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The formation of early Buddhist visual culture
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology, History of Religions.
2006 (English)In: Material Religion, ISSN 1743-2200, Vol. 2, no 1, 68-95 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The absence of anthropomorphic images of the Buddha in early Buddhist visual culture can be characterized as a de facto aniconism. It was not due to any prohibition, or to religious or philosophical doctrine; nor was it a reaction against iconic worshiping. Instead, the absence of images of the Buddha was due to the fact that early Buddhist visual symbols belonged to a shared sacred Indian culture. In this sacred culture, one tended to depict auspicious symbols, mythological creatures and local deities. The Buddhists used auspicious symbols to protect themselves, but also to popularize and strengthen the Buddhist movement. The Buddhist movement was in need of local support. Eventually, this early Buddhist visual culture was transformed into a conscious Buddhist visual culture with distinct Buddhist visual symbols. Buddhist visual symbols are not timeless works of art but, rather, part of a social and cultural context. As successive generations interpret these visual symbols over time, the meaning may change. However, auspicious symbols, such as wheels, trees and lotus-flowers, often depicted in early Buddhist sacred sites, were interpreted by later generations as distinctly Buddhist visual signs. This development is difficult to grasp, because a great number of different people were involved in the manufacture and use of early Buddhist visual culture. This paper stresses different categories of people and the roles they played in the creation of Buddhist visual culture. The creation of Buddhist visual culture was an intricate social drama involving large numbers of people. The "iconographie authority" was an expert team consisting of monastic monks or nuns, donors and artisans. This paper also stresses that early visual culture gave shape to the life story of the Buddha and was important for the origin of the first Buddha images.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2006. Vol. 2, no 1, 68-95 p.
National Category
Religious Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-145487ISI: 000245115300003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-145487DiVA: diva2:396283
Available from: 2011-02-09 Created: 2011-02-09 Last updated: 2011-02-09Bibliographically approved

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