What Is Buddhist Art? The History & Symbols In Buddhist Art

What Is Buddhist Art? The History & Symbols In Buddhist Art

Over the course of its nearly two thousand years of existence, Buddhist art has inspired and influenced creators and consumers of visual art in countless countries.

Wisdom, spirituality, and tranquility are all things that can be found as symbols in works of Buddhist art.

Buddhist art in the modern day is an amalgam of historical ideals, innovative thought, and contemplation. It could be artistic, spiritual, conventional, or even scientific. These factors together explain why Buddhist art has become so well-liked. 

What Is Buddhist Art?

Buddhist art is any artistic practice that is inspired by Buddhist philosophy and tenets. It is meant to express the fundamental Buddhist values of compassion, wisdom, and a lack of attachment to material possessions, and to stimulate devotion and meditation.

Paintings, sculptures, murals, architecture, textiles, and decorative arts are only a few of the many mediums used to express Buddhist ideas and values.

There is a vast variety of styles and techniques used in Buddhist art, which reflects the wide range of Buddhist cultures and traditions. Furthermore, Buddhist art uses symbolism and images that have profound philosophical and calligraphic origins in the religion to impart spiritual meanings and teachings to the observer.

The History of Buddhist Art

The history of Buddhist art goes back more than two thousand years and is full of diversity and depth. It was developed in India in the third century BCE, around the same time as Buddhism was being established there.

Sculptures depicting the Buddha and other deities central to Buddhism were among the earliest works of art produced by Buddhists. Stylized with exaggerated proportions and symbolic hand gestures, these sculptures were often crafted from stone or terracotta.

Art produced by Buddhists grew more complex in Asia as it took on local influences. Buddhist art in China, for instance, developed a distinctive style that blended Buddhist imagery with traditional Chinese motifs due to its exposure to Taoist and Confucian ideologies.

Buddhist art in Japan has a distinct style that emphasizes simplicity and elegance due to the influence of Shintoism and the country's own aesthetic traditions.

The construction of Buddhist buildings was also greatly influenced by Buddhist art. The Borobudur Temple in Indonesia and the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia are just two examples of world-famous Buddhist temples that are home to intricate carvings and reliefs depicting stories from the life of the Buddha.

Buddhist art has always been and remains today, a significant means of expressing Buddhist beliefs and values. It has influenced modern art and design, and may be found in Buddhist temples and museums all over the world.

The Symbols in Buddhist Art

Below are various symbols that are found in Buddhist art. Each symbol is believed to have a specific meaning and purpose.

A Victory Banner

The victory banner, or 'dran-khang' in Tibetan, was usually carried by the victor in any major battle. It symbolized the triumph over the negative emotions such as anger and hostility that are said to have led to and perpetuated the war. The victory banner would be displayed in the public square for all to see.

The victory banner consists of a flag, pole and topknot. The flag represents the open mind from which wisdom can arise; the pole represents stability and strength; while the topknot symbolizes your spiritual growth and readiness to engage with others to help them improve as well.

Lotus Flower

The lotus flower also known as "Nagaswarupa" in Sanskrit, is a symbol of purity, spirituality, and the promise of enlightenment. As a symbol of purity, the lotus has been used in Hinduism as well. It is also used as a symbol of royalty and beauty. 

Buddha Statue

The Buddha statue is known as the "Buddha Vira" in Tibetan. Buddha Vira appears in a seated position, with his feet close together and his hands lying in his lap. There are various variations of the Buddha Vira with different colors and hairstyles.

Two Fishes

The fishes represent unity, harmony, and the union of opposites. The two fishes symbolize unity as they are contrasted by their colors.

The symbolism was incorporated into Buddhist art to represent the union of male and female as a single entity which is like a pair of birds or a pair of fish.

Endless Knot

The endless knot is a Buddhist symbol that is commonly used in Buddhist art and jewelry. The endless knot symbolizes no beginning or end, and it was also used as a talisman for Eastern travelers and monks to ward off bad circumstances.

The endless knot is made of various colors, including red and white. The Red color symbolizes the power of passion, while the white color symbolizes the power of wisdom.

The Wheel of Law

The wheel of Law is a symbol of the teachings of Buddha. It represents the law of cause and effect, also known as karma. This symbol is often used to represent various aspects of Buddhist culture such as dharma (duty), karma (action), and the enlightenment of Buddha.

The symbolic meaning of a wheel in Buddhism is similar to that in Hinduism and other Indian religions; however, most often it is used as a representation of dharma and Buddha.


Ribbons have been used in Buddhist art since the beginning of Buddhism. They are believed to represent determination, perseverance, and clarity of mind. The ribbons can be found on religious objects such as Buddhist icons, statues, and sculptures.

The ribbons symbolize many things such as spiritual progress, Buddhism, compassion, and patience.


Mandalas are used frequently in Buddhist art to symbolize the cosmos and the interconnection of all things. They're also employed for introspection and personal development on a spiritual level. Sand, paint, and stone are just a few of the many common materials used to construct mandalas.

In Conclusion

Buddhist art is a rich and extensive style that represents Buddhist values and teachings. It was crucial in the development of Buddhism across Asia and beyond, and it remains a vital part of Asian religion and culture today.

Buddhist art has the potential to evoke devotion, encourage meditation, and impart spiritual teachings and principles via the use of symbolism, imagery, and iconography.

Buddhist art, whether in the form of a painting, sculpture, or mandala, has the potential to move people and alter their state of mind. It is a symbol of the lasting influence of Buddhism and its teachings, and it has captivated and inspired people all over the world.

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