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Buddhism and its Iconography–A Brief Study – 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, during early Buddhism, there was no idol worship as the Buddha himself was against idol worship. With the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in North-Western India, the image of Buddha was introduced into the Buddhist art. This new culture started in Gandhara and Mathura, and defied the Hinayana school and gradually, the image of Buddha adorned all subsequent Buddhist sites.

There is a third sect in Buddhism called the Vajrayana. This sect is only found in Nepal and Tibet today. This sect introduced Tantric culture in the religion. A distinct feature of this sect is the the use of rituals as an alternative to the earlier abstract meditation. The lure towards the Hindu rituals to have control of some external forces probably created this sect. In fact, human psychology and hypnosis was an element of this practice which the Vajrayanas used to have control over other people. However, the tantric culture vanished in time but the sect remained.

                                           How many of us know that Buddha is not a person? Buddha means “The Enlightened” and there are more than one in Buddhism. However, the most popular of the mortal Buddhas is Gautama., who is most widely represented in Indian Buddhist art. He appears in the sanctums of cave temples and also outside, depicted as either meditating or teaching. The Vajrayanas evolved the theory  of the primordial god whom they called Adi Buddha or Vajradhara, popularly worshipped in Nepal and Tibet. He is heavily ornamented and and sits in the attitude of meditation and holds a thunder-bolt in the right hand and a bell in the left. You can find this image at the the monastery at Kushalnagaar in the Madikere district of Karnataka. The “Lalitha-Vistara”, a Mahayana text makes a mention of fifty-six Buddhas and seven Manushi Buddhas.

                                            A Bodhisattva is the one who has become enlightened, acquired the Bodhi knowledge but who refuses to enter Nirvana since he desires to guide all mankind to the true path of the Buddha. The Bodhisattvas as namely Samatabhadra, Vajrapani, Ratnapani, Padmapani and Visvapani. There are many other Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. The most popular of these are Avalokiteswara (Padmapani) and Manjusri. They are widely represented in India, Tibet, China and Japan.

                                            It is believed that Maithreya is the Future Buddha. He will be born as a Manushi Buddha, 5000 years after the death of Gautama. During the period between the fourth Buddha i.e. Gautama and Maithreya, Avalokiteswara is to rule the world.

Now that we have discussed the iconography of Buddhism, we shall discuss about its rock cut architecture and the various constructions in the next post.

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