Hinduism and Buddhism are credited with being two of the world’s oldest religions. Hinduism is an outgrowth of indigenous beliefs joined with the Vedas and Upanishads between 800-500 BCE. Buddhism is the reaction to those indigenous beliefs, begun with the preaching of the Buddha around 500 BCE. Although circumstantially relatable, Hinduism and Buddhism should not be confused as they are extremely different. One main difference is the ornate and extremely decorated artwork and architecture of the Hindus that contrasts the simpler artwork and architecture of the Buddhists. This difference in artistic representations conveys the beliefs of these separate religions and is well demonstrated by the religious buildings of the Hindus and the Buddhists.
The Hindus believed in multiple deities. One of these deities includes Shiva, the deity of both destruction and creation, who is often depicted as dancing with multiple arms and mudras. The Shiva demonstrates the cycle of life with the ring of fire often seen around his head. Among the other deities, Vishnu, the Preserver of the Universe, is often represented with four arms. Vishnu is known for restoring the earth when evil forces gain strength. The Sanskrit word for a female goddess is Devi. Female deities such as Parvati and Lakshmi play central roles in the Hindu religion. It is to no surprise then, that Hindu temples are ornately decorated, adorned with sculptures of the multiple deities worshipped by the Hindus. The Lakshmana Temple, in Khajuraho, India, was built around 930-950 CE and dedicated to Vishnu. It is adorned with images of over 600 gods. There are multiple inner sanctums, the main one being dedicated to Vishnu. This temple also contains an aisle meant for circumambulating the sculptures of the deities. As for the carvings, there are multiple ones that portray erotic scenes of the gods. These carvings represent their way of life as Hindu gods had to live through the cycle of life, which included birth, suffering, and living -- just as a common person would. This belief in multiple deities justifies the immense amount of sculptures, dedicated to separate deities, in Hindu artwork and architecture.
The Buddha (or the Enlightened One) was born in Nepal in the 6th century B.C. as a prince. It was foretold that this Buddha would become either a great leader or a religious one. However, once he experienced the hardships of the world, Buddha became a wanderer and renounced worldly possessions. Instead, he went to seek out knowledge through meditation. Buddha succeeded as he achieved complete enlightenment; he then set out to spread his teachings through the Wheel (chakra) of the Law (dharma) and preached the Four Noble Truths. Samsara, literally translated as “continuous movement," is the constant cycle of life and death, which the Buddhists believe comes from ignorance. They believe that humans are thrust into this cycle, and will continue to be born until they break the cycle by improving karma and extinguishing desire (which the Buddhists believe causes suffering). The Buddhists have no god as they focus on the Buddha as the central figure of their worship and meditation. These religious beliefs of a life of simplicity translate into the simple stupas of the Buddhists. A stupa is shaped like a hemispherical mound and contains the relics of Buddhist monks and nuns. The Buddhists use such stupas as places of meditation. The Great Stupa at Sanchi, in Madhya Pradesh, India was built around 300 BCE-100 CE. It is the oldest stone structure in India and is built over the relics of the Buddha. The hemispherical shape of the stupa is adapted for the purpose of circumambulating the relics while meditating. Due to the fact that the Buddhists do not have a god, but instead worship the Buddha as the central figure of their religion, the Buddhist stupas are not as ornately decorated as the Hindu temples. To no surprise, the teachings of the Buddha continue to influence the architectural conventions of Buddhist stupas.
Two of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, both emerged in South Asia. The belief system behind both of these religions is based off of breaking free of the cycle of Samsara, but they communicate this belief in their separate ways, oftentimes through art and architecture. From the elaborately decorated Hindu temples to the more modest Buddhist stupas, these religions are able to convey their separate religious teachings and beliefs through the pieces they leave behind.