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.