Cross-cultural exchanges between India and China during the first millennium are often understood through a Buddhist lens; by investigating the impact of Indian Buddhist sources, be they literary, doctrinal, or artistic, to receiving Chinese communities. In these cultural transactions, instigated by traveling pilgrim-monks and enacted by imperial power players in China, India emerges as a remote, idealized, and perhaps “hollow” center. Imagined or real, the importance of images of India in medieval Chinese Buddhist landscape has been established beyond doubt. What seems to be missing in this unidirectional looking is the impact of these cultural communications in India. What were the Indian responses to Chinese Buddhists' demands and their physical presence? How was China imagined and translated in medieval India? This essay proposes to locate the activities of Chinese monks in India and the iconographies of China-inspired Indian Buddhist images within the larger historical context of shifting cultural and political geography of the medieval Buddhist world. By exploring different types of evidence from borderlands, vis-à-vis the monolithic concepts of China and India, the essay also complicates the China–India studies' comparative model.
How was time conceptualized and represented in Indian art? Through case studies re-examining a few canonical examples in Indian art, from Sarnath Buddha, to Udayagiri Varāha tableau, to Ajanta's Cave 26, this essay demonstrates that the carefully composed insertion of miniature human donor figures can be taken as a visual clue to understand how the sense of history and time was experienced and articulated in ancient India. By adjusting our view to the periphery of a visual program, we may recognize a previously unnoticed female donor figure on a famed fifth-century stone stele from Sarnath depicting Buddha's first sermon. While we lack detailed historical information on such images' production and use, a scale-oriented formal analysis of human figures along with the analysis of epigraphic and literary evidence can help appreciate an artistic strategy developed to capture multiple temporalities. The present study contends that the introduction of human body as a portal for collapsing multiple temporalities in one medium, i.e. sculpted religious image, developed in a cultural milieu in which political actors and artistic communities began to innovate strategies to collapse the distance between the narrative time and the lived, historical time.
Dharma and Puṇya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal explores the centrality of ritual practices and the agency of people – patrons, ritual specialists, devotees – in creating and amplifying the efficacy of Buddhist art. Jinah Kim and Todd Lewis highlight the unparalleled contributions of Nepal’s artisans, patrons, and ritualists in engendering artistic heritage that is an endearing continuation of Indic Buddhist traditions. Richly illustrated with photographs of contemporary rituals, religious observances, and historical examples, the essays provide cultural, historical and ritual contexts in which objects collected in art museums were used, and animate them. By recentering the historical imagination on communities, their rituals, and popular narrative traditions, Dharma and Puṇya challenges prevailing misconceptions about Buddhism in the West and expand our understanding of Buddhism as a lived world religion. Dharma and Puṇya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepalexplores the centrality of ritual practices and the agency of people – patrons, ritual specialists, devotees – in creating and amplifying the efficacy of Buddhist art. Jinah Kim and Todd Lewis highlight the unparalleled contributions of Nepal’s artisans, patrons, and ritualists in engendering artistic heritage that is an endearing continuation of Indic Buddhist traditions. The publication presents paintings, illuminated texts, statues, and ritual implements from the Newar tradition in the Kathmandu Valley. Richly illustrated with photographs of contemporary rituals, religious observances, and historical examples, the essays provide cultural, historical and ritual contexts in which objects collected in art museums were used, and animate them. By recentering the historical imagination on communities, their rituals, and popular narrative traditions, Dharma and Puṇyachallenges prevailing misconceptions about Buddhism in the West and expand our understanding of Buddhism as a lived world religion.
This essay examines the iconographic and compositional context in which the images of donors appear in stone stelae prepared during the ninth through the twelfth centuries when Indian Esoteric (tantric) Buddhism saw its heyday. When read together with the accompanying inscriptions, the manner in which human donor figures are represented reiterates a maṇḍalaic, hierarchical worldview and reinforces established social relations of the lived world. Taking the observation of behaviors carved on stone as a starting point for understanding performative aspects of otherwise motionless sculptures, this study suggests that specific design strategies seen in elaboration of decorative and architectural framing devices in late Buddhist images contributed to actively shaping the vision practices of Indian Esoteric Buddhism described in many sādhana (lit. conjuring up a deity; adoration) texts.
What was the main principle behind the design strategies developed to prepare painted palm-leaf manuscripts in medieval South Asia? How did various Indic religious communities design their manuscripts? By bringing together surviving painted manuscripts of heterogeneous religious traditions as well as contemporaneous sculptural representations and textual sources relating to the ritual practices involving books, this study suggests that a book was conceived and designed as a temple in Indic context. Taking innovative design strategies of twelfth century Buddhist manuscripts as a starting point, it also demonstrates how a larger, architectural approach can help us understand the art of the book in India better.
Previous scholarship on women's involvement in Buddhism in medieval India assumes that women, both lay and monastic, disappeared from the scene by the ninth century. This view may be rooted more in our way of seeing (or not seeing) than in historical reality. By exploring neglected material evidence that shows patronage patterns of Buddhist religious objects, such as inscriptions, manuscript colophons, and visual representations of donors, this article suggests that women played a visible role in supporting medieval Indian Buddhist institutions. First, two objects donated by two nuns are examined to discuss the continuing existence of the bhikṣuṇī (Buddhist nuns) order in twelfth-century India that had a considerable command over economic resources. The second part of this article attempts to uncover the voice for lay female donors and addresses their participation in religious practices in a medieval Indian Buddhist context based on a socioeconomic analysis of art historical and epigraphic evidence.