The Art of South and Southeast Asia 

(Gardner, Chapter 32)
(revised 6/15)




The earliest civilization on the Indian subcontinent flourished at the end of the third millennium, in what is present day Pakistan.  By 1100 C.E., India was one of the oldest civilizations with its arts and architecture inspired by three primary religions, Buddhism (following the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and beginning approximately 500 BCE), Jainism (followers of Mahavira and also beginning around 500 BCE), and Hinduism (evolved from the ancient Vedic belief system).   

Mughal Painting and Architecture

The art of India beginning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was marked by the rising influence of Hinduism and the decline of Buddhism.  (For a summary of Buddhism and Hinduism and their themes in art, see the introductory pages in the front of your textbook).   Islam entered the South Asian subcontinent in the eighth century in the form of arab armies who captured small territories at first.  Successive invaders, including the Ghorids from Afghanistan, pressed deeper into India, establishing the sultanate of Delhi in the thirteenth century.  By the sixteenth century, a Muslim Mughal prince, Babur, defeated the last of the Ghorid sultans, and established the Mughal Empire, controlling territories extending from Afghanistan to Dehli (see map, p. 976).  Babur's son, Humayon, persauded two Persian master painters to move to the court at Dehli, and, later, his son Akbar (r. 1556-1605) established an imperial atelier (workshops) of painters  under the direction of Persian painters.  The Persian style from Akbar's court was characterized by rich flat patterns, a disproportionate scale of figures to the setting, and an asian (high) perspective.   See fig. 32-4 from the Akbarnama (history of Akbar) and example below depicting a classic Persian tale based on the life of Muhammad's uncle, Hamza.  

Mughal painting

Hamza's Spies Scale the Fortress, from the Hamza-nama, Mughal period, reign of Akbar, c. 1567-82

The successive Mughal courts of Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), and Shah Jahan (r. 1627-1658) were exceptionally lavish in their patronage of the arts. But, a new sense of naturalism gradually increased in Mughal painting, especially evident in the manuscripts from the time of Jahangir's reign (see fig. 32-1). Evidence that Jahangir's empire became increasingly open to European influences is shown in the depiction of King James I of England (copied from a painting brought to the Mughal court), the inclusion of imported items such as the hourglass, and the references to Judeo-Christian iconography (e.g. angels).

To view more Mughal Painting, see:

Jahangir's son, Shah Jahan, is responsible for commissioning one of the grandest architectural monuments during the Mughal period, the Taj Mahal (fig. 32-6).   Built as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Muntaz Mahal, the building, like Mughal painting, was a synthesis of a number of cultural influences.  The intricate stone carvings covering the building are derived from native Indian architecture (compare the gopura of the Great Temple at Madurai; fig. 32-8 and below), while the structural system based on building with arches (arches and domes), came from Persia.  The mausoleum building-type itself was developed in Central Asia.  For images, see links below:


For Historical information on the MUGHAL PERIOD, see:

Rajput Painting

Northern regions outside of the Mughal Empire were ruled by Hindu princes, who were descendants of so-called Rajput warrior clans.  In the state of Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills north of Delhi, where the Rajput rulers resided, there developed painting styles, some of which were greatly influenced by the Mughal style, and others that were markedly different.  Hindu subject matter dominated painting; one of the most popular subjects for illustration was the poetic liturature devoted to Krishna, the human incarnation of the Hindu god of creation Vishnu.  The "Gita Govinda," the most rhapsodic poems about the love of Kirshna for the beautiful cowherd Radha, was actually a metaphor for the love between God and humans.  In the region of Rajasthan painters depicted episodes from the Gita Govinda in a highly stylized manner, reminescent of an earlier fourteenth-century style of Jain art from Gujarat (compare the Jain manuscript on the left with the Rajput painting in the Rajasthan style on the right). 

Birth of Mahavira, from
                            the Kallpa Sutra
Birth of Mahavira, from the Kalpa Sutra, late medieval, c. 1375-1400 (example of Jain painting)
Kirshna and the
                            Gopis, from the Gita Govinda
Kirshna and the Gopis, from the Gita Govinda, Rajasthan, India, c. 1525-50

Other Rajput artists, such as those working in the Pahari style (from the Punjab Hills region), represented the same Krishna/Radha subjects, but in a much more naturalistic manner, closely related to the Mughal tradition (see fig. 32-7)

Interest in realism in painting reached its height in India during the period of British occupation (1858-1947). Indian artists quickly adopted the new technical media of photography, both as a source from which to copy an individual's likeness (see fig. 32-12) and as a media that could be directly manipulated.  In the portrait below, the artist has painted directly on photograph so as to enhanced the image of the sitter with color and elaborate patterning.

Portrait of
                            Landowner, c. 1900; painted photograph
Anonymous photographer, Portrait of Landowner, c. 1900; painted photograph


Overview of the various styles of Rajput painting:  http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-art/paintings/rajput.html

From Kangra


From Rajasthan:

Hindu Architecture

The Vijayanagar kingdom (c. 1350-1565) was the strongest center of Hinduism in southern India, managing to stay off the Muslim invaders from the north for two hundred years, and preserving the Hindu faith.  The Vajayanagara kings were succeeded by the Nayaks, who continued Hindu rule in the far south region of India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The Great Temple complex at Madurai, one of the Nayak capitals, demonstrates how the single Hindu temple structures from the medieval period, the vimana (see image below), were developed into large gateway towers (gopuras) that eventually dwarfed the actual temples and pillared halls (mandapas).   The vimana and mandapa elements were also mixed with Islamic architectural features in fifteenth-century Vijayanagara, resulting in highly eclectic monuments (see fig. 32-3). 

Vishnu Temple
                            at Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
Vishnu Temple at Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh, India, c. 530 CE
(example of vimana structure)

The Great Temple at Madurai was dedicated to "Minakshi" (the local title for Parvati, the consort of Shiva) and "Sundareshvara" (the local name for Shiva).   The outer gopura of the temple (fig. 32-9, 10 and seen below) is a good example of the elaborate stone carving found on Hindu temples, which was incorporated into Mughal architecture such as the Taj Mahal.

Great Temple, Mudurai
Outer gopura of the Minakshi-Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai,
Tamil Nadu, South India,  Nayak dynasty (13th-17th century)

Optional Reading --
On the synthesis of European and Mughal Painting, see: http://www.asianart.com/articles/minissale/index.html


Some of the greatest contributions to the art of Thailand were the unique Buddha 'types' that appeared in sculpture.  Compare the Walking Buddha (fig. 32-12) and the Emerald Buddha (fig. 32-13) with the  traditional form and 'marks' of Buddha below.

Buddha diagram

For additional information on the art and architecture of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, see:  http://witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHLinks3.html