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Asian Art and Religion

Asia has often been regarded as one of the primary cradles of civilization in the ancient world. In its lands rose people who have built testaments of their existence many of which have been preserved today. These civilizations are distinct and have proven it to be diverse in culture and in being. Each country that we know of today have at the least one trace of these great civilizations. Among these several things were from the Chinese, Indian, Persian, and the Arabian. But among the diversified nature of civilizations in ancient Asia, there is one common root for these societies: religion.

Ancient Asian religion is one of the few things that bound these diverse societies which can still be observed in several territories nowadays. Among these are Buddhism and Hinduism. The influence of these religions in the Asian culture can be seen in architecture, artefacts, as well as the traditions in modern Asia. Though time may have changed the way most Asian societies live their lives, ancient beliefs still persist as a norm that may never be erased in Asian culture. The following are some of the few testaments of the influence of ancient Asian religion to that Asia that we know of today.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) One of the most famous figures in Buddhism is the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara or the Avalokiteshvara with a thousand hands. This enigmatic figure in Buddhism has often been associated with the compassion of the Gods among Asians specifically those living in China, Singapore, parts of India, among others (Berkwitz, 2006). The figure has been the link between the humans and the Gods. The Avalokiteshvara symbolizes the eagerness of the Gods to save the sinful people from their common acts (Ganeri, 2006).

The figure is commonly seen in temples where people pray for forgiveness as well as pray for guidance. The figure is from a folktale wherein , in the path towards, Buddhahood, the man has been enlightened about the common ways of man wherein he was disheartened so bad that he died and was reincarnated with a thousand hands with an eye in each hand that symbolizes his wisdom. Gal Vihara Next is the great temple of Gal Vihara in Sri Lanka. The Gal Vihara is a giant statue of what was believed to be one of the preferred disciples of the Great Buddha, Ananda.

The temple follows the ancient belief that is still followed by Buddhist nations up to today. It was believed that the larger a country builds a Buddha, the more prosperity it would bring to that country (Berkwitz, 2006). The size of the figure in the temple also shows how ancient Buddhist followers find the importance of their religion by building massive testaments to their belief. The Gal Vihara is also a testament of how the Buddhists try to connect with the Buddha in search of enlightenment. Shiva Nataraja The Shiva Nataraja is an artistic variation of the Hindu god Shiva (Akkamah*ad*evi, 2005).

In this particular pose, Shiva is in a dancing position with the arms holding various symbolic objects. On one hand, the Shiva Nataraja holds an hourglass which symbolizes creation and on another hand fire for destruction. One foot is also raised to signify salvation and enlightenment. This figure guides Hindus on how they would live their everyday lives according to the principles of their religion. Several temples especially in Southern India honour the Shiva Nataraja through dances and songs which is still practised today. Linga with Four Faces

The Linga as it was commonly known is an abstract form of artefact notably found in Nepal. The Linga with Four Faces is usually considered as a phallic object that symbolizes power of Shiva (Staples, 2001). It was said that the artefact symbolizes sexual desires being transformed into spiritual Nirvana. The four faces symbolize Shiva’s four characters as a father, a husband, a creator, and a destroyer. Some Shaivism sects also consider the artefact as a symbol of the four elements: earth, water, fire, and wind. The Linga can usually be found in Shiva temples in Nepal.

References:

Akkamah*ad*evi, Vinaya Chaitanya, H. S. Shivaprakash, and International Sacred Literature Trust. Songs for *Siva : Vacanas of Akka Mah*Ad*Evi. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, in cooperation with the International Sacred LIterature Trust, 2005. Berkwitz, Stephen C. Buddhism in World Cultures : Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006. Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shiva’s Fire. 1st Harper Trophy ed. New York: HarperTrophy, 2001 Ganeri, Anita. Buddhism. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library, 2006.

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