The Buddhist Cult of Images - New Perspectives

Thurs., Aug. 21st, 09:00-12:30

The Iconographic Distribution of 9th to 12th Century Buddhist Imagery from Bihar and Orissa

Behrendt, Kurt (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA)

This study attempts to characterize Buddhist sculptural production in Bihar and Orissa from the 9th to 12th century period on the basis of recovered sculpture from the sites of Nalanda, Antichak, Kurkihar and Ratnagiri. At these mahaviharas 759 stone and bronze sculptures were recovered in the course of excavation; a body of evidence that I contend provides a picture of the broad ideological interests as reflected in their iconographic distribution. By considering the specific image production at each site we can get an idea of the patronage of certain iconographic formats and how this differed regionally. While the chance survival of a given image is perhaps arbitrary, a similar image distribution is observed when considering the sites individually or collectively. In other words, it appears that enough survives to give us a statistically valid sample reflecting an important aspect of stone and bronze image production that can help us characterize the nature of the Buddhist tradition in north India at this time. Perhaps not surprisingly the Buddha is most often depicted, followed by Avalokitesvara and Tara – together they comprise 65% of the imagery. In contrast, while a wide range of esoteric deities associated with the Tantras and Vajrayana practices are found at these sites, significantly they comprise only 11% of the total production. When the data is broken down by site it is clear that esoteric imagery was more important in eastern Bihar and Orissa. This evidence is interesting in light of the textual evidence, which would seem to indicate a greater importance of esoteric practices at these monastic centers. The data examined in this study does however reveal some specific contexts where esoteric deities are particularly emphasized. While giving us only a part of the larger picture, the total recovered stone and bronze imagery from Nalanda, Kurkihar, Antichak and Ratnagiri does provide a significant body of data that is geographically and temporally specific. While this evidence undoubtedly reflects ideological interests of the Buddhist communities active in Bihar and Orissa in the 9th to 12th century, how this information should be interpreted is a topic that I hope might elicit a productive discussion among the assembled scholars at the IABS conference in Vienna.


The Development of Colossal Images within the Buddhist Tradition

Brancaccio, Pia (Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA)

The introduction of colossal images within the Buddhist tradition and the tremendous popularity they engendered across diverse cultural regions is a theme often neglected in the discourse surrounding the development and success of cult images in Buddhism. The present paper investigates the emergence of colossal icons in the northwest of the Indian Subcontinent and discusses possible links between the development of such icons and specific religious practices. It will also examine how the diffusion of colossal images may be linked to the widespread popularity of particular artistic media in Buddhist art such as stucco and living rock. Finally, this paper will explore the mechanisms that may have led to the southward diffusion of Buddhist ‘colossi’ towards the Deccan Plateau and Sri Lanka.


Kingship, the Kanheri Caves, and the Development of the Buddhist Image Cult in the Western Deccan

DeCaroli, Robert (George Mason University, Arlington, VA, USA)

In discussing the rise and spread of the Buddhist image cult, insights can be gained by examining the physical contexts into – and through – which these practices spread. This paper will explore the expansion of image-based practices into the Western Deccan with special attention given to the Kānherī caves. These artistic innovations will be shown to have taken place under the rule, if not the direct patronage, of the Sātavāhana rulers. This study reveals parallels between Buddhist developments in the Deccan and in the Mathurān heartland. In both cases the rise of image-center devotion coincides with a contemporaneous diffusion of the use of royal portraiture and an expanded use of imagery in Hindu and Jain contexts. Therefore, the rise and development of the image cult in South Asian Buddhism must be understood as only one aspect of a larger societal and cultural shift towards the increased public use of figural imagery. Buddhist literary discussions of images and of the Buddha’s bodily form may therefore be better understood as justifications of practices which find their inspiration in developments located partially, even primarily, outside the Buddhist tradition.

A Poetic Inscription from Ajaṇṭā and the Image Cult in Early Medieval Indian Buddhism

Morrissey, Nicolas (University of Georgia, Athens, USA)

This paper will take as its point of departure a fifth century CE inscription from the Buddhist caves at Ajaṇṭā which contains an explicit description of benefits to be gained by those who have made an image of the Buddha. The inscription – or rather, painted record – is unfortunately partially abraded, which has consequently resulted in several variant readings with significant discrepancies. This paper will revisit these readings in order to establish, to the extent possible, a viable interpretation of the record. The terminology of the record is of substantial interest not only due to the manner in which it refers to the image cult, but also because it may also contain the terms “mahāyāna”, “śākyabhikṣu” and a version of what has been identified as a “mahāyāna donative formula”. This paper seeks to explore the implications of a mahāyāna affiliation of the record, if indeed one can be established, in addition to pursuing possible textual sources for the vocabulary, syntax and ideology of the position articulated with regard to the image cult. A discussion of comparative textual, epigraphic and art historical parallels will also be included in order to provide a historical context for this interesting record.


The Bodhisattva in the First Meditation in Early Indian Images

Rhi, Juhyung (Seoul National University, Seoul, KOR)

The Bodhisattva’s First Meditation under the Jambu tree is a theme treated with relatively high importance in early Indian Buddhist art, and several iconic images of the theme are known from both Gandhara and Mathura.  Furthermore, it is highlighted in an intriguing manner in the literature of Mulasarvastivada.  This paper explores the significance of the theme in early Buddhist imagery especially in relation to the conception of bodhisattva images. 


Evolution of Buddhist Image Cult Represented in Early Andhran Sculpture

Shimada, Akira (State University of New York at New Paltz, New Paltz, USA)

Early Buddhist sculpture created in the ancient Andhra region of Southeastern India includes a variety of representations of the Buddha in symbolic and anthropomorphic forms. By exploring this extensive corpus of sculpture dated to between ca. 150 BCE and 300 CE, this paper intends to discuss how Andhran Buddhists evolved their interest in the anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha and eventually established their own style of Buddha images as a cultic object. Main issues for discussion would include:

- Evolution of the symbolic signs to represent the Buddha in Andhra and its relationship with the anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha.

- Images of monks and their chronological and iconographical relationships with Buddha images.

- Divergent iconographies of Buddha images as the protagonist of narrative reliefs versus independent icons, and the possible implications of these significant differences for understanding the early stages of Buddhist image worship in Andhra.


IABS 2014 | Universitätsring 1  | 1010 Wien