Brief History of Nepali Arts

From ancient times, Nepal is known for its rich and diverse cultural and natural heritage. Historically, two principal religions Buddhism and Hinduism imparted tremendous influence in governing and shaping Nepalese culture heritage. Similarly, the development of Aryan society in the south and Tibetan in the north attributed to its diversity and richness due to trade and migration.

Various rulers since the early Lichhavi period (250 BC) encouraged religious tolerance. As a result Hinduism and Buddhism coexisted; not only in principals but also in forms of syncretic visual art and architecture. Taleju as a manifestation of Siva-Durga and Buddha Tara, and Machindranatha as representation of Bodhisatwa Lokesvara are few examples of syncretic religious images. In essence, Nepalese art and architecture hold an important role in capturing and reflecting Nepalese culture at different historical timeline.

The syncretic nature of Nepalese art and architecture, throughout history, symbolized unity amongst various ethnic groups and promoted the spirit of unity. In tandem, the quality and complexity of artistic tradition continued to flourish. During the Malla period (1200-1479 BC) – also known as golden era – Nepalese artistic tradition reached its peak; sophisticated and superior wooden carvings and sculptures were built. Furthermore, Nepalese artisans were invited by neighboring countries like China to build pagoda-style buildings.

One peculiarity of artistic tradition of Nepal was that techniques were not documented and tasks were highly specialized. In most cases artisans’ skill-sets could only be passed down to descendants through apprenticeship. Post Malla era market for artistic tradition plummeted and only few families carried on with the tradition. So, the preservation of Nepalese cultural heritage is at risk. Realizing this fact and recognizing the superiority in historic art and architecture, UNESCO has designated Nepal as having “heritage sites” for its preservation and promotion.