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The Immense Artistic Talent of Kao Ninga Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 3rd, 2019


Several artists have emanated from Japan and Kao Ninga joins the list of ancient painters. Kao was one of the key artists who contributed to art throughout the Kamakura era. People believe that he lived in early 14th century. Scholars regard him as high status priest with immense artistic talent.

Monk Sewing was one of the many paintings that he made. He made the painting using basic tools, a brush and paint (cherry). His work formed the foundation of painting in Japanese artistic. on the other hand, Raja Raja was an Indian artist who specialized in painting, despite his earlier interests in politics and event organization.

Kao Ninga (Monk Sewing)

Kao was a Zen monk. Monks underwent training in monasteries where they worked afterwards. In the temples, they receive teachings about the ways of the monks. In this religion, meditation normally takes extra time. Meditation is usually a condition of self-induced awareness. Monks are taught to live a life of service to others (Buddhist studies). Zen monks are part of the larger Buddhist religion that had spread into Japan from china in the 12th century.

This religious setup believes that reflection is away of enlightenment. Monks deem that enlightenment results when the student becomes fearless and mentally calm. Monks’ training aims at creating a receptive mind in the student through hard labour and years of guidance. Monks spent time in their firm cultivating crops rather than on the streets begging or preaching. To achieve all this, monk students had to leave their homes.

Kao received his education in a monastery and it is from here that he started painting (Kleiner 736). Kao’s work is categorised under the Muromachi painting. The spread of Buddhist religion sparked interest of painting in Japanese. Zen priest painters made such paintings and they served as reflection of the daily lives and values of the monk community. As painting gained acceptance in the Japan, painting schools were established to nature the talents of upcoming artists (Deal 291).

After the defeat of the Taira family in a court battle, Minamoto clan assumed the leadership of Japan. Minamoto’s government was based in Kamakura and this manifested the commencement of the Kamakura era. This was the first military rule in Japan and controlled the country through steward appointed by the leader in power.

The Minamoto rule witnessed a lot of resistance from the Taira clan but this was finally defeated in the later years of the 11th century. This system of governance lasted until late 18th century and people regarded it as the medieval era (middlebury).

In this era, the Taira and Minamoto tussle over leadership shaped the political landscape in Japan. During this time most of the Japanese populace was in abject poverty, which culminated into riots in the late 13th century. The protest by peasant farmers was due to feudalism and absentee proprietors (Keirstead).The Japanese population at this time was more concerned about land policy and how to improve the productivity of their land.

During this period agriculture and the Kobe port drove the economy. Trade with China was primarily responsible for expansion in the Japanese economy. New disease resistant rice variety protected the population from devastating drought. Provision of fertilisers that facilitated double cropping and better irrigation resulted into higher output from fields.

This led to booming trade that relevant infrastructure supported. The emergence of Metallic money further made trading more efficient and dynamic (Segal). The government introduced taxation during this time, which people settled through hard cash or rural folks. The economy was free since there lacked a records to monitor the situations. The Japanese had a well-organised economic structure that even facilitated collection of taxes.

Monk sewing is among the oldest paintings in Japan art world and it; therefore, sets Kao Ninga as one of the pioneers. This painting did not only reveal the artistic prowess of Kao Ninga but also revealed how dynamic the art world is. This painting has been inspiring many artists due it simplicity, which contrasts to the deep religious massage attached to it.

At this time, painting had not taken root in Japan. The influence of Buddhism could not be underrated given that Kao was a monk. It is imperative to assert that Buddhist values inspired hi paintings. Overall, religion largely influenced the Japanese painting work rather than their distinct culture. The impact of monk sewing and other art works from Japan only came to be felt after it opened trade with the western world (Jirousek).

Artefacts from this island country sold rapidly thus generating extra interest from the rest of the world about Japanese art. Artwork from Japan inclined numerous American and European artiste. This painting has enriched the Japanese culture not just by its age but its quality. Existence of this kind of artefacts has set out the Japanese culture as the best preserved. This piece of art rests at the Cleveland Museum.

Kao Ninga was used simple tools, ink, and paper to make his paintings. The paper used was a scroll with dimensions: 83.5 by 35.4 cm. This piece of art is a painting of a monk sewing his cloak. Most scholars are of the view that Kao Ninga was trying to entrench Buddhist values of individualism and independence.

Being a monk, Kao Ninga was absorbed from the physical world as he made the painting in the mountainous regions of Japan. The paint fades at the lower part of the monk’s cloak depicting depth and breadth of the garment. This piece of art further confirms the notion that Japanese art is largely about what surrounds them.

RajaRaja (Raja Raja with his teacher Karuvur Theva)

Raja Raja, on the other hand, was born at circa India in 947ACE and was the third sibling in his family. He was among the greatest kings of “Southern India”, who reigned amid “985 and 1014”. He was famous in organizing for events and politics. Apart from possessing excellent headship merits, he also portrayed interest in arts and religion. His venture in painting work was highly appreciated because of the excellent arty skills.

He is a famous figure behind the commencement of “Second Golden Age of Tamil Nadu” which was sustained for the subsequent two centuries. He is also renowned for having built one of the outstanding empires of Asia. Although there is much information about his political achievements, there is data about his personal life.

At some stage in his upbringing, he lived with Kundavai, his sister. Raja Raja also spent much of his youth with his aunt who influenced him especially in his faith. Afterwards, he married a few wives who also delivered a few children. Despite having numerous children, he sired only one son, Rajendra, who succeeded him as the king. Raja Raja stood firm in his faith that was Hindu but did not underrate other religions (Frontline).

It is apparent that he was extremely religious and believed in the god Siva. During his sovereignty, he allowed Silendra Emperor “Srimara Varman” to construct a Buddhist shrine in his territory in Tamil. In addition, he contributed immensely to its raising up by allocating money and other necessary materials (Social Scientist). Raja Raj acquired his painting skills from the teachings he attained from the Hindu classes.

In addition, his uncle was good in painting and since they spend time together, he developed great interest in the artwork thus becoming a great painter of the time. Concerning his religion, the great temple, Rajarajeshwara, was constructed near the king’s palace during his supremacy under his influence. The temple served a very noteworthy role because it was from there that he could exercise power over Chola kingdom. Most of the Hindu temples played vital roles in uniting people from different cultures.

Chola administration was practiced at three different levels, which were the “central, provincial and local government”. The overall head of administration was the king who led the central government. In his continued administration of the central government, the “council of ministers” and other prominent officials assisted him to administer.

Chola Empire encompassed nine provinces called Mandalams. The head of the provinces used to be referred as viceroys. Raja Raja 1 used to attack most of the surrounding dynasties to the “north and south” of the empire. This in response did not meddle with the country’s peace and did not adversely ruin their economy. One of the dynasties that were always at loggerheads with Chola was Chalukya that was led by Satyaraya.

Chola’s army was so influential and as a result, conquered most of the empires around and won over them. He also fought “Ganga’s Gangavadi and Nolambavadi” in the 991 AD, the two defeated dynasties remained under Chola’s ruling for almost a century. He also conquered the Sri Lanka Island and within no time occupied it thus becoming one of Chola’s territories (Frontline).

The economy of this dynasty was very prosperous attributed by agriculture. The villages were so independent because of the ability to produce food and other products. This type of an economy practiced at the village level was so unique for the dynasty. However, with time changes were noticed as the villages produced more food thus resulting to surplus.

With the increase in food production, local trade flourished. Because agriculture was the economic backbone for the country, rules were imposed on land use and ownership. In Chola kingdom the only two forms of land ownership practiced included the peasant owner and service tenure.

The peasant owners were liable to tax payment while for “peasant service owner’s “tax was rewarded through the services they offered. After the onset of money in the 11th century, the traditional form of trade slowly ended. Eventually, many changes were seen which included the development of bigger towns. Chola developed to a leading exporter of textiles, pottery, spices and other products to the surrounding neighbours (Frontline).

Its strategic location on the extreme south side of India favoured it and with time, its sea trade had developed. Some of the partners that traded with Chola were mostly from Europe and Asia. However, China’s Tang Dynasty was among Chola’s prominent trading partners following its strategic position and high demand products.

Furthermore, there also existed a group called merchant guilds that significantly contributed to Chola’s economic prosperity; they helped in distribution of goods to the correct destinations. The guilds were essential because of the noticeable growth of the total number of “imports and exports”. These merchant guilds worked solely but the government would assist them to negotiate in case they encountered difficulties. Generally, guilds played a prime function in the country’s economy.

Chola had a free market since the guilds carried out marketing without the state’s influence. The government did not oblige restraints in marketing the products. Reports indicate that the country’s central location favoured its trading with the landlocked countries because most of their goods went through Chola before reaching their designated destinations (Sen 310).

Furthermore, Raja Raja had much significance to other artists who came after him and his artistic work portrayed many of the cultural activities practiced at Chola. The upcoming fine artists of the era admired his work so much; as a result, they developed interest in painting and other architectural work.

A part from painting, he also participated in construction of the temples. Many of his undertakings were in construction of the major temples in the kingdom where he could exercise his powers. He based his work on cultural activities practiced on Chola dynasty.

His drawings depicted their religion and other cultural practices such as dancing engraved on temple’s walls. However, it is important to note that most of the materials used in his artistic work were local and included the local “granite, copper and oil paints”. The kind of dimension employed in the Raja raja1 and his teacher’s work was two-dimensional while the other architectural work was three-dimensional (Sen 314).


In conclusion, the above details try to elaborate the contribution of Kao Ninga to the world of art. The subject of discussion was a religious man. Kao was a high-ranking priest of the Zen Buddhist, a faith that had spread from China. In the convenience of his monastery, he made a painting of a monk sewing his cloak. This painting has been viewed as one the pioneer painting made in Japan. The discussion also highlights the existing economic and political circumstances.

The Japanese at this time faced turbulent political times due to the bickering by the two clans for power while at the same time experienced stable economy.

Raja Raja undertook two responsibilities during his time. He tirelessly contributed to artwork and in ruling the Chola kingdom. With the help of the council of elders, his administration over the kingdom became easier thus improving the economic status of the country. His paintings are present in the temple’s walls and portray most of the cultural activities of Chola kingdom.

Figure 1: Monk sewing

Monk sewing Painting.

Figure 2: Raja Raja 1 and His Teacher

Raja Raja 1 and His Teacher Painting.

Works Cited

Buddhist studies. Lay guide to the monks rules.2008.Web.

Cherry, Micheal. Monk sewing. All poetry. 2006. Web.May 1, 2011.

Deal, William. Handbook to life in medieval and early modern Japan. New York, NY: InfoBase Publishing. 2006. Print.

Frontline. Ajanta of the south. Publishers of the Hindu. 2007. Web.

Jirousek, Charlotte. Japan: Historic Background.1995. Web.

Kierstead, Thomas. The theatre of protest. Petition, oath’and rebellion in the shoen. 2011. Web. May 1,2011.

Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s art through the ages. Massachusetts, MA: Cengage Learning. 2010. Print.

Middlebury. Traditional Japanese literature in translation. (ND). Web.

Segal, Ethan. Medieval Japan: An Introductory Essay. 2010. Web.

Sen, Tansen. Buddhism, diplomacy and Trade. Hawaii, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2003. Print.

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