South East Asian regions like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula etc. came to be under the influence of the Indian culture from as early as the 3rd century BC

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Bayon Temple, Cambodia. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
  • Stupas form an integral and inseparable part of Buddhist architecture and culture
  • South East Asian regions like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula etc. came to be under the influence of the Indian culture from as early as 3rd century BC
  • The most significant Indianized state that existed was Funan, which is now a part of Cambodia
Part of Dhamek Stupa of Sarnath. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
Part of Dhamek Stupa of Sarnath. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

In Sanskrit, stupa means “heap”. Stupas form an integral and inseparable part of Buddhist architecture and culture. It stands as the burial ground or a place to hold religious objects and artefacts. But, what is interesting is that it has a connection to Hinduism as well.

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South East Asian regions like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula etc. came to be under the influence of the Indian culture from as early as the 3rd century BC. Broadly speaking, it was the time during which there was an amalgamation of Buddhist and Indian culture. In fact, till  the 15th Century AD, a lot of the parts of South East Asia were ruled by Indians. It is remarkable how India was able to approach and consolidate the branches of their civilisation is such a way without military conquest. There is a debate regarding the architectural influences that the South East Asian countries drew from India but not much has been talked about how in the later period, there were instances of Indian stupas being inspired from that of the South-East Asia. The votive Stupas of Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh are examples of such an impact, mentioned Ancient Origins Website.

Ruins of Sarnath Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
Ruins of Sarnath Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

Sarnath is located near the confluence of Gomati as well as Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. The structures of the stupa are mostly built with bricks, mud, clay, stone and dry masonry. According to researchers, stupas are also built of terracotta and other materials but none of that can be found in this particular stupa at Sarnath.

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Actually, at that time, a lot of Indians travelled to these places in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and this resulted in a cultural influence, mentioned the Ancient Origins Website. That was how both Hinduism and Buddhism was successfully spreading from India to these parts of the world- via traders, scholars and rulers, who were travelling through sea routes to these remote places. Over the time, strong relations were established between India and the South East Asia.

A statue from the walls of Angkor Thom, Cambodia. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
A statue from the walls of Angkor Thom, Cambodia. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

The most significant Indianized state that existed was Funan, which is now a part of Cambodia. Legend has it that, the ties between Indians and the Khmer or the native people of the land, was strengthened when an Indian Brahmin’s daughter married the local chief. Funan carried on trade with India and had series of kings who attempted to repress the rising tide of Buddhism and patronised Hinduism. Thus, the Indo-Cambodian relationship was in existence since then. Not only trade relations or personal relations but cultural ties were also strong between these two. The instances of Hindu and Buddhist influences can be found in the architectural manifestations of Angkor Watt Temple, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon temples in Cambodia.

Prepared by Atreyee Sengupta of NewsGram.

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