The Golden Lands: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand & Vietnam

The Golden Lands: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand & Vietnam

by Vikram Lall


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780789211941
Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Series: Architecture of the Buddhist World Series
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 785,255
Product dimensions: 10.60(w) x 12.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Vikram Lall is a partner and the principal architect of Lall & Associates, a leading architectural firm in New Delhi. Also a teacher and scholar, he has lectured on architectural history and theory at institutions worldwide. The present series represents the summation of his twenty-five years of intensive research into Buddhist architecture.

Read an Excerpt

The Golden Lands

Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand & Vietnam

By Vikram Lall

Abbeville Press

Copyright © 2014 Vikram Lall
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7892-1194-1


Commencing with The Golden Lands, the series of books on the Architecture of the Buddhist World is my journey into the history and theory of architecture as a response to Buddhism. Over several years of research and teaching I have made numerous visits to various Buddhist sites, many of which are covered in this book, in order to develop not just a deeper understanding of their architecture, but also of the cultural context of their production. This research has been enriched by the works of many scholars in various disciplines of Buddhist studies; to them, I am greatly indebted. Their works have served as the foundation for my own research; to this, I have added my personal insight and understanding of the subject, hopefully expanding the discourse, and creating a comprehensive study of the architectural diversity of the entire Buddhist world.

Just as there is no single and comprehensive definition of the words ‘architecture’ and ‘Buddhism’, there is no one definitive answer to this question. However, within the broad understanding of both terms, I have attempted to create a complete narrative about Buddhist architecture, spread over time and space. The books in this series attempt to explain the theoretical reasoning, organizing principles and symbolic representation that lie behind the forms and spaces of Buddhist architecture. I have tried to develop the history of Buddhist architecture within a comparative framework, tracing its evolution through the ages across different geographical regions.

The distinction between painting and sculpture, and architecture is sharply defined in Buddhist studies by the abundance of material on the former, and the abject lack of it on the latter. A lot has been written about Buddhism, its philosophy, history and art. Yet, books dedicated exclusively to the architecture associated with Buddhism are few and far between. Architecture of the Buddhist World attempts to fill this gap and provide a fresh insight and approach into the world of Buddhism by focusing exclusively on the architectural forms and spaces associated with the faith. IT intends to comprehensively demonstrate the architectural patterns that emerged in response to the philosophy and practice of Buddhism, and their manifestations in diverse regions of the world, evolving over two and a half millennia. As the name suggests, the series covers the history of the entire Buddhist world that includes the countries where Buddhism is or has been a dominant religious and philosophical force. The study includes over twenty countries spread across Asia, east Asia, southeast Asia, central Asia, and finally some parts of the western world. When seen in a global context, the variety of buildings that could be associated with Buddhism are far more diverse in form and style than that which is found in other religious architecture.

The constant rhetoric about what constitutes architecture has been ongoing amongst architects and historians, and is brought into sharp focus particularly when considering Buddhist architecture. Can the Stupa, which does not provide any shelter, be considered as an architectural example, or is it merely a sculptural form? Can rock-cut caves, which are not constructed employing the principles of structural design, be considered architecture? While, in general, there is little ambiguity in differentiating between sculpture and architecture, there are many structures associated with Buddhism, which cannot be clearly categorized as an example of one or the other. And yet, the intentions and designs of these structures have been informed by a combination of functional and symbolic requirements of Buddhism. Numerous such buildings come together to create a complete built environment of Buddhism. Buildings which may appear different and isolated actually bear a close relationship with each other in Buddhist architecture, and it is only when they are grouped together that each becomes legible and comprehensible. Therefore, a Buddhist structure, whether it is a Stupa or a monastery or a temple, cannot be fully understood in isolation, but only in the larger setting of its built environment. The books hope to articulate a context within which the architectural meaning of different types of buildings associated with Buddhism is best comprehended.

In writing history, the challenge is often to establish accurately the beginnings of architectural patterns. I have adopted the current understanding of Buddhism as having begun in India sometime in the 6th century BCE and have developed the historical narrative from around that time. Early Buddhism borrowed architectural typologies such as the Stupa, caves, monastery and temple that became closely associated with the faith. Over time, Buddhism spread from its core area in the Gangetic plains of India to other regions, where it once again incorporated the local cultural traditions, resulting in a further transformation of its architectural forms. It is not surprising that the modest Stupa from India could become for example a Pagoda in China, a Tahoto in Japan or a Chedi in Thailand. In the course of its long history, Buddhist architecture constantly combined universal concepts with local building traditions to produce a variety of architectural forms that have become distinctive representations of the faith in those regions. This diversity of architecture produced across different cultural and geographical regions makes it almost impossible to identify a singular pattern of architecture that could be said to represent Buddhist architecture. Indeed, the diversification of the architectural form is one of the unique features of Buddhist architecture, and is best appreciated when viewed in a comparative framework that highlights the themes and variations seen across different regions, and in fact, even within a single cultural or geographical region. Buddhist architecture is manifest in over twenty countries spread all across Asia and, more recently in some parts of the western world too.

Indeed, an important object of my work has been to go beyond the architectural discourses of functional and technical determination, formal characteristics of buildings and their symbolism, and have attempted instead to locate Buddhist architecture as a product of deeper cultural processes. The study explores in particular, the importance of interactions between the local cultural environment with global contacts, patronage, indigenous building traditions and symbolism in the shaping of buildings. The book explores the spaces and forms associated with Buddhism by illustrating its evolution of Buddhist architecture in a universal perspective. Buddhist buildings have been studied in a comparative framework by juxtaposing examples from different regions to understand their development in a broader cultural background. This cross-cultural study of enquiry allows us to understand the constants and the changes in the themes of architecture as a response to Buddhism.

As specific cultures are not necessarily confined within the borders of a nation state, I have organized the material of my research by cultural landscapes – cultural regions that share similarities of architectural traditions and customs. The six cultural landscapes I have identified are:

The Golden Lands – Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand & Vietnam
The Heavenly Lands – China, Japan & Korea
The Ancient Lands – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka
The Mountain Lands – The Himalayan Mountains & Plateau
The Hidden Lands – Central Asia, Outer Mongolia & The Silk Route
The Modern Lands – Contemporary Buddhist Architecture

Architecture of the Buddhist World focuses on just the cultural landscape of the Golden Lands, much appreciated for the richness, abundance and diversity of its Buddhist architecture. However, it is my (undeniably ambitious) intention to cover in the future books of this series, the history of the architecture of the entire Buddhist world, which includes the countries where it is or has been a predominant religious and philosophical force. When seen in a global context, the buildings that could be associated with Buddhism are far more diverse in form and style than those found in other religious architecture. However, due to the inevitable limitations, I have had to be selective about what to include and what not to, while yet attempting to be exhaustive enough to demonstrate the particularity and diversity of the architecture that exists in the Buddhist world. I have striven to go beyond the architectural discourse of technical and functional determinism, formal characteristics of buildings, and their symbolism. I have attempted instead, to locate Buddhist architecture as a product of deeper cultural processes. The study particularly explores the importance of interaction between cultures, patronage, local building traditions, and symbolism in the shaping of buildings. Buddhist buildings have been studied by juxtaposing examples from different locations to better their development. This cross-cultural study of enquiry allows us to understand the constants and the changes in the themes of architecture as a response to Buddhism.

While it has been my intention to maintain a certain consistency of interpretations in the course of presenting a comprehensive view of architectural history spanning over 2500 years and spread across numerous countries, it has not always been easy to do so. Firstly, because the information available about many buildings is limited or even non-existent, collecting and collating the architectural information in such cases became more important than any interpretations. Secondly, wherever it went, Buddhism responded greatly to the local context, and Buddhist architecture in different regions was very much influenced by local traditions, practices and materials. This has made it necessary to interpret or decode the design differently – in some cases it is the technical features that stand out, whilst in others, symbolism was paramount. While there is an attempt to render in a simple fashion the underlying principles and concepts of architecture, care is taken to ensure that they are not diluted in essence.


Excerpted from The Golden Lands by Vikram Lall. Copyright © 2014 Vikram Lall. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

A Chronology of Selected Buddhist Monuments 6
Preface 9
The Theoretical Framework 14

I. Architectural History 40
II. Architectural Characteristics 52
III. Selected Examples 75

I. Architectural History 90
II. Architectural Characteristics 105
III. Selected Examples 113

I. Architectural History 128
II. Architectural Characteristics 135
III. Selected Examples 145

I. Architectural History 160
II. Architectural Characteristics 169
III. Selected Examples 181

I. Architectural History 192
II. Architectural Characteristics 215
III. Selected Examples 225

LAOS 237
I. Architectural History 240
II. Architectural Characteristics 251
III. Selected Examples 261

Glossary 271
Bibliography 277
Index 278
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