The Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography is an endeavour of half a century to identity, 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 a theonym arise in varying contexts. For example, Hevajra of 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 date of its occurrence (e.g Amoghapasa appears in Chinese in AD 587), 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 about 20 volumes. Prof. Lokesh Chandra was nominated by the President of 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.
Buddhist iconography is a whirlwind of forms, that enshrine pensive reflections of the mind, that weave the threads of our inner Being, that are visions of the pulse-beats of serenity, and the echoes of contemplations, in the sparkle of dazzling thanks, of diaphanous East Asian paintings, of the secret rhyme of icons where music of the sadhaka bursts into na adevo devam arcayet, or to sculpt or to paint is to evoke the divine. The 'More' of the transic mind, the bhiyyobhava of the Pali texts, triumphs in form. Iconic morphology in the round or on plane surfaces draws humans to their depths and stirs the spirit as well as the eye.
This volume continues the theonyms beginning with the letter S in the previous volume. Every name of a deity has a context in a sutra or Tantra. Sometimes a deity appears in several collocations or mandalas and can have separate attributes, for example, Samantabhadra has different colours and characteristics in various texts. To quote some instances from his 47 iconic forms (listed in the key on p.3077):
Allocation of deities of their mandalas will be aided by the multifarious iconography represented in this Dictionary. The eighteen Surocolo bronzes from Central Java, Indonesia range from 5.4 cm to 10.2 cm. Jan Fontein (1990:223f.) rightly opined that they are probably not all part of the same set. Yet, he tried to identify them as belonging to the Vajradhatu-mandala, but realized that three of the four musical goddesses do not occur in it. To fit Vina into the Vajradhatu-mandala she was named Vajragiti. All the four goddesses of the flute (Vamsa), drum the (Mukunda), triple drum (Muraja), and Vina are in fact from the mandala of Hevajra. The other six are again not form the Vajradhatu, but pertain to the Vajrasattva-mandala according to the Naya-sutra.
The iconography of the Thirty five Buddhas of Confession shows variations in the Mongolian Kanjur, Derge Tanjur, Pao-hsiang Lou Pantheon, 300 Icons, and 360 Icons (see Samantavabhasa-vyuha-sri). Their sources deserve to be investigated.
The morphology of the Nine Planets differs in the texts, and to them are added regional variations (e.g. of China). The altars for different kinds of homa have been delineated in Japanese works. For the santika homa there are 28 kinds of altars: they preserve un-identified traditions of over a millennium.
Sarasvati has two, four, six, or eight arms and the iconic forms go upto twenty four (p.3180). Some of their root texts, or ritual traditions, or transmission lineages may be traced some day. For the present, this Dictionary poses a challenge to unravel the mind of sunyata rupam: the Void and the Form surrounded by infinites and transfinites.
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