Faceless gazes, silent texts: Images of devotees and practices of vision in medieval South Asia


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. 

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Last updated on 11/29/2016