Buddhism was flourished widely and enjoyed great popularity in the mind of Nepalese people from the lowland Terai to the highland Himalayan range and crossed its boundary and spread all over Asia and become one of the prominent religions of Nepal. Its influence and aspiration can be seen in many archaeological remains, monumental stupas and votive chaityas, and numerous magnificent images recovered from various locations of the country.
The Buddhist Art Gallery is here with the spectacular display of rare Buddhist exhibits of archaeological and iconographical importance. It is important to note that the Buddhist Art Gallery was established with the Cultural Grant Program in 1995 and grant assistance for grass roots project (1996) from the government of Japan. It was inaugurated by His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino of Japan in 28th, February 1997.
The interiors of the gallery are well designed. The ground floor has been divided into three sections; the southwest Terai – the birthplace and palacial area of Lord Buddha, Kathmandu Valley – the center of Buddhism and Northern Himalayan Zone with some Buddhist arts of High Himalayan region.
The Terai section contains extremely rare and valuable art and antiquities discovered from the excavation of Lumbini and Kapilvastu. A few of the significant stone, bronzes and wooden sculptures and many ritual objects of the Newar-Buddhism of Kathmandu Valley are displayed in the Kathmandu section. The Northern Himalayan section displays small miniature bronze models of skull shaped cups, purbha, dorje, as the accessories of Buddhist rituals.
The first floor is named as the Mandala Gallery, which was specially designed by Prof. Tachikawa, from the Ethnological Museum of Osaka, Japan. The mandala represents a symbolic diagram in Tantric Buddhism, which is considered as ‘universe’ endowed with sacred values. All around the body of mandala, 220 Bodhisattvas are painted in the panel in various colors.
THE TERAI SECTION
It was in the south western side of Nepalese Terai, Gautama the Buddha, the Light of Asia was born in Lumbini grove in sixth century B.C. Buddha spent twenty-nine years of his in Kapilvastu, the capital of Shakya kingdom before he renounced the world. All the activities of Buddha were centered in northern India and Nepal.
Many Buddhist sites have been discovered, studied and excavated to some extent. Buddhist sites like Lumbini, Kapilvastu, Banjarahee, Paisia, Sagarhawa, Araurakot, Sishaniya, Niglihawa and Gotihawa have yielded hundreds of art objects, buddhist art, painted grey ware, black polished ware, red ware potteries, silver punch marked coin, relic casket of gold and many examples of Buddhist architecture. This section, though small provides glimpse of the Buddhist art of the Terai region of Nepal.
THE KATHMANDU VALLEY SECTION
Buddhism was highly received by the people of Kathmandu valley very early. The Lichchhavi rulers up to 8th century encouraged Buddhism. They raised Buddhist monasteries, Stupas and consecrated land and financial support to maintain them. Thousands of votive chaityas, statues of Buddha, Bodhisattvas were casted in stone and bronze respectively. Even Hindus venerated Buddha as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Thousands of Buddhist scriptures like Prajnaparamita, Pancharaksa etc either written or copied and the paintings of various deities were painted to fulfill the growing needs both in Nepal and Tibet. Nepalese Buddhist scholars went to Tibet and so did Tibetans to Nepal for further studies.
Vajrayana Buddhism developed many rituals and to perform these ritualities many ritualistic objects were designed. This system continues even today. Kathmandu valley is now one of the few places left to study and practicing the Vajrayana Buddhism.
THE NORTHERN HIMALAYAN SECTION
Buddhism once entered Tibet from Nepal was blended in its own way there. Such Tibetan Buddhism divided into many schools like Ninmapa, Sakyapa, Kagyapa and Gelupa spread to the Northern Himalayan region in Nepal. It has also developed many rites and rituals which require ritualistic objects like Phurpa, Dorje, Charm against epidemics etc and many idols. For such activities they developed various kinds of stupa, Chhortens and in this collection one can just peep in the Buddhist art of high Himalayan region of Nepal.
THE MANDALA SECTION
The neuter noun " Mandala" seems to have originally been a word signifying a circle or any discoid object such as the sun or the moon. But in the Tantrism of later times it became a term referring to a "diagram of the world" used as an aid in religious practices. This "world map" is generally depicted in the form of a square palace surrounded by a circle of flames within which Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are arrayed in systematic order. The circles and squares symbolize the structure of the world, while the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas symbolize its constituent elements.
The mandala as employed in Tantrism is no simple sketch map of the world or universe. Rather, it represents a diagram of a world which has been endowed with "sacred" value. The "sacred" value with which the mandala has been endowed can be understood only within the context of religious praxis.
The religious acts or practices in which the mandala is employed take the form of rituals. These rituals may be divided into at least two types, namely, those performed by professional monks (or nuns) and those performed by lay believers. In the case of the former, the mandala is used in initiatory " consecrations" (abhiseka) and mandala "visualization" (sadhana), while in the case of the latter, it is worshipped along with offerings such as flowers and rice as an object of "worship or offering rites"(puja). A mandala said to have been used in the rites for the inauguration of kings.