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Lesson Plan: Buddhist and Hindu Art from India—A Comparative Look

Buddha | Gupta period | 69.222

Gupta period, late 6th–early 7th century
India (probably Bihar)
Bronze; H. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm); W. 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm); D. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.222)

Collection Area: South and Southeast Asian Art
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, World History
Grades: Elementary School 
Topics/Themes: The Art of Belief, Power and Leadership


Students will be able to:
  • identify similarities and differences between Hindu and Buddhist sculpture from India; and
  • use visual evidence to support inferences.

National Learning Standards

Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-12.1 Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
NA-VA.K-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
NA-VA.K-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures

World History
NSS-WH.5-12.4 Era 4: Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 300-1000 c.e.

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts* address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

*Art as text

Questions for Viewing

  • Look closely at the sculpture. Use your body to recreate the figure's pose and facial expression. What do you think the artist hoped to convey about this figure? Why?
  • What does the figure appear to be doing? What do you see that makes you think that?
  • Describe the figure's clothing and accessories. What does this add to your impression of this person?
  • The figure depicted in this sculpture is Buddha (see The Art of South and Southeast Asia: A Resource for Educators, pp. 17–19). How is the presentation of this figure similar to, or different from, the presentation of the Hindu god Shiva in the sculpture Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja)?
  • What might these similarities and/or differences suggest about the artists who, or communities that, created these works?

One element found in both Buddhist and Hindu art is the use of symbolic hand gestures, known as mudras, to convey ideas. Figures in these works use their right hands to display the abhayamudra, which means, "do not fear." This mudra is made by raising the right hand to shoulder height, with the palm facing out and the fingertips pointing upward.


Activity Setting: Classroom or Museum
Materials: Drawing pencils, paper, and/or iPad with Brushes application
Subject Area: Visual Arts
Duration: 60 minutes

Look closely at the featured Buddha sculpture and note the various geometric shapes that make up the figure. Use a pencil to lightly sketch the large shapes on your page. Add details with a darker line by applying more pressure to your pencil. (See a step-by-step example of this activity on classroom teacher Al Doyle's blog.) Create a second drawing, of Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), using the same process described above. Compare and contrast aspects of the two drawings.

Al Doyle, Sample Pictures

Sample drawings by Al Doyle

Alternate Approach:

This lesson can be completed using traditional artist materials or a digital tablet. If digital tablets are available, consider asking students to sketch the Buddha using pencils on paper and to sketch Shiva using the Brushes application. View a demonstration to see how this same approach can be applied to digital works using the Brushes application on an iPad. After the lesson, invite students to reflect on the process and discuss how each set of tools presents advantages and challenges.

Tips for using the Brushes app: Students can choose a light blue color for the underdrawing and use the "Undo" function to correctly position the large shapes before changing to a darker color for the finished drawing. They can further separate each phase of the drawing by using layers.


Dehejia, Vidya. "Buddhism and Buddhist Art." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

——. "Hinduism and Hindu Art." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Kossak, Steven M., and Edith W. Watts. The Art of South and Southeast Asia: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.

Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja)
Chola period (880–1279), ca. 11th century
Indian (Tamil Nadu)
Copper alloy; H. 26 7/8 in. (68.3 cm); Diam. 22 1/4 in. (56.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., in honor of Susan Dillon, 1987 (1987.80.1)

Dancing Ganesha
10th century
India (Madhya Pradesh); Kalacuri
Mottled red sandstone; H. 36 in. (91.4 cm); W. 20 in. (50.8 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving, 2007 (2007.480.2)

Seated Buddha with Attending Bodhisattvas
Pala period, late 10th–11th century
India (Bihar, Nalanda)
Black stone; H. 26 1/4 in. (66.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1920 (20.58.16)

Author: Adapted from a lesson by classroom teachers Al Doyle and Gabrielle Goodman
Affiliation: The Dwight School
Date: 2011

Detail of a stone face

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