The art produced in the island of Java is divided into three periods corresponding to a continuous emigration within the island from West to East. The first period was developed in the west of the island until the 7th century. The second period developed in the center of the island between the 7th and 10th centuries and corresponded to the classical moment in which the buildings expressed the Javanese taste for thick and protruding moldings that produced strong shadows as well as for the use of a very rich sculptural decoration. This second period is usually divided into two distinct moments: one of Brahmanic influence (between 625 and 750) in which several temples were built on the Dieng plateau all of them manifestly influenced by the art of Mahabalipuram of south India; the second (between 750 and 860) of Buddhist influence under the power of the Shailendra dynasty during which the Borobudur temple was built.
Borobudur (founded around 800) is together with the Bayon temple at Angkor-Thom the largest Buddhist temple in the world which was built when this religion was disappearing in its homeland India under the advances of Neobrahmanism. Borobudur is a grandiose temple that has no interior, it is in fact an artificial hill built in gray trachyte rock of great hardness and seems like an over-developed stupamultiplied to infinity. Its general shape is that of a step pyramid with nine overlapping terraces, the lower six squared and the three highest circular. A staircase crosses each facade of the enormous pyramid and leads to the upper platform that has a huge stupa at its center. On the three circular terraces are 72 small, bell-shaped stupas. Above the nine terraces of Borobudur there are hundreds of Buddha statues in which the Gupta influence of the Sarnath style is visible. All these Buddhas appear very beautiful and elegant, impressive for what has been called their “spiritualized nature”. They can be grouped into six different types, the last of which, located on the circular terraces, makes the gesture of “Turning the wheel of dharma” with their hands. The walls of the terraces are decorated with more than two thousand high reliefs that together sum up a length of 6 kilometers, all of them admirable in their harmony, balance and clarity. In this way, the pilgrim could follow the whole life of the Buddha, with his pious incidents and fantastic episodes, as he/she slowly crossed the square terraces while climbing towards the upper circular platforms where the mystical forms of the Buddhist knowledge are reflected.
The third and last period of ancient Javanese art developed in the east of the island between the 10th and 14th centuries, and on the adjacent island of Bali as early as the 15th century. It was a time in which the art of Java was becoming more and more autochthonous and consequently its local, indigenous characteristics progressively increased. Its fundamental monuments are the temple of Prambanan from the 10th century, dedicated to Shiva, and the group of temples of Penataran built around 1370. In the creations of this period there is less beauty and depth than in the glorious masterpieces of Borobudur, but there was maybe more intimacy, variety and originality. In the 15th century with the establishment of Islam in Java, the development of the ancient Javanese art was stopped.
Finally we must refer to the art of Thailand a country dominated by the Khmer until the 13th century when the Thai arrived, thus giving the country its current name. In the 14th century the Thai founded the city of Ayutthaya which became its capital until 1767 when it was destroyed by the Burmese. It was during the Ayutthaya period that the type of roof in the form of a high and narrow cone was created. With the passing of time this conical roof became increasingly stylized until almost resembling an arrow. Another characteristic of the Thai art also appeared during this period: an immense pedestal on which the temples were built, this so that they had a greater height.
In 1767 the capital of Thailand was established in Bangkok and marked the beginning of the last phase of the Thai style which lasted until the end of the 19th century. The palaces and temples of Bangkok with an abundant use of painted and gilded wood are characteristic of this period. The gables and pediments on the roofs were topped by flames and horns that were a distant memory of the Buddhist Naga snake. The use of bright clear colors created a sumptuous decoration in which the influence of Chinese art was evident.
Candi: A Hindu or Buddhist temple in Indonesia, mostly built during the “Hindu-Buddhist period”, between the 4th and 15th centuries.
Chedi: An alternative term for a Buddhist stupa mainly used in Thailand.
Kinnara: In Hindu mythology, a kinnara is a paradigmatic lover, a celestial musician, half-human and half-horse. In South-east Asia, two of the most beloved mythological characters are the benevolent half-human, half-bird creatures known as the Kinnara and Kinnari, which are believed to come from the Himalayas and often watch over the well-being of humans in times of trouble or danger.
Kirtimukha: (From the Sanskrit meaning “glorious face”). The name of a swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, very common in the iconography of Hindu temple architecture and Buddhist architecture in South Asia and Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia it is often referred to as Kala, and in China it is known as the taotie, meaning (Monster of Greed).
Lamyong: The decorative structure of the roof finials in Thai architecture. The lamyong is sculpted in an undulating, serpentine shape evoking the naga. Its blade-like projection called bai raka suggest both naga fins and the feathers of Garuda. Its lower finial is called a hang hong, which usually takes the form of a naga’s head turned up and facing away from the roof. The naga head may be styled in flame-like motifs and may have multiple heads. Perched on the peak of the lamyong is the large curving ornament called a chofah, which resembles the beak of a bird, perhaps representing Garuda.
Mandala: (From the Sanskrit meaning “circle”). A spiritual and ritual symbol in the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. In common use, “mandala” has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the general shape of a T. Mandalas often have radial balance.
Mondop: The Thai equivalent of a mandapa.
Prang: A tall tower-like spire, usually richly carved. They were a common shrine element of Hindu and Buddhist architecture in the Khmer Empire. They were later adapted by Buddhist builders in Thailand, especially during the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1350–1767) and Rattanakosin Kingdom (1782-1932).
Ubosot: Or phra ubosot or bot is a building in a Buddhist wat. It is the holiest prayer room, also called the “ordination hall” as it is where ordinations take place.
Wat: (From the Sanskrit meaning “Enclosure”). A type of Buddhist temple and Hindu temple in Cambodia, Laos, East Shan State, Yunnan and Thailand.
Wihan: The Thai equivalent to a Vihara.
Yaksha: A broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, but sometimes mischievous or capricious, connected with water, fertility, trees, the forest, treasure and wilderness. They appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts, as well as ancient and medieval era temples of South Asia and Southeast Asia as guardian deities.