The Conservation of Buddhist Art | Dharamshala
The Centre for Living Buddhist Art in Dharamsala is nestled in the serenity of the Himalayan foothills. Surrounded by green fields and set against the immense snow-capped mountains, the Centre provides unique exposure to Buddhist art history. Conceived and established by two renowned Buddhist artists, the centre aims to preserve, promote, and transmit the art through the Museum of Himalayan Arts, Buddhist Art School, and Art Studio that comprise it.
The practice and interpretation of Buddhist art is an extension of the philosophy of enlightenment. Practitioners seek spiritual exaltation and a connection to higher realms of existence, which in turn inspires their artwork. In this sense, the art becomes an intimate expression of devotion, and the artist a conduit for divine interaction. Buddhist scroll paintings, known as Thangka hold significance as objects of devotion, much as religious iconography aids deity worship in other mainstream religions. The conservation of this spiritually informed art form thus influences the practice of Buddhism itself.
Buddhist art uses prominent historical and mythological influences by depicting Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and symbolic objects to construct a scenic narrative. While it’s scope is not restricted to visual art, Buddhist imagery has been portrayed primarily through paintings, mandalas, statues, and sculptures. The preservation of these relics is essential for archiving, but also for encouraging a revival of interest in the art. In doing so, a new generation of practitioners can engage with the rich historical tradition which has, in part, been sustained by art.
Interestingly, performative practices of musical chanting, dramatics and dance are integrated into the religious ceremony in various sects of Buddhism. Buddhist literature continues to be a source of reference and has thus retained its relevance among followers. For instance, The Buddhacarita, a Sanskrit poem that chronicles the life of Gautama Buddha, is an epic text that documents the origin of Buddhist philosophy. These broader forms may also be considered as Buddhist art, and could potentially benefit from revivalism or promotion within and beyond the community.
Ultimately, contemporary manifestations of Buddhist art can be found in architecture, paintings, rituals and text unique to the religion. As evidenced by the mission of the Centre at Dharamsala, this rich repository must not only be preserved but actively built upon by those seeking spiritual enlightenment through the practice of art.
WORDS: AKSHAY SHARMA
PHOTOS: SAYALI GOYAL