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Indian Art

Sculpture was built into the walls of temples and shrines.



Many of the Indian sculptures on display in the museum were meant to be seen in a very different context. In the museum a sculpture sits on a plain base under a spotlight, in front of a plain wall. But most large stone sculptures were originally built into the outside walls of a temple or shrine.

In both Buddhism and Hinduism, ordinary people worship by walking around the outside of the temple or shrine. The sculptures they pass as they walk remind them of the stories and beliefs of their faith. The same images often appear many times. The more times an image is seen, the closer a worshipper comes to understanding its message.

For Hindus, a god dwells in a temple like a spirit in a body. Decoration on the walls of the temple is like jewelry adorning the body. If a god or goddess is not pleased with a temple, he or she will not inhabit it.

Smaller sculptures, often made of bronze, were used in other ways. In Hinduism, only priests can enter the inner temple where the most important images of the gods are kept. On holidays, they carry small bronze sculptures on poles outside the temple so all can see them. Most homes have shrines for honoring a favorite deity as well.

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1. This 19th century photograph of a temple to Vishnu shows how sculptures can be part of the temple itself.
2. Like the temple this carved arch came from, the miniature temple shown here features a seated Vishnu surrounded by other Hindu deities.
3. This bronze Shiva would have been carried outside the temple in ceremonial processions.


January 2004