The Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography is an endeavour of half a century to identify, classify, describe and delineate the bewildering variation in Buddhist icons. It spans the last twenty centuries, and it is a comparative study of unprecedented geographic variations, besides the ever evolving visualizations of great masters who introduced extraordinary plurality of divine forms in the dharanis and sadhanas.
The multiple forms of theonym arise in varying contexts. For example, Hevajra of the Hevajra-tantra holds crania in his hands, while the Hevajra of the Samputa-tantra has weapons. Both are subdivided into four each on the planes of kaya, vak, citta and hrdaya, with two, four eight and sixteen arms. The Dictionary classifies several such types of a deity and places each in its theogonic structure, specifies the earliest image, the direction in which it is placed in the specific quarter of the mandala, its classification, colour, crown or hairdo, ferocious or serene appearance, number of eyes and heads, hair standing up and/or flaming, number of arms and attributes held in them, consort, lord of the family (kulesa), and so on. The esoteric name, symbolic form (samaya), bija (hierogram), mantra, mudra and mandala are given in this Dictionary for the first time and on an extensive scale. The Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu and other names are given under the main entry, as well as cross-referenced in their own alphabetic order.
The Dictionary details the characteristic attributes, chronology and symbolism of over twelve thousand main and minor deities. It reflects the extraordinary cultural, literary, aesthetic and spiritual achievements of several nations of Asia over two millennia.
It will help to identify the masterpieces along with the profusion of masters and divine beings around them. The last few decades have seen an exuberant flourishing of the study and popularization of the patrimony of Buddhist art for its aesthetic magnificence. This Dictionary will add a dimension of precision and depth of perception to the visual tradition of paintings and sculptures.
About the Author
Prof. Lokesh Chandra is a renowned scholar of Tibetan, Mongolian and Sino Japanese Buddhism. He has to his credit over 400 works and text editions. Among them are classics like his Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature, Buddhist Iconography of Tibet and the present Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography in 15 volumes. Prof. Lokesh Chandra was nominated by the President of the Republic of India to the Parliament in 1974-80 and again in 1980-86. He has been a Vice-President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Presently he is Director, International Academy of Indian Culture.
The insights of Buddhism in the distillation of centuries gave rise to the colourful imagery of iconic exuberance, wherein divine beings awaken the lucidity of Bodhi in the hearts of all beings, in the pellucid ocean of our existence where bubbles arise and dissolve. The smooth perfection of the lotus blossoms, on which deities sit, does not allow the transient dew to cling to vagaries. The grandeur of Buddhist thought and the unfolding of consciousness in meditation in the vast cosmopolis of Asia flowered in the brush and the burin, in paintings and sculptures, to sow precious sees in human hearts to grow into strong Bodhi trees, so that wisdom and compassion overflow.
Ucchusma has a rich iconography in East Asia as the Fiery-head-vajra whose scrolls have been found at Tunhuang. The role of Agni or fire goes as far back as the Rgveda. Fire mythology can be seen in the exploits of Prometheus who brought fir from the gods and became a mythical benefactor. The Psycho-analysis of Fire by Gaston Bachelard is an entrancing modern approach: "that which burns germinates"(p.41).
The several categorizations of usnisas, along with the texts from which they originate, are epiphanies of supreme knowledge seen in regal concepts, like sitatapatra 'while parasol', vijaya 'victory', abhyudgata 'exalted highness'. Usnisarajas figure at the head of Vidyarajas (p.3744). Usnisavijaya is the Goddess of Supreme Victory. She was invoked during the period of Shotoku Taishi when the Japanese state was emerging as powerful unitary force. The oldest Sanskrit manuscript of the Usnisavijaya-dharani comes from the Horyuji monastery (AD 609).
The iconography of Vairocana shows 37 types with different attributes, running into 58 pages. The classification of Vairocana has been done for the first time and it invites a fresh consideration of the interface of texts and their graphic representations to comprehend the complex system of mandalas.
Vaisravana has thirty types and his functions include a diversity that spans economic affluence to defence of the state as the God of War.
Vajrabhairava and Yamantaka are not clearly distinguished in modern studies. Vajrabhairava is buffalo headed (Mahisanana) while Yamantaka has a ferocious demonic countenance.
Vajradhara is the Supreme Buddha of the anuttara-yoga tantras, and as such he has been misinterpreted as the Adibuddha by the aisvarika(?) school. The term aisvarika was created by Amritananda for Hodgson and it has given rise to a number of misunderstandings. Moreover, in certain contexts like the Garbhadhatu-mandala (p.3919), he has a subsidiary position of a Bodhisattva, or elsewhere he is a ferocious Guhyaka Vajradhara(p.3921).
The Bodhisattva Vajrahasa holds two rows of teeth or vajras with rows of teeth. In certain representations, only the vajra can be seen, as rows of teeth have been missed.
Vajrahetu is the Bodhisattva of Argument. Logic as a prime instrument of discussion was employed to defeat non-Buddhsits to bring them into the fold. Hetu or Argument is represented by cakra of the cakravartin monarch.
Vajrakarma reminds of the strenuous efforts of the Buddha to attain Bodhi and thereafter-constant carika to spread the message. Buddhist values are founded on a humane spiritual mind-ground, in the integrity of our consciousness and in a commitment to life. Buddha spent the last monsoon of his life at Venuvana on the outskirts of Vaisali. Leaving Vaisalai behind, he rested under a tree and remarked: Life is beautiful (manoramam jivitam). Images are the subtle web of the mind in the captivating illusions of the world.
Language & Literature (440)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (84)
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