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Gothic Medieval Europe Architecture and Art

The Middle Ages constitutes from 500 – 1500 CE, which is divided to early, high, and late medieval ages. The Gothic Age was during the High Middle Ages, following the downfall of the Romanesque period. Christianity was a great influence in art and architecture during the Gothic Medieval period in Europe. Churches in Europe then were evidently built in Gothic style, with the significantly gothic-styled flying buttresses and stained glass. Also, art, in the form of frescos, sculptures, panel paintings, and illuminated manuscripts, often depict important Christian figures such as Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The impact of Christianity is obvious in Gothic Medieval Europe’s architecture and art. People, then, were deeply influenced by their faith and displayed their dedication on their religious buildings and art.



Author’s Notes: The story recounts the interactions between a girl living on Mars in 2075 and the sassy AI developed by her grandmother. Danielle Gryce, the girl, had made a drunken promise that she would experience the Byzantine Empire simulation designed by her grandmother. Virginia, an old-school artificial intelligence who exists only as a voice, had locked up some of Danielle’s programs to coerce her into abiding by her promise. Through this adventure, Danielle will learn about how Byzantine art and architecture served as vessels through which religion and political messages were expressed. She will also realize how relatable an ancient civilization can be to Martian society.



The Gupta Empire was the Golden Age of India which was established by Chandragupta I  (c. 320 CE), lasted till 550 CE , which was governed in North Central India between the 4th and 6th centuries CE and this era was known as the Golden Age of artistic accomplishments. Art and literature spiralled their way up during the Gupta period and laid the first stones for other Indian masterpieces such as temples. It was defined by creativity, booming arts, astonishing literature and astounding scholars. These are only a few things which represent the Gupta period. Unfortunately, only few of the many Gupta temples built have survived.


A Wonder of the Ancient World

A Wonder of the Ancient World

The Colossus of Rhodes was a bronze statue personifying Helios, the Greek sun god, which had been built by the sculptor Chares of Lindos to honor the god as well as to commemorate the victory of Rhodians against the invasion of the Macedonian. It is recorded by Pliny the Elder that the Colossus was started in 292 BCE and completed in 280 BCE, an awfully long 12-year construction. It took three hundred talents (about 375 million USD!) to totally finish this enormous structure.

Swa-hee-lee Culture

Jambo dear readers! For post 3, I have created a Pinterest board to showcase the Swahili culture in the East African region. The Pinterest board is aimed to demonstrate how foreign traders had an influence on Swahili culture. Images are used to illustrate the various elements and history of Swahili culture.

Swahili (swah-hee-lee) culture is the culture representing the people of East Africa from Kenya to southern Somalia to Mozambique and Tanzania. Swahili could also be referred to as the language is largely spoken and used by people of this region. Many see Swahili culture that has been immensely shaped by their fellow traders on the Swahili Coast from the Arabian Peninsula, India, and even Portugal. Foreign traders have great influence over architecture, clothing, music and religious beliefs.

Fun fact! Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan explorer, whom I talked about in post 2 had actually visited the town of Kilwa before exploring Sofala. These are the trading cities along the Swahili coast.

You can view the images and descriptions by clicking the link below:


Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies African Studies Center, The Indian Ocean Trade: A classroom simulation, 1993,

Esha Faki1, E. M. Kasiera and O. M. J. Nandi, The belief and practice of divination among the Swahili Muslims in Mombasa district, Kenya, November 2010,

Henry Louis Gates Jr,

Jacqueline M. Kiraithea and Nancy T. Badenb, Portugues influences in East African Languages,  19 January 2007,

James De Vere Allen, Swahili Origins: Swahili Culture and the Shungwaya Phenomenon, 1993,

Karen Tranberg Hansen and D. Soyini Madison, African Dress: Fashion, Agency, Performance, 29 August 2013,

Liam Matthew Brockey, Portuguese Colonial Cities in the Early Modern World, 2008,

Maina Kiarie, Swahili and Arab Peoples,

Mariah Nene, Taarab music: a coastal music with flair, 3 July 2015,

Mwenda Ntarangwi, A Socio-Historical and Contextual Analysis of Popular Musical Performance Among the Swahili of Mombasa, Kenya, 2001

Phyllis Ressler, The Kanga, A Cloth That Reveals- Co-production of Culture in Africa and the Indian Ocean Region, 9 January 2012,

Sangai Mohochi and Yusuf Hamad,

Taarab Music, 11 January 2012,

University of Iowa,

Proquest,”This is Traditional, this is Not Islamic": Perceiving Some Swahili Childbirth and Child-rearing Beliefs and Practices in Light of Mila (custom) and Dini (religion)., 2007, 

Religious symbols and architecture

Have you ever looked at a portrait of any god or goddess and wondered about the reasons behind their appearance and in particular, thought about the rationale behind their postures? We certainly had not until we had taken this module! It has made us question many things in the past few weeks and is still making us question many things at present! As such, we chose to explore why certain gods and goddesses are portrayed in a specific manner and decided to focus on Hinduism and Buddhism. We found out that in Hindu and Buddhist arts and architecture, gestures and postures of sculptures were displayed in specific manners as they were utilized to indicate diverse human functions. Each gesture and posture had its own meaning. One example would be the Buddha.

From the above picture, you may have noticed the pose held by his hands. “What could be the plausible reason for this?” we had wondered. His hand positions were depicted in this manner to symbolize enlightenment, meditation as well as teaching!

We also looked at Guan Ying, the Goddess of Compassion.



From the picture,

  • Flowing, white robe: a symbol of purity.
  • Necklaces: Accessories worn by Chinese and Indian royalties (Buddhism started out in India and was later, influenced by China)
  • Sacred Vase: Contains pure water which is seen as the divine nectar of life in Buddhism.
  • Bent willow branch: To bless followers with physical and spiritual forms peace and also represented the ability to bend and adapt without breaking.



As such, we can see how the interpretations of Gods and Goddesses can have a positive influence on their followers and lead them to a better path by showing them the right way to live.

Furthermore, similar items are found in the portraits of other Buddhist deities as well. These items are considered to be the Eight Buddhist Symbols.

Likewise, these Buddhist symbols are also found in several Hindu sculptures such as in those dedicated for the Lords Vishnu and Krishna.












In most portrayals of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, we can see that they always have multiple hands (more than the typical human) and each hand usually holds different items. This showed that these deities were able to multitask very well and also reflected how society viewed the Hindu Gods and Goddesses as being superior as they could perform more and better than we human beings ever could. When these sculptures are placed in official or religious buildings like a Hindu temple for example, these religious icons were used to symbolize the consecration of a building to praise a certain God or Goddess. These sculptures were also used to glorify teachers. We found that how these sculptures have been used and are still being used in Hinduism is similar to what baptism is for humans in Christianity.


Hindu Temples

Beginning from the 6th century, the Hindu dynasty had a bit of a comeback which brought about the spread of Hindu temples all over India. One characteristic that has been found to be common for most Hindu temples is that they are built with an entrance portico that directly leads to a pillared hall (which is also called “Mandabam” in Tamil). Furthermore, all temples have a shrine on top of possessing a large tower. Another interesting thing to note would be the fact that South Indian temples created in a Dravidian style all had a series of towers which had been arranged as a terrace. What was the rationale behind this? Each tower represented a distinct diverse divine force (like different Gods and Goddesses) and the purpose of these towers was for them to remind followers of Hinduism about how religion is present in daily life and about the power that gods and religious teachers have to affect daily customs. Most Hindu temples take the form of either a house or a palace. The palace-themed temples are more elaborate whereas the house-themed temples serve as a simple shelter or sometimes, even a home for the deities! However, both themes reflect the ideals of dharma, good beliefs, values and the way to lead life. The temples, as a result, served as a link between humans and deities.


The image above shows the Parama Sayika which is a layout plan found in most Hindu temples.

In this layout, each layer has their own significant aspects:

  • Paisachika Padas (Outermost layer): Asuras and evil
  • Manusha Padas: Human life
  • Devika Padas: Devas and Good
  • Brahma Padas: Creative energy
  • Purusa Space (Innermost layer): Universal Principle present in everything and everyone

This layout, therefore, indicates that Hindu temples are not just sacred spaces, but also that their meanings and purposes have extended beyond spiritual life all the way till social meaning. Thus, some temples, serve as venues for celebrations and festivals.

Inside the temples, pillars with carvings and statues depict the four most important principles of human life which are the Pursuit of Wealth (Artha), the Pursuit of Pleasure (Kama), the Pursuit of Ethical Life (Dharma) and the Pursuit of Knowledge (Moksha). These temples have carvings on their outermost walls too and these illustrate vital rulers, deities as well as large animals, like elephants.


Speaking of elephants, who has not seen the elephant god from Hinduism? Questions about Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god, is one of the top-most asked questions by non-Indians to Indians living in Singapore. And why not? His appearance has always been out of the ordinary compared to most deities who almost always appear human-like.

Ganesha is one of the best known and loved deities in Hinduism and that is saying something considering the thousands or even millions of deities Hinduism has! Why is he so popular then, you may ask. Not only is he the Lord of Good Fortune who provides success, fortune and prosperity, he is also the Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles of both the materialistic and spiritualistic nature.

''So, how did Ganesha come to have an elephant head?” you may wonder.

  1. Parvati, a main goddess in Hinduism, sculpted a child for herself and her husband (Lord Shiva) out of clay.
  2. Lord Shiva had not known about it when he had first encountered Ganesha (his son) and had beheaded Ganesha in a moment of anger as he had seen Ganesha standing outside the Goddess Parvati’s room and Ganesha had repeatedly prevented him from entering the Goddess Parvati’s room as he had been made by her to protect herself while the Lord Shiva had been gone.
  3. Upon finding out about his error from his wife, Lord Shiva and his troops left to the forests to find the first animal they could get their hands on to find a new head for the now headless Ganesha.
  4. They found an elephant and fixed its head for Ganesha. The symbolism of the body parts of the Lord Ganesha are shown in the diagram below.



Fun Tidbit!

In Buddhism, ladies sit on the left side in religious ceremonies while gentlemen sit on the right. In the iconography of multiple-armed deities, most of them hold weapons in their right hands while left hands were usually viewed as the hand of wisdom. The right hand, as a result, illustrates more masculinity while the left hand illustrates a female’s receptive attitude.


Siti Hafizah, Shankari, Kiki

The Kingdom of Wonder


Hi guys! As some of you already know, Malin and I (Malen) come from Cambodia; therefore, it is only appropriate for us to share our knowledge of Cambodia and dig deeper into its wonderful history! The Khmer Empire was the largest and most powerful state in Southeast Asia, based in what is now Cambodia. The empire could be traced all the way from 802 CE to 1431 CE. At its apex, it encompassed of what is now Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Southern Vietnam. The Khmer’s art and culture were significantly influenced by India because of the long established sea trading networks with that subcontinent. This brings us to the topic of this blog post, which is architecture and religion. The Khmer people were amazing architects and builders, and one of their legacies was the Angkor Wat, which I am sure many of you have heard or seen somewhere as it is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Throughout the capital city of Angkor, there were more than 100 stone temples, enormous reservoirs (baray) and canals, and setting up of an extensive road network with all sorts of bridges. In fact, satellite imaging showed that during its time, Angkor was the largest pre-industrial urban center ever in the world and apparently, even larger than today’s New York!


Angkor Wat represents the miniature version of the Hindu universe and is in fact the world’s largest religious monument, encompassing an area of about 200 hectares. It was initially built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god, Vishnu, but in the 14th century, it was converted into a Buddhist temple, and Buddha statues were added to its existing lavishing artwork. The construction took place around 1122 CE and lasted for over 30 years. It was initiated by one of the greatest kings of the empire during that time, Suryavarman II.

Suryavarman II was a usurper that came into power after killing his great uncle, Dharanindravarman I, while he was riding an elephant. He honored the god Vishnu, a deity often represented as a protector, and this is reflected in the central tower of Angkor Wat as we shall see later. His devotion to Hinduism can also be seen in one of the most astounding reliefs (the carved stones) in Angkor Wat, located in the southeast of the temple. The relief depicts a chapter in the Hindu story of creation called the “Churning of the Sea of Milk”.

Angkor Wat’s main entrance faced the west, a direction that is deeply linked to the god Vishnu. The heart of the temple was the central tower, accessible by a (very!) steep staircase with a statue of Vishnu at the top. The central tower is estimated at about 65 meters tall and is also surrounded by four other smaller towers with a series of enclosed walls. The influence of Hinduism on Angkor Wat is also reflected through the geometrical shape of the temple. In fact, Angkor Wat mirrors the Hindu cosmos. The five towers of the central shrine are the peaks of the mythical Mount Meru, a legendary and sacred place in Hindu mythology that is said to lie beyond the Himalayas and where the home of the gods is.


The Angkor capital of Khmer Empire was later on replaced by Angkor Thom, which is a city built within a city of Angkor. The greatest king of the empire, Jayavarman VII, who reigned from 1181 CE to 1215 CE, administered a large scale construction programme, building many temples, monuments, highways, hospitals, and the magnificent Angkor Thom complex. He was also the one who extended the empire’s territorial claim the furthest. His construction program concurred with the conversion of the empire religion from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism as King Jayavarman VII himself, adopted Mahayana Buddhism as his personal faith. The reign of Jayavarman saw many alterations of Hindu temples to display images of Buddha and Angkor Wat did for a short period of time became a Buddhist shrine.

The following list describes a few other well-known temples that were built during the King’s reign:

  • Ta Prohm (AKA ‘Royal Vihara’) - built 1186 as a Buddhist temple, contained statue of Jayavarman VII’s mother, Srirajacudamuni, represented as Prajnaparamita (the Mother of All Buddhas).
  • Preah Khan - contained his father’s statue, Dharanindravarman II, represented as Lokesvara (the Bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) of infinite compassion and mercy).
  • Neak Pean - contained statue of the Buddha called Bhaisajya-guru, who is the healer and protector against sickness.
  • Bayon temple - official state temple of the King, a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated solely to the Buddha.
  • Banteay Kdei & Banteay Chmar - dedicated to his son, Srindrakumara.

After the King’s death, there was a huge campaign to revive Hinduism through means of vandalizing and defacing of Buddhist images, until finally, Theravada Buddhism became established as the land’s dominant religion starting from the 14th century.

Reference Links for Images in Gallery



The movies Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie and Transformers 3 had many breathtaking scenes that were shot at the various temples of Angkor showing its magnificence after all this time.





Check out these cool interactive websites for more information!