Lippan/Chittar Kaam-Mud and Mirror Work


Lippan/Chittar  Kaam, also known as Mud and Mirror work, is a traditional mural folk art form from Gujarat, a western border state of India. Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch (The Great Salt Desert) that lies between India and Pakistan is home to several desert communities, many of which do this mud relief work in their own distinct style. One such, the nomadic Rabari people, are especially associated with it. Desert life is tough, but the indomitable spirit of human beings is perspicuously at display in the art these people choose to create, despite harsh, inhospitable environs. Lippan Kaam is usually done inside, and sometimes, outside the mud huts (bhungas) in far-flung villages.

Traditionally, a mixture of camel dung which is rich in fibre is mixed with mud and molded between fingers before being stuck directly on walls. Kutchi motifs such as peacocks, birds, animals, human figures, trees and geometric patterns are sculpted freehand in bas-relief. Muslim communities stick to geometric patterns since depiction of human or animal form is considered un-Islamic. Each pattern in embellished with mirrors (aabhla), of various sizes and shapes – round, diamond & triangular. Authentic Mud and Mirror work is almost always colored in white clay, or at best, in shades of neutrals. The white comes from the sand of the Rann desert, rich as it is in salt content.

With increasing numbers now living in concrete homes, and with the younger generation trading traditional arts and crafts for lucrative city jobs, the preponderance of Lippan Kaam is decreasing in villages (see video below). However the upside to the story is that the art form has gathered some traction over the years, and made an entrance into mainstream art world of India. Onwards from bhungas into fancy city homes and spas… and now, Manhattan!

This is my first attempt at Lippan Kaam and I’ve attempted to stay as authentic as possible, trying to retain the rustic look and white tones these murals sport. Since the designs are traditionally handmade, their lines are seldom precise and the end result is almost never factory-like perfect. I love these little nuances, and incorporating them in my work was important to me. But there are a few adaptations made, mostly with regards to the materials used. A detailed list is given in the end. This artwork has been created on Hardboard so it can be mounted on walls.

img_2689To start, I researched traditional motifs and patterns and came up with a final design; a process that involved multiple iterations. Then, after applying two layers of Gesso to the hardboard, it was painted with thin acrylic paint. The decision of staying with a white palette was one I took rather early on and that helped with planning the work as it proceeded. Once the acrylic dried out, the design was penciled.

With the design traced, I glued-in mirrors. All circular mirrors used are glass mirrors whereas the other shapes are cut out of Tim Holtz Mirror sheets. I loved working with the latter because of the freedom of being able to craft out any shape, and also, because the sheets come with a transparent cover which is very convenient when working alongside materials like clay and color. It keeps the mirrored surface free from fingerprints, colors etc.

Apoxie® Sculpt substituted regular clay for two reasons. One, it  offers the benefits of sculpting clay and two, it has the adhesive power of epoxy so I did not need glue to stick clay to the board. It is  smooth and putty-like in consistency, relatively simple to mix and use, even for first timers like me.

The Apoxie self-hardens (no baking required) and cures hard in 24 hours to appear with a semi-gloss finish. [Tip: I mixed small batches at a time, covering small portions of the larger design, since leaving epoxy out for long durations makes it hard and unwieldy.] The clay work was followed by sticking of cowrie shells. This is entirely my touch, don’t think shells are traditionally Lippan Kaam materials.


I’ll be honest, coloring was the trickiest part, for multiple reasons. First of all, conjuring multiple shades of white/neutrals was more difficult than I’d anticipated. Trickier still was avoiding coloring over tiny mirrors. Tedious. And last but not the least, ensuring that details of clay designs stay visible (and not get washed out by white acrylic color) took most time. If you look closely, I applied a wash in terracotta color over these just to give the details a pop, and followed that with a super diluted wash of white acrylic, in-line with the white overall look. Very. Tedious.

Once any art work is nearly done, the last bit is all about refining – bringing out the hits and covering the misses. In this case, since I intentionally wanted to leave the work rustic, this last step was more about drawing lines on where to stop..despite instinctively wanting to go on.

The end result is here for you to see.. I love it since it’s a little piece of the Rann hanging on my wall. The interesting thing is, while I lived in India, I knew not much about its rich artistic heritage. However post settling abroad, I feel a need to connect to my roots be it the philosophy, religion, sociology, arts or crafts. Don’t be surprised if they make an appearance here, often!


List of Materials used:

– Apoxie Sculpt 1 Lb. White

Round Glass Mirrors, Assorted Sizes, 25-Pack

Mosaic Mercantile 8-Ounce Adhesive

100 Pcs Bulk Cut Sea Shell Beads Cowrie Craft

White acrylic paint and Gesso. Any good brand will do, I used Liquitex and Blick

Here are two links. 1: shows a village woman, Valuben, making this work of art the traditional way. 2: is a short read on the Rabari people.

Hope you enjoy!




Representing Mystical Love of the Gīta-Govinda


Crying sounds of cuckoos, mating on mango shoots

Shaken as bees seek honey scents of opening buds,

Raise fever in the ears of lonely travelers-

Somehow they survive these days

By tasting the mood of lovers’ union

In climaxing moments of meditation. 

The Gīta-Govinda is a lyrical poem composed by the poet-saint Jayadeva in Sanskrit. Dating back to the twelfth century, this masterpiece originated in eastern India, probably Orissa or Bengal. Called “Love Song of the Dark Lord” by Barbara Stoler Miller1, on the face of it the poem recounts a simple tale: the joy of Radha and Krishna’s initial union, the agony of their subsequent separation and the bliss of their ultimate reunion. However, rooted in medieval Vaishnavism, and as emphasized by the poet himself, the Gīta-Govinda is really a means for meditation and contemplation of Vishnu/Krishna. This meticulously crafted literary work universalizes erotic emotion and calms the distinctions of “I” and “mine” and “you” and “yours”. It seeks to break the imaginary barrier between the human and divine2. With the spread of Vaishnavism, the poem found widespread favor throughout the country and within a century or so, it was adapted to dance, music, painting and temple worship across regions.


Despite the passage of time, the text of the Gīta-Govinda underwent minimum change. That is why its illustrated manuscripts offer a great opportunity to study the nature of relationship between text and image. Such a study, as will soon become apparent, helps unravel critical developmental aspects of Indian miniature painting.

This paper considers a relatively tight time span of roughly two hundred years – the seventeenth century and the eighteenth century- to examine works of four miniature painting schools and analyze how their artists represented this story of mystical love. Painted Gīta-Govinda sets had obviously become popular around this time given the reasonably large number of dated sets found, and their study affords us a nuanced understanding of the artistic sensibilities and formal values of their folios. The four schools studied are: Mewari and Bundi from western India, Darbhanga from eastern India and Pahari from the hills of north. While examining these works, focus will be placed on understanding how the body is deployed to represent a love at once both human and divine, and how artists accomplish this while adhering to a style and sensibility specific to their regions.

Text and its Artistic Traditions

The Gīta-Govinda draws its structurally intricate form and concepts from various levels of Indian literary tradition3. It is organized into twelve chapters (sargas), with each chapter further sub-divided into twenty-four divisions called prabandhas. Each prabandha contains couplets grouped into eights (ashtapadis). Recognized as a chef d’oeuvre of religious ‘dhvani’ poetry, the poem adopts ‘suggestion’ (dhvani, vyangyartha) as its principal method, communicating emotions arising in a situation indirectly through suggestion, nuance or resonance. The happenings of the tale and the images it brings to mind are felt more intensely when suggested than when described. Passion is made palpable through sensuous descriptions of movements and physical form. Seasonal changes in nature and bodily signs of inner feeling are colored richly to create a dense atmosphere of passion. Through imagery, tone, color and rhythm Jayadeva interweaves levels of physical and metaphysical associations and the cosmic energy of Krishna’s love with Radha is condensed into religious ecstacy.4

Various artistic traditions were inspired to incorporate the Gīta-Govinda with all its resplendent imagery into their folds. After raga and tala were assigned to its lyrics, the poem was adapted to different musical versions and dance performances, especially in temples. Alongside, it also rapidly gained popularity in pictorial traditions. The artist’s familiarity with the totality of the poetic composition, its movement through cantos, sections and structure of verses within cantos provided the basic ground plan for the pictorial composition. The poetic counter-pointing of motifs, similes and metaphors and appellations was transfigured into a pictorial idiom…5 Upon examining inter-relations between these multiple traditions, it becomes clear that each set of folios was meant to be viewed together, like frames of a movie.

The first illustrated manuscripts of the Gīta-Govinda date back to the late fifteenth – early sixteenth centuries and originated probably in North Gujarat. They had close stylistic similarities to Jain miniatures of the period and were abstract in nature, without any human figures. Thereafter from middle to late sixteenth century, paintings were made in the Caurapancasika style where differences from geometrical segments of the Jain paintings and multiple plains of Mughal paintings became clearly visible. Seventeenth century saw the Mewari School gain dominance and this is the first school we will look at in detail.

Mewari School


Figure 1: Examples of Mature Mewari Idiom (Late 17th century- Early 18th century)

The Mewari paintings we examine date back to the late seventeenth – early eighteenth centuries and are executed in a mature Mewari idiom. They exhibit a deep understanding of the mystical and erotic import of the text, possibly an outcome of the spreading popularity of Vaishnava cults. The artist for the first time strives to elevate the human drama of the two lovers to the divine agony of godhood and the human soul (parmatma and jivatma) by rendering a faithful verse-to-verse translation of the text. He repeats refrains of the musical composition as motifs and thereby provides thematic and pictorial unity to a set. Thin arches of the Caurapancasika style become lush, arched bowers with dangling garlands representing consecrated space. Overcast clouds with a row of white flying cranes carrying messages of love, a motif popular in Indian poetry, make an appearance, thereby incorporating Jayadeva’s mystical metaphor of Radha’s white garland on Krishna’s dark body.

The compositional pattern of most paintings of this set is similar. Following a continuous narrative system, their surface is divided into different sections and the actors are repeated several times over in the same painting. This technique is also used to depict different moods of the characters. Colors are vivid with an ingenious use of white and empty spaces. Fine brushwork is evidenced throughout the set. Rajasthani text with some case endings in Gujarati appears on top of the folios in three of four lines, while Sanskrit text is found at the back. Let us now look at details of two paintings.

“Clouds thicken the sky.

Tamala trees darken the forest.

The night frightens him.

Radha, you take him home!”

 They leave at Nanda’s order,

Passing trees in thickets on the way,

Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava

Triumph on the Jumna bank.


Figure 2: Detailed look Mewari School (1)

This painting is interesting in the way it uses the body, specifically the size of it, to depict the transition of Krishna from a frightened, diminutive figure to a full grown adult; from a mere mortal to the mystical lover of the Gīta-Govinda. In line with the narrative system, the painting is divided into four sections.

In the first, a tall Nanda addresses Radha, who is second tallest in size and asks her to drop Krishna off since it is getting dark and it might rain. Clouds and lightening occupy the upper horizon. Nanda is wearing a typical turban (pagri) and cloak (choga) of Mewari paintings. Suggestively, Krishna is shorter than Radha. A seamless flow into the second section shows Radha bidding goodbye to Nanda and leading Krishna away.

The third section is separated from this one by a thicket of bushes and trees. It is observed that trees throughout this Mewari set serve three purposes: first, they decorate and beautify the frame, second, they act as section dividers and third, they help indicate passage of time. Thus in this third section, Krishna is painted bigger and taller. A symbolically meaningful concept is thereby rendered in a pictorially effective way. The viewer now views both Radha & Krishna as adults in an equal relationship as they gaze at each other lovingly.

The last section shows Radha & Krishna’s union in the forest. This consecrated area of the arched bower is demarcated by the distinctive use of white hanging garlands, which as previously mentioned are typical of the Mewari idiom. Radha’s embrace here is passionate, not affectionate or delicate as it was in the first two sections, and the depiction of the bodies here leaves nothing to the imagination.

Thus in this painting, the painter cleverly transforms written verses into pictorial imagery by the skillful use of the body and additional flourishes of cattle, shrubs, foliage and architectural frames.

When he quickens all things

To create bliss in the world,

His soft black sinuous lotus limbs

Begin the festival of love

And beautiful cowherd girls wildly

Wind him in their bodies.

Friend, in spring young Hari plays

Like erotic mood incarnate.


Figure 3: Detailed look Mewari School (2)

The second Mewari painting we examine is based on a verse in which Jayadeva condenses several levels of consciousness and is therefore a good example to study the representation of plurality of meaning in pictorial tradition.

To depict the universality of Krishna’s love spoken of in the first two lines, he is depicted towards the left of the painting in his iconographical form, bestowing blessings on everyone – kings, families, people, animals and aquatic life. This can be seen in the niches and the adjoining areas that show animals such as a horse, a cow with her calf and an elephant. Each scene is depicted in a demarcated area even as all such areas are connected. Thus everyone is a receiver of the joy (ananda) of Krishna’s love and there is bliss in the world.

To depict the plurality contained in the remaining verse, the painter utilizes renditions of the body beautifully. The dark, sinuous of body of Hari, is entwined, almost enmeshed with the bodies of the gopis such that it can hardly be distinguished from theirs. Dense foliage flowing into each other all around only serves to enhance this point of enmeshment. A tiny but conspicuous figure of the God of Love, Kama, is seen in the trees and appears to bring home the point that Krishna is in fact, the very embodiment (murtimaan) of the God of Love. This Kama figure is used liberally throughout Mewari sets to depict love, or more aptly, the affliction of love. Thus the painter uses the body to portray the idea of universality of Krishna, of mystical love – that a part of him is in everyone and everyone is in him.

In this Mewari set therefore we observe an integral relationship between the poetic and pictorial image and see it become the foundation of formal composition. Innovative artistic devices like the figure of Kama, or the consecrated space of the arched bowers make an appearance to enliven metaphors visually. While on the surface the paintings are merely pretty and decorative, on a deeper level they stand rich in plural meanings and symbolism. 

Bundi School


Figure 4: Examples of Early Bundi Drawings (Early 17th century)

The Bundi folio we study belongs to a set of one hundred and thirty five drawings made on hand-made paper with verses written on the back. It is illustrated in the early Bundi style and dates probably to the first half of seventeenth century. The drawings attempt to recreate verses of Jayadeva in all their symbolism through the sole medium of minimal pen line. Had these been finished paintings, they would have made remarkable examples of the Bundi School as the artist while maintaining fidelity to the Bundi style, never fails to assert his own interpretation of the theme. Like the poem, his drawings seek to move on multiple levels and even in their present form they exhibit great prowess in line drawing, spatial organization, and textual interpretation. That is why despite their unfinished, unpolished nature, these are included in this paper.

The Bundi set shows short, squat figures with distinctive sitting and standing stances. Some features of the figure drawings show similarities to the popular Moghul school of the seventeenth century, like illustrations of the profile and costumes of the females (cholis, odhanis and a lower garments with a centrally tied sash). Architectural details appear vague and while areas are demarcated for landscapes and floral motifs, they are vacant, probably left for later brushwork. Unlike the Mewari set, we do not see a verse-to-verse depiction of text and the main actors are not repeated multiples time in the same drawing. The artist here seeks to portray an entire prabandha in a folio.

Let us now consider a folio of this set in detail.


Figure 5: Detailed Look – Bundi School

 Let pearls quivering on full breasts

Move the depths of your heart!

Let a girdle ringing on round hips

Proclaim the command of Love!

 In the Gīta-Govinda, Jayadeva creates a picture of the universe with its plentiful fullness (purnakumbha). Radha is symbolic of this earth principle with the sensuous and cosmological interwoven in her being. Her breasts are auspicious pitchers (mangal kalash) representing earth’s bounty.

To this nuanced symbolism, the artist draws Radha & Krishna seated close together in a circular area. Krishna’s left arm gently rests over Radha’s shoulder as she has finally relented and their union is now imminent. Radha’s breasts are more clearly drawn and there is a suggestion of the girdle of her hips; in fact, each time the poet speaks of the full circle of Radha’s hips, the artist shows a seated, relaxed Radha with the line of her hips implying a circle.

This drawing is interesting in that almost all of its lines are circular, merging into one another, and this continuity of pictorial form is not broken anywhere. The two trees at the back are also interconnected with a horizontal line. This artistic device of merging, unbroken lines skillfully communicates harmony, union and love. The artist is able to show via this impressive technique that while on one level this is love play, on another it is the ultimate union of the manifest and the unmanifest; one is incomplete without the other.

Thus in the Bundi set we see a preoccupation with a single situation; a situation depicted through clearly defined foreground and background with great care and precision meted to communicating emotions. On comparing this set with the Mewari one it becomes obvious that the Bundi set exhibits a sensibility distinctly its own.

Darbhanga School


Figure 6: Examples of Darbhanga School (Late 18th century)

Skipping from the seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century brings us to the Darbhanga School in eastern India. For the Darbhanga artist, interpretations of the Gīta-Govinda were governed to a large extent by the more established painting styles. Several visual devices created earlier to breathe pictorial life into poetic metaphors now became rules of composition, sometimes devoid of charm and subtlety. To some scholars like Kapila Vatsyayan, in the Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda “…the comprehension of the text and its creative pictorial transfiguration are at the level of ritual rather than sensuous perception and spiritual experience.6

In the set under consideration, there are twenty-eight illustrated folios with sixty-five textual folios that follow related paintings. While similarities to the influential Mewari School become obvious immediately, some innovations are also observed and these help the paintings from being labeled mere conventional executions. For instance, in a noticeable departure, Krishna and Radha appear full faced and distinctly deified as evidenced from the halos around their heads. By this time, it is probable that Vaishnavism (Chaitanya and Vallabha Sampradaya) had accorded Radha a deified status and the painter portrayed this. Also, arched bowers of the Mewari idiom while present, appear enlarged, without any hanging white garlands. The Kama figure that symbolized the affliction of love is done away with, as are cymbals (manjira) and tambourine (jhanja) that the sakhis used for singing and dancing. They now have sarangi and tablas. Trees and plants appear more like a tapestry of geometrical design7 and don’t seem quite as alive as they did in the Mewari set. Peacocks are used liberally to depict emotions.

Like the Bundi set, a whole prabandha is depicted in the paintings and there is no continuous narrative at play. Colors used throughout the set appear lighter and brighter. Red of Mewari paintings becomes scarlet and crimson. Orange becomes yellow while blue and green become lighter. Occasionally a slight linear perspective is noticeable, but largely the principles of pictorial composition from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are followed. All this is observed in the folio we examine next.

Yadava hero, your hand is cooler than sandalbalm on my breast;

Paint a leaf design with deer musk here on Love’s ritual vessel!

She told the joyful hero, playing to delight her heart.

Fix flowers in shining hair loosened by loveplay, Krishna!

Make a flywhisk outshining peacock plumage to be the banner of Love.

She told the joyful hero, playing to delight her heart.


Figure 7: Detailed Look – Darbhanga School

With the end of the consummation of their union, Radha asks Krishna to re-adorn her with all the outer trappings of form and name that she left behind before entering his place of love: her garments and her adornments like anklets, earrings, girdle etc. This prabandha has been a favorite of poets, painters, musicians and dancers alike and the Darbhangha painter is inspired by the image of the flywhisk and peacocks. He repeats flowering lotuses, and peacocks with their plumage fanned out – a pictorial motif often used to signify union and completeness. Seated on the bed with Radha is Krishna, braiding her flowing tresses. The lines of Radha’s hair suggest a flywhisk. One sakhi behind Krishna holds the ritual vessel (mangal kalash) and another holds out a mirror to the deified lovers seated under tee consecrated space of the bower. This is one painting of the set in which linear perspective is observed in the way the white platform and the bed are placed – no longer straight and flat, these are shaped like parallelograms.

Overall, the Darbhanga painter attempts to suggest an overall feeling of peace and harmony in portraying this sensitive morning-after moment. It is interesting to contrast this work with that of the Pahari school to see how the Pahari artist interprets a moment from the same prabandha; given that he too was painting in the late 18th century.

Pahari School


Figure 8: Examples of the Pahari School (18th century)

 In his book on Rajput paintings, Ananda Coomaraswamy said of Pahari paintings “…their ethos is unique: what Chinese art achieved for landscape is here accomplished for human love. This art is only concerned with the realities of life; above all, with passionate love service, conceived as the means and symbol of all union8.

Pahari paintings can be classified into two larger groups: the northern series, the school of Jammu (Dogra) and the southern series, called the school of Kangra but extending to Garhwal. However, it is the Kangra paintings of the late eighteenth century that have come to stand for the term Pahari paintings. This of course is a partial and biased way of considering the school, but the value placed on them (Kangra paintings) is just 9.

Kangra style of the late eighteenth century is picturesque and romantic. A highly developed facility in drawing and coloring is its signature. Animated figures with fluent, easy lines are plentiful. Women are willowy and slender with very long and curved eyes (not round) and beautiful tapering fingers. Besides the idealized Krishna, many men types are created to add character (gopa boys, sage-like Nanda). Colors are glowing and brilliant. Even the backgrounds are no longer flat or monochromatic as a naturalistic air pervades. The architecture is ornate and refined. Some stylistic features of the school can be attributed to the close relations between Kangra and Mughal courts. What is also noticeable is a newly acquired skill in rendering night effects. Whatever action takes place is still shown in an abstract light, the figures are bright as they would be in day, with no shadows10. However the crowing glory of these paintings still remains human emotion, rendering states of mind, and transforming similes into paintings. All these developments come shining through in the set of paintings known as paintings of the first masters after Nainsukh.

The two Pahari paintings we examine are considered to be the finest examples this school. Painted by the first masters after Nainsukh, they belong to a set of 140 extant folios. It will be interesting to compare these paintings with those of the other schools we have already considered to see how the same verbal stimulus is treated differently now. These paintings have dark-blue margins and text is written behind them.


Figure 9: Detailed Look – Pahari School (1) First Masters after Nainsukh

Let us first look at a painting that depicts the same moment that the Darbhanga artist visualized in Figure: 7: when Radha asks Krishna to re-adorn her. We see here a very different treatment even though both paintings date to roughly the same period. A naturalistic feel and mellow grace abounds, and while there is a sense of space and openness, the figures in the foreground still remain cynosures of all attention. Radha’s body is young and lissome; her breasts are full and her hands ring of slender delicacy. Sitting in an easy stance, she is unabashed and in control as she asks Krishna to ornament her in every possible way. Krishna’s body is sinuous and deep blue. This is probably one of the few folios of this set where his upper body is covered by a yellow scarf. The impact of Radha’s nakedness waist-up is contrasted, and amplified well by Krishna’s covered upper body. The night is now over and the lovers sit in the morning light, shielded and also framed by trees. The village is visible in the background but Radha and Krishna are oblivious to it as Krishna obeys Radha’s command and paints a leaf design with deer musk on her breasts. The tenderness of the moment is beautifully captured; Radha’s triumph and Krishna’s submission is obvious to see. Symbolism of this morning after a long dark night cannot be missed.

The paper ends with a look at this painting deliberately – so that we may complete the circle and return to the point from where we started. Depicting like Figure: 2 the moment when love first blossoms between Radha and Krishna, the painting serves as a good example of the level of sophistication and mastery some Indian miniature painting schools had achieved in depicting love, mystical and human, over a relatively short time of less than two centuries.


Figure 10: Detailed Look – Pahari School (2) First Masters after Nainsukh

Visualized very differently from the Mewari style, the real strength of this painting lies in the way it captures the tender, delicate intimacy of the moment. The Pahari painter is not just pictorially communicating a tale; he is painting its emotions. From a purely narrative point of view, the decision to devote a whole folio to the quiet moment shared by the two lovers is an intelligent one. While passionate love will soon take over and the following folios of the set will be replete with color, brightness, flora and fauna, right now the artist wants us to see only this – two glowing figures in the stillness of the night sharing mystical love and discreet passion. Standing close to Radha, with one arm around her shoulder, Krishna gently reaches out for her breasts. Radha, overcome by her emotions and torn by demands of duty, points to the path they must take, but with little conviction. Her lissome body is turned elegantly, almost like that of a classical dancer as she gazes lovingly at Krishna. Bodies of these lovers stand out beautifully against a velvety, rich dark night with silhouettes of trees forms looming in the background.

Thus, while these exquisite paintings exhibit the absolute mastery the Pahari painters have over the medium, they also showcase that he goes beyond technical finesse to bring out the emotional content of this mystical love story. By creating a series of references essential to the immediate situation, he not only brings home the import of all that Jayadeva wants to convey in his poem but also lets the viewer read his/her own meanings into it. For instance, detailing of the foliage is perhaps used as a metaphor for the relationship between prakriti and purush, the male and the female aspect given that Jayadeva referred to the relationship between Radha and Krishna similarly. The viewer therefore enjoys this Gīta-Govinda set on multiple levels. There is more in it than elegance of color and form. The paintings touch off resonances11. 


Rendering the mystical love of the Gīta-Govinda and using the body to bring it to fruition has been a fantastic, adventurous journey of the Indian miniature. Because the content of this lyrical poem was thematically thin, true artistic genius lay in how the narrative was delineated. Inner emotional states needed to be dramatized faithfully, breathing life into textual metaphors and similes pictorially.

Our examination of multiple Gīta-Govinda sets leads to the deduction that how well the folios were executed was as much a function of pictorial mastery, draughtsmanship and command over the medium as of the artist’s ability to understand and respond to multiple nuances of the Sanskrit text. Because the human drama of the Gīta-Govinda is at the level of emotions and moods, not action, an inner sensitivity gave the artist an edge over restricted mannered style. Real skill lay in depicting not just the obvious, but also the unspoken.

Some artists were able to do this better than the others, but the more important thing is that they all tried.


  1. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997.
  2. Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. Rajput Paintings. 1912.
  3. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Mewari Gita-Govinda. National Museum, 1987.
  4. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Bundi Gīta-Govinda. Bharat Kala Bhavan, 1981.
  5. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda. Abhinav Publications, 2011.
  6. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  7. Chandra, Moti. Gita Govinda. Vol. 1. Lalit Kalā Akademi, 1965.
  8. Jain, P. C., Veena Baswani, and RK Dutta Gupta. Indian miniature painting: manifestation of a creative mind. Brijbasi Art Press, 2006.


  1. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997.
  2. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp.15
  3. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp. 7.
  4. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp.17
  5. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Mewari Gita-Govinda. National Museum, 1987. Pp ix
  6. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda. Abhinav Publications, 2011. Pp.19
  7. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda. Abhinav Publications, 2011. Pp.18
  8. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 7
  9. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 312
  10. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 316
  11. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 316

Discovering a Classic

This post is about art and aesthetics. Magic, music and movies. …or maybe I don’t know what I am really writing about. There is this kernel of an idea that’s been niggling at me for the last few days; so here I am, typing away, trying to stitch together a tapestry of random occurrences over time. Maybe towards the end, we’ll discover together what I was trying pin down all along.

Let me begin where it began for me..

As a good ’90s grunge-child, Smashing Pumpkins was a band I adored. Siamese Dreams was mind-bending, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness took the trip further. One song in particular, “Tonight, Tonight” captured my imagination – mostly because of its fantastical video. I loved everything about it: the idea, the flickering-faded-vintage vibe, surreal settings within a distinctly steampunkish faery tale atmosphere. I often say that while it is nearly impossible for me to respond to what my favourite song is, it is easy to name my favourite music video – Tonight, Tonight.


The genre of steampunk mixed with fantasy and sci-fi grew on me to a large extent because of Tonight, Tonight. A few steampunk paintings and art projects of mine find root in this adoration. Boxes of gears, watch faces, goggles, stamps and moulds always lie at home, waiting to be made into something to befittingly steampunk-cool. Books are borrowed from the library to dig deep into this genre. It may well be my never ending love story.


Watching Hugo for the first time about six months back, I saw faded, sepia visuals spookily similar to those of my favorite video. The feel was that of steampunk on speed. Things I had first seen in a 1996 music video now popped-out from a 2011 movie – a movie that was a period drama depicting the 1930s.  And so, even before the film was through, I was researching it and this led me to Georges Méliès and his iconic A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lune).


Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) is a classic black & white and color (hand painted) silent film by the french director Georges Méliès. Méliès, and hundreds of his films long lay erased from public memory ravaged by the brutality that is rapidly changing times (and generations.) Fittingly, this temporary memory lapse was cured by time too. Today Méliès is revered, is considered a genius, and this 16-minute film of his is widely regarded as one of the most important works of film history.

Based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and H. G. Wells ‘The First Men In The Moon’, Le Voyage Dans la Lune was the first to use science fiction as its theme even as it incorporated special effects that were state-of-the-art at the turn of the 19th century. Considered groundbreaking by many a student of cinema, this surreal work is absurd, dreamy and magical. It is poetry in the guise of science fiction and it reveals Méliès’ innovative work not just in its special effects but also in hand-tinting, backdrops and costumes.

The color version, considered lost for several decades, was found in 1993 in Spain, albeit in a desperate condition. In 2B4Qyd-YIEAEUUF5.jpg-large010, a complete restoration was launched, so that a new set of audience could experience its charms. And so it remains..the moment when the capsule lands in the Moon’s eye has become one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema.


In all of this, what struck me most is how profoundly Méliès and his piece of art has inspired (and continues to inspire) the creative mind. I’m sure there are many, many more instances, but here are the ones I came across even while I wasn’t seeking them out actively..

  • There is Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s homage to Méliès.
  • The video Tonight, Tonight which ends with a poignant “S.S. Méliès” written on a steamboat.
  • My paintings, some of which occupy homes other than mine, all unknowingly inspired by Méliès!
  • Then there is the french band AIR (another one of my favourites) that put a contemporary spin on the classic movie by composing an original, modern soundtrack for it. The soundtrack made its debut at the Cannes festival 2011 no less, playing alongside the newly restored, colored print of the movie on show for the first time.
  • Spurred on by their work on this short movie, AIR decided to develop the project into a full album. AIR’s Nicolas Godin explained of their new album, A Trip to the Moon, released in 2012: “It is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects. We wanted it to sound ‘handmade,’ knocked together’, a bit like Méliès’ special effects. Everything is played live … like Méliès’ film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art.”
  • tttmAnd then just last week I saw this ad while leafing through the New York Times. It’s an ad for the auction of “The Copy of the First Animated Film Poster”, a poster of A Trip to the Moon and its auction was expected to earn between $225,000-$275,000.

I guess at the centre of this labyrinth… the thing I’ve been trying to pin down… is that great art is one thing, and one thing only

                                            …Great Art is Great Inspiration.

The Sea, Inside and Out


It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.

Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.

Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

~ John Keats

I grew up by the sea. Weekends were spent on the beach building sea castles, chasing crabs and the odd jelly fish, collecting shells, swimming and sampling delicious street foods and drinks. Many a crashing wave has been privy to conversations between my friends and I on overcast days when we’d bunk college to feel the breeze in our hair and the surf on our feet.

Waves of disquiet inside were often quietened by the waves outside.

I don’t live by the sea anymore, but I run to it whenever I can. I paint it when I can – like  the painting above made on request for a new home. It’s an abstract mixed media done with moulding paste, acrylics and gold leaf. Peace out!



Shakti, my way

IMG_0481She lost her mother a little too early in life. I was a management trainee then..doing the rounds of a factory in Punjab when I received her call. She was strong and collected – well as much as she could have been under the circumstances – and heartbroken as I was, I couldn’t have been prouder.

So when she moved into her swanky new sea-facing home and asked me to paint something for her bare walls, what else could I paint but Ma….Shakti…..that primordial female cosmic energy blessing her everyday, keeping her strong, vibrant and crazy as ever.

This is my house-warming gift to her. This is my love for aunty, one of the sweetest, kindest souls I’ve had the privilege of knowing .


Painting details: Mixed Media on Canvas – acrylics, modeling paste, stamps, metal and glass.



Grappling with Nudity in Indian Art

2I started this blog few years ago, on a day that saw M.F. Husain’s paintings being taken off India Art Summit. Outraged and anguished, I ended up writing a few lines..mostly to vent I suppose.

Husain had painted some paintings of Hindu Goddesses in the nude and *that* became his crime. That some intellectual illiterates with no understanding of art and more importantly Hinduism, a religion I was born into, a religion I am attuned to and a religion I hold close to my heart were decrying and debasing works of a prolific Indian artist seemed akin to a personal attack and affront. Interestingly, that gut reaction occurred when I hadn’t studied art, had never taken even half a course  in it, busy as I was managing brands at an MNC. However upon moving to NYC, a city that breathes all things artsy, few things seemed destined…and studying Art History at Columbia University, a university renowned for this discipline felt as organic as listening to Moonlight Sonata whilst staring at the river and twinkling city lights out my apartment window.

An entire circle of sorts was completed when I found myself  reading  Tapati Guha Thakurta’s Art History and the Nude: On Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality in Contemporary India, a chapter from her book Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India. It’s a book I can’t recommend enough for anyone even remotely interested in art history and archeology as disciplines in contemporary  India. No surprises then that I chose to write a review of that chapter as a part of my coursework.

Few things happened while writing the review: one, I could now comprehend better the reasons for my anger at the India Art Fair occurrence   and two, I could understand why the people of India remained largely mum at the Husain fiasco. The confusion that exists in the mind of an average Indian (with little or no understanding of his country’s artistic tradition) is obvious to see. We have an overtly sexual artistic heritage straddling the spiritual and erotic with equal ease. This is witnessed in the full breasted, thin waisted, and broad hipped yakshis gracing the Sanchi stupa dating to the second century B.C or the unabashed sexual imagery covering the medieval temples of Khajuraho. What were these images doing on temples and stupas? Why did our rich miniature painting tradition blatantly show loving couples, kissing and copulating?

What is quite clear is that with the arrival of Islam in India and thereafter the British with their Victorian sensibilities, this very artistic heritage quickly became an embarrassment. That is the soft spot that the ‘Hindu’ right stabbed and shamed by targeting a maverick ‘Muslim’ painter. Husain made for an easy and soft target, given the bigoted rhetoric that was at play, a rhetoric with absolutely NO backing of the religion it was ostensibly ‘protecting’. India has just elected a right wing party into power. Yes, my heart did sink for many a reason, not the least of which is this kind of obvious, insufferable gundaism that the right subscribes to.

In any case, understanding the Indian nude, its passage through time and the place it occupies in the social framework of India today makes for an absolutely riveting and fascinating study.

Here is my review of Tapati’s work. It’s the shortest paper I’ve written so hopefully won’t make for a difficult read. Do glance through, if only to get  sense of where we were and where we are; to get a sense of what Hinduism was, and what it’s now claimed to be.

(There may be some formatting errors since I am copying and pasting this, so do excuse those.)

—————  —————— ——————- ——————- ————– ————–

Having grown up in what is referred to as modern India, I can say with some confidence that ‘uncomfortable’ is a good word to describe an average Indian’s feeling towards the nudity in art. In Art History and the Nude: On Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality in Contemporary India,Tapati Guha Thakurta tries to answer some pertinent albeit tricky questions about when and how nudity or semi-nudity of female figures became a problem in Indian art history. She exposes the tangle of religious and aesthetic meanings as both competing and corresponding frameworks of artistic interpretation, and probes deeper anxieties centering around the female nude, a figure imbued in contemporary India with concerns of tradition, religion, morality, and national identity.To set stage, she cleverly juxtaposes two recent occurrences, a spotlight tinged with national pride that shines on the sexually charged imagery of Khajuraho temples and an unfortunate controversy around the prolific Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain. Both these occurrences revolve around the Indian nude in art; one celebrates it while the other condemns it, and between them they cover an entire range of emotions and attitudes to the nude.


A painful episode unfolded for liberal Indians in the 1990s with the alarming and embarrassing witch-hunt of the flamboyant M.F. Husain. Husain’s crime was that he, a Muslim, had painted nudes of Hindu Goddesses. That he had a huge body of work of which these constituted but a small part was completely overlooked by the right wing. Wanting to score brownie points with their vote-banks in the aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition controversy, the right wing shaped this ‘issue’ astutely into a controversy and attacked Husain. His work, they propounded, was an insult and an offense to Hindu sensibilities. Several paintings of Husain’s were removed from galleries and some were even vandalized and burned. There were violent demonstrations and he was banned from entering the city of Ahmedabad. The saddest part of this tragic tale was that the harassment reached such bizarre heights that the nonagenarian was forced to leave India in the last years of his life. And to bring the absurdity of all that happened into focus, at the center of this was a painting of a bony and taut Saraswati, lacking any tactile simulation of female flesh, where the iconographic attributes of the Goddess, though present, are never foregrounded1.

To defend and contextualize Husain’s work, art historians tried drawing attention to the Indian tradition of full bodied, unclothed female sculpted figures, medieval temple complexes like Khajuraho and Konaraka replete with nude imagery or the ritual and religious validity of nudity in Indian iconographic traditions such as the depictions of a nude Goddess Kali or even more extremely, Lajja Gauri, the female icon of fertility in the Deccan. What these arguments were saying was that a bare female body was an inalienable feature of the iconography of Hindu art, indeed even Goddesses, and that such depictions were fully within the realm of the aesthetic. Despite all arguments, the general mood remained strongly anti–Husain. Husain further went on to make a movie called Gajagamini and a series of overtly sexually charged paintings of his muse Madhuri Dixit, an Indian actress. While he did like to push boundaries, it would be fair to argue, as Guha Thakurta does, that it was a part of his creative prerogative. He ought not to be bracketed by, or answerable to, any age-old Indian tradition.

Another critically astute observation made by Guha Thakurta in this regard is that the Husain controversy could not have gained the traction it did, as quickly as it, in the absence of a fertile ground for the seeds of mistrust and intolerance to grow.It becomes rather obvious that once the genteel veneer of India is scratched, unresolved tensions, prejudices and a basic illiteracy in, and ignorance of art and art history come to the fore.The nude in India has been a continual source of both enigma and unease given the blurred boundaries between art, religion and morality in past tradition. This controversy therefore exposes a wide rift that exists between the nude as an entrenched symbol of high art and the nude as a target of popular, public disapproval, pitting the aesthetic and the moral as two opposing modes of encounter2.

Interestingly, when recovered as an object of art, the nude is accorded full religious sanction of Hinduism. This development too however, took a long time coming in postcolonial India. To start with, the explicitly erotic content of several temple sculptures gave rise to more questions than answers. British officers and scholars of the early nineteenth century caught up in their Victorian sensibilities, found these sculptures embarrassing and shameful. Even early Indian art historians were at a loss to explain the abundance of erotic imagery. What were these figures doing in temples of all places!

Embracing of the erotic came to be over decades and Guha Thakurta gives a good summary of how it came about. Post a classification of monuments in the late nineteenth century, most of Indian painting and sculpture came into its own at the start of the twentieth century after breaking away from Eurocentric biases and misconceptions. Between 1920s-1930s in a new line of scholarship by the likes of Stella Kramrisch, V.S. Agrawala and Coomaraswamy, ‘style’ came to be regarded as a prime pivot for the dating and periodization of sculpture as well as for understanding meanings of forms and motifs. Throughout these scholarly pursuits it was imperative to resist the conflation of various nude, seminude voluptuous female bodies on display with Mithuna and Maithuna (loving) couples so as to be able to consider them (female nudes) within their own references. As was wont to happen, over time and genres the feminine body came to be endowed with several meanings – from primeval associations with nature and fertility toan external guise for the hidden spiritual physiognomy of the sculpted figure3.By the 1940s, equal weightage was accorded to both the simplistic purity of Buddhist sculptures and the overtly ornamented and eroticized medieval ones. In a stunning reversal, the sensual was anointed an innate attribute of the Indian art tradition. And finally, as a natural progression to this, eroticism ‘arrived’ by the 1960s-1970s marking the large body of sensual images guilt-free and available for true appreciation.

This was also a time when the Indian nude was valorized as an integral feature of Hindu religion and aesthetics, devoid as it now was of the prudishness and revulsion that had shadowed it in face of India’s colonial past. Much was done to forge a new identity of the nude and to distinguish it from its western counterpart. In this context says Guha Thakurta, the popular sensual/spiritual distinction was deployed by contrasting the idealized and stylized concept of the Indian body with the naturalistic, western one. Furthermore, it was also argued by several scholars that the Indian nude in all its seductive charm was never completely nude. It was invariable the body adorned, as Vidya Dehejia states in her book of the same name. Alankara (ornament) always includes clothing, as indeed does shringara, a word that means “adornment” in addition to being the term for erotic rasa4.



Similar meaning and spiritual symbolism was employed by art historians to explain the stunning temple site of Khajuraho with its enthralling, erotic imagery. Routinely referred to in epithets as clichéd as “Temples of Love” or “Divine Ecstasy”, these temples are well known in both popular and scholarly realms. Information generated by scholarly circles on the symbolism, iconography and dates of these temples is readily lapped up by tourist guides, coffee table books, pamphlets and fed back to the public in increasingly marketing savvy ways. There are only sixteen panels concentrated in three large temples (of total temple complex of twenty-two) that show sexually explicit imagery. Clearly then, these panels form a small part of a larger architectural and sculptural temple plan, a plan that goes unnoticed in light of the disproportionate attention lavished on panels displaying erotic content.

Sometime in the 1960s, with scholars stressing on interpretations beyond the literal, Khajuraho became an emblem for celebrating the sexual, given the more philosophical, spiritual and abstruse levels of meaning assigned to it with the help of textual, mythological, and ritual references. Several scholars, most prolific of who is Devangana Desai, have tried to understand and explain the erotic objects at Khajuraho. According to her, the best way to read these temples was to move beyond literal ‘tantric’ interpretations to more complex symbolism between the meaning these sculptures might carry and the textual imagery of religious vocabulary of the time these were constructed. Shobita Punia is another scholar who reads into these sculptures the legend of the divine marriage of Shiva and Parvati and its consummation. Attempts were therefore being made repeatedly to embrace Indian art for what it was, spiritual and symbolic. Thus, just as the voluptuous yakshis proliferating ancient Indian monuments were decoded as motifs of fertility, sexual depictions on the walls of the Khajuraho temples became emblematic of the consummation of the divine marriage of Shiva and Paravati and, more abstractly, of the removal of duality and merger of the opposing cosmic principles of Shiva and Shakti, Purusha and Prakriti5. One finds spiritual and metaphysical interpretations providing religious and aesthetic sanction to erotic Indian art almost everywhere and it was these interpretations that brought Khajuraho into the folds of Indian art history triumphantly, squashing all stigma, making it proud of its erotic heritage.

In all of this what is evident is that despite all its modernity, artists, their works and movements in India somehow need to be anchored in the lineage of Indian art tradition, in the nation’s past for to be authenticated, accepted and embraced. Maybe this need is an unavoidable outcome of a five thousand year old heritage but it does sometimes seem to be just that, unavoidable. In the case of Husain, whose modernistic artworks were based on a select coding of national themes, motifs and “a complex structure of citations” drawn from Indian mythology6, the modern, traditional and national boundaries conflated and combusted.

In conclusion, to get a sense of where and how the Indian nude is currently placed and the journey it has travelled in contemporary India, this piece by Guha Thakurta is a must-read. By skillfully contrasting the Khajuraho case study (with its pride in the Indian nude) with the Husain example (showcasing an innate discomfort with the nude), she highlights the sharply divided space the Indian nude occupies. While a little long drawn, the piece is thoroughly interesting; especially its ruthlessly incisive conclusions. Guha Thakurta exhibits a splendid strength of conviction by outing the fine line that divides the erotic from the obscene, the aesthetic from the pornographic7. From the continued proliferation of Khajuraho’s sexual imagery into public forums in posters, hotel lobbies and souvenirs to Husain’s self-indulgent voyeurism apparent in his overtly sexualized caricaturing of the ideal Indian woman in Gajagamini, she states that both sexual allure and titillation find authentication in the name of tradition7. In the wider context of a religiously, politically, nationalistically and culturally charged India, art historical resolutions tread an uncertain ground as the line between the sacred, secular, moral, immoral, art or crass become impossible to fix. On the eve of the possibility of an impending right wing government coming into power in India, it becomes imperative to watch these lines and keep an eye out for where and how the Indian nude will move next.


  1. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 248
  2. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 247
  3. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 255-256
  4. Dehejia, Vidya. The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art. Columbia University Press, 2013. PP. 24
  5. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 244
  6. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 253
  7. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004. PP. 266


  1. Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, objects, histories: institutions of art in colonial and postcolonial India. Columbia University Press, 2004
  2. Dehejia, Vidya. The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art. Columbia University Press, 2013.


Decoding Borobudur

My friends ask me why I put myself through an Art History course, writing  papers that no one except the very, very few might be interested in reading. My answer is – because I love it. 

It  has been very difficult,  going back to school and sitting with Ph.D students given my  ~ZERO~ background in the subject. But you know what? I love it.

I’ve written several papers to-date on Art and Architecture but this one is special because it was excruciatingly  esoteric in nature. I had to read what felt like a million books to  write one full page on a subject so steeped in religion, spirituality and philosophy (in addition to art and architecture). So even if there is only me and my class at Columbia that reads this, I maintain – I love it 

The text here is copied and pasted from the original paper so some of it may not align, the pics are missing captions and there may be some formatting errors. 

Heres to the extremely beautiful monument of Borobudur – Long may it live and shine


“…There are things known and things unknown, and in between are the doors…”

The line above succinctly encapsulates Borobudur in more ways than one. Attributed in parts to William Blake, Aldous Huxley, and the rock band The Doors, no one knows where exactly this fine thought should be pegged. Similarly, as much is known about Borobudur since its discovery in 1814 as needs to be known. This terraced, pyramid-like structure made of andesite stone found amply in this volcanic region, was built in Central Java in the late 8th or early 9th century A.D. by a king of the Shailendra Dynasty. Exactly what kind of a building is Borobudur, what does it signify, what does its name mean, why was it made, who was it made for and who ended up using it are only some of the many questions that abound in any Borobudur study.


Paul Mus was the first scholar to prescribe to the idea of structural dualism in the concept of Borobudur. Every examination of Borobudur concludes that its architectural form cannot be associated with a single concept because it lends itself to multiple interpretations. Although each of these interpretations has its unique connotations, their symbolisms overlap. It wouldn’t be far fetched to assume that just as it is difficult to completely disentangle these today, so must it have been for the local Javanese populace of yore. The objective of this paper is to examine the nature, development and details of this stunning, albeit complex monument in order to Decode Borobudur. Employing works with art historical, theological, textual and visual approaches, this paper seeks to show that Borobudur, using the architectural class of (1) a Stupa is in parts a representation of (2) a Mandala, and (3) the Cosmic Universe

Borobudur, a description

Before proceeding further, it is imperative to understand the location and architecture of Borobudur in some detail because these help us piece together critical missing links to what this monument was intended to be. Borobudur sits atop a natural hill that serves as its foundation in part. The rest of the foundation is made of non-homogenous materials. It rises from a base that is approximately a 373 feet square, with a central stupa about 115 feet above the ground level1. Stairways cutting through the middle of each of it’s four sides face the cardinal directions. Rocks roughly 9 inches X 41 inches X 9 inches in dimension are used throughout the structure. A great manifestation of the Buddhist Doctrine, amongst other things Borobudur features 1460 narrative reliefs, 1212 decorative reliefs, 324 ratnas (jewels ornaments), 1740 triangular ornaments, 100 gargoyles and 32 lions.2The body of the entire monument is usually spoken of in three parts (1) base (2) galleries (3) terrace.

While the base of Borobudur is broadly a square, it is not a perfect quadrangle. There are zigzag indentations at each of its four corners.  The rather plain looking upper surface of the base is approximately 23 feet wide 3 and forms a walkway around the monument. However,  this foot was added after the monument was completed. The original base, just above the ground, featured 160 relief panels all around. Each one of these measured 7 ½ feet X 2 ½ feet and depicted a scene from the Mahakarmavibhanga, a Buddhist text about the doctrine of Karma (Cause and Effect) and consequently, Heaven and Hell. This original base and its decorations, the so-called hidden foot, were discovered only in 1885 and there are multiple theories about why these beautiful panels, some incomplete and some even disfigured were covered. The more prevalent school of thought believes that this embellished base had to be covered when it proved too narrow to support the monument on top and probably collapsed. A contrarian viewpoint believes it was covered deliberately as it corresponds to kamadhatu – the realm of desire, best left behind when approaching the more evolved spiritual experience of Borobudur. We will read more about kamadhatuand what it implies going forward but either way, a much broader but unadorned mantle of stones is the base of Borobudur as we see it today.

ImageThe second part of Borobudur consists of four levels of galleries with walkways almost six and a half feet wide through each one of these. Since the monument is shaped like a pyramid, each successive level is smaller than the one below. The first gallery is a walk of 360 meters while the second, third and fourth galleries constitute walks of 320 meters, 288 meters and 256 meters respectively. A complete circuit of all four galleries therefore covers 1.2 km or 3/4th of a mile. Multiple circuits of each gallery in order to enable detailed viewing of all relief panels in fact make for a 3-mile long walk. Bound by a main wall on one side (to the right when circumambulating) and a fairly high balustrade on the other, these galleries house most of the relief panels of Borobudur. The balustrades are tall enough to block one’s view of the sylvan environs around. As devotees follow the reliefs clockwise, always entering from the east, their journey is enlivened by frequent changes of direction due to the zigzag shape of corners, which prevents them from obtaining a view of the corridor extending for any great distance.At the corners one finds antefixes, panels topped by triangular ornaments. Waterspouts shaped like makaras(crocodiles) are placed on the lowest level while upper levels exhibit face similar to kala (demon). 4 Walking these galleries must have been akin to watching moving pictures in a theatre today – a plethora of reliefs surrounding you, telling enchanting stories in an enclosed space for the time it takes to walk 3 miles!

The first gallery features tales from the Lalitavistara5 (historical Buddha’s life story) spread over 120 reliefs, and Jatakas and Avadanas (tales of previous incarnations of people who became Buddhas) spread over 500 reliefs. With four sets of relief panels progressing simultaneously – two large ones, one above the other on the main wall, and two smaller ones on the balustrade, there is almost too much to take in all at once. However, the countenance of the subjects is pleasant and sometimes even humorous, so it is a not an


overwhelming experience. Decorative pilasters and ornate scrollwork, each one unique in its own right, divide the scenes for easy viewing. Interestingly

enough, the backs of Buddha niches (these Buddha niches appear throughout on the balustrades and we will discuss them in detail shortly) on the lower balustrade are decorated with a crowning motif representing a jewel while those in the upper galleries are decorated with small stupas.

The second gallery houses 100 panels of Jatakas and Avadanas on its outer wall. On it’s inner wall, with 128 panels starts what can be considered the primary theme of Borobudur reliefs, the tale of Sudhana, a pilgrim who visits several kalyanamitras or personages in search of the truth. This tale is based on the Buddhist text Gandavyuha.6 Sudhana’s story continues on the third gallery with 176 relief panels and culminates with 156 panels of the fourth gallery with Bhadracari, tale of Sudhana’s vow to bodhisattva Samantabhadra.


Extensive as this display of sculpture is, Borobudur’s sculptural plan of galleries is not nearly exhausted. 432 Buddha images appear inside aforementioned niches on the five balustrades. These measure 3 ½ feet in height and look outwards from each of the four cardinal directions. There were 104 such statues on the first and second levels, 88 on the third, 72 on fourth and 54 at the very top. However, several of these are now missing. We will return to a detailed account of the hand mudras (gestures) of these Buddhas and what they imply in a while.


The third part of Borobudur, its terrace, is distinctly different in feel from the confined galleries below. Upon getting here, the enclosed space suddenly opens up to offer fabulous views of the countryside around, setting the devotee free. It would not be an overstatement to say that the transition to this spacious, uncluttered area is dramatic. Unfettered by high walls, this part has three concentric, nearly circular terraces featuring seventy-two stupas in total, each with a Buddha image enclosed.  The lowest terrace has thirty-two stupas,middle one twenty-four and the highest, sixteen.  Stupas on the lowest and middle terrace have latticed, diamond shaped openings from which life-sized Buddhas within can be viewed while on the highest terrace, these openings are square shaped. All seventy-two Buddha images here display the same gesture, the dharmachakra mudra (turning the wheel of Dharma gesture). These stupas are 11 feet and 12 ½ feet in diameter. In the center of the entire monument, almost crowning it as it were is a large stupa 52 ½ feet in diameter. Only fragments of the original central stupa remain, though they give an idea of the simple carved horizontal bands it once possessed, and the tall spire containing a 13 tiered parasol which once surmounted the entire monument.7 This stupa is not perforated like the others and therefore what it houses, cannot be viewed from the outside. It has two unconnected hollow chambers inside. An unfinished statue of the Buddha in bhumisparsha mudra (touching the earth gesture) clearly blocked out is supposed to have been found inside it. But this fact is disputed. Some scholars believe that this statue corresponds to the arupadhatu realm (which we will discuss soon) and was intentionally left unfinished. Others consider it as nothing more than a filler for the stupa. Whatever the case, currently this image sits in a small museum on Borobudur grounds.

Usually religious art is a dimension of religious culture of the times. Therefore an adequate method of its interpretation ought to consider such religious culture and practices as might have been prevalent when the piece of art was created. One could also turn to Foucault’s notion of heterotopia, a concept in human geography for describing places and spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there and are simultaneously physical and mental – such as the space of a phone call or the moment you see yourself in the mirror. It can also be a single real place that juxtaposes several spaces, for instance, a Persian garden is a heterotopia because it is a real space meant to be a microcosm of different environments with plants from around the world.8 Our task is therefore to understand what the religious culture and practices might have been prevalent in Java of Ca. 800 and what heterotopia was Borobudur at its creation.

Religious sanctuaries in their layout and decor aim to provide tangibly, a vision of the problems of mankind. Most important amongst these is the relation of Mankind with the world of Holy. This ‘meeting’ of Ultimate Reality and Man is a mystery recognized by various religions in different yet essentially identical ways. According to Kempers, two mysteries occur in such sanctuaries, the micro-mystery of “God meeting his flock” and the macro-mystery of the sanctuary in itself being a symbol representing this mystery in action.9 Decoding Borobudur entails finding its place in this mystery and thereby understanding the spiritual background that led to its construction, iconographic program and symbolism. Over years of study, various theories about how the religious sanctuary of Borobudur can be interpreted have been propounded. Most influential amongst these are – Borobudur is a stupa, a mandala, a representation of the universe or a prasada. While each of these theories has been advanced individually, this has not been done at the cost of contradicting the other theories. Let us see how some of these concepts fit together to make a whole.

Borobudur, a Stupa 

How is Borobudur a Stupa?

Amongst other things, Borobudur is a representation of the Universe and the device deployed to achieve this effect by the architect is the stupa. This is because in Borobudur’s symbolism we find several critical features of a stupa’s function. For instance, a stupa recalls the life and previous existences of the historical Buddha and other personages. This element is found in the reliefs of Borobudur. A stupa stands for the Buddhist doctrine, as does Borobudur with its numerous symbols and reliefs that stamp it as a “Shining Tower of the Law”10. A stupa is the most abstract and therefore the most exact symbol of the Holy. In the case of Borobudur, this understanding can be applied to the main stupa on top. Finally, a stupa seeks to represent the Universe with the terraced cosmic mountain Mt. Meru in its center. Borobudur with its terraced structure recalls the same. It is also worth noticing that the stupa motif is repeated 1+16+24+32+1472 times all over Borobudur. In addition, some distinguishing features of earlier stupas, like Sanchi and Bharhut, can also be observed in Borobudur’s construct. For instance, the most important part of the entire structure, the central stupa at the top, bears the traditional hemispherical shape. The pathway to this central stupa (galleries) is studded with tales from the biography and previous lives of the historical Buddha. In addition, traditional motifs and architectural elements like the railings, gateways, lotus flowers, Buddha images, the pinnacle and sunshades, the yakshas, nagas and lions appear in abundance. Thus various elements of the earlier stupas may be seen in Borobudur. They were just applied and continued in a manner that is both original and elegant.11

Questions about the Stupa Theory

ImageRight from 1905, when Foucher first advanced the Stupa theory, many scholars have subscribed to it.12However what is not obvious, and what is an essential part of any typical, traditional stupa is the anda or the hemispherical body covering the base. This missing feature has led to debates about the theory of Borobudur being a stupa. Proponents of the theory argue that this element can be identified in the central stupa on top. However the issue is that the central stupa, while clearly visible from the terrace, is too small in proportion to the rest of the monument – it can only be seen by walking away and looking at the monument from a certain distance. Getting any closer only makes it sink below the outline of the balustrades. This central stupa therefore does not lend itself to being regarded as the dominant architectural element.

To solve this problem, Mus was the first to suggest that the silhouette of Borobudur with its stupas and stupa motifs resembles a hemispherical dome and hence it should be considered a stupa anda. This perspective however requires a good amount of squinting and some imagination to work. That there isn’t a stupa anywhere that resembles Borobudur is a definite damper for those who believe the stupa theory.

On the other hand, Woodward pointed out, “ is not the outer form of the stupa which provides the greatest number of clues for our understanding of these matters but the inner workings”. 13 This can allude among other things to the early accounts of the central stupa that state it has two hollow chambers inside”14, as is the case with a traditional stupa. No relics however were discovered from this space. Alternatively if the unfinished Buddha supposedly found in the central stupa was a part of the intended plan, it could have been the means to establish the Buddha’s presence in the structure.

What the stupa theory does provide us with is the understanding that pathways through the galleries of Borobudur were designed to perform a pradikshana, even though the central stupa was not visible through the gallery and was therefore not the focus of the circumambulation. Most scholars agree that this ritual was probably performed by a wide variety of people at Borobudur. While few have suggested that access to the upper levels of Borobudur might have been restricted, 15 they are usually proponents of the view that Borobudur offered experiences of a far more esoteric nature, which could be actualized only by the initiated few.

Borobudur, a Mandala

Another major theory, one we will focus on, is based to a large degree on the ground plan and aerial view of Borobudur. This theory Imagesubscribes to the view of Borobudur as a mandala. Heinrich Zimmer was one of the first proponents of this theory in 1926. In the scheme of Buddhist cosmos, humans seeking enlightenment must move from its violent and unconscious periphery to the sacred center. This concept has been rendered in the architectural construct of Borobudur with galleries that lead-up from the periphery of the monument to the central stupa on top. As Kempers suggests, Borobudur is a ‘dynamic space’, which by its very nature forces anyone entering to proceed in a certain direction. It invites the participation of an individual seeking enlightenment or spiritual progress by offering him a predetermined path for the same.16

What is a Mandala?

The word mandala is composed of two elements – manda (core) and la (a container). Since a mandala is regarded as a microcosm of the Universe, all gods find a fixed place here: the highest god sits in the center and various other gods are found elsewhere as his manifestations. Each of these gods is represented by a portrait or a single syllable that stands for its innermost essence.17

It becomes rather obvious upon observing the galleries and terraces of Borobudur that it is in fact, a mandala. Another giveaway is the presence of four stairways running straight through the middle of each side of the quadrangle, to reach the central stupa. These stairways look like the standard four entryways into a mandala. In itself, this is a very strong piece of evidence in favor of the mandala argument.

While there are multiple mandala theories, a common thread running through nearly all of them is that they equate the Buddhas in the niches of galleries and latticed stupas of the terraces with the Buddha figures in the panchajina (five Buddha mandala) on the basis of the mudras displayed. However, this belief can be a double-edged sword, as we will see shortly.

Let us now proceed to the mandala theory in detail. We will first see how on purely technical grounds, Borobudur can be considered a mandala. From there we will look at what kind of a mandala might it be; if it can be identified as one. Finally by using its architectural class – the stupa, as discussed above, we will recognize it as a replica of the cosmos.


How is Borobudur a Mandala?

Technically speaking, the concept of a ‘core’ and ‘container’ as described above can be interpreted for Borobudur in multiple ways. According to Wayman, one Borobudur sub mandala is composed of its galleries: the fifth gallery (the low balustrade that surrounds the platform near the tip of the monument, top of the fourth gallery) is the core and remaining four galleries are its container. Another sub mandala is composed of its terraces: seventy-two smaller stupas are the containers for the core that is the central stupa. The main mandala however is composed of the central stupa along with the seventy-two stupas as the core with the galleries as its container.

If this is the case then the dynamic, predetermined passage provided by the galleries with their stories and consequent teachings that keep getting more spiritually complex with every passing level are meant to engage and encourage devotees to make their way towards the main stupa and the spiritual significance it embodies. That is also the reason why multiple spiritual guides, in particular bodhisattvas like Maitreya, Manjushri and Samatabhadra are found in the fourth gallery, just before entry into the core. Spiritual guides or bodhisattvas play a central role in helping a devotee choose the right spiritual path in order to achieve his spiritual goal. The relation between a devotee seeking enlightenment and a bodhisattva helping him in this goal is summarized thus, using the example of Sudhana and Sumantabhadra:

“First of all, the person must have the right circumstances of life, which are called the four reasons: 1) he should be in this family; 2) taken in hand by spiritual guides; 3) be compassionate toward living beings; 4) have zest for austerities. And he should have one or the other power to generate that Thought (of enlightenment) 1) his own power, whereby he craves the perfect Enlightenment: through his own force (of character); 2) another’s power, whereby he craves it by the way of another’s power; 3) the power of a (deep-seated) cause, whereby he generates the Thought through the mere hearing in the present life of praises of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas by reason on having formerly cultivated the Great Vehicle; or 4) The power of praxis, in the course of which he has for a long time been following a path of virtue, seeking out high – minded persons and listening to the Law.” 18

Because the fourth gallery ends with Sudhana’s study of Sumantabhadra and since traditionally Mara appears at dusk, what Wayman refers to as the fifth gallery is metaphorically, twilight. Thus the sub-mandala of galleries symbolizes twilight. Moving from here into the night, and explaining the significance of the seventy-two stupas found here, Wayman draws a parallel between the location of Mt. Meru at the center of the universe and the system of thirty-six decanates. Seventy-two is of course, the double of thirty-six, the number of star groups north and south of the ecliptic. Borobudur also is situated very near the equator and the zodiacal stars north and south of the ecliptic can be viewed with equal clarity here.19 Thus the sub-mandala of terraces symbolizes the night. This highly metaphorical interpretation obviously bases itself on the idea of metaphorical night, the traditional time of Enlightenment and movement of the devotee from twilight to such a night/time.

Another explanation for the number seventy-two is rooted in Tantra. Taking the thirty-seven elements of the universe with Lord Mahavairocana as one and thirty-six remaining, number thirty-six can be considered twice – once as the ideal world of the Vajradhatu-mandala and again as its reflection in the natural world of Karunagarbha-mandala to lead us to seventy-two. This means that seventy-two + one Buddhas in those stupas realize the whole system.

What kind of a Mandala?

To answer the interesting, albeit complicated question of just what sort of a mandala Borobudur is, scholars turn to the Panchajina mandala model and draw parallels from there to the Buddha figures found in Borobudur. In a Panchajina mandala, Buddha Vairocana sits in the middle and displays the dharmachakra mudra (turning of the wheel gesture). In Borobudur, the seventy-two Buddha figures sitting inside the latticed stupas on the terraces also display this gesture. Around Vairocana are four directional Buddhas, each displaying a specific gesture 1) Akshobhaya in the east in the bhumisparsha mudra (earth touching gesture) 2) Ratnasamabhava in the south displaying the vara mudra (boon granting gesture) 3) Amitabha in the west, displaying the dhyana mudra or (meditation gesture) and 4) Amoghasiddhi in the north, displaying the abhaya mudra (fear not gesture). In Borobudur, the Buddhas in the niches on the balustrades display exactly these four mudras for the corresponding cardinal directions. Additionally, Kala and makaras guard the four gateways to the monument just as they guard mandala entry points. It must be noted that there are versions of the mandala theory where the Buddhas are given different names than the ones mentioned above, but the structure of the argument essentially remains the same: the Buddhas of Borobudur display the correct mudras for the correct directions.

Questions on Mandala Theory


ImageAs was mentioned before, adherence to the Panchajina theory is a double-edged sword as a sixth Buddha is also found in the monument making it depart from the standard five Buddha pattern. This is the sixth Buddha located in the niches of what Wayman calls the fifth gallery. On all four sides of the gallery, this Buddha displays the same gesture, vitarka mudra (gesture of instruction). This of course becomes the main issue in terms of pegging the mandala type down since there are six gestures and six Buddhas, something that isn’t observed in any known mandala to date. Another complication is that if indeed the unfinished Buddha image in bhumisparsha mudra was found in the central stupa, then the “wrong” Buddha is in the center of the mandala.

While several arguments and explanations have been expounded by scholars to address these issues, the argument for Borobudur as a mandala will stand to gain a lot from the identification of a known mandala with the same arrangement, or a known text that can be linked to. It must be noted here that while there exists a debate on what tantric text Borobudur was based on, it is quite certain that tantric texts did exist in Borobudur Java. Miksic points out to the fact that a tremendous variety of mandalas existed in Borobudur’s time and at least 3500 mandala designs were known. Also, famous tantric practitioners like Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra spent time in Java. They taught the use of two particular mandalas – the Vajradhatu mandala (Diamond World) and Dharmadhatu mandala (Matrix World). 20

In fact, even without the knowledge of a known tantric text, scholars such as Robert A.F. Thurman state that the mandala principle can be seen in several Mahayana texts including the Gandavyuha.

“For the Universal or Messianic Vehicle, expresses the ideal of the ‘perfection of the Buddhaverse.’ Such a cosmic transformation is possible because of the infinite non-dual presence, in every atom and subatomic energy, of the truth-and beatific bodies; it is actualized by the activities of countless emanation-bodies of the Buddha, ceaselessly helping beings throughout the universe.”21

Thus from several perspectives: technical, religious, art historical, historical and philosophical, it can be argued that Borobudur was built to represent a Buddhist mandala and that probably did serve some of the functions of one in the time it flourished.

Borobudur and the three cosmic realms

Borobudur is a mandala in that its various galleries featuring personages teach important life lessons and offer guidance to those seeking spiritual salvation. Stutterheim believes that the relief panels of Borobudur were used as foci for meditation. He (and several other scholars subsequently) also stressed that Borobudur’s structure metaphorically interprets the Buddhist cosmological thought which divides the universe into three realms: Kamadhatu (realm of desire), Rupadhatu (realm of forms) and Arupadhatu (realm of formlessness), with Mt. Meru in the center. First and outermost of these realms, the Kamadhatu is what human beings are born into. It features all kinds of hells, violence and unsavoriness. Rupadhatu consists of evolved beings living in heavens where there is no desire, only meditation. Inhabitants of Arupadhatu are the most spiritually evolved beings. They do not possess a form and are ethereal bodies spread over four heavens corresponding with the four highest degrees of meditation. In the architectural structure and decoration of Borobudur, Kamadhatu can be identified in the Mahakarmavibhanga-based reliefs of the original base and probably even the entire outer region of the building. This is what the devotee is born into, this is what he wants to escape, and this is where he is before entering the sphere of Rupadhatu, which corresponds to the four galleries. Here he is spiritually guided with the aid of a plethora of images (rupa) and proceeds slowly but surely towards Arupadhatu, represented by the three circular terraces and the main stupa. This vacant and open area offers the highest level of spiritual awakening having nearly no reliefs and in that sense being arupa (formless). The central stupa can be envisioned as Mt. Meru with a shaft in the very center. Upon getting here, the devotee reaches what is comparable in spiritual terms to the concept of Nirvana of Hinayana.

Borobudur, symbolizing the Cosmic Universe

Kempers succinctly paraphrased Borobudur as a monument that represents the Holy; its descent into the Universe, the Universe being pervaded, and the ascent of Man.22According to him, the descent of the Holy is depicted in Borobudur by the Buddha figures studded all over the terraces and galleries and the ascent of man is symbolized by the relief panels in the galleries. This brings us to the theory that Borobudur represents the cosmos where such interpenetration is a regular, constant occurrence.

ImageAn important element of the cosmos is the cosmic, terraced mountain Meru. Borobudur too in its construct is a terraced pyramid. Additionally, the location of Borobudur suggests that it was intended to represent Mt. Meru because just like Meru is supposed to be surrounded concentric rings of alternating seas and mountain ranges, topographically Borobudur is surrounded by a ring of mountains. Casparis further points out that Borobudur rises from the midst of a plain of rice fields that during certain parts of the growing seasons look not unlike a vast lake.23 Thus one would not be wrong to assume that basis its general shape and location, Borobudur was meant to represent the cosmic mountain at the center of the Chakravala cosmos.

Borobudur’s circumambulation route represents the bodhisattva path by which the devotee ascends towards spiritual enlightenment and Buddhahood. The same route also represents the descent of the already enlightened Buddhas in niches who meet the devotee every step of the way, at each level of his or her ascent. These niche Buddhas however are no longer visible from upper platforms and terraces. This can be a metaphorical way of letting the devotee know that he or she has evolved spiritually and literally moved to higher things – from a world of illusion to the world of enlightenment.

Borobudur, Organic Architectural Flow

Everything that happens in the cosmic world, its spiritual realm of enlightenment, is a transition. There are no sharp changes, you cannot leap or take sudden shortcuts. This principle is reflected gloriously Borobudur’s architecture. The architect has ensured that there are no sharp divisions in the monument. Every element organically flows into the one next to it. Indeed the entire building pulsates as one organic whole with flexible transitions throughout. For instance, the balustrade of one gallery is the top of the main wall in the gallery below.

The whole is recognizable in the details and the details in the whole, much like the concept of Indrajala.24 Wherever there are horizontal divisions: in the terraces, galleries or ambulatory, they are sewn together by the ingenious use of ornaments, especially stupa shaped ones.


It is clear from all that we have seen that Borobudur cannot be reduced to one, singular element. This is because at the very least it encompasses within itself three principle concepts that are inextricably intertwined. They all contribute to a detailed and nuanced understanding of the monument. Such an understanding would be difficult to achieve if just one of them were to be considered in isolation. Borobudur is a mandala that prescribes a path for salvation, its architectural class is that of a stupa – the most evolved of all Buddhist concepts, and it represents the cosmos within which all of us sentient beings exist. The brilliant planners and architects of this monument succeeded at getting these three to create a seamless, stunning, meaningful, organic whole; a whole that embodies complex spiritual metaphors with ease and ensures that all its parts coexist in perfect harmony.


  1. Soekmono, R “Chandi Borobudu,” 15
  2. Kempers, Bernet A.J “Ageless Borobudur,” 172
  3. Soekmono, R “Chandi Borobudu,” 15
  4. Miksic, John N “Borobudur: Majestic Mysterious Magnificent,”42
  5. Krom, N.J. “The Life of the Buddha on the Stupa of Barabudur According to the Lalitavistara
  6. Gandavyuhasutra, ed. With intro by P.L. Vaidya, Buddhist Sanskrit texts, 5 (Darbhanga:The Mithila Institute,1960). English translation Thomas Cleary, trans. Entry into the Realm of Reality: The Text: the “Gandavyuha,” the Final Book of the “Avatamsaka Sutra” (Boston: Shambhala,1989).
  7. Miksic, John N “Borobudur: Majestic Mysterious Magnificent,” 44
  8. Chemburkar, Swati  “Monument, Memory, and Meaning: Heterotopia at Borobudur, Indonesia,” 1. (Marg: A Magazine of the Arts, Sep2012, Vol. 64 Issue 1, p12, 14p
    Item: 82830016).
  9. Kempers, Bernet A.J “Barabudur: A Buddhist Mystery in Stone,” 110-111 in Gómez, Luis O. “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” Vol. 2. Asian Humanities Pr, 1981.

10. Kempers, Bernet A.J “Barabudur: A Buddhist Mystery in Stone,” 113 in Gómez, Luis O. “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” Vol. 2. Asian Humanities Pr, 1981.

11. Kempers, Bernet A.J. “Ageless Borobudur: Buddhist mystery in stone, decay and restoration, Mendut and Pawon, folklife in ancient Java,” 147

12. Gómez, Luis O. “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” 7-8

13. Woodward, Hiram W “Barabudur as a Stupa,” 122 in Gómez, Luis O. “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” Vol. 2. Asian Humanities Pr, 1981.

14. Miksic, John N “Borobudur: Golden tales of the Buddhas,” 50

15. Miksic, John N “Borobudur: Golden tales of the Buddhas,” 27

16. Kempers, A. J “Ageless Borobudur: Buddhist mystery in stone, decay and restoration, Mendut and Pawon, folklife in ancient Java,” 178

17. Kempers, A. J “Ageless Borobudur: Buddhist mystery in stone, decay and restoration, Mendut and Pawon, folklife in ancient Java,” 180

18. Wayman, Alex “Reflections on the Theory of Barabudur as a Mandala”, 152-153 in Gómez, Luis O “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” Vol. 2

19. Wayman, Alex “Reflections on the Theory of Barabudur as a Mandala”, 153-154 in Gómez, Luis O “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” Vol. 2

20. Miksic, John N  “Borobudur: Majestic Mysterious Magnificent”, 50

21. Thurman, Robert A. F. “Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment,” in “Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment”, ed. Denise Patry Leidy and Robert A.F. Thurman, 128

22. Kempers, Bernet A.J. “Barabudur: A Buddhist Mystery in Stone”, in Gómez, Luis O. “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument,”112

23. Casparis, J. G de “The Dual Nature of Barabudur,” 70 in Gómez, Luis O “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument. Vol. 2”

24. Kempers, Bernet A.J “Ageless Borobudur,” 149



  1. Gómez, Luis O ed, “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument.” Vol. 2. Berkeley, 1981
  2. Kempers, Bernet A.J. “Ageless Borobudur: Buddhist mystery in stone, decay and restoration, Mendut and Pawon, folklife in ancient Java,” Wassenaar, 1976
  3. Miksic, John N “Borobudur: Golden tales of the Buddhas,” Boston, 1990
  4. Miksic, John N et al.“Borobudur: Majestic Mysterious Magnificent”, Yogyakarta, Indonesia : Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur, Prambanan & Ratu Boko, 2010.
  5. Kandahjaya, Hudaya. “A study on the origin and significance of Borobudur”Graduate Theological Union, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2004. 3129398.
  6. Gifford, Julie A. “Picturing the path: The visual rhetoric of Barabudur” The University of Chicago, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2004. 3149326.
  7. Chemburkar, Swati  “Monument, Memory, and Meaning: Heterotopia at Borobudur, Indonesia,” 1. (Marg: A Magazine of the Arts, Sep2012, Vol. 64 Issue 1, p12, 14p
    Item: 82830016).


All photographs from Miksic, John N et al.“Borobudur: Majestic Mysterious Magnificent”, except,

Photo 8, which is from Wayman, Alex “Reflections on the Theory of Barabudur as a Mandala” in Gómez, Luis O “Barabuḍur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument” and Photo 10 which is from the website