Pilgrimage, a journey to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion, is important to many faiths. In Buddhism, the practice is especially significant. Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between Buddhist pilgrimage and Asian art.  Read More »

Through over ninety objects—including narrative paintings and sculptures, as well as mandalas, prayer wheels, and maps—from significant North American collections, this exhibition examines the ways in which Buddhist pilgrimage became the impetus for the development of new forms of art and visual culture as well as a source of inspiration to artists and craftsmen across Asia.

Most pilgrimage comprises four basic components: preparation for the sacred journey, the journey itself, adoration at the sanctified site, and the return home. Visual aids accompany each phase of the pilgrimage and are an important part of any pilgrim’s journey. Through the three sections of this exhibition—“The Buddha and the Sacred Site”; “The Journey”; and “Merit, Mementos, and Sacred Bonds”—the multifaceted functions of such objects, which act as conveyors of history, myth, and religious practice, are illuminated.

Buddhist pilgrimage began in South Asia with journeys to the sites where major events in the Buddha’s life took place—his birth at Lumbini; his enlightenment at Bodh Gaya; his first sermon at Sarnath; and his death at Kushinagara. As Buddhism spread to other areas of South Asia, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, the practice of Buddhist pilgrimage took on elements of existing local traditions while keeping the essence of the life and message of the Buddha intact.

The influence of Buddhism has been felt across Asia in numerous ways. Not the least of these has been the profound changes to pilgrimage traditions and related artistic production across the continent. Visual narratives of pilgrims’ journeys unfold in artworks that range from paintings, sculptures, and sumptuously carved architecture to intricately beautiful reliquaries and ritual implements. Works from the multitude of Asian countries touched by Buddhism show how their common ties to the Buddhist creed result in perceivable similarities in forms and functions. Perhaps more notable though is the range of aesthetics and subject matter these works exhibit, reflecting the histories and practices of the disparate cultures that produced them.

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