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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tracing the lost world

It studies Hindu-Buddhist sculptural and other art traditions of the country and its neighbourhood, writes BB Kumar

Bamiyan, Hariti and Kindred Iconics

Author: Nirmala Sharma (ed)

Publisher: Aditya Prakashan

Price:Rs 1800

The book, Bamiyan, Hariti and Kindred Iconics, edited by Prof Nirmala Sharma, is an important addition to the study of the Hindu-Buddhist sculptural and other art traditions of India and its neighbourhood. The book contains 26 papers, including five on Bamiyan. It also includes a long paper on Hariti, “the mother of demons”, by N Peri.

Hsuan Tsang, who reached Bamiyan in 632 AD after an epic 10,000 mile trek along the Silk Road, gave the first historical account of the tallest Buddha: “To the north-east of the royal city there is a mountain, on the declivity of which is placed a stone figure of the Buddha, erect in length 140 or 150 feet. Its golden hues sparkle in every side and its precious ornaments dazzle the eyes by their brightness.”

Needless to say, the dazzle of colossal Buddhas was never dim throughout the centuries, and it will continue to be so even after their destruction. The Buddhas of Bamiyan influenced Buddhist sculpture elsewhere. J Hackin outlines the same in his paper — ‘The colossal Buddhas at Bamiyan and their influence on Buddhist sculpture’. Prof Ronald M Bernier’s paper — ‘Bamiyan and the international Gandhara tradition’ — deals with the importance of Bamiyan due to its trade route linkages. Bamiyan — like Ajanta in India and Dunhuang in China — “was a major pilgrimage site on a caravan route that attracted a constant stream of visitors”. Also, a famous monastery-cum-Buddhist centre of learning was located at Fondukistan, about 128 km west of Bamiyan.

From Bamiyan, the book goes on to study the Hariti phenomenon. Hariti, due to Lord Buddha’s grace, was transformed from demoness eating children’s flesh to a benevolent matron Goddess. Tracking the vast Indian and Chinese literature, Peri traces her evolution from an ogress to Yaksheshwari (queen of yakshas). But the work of Peri, as the editor rightly points out, “has not taken into account her role as giver of life, destroyer of pain throughout the universe, devoted to the happiness of the humankind”.

This study is important in a way that it hints towards superimposing legends and super-adding beliefs crossing the barriers of language, time-depth and geography. The linkages of the legends — from ritual offerings to the living beings and the spirits/protective divinities to the tantric cults — point towards the need of deeper studies. Peri writes: “It seems that to Buddhism and its personages were simply superadded the beliefs, the practices of other origin and they could not be uprooted. In fact, a number of technical terms and observances betray the persistent influence of ancient Hindu ideas. And, the Mahamayuri Sutra eulogises the maharshis who composed the Vedas and made use of mantras and magic formulae.”

The book then moves on to iconics, dealing with the Buddhist iconography of Indonesia. The study of the iconics confined to the geographical region of India includes iconography of the Hindu deities — Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Krishna, etc. The book also talks about dance and music in Jaina paintings, along with the works of Nicholas Roerich and his son, Svetoslav.

The reviewer is the author of the book, India and Central Asia

The Pioneer

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