Asian Art and Architecture: Art & Design 382/582

Lecture 17

Indonesia and Cambodia

Lee 145-50, 275-7

A In the last two meetings we have seen the expansion of the Buddhist religion and Buddhist culture from the South Asian mainland to the Island of Sri Lanka and then to Southeast Asia, in Thailand. And then we discussed the present state of Theravada in Thailand

B The discussion this time traces the development of Mahayana in Southeast Asia. What we do not have, in terms of the images in your art text, is a very direct correlation between the historical development of either the culture or the history of Buddhism, but rather a selection of the most handsome images produced by the culture, as selected by one trained in the cannon of imagery and most familiar and interested in the most compelling images in American collections. So the result is a focus on art rather than history or religion. We will thus look at Mahayana imagery only in Indonesia and Cambodia, though there was Sravakayana activity present in both to some extent.

C In Indonesia, on the Island of Java is what is commonly called the largest single Buddhist monument, the royal stupa mountain of Borobudur, a mandala of vast proportions. In Cambodia, at Angkor Thom there is an even larger monument by some measures. And then at its heart there is the Bayon, one of the most compelling to western exoticism.

Pala - Sena Period (North India) c 750 - 1199

Srivijaya Empire (Shailendra dynasty, in Java) c 778 - 864

Second Angkor Period, Cambodia 1002 - 1201



181 Standing Buddha Sulawesi (Clebes) Amaravati style 3th - 4th c

182 Padmapani Malaysia Srivijaya 6th - 7th c

183-4 Stupa Borobudur Srivijaya late 8th c

185 First Gallery Corridor, Stupa Borobudur Srivijaya late 8th c

186 Hiru lands in Hiruka, Stupa Borobudur Srivijaya late 8th c

187 Prince Sudhana & Ladies Borobudur Srivijaya late 8th c

188 Jina Buddha Borobudur Srivijaya late 8th c

189-90 Prajnaparamita Chandi Singasari Eastern Javanese 13th c


348-350 Bayon temple Angkor Thom Second Angkor 12th - 13th c

349 Churning of the Ocean Angkor Thom Second Angkor 12th - 13th c

Plato’s C Neak Pean Angkor Second Angkor 13th c


Indonesia is the nation of islands off the southern mainland of Southeast Asia: Java, Sumatra, Celebes, Borneo and a great many smaller islands. These have been independent and grouped indifferent combinations over the centuries. Buddhism came to Southeast Asia from the beginning of the common era, through the visits of merchant traders and missionaries. There is a Sanskrit inscription on the Malay peninsula in the first century. Brahmanical and Buddhist worship were known in the Islands by the fifth century. The major examples of Buddhist art in the region come from the Srivijaya Empire between the mid-7th and the mid-8th century and the Eastern Javanese period. The most extemsive remains are mostly from the Island of Java. We have already seen the 8-9th century Srivijaya Bodhisattva from Jaiya on the Thai mainland. The Shrivijaya empire has an Indian name and was one of many Southeast Asian kingdoms taking cultural elements from South Asia. Most commonly this was a matter of Brahmanical royalty and Buddhist commoners, but in some cases Buddhists received royal patronage.


Map of Pilgrim voyages including those of I-ching

In 671 the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim I-ching (I-tsing) passed through Palembang, Sumatra on his way to Nalanda. He noted a thousand monks at that time, mostly Sravakayana. But inscriptions not the presence of Mahayana and Tantric practices as well. The Vajrayana Buddhism that came in with the Shrivijaya Empire was strong up through the 13th to 14th century arrival of the Muslims who have come to be the nearly universal faith of the region since that time.


181 Standing Buddha Sulawesi (Celebes) Amaravati style 3rd - 4th c

bronze 29.5"

The (West) Sulawesi Buddha torso reveals its hollow core. Buddhist metal images do not need to be solid, as Brahmanical images must be. Normally they are cast around earthen or clay cores. A bit of scripture or other relic is inserted in the fabric to bring them to efficacious use.

This image is of a style so one could easily place stylistically between the 2nd century Buddhas of the Krishna River Valley, at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda, and the 4-5th century art of Gupta north India. But it was found in Indonesia and is different enough from anything in India to indicate that it is of local manufacture. Still the flattening of the torso as marked by repetitively doubled linear folds and the svelte outline is so reminiscent of the south Indian Buddha that we can easily suppose that the traders and missionaries from the south of India brought images here that were an important source for this image. And yet it is so much more curvaceous in its hips and fully rounded in its head that it stands out quite distinctly from anything found there.

Though the majority of Buddhist remains in the region are Mahayana this is plain enough to be a Sravakayana image. It is the standard Buddha image, elongated empty earlobes, snail curls hair, raised lump of an ushnisha, monks samghati off one shoulder. The ambivalence about the date comes from having nothing but stylistic comparisons to base it on.


182 Padmapani Malaysia Srivijaya 6th - 7th c


Lee calls the image typical of the Gupta-derived style of Srivijaya. As a Bodhisattva with multiplied arms, this must be a Mahayana image. A Bodhisattva with a Buddha in his high piled coiffure, can only be Avalokitesvara, who carries the image of Amitabha. In contrast to the Sulawesi Buddha, this is an image close to the metal traditions of Nalanda, rather than the stone traditions of southern India. The Srivijaya empire was in direct trade with merchants coming out of Bengal and patronized one of the monasteries at Nalanda directly. Today Indonesia is almost entirely Islamic, though a pocket of Hindu-Buddhist syncretic practices still exist on Bali.


183-4 Stupa Borobudur Srivijaya c 800

The Srivajaya empire, was ruled from Java by the Shailendra dynasty, claiming to have originated in southern India, from 778 to 864. Their most spectacular creation is the Vajrayana mandala stupa of Borobudur. Though Lee see this as a result of their contemporaneous connection with Nalanda, where they are supporting a manastery, there is nothing comparable in India itself. Indeed both iconographic conception and the esthteic style of the imagery are unique to Java. Lee points out that the monument’s iconography is Mahayana, and it can be seen to largely eminate from identifiable Mahayana Sutras. But the mandala instrumentality would makes it more appropriatly a Vajrayana structure. And that is what most students have found it to be.

Borobudur is the largest single Buddhist monument in terms of shear workmanship. It is 408 feet on a side at its base and about 300 feet at its upper terrace, rising 105 feet to its peak. Its terrace corridors carry nearly 15,000 feet of narrative relief panels on over 2,000 separate panels.

The design of the monument is of a six-storied square step pyramid with reentrant facets on each side, capped by three circular stories and a crowning stupa. In its over-all outline it is a low mound capped by the upper stupa and fringed th the 72 miniature stupas of the upper three stories and innumerable smaller stupa finials decorating the parapets of the five square open-air corridors. A stairway leads from the base to the highest square platform at the center of each side.

1 The base level was buried when the Dutch first saw it, and clearly intended to be buried for either symbolic or structural reasons. Once uncovered it began to shift outward under the weight above it, and only great restructuring in the 1970’s and 80’s has saved the whole from collapse. The outer walls of this basement are covered with reliefs depicting the hells described in Buddhist scriptures, with Buddhas ministering the beings under torture. There are 160 panels in this rendering


abhya mudra

92 facing north


vitarka mudra

Amitabha Vairochana Vairochana Vairochana Askhobya

dhyana mudra vitarka mudra dharmacakra mudra vitarka mudra Bhumisparsa mudra

92 facing west 16 72 in three upper rings 16 92 facing east


vitarka mudra



varada mudra

92 facing south


Akshobya (?)



dharmacakra mudra

72 in three upper rings



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Vitarka mudra

64 facing all sides

atop sixth gallery


Amitabha Ratnasambhava Askhobya

dhyana mudra varada mudra Bhumisparsa mudra

92 facing west 92 facing south 92 facing east


abhya mudra

92 facing north







Akshobya (?)



dharmacakra mudra

72 in three upper rings


Transcendent Worlds

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Vitarka mudra

16 each side

2-5 Amoghasiddhi no

23 each level

2-5 Amitabha w Askhobya e

2-5 Ratnasambhava so

23 each level


6 Sudhana’s search to Maitreya and then Samantabhadra (the next B)

5 Sudhana’s search for Maitreya

4 Sudhana’s search for Maitreya (Gandhavyuha of Avatamsaka)

RUPAKAYA 3 Avadana continued (acts of faith by the Buddha after 1st Sermon)

Material World

Life of Bod. fr Tushita heaven (24 pan) up to the 1st Sermon (120 pan)

2 Jataka (120 panels) (Lalita Vistara)

1 Kamadhatu Hells (160 panels)

world of desire








of the kamadhatu (world of desire). The fact that some are unfinished suggests that the decision to bury the basement came rather unexpectedly and abruptly.

2 - 6 The next five stories are composed of open-air galleries fringed by miniature pavilions and stupas and carved in one or two levels of narrative relief on the sides. The upper level in the galleries of the 2nd level carry the life of Shakyamuni up to the first sermon, as told in the Lalita Vistara sutra, in 120 panels. The first 24 take place in the Tushita heavens before his birth. #25 is Maya’s dream. The lower set of 120 panels are devoted to the Jataka tales of his previous births. The 3rd level continues Avadana (the acts of faith by Bodhisattva) as begun on the 2nd level. The 4th level contains tales of Sudhana’s search for Maitreya, the coming Buddha, in scene after scene of the prince’s interviews of various Bodhisattva, as recorded in the Gandhavyuha of the Avatamsaka Sutra. The 5th & 6th levels continue Maitreya stories, ending with tales of Samantabhadra, the last Buddha to follow Maitreya.


7 - 9 The top three, circular, layers carry 72 hollow stupas, each one containing an image of the Buddha Vairochana in Dharmacakra mudra. Vairochana is the Adi Buddha, from which the four Jina Buddhas, of the different directions emanate. They are set in three ascending terraces of 32 + 24 + 16.

As we pass from the square of the lower levels to the circular levels of stupas we move from the world of Rupakaya (material form) to the realm of dharmakaya (transcendental or spiritual form), by passing from the realm of directions and limits to the world of the ifinite. .

This is according to some estimates a coming together of the two great mandalas of esoteric (Vajrayana) Buddhism presided over by Mahavairocana. The lower square layers being the Rupakaya and the upper the Dharmakaya. In Japan Shingon has its Ryobu mandara, that combines the Kongokai and the Taizokai mandaras, each of which is ruled by Mahavairochana. Together they meld the material and spiritual worlds. The Kongokai mandara has 72 principle deities. (According to Benjamin Rowland, Jr., the number 72 was well-known as the number of years between one degree changes in the precession of the equinoxes, and therefore a cosmic element encoded in the stupa thereby. [AAI 459])


Within the stupa at the top was found an unfinished image of Akshobhya, shown in Bhumisparsha mudra, that has been interpreted as a representation of the king who commissioned the monument, as an element in his presence there as the god-king (Devaraj).

The entirety is thus one vast Vajrayana mandala, through the building and the subsequent operation of which the user can accomplish a particular goal. The exact ritual involved is lost to us, and so to is the specificity of that goal, but given the general outline of the monument’s iconography we can make a fairly accurate guess. The imagery offers us the metaphysical anatomy of the world. The world mountain here is based in the Kamadhatu, the region of desire. The second level leads through the Buddha’s previous lives and then its historical life up to the first sermon. The rest of the rectangular galleries levels show the perfected lives of Bodhisattvas and the pilgrimage of Sudhana seeking perfection and nirvana. They represent the Rupakaya, realm of seeking nirvana. The upper region of stupas, revealing to those who approach the existence of the Buddha within each stupa, represents the Dharmakaya, the spiritual realm of nirvana beyond the material world.

Progressing by encircling pradakshina, layer by layer one rises through the world of samsara to the world of nirvana. The detail is vast and the iconography is complex, but the symbolism is ultimately the same as Sanchi’s as one passes through the sensuous world of the toranas and into he formless world of the inner and upper paths. One passes through this world to reach the realm of formlessness from which one need not suffer or be reborn again. It is the same symbolism we will see later in the Ryobu mandara rituals of Shingon in Japan. The Vajrayana formulation here is more complex and quite differently defined than the Sravakayana simplicity found at Sanchi, but they are still enough the same to see how both are Buddhist.


185 First Gallery Corridor, Stupa Borobudur Srivijaya 8th c

The galleries are open to the sky with reliefs on the inner and outer walls, with life-sized Buddha images seated in miniature temple niches visible at the end of each segment..


Plato’s Cave people in a torturous hell Stupa Borobudur 1st level

A number of observers have noticed a procession of styles in the relief carvings of the stupa that differentiate its levels along with the changes in subject matter. The lower levels show, in this view a "piquant naturalism [in] the jataka and avadana panels..." They are somewhat stubby and caricatured in their naturalism, and highly crowded. Space is totally collapsed to one plane. In the upper galleries there is, by contrast, greater simplicity, grace, and an evocation of perspective. A plain background opens up the image into a scene rather than a frieze of figures.

[Lee’s reference to them, as "obviously influenced by Gupta style in their concept of figural representation," is a gratuitous Orientalism. There is nothing here that one can compare to Indian style, much less the North Indian style of the 4th -5th centuries. There is, on the other hand a consistency in narrative style and ornamentation that reveals this style to be peculiarly local and highly developed.


186 Hiru lands in Hiruka, Stupa Borobudur Srivijaya 8th c

lava stone 9’ in length.

This is the 86th relief of the first gallery, showing a scene of particular interest to the Srivijayan patron, the end of a sea voyage. The galleon sized ocean going vessel stands at harbor with its sail furrowed. The sailor is home from the sea, greeted by villagers from the finely carpentered houses at the left. The blank ground offers space that separates the outriggered ship in its rippling sea from the village ashore. The house is surrounded by domestic details like birds on the roof and people seated below. Trees are represented conceptually but with life-giving twists and graceful curves. The figures are relatively simplified in their modeling, yet decorated


187 Prince Sudhana His Ladies Borobudur Srivijaya 8th c

lava stone 9’ in length.

Here is the 16th panel of the lower gallery (the 3rd level ?). The prince is shown lecturing the women in his household as they proceed to a pond to draw water and carry it to the palace on the left. Space is developed by setting the figures in a developed scene. Though there is no real perspective developed by the figures who remain in a parallel frieze without overlapping.

The stoey of Prince Sudhana’s search for enlightenment takes him from one land to another in search of Bodhisattva’s who will aid him in his quest, as told in the Gandhavyuha section of the Avatamsaka sutra.


The Jina Buddhas of the galleries

Though the set of Buddhas of the cardinal directions, eminating from Vairochana, the Adi Buddha of the zenith, have long been called "Dhyani" or "Meditation" Buddhas in Western scholarship, the correct name for the set of five who define the Mahayana cosmos is the Jina Buddhas.

The Jina Buddhas of the galleries are al of more or less precisely the same style and differentiable from each other only in their mudras. These however are enough to identify each as a particular being among the four emanations of the Adi Buddha, each presiding over one of the four directions of the compass. These are Akshobya (in bhumisparsha mudra) facing the east, Ratnasambhava (in varada mudra) facing the south, Amitabha (in dhyana mudra) facing the west, and Amoghasiddhi (in abhaya mudra) facing the north. Thus on levels 2-5, with Vairochana (in vitarka mudra) on all four sides of the 6th level. Together they define the universe emanating from the Vairochana of the central realm.

In all there were 505 of the life-sized images. 92 of each of the 4 directional Jina Buddhas, 64 Vairochana’s on the upper most corridor, 72 Vairochanas on the round terraces and 1 in the uppermost stupa.

These images sit in the niche shrines atop the five open galleries, each effigy facing in the direction that its subject commands.


188 Jina Buddha Borobudur Srivijaya 8th c

This illustrates the central, Adi Buddha, Vairochana (in dharmachakra mudra), that appears in each of the 72 stupas of the upper levels. It sits in a taught padmasana pose its hands in a finger-touching dharmachakra mudra pose. It is life sized and in a relatively unmodulated, inflated from within style that indicates little more articulation than the string holding up the inner garment, an umbilical and nipples. The wide, impassive face seems wrapped in meditation. The usual lakshana are visible. It is an ideal form removed from particulars of humanism.


Operating the mandala

The pilgrim-siddha, Vajrayana adept, doing the traditional pradakshina of the full perimiter of each level, rising up to each successive level moves from the Kamadhadu realm of hells and the world of desire to mount the platform and follow the course of the Bodhisattva through its many Jataka births and then Shakyamuni’s life from its pre-birth existence in the Tushita heaven (of the 33 gods) to the Dream of Maya and the miraculous birth through the life story of Siddhartha up to the Awakening and then on to the First Sermon and so on through the life of Shakyamuni up through the . The process follows the path of the Nikaya Buddhists . He then rises through the third level. Rising with two revolutions on each level, one for each set of panels on the wall (?), levels three through five are passed following the Mahayaba course of Sudhana the prince from one helpful Bodhisattva to another.

At the point of rising from the 4th through the 5th level the Siddha continues to follow Sudhana from the Rupakaya–the level of the square stages–into the Dharmakaya level of Vairochana and so the overlapping Dharmakaya realm, where the two mandala overlap.

Ascending to the 6th, round stage, they emerge into the pure Dharmakaya level, filled with stupa’s into which they may peer and in the dark see their own faces reflected in the gold-leafed faces of Vairochana.

The process is a of Vajrayana mandala passage, that is usually done in the mind and can here be done physicall. The monument is a giant stupa-mandala based upon Mahayana imagery, in a Vajrayana combination and operated in the ritual manner that characterizes Vajrayana.


189-90 Prajnaparamita Chandi Singasari Eastern Javanese 13th c

Andesite 49 1/2"

Prajnaparamita is the personification of the great sutra, of that name, and of transcendental wisdom that is "the mother of Buddhas." She is the goddess of transcendental wisdom. The figure we see is depicted as a female Bodhisattva. Her crown, jewelry, and costume are lavish and handsomely articulated. The visible flesh of her body stands out in its smoothness from the reticulation of the ornamentation. She sits in padmasana with her hands in dharmacakra mudra. She has the elongated empty ear lobes and urna that mark the being of enlightenment. In general terms we can see how such a work traces its lineage back to India in both its symbolism and in its formal features. She sits upon an elaborate lotus cushioned throne. Rising on a lotus bud on her right we see a thin, criss-crossed wafer representing a palm leaf manuscript tied with strings. It is the text she personifies. The outer edge of the throne is detailed in the familiar effulgence that represents the flaming edge of the halo that surrounds her.

Prajnaparamita is first mentioned in Mahayana texts of the first century. But she is later important in Vajrayana as well. In the Mahayana context she is identified with universal wisdom and maternity, in particular as the mother of all Buddhas. In Vajrayana she is seen as the shakti (personified power) of Vairochana. In this particular combination of poses: teaching mudra, metitation posture she is the "yellow" Prajnaparamita. The book represented is the Prajnaparamita text itself. The urna on her forehead indicates that she has attained the highest wisdom.

We can also see how particular to Java and the evolution of Javanese art it stands. Unlike the small metalwork of central Java that has such close ties with Nalanda and north India that it could have been made in either place. This is an example of an autonomous local Mahayana Buddhist art.

Are the features particular enough to say meaningfully that this is also a portrait of Queen Putri Dedes? I see the same mask of calm fond throughout the style reaching back as far as Borobudur. There is a tradition of royals having themselves portrayed as Buddhist deities, but if this is that, it is a metaphysical portrait. The material details are not so particular.






We sill see only one pair of connected monuments in Cambodia. There was a long development of Mahayana and Brahmanical imagery from the 4th century on. Theravada Buddhism came in the 12th century from Thailand and supplanted both Mahayana and Brahmanical faiths by the end of the 13th century both for the common people and the ruling elite. The kings of Cambodia saw themselves as Brahmanical devarajas, human incarnations of Shiva or Vishnu. The majority of their populations were Buddhist. And a good amount of Buddhist as well as Brahmanical imagery has survived. The architecture of the realm was mainly Brahmanical. But in one case, at the end of the Cambodian empires half millenium of imperial sway over the region, there was an apparently Buddhist moment. This occurred when the devaraja Jayavarman VII converted to Buddhism and reconstructed his great living temple and funerary resting place, the Bayon.


349 Churning of the Ocean Angkor Thom 12th - 13th c

Each devaraja (god-king) constructed his own temple centered capital city as the center of the Khmer universe. Angkor Thom was and Jayavarman VII’s. It was a vast walled city, over a mile on a side, surrounded by a wide mote and crossed by a great causeway in the middle of each side. A fifth gate and causeway were added at a later date for a particular ceremony. Each causeway was edged by balustrades formed by lines of 54 gigantic figures holding the body of an enormous nagaraja, whose heads reared up at the entrance and whose body stretched for hundreds of yards back to the gateway in the wall, and symbolically to the center of the city. These represented the gods, to one side, and demons, to the other, using the endless serpent to churn the milky way and produce amrita, the ambrosia of eternal life.

In symbol the cords stretched to the center of the city where the Bayon temple represented the world mountain used as the churning pole rotated by the cords. Thus the entire city is encompassed by a single great imagery that encompasses the material as well as spiritual meaning of the realm. Sitting within its moat, whose water was used to irrigate the nearby fields at the same time that they symbolized the world ocean, the city of the king at the center of the Khmer kingdom represents the royal universe responsible for the well being of the country. The god-king’s temple mountain at its center regulating the irrigation and so the harvest and the social coordination that fed the nation, claiming credit for the water that irrigated the fields and the redistribution of wealth that was the economy.


348 & 350 Bayon temple Angkor Thom 12th - 13th c

The Bayon temple at Angkor Thom’s center is the churning pole from which the Khmer imperium was supposed to spread. It was the last great temple mountain of the Khmer period, build between 1181 and 1218, the period of Jayavarman’s reign. Like most of its predecessors its basic form is that of a the cosmic square, but at its upper, central height it is turned circular. Ultimately this is a Brahmanical temple with reliefs depicting the victorious battles of Jayavarman and the daily life of the realm on its outer corridors and the towers of the world mountain ranges that surrounded the great central mountain at its center. Thus once converted from a Brahmanical to a Buddhist temple this was not a stupa, but a great worship temple housing an image of the devaraja Jayavarman as an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, Lokesvara, the lord of the world.

What is most striking in the Bayon is the rendering of each of its 24 towers into great faces of Lokesvara facing in the four directions. The effect is striking and the symbolism of the devaraja’s omnipotence is extremely compelling. Compared with the known portraits of Jayavarman we can even attest the likeness in an example of royal incarnation that seems clear. Each separate tower stands over a chapel dedicated by a different region of the Khmer realm.

This is Mahayana Buddhism.


Muchalinda at the Bayon

At the center of the temple today sits this image of the Buddha on the coils of Muchilinda, who raised the meditating Siddhartha up out of the storms water and shielding him from its rain, brought against him by Mara during the final meditation that led to the Awakening. This is a recent movement of the object, but it gives us a chance to see this imagery that is only occasionally seen in India, but very popular in Cambodia. The ethnic identity of the features of the face are clear. The style too is clearly Cambodian.


Jayavarman VII

stone 44 1/2"

An inscribed portrait of Jayavarman give us a look at what purport to be his actual features and so a comparison for the towers of his temple mountain and for the Muchilinda and Buddha image.



Syl Neak Pean Angkor late 13th c

Here is another cosmological Mahayana monument, from the outskirts of Angkor, the Khmer’s capital city. It is a set of reservoirs representing the great lake Buddhist cosmology placed high in the Himalayas, whose waters fed the world’s rivers and in particular provided solace to those in the hells. Anavatapta is the name of the lake. Its waters spread in the four directions from the mouths of four different animals. Usually these are said to be the lion, elephant, horse, and ox.

On an island at the center of Neak Pean’s central tank is a temple on a rounded platform surrounded by a naga balustrade. It is dedicated to Lokesvara. Out in the tank a closer to the island than the shore stands image of a great seagoing horse, with human beings clinging to its sides. This represents Balaha, a form that Avalokitesvara takes to rescue worshippers threatened with drowning at sea.

From this tank water flows into smaller tanks in each of the cardinal directions. The water spouts for each of these connections are a horse (to the west), an elephant or makara (north), a lion (south), and a human (facing east). Pairs of carved feet are located beneath the spouts so that when not in use as sacred reservoirs the site may also serve for the ablutions of individuals and couples.