Buddhist Bronzes of Odisha - A Study in Context of the Evolution of Buddhist Deities

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Item Code: NAY708
Author: Sagarika Mohapatra
Publisher: Pratibha Prakashan
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9788177024135
Pages: 148 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 11.00 X 9.00 inch
Weight 1.04 kg
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Book Description
About the Book
The discovery of ninety-two bronze icons, majority of which are Buddhist from Achutarajpur of Banpur in 1963 was rather unusual. Never before so many metal objects connected to Buddhism were found from any part of the state despite Odisha being an important centre of Buddhism. It is rather strange that no scholar ever tried to study the evolution of Buddhist images in the religion which started opposing idolatry. Though none of the bronzes bear any name on its body, yet it can be suggested that all these belonged to 7th-8th century AD when Odisha was an important centre of Buddhism. With dissention creeping into the religion after Buddha's Nirvana, Buddhism virtually was divided on the issues of ethics and metaphysical ritualistic doctrines. Both Hinayana and Mahayana agree Buddha as Sakyamuni, being born to Mayadevi.

While, Hinayana regards him as Progenitor of law and call him a man with extraordinary intellect, Mahayana portrayed him as a Divine being. Thus the misogynistic religion turned into more flexible to accommodate female divinities into the pantheon. This proximity to female divinities gave birth to another sect, Vajrayana- Tantrayana. The Banpur hoard contains images of Heruka, Vajrahunkara, Kurukulla thus making it clear that it was a centre of Vajrayana. These images make an interesting study in the context of evolution of Buddhist deities.

About the Author
Sagarika Mohapatra is a distinguished scholar of Buddhist studies, in her own right. With a 1st class in Philosophy from Ravens haw College, Utkal university she studied Ancient Indian History and Archaeology in Martin Luther University, Hale, Germany under the great Indologist Prof. Heinz Mode. Securing Grade 1 in the university, she did her PhD in Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan with direct UGC fellowship. Being a recipient of prestigious Japan Foundation fellowship, she did her Post-Doctorate in Bukkyo Daigaku, Kyoto Japan in 1980-1982. She joined North Eastern Hill University for some years after shifting to Bhubaneswar. She has published a number of Papers in both National and International journals besides, attending a number of International conferences in Buddhism.

The last word:

This book could not have been published without the support of my daughter Dr. Sneha Patnaik, taking care of my health as a Doctor and in making some minor correction as an intelligent child and Zenith, the youngest member of the family to keep me cheerful being my constant compamon.

Odisha, despite being a prominent centre of Buddhism for several centuries never yielded icons, sculptures in metals in large numbers. All the Buddhist sites including Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, Lalitagiri and several other places scattered all over the state have yielded quite a large number of Buddhist sculptures and stupas of stone. The Odisha State Museum, the Museum of Baripada, Asutosh Museum and Indian Museum at Calcutta house a very small number of metal images of Jain, Brahmanical and Buddhist faiths from different sites of Odisha.

In this background the number of bronze images unearthed from Banpu may be regarded as large. As many as ninety five bronze images of which seventy four were of Buddhist pantheon have been found from here. The presence of these images shows that this site was primarily a Buddhist one.

Dr (Mrs.) Debala Mitra, former Director, ASI has brought out the details of the bronze images excavated from Banpur in her work 'Bronzes from Achutrajpur, Odisha' in 1978 but no study has yet been done using the images in the context of evolution of Buddhist deities. The present work is a sincere attempt to study the image concept of the Buddhist deities evolved from the earliest phases before its transition from Mahayana to Vajrayana or Tantrayana phase of Buddhism.

While making a study on the evolution of image concept in Buddhism vis-à-vis the finds of Banpur, proper attention is given to the main deities of Mahayana Buddhism which covered roughly the first millennium AD in India. They are the Buddha, A valokitesvara, Mafijusri, Maitreya, Vajrasattva, Prajfiaparamita, few Taras and Hariti. It is interesting that except Prajriaparamita and Hariti, all other deities are found in the hoard, though they do not represent all the variations found in Eastern India and Bangladesh. Since Prajfiaparamita and Hariti have important bearing on the origin of goddess Tara, this work has focused on them. Besides, as far the other male deities, their origin except the Buddha is discussed in detail with some relevant controversial theories and their emergence in iconography. These are definitely essential to realize the trend of metamorphosis of these deities in the transitional phase as they rise in their status in course of time. From this analysis one can also fathom to what extent the earlier elements continue to survive in later images, even in the late Mahayana period when Buddhism was sliding fast to fall into the grip of the Varjayana or Tantrayana philosophy.

While during the Hinayana period Buddhism was not a religion as understood in common usage of the term, i.e. a system of faith and worship but a religion (monastic state) of a community of recluses especially for the male. The female medic ants had a very low status in the Order. The Buddha very reluctantly founded a Sangha for women, who were regarded to be unfit for Vimutti.

In the Mahayana phase, when Buddha and Bodhisattvas were accepted as cult objects and when Vimutti was declared to be attainable by the male householders by practicing Paramitas, Buddhism was converted into a religion of the masses not for only the ascetics.

The religion which was originally a misogynic type had to yield before the will of the mass to accommodate female divinities. Gradually female divinities not only superseded the male gods but became the source of all mystic energy which it was thought generated from their union with the male. Buddhism entered into the phase of Vajrayana and Tantrayana that scholars often believed to have brought to an end to the religion in the soil of its origin.

The work discusses in detail about all the images found from Banpur - Achyutarajpur showing the process of transition of the place from Mahayana to a centre of active Vajrayana in the 9th to lOtn century AD. The photographs of the deities discussed here make the present work a must read for the students of Buddhism.

Odisha, situated in the eastern coast of India between 17.48' and 22.34' North latitude, 81.24' and 87.29' East longitude is bounded by Jharkhand in the north-west, West Bengal in the north-east, Andhra Pradesh in the south, Chhatisgarh in the west and the Bay of Bengal in the east. This 1,56,707 sq. km. area in a population of 40 millions occupies an enviable position in the historiography of the sub-continent. Owing to its geographical location, it is often treated as an extended region of north India or an annexure of south India. Because of its proximity to the north and south, it has all the traits of both besides its own.

Great religions of the world flourished here because of the catholicity of Odisha's successive dynasties. It is rather interesting to find Odisha as the nerve centre of Buddhism and [animism, though neither of the founders of these two religions ever set their feet here. Along with Buddhism and Jainism, Brahmanical religion too made its progress simultaneously because of the equal royal patronage extended to all these religions. We do not have any concrete proof that there was much animosity between these religions. Sometimes it becomes difficult to understand the religious tolerance of the rulers of the land. Because of this perhaps, sculptures belonging to diverse religion have been unearthed together from several excavated sites.

Despite being a great Vaisnava center, Odisha remained one of the most important centers of Buddhism. Numerous Buddhist images and other remains along with several mounds not yet been excavated and some great sites in Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri make it clear that Odisha was the most happening state, so far as Buddhism was concerned at least up to 11th century _12th century AD. So much was the influence of Buddhism on the people of Odisha that Buddha has been accepted as an incarnation of Lord Visnu-Iagannath, a reference which can be found in the Dharmapuavidhana'',

Though Buddha never visited Odisha, yet several early texts refer to two merchants Tapassu and Bhallika from Utkal meeting the Lord on their way to Madhyadesa and offered him cake and honey. Aizguttara Nikiiya2 speaks of Buddha's gift of eight locks of hair to the merchants which were later enshrined in a Chaitya built by them. Despite these references, there was nothing to prove that Buddhism was a major force to reckon with in Odisha till the advent of Asoka in Kalinga.

In all practical purposes, Kalinga War in 261 BC was the turning point in the history of Buddhism in Odisha. The death and destruction caused by the Kalinga War changed Asoka who gave up digvijaya in favor of dhamma vijaya. Separate Rock Edicts at Dhauli reflect Asoka's change of heart. The edict at Dhauli is significantly designed by the sculptured for part of an elephant coming out of the rock. The rock elephant is definitely the theriomorphic representation of Buddha and this representation perhaps indicates the entry of the white elephant into the womb of Mayadevi, the mother of Lord Buddha.

Traditions refer to Asoka's building of a monastery in the name of his brother Tissa.

Huien Tsang's view that Asoka built more than ten stupas in Wu (U)-tu (Odra) at places where Buddha preached cannot be accepted because of the fact that we have no corroborative evidence whatsoever to prove that Buddha ever visited Odra. Besides, we have not yet found anything to strengthen the line of argument that there existed any Buddhist establishment in Odisha during the Maurya period or even immediate few centuries after. Presence of railing posts near Bhaskaresvara temple can never lead to a conclusion that it was a Buddhist centre despite the fact that images" of Buddha, Tara and that of Lokesvara" have been found from that locality. These images are however datable from 8th to 9th century AD.

Our attention is however drawn towards the Nagarjunakonda inscription" of the Iksvaku King Viropurusadatia. 7 The record speaks about the Ceylonese monks preaching in Tosali.

Buddhist text Garp!avyuha8 informs about the entry of Mahayana into the city of Tosali around 4th century AD. Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India" speaks of Odivisa being the first country to have Mahayana Buddhism before Kaniska. These materials appear to be more conjectural than definite because it was only in the 6th century to 7th century AD, we find mention of Uttara Tosala'" and Dakshina Tosala11 and it was only in the ~ century AD Tosali meant the whole of coastal Odisha.F It was after this time Buddhism was in ascendancy in Odisha.

Buddhist establishments were there in several parts of Odisha probably during the Imperial Guptas. We are told that towards the end of the life of King Buddhaprakasa, a vihara was built at Ratnagiri in the present Jaipur district, where he 'prepared three copies of the scriptural works of Mahayana and Hinayana and kept these in this temple.' 13 though the King Buddhaprakasa has not yet been identified, yet scholars like Nalinakasha Dutta identify him with the Gupta King Narasimhagupta Baladitya in the first half of the 6th century AD. 14 This line of argument cannot be ignored altogether because of the findings of large number of Buddhist images and artifacts from Ratnagiri. Though not a single Gupta record has been found from the excavated site, yet a copper plate found in Jayarampur'" under Bhograi Police Station give credence to the fact that one ruler Gopachandra granted a village for the ceremonial worship of Arya Aualokitesoara.

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