Ancient Religions Gallery
The Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Gallery
India gave rise to Hinduism and Buddhism, which spread throughout Asia, and also Jainism. Jainism has been continuously practised in India since at least the 6th century BC, but it never became popular outside India. Jain art relates stylistically to Buddhist and Hindu art.
As Hinduism and Buddhism spread, artists borrowed ideas and assimilated familiar local concepts to create new forms. Concepts that resonated most with each local community became more emphasised. The art produced to support the religions evolved from Indian models, but styles unique to each culture developed. By the 8th century, Hinduism and Buddhism were practised in much of Southeast Asia.
Many religious concepts and attributes of deities are mystical and unfathomable. Since the gods are thought to be ever-present, they can take on many different forms. So how does an artist create an image that expresses all these things? Sometimes they give the deity a relatable human form, but with attributes to show divinity and superhuman power. Other times, they might use abstract and symbolic imagery to explain what the god or goddess represents.
The Kwan Im Thong Hood Choo Temple Gallery of Ancient Religions features the grand religions of India — Buddhism Hinduism, and Jainism. Masterpieces of sculpture, painting, and ritual objects trace the spread of these ancient religions across trade routes from India to China, and on to Southeast Asia.
Shi Hou Guanyin
China, 14th of 15th century
Bronze, height 52.7cm
Acquired with funds from the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
The presence of a tiny figure of Amitabha Buddha seated in the headdress identifies this figure as Guanyin. The lion is her because its roar ("Simhanada") symbolises the force of enlightenment. Depictions like this developed around the 11th or 12th century in India, where they were called Simhanada Avalokiteshvara. The earliest Chinese examples, called Shi Hou Guanyin, are dated to the 12th century.
Buddha's descent from the Trayastrimsha Heaven
Gandhara, 3rd or 4th century
Schist, height 55cm
This relief panel shows a remarkable amount of lively detail. It was once part of a series on a stupa chronicling the life of the Buddha. The Buddha went to the Heaven of the 33 Gods (Trayastrimsha) to preach the law to his mother. In the three stages of his descent shown here, he is flanked by the Hindu Gods Brahma and Indra.