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Early Buddhist Art of Central India by Assistant Professor Vinay Kumar Rao

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Early Buddhist Art of Central India
Assistant Professor Vinay Kumar Rao, Assam University, India

Plate I
Plate II
Plate III
Plate IV
Plate V
Plate VI
Plate VII
Plate VIII
Plate IX
Plate X
Plate XI
Plate XII
Plate XIII
Plate XIV
Plate XV
Plate XVI
Plate XVII
Plate XVIII
Plate XIX
Plate XX
Plate XXI

Abstract :A person having faith in Buddhism has great inclination for Buddha, Dhaṁṁa and Saṁgha, three ratnas of Buddhism. The main objective of Buddhist art from its time of inception was to popularise the teachings of Buddha, morality of religion and disciplined way of saṁgha life. In attempt to achieve the goal early Buddhist art initiated to carve various scenes from life of Buddha, Jatakas and Buddhist motifs with great enthusiasm. But instead of having great inclination for Buddhism some depictions are made with great artistic width which has nothing to do with teachings of Buddhism. These depictions are continuity of Indian folk traditions which became dormant for some time during the rise of Magadha but soon revived in changed socio-cultural environment. This give the liberty to artist to carve scenes like madhu-pāna, mithuna, mild erotic efforts, pleasure trips and pastime activities on various parts of Buddhist establishment which have nothing common with Buddhism. The Saṁgha and patrons not interfered and allowed the artist to carve scenes representing worldly life. The artist was aware to his limitations so he carved mithuna scenes of mildly-amorous nature and never attempted to go for maithuna scenes.

The proposed paper intends to discuss the development of early Buddhist art in central part of India like Bharahuta, Sāñc̣ī, Sonārī, Satdhārā, Bhojapur, Āndher which were situated at point of intersections between the south and north. The paper with the help of plates intends to elaborate the nature of sensuous scenes in early Buddhist art of central India. The paper also aims to discuss various social, cultural and economic factors that permitted the artist to depict sensuous scenes at establishments of Buddhist importance.


Buddha as prince spends a luxurious and prosperous life in his three palaces at Kapilavastu. Once he went to take a round of the capital on his chariot and became unease to see a weak old man; a withered person suffering with illness; a dead body carried by his mourning friends and relatives to cremation ground and finally an ascetic walking proudly along the way of city.[1] This makes him aware of the true reality of life and distracts him from enjoyments, pleasures and worldly comforts. In search of spiritual peace and desire to come up from the sorrow he reached Bodha Gaya and ultimately discovered the law of causation under the bodhi-vrikśa. After his enlightenment he travelled to Mrigdāva and delivered his first sermon to five mendicants who later became his first disciples. The conversion of five mendicants, kaśyapa along with his followers, Sañjaya with his many followers including Sāriputra and Maudgalyāyana provided a significant foundation for establishing Saṁgha.

The saṁgha always expected a pure and simple monastic life from its incumbents. The maithuna or sexual intercourse was extremely forbidden for any person living in a saṁgha. The wrong deed was considered as a Pārājika dharma and a monk found guilty for committing was immediately dismissed from the saṁgha. An intimate relation between a women and a monk are highly condemnable. If a monk was caught making into any physical contact with a woman, or found attempted to hold a woman by hands or hairs was charged for sanghādideśa. He may be presented before a group of monks if was found guilty of addressing a woman with wicked words or exciting to passion and may be expelled from the saṁgha. Consuming fermented liquors or strong drinks are restricted for a monk and he was prohibited to have any secret meetings or visits to a women. This was considered among some of pāc̣ittiya misdeeds for which he may be accused if they are admitted by a monk in front of other fellow monks.[2] Buddhism never tried to intervene in individual life of common households and mercantile community who are the big supporters of it. But simultaneously they urged these laities not to go for never lasting pleasures. Buddha himself told his followers not to go for pleasure, affection, and lust which always end to fear. An individual who is free from fear only knows neither grief nor fear.[3]

Erecting a stupa over the remains of a great person was not a Buddhist idea and it was practiced in Indian since the Vedic age. But the Buddhists could be given the credit of constructing many alpaśākhya and mahāśākhya stupas over the remains of Buddha. As per the wish of Buddha his body was carried malla chiefs with a mass procession to mukuṭa-bandhana situated on east side of city and was graciously criminated. The final relics of Buddha were divided among eight kings who carried them to their respective territories and erected eight stupas over them. To make the construction of stupas more attractive and meaningful the patrons and sculptors made extreme effort to decorate them with various natural motifs, life scenes of prince Siddhārtha and the Jatakas. But they never forgotten the instructions of Buddha and avoided to present him anthropomorphically. The Stupas are further added with construction of vihāras to accommodate the big number of monks looking for an abode and meditation during the varṣāvāsa.

The stupas like Bharahut, Sāñc̣ī, Sonārī, Satdhārā, Bhojapur, Āndher in central India belongs to the category of the earliest stupas remained with sculptural representations. It is significant to notice that though the stupas are devoted to Buddha and were made worship the lord still they accommodate some artistic representations which have nothing to do with Buddhism. In no manner they are imposed by saṁgha and at no extents they suits with the idea of ethics and morality of Buddhism. The Buddhist sculptural art tried to accommodate some popular beliefs like yakśas, devatās and nāgas as deities protecting the monastic establishments. At Bharhuta the sculptor was allowed to carve some mithunas at the exteriors of the stupa; but the depictions are more concerned to the continuity of a cultural tradition prevalent in the region and emphasised on the liveliness of life rather than an attempt to give it a more lucrative look. But soon this freedom of accommodating popular animist practices modified according to Buddhist requirements and cult of representing fertility through depicting feminine representations started to attain mild sensuous look. The mithunas started to be depicted with other companions; soon their passiveness was replaced by seductive efforts. Later the earlier hesitation to carve sensuous scenes was even overruled and people from prosperous background are started to be depicted involved in scenes like consuming intoxicants, mithunas involved in erotic efforts and deeply involved in amorous moods, certainly a transformation of sculptural art to artistic tradition which has nothing common with the ethics, morality and teachings of Buddha. It is important to trace out the circumstances which made this transformation possible which is incomplete without discussing the cultural-economic condition of central India since prior to 2nd century BC onwards.

Bharhuta and Sāṅc̣ī situated at the eastern and western extent of central India had significant importance due to its location which provides a well designated land route between eastern and western and northern and southern India. Bharhuta was situated on the eastern extent of central India and connects Śrāvastī and Kauśāṁbī to narmada valley of C̣edi region. Passing through dense Goṇḍavānā region it further connects Magadha to western India. The second important centre of central India Sāṅc̣ī was situated at its western extent near Vidiśā. Vidiśā, plaid an important role in the development of eastern Mālwā which was famous as Ākara. It provided good approach between Mathurā and Ujjain, the capital of Avanti. The route connects the glorious ports like Bahrūkakśa and Suppāraka of western Deccan and gives convenient approach to prosperous cities like Maculipattanam, kanchivaram and Rameshvaram of southern India.[4] The Suttanipāta gives an elaborative detail of route connecting Rājagriha with Partiṣtḥāna situated at bank of Godāvarī. It mentions names of cities like Assaka, Partiṣtḥāna, Mahiṣmatī, Ujjaini, Gonaddha and Vidiśā which are on the way to Rājagriha.[5]

It’s noteworthy to see that neither Bharahut nor Sāñc̣ī are associated with any incident of Buddha’s life. Moreover there is no evidence that any of the two places were visited by Buddha to spend varṣāvāsa. The places are even not related with any event in the history of Buddhist monachism. It is known that Aśoka was married to Devī who was daughter of a merchant an inhabitant of Vidiśā. It attained the attention of King Aśoka to engrave inscription and he chosen Sāñc̣ī a place not situated far distance from Vidiśā. The place was in accordance to the requirements of a monastic settlement and attracted big donations from the rich mercantile community and people living around Vidiśā. The stupa of Sāñc̣ī was erected by Aśoka and it was encased and enlarged during the period of Śungas. The carved gateways are contribution of Sātavāhana period.[6] But Bharahuta which experienced the carving of sculptures prior to Sāñc̣ī has no such kind of political identity.

India experienced number of attacks from its western frontier but the Bactrian and Śaka’s invasions laid deep influence on cultural and economic life of ancient India. They did every possible effort to get mixed up with Indian culture. It is remarkable to note that where the local Sātvāhana rulers expressed their interest to engrave their inscriptions in simple Prākrit the Śaka adopted Sanskrit. This was just an attempt to associate them with the supreme Indian traditions.[7] The period witnessed a sudden growth in trade and commercial activities and benefited the people and merchants both. The merchants who had to travel frequently to the interior regions of country given open hearted donations to the vihāras which are in the way of their itinerary. This changed the vihāras into a rich organization. The voluptuous mithunas and their amorous depictions are an outcome of these traders who frequently visit the vihāras and stupas in respect to their trade related activities. The wealthy traders shown their personal interest to aid these establishments and even invited the sculptors from other region for the carving of mundane and sensuous scenes.[8]

The newly emerged wealthy class of the society developed a new kind of urban culture where an individual has more freedom to express his desires. In wake of new political powers in contrast to prior dynastic rule both the art and literature gained more space to perform. An Sātavāhana king Hāla himself written Gāthāsaptaśatī with description of love. Just after the Sātavāhana period Vātsyāyana wrote his famous work Kāmasutra which was aimed to facilitate the newly emerged nāgaraka culture with useful information on various dimensions of love. In later age many Sanskrit dramas are written in sophisticated Sanskrit languages which were acted at various Buddhist monasteries on certain occasions. It was result of this new transformation that even the texts like Saundernanda and Buddhacārita are not untouched with sensuous texture which was written to introduce some of the important events of Buddha’s life. It is significant to note that the way how these amorous depictions are carved on stone are exactly described in literature written in succeeding period.

A pillar from discovered from Bharhuta depicts a mithuna in frontal pose. The male figure standing right to his cohort is shown wearing a turban. The hair dress is comprised of many veṣatanas tugged into a top knot to the left of his head. He is dressed with impressive ornaments in form of heavy Kuṇḍalas resting on his shoulders and a multi stringed hāra clinging over his chest. He has worn a pair of bracelet in his hands and loosely tugged an antariya cloth. His consort standing left to him is shown wearing a very attractive hair dress. She has tied her hair under an embroidered turban wrapped in cross manner giving rise to a protuberance in the middle. A semi-lunar māṅgaṭikā is placed at her forehead. She is wearing almost same ear ornaments like her cohort but two hāras of variant forms resting between her bare breasts. She has loosely tied a maṇi-mekhalā at her waist and bangles on wrist. The lower dress has covered her legs up to the knees and a multi coiled mañjirās has covered her anklets. Both the figures with bare foot are shown resting their one leg on a rock. Though the depiction shows the couple in very bold and vibrant manner but in no way they could be taken as a sensuous depiction of a mithuna. The vegetal motif shown just left to the female figure is fit to present them as an artistic expression of liveliness of life (Plate I).

The Prasenjita pillar at Bharhuta depicts a royal couple in frontal posture. The male standing at the right is wearing an elegant dress and precious jewellery. He has worn a heavy turban entangles with precious metallic frills. Having small kuṇḍalas in ear he has worn a drapery resting on his right shoulder and wrist of left hand going from back. The fine antariya is tugged at the middle of bailey and clings between the legs touching the ground. His wife is shown standing close to him with upraising her right feet from the toe. The female has placed her right hand on the shoulder of king in possessive manner. She has carried a bird in her let hand uplifted above shoulder. The lady figure is dressed with a kaṇtḥahāra and a v shaped multi stringed necklace. She has loosely tied an antariya made of fine cloth under a broad maṇimekhalā. The cloth covering her full legs is substituted with coiled mañjirās in ankles. The similar height of queen and king and the attractive posture of queen with slightly upraised left hip and deeply carved navel make it more near to a depiction of a live mithuna than the depiction of king Kaḍariki of Kuṇāla Jataka (No 536) as read by Luders on a level inscription written on it.[9] The carving of bird shows its conformity with Śuka kriḍā a popular pastime activity loved by women from prosperous background (Plate II). The same pillar again shows a mithuna preparing them for some occasion. The male figure standing in ease position and by resting weight of his body over the left leg is shown concentrating on tying turban on his head. The depiction elaborately tells that to wear the turban people usually select big piece of cloth and after forming a veṣṭana some portion was leaved loosen to form a side knot after completion of head dressing. The male figure having a short antariya, bracelets in both hands and ornaments in neck seems to be in hurry. His beloved sitting aside him on a stone slab is carved waiting calmly for her cohort. She has occupied the seat in lalitāsana resting her right leg in pendant like position and folded the other on the seat in eased position. She had carried a flower in her right hand and put the other hand carelessly on the thigh of folded leg (Plate III). Like the previous one the sculpture has a level inscription written as Vijapi Vijadharo. Luders took it as carving of Samugga Jātaka (No 436) which may be true.[10] But again the lack of narrative details it seems more affected with the artistic style and method of depicting the lively couple than the characters of a Jataka. The rear face of Western Gate on its North Pillar, shows king Muc̣alinda in lilāsana posture keeping both legs on cushion; he is served by naginis with single hood; three at the left hand are waiting to have drink from a nagini standing above with having pitcher; king looking to them; music consort just like previous but here addition of a flute at the top.

The central Indian art presents some good illustration of pleasurable and luxurious life of privileged people. The figures have nothing common like self-restrain, simplicity and sacrifice suggested in Buddhism. The first illustration carved on front face of northern pillar of eastern gate gives a good description of heavenly life enjoyed by devatās. The pillar from bottom carves C̣āturmahārājika, Trayastriṁśa, Yama, Tuṣitadeva, Nirmāṇarati and Parinirmitavaśavartina svarga in similar manner. The all the depictions are mere representation of each one and show two devatās enjoying drink at the top. They are attended and served by three beautiful damsels present to look for their comfort. The lower portion shows the pleasurable and amusing heavenly life of devatās. In the first vertical column a devatā is shown eating some food-stuff and in some drink in the second. In both of the carvings they are shown sitting in lalitāsana, resting a foot on pitḥikā and other folded to the throne. Each of them is accompanied by two women attendants carrying two important royal insignias, a cḥatra and a fly-whisk. The third panel shows six lady performers showing their talent. The two women at the top are carved singing in full joy, the middle ones are shown playing two separate stringed musical instrument and the lower ones with beating a side drum and drum (Plate IV).

The comfortable and lavish life style enjoyed by a king is once more depicted at the rear face of the northern pillar of western gate (Plate V). The illustration of showing the palace of nāga rāja Muc̣alinda presents only a single presence of a male that is the king himself. The five hooded king is surrounded by number of nāga women carved with single hood. At the right side, three nāginis are carved seated and enjoying drink with sharing some words. An nāga woman is attentively standing back to them carrying a pitcher full of drink. The king has occupied his throne in lilāsana resting his both legs on the cushion. Carrying a lotus flower in his right hand he is pleasantly watching his queens sharing drink and dialogue. The lady musicians are repeating the same performance like the earlier but one of the musicians carved at the right side top is shown playing a flute. The royal dignitaries and people from wealthy background are used to go on pleasure trip to some natural environment. The forest situated by nearby or ponds are an ideal destination for such leisure trips. The nobility generally prefers to go on an elephant in such trips and some very near and dear women from his harem are invited to accompany him. Some elaborative descriptions of such pleasure trips are illustrated on toraṇas of Sanchi. In second architrave of front face of southern gate a king is carved riding a giant big tusked elephant. The elephant has uprooted a lotus flower from the pond in his trunk and the king is shown busy in controlling the animal with anchor. The elephant is carefully and interestingly decorated for the occasion. A headband, cushion and clinging bells to indicate his arrival are beautifully carved. The prime queen of the king is shown occupying the seat before him. She is shown helping another queen by giving her hands at the ground to climb up on the elephant (Plate VI). A kings pleasure rip is once again illustrated at Stupa no II of Sāñc̣ī. It is a further development of precious theme where a king is shown proceeding to a pleasure with two of his beloved. The artist made here every effort to illustrate the natural beauty and environment of a forest. The elephant has entered a pond and is busy in jala-kriḍā. He is carved grabbing a lotus with its stem and stirring water by his tail. The king as mahout is helping his beloved to climb to the animal from ahead. He is shown with another beautiful lady at his back placing a hand to his shoulder and offering her left hand to another lady to ride on the elephant. The lady placing one hand at her waist and other towards the rider seems indecisive wither to go on elephant rid or not. The pond is full of lotus and lily flowers and a monkey is carved sitting on the tree at the bank of the pond (PL VII). Inside a medallion at Sāñc̣ī Stupa no II a prince is going on an elephant with his queen to a trip. Both the figures are shown wearing an impressive head dress and are shown in their hard efforts to balance them on a moving elephant. The elephant with all sorts of necessary ornaments and dressings is shown going into the street delightedly (Plate VIII).

Buddha himself and Saṁgha never favoured the practice of consuming liquor and the urged people to always disgrace it. Buddha gives an instance of earlier times when in a wine drinking festival monks after receiving wine performed absurd activities like dancing, singing and crying and acting like monkeys.[11] It is known from the literary evidences that some specific occasions and organising āpānagoṣtḥī or sajāyāpānagoṣtḥī are not uncommon among the people who can easily afford the expenditure of such gatherings.[12] Sometimes a week long festivals were organised to celebrate the happiness and joy of people when they take wine with great passion and delight.[13] Wine drinking practice was not limited only to a specific group of people but was also well-liked by prosperous couples. There are clearly marked evidences that both husband and wife participate in samāpānaka goṣtḥī and equally enjoy the occasion.[14]

Sāñc̣ī gives some beautiful illustration of sajāyāpānagoṣtḥī at pillars of toraṇas of the main stupa. The east pillar of northern gate at its front face illustrates an event of royal procession. A wealthy and noble person is carved witnessing the colorful glance of the princely figures from his balcony. The depiction is repeated at two times at some place separated by a tree. In first one the wealthy figure is carved peeping towards the street carrying a wine cup in his right hand. He is accompanied by three woman attendants at his sides. The female attendant at the first has carried a vessel covered with a metal glass and seems deliberate to refill the wine cup in hands of her master. The second one has carried some eatables in a tray and the third one seems to be wife of the noble person is carved expressing her feeling to see the royal procession going downwards to the street. The same scenario is again repeated at the other half with certain changes. Here only bust of the attendants is appeared and the portion below the chest is hidden inside the railing of the balcony at the terrace. Only the śreṣtḥi is shown having a c̣aṣaka in his hands. The presence of his consort is not very evident. The carving of a peacock sitting at the side pillar of the space makes the scenic depiction more elaborative (Plate IX).

The people in cities are used to see processions and movements at the streets from the open space of their houses. In an illustration showing Buddha’s pleasure trip to see the city at the front face of the western pillar of northern gate a family of a wealthy merchant is carved magnificently. The male figure is surrounded by three attendants to look his necessities but is reflected more concerned to see the prince going at the street than their master. The other side of the carving is more significant. Here three ladies are shown standing inside a balcony and enjoying the princely procession of Siddhārtha to see the city and its surroundings. One of the ladies carrying a covered kalaśa in her right hand seems to be attendant and has very stylishly kept her another hand on her left waist. The lady at the middle has lifted a madhu-pātra to her breasts and is very generously carved giving support to other by allowing her to place her hand over her shoulder (Plate X).

The rear face of second architrave of western gate at Sāñc̣ī gives a magnificent description of a madhupāna scene showing a king a queen. The royal couple is attended by a cāmara dhariṇī, a female attendant holding a cḥatra and another female carrying a big kalaśa filled with wine. The queen is shown holding a cup under the kalaśa to offer it to the king. The king seems to be heavily drunk find difficult to seat on the chair and has fallen down to the arm rest and back rest of the chair (Plate XI).

It is interesting to see him still demanding for drink overlooking his alarming condition. The princely figures and prosperous people go for an udyānagamana at some intervals. The deed of visiting gardens situated at some distance from the city provides them opportunity to meet their beloved in more serene and pleasant nvironment. The restricted visits with their beloved made it possible to pass some time with utmost privacy in gardens usually situated near natural water source which were not possible in the crowdie life of cities. The rear face of first architrave of northern gate carves Vessāntara Jataka in a very elaborative way. The prince is shown sitting in līlāsana. He is dressed in a very impressive and heavy turban and is carved carrying a lotus flower with its stem in his left hand. He is shown touching the knot of his antariya perhaps to make him easy to sit and talk with his queen. His wife is shown sitting on a rock placing her both legs to ground. Like wise her husband she is also carved with having a flower in her other hand. Keeping her left hand to her waist she is eagerly waiting for her husband to take some initiative (PL XII).

The front face of western pillar of southern gate carves two nice depictions showing a couple enjoying in pleasure garden. The charming lady is shown seating on a rock with carrying a garland in her hands. The face of lady is fragmented but a long hāra with a pendant clinging between her breasts shows her prosperity. Her male companion is shown seated in more elaborative manner. He has done every effort to show his intimacy with his counterpart. His right leg is placed over the right thigh of his beloved and the right one is placed under the knee. More pleasingly he is shown playing a stringed musical instrument with taking support from the stem of a tree. It is noteworthy to see the presence of a peacock carrying a garland in his beak and a lion calmly watching the pleasant meeting of the couple (Plate XIII). At same place another couple is carved expressing their pleasure of meeting in a garden. The trees of the garden are decorated with number of garlands intentionally prepared for the occasion. The couple is showed sited on elegant lotus thrones in eased position. The male figure is carved attempting to grab his lover towards him but the lady is purposefully shown moving apart to a vegetal frill swinging from the tree. One more couple is carved at the top expressing their feeling of ecstasy by lovingly teasing each other (Plate XIV).

The Buddhist sculptural art manifested with carving of couples at various parts of Buddhist embellishment as a donors and as devoted worshipper of Buddhism.

Such depictions are limited to a depiction of mithuna having no inclination towards amorous activities. Pleasure and sensuousness has no place in art. But soon with advent of new element in Buddhist art the mithunas started to perform mildly amorous efforts. The migration of lively mithunas to maithuna was a noteworthy change in Buddhist sculptural art and does not reciprocate with teaching of Buddhism. The sculptors adopted this significant deviation due to demands of newly emerged social class but still maintained decency in not going beyond a limit. The sculptor in early Buddhist sculptural art of central India preferred to carved the scenes of external enjoyments which are performed in precedence to internal enjoyments, known as surata or coition. We have no evidence which shows any couple involved in surata internally. It is noteworthy to see that even the other processes like kissing; the nakhaśata, the dantaśata, keśagrahaṇas and other amorous blandishments are discouraged. It is only āliṅgana (embraces) which was preferred in art while carving sensuous scenes in comparison to other methods of external enjoyments.

Two nice depictions of bāhya puruṣopsriptaka are noteworthy in respect of scenes representing the external enjoyments.

The first depiction is from Bharhuta where a male figure is carved initiating the pleasurable activities. The male is carved preparing his partner for love making but not seems eager to execute love making it internally like as abhyantara puruṣopsriptaka. The male is shown grabbing his beloved by her left hand and is attempted to snatch her cloths down to initiate love making. Though the lady seems to do every possible effort to free herself from the garb of her beloved but her body posture suggest such attempt merely an showiness. Her loosened antariya cloth just going to felt exposes her beauty and slenderness of her body (PL XV). The other scene depicting a male dominating her female partner in bāhya puruṣopsriptaka is shown at the rear face of eastern pillar of the southern gate. Here a male dressed in very elegant hair dress and ornaments is shown grabbing his lover by her right hand. He is carved placing his one hand to her waist in manner to embrace her from behind. The female seems like previously to restrain her from going into the lap of her lover but her hand posture tickling the hairs affirms her submissiveness (Plate XVI).

In contrast to puruṣopsriptaka where a male dominate in love making and initiates the efforts the samana is a position where both the male and female enjoy the pleasure of love equally. Subsequently it is very difficult to find that who among them is taking initiative and dominating in love making. Similar to scenes depicting the puruṣopsriptaka male and female figures in samana are also not carved engaged internally. A good representation of bāhya samana is carved at Bharhuta. Here a male and his lover are carved standing aside a pot placed at ground in frontal manner. Both of the figures are depicted placing their opposite hands stylishly on nivibandha, likewise going to loose the lower garment. They are attempted to grab each other by other hands from their waist. The dress, loosened hair knots, slackly tied turban, slithered drapery to shoulder and facial expressions shows their eagerness to initiate the love making (Plate XVII).

The early Buddhist art of central India provides some good illustrations of males and female figures embracing each other. The action popularly known as ālingana is carved with variance and proficiency in central India.

Stupa II of Sāñc̣ī depicts a couple involved in kaṇtḥa kleśa a kind of ālingana. The depiction is carved with low relief but gives a good idea of this embrace where a male is shown holding his beloved towards him by her neck. The male is shown capturing the female from behind. It is more noteworthy to see that in wake of pleasure he has placed his left leg over the right leg of lady and is attempted to bring the face of her near to his perhaps to give her a kiss (Plate XVIII).

The sculptural art of central India gives some good depictions of a specific type of ālingana. The method known as jaghan ālingana comprises of a partner sitting at ground or throne keeping his or her partner on his or thighs. The ālingana usually ends with kissing the partner with fond affection. The jaghan ālingana is repeated at Sāñc̣ī in good numbers. It is important to note that though the theme or love making posture is repeated in numbers but it has an extent of variance.

The first depiction of this kind of embrace is carved at the front face of first architrave of eastern gate. Here a lively couple is carved occupying a common seat in pleasant and calm environment of a forest. The male is sited in lalitāsana sitting in ease with right leg lying to ground and other resting to the throne. He has placed his lover on his folded thigh. The lady has placed her right hand over the shoulder of her beloved. Her left leg is lying to the ground and has placed other behind his hips. Both of them has worn a big garland in neck appropriate for the occasion and has spread their free hands freely in the space. The scene shows both of them enjoying the moment with immense pleasure. This is a depiction of jaghana ālingana affirming the samana where both the partners are enjoying the pleasure of love equally (Plate XIX).

Two more depictions of jaghan alingana are traced at Sāñc̣ī. In contrast to the previous illustration where the male and female both are carved participating equally in love making these depictions shows the female partners dominating to their male partners. The motive is commonly known as puruṣāyita. The first illustration of jaghan alingana is found at front face of Eastern pillar of northern gate. Here a couple is shown enjoying the love moment aside a natural water fall. The male figure has carried a c̣aṣaka filled with drink and is carved passively sitting in lalitāsana. His female partner is shown sitting proudly over his folded left thigh. She has laying her right leg freely to the ground and grabbed the waist of her lover by her right leg from behind. More strangely to show her dominance she is holding her partner from his neck. The theme resembles very much with the kaṇṭhakleśa described earlier (Plate XX). The other representation of Jaghan ālingana reflects the woman in more vibrant and dominating manner. In a carving at the front face of northern pillar at western gate the female lover is shown lying over the male from behind. The male figure is sitting on a āsandī placing his both legs to the ground and trying to snatch a garland from his left hand. His lover sited behind him has placed her one leg over his thigh and has grabbed his waist from other. She is so desperate to make love that she has rounded her both hands like a garland on her partner’s neck. Her facial gesture and action of placing her chin over the shoulder of her beloved reflects the feeling of passion and ecstasy in meeting her beloved (Plate XXI).

We know that the period between 1st BCE to 3rd CE witnessed the advent of new political powers like, Saka, Bactrian’s and Sātavāhanas. These newly emerged powers provided more liberty and space in field of art and literature in contrast to prior dynastic rule which overshadowed the skill, experimentation and individual choice of artist. The newly emerged wealthy class of traders and benefited common people in wake of sudden growth in trade and commercial activities encouraged the constructions of Buddhist embellishments. In the new scenario the merchants are not treated with inferiority by samgha and they need some place for transit accommodation and worship in midst of their frequent travels to the interior regions of country. This encouraged them to give open hearted donations to the vihāras which changed them into a rich organization. The wealthy traders shown their personal interest to aid these establishments and even invited the sculptors from other region for the carving of mundane and sensuous scenes. But still the sculptor compromised to a certain extent only and never allowed to transform a mithuna into a maithuna and only carved mildly amorous scenes.

Footnotes

  1. Bapat, P.V (Ed), 2500 Years of Buddhism, New Delhi, 1997, Page 19.
  2. Sankrityayan, Rahul (ed.), Vinayapiṭaka, 1994, Varanasi, Pp. 8, 11, 25 and 27.
  3. Dhammapada, Trans. By Max Muller, Scared Book of East, Vol X, Delhi, 2004 (Reprint), Page 57.
  4. Motichandra, Sarthavaha, Patna, 1953, Pp24-25.
  5. Suttanipāta Aḷakassa patiṭtḥānam, purim māhissaṁti tadā ujjeniṁ c̣āpi gonaddhaṁ, vedisa vanasavyahṁ, Pārāyaṇvagga, Vatthugāthā, Verse 37, P. 260.
  6. Mitra, Debala, Sanchi, New Delhi, p. 6.
  7. Kosambi, D.D. Prachin Bharat ki Sanskriti aur Sabhyata (in hindi,) New Delhi, p. 209.
  8. Kosambi, D.D. Prachin Bharat ki Sanskriti aur Sabhyata (in hindi,) New Delhi, p. 228.
  9. Luders, H. (Ed). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol II, Part II) 1963, Ootacamund, Inscription No B 60.
  10. Luders, H. (Ed). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol II, Part II) 1963, Ootacamund, Inscription No B 61.
  11. Kausalyayana, B. A. (Ed). Jataka, Vol-I, 1994, Allahabad, apāyimha anac̣c̣imha agāyimha rūdimha c̣a, visañkaraṇim pītvā diṭtḥā nā humha vānarā; Surāpāna Jātaka, No 81).
  12. Dwivedi, P. N. (Ed.), Kāmasutra 1999, Varanasi, V, V, 12 p. 175.
  13. Bhikshu Dharmarakshita, Dhammapada (Ed.) 1959, Varanasi, 10, 9.
  14. Chaudhuri, S. N. (Ed.) Saundrananda 1994, Delhi, IV, 2, p. 97.

Source

By Assistant Professor Vinay Kumar Rao, Assam University, India
The third International Conference Buddhism & Australia 2014