From the Jacket:
This Album is a sequel to the study of Origin and Evolution of Tantrayana Art which the Asiatic Society undertook under the UNESCO project on the study of Buddhist Arts and Architecture.
The Album is divided into two sections - Text and Illustrations. The Text consists of an 'Introduction' and 'Descriptive Notes on Illustrations'. The Introduction discusses, in brief, the meaning and scope of Tantrayana art, the manner and method of work, the materials covered, etc. the Illustrations have been arranged, as far as practicable, subject-wise, i.e., iconography. The descriptive notes on illustrations, following this scheme, take due and proper notice of the concept underlying a particular iconographic theme or a particular iconic form.
There are 273 illustrations of which 71 are in colour. In a section of material for this purpose endeavour has been made to include all important and significant types.
The Album, together with notes and illustrations, is primarily a book on iconography in which it has been possible to extend the existing knowledge in not an insignificant manner.
About the Author:
Professor S.K. Saraswati, a former President of the Asiatic Society, is an internationally known art historian of India and is recognised as one of the greatest authorities on Indian architecture.
Professor Saraswati had made lasting contributions in the fields of Indian history, art and archaeology. Besides contributing numerous articles and large number of books, he had collaborated with a number of academic programmes in the country. He was also the editor of Cultural Heritage of India, Volume VII, Fine Arts, sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta.
Professor Saraswati had held many high responsible positions, including Professorship in Calcutta and Banaras Hindu Universities. For some time he was also the Secretary and Curator of the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta.
He had traveled widely in Europe, America and USSR on lecture tours on invitation.
It gives me great pleasure in placing before the discerning scholars of Buddhist Studies the
second edition of "Tantrayana Art - an album", which was published during my first stint as the
General Secretary of the Society and was partly funded by the UNESCO at that time. This album
conceptualised and prepared by Professor S.K. Saraswati, an eminent scholar, added lustre to the
academic glory of the Asiatic Society. This album would give an insight to the Tantrik form of
I am sure this edition would greatly enhance the interest of new scholars to make further studies in
different aspects of Buddhism.
THIS Album is a sequel to the study of the ‘Origin and Development of Tantrayana Art' which the Society undertook at
the instance of the UNESCO under their project of the 'Study of Buddhist Arts and Architecture'. The comprehensive
report of the study, completed in 1973, still awaits publication. The Album is now being presented as a separate publi-
cation. for which some token financial assistance had been received from the UNESCO and the Government of West
Bengal. Thanks are due to .them for enabling the Society to initiate a costly publication of this kind. The Society also
secured a private donation for this purpose.
The assistance, thus received, was however far short of the needs of a publication of this nature and the delay, in a
manner, has been due to paucity of adequate funds.
A number of organisations and individuals have come to the assistance of the project by making available photo-
graphs and colour transparencies of objects in their custody, together with permission for reproduction. Due acknowledge-
ments of such courtesies have been made separately.
The active and co-operative interest of Dr. S. K. Mitra, Dr. B. N. Mukherjee, Sri D. K. Mitra, Dr. Bireswar Banerjee,
former General Secretaries and Professor D. C. Ghose, the present General Secretary, of the Society, has made the publica-
tion of this costly Album possible, and the credit, it should be acknowledged, must go to them. Sri S. N. Kanjilal, Publi-
cation Secretary of the Society, has been of immense help in expediting the release of the Album. In the Introduction due
acknowledgements have been made of the assistance received from various scholars and associates connected with the
Finally, the undersigned appreciates the help and services rendered by Sri Biram Mukhopadhyay, one of the Publica-
tion Supervisors of the Society, who has spared no pains in getting the Album through the press, in reading the proofs
and in other ways improving the quality of printing and production.
UNDER the Unesco project on the 'Study of Buddhist Arts and Architecture' the Asiatic Society proposed to undertake an investi-
gation into the 'Development of Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana Art' and forwarded, through the Government of India,
a detailed scheme in this regard. The Unesco, while endorsing the proposal, desired, that the Society should confine the investiga-
tion to Tantrayana Art only. Accordingly the undersigned, at the instance of the Society, prepared a draft scheme for a study of
the 'Origin and Development of Tantrayana Art' with a view to bring into clear focus the concept of Tantrayana and the Deve-
lopment of the relevant art forms in different regions of Asia. The Unesco accepted the scheme and asked the Society to confine
the study to the Indian subcontinent.
Meaning and Scope of Tantrayana Art
In the perspective of Indian art history it is difficult to say how one should define the meaning and scope of Tantrayana Art.
Through the ages Indian art has a consistent growth, each succeeding phase starting with the heritage of the preceding one and
leading the styles to their maturity and logical fulfilment. There has been no break in continuity, at least till the advent of the
alien Islam. Religious urge has, no doubt, been behind the full efflorescence of the art styles. India is the land of many religious
faiths, and even within the same faith there have appeared many sects and sub-sects, often in sharp differences with one another
in respect of beliefs and tenets. All religions and all sects are known to have adopted the common norm prevailing in a particu-
lar period or a region for the expression of their thoughts and beliefs through the vehicle of art. Religious or sectarian differen-
ces have hardly been able to divert this norm from its logical course. The norm remains stylistically the same for all religions ir-
respective of the subjects depicted. This is true as much of the Brahmanical religion and its various ramifications as of the Bud-
dhist, including its Tantrayana form. The difference lies only in iconographic content.
The development of Tantrayana concept in Buddhism has been the result of a slow and imperceptible grafting of new in-
tetpretations on some fundamental tenets of Buddhism, especially in its Mahayana aspect, These new interpretations suited the
prevailing environment and temperament of the social organisation and hardly disturbed the form and structure of art in any
appreciable degree. Tantrayana contributed, no doubt, to the evolution of a multiplicity of iconographic types; but they all re-
mained within the form and structure of the contemporary norms. India presents the scene of a cultural milieu in which all di-
vergent elements have been brought together to form a common pattern; the prevailing art styles ate known to have mediated,
again, the differences among sects and denominations in order to bring them all within the existing norms for purposes of artis-
tic expression of their ideas and thoughts.
In its flourishing days the Tantrayana form of Buddhism was very strong and active in Eastern India. Indeed, it will not be
wrong to say that Eastern India was the most vital centre of Tantrik Buddhism. The territory comprised of Bengal, Bihar and
parts of Orissa and the period coincided with the rule of the Pala rulers who dominated the political and cultural scene of Bengal
and Bihar for approximately four centuries, from the middle of the eighth to the middle of the twelfth. The Palas lingered for
sometime in Bihar after they were ousted from Bengal by the Senas. Both were swept away by the avalanche of the expansion
of Muslim political power and the old order gave place to the new.
The Pala rulers were ardent Buddhists and they patronised the Tantrik form of the religion that had been showing great vi-
tality at the time. In Eastern Bengal the Devas and the Chandras were also devout Buddhists following, apparently, the prevail-
ing form of the creed. Many important Buddhist establishments were founded during the period, in Bengal as well as in Bihar.
Evidences of the flourishing existence of several such monastic institutions in Orissa are now forthcoming. Every monastic es-
tablishment, including the Nalanda mahavihara, which existed from before the time of the Palas, came to be active centres of
Tantrik Buddhism. The famous acharyas (teachers) of these monasteries are known to have systematised and perfected this com-
plex and esoteric form of Buddhism, along with the rituals. It is the multiplicity of divinities and complexities of rituals that
formed the content of the creed of those days.
Under the Palas there flourished in Bengal and Bihar a school of art of great activity and significance. Taranath, the Tibe-
tan historian, attributes the foundation of a school of art in Eastern India to Dhiman and his son Bitpalo, two artists from Varen-
dra (North Bengal) in the time of Dharmapala and Devapala. This school consists of a plastic style in stone and metal, as well
as a pictorial style recognised in contemporary manuscript paintings. The reverberations of the plastic style may also be seen in
Orissa. By Tantrayana art one may mean, hence, what are usually designated as the Eastern Schools of Sculpture and Painting,
since these schools were the principal carriers of Tantrik ideas in Buddhist thought. These schools had their impacts in other
Buddhist countries, like Nepal, Tibet and, to a certain extent, Burma and Indonesia, these countries having received their inspi-
ration from Eastern India. In the fringes of Bihar and Bengal narrow strips of territory also came under the spell of this esoteric
religion. Isolated instances of the prevalence of this esoteric form in other regions of India are also known; but they seem to be
only of marginal importance.
Since the Tantrik form of Buddhism had its most active and vital centre in Eastern India, the Eastern schools of sculpture
and painting may have a certain relevance in the context of Tantrayana art. A few words of caution need, however, to be added,
especially in regard to the Eastern school of sculpture. This school had its foundation on the heritage of an earlier school and
the form and structure of the school had been clearly defined and established before the Palas emerged in the political and cul-
tural arena of Eastern India, as well as before the active and dominant phase of Tantrism in the Buddhist creed. Moreover, the
school served other creeds also and the style remained uniform in respect of all. There is hardly any deviation, in regard to
style, between a Brahmanical sculpture and a Buddhist, between a Mahayana and a Tantrayana. Besides, the school had import-
ant links and affiliations with other contemporary schools in Northern India which are known to have kept aloof from the Tan-
trayana wave. In this situation it may not be wholly valid to describe the Eastern school of sculpture as exclusively Tantrayana.
Still, it cannot be denied that the school had been the principal vehicle for the expression of Tantrik ideas in Buddhism and that
apart from form and structure, a large part of the content of the school had been determined by them.
A vigorous school of manuscript painting flourished simultaneously in Eastern India and is seen to have been in the service,
almost exclusively, of Buddhism in its Tantrayana affiliation during its most active days. A fairly large number of palm leaf
manuscripts of sacred Buddhist texts, dated with reference to the rule of Pala rulers and a few of their contemporaries, bear
paintings on the leaves and occasionally on the wooden covers. Similar paintings occur also on manuscripts of the period of
which the dates are missing. The total number of such paintings in manuscripts of the dated and undated series is not small
either. Together they give evidence of the existence of an active and vigorous school of painting in Eastern India simultaneous-
ly with the Eastern school of sculpture. From extant records a few of these manuscripts are known to have been produced in
famous East Indian monasteries like Nalanda, Vikramasila, Vikramapura, etc. Taranath, the Tibetan historian, speaks of an
Eastern school of painting and ascribes its origin to Dhiman and his son Bitpalo in the time of Dharmapala and Devapala.
These manuscript paintings may be described as tangible records of this school. The impact of this pictorial style may be felt
in Nepal and Tibet and, in a faint manner, also in Burma. For this pictorial style the appellation Tantrayana art may have a
greater validity since the extant documents are, almost exclusively, Buddhist and the representations therein are seen to have
been inspired by the ideas enunciated in the Tantras. Records of this pictorial style are available in an abundant number from
the close of the tenth century to the end of the twelfth. Stray and isolated documents illustrate the survival of the style, in a
degenerated form however, till the middle of the fifteenth century.
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