Origin of Buddha Image

Today India is known for Idol Worship. All religions in India have in Form worship, either as symbols, letters, pictures or Idols. But this was not the case 2000Years ago. Any form of Form in Faith was not considered. In some places like Karnataka not even name of the dead Jain persons written on the Graves even until 400 AD. Hinduism , Jainism and Buddhism did not support gods in human form. So how did this extreme swing took place , from nothing everything in human forms. This explains the lack of Inscriptions, temples, Idols before 5th century BC. Classic study in this transformation is Buddhism. This was the religion at the prime when this transformation occurred. So Let us see how we got the Image of Buddha. Which will explain the transformation. Let us see if Image in Indian religion and the Origin of Buddha Image and associate controversies.

Vedic Hinduism.

Vedic religion says Absolute or Trancendental can be realized in diverse ways. Co-existence of Sakara(diety with Form) and Nirakara(Diety without Form) in the same household , with men with different Intellectual and moral denominations aspiring for spirituality in their respective ways. Kena Upanishad says man cannot comprehend God with his sense organs. That is God cannot be seen with Eyes. Svetasvatara upanishad says that Great one has not likeness to form. In Bhagavat Gita Arjuna asks Krishna in what forms and objects the Great one should be meditated. In response Krishna first Enumerated all phenomenal objects , all flora , all fauna and so on. Then Krishna gives Arjuna supernatural Eye , in which he sees entire universe, process of creation and process of destruction. Arjuna beholds God is identical with Cosmos. Later Supplements of Gita say God can be worshipped by Agni by Brahman, Devata(divinity) worshipped in the heart of Muni,Pratima(Image) is adored by men of Low intellect. While one whose sight is not limited can see God everywhere. Adi shankara preferred Formless and Ramanuja said he is prefers both Formless and With Form.

Jainism

Jainism says In the theist world the loftiest entity is The God. It has thousands of names like Paramatma (the ultimate soul), Bhagavan (the most glorious one), Siddha (the liberated), Buddha (the enlightened), The God, etc.

In the Jain tradition there are two forms of this entity-

(1) The formless God or Siddha (the liberated) and

(2) The God with a form or Tirthankar / Arihant.

The Tirthankar is a detached individual who is the ultimate altruist and benefactor of not only mankind but every living being. He propagates the religious path and preaches about it for their benefit. His benevolent voice promotes happiness, peace, and infinite bliss for every being.In the Jain tradition there have been twenty-four Tirthankars during the current descending cycle of time, Bhagavan Rishabhdev being the first and Bhagavan Mahavir being the last. For every Jain these Tirthankars are the entities to be worshipped and revered. The ultimate goal of Jainism is to tread the path shown by them and acquire infinite powers and virtues.

Buddhism

Thervada ban on Buddharupa( Buddha Image) is well known. An old Disciple of Buddha Vakali was eager to see Buddha before he died. One day buddha came and said to him “ O vakkali why do you crave to see this body of impure matter, one who perceives Dharma Perceives me. One who perceives me perceives Dharma” On different occasions through dialogues and sermons Buddha spoke against adoration of his Rupakaya or Buddha Rupa.

What does faith say?

The Trinity Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism say that God is formless ,but it does not go against worship of forms , saying that is done by lower intellectuals. So the form is also present in Indian Dharma along with Formless, which is the basic or ultimate. Now let us see how Buddha Image developed.

Origin of Buddha Image

Buddhist followers remained faithful to Buddha teaching of non-worship of buddha Image. The first to break the rule King Udyana of Vatsa or Kausambi, who was very devoted, The story goes that he was worried that Buddha would not return. Buddha's disciple Maudgalyayana used magic to send an artist (some say 32 of them) up to heaven to capture the likeness of the Buddha in a 5-foot figure carved out of sandalwood. This image was so accurate and imbued with devotion, that when Shakyamuni returned, it rose up to greet him. The Buddha acknowledged then, the power of the rupa to inspire and to teach the dharma to future generations. This story is not accepted by most Buddhists. For Five centuries after Buddha until 1st century BC , Buddha was represented by Symbols. Until 1st century AD he was never represented in Human Form. Immediately following this period the Graeco-Buddhist or Indo-Hellenistic or Ghandara period presents us with enormous anthromorphic images. Immediately we have suggestions from western world that the images were introduction from west , particularly from Greece. The present Image developed after the 5th century AD. Our main debate of the article comes here, Was the Concept of Image of God came from West (Persia, Middle east , Greece, Rome , etc).

Image or Icon in Indian Religions – History Debate.

In the First two decades of this 20th century Western scholars like Albert Foucher and John Marshall has concluded that Image or Icon was not the characteristic of Indian religions till the advent of Persians , West Asians and Greek. This Western Idea was supported by Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj and Prarthana Samaj. They maintained that Worship of Image was un - Vedic, Un - Brahminical and was the later development in Puranic age. Thervada buddhist also accepted this theory.

Other Hindus who held Pratima(Likeness = Image) was an Indigenous element nothing was foreign. Kashiprasad Jaiswal and Anand Coomaraswamy contended that Rupa (form) is integral part of the Vedic religion. At this time Indus Valley civilzation was unearthed, Archeologist R.P chanda found earliest representation of Siva Pasupathi and Yogi in the Indus valley. Also scholars pointed to Tibetans traditions and showed that Image was used before Mauryas. Also aborignals(Not Aryan and Dravidian) like Veddas and Nagas have their dieties and symbols of worship. So the worship of symbols and dieties is not totally absent.

Image worship in India

  • Image worship as we have seen in the Formless debate was accepted and prevalent.

  • Images of Shiva, mother Goddess,Yogi and wide variety of Terrocotta statues representing Human and Animal like forms. in Indus valley have proved beyond doubt that Image worship was prevalent.

  • Aboriginal like Yaksha and Naga have dieties. We find numerous dieties in their settlements since earliest times. Which show that Idol worship was prevalent before vedic times(7000BC)

  • Sakya, the clan Buddha was born in, had its own Yaksha deity, the Yaksha Sakyavardhana, the benevolent guardian of Sakyas. As prevailed the custom, soon after his birth, the child Buddha was presented to Yaksha Sakyavardhana for child's long life and glory.

So from the above points the worshipping of Forms and images was widely prevalent and the Idea is not Import from west. Let us move to the next point. Was the Buddha image creation due to influence of the west.

Foreign Influence.

Foucher argued that the Buddha Image is a eurasian one or Greek one. Let us analyse the facts.Before the Gandhara buddhist images there were Mathura Buddhist Images which were Indian in look and Indigenous. So there is no question of Gandhara images being the first buddhist images. Infact Gandhara images are continuation of mathura Images. Let us see the if there is any influence of Greek or western on the Gandhara images. Let us see one by one

Image

  • The Asanas are all Indian. The early art shows five sitting postions with hands showing mudras (Dharmachakra Mudra, Dhyna Mudra, Bhumisparsa Mudra, Varada mudra, Abhaya Mudra)

  • The Dress worn by Boddhisattvas are Indian.

  • Physical attributes: Protuberance(usnisa) on the crown is evident, urna or turf in the fine hair between the brows is evident, Fingers are webbed, The Ears are elongated by wearing the ear rings before monastic robes.

  • The Boddhisattvas represented in less rigid position holding attributes in the hands(vajra pani in Vajra, Padmapani by roselotus , Avalokitesvara by blue lotus, Maitreya Amrta Flask) These attributes can be held in any hand, but they are always held in Right hand by Indian Tradition.

  • The Dieties are either seated or Standing on traditional Indian lotus Flower.

Symbols

All the Symbols used in the Art are indian such as bull, Sacred Tree,Mountain, River , many Solar ,Nandipada, Trishul, Swastik, Lotus , Bow and Arrow Etc. These are Hindu, Jain and Buddhist or Indian.

Art form

In Indian art (abstract) the emphasis is laid on the significance of the object not the appearance. In Greek art (naturalistic) the emphasis is laid on the object and its looks. Every art is a compromise between the abstract and naturalistic, but what we see in Gandhara and other Indian art is continuos concept of Abstract(whether one finds a sacred tree or Buddha Figure) , no swing from one style to another as seen during 19th century when there were wild swings to European art. The Gandhara artforms are infact reproduction of early mathura artforms.

Technology

The Technology , Craftsman were already present , when the need for buddha arise and they had no problem in making the images.

Conclusion

So we cannot say that the Buddha got the Image due to Western Influence. The Gandhara art shows lot of Influence of Hellenistic artform, but the Image is originally Indian. Hinduism , Jainism and Buddhism embodied accomodation of non-believers into their fold as they are , without losing anything. Unlike in Europe when pre-christian gods were banished once christianity took hold, Indian faith accepted aboriginal Yaksha and Naga dieties and symbols and absorbed them. This process continued and Buddhist and Jain elements were absorbed into Hindu fold. So the Image and Deity worship are essentially Indian , though they were not part of Hindu, Jain or Buddhist Dharma initially.

Ref:

The origin of Buddha Image by Ananda K Coomaraswamy

3 comments:

  1. Hindu scriptures such as shilpa shastra/ agama sutras talk about consecration of deities etc.
    Deity for is considered archa avatar of God, atleast in Ramanuja tradition, God is Nirguna and sadhguna
    The common analogy is like water - Water is everywhere around you in air etc. Then it goes through condensation as rain, then stored in underground or lakes for use. Similarly God is everywhere. He takes human forms similar to rain. Since only people who lived in avatars can see Him, He took archa form, similar to water in lakes.
    God is so powerful that a fraction of Him is equally powerful similar to fractions of infinity. This is how I understand
    Books like Silapadhikaram mention Srirangam, Thirupathi with description of the deity...
    Krishna abducted Rukmani when she went to the temple....
    Probably you know all of it,
    It was nice seeing your blog where you are not diffident to quite Indian (Hindu) literary sources as equally authentic compared to western written books
    Our history chronology suffered from the fact that it is mainly oral tradition, so all the finer points are not so obvious unless you listened fully. Now our entire history is being documented correctly but unfortunately, officialdom cannot make it official because it is based on lots of Hindu traditional sources. if they ever acknowledge those sources, then they are labelled right-wing/ communal...

    Good Work...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Mugundhan
    Thankyou, You should read Shankara description of God, Will give additional perspective

    ReplyDelete
  3. recently i have been going through history and origins of GODS for different religion and for the budha i find interesting because of the hair ....can anyone explain to me why does the budha has knot hair? because most religion in india,africa etc Gods carries the same hair texture of the people

    ReplyDelete

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