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  What is Sacred Art ? Back to the List of Slideshows

Temple at Lingaraja, Orissa, 1050 C.E.

This temple is a striking example of the sacred symbolism of the circle being transformed into the rectangle, of which Burckhardt wrote:

"The completion of the world prefigured in the temple is symbolized in the rectangular form of the temple, a form essentially opposed to the circular form of a world driven onward by the cosmic movement. Whereas the spherical form of the sky is indefinite and is not accessible to any kind of measurement, the rectangular or cubical form of a sacred edifice expresses a positive and immutable law, and that is why all sacred architecture, whatever may be the tradition to which it belongs, can be seen as a development of the fundamental theme of the transformation of the circle into the square. In the genesis of the Hindu Temple, the development of this theme is particularly clearly seen, with all the richness of its metaphysical and spiritual content."



slide 4 of 10

The rest of this slideshow will examine various examples of sacred art, accompanied by the observations on them as found in Titus Burckhardt's Sacred Art in East and West. The following is from Chapter 1, in which Burckhardt makes the point that after the building of sacred altars, practiced by both sedentary and nomadic peoples, the construction of an enclosure for that altar is the epitome of sacred art for sedentary peoples:

"Among settled peoples the sacred art par excellence is the building of a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit, invisibly present in the universe, will “dwell in a direct and as it were “personal” sense. Spiritually speaking, a sanctuary is always situated at the centre of the world, and this is what makes it a sacratum in the true sense of the word: in such a place man is protected from the indefinity of space and time, since it is “here” and “now” that God is present to man. This is expressed in the design of the temple; its emphasis on cardinal directions co-ordinates space in relation to its centre. The design is a synthesis of the world: that which is in ceaseless movement within the universe is transposed by sacred architecture into permanent form. In the cosmos time prevails over space; on the other hand in the construction of the temple time is, as it were, transmuted into space: the great rhythms of the visible cosmos, symbolizing the principial aspects of an existence disjointed and dispersed by becoming, are reassembled and stabilized in the geometry of the building. The temple thus represents, through its regular and unalterable form, the completion of the world, the timeless aspect or final state of the world, wherein all things are at rest in the equilibrium that precedes their reintegration into the undivided unity of Being."

Elsewhere in Chapter 1, Burckhardt also helps us understand how the artist must approach the creation of such magnificent and profound art:

"…the temple has a spirit, a soul and a body, like the man and like the universe. The Vedic sacrificer identifies himself spiritually with the altar, which he builds to the measure of his body and thereby also to the measure of the universe of which the altar is a model; in exactly the same way the architect of the temple identifies himself with the building and with that which it represents; thus each phase of the architectural task is equally a phase of spiritual realization. The artist confers upon his work something of his own vital force; in exchange he participates in the transformation which that force undergoes by virtue of the sacramental and implicitly universal nature of the work. It is in this connection that the idea of Purusha [i.e., the immutable and indivisible Essence of man and of the universe] incorporated into the building acquires direct spiritual import."
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