This book represents an important landmark in the study of the Buddhist iconography, particularly of the Buddhist female divinities. It goes to the credit of Dr(Mrs) Mallar Ghosh to brave her way through a wide maze of literary and archaeological data gleaned not merely from Indian context but also from Burma, China, Java, Nepal and Tibet to produce this erudite and, at the same time, admirably readable volume. Being a painstaking scholar noted for meticulousness, she has incorporated in all minuteness the description of the iconographical features of deities and their various forms, all based on textual prescriptions and development of the concept of certain Buddhist deities.
The book has five chapters, the first one dealing with a general introduction. In the second, a critical reassessment of the existing notions about the origin of Tara and place of her origin has been made. She has shown here that Tara owed her origin to the concept of Devi and it was Eastern India which gave rise to this most powerful goddess of the Buddhist pantheon. The third chapter is devoted to Tara and seven of her manifestations. Dr. Ghosh has clearly brought out how Tara's gradual evolution resulted in myriads of forms, including a few which are her own discovery. In the fourth chapter she has made an elaborate study of the little known Prajnas(Buddhasaktis) of the five Tathagatas (Dhyani Buddhas) and it goes entirely to her credit to identify a good number of forms of each of them. The fifth chapter is on Bhrikuti, a form which is distinctive from Tara inspired by the goddess Parvati of the Brahmanical tradition; indeed, her study revealed at least thirty varieties of Bhrikuti. Undoubtedly this is one of the best studies in recent times on Buddhist iconography and will prove to been indispensable volume to students of Buddhist art and religion.
THE book deals with the origin of Tara, her gradual evolution resulting in myriads of forms and a detailed study of seven of her manifestations (Aryashtamahabhaya- Tara, Mahattari- Tara, Simhanada- Tara, Durgottarini- Tara, Mahasri- Tara, Arya-Khadiravani- Tara and Vajra-Tara), besides Prajnas (Lochana, Mamaki, Pandara, Tara and Vajradhatvis- vari) of the five Tathagatas and Bhrikuti. The method followed in the preparation of the work is both historical and descriptive. Thus, apart from the description of the iconographical features of the deities based on textual prescriptions and on visual representations, endeavours have been made to trace the rise and development of the concept of the deities and to treat them chronologically as far as possible. Attempts have also been made to probe into different iconographical concepts and interpretations of the symbols. As many varieties of forms of these deities as could be collected from different sources were surveyed in this work.
The sources utilized in the study are both literary and archaeological. I have tried within my limited means and time to utilize all the books and published articles on the subject. My first-hand knowledge of the images and sculptures is confined to collections in the National Museum, New Delhi, the Orissa State Museum, Bhubaneswar, and the Indian Museum, the Asutosh Museum and the Museum of the State Department of Archaeology, Calcutta. For the rest of the archaeological material, I had to depend on the published illustrations and unpublished photographs in the photo-archive of the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi.
The present book, apart from some additions, embodies the entire matter of my thesis which was approved in 1973 by the University of Delhi for the Ph. D. Degree. As a research student of the Department of Buddhist Studies of this University, I worked under Shrimati Sudha Sengupta to whom I am greatly indebted for her keen interst in my work in the field of Buddhist iconography. To Dr. R.C. Pandeya, the then Professor of that Department, I am particularly grateful not only for his helpful interest but for having allowed me the privilege of a scholarship for a part of my research period. I am also beholden to Shri B. B. Datta who took infinite pains in typing out the manuscript commendably within a remarkably short time.
I shall be failing in my duty if I do not gratefully acknowledge the Archaeological Survey of India for the facilities provided by the rich library and the photo-archive of that Department. Most of the photographs published in this book are the copyright of the Archaeological Survey of India.
I am immensely grateful to the University of Delhi for permitting me to publish the thesis in the book form. My thanks are also due to Messrs Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, for having readily accepted the manuscript for publication.
HERE was a bewilderingly large number of gods and goddesses in the Buddhist pantheon which developed inordinately in the Vajrayana phase of Buddhism. The process of deification, which started hesitatingly with the change in the doctrine of early Bud- dhism leading to the rise of Mahayana and ushered in a number of elementary Bodhisattvas in the early centuries of the Christian era, gained momentum when the Yogachara philosophy was fully developed and inculcated in the Gupta period. This process accelerated beyond all bounds with further doctrinal changes leading to the full-fledged development of Tantric Buddhism during the Pala period. Vajrayana enunciated a deeply esoteric system of sadhanas with emphasis on kriyas, mantras and mandalas. The primitive pantheon was, consequently, enlarged into a highly elaborate one with Adi-Buddha, Dhyani-Buddhas (Tathagatas) and the latter's emanations in the form of a host of divine Bodhisattvas and female divinities. Each of them was given a sacred bija-mantra , or rather they were conceived as the concrete manifesta- tions of the transformation of these germ syllables. The Vajrayanists did not stop with this. They went on extending the pantheon with increasing vigour. Even the individual syllable of a mantra was deified. Not resting satisfied with the deification of Nakshatras, Rasis, Kalas, Paramitas, Vasitas, pujopakaranas (like flower, incense, lamp, gandha, etc.) and dyudhas, the Vajrayanists went to the extent of imparting divine concepts and iconographical features to all kinds of human desires, both sublime and low (e.g. bhojanechchh and uchchatanechchha). Furthermore, they resorted to the proliferation of the forms of the individual divinities already incorporated into the pantheon. Thus, Avalokitesvara came to be represented in as many as one hundred and eight forms with distinct features and names.
This enormous increase in the number of deities of the Buddhist pantheon is not merely due to the growth and development of the doctrine and ideological concepts. There are other factors accounting for this. Chief among these are the keen competition faced by the Bud- dhists to maintain their hold over the laity and the missionary zeal to bring people of various creeds within their fold in view of the formidable strength of other religious systems, particu- larly of the all-pervasive Brahmanism. In order to convert people saturated with the Brahma- nical concepts, the Buddhists did not hesitate to make compromises of various kinds and degrees. For instance, they evolved divinities having the essence of some of the principal deities of the Brahmanical sects with which the laity was familiar; deities were also evolved to disgrace Brahmanical gods and goddesses (e.g. Harihariharivahanodbhava-Lokesvara with Vishnu as a mount of Avalokitesvara, Trailokyavijaya trampling on Mahesvara and Gauri, Aparajita trampling on Ganesa and having Brahma as her parasol-bearer and Prasanna-Tara with Indra, Upendra, Rudra and Brahma below her feet). They went even to the extent of incorporating bodily a good number of Brahmanical gods and goddesses as subordinate divinities within the mandalas.
Another factor which is generally lost sight of is the effect of the expansion of Buddhism beyond the frontiers of India, particularly in Tibet. Though Tibet received the message of' Sakya- muni through the two Buddhist queens (one a Chinese princess and the other a Nepalese one) of Sron-btsan sgam-po of Tibet in the second quarter of the seventh century A.D., Buddhism could not make much headway due to the strong grip of the native religion, called Bon, which inculcated worship of nature and various spirits and even demonolatry with animal and human sacrifices. The Buddhist religion got a firm footing only through the efforts of Padma- sambhava, the Indian teacher of the Yogachara School, who, having been invited by King Ti-sron Do-tsan, landed in Tibet in the middle of the eighth century A.D. To make the religion acceptable to the common people, Padmasambhava did not hesitate to make a comp- romise with the native religion by freely admitting their demonical deities and rites in the Buddhist pantheon and thus became the founder of Lamaism, a fusion of Mahayana Buddhism and Bon. The close intercourse between India and Tibet since then resulted in the introduc- tion of several adventitious concepts and deities in Indian Buddhist pantheon. Some of the terrible forms conceived in the sadhanas are, presumably, due to the influence of Tibetan Lamaism.
A. Foucher laid the foundation of the iconographic study of the Buddhist pantheon by bringing to light a good number of sadhanas and noticing several images conforming to these sadhanas. The service of Benoytosh Bhattacharyya to the cause of Buddhist iconography is, in fact, inestimable. He opened the door to the interested students and scholars not only by publishing the texts of the entire Sadlhanamala, the Guhyasamaja-tantra and the Nishpannayo- gavali but by his erudite survey of the majority of the deities in his Indian Buddhist Iconogra- phy. However, in the last work his approach is mostly descriptive, based generally on the Sadhanamala and occasionally on the Nishpannayogavali. He illustrated many of the deities conceived in the sadhanas with photographs of images, paintings and drawings, a good number of which, however, emanated from Nepal.
Of late, there has been a tendency to underestimate the work of Benoytosh Bhattacharyya by laying emphasis on the fact that he did not tap adequately the archaeological sources of India and unpublished manuscripts, several of which help us considerably in the interpretation of the images discovered in India. As a matter of fact, the Sadhanamala and the Nishpannayo- gavali, taken together, though quite comprehensive, are not certainly exhaustive. This is evi- dent from the find of several images which, though earlier than the compilation and composi- tion of these two texts, have no prescription in them. Further, the Nishpannayogavali was written by Abhayakaragupta, a contemporary of Ramapala (circa A.D. 1077-1120), and the date of the earliest available manuscript of the Sadhanamala, containing 312 sadhanas composed by various acharyas of different dates, is A.D. 1165. Consequently, they do not record the subsequent developments which can only be found out in later texts lying in manuscript form in various libraries and private collections. Further, the Sadhanamla, being a liturgical book, cannot be expected to throw light on the growth and development of the concepts of various deities. The contribution of the Nishpannayogavali in this particular respect is practically nil. In fact, this work may be termed as a hand-book for the Mandalacharyas, image-makers and painters of tankas.
However, one should not forget the great service of Bhattacharyya who paved the way for his successors. In view of the numerous deities of the pantheon with the complex character of their varied forms, it is, in fact, impossible for a single individual to treat comprehensively the entire range. It is, therefore, essential that instead of handling many deities in general, we should concentrate on limited number of deities by making our study as much comprehensive as possible, involving exploration and scrutiny of various sources, both Indian and foreign. Even then, the study will not be exhaustive, as future excavations and discovery of new manuscripts are sure to bring to light fresh material which will further the cause of Buddhist iconography. One has, therefore, to keep one's mind always open.
Following Bhattacharyya, several scholars have entered this field, some having made significant contributions. Among them mention may be made of E. Conze, remarkable for his study of Prajnaparamita, Pratapaditya Pal for his erudite treatment of Amoghapasa and Vasu- dharii and J.E. van Lohuizen-de Leeuw for her study of the iconography of Chunda. B.N. Mukhopadhyaya has shown the necessity of consulting the manuscripts of the ritualistic texts by finding textual prescriptions for the six-armed images of Vasudhara in the Vasundharoddesa and Vasundharavratotpattyavadana, two unpublished manuscripts in the collection of the Asiatic Society. Again, D.C. Bhattacharyya pointed out the relevant text, an unpublished manuscript of the Pancharaksha, also in the collection of the Asiatic Society, for a four-armed image identi- fied by Debala Mitra with Mahamayuri.
The study of Buddhist iconography, so far made, is, however, by no means exhaustive. There is enough scope for many workers in this field. Further, most of the studies accomp- lished till now is far from comprehensive. The distinguished scholar, who may rightly be called a pioneer in this direction, is Marie- Therese de Mallmann. In her two voluminous and masterly publications, one on Avalokitesvara and the other on Manjusri, she has embodied the result of an intensive study on two of the Bodhisattvas, practically on the basis of texts and photographs. The available material in the case of most of the other divinities may not be as much; yet it is fairly sumptuous, if scholars would only care to probe deeper. The ground- work had been prepared by Bhattacharyya, and Mallmann showed the way for the future line of work. It is now high time that scholars undertook an intensive study of the various aspects of the individual deities instead of stray, isolated and superficial studies with mere iteration of physical features and attributes.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend