Webinar “From the Periphery to the Centre: Reassessing the Buddhist and Hindu Art and Architecture of Medieval Maritime Asia”

In this webinar, Iain Sinclair, Hudaya Kandahjaya, and Swati Chemburkar, presented new research that aims to recalibrate the importance of innovations in art and architecture, highlighting the cultural creativity of the monsoon-influenced Southern rim of the Asian landmass.


Monday, 5 September 2022 – The Temasek History Research Centre at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) convened, under Chatham House Rule, the webinar “From the Periphery to the Centre: Reassessing the Buddhist and Hindu Art and Architecture of Medieval Maritime Asia”. The webinar, moderated by Dr Natalie Ong, opened with two short introductory presentations by Dr Peter Sharrock (SOAS) and Dr Andrea Acri (EPHE and ISEAS), and continued with three presentations by Dr Iain Sinclair (Nan Tien Institute and University of Queensland), Dr Hudaya Kandahjaya (BDK America) and Mrs Swati Chemburkar (Jnanapravaha Mumbai).

Clockwise from top left: Peter Sharrock, Hudaya Kandahjaya, Iain Sinclair, Natalie Ong, Andrea Acri, and Swati Chemburkar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The event attracted the interest of 86 attendees, including academics affiliated to institutions in Asia, the US, Australia, and Europe, as well as independent scholars and members of the general public.

The intellectual agenda of the webinar, inspired by the recently published 2-volume The Creative South (Singapore: ISEAS, 2022) by ISEAS, was summarised by Dr Sharrock and Dr Acri. Their introductory remarks showcased current research reconsidering the creative contribution of the littoral and insular regions of Maritime Asia to shaping new paradigms in the Buddhist and Hindu art and architecture of the medieval Asian world, and also paid a tribute to the scholarly contributions by junior and senior scholars who participated in past workshops and summer schools co-organised by SOAS and partners in Southeast Asia (including ISEAS, Universitas Surabaya, and Universitas Gadjah Mada), and who authored many of the chapters of The Creative South.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The presentation by Iain Sinclair, entitled “The Malay world as a contributor to pan-Asian culture: The case of the Avalokiteśvara with eight arms”, focused on icons of the deity prominent in the tantric Buddhist art of both the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago and Nepal. It argued that the earliest images originated within the former Melayu kingdom, soon diffusing to insular Southeast Asia, East Asia, and eventually Nepal, while the latest icons were reintroduced from the subcontinent to East Java in the 13th century.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Hudaya Kandahjaya, in his talk “Further Notes on the Perforated Stupas of Borobudur”, presented textual and iconographical evidence in support of the view that prototypical Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit (e.g., the Gaṇḍavyūha) were known to the builders of Borobudur, and influenced the spatial and symbolical conceptualization of the monument. He further pointed at similarities between key concepts and terms found in those Buddhist sources and the Kayumwungan inscription, which is regarded as being associated with the Borobudur and its royal patrons.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The final presentation by Swati Chemburkar, “Libraries or Fire Shrines? Exploring the ‘Annex Buildings’ in Khmer temples (ca. 9th–11th century)”, discussed a unique and enigmatic feature of Khmer temple complexes dating from the early Angkorian to the late Angkorian periods, namely the small annex building with ventilation holes built in the southeastern quarter of the main temple, which scholars have tentatively called either a “library” or a “fire-house”. She suggested that these annex buildings, which appear to have no clearly identifiable counterparts in South Asian temples, may have been intended to function as sacred spaces for specific Śaiva rituals, including ash-related observances of the Pāśupata sect, as well as initiation- and homa-rituals.

The final 25 minutes of the webinar were filled by several questions and remarks by the attendees, including, among others, whether the peculiar Nepalese form of Avalokiteśvara (Amoghapāśa) known as Karuṇāmaya could also have Southeast Asian predecessors or parallels; reflections on the possibilities of continuities between the eight-armed armed Viṣṇu and Lokeśvara in Sri Lanka; the relevance of dating of “recycled” Khmer inscriptions to interpret the different function of the buildings on which they were inscribed; and whether any of the perforated windows of the Borobudur were built the same way as the perforated stūpas.

Purchase Volume 1 and Volume 2 of The Creative South: Buddhist and Hindu Art in Mediaeval Maritime Asia.