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The Iconography of Hindu Tantric Deities (The Pantheon of the Mantramahodadhi, Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka)

The Iconography of Hindu Tantric Deities (The Pantheon of the Mantramahodadhi, Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka)
Item Code: NAN025
Author: Gudrun Buhnemann
Publisher: Aditya Prakashan
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9788177421606
Pages: 784 (53 Color and 155 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
weight of the book: 1.4 kg

Volume 1

About the Book

This book deals with the iconography of Hindu deities as presented in Sanskrit texts. It consists of two volumes in a single binding.

Volumes one presents the 108 deity descriptions extracted from the sixteenth-century North India Mantramahodadhi by Mahidhara. Each entry includes the Sanskrit text in transliteration, a literal translation, a note on the deities, taking into account similar descriptions found in other Sanskrit texts.

Volumes two compares for the first time deity descriptions extracted from two earlier and closely related texts, the anonymous Prapancasara and Laksmanadesika’s Saradatilaka (twelfth century), The Sanskrit text of the 78 deity descriptions extracted from the Prepancasara and the 101 description from the Saradatilaka is presented with a literal translation and remarks on the iconography.

Both volumes contain illustrations corresponding to the deity description in the texts.

About the Author

Gudrun Buhnemann is a Professor of Sanskrit and Indic Religions at the University of Wisconsin-madison, USA.


This edition is in large part a reissue of the two volumes published in 2000 and 2001 by Egbert For ten (Groningen, the Netherlands), which are now marketed by E.1. Brill (Leiden). The publication of the two volumes was received favourably and generated very positive reviews in academic journals. I However, due to the high cost of the books, they have not circulated well in South Asia. I would like to express my thanks to Aditya Goel of Aditya Prakashan for publishing this new edition of the two volumes in a single binding and making it accessible and affordable to scholars in South Asia.

Although it was not possible to typeset the entire text again and insert major changes or updates I have taken the opportunity to work a few minor corrections into the text.

I would like to note that my edition and translation of chapter 25 of the Saradatilaka found in Appendix 3 of volume 2 appeared in revised form as a journal article in 20 11.2 In the two volumes I specified the dates of the Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka as ca. tenth century and tenth/eleventh century respectively. Recently A. Sanderson has argued that the Prapaacasara and the Saradatilaka were composed quite likely in the twelfth century. Revising an earlier assumption that the Prapancasara is a work from South India, he has further suggested that the Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka were written either in Orissa or are based on the religious tradition of Orissa.


In the present context I define iconography as the study of icons meant for worship, in which the icons are described, classified and interpreted with respect to their meaning. Iconography, which is connected to mythology and theology, addresses the content rather than the form or style of art and thus forms an important part of the study of religion.

The basic texts about the iconography of Hindu deities have been written in Sanskrit. Since few of these texts have been translated or studied, much has been left to further research. What knowledge we have of Indian iconography is largely based on secondary sources or descriptions of art objects, while the bulk of Sanskrit texts addressing the subject has remained unstudied. This is even truer for the esoteric traditions of Hinduism recorded in Tantric texts, despite a continuing popular interest in Tantra.

The aim of this monograph is to contribute to our knowledge of the iconography of Hindu Tantric deities by making deity descriptions from primary sources accessible through solid textual study to indologists, historians of religion and art historians for various purposes, including the identification of icons. As a philologist writing this monograph, I have dealt primarily with textual sources that describe deities for visualization, but I have also referred to corresponding visual representations in art as far as they could be identified. Not being an art historian by training, I have been especially cautious in drawing conclusions from the visual materials presented here. The present study consists of two volumes. Volume One focuses on the iconography of 108 Hindu deities, mostly in their Tantric forms, as they are described in the sixteenth-century North Indian compendium Mantramahodadhi ("the Great Ocean of Mantras") by Mahidhara. Volume Two presents 78 deity descriptions extracted from the anonymous Prapancasara and 101 descriptions from Laksmanadesika's Saradatilaka, which are based on the Prapancasara. Both works most likely belong to the tenth or eleventh centuries. This study is a continuation of my work on iconographic texts in Sanskrit, which includes Forms of Ga1J.eSa (1989) and The Hindu Deities Illustrated according to the Pratisthalaksanasarasamuccaya(1990), with the latter publication including illustrations from manuscripts.

My interest in the Mantramahodadhi began in 1992, when I discovered an edition of the text in Telugu script containing line-drawings of the deities described. Though it has at times been interrupted by other projects and obligations, my work on the text began in 1993 with a plan to present the deity descriptions with illustrations and a brief commentary. While working on the explanatory notes, I began to study the deity descriptions in the Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka for comparison and eventually decided to edit them as well. Over time the idea of presenting the material in a two-volume monograph took shape. Several grants and fellowships in support of this project have allowed me to include the additional material. Even though the complete text of the Mantramahodadhi had been translated into English by Indian scholars, it has been worthwhile to re-edit the iconographic passages. I have incorporated additional textual variants from other sources and translated the deity descriptions more accurately, analysed them systematically and provided explanatory notes, while taking into account material from original Sanskrit texts.

Visual material frequently communicates messages better and more rapidly than even the most elaborate descriptions, and visuals are especially important in the field of iconography. I chose to include in this book not only the line- drawings from the Telugu edition of the Mantramahodadhi but also as many other visual representations of Tantric deities as possible. Some of these correspond exactly to the descriptions in the text, and though others do so only in part, this suggests a relationship between textual prescription and depiction in art. The task of collecting and identifying visual representations of the deities described involved correspondence with museums and collections as well as extensive travel in India.

I would like to thank Professor K.S. Arjunwadkar and Dr. R.P. Goswami, PUI).e, for valuable suggestions on earlier drafts of this book; Ms. M. Rao, Madison, for checking variant readings in the edition of the Mantramahodadhi in Telugu script; Professor T. Goudriaan, Utrecht, Professor S. Gupta-Gombrich, Oxford, and Dr. P. Pal, Los Angeles, for their suggestions; the American Academy of Religion, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting my project at different stages with research support, fellowships or travel grants.

I thank Professor H.W. Bodewitz, Leiden, and Professor H.T. Bakker, Groningen, of the editorial board of the Gonda Indological Studies for accepting this study in their series.

My thanks are due to the following individuals and institutions for permission to reproduce photo materials: the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon; the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington; the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune; the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi; the French Institute of Pondicherry/Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Musee Guimet, Paris; the Musees Royaux d'Art et d 'Histoire, Brussels; the Museum & Art Gallery, Chandigarh; the National Museum, New Delhi; the Oriental Research Institute of the University of Mysore; the Raja Kelkar Museum, Pune; Mr. c.c. Rochell, Jr., New York City, and Mr. J. Zimmerman, Putnam Valley, New York.


Common Abbreviations xi
Bibliography and Abbreviations xiii
Texts and Translations xiii
Secondary Sources xix
1 Introduction 1
1.1The Mantramahodadhi in Context 1
1.2The Author Mahidhara and his Work 5
1.3 The Text of the Mantramahodadhi 8
13.1The Structure of the Text 8
13.2Commentaries 10
13.3Editions and Translations 11
13.4 The Sources 13
1.4The Mantramahodadhi and the Narada-Purana 14
1.5 The Mantramahodadhi and the Mantramaharnava 18
1.6 The Deity Descriptions in the Mantramahodadhi 21
1.6.1 The Ritual Context 21
1.6.2Characteristics of the Dhyana Verses 24
1.6.3 The Deity Pantheon 29 General Remarks 29 Forms of Ganesa 31 Deities in the Hindu Pantheon 34 Excursus: The Mahavidya Goddesses 38
1.6.4 On the Significance of the Iconographic Attributes and their Distribution 46
1.6.5On the Function of the Colours 54
1.7The Aim and the Scope of the Present Study 55
1.7.1 General Remarks 55
1.7.2 Texts Cited for Reference 57
1.7.3The Choice of illustrations 60
2The Deity Descriptions: Critically Edited Text, Translation and Explanatory Remarks63
2.1 Table Summarizing the Iconographic Features of the Deities63
2.2Deities 1-10871
4.1List of Illustrations215
4.2 Illustrationsafter 223
5 Appendix 1: Iconographic Characteristics of the Deities225
5.1Body Colours225
5.3 Hand Gestures227
5.4 Attributes227
5.6.1 Mountains233
5.6.2 Oceans and Rivers233
5.6.3 Trees and Plants234
5.6.4 Other Places234
6Appendix 2: Mantramahodadhi, Chapter 25237
6.1 Introductory Remarks237
6.2New Edition of the Text241
6.3 Translation252
Index of Sanskrit Verses265
General Index268

Volume 2


While Volume I of my two-volume monograph on the iconography of Hindu Tantric deities focuses on the deity pantheon of the sixteenth-century Mantramahodadhi by Mahidhara, Volume II addresses the pantheons of two earlier and closely related texts, the anonymous Prapancasara (PS) (tenth century) and Laksmanadesika's Saradatilaka (ST) (tenth/eleventh centuries). The latter work, although based on the Prapancasara, treats the topics in- dependently and incorporates new deity descriptions while omitting others. Both texts continue to be influential up to the present day and deserve careful academic study.

As I explain in my preface to Volume I, my work on this monograph began with a study of the Mantramahodadhi. In the course of time I decided to also analyse the Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka. Volume I was completed first, but its publication delayed for various reasons. In Volume I, I refer to the deity descriptions in the Prapancasara and the Saradatilaka by indicating chapters and verses in the editions of these texts (e.g., PS 25.7, ST 9.60), not the numbers assigned to these deities in Volume II (e.g., PS 47, ST 24). However, in Volume II I refer to the deity descriptions in the Mantramahodadhi by using the numbers assigned to the deities in Volume I (e.g., MM 19 instead of MM 5.20).

This volume is similar in structure and approach to the first one. My goal has been to present the original deity descriptions along with the edited Sanskrit texts, reliable literal translations and remarks on the iconography.

The introductory sections to the descriptions address questions related to the texts, their authors, dates of composition, the iconography and other issues. Some general topics addressed in Volume I, such as the characteristics of the dhyana descriptions, their ritual contexts and the symbolism of the iconographic attributes, have not been taken up again. Some deities who are described in Volume I are addressed in less detail in this volume, and the reader is referred to Volume I. When deities are described in both the PS and the ST my remarks on the PS, which is presented in the first part of this volume, deal with the deities extensively, and the descriptions in the ST refer to the descriptions in the PS.

Volumes I and II share one bibliography which is located in Volume I. The bibliography of Volume II only includes entries which are not referred to in Volume I

As in Volume I, the deity descriptions are presented in the sequence in which they appear in the original texts. Occasionally different descriptions of the same deity may appear in more than one location, since the deities function in various ritualistic contexts. A deity may be referred to by a variety of names. Generally either the name used in the dhyana description has been adopted, or the name employed in the description of the mantra's deity, which immediately precedes the dhyana. If those names are rather unusual, I have chosen common ones from the text to facilitate easy identification by the reader.

Most illustrations are appended to the PS section; illustrations of those deities who are only described in the ST are appended to the ST section. The numbers of the illustrations correspond to the numbers of the deity descriptions. Like the deity descriptions in the Prapancasara (PS) and the Saradatilaka (ST) the illustrations are prefixed with the abbreviations PS or ST, followed by the respective numbers (e.g., PS 5, ST 35). The abbreviation of the text and the number of the deity are in italic font. When a deity description is not followed by an illustration a corresponding number is not found in the list of illustrations. Thus the illustrations related to the Prapancasara begin with PS 4a and PS 4b and those related to the Saradatilaka begin with ST 24a and ST 24b, since no illustrations accompanying deities PS 1 to PS 3 and ST 1 to ST 23 exist.

As explained in section 1.7.3 of my introduction to Volume I, the illustrations are taken from a variety of sources. A large number of illustrations in this volume are contemporary line-drawings by M. Ganapathi Sthapati reproduced from his volume Rupadhyanaratnavali (Hyderabad 1981, in Telugu), which primarily illustrates the deity descriptions in the Sritattvanidhi. Most of these drawings show the deities sitting in the sportive royal posture (maharajalilasana), with one leg folded in front of them on their seat and the other hanging down, even though this posture is usually not prescribed in the Sritattvanidhi. Other line-drawings are reproduced from the Purascaryarnava, compiled by Pratapa Simha Sah Deva, King of Nepal, in 1775, and the manual Sakrapramoda, compiled by Devanandana Simha Bahadur of Muzaffarpur (first published in 1890). I have also included many paintings from the illustrated manuscript of the Srirartvanidhi, preserved in the Oriental Research Institute of the University of Mysore (no. SA. 852). Unfortunately access to this valuable manuscript has been limited. In 1997 the Oriental Institute published a new edition and translation accompanied by reproductions of the original illustrations of the first of the nine sections of the manuscript, entitled Saktinidhi. The publication of the second section (the Visnunidhi) and the remaining sections, which would have been of great interest for my book, has been delayed and the material could therefore not be considered here.

The deity descriptions in the PS and the ST are frequently cited by later authors. This enabled me to collate variant readings from citations identified in texts such as Krsnananda's Tantrasara, Srikumara's Silparatna and the Sri- tattvanidhi by Mummadi Krsnaraja Wodeyar III. These texts are listed in the concordances (1.3 and 2.3).

In addition to the 78 deity descriptions from the PS and the 101 descriptions from the ST, a new edition and translation of the important chapters I (on cosmogony) and 25 (on yoga) of the ST is provided in two appendices.

Throughout this monograph, as in Volume 1, Sanskrit words are transliterated with diacritical marks according to internationally accepted conventions. Most place names, from various Indian languages, appear without diacritical marks and some in Anglicized spellings.

I would like to thank Professor K.S. Arjunwadkar, and Dr. R.P. Goswami, Pune, for their valuable suggestions on earlier drafts of this book, the American Council of Learned Societies, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Gustav-Prietsch-Stiftung, Hamburg and the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting my project work in the United States and Germany, and the Asian Cultural Council for a grant to carry out research in India. I also thank the following individuals and institutions for their permission to reproduce photo materials: the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon; Dr. F. L' Hernault and the French Institute of Pondicherry/ Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient; the National Museum, New Delhi; the Oriental Research Institute of the University of Mysore; and Mr. J. Zimmerman, Putnam Valley, New York.


Bibliography and Abbreviationsxiii
Texts and Translationsxiii
Secondary Sourcesxv
1The Pantheon of the Prapancasara1
1.1.1Authorship and Date of the Prapancasara3
1.1.2The Text of the Prapancasara5 Editions5 The Structure of the Text10 The Impact of the Prapancasara's Deity Descriptions on later Texts13 The Deities in the Prapancasara The Deity Pantheon14 Colours and Colour Schemes14
1.2The Deity Descriptions:15
Critically Edited Text, Translation and Explanatory Remarks23
1.2.1 Table Summarizing the Iconographic Features of the Deities23
1.2.2 Deities 1-7830
1.2.3 Illustrations Related to the Prapancasara's Descriptions123 List of Illustrations123 Illustrationsafter 125
1.3 Concordance127
1.4 Appendix: Iconographic Characteristics of the Deities131
1.4.1 Body Colours131
1.4.2 Postures132
1.4.3 Hand Gestures133
1.4.4 Attributes133
1.4.5 Seats/Mounts137
1.4.6Locations138 Spheres138 Places138
Index of Sanskrit Verses139
2The Pantheon of the Saradatilaka143
2.1.1The Author Laksmanadesika and his Work145
2.1.2The Text of the Saradatilaka148 and Translation148 Commentary by Raghavabhatta and other Commentaries149 Stucture of the Text151 Saradatilaka and the Prapancasara154 Impact of the Saradatilaka's Deity Descriptions on later Texts157 Deities in the Saradatilaka158 Deity Pantheon158 the Distribution of the Attributes162
2.2The Deity Descriptions:165
Critically Edited Text, Translation and Explanatory Remarks
2.2.1Table Summarizing the Iconographic Features of the Deities 165
2.2.2Deities 1-101176
2.2.3Illustrations Related to the Saradatilaka's Descriptions293 of Illustrations293 294
2.4Appendix 1: Iconographic Characteristics of the Deities299
2.4.1Body Colours299
2.4.3Hand Gestures301
2.4.6Locations307 Places307
2.5Appendix 2: Saradatilaka, Chapter I309
2.5.1Introductory Remarks309
2.5.2New Edition of the Text312
2.6Appendix 3: Saradatilaka, Chapter 25337
2.6.1Introductory Remarks337
2.6.2New Edition of the Text343
Index of Sanskrit Verses367
General Index377

Sample Pages

Volume I

Volume II

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