Lecture 4. South Asia and Lalibela: Religion, Trade and Significance

The Persian Empire had a massive influence over the rising Mauryas in India. After the conquest of Persepolis by Alexander, the craftsmen and thinkers of Persia migrated East to India – taking their expertise and aesthetic ideology with them. Stone pillars with animal capitals transitioned directly, while other forms had a more tangential influence. The rock-cut tombs and treasuries of West Asia, may have been the direct precedent for the first Buddhist and Jain caityas and viharas that from the 2nd century onwards gave birth to a full millennia of exploration in the rock-cut and the mass assembled (stupa). From South Asia, the Buddhist carried their chthonic forms to Central Asia, and from there, along the Silk Routes, to China and onwards to Korea and Japan. In a different form, another Buddhist journey took the stupa form to Sri Lanka and South-east Asia, while, in the meanwhile in South Asia itself, Buddhist chthonic form were transformed into the great rock-cut caves and temples of later Hinduism from the 5th century onwards. This is when the ‘battle’ between the rock-cut and rock-assembled produced some of the finest constructions of South Asian temple architecture, such as those at Ajanta, Ellora, Aihole, Badami, and Mamallapuram. And then, half a century later, as the chthonic waned in South Asia, massive churches were built in Ethiopia in Lalibela.

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