Nepal has a great history of culture and arts that date back to ancient times. Nepali arts have been highly influenced by religion, social conditions, political climate, and various events such as natural disasters and others.
The oldest evidence of Nepali art dates back to the fourth century of the Lichchhavi period which is also known as “Golden age of Nepali art”. The social and environmental factors have also influenced the subject of Nepali arts. Later artworks depicted political revolution, social harmony, and secularism.
Religious, mystical, and symbolic figures and elements can be seen in historical sculptures and artworks. Besides that, western culture and practices also inspired artwork. Impressionism, expressionism, fauvism, abstractionism are various forms of artwork found in Nepal.
Arts also use a metaphorical symbol with hidden meanings to relay messages to people and make a statement. Architectural buildings and structures, wooden carvings, mandala, manuscripts, painting, are some major art forms. Some western influences have influenced modern artists but Nepali art remains rooted in the local culture.
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Forms of Nepali Arts
Nepalese art painting originated from manuscript illustrations found on palm leaves. Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita (1015 AD) is the earliest known illustrated manuscript in Nepal. Religion has an incredible impact on such manuscripts and they are usually decorated with mythical figures of divinities.
All illustrations have images of gods and goddesses whether they are Buddhist or Hindu in origin. You can find them in monasteries or temples. Thus the painting quality gets maintained for a long time and the style of painting remains fairly constant. Hence, older Nepali art paintings are held in higher regard than more modern manuscripts.
Thangka Paintings are ancient Nepal art paintings. These religious paintings were commonly used as icons in worship and are also known as Thangka in Tibetan, and Paubha in Newari. The illuminated wall paintings were in great demand and skilled artisans painted it on cloth which was then rolled up and transported.
Nepali thangka art made their way into homes and monasteries. ‘Mandala of Vishnu’ is the earliest Nepali thangka art that dates back to 1420 AD. Early thangkas have centrally positioned large deities surrounded by smaller figures and a simple design. The influence of the Tantric cult started to appear in Nepali art paintings from the 15th century.
Brighter colors and the portrayal of Shiva and Shakti in various poses got common in later years. Tantrism puts a strong emphasis on the female element and sexuality which is evident in Nepali art paintings of these times. According to mythologies, the thangkas possessed magical forces with a lot of religious symbols in the artwork.
Paintings were mainly done in manuscripts, wood, walls, cloth, or metal plates. Plants, Minerals, and soil were the main sources of colors for these paintings. Mithila paintings in the walls of homes in the Terai region are some examples of great Nepali art paintings. These days canvas paintings influenced by western culture are more popular.
Sculpture arts is one of the finest traditions of Nepal. Many carved sculptures were religious and revolved around the depiction of various deities. The Lichchhavi period gave birth to many beautiful sculptures. Stone, copper, and bronze get used in making these sculptures and depict round faces and slanted eyes with a lot of attention to detail.
The use of clothing and ornaments were a minimum. The Golden Age of Nepalese sculpture was the Lichchhavi period (5-8 CE) and some examples of these eras can still get found. Bronze, sandstone, granite, limestone, were generally used for sculpting gods, and kings.
Woodcarving is another integral part of Nepali art and culture that served a decorative purpose in ancient Nepal. Doors, Windows, temples, roof-struts, and others were all carved by hand in the old temples and palaces of Kathmandu valley. Wood is not long-lasting as stone so these woodcarving arts do not date back further than the 14th century
Wood carving is a very prominent aspect of Nepalese architecture. Nepalese artwork also influenced other cultures when in the 7th century AD, Mahayana Buddhism got introduced in Tibet under the king Anshu Varma. Various monasteries had sculptures as well.
Nepalese art can get found in Tibet. Nepal’s artistic influence spread when Nepalese artisans were then sent to Chinese emperors to educate local craftsmen and create artworks. The innovator and architect Balbahu or ‘Arniko’, is most famous among these artists.
A lot of utensils and household materials were commonly made out of molded clay in old times. Gagri, diyo, pyala, gamala, gyampo, lamps, flower vases, and others are few examples of pottery. This art form is getting lost due to invention and widespread use of plastic utensils.
The wooden windows and doors of a temple, the stupa’s complex geometry, are all great examples of architecture. Architectural art in religious sites or historical areas are common in Nepal. The architecture of Nepal depicts the culture and essence of the time period of Nepal’s history.
Cultural tourists and scholars arrive in the country for Traditional Nepalese architecture. The Nepalese architectural designs seen in various cities of Kathmandu valley including Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Nepal’s architecture is broadly divided into three types namely pagoda style, stupa style, and shikhara style.
This pagoda-style is one of the most common Nepalese architectural styles that have broad eaves held up by carved wood struts. The triangular spire roof has upside-down bells made out of gold plating.
Windows on the pagoda style structure protrude and latticed. The pagoda-style was then borrowed by China and later spread through Asia. Kasthamandap, Pashupatinath temple, nine-story palace are some of the famous pagoda architecture temples.
Shikhara style consists of 5 to nine vertical sections that form a curvilinear tower-like or high pyramidal structure. The unique style of architecture has a bell-shaped apex. The Krishna temple in Patan is one of the finest examples of the Shikhara style.
Stupa Style is a Nepalese architectural style used in the construction of Buddhist shrines and based on Buddhist concepts. A hemispherical structure mounted over a square base is a stupa style. Thirteen rings get layered on top of each other over a strong base.
It goes narrow over top and there is a parasol that tops it all off. The square bases are also known as harmika and have pairs of eyes painted on each side. UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Swayambhu Shrine and Boudhanath are exquisite stupa style architectures. The four stupas in Patan commissioned by King Ashoka are of great cultural importance.
The Final Say
Nepal is a cultural melting pot and its arts date back to ancient times. Religion, social conditions, political climate, and various events such as natural disasters and others have influenced arts in Nepal for a long time. Nepali arts are related to religious and cultural practices. Paintings, sculptures, woodcarving, pottery and architecture are major forms of Nepali arts.
Besides that, local songs, traditional musical instruments, and traditional dances are also Nepali arts. Nepali art and culture are greatly influenced by religion and it symbolizes processes and stages of life such as birth, youth, and death. We hope you learned about Nepali arts and forms of arts in detail through this article!