Sit

Here is a short documentary film, SIT, by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Yoko Okumura. You can read more about it on Trike Daily.

Where India and China Meet: Buddhist Art as Common Heritage

Stone tablet of the Buddha with two Bodhisattvas, 190cm by 100cm by 40cm, 582CE. Image courtesy of the Beijing Palace Museum.

Medium.com

Jinah Kim, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture, examines how an exhibition on Buddhist art at Beijing’s Palace Museum could establish the foundation for greater dialogue and understanding between India and China. This blog post first appeared in the Harvard University South Asia Institute’s “Faculty Voices” series, and has been lightly edited for the Fairbank Center blog by James Evans.

A first major loan exhibition of Indian art in Beijing was recently held in the majestic Meridian Gate tower of the Palace Museum of the Forbidden City (see a virtual tour of the exhibition here.) “Across the Silk Road: Gupta Sculptures and their Chinese Counterparts during 400 to 700CE” was an ambitious exhibition conceived by the senior curatorial fellow of the Palace Museum, Dr. Lou Wenhua, after his visit to India three years ago.

Fifty-six sculptures from nine Indian museums were on display against a red backdrop in one gallery, while two adjacent galleries were filled with over one hundred Chinese Buddhist sculptures against blue backdrop. Bringing this exhibition together was an impressive feat by the organizers in Beijing, which, of course, was not possible without collaborative efforts from many museum personnel and officers in India.


While the China-India bilateral relationship is not as rosy and warm as anticipated (i.e. India’s failed entry into the NSG at the Seoul plenary, as well as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor developments — part of President Xi Jinping’s Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Maritime Silk Road projects), the exhibition reminds us of the age-old connections between the two countries, notably activated and solidified through the transmission of Buddhism. It also opens up new possibilities for trans-regional connections in the future that may benefit tremendously from a mutual understanding of each other’s culture and history.

The time frame of the exhibition, from 400 to 700CE, is the period in which three Chinese monk-pilgrims, Faxian 法顯 (337-c.422CE), Xuanzang 陳褘 (602–664CE) and Yijing 義淨 (635–713CE), visited India. Their travelogues are enthusiastically mined as indispensable records for understanding the history of Indian Buddhism and the history of early medieval India, although they are at times unfortunately without any critical consideration of the Chinese monks’ own cultural prejudices and political motivations. The exhibition heralds “Gupta sculptures” as its main anchor perhaps unwittingly perpetuating a notion of the Gupta period (c. 320–550) as the “classical” or “golden” age of Indian Art, formulated during the early twentieth century. The selection is commendably wider in scope, however, in terms of the range of dates and the variety of iconography (from a circa third century Buddhist sculpture, to a circa fifth century Jaina stele, to circa seventh century Hindu sculptures).

The Palace Museum and the Forbidden City Cultural Heritage Conservation Foundation organized an international symposium to accompany the exhibition. I was invited to participate in it as an expert on Indian Buddhist art along with other foreign scholars from India and elsewhere (including the Fairbank Center’s Professor Leonard van der Kuijp). The three-day symposium was packed with speakers presenting on a variety of topics with about two thirds of papers on Chinese Buddhist sculptures of the period between 400 to 700CE. It was an exciting opportunity to learn about discoveries of new art historical materials from recent excavations.
On the India side, according to Dr. B. R. Mani, a respected archaeologist and the current director of India’s National Museum in New Delhi, a recent excavation at Sarnath, the celebrated pilgrimage site of Buddha’s first sermon, revealed material evidence for the hitherto-unnoticed existence of a sculptors’ workshop at the site. Many more new findings in China were shared with much enthusiasm and excitement. Chinese archaeologists seem to be discovering and excavating many more Buddhist sites and other related historical sites than ever before. The sheer amount of historical details and art historical evidence that emerge from these new excavations is incredible.

Continue reading

Base for giant pagoda could be first proof of mystery temple

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
February 10, 2017 at 17:50 JST

Trench digs at the Higashi-Yuge site in Yao, Osaka Prefecture, revealed the possible foundation of a pagoda where Yugeji temple is said to have stood in the eighth century. The foundation, marked by the white lines, is 20 meters by 20 meters. (Provided by the Yao education board)
Photo/Illustraion

YAO, Osaka Prefecture–Archaeologists have found a square foundation believed to have supported a towering pagoda that was part of a mysterious temple built by a powerful Buddhist monk in the eighth century.

The discovery at the Higashi-Yuge archaeological site was announced on Feb. 9 by a cultural property research group originally founded by the Yao city government.

It could be the first archaeological evidence proving the existence of Yugeji temple, which is said to have been built here in the Nara Period (710-784) by Dokyo, a Buddhist monk.

Dokyo rose in power after winning the favor of Empress Shotoku, one of the few female rulers in Japan’s history.

Her reign started in 764 and ended with her death in 770. Dokyo fell from power after she died, and he was relegated to what is now Tochigi Prefecture. The year of his birth is not known, but records show he died in 772.

Only a few historical documents mention Yugeji temple.

The research group and the Yao education board consider the square foundation, about 20 meters by 20 meters, as invaluable evidence in the search for Yugeji temple. They are now working to preserve the site.


The foundation was found in stratum dating back to the latter half of the eighth century.

According to Kazuhisa Hakozaki, a researcher of ancient Buddhist architecture at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the sheer size of the foundation indicates that a relatively large pagoda stood on top. Continue reading

The Case for Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas to Their Original Glory

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas. From wsj.com

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas. From wsj.com

By Buddhistdoor Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-01-27 |

After a long and difficult journey across the precipices and through the blizzards of the Tian Shan mountain ranges, Xuanzang (fl. c. 602–64) finally reached the town of Bamiyan in modern-day Afghanistan. His celebrated pilgrimage to India was one of astonishing tenacity, aided by the protection of bodhisattvas from the forces of nature, and on this leg of his journey Xuanzang arrived in a valley separating the Hindu Kush from its western extension, the Koh-i-baba. The residents of Bamiyan, according to the Chinese monk, wore furs and rough woolen clothes, and made a living growing spring wheat, flowers, and fruit, and herding cows, horses, and sheep. The people had coarse, uncultivated manners, but Xuanzang admired their simple and sincere religious faith, which they expressed by carving two colossal Buddha images into the rocky northeastern hill overlooking their settlements (a third reclining Buddha recorded in Xuanzang’s journal has yet to be found).

It is not known when the affectionately bestowed nicknames for the larger Buddha, Salsal (“light shines throughout the universe”), and Shamama (“Queen Mother”) for the smaller image, came into use. Historian Mahmud ibn Wali of Balkh (b. c. 1004 or 1095) wrote in his hagiography Bahr al-Asrar: “One cannot believe that there were made by human hands.” Frédéric Bobin of Le Monde put it quite well: “For 15 centuries the two mystic colossi gazed down as the trading caravans and warring armies streamed past. Monks came from China to worship here. Others meditated in nearby caves.” (The Guardian) Until they were desecrated and destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, the Bamiyan Buddhas inspired Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim observers alike, with one mullah (who no doubt represented the tolerant Islamic community in Bamiyan) lamenting, “The statues symbolised Bamiyan.” (The Guardian)

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH)* supports full restoration of the Bamiyan Buddhas and has carried out a rigorous study of eight options for rebuilding them. This is a proposal that makes many conservators at UNESCO blanch. It was UNESCO that declared in 2011 that the statues would be best remembered by their absence. “The two niches should be left empty, like two pages in Afghan history, so that subsequent generations can see how ignorance once prevailed in our country,” said Zamaryalai Tarzi, a Franco-Afghan archaeologist. (The Guardian) This is the dominant school of conservation at Bamiyan, which has been the victim of continuous political wrangling from different organizations and experts. Official UNESCO policy is based on the 1964 Venice Charter, which demands that “original material” be used for the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites, and if this rule is disregarded, there is the threat of UNESCO striking the site off its World Heritage List. Continue reading

Early Buddhist monastery awaits govt attention

The 1,800-year-old Vihara is situated 25 kilometres from Mingora. PHOTO: SHEHZAD KHAN/ EXPRESS

The 1,800-year-old Vihara is situated 25 kilometres from Mingora. PHOTO: SHEHZAD KHAN/ EXPRESS

The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2017.

By Shehzad Khan /
SWAT: An ancient double-domed structure still stands tall near Mingora after having survived the cruel ravages of time, vandalism and official neglect.

The 1,800-year-old Vihara or early Buddhist monastery, was discovered by British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein. It had been constructed in the second century as a place of worship by Buddhists, when Buddhism was the dominant religion of Swat.

The main building has two domes, one right above the other which led to it being called the double-dome-structure.

Archaeologists have called the structure one of the ‘finest and most unique ancient buildings’ across Asia.

Though the structure remained unscathed during the period of militancy in Swat, its surrounding areas faced a lot of damage.

The double-dome-structure did not lose its importance even during the Hindu-Shahi period, marking an end to Buddhism in Swat. The structure then became the centre for Hindus where they would offer their rituals.

The locals in Swat called the structure ‘Vihara’ — a term the Buddhists pioneered and used for their monastery. Continue reading

UM Museum Opens Photography Exhibit of Buddhist Caves

mogao-cave-north-wall-1943

The exhibit “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” is now open at the UM Museum.

Images from China illustrate artistic and architectural achievements

JANUARY 16, 2017 BY CHRISTINA STEUBE

OXFORD, Miss. – Photographs of the intricately painted Mogao and Yulin Caves in Dunhuang, China are on exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum.

“Dunhuang Through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” features photographs taken of the caves by the Los in the 1940s. The nearly 500 caves containing artwork are in the northwestern area of China along the ancient Silk Road and are a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. The caves, which served as spaces for meditation and worship, were painted between the fourth and 14th centuries.
The exhibit opened Jan. 10 in conjunction with the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, held on the UM campus Jan. 13-15. The free exhibit runs through April 29, and an opening reception is set for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 31.

Joshua Howard, Croft associate professor of history and international studies and a Chinese historian, proposed this exhibit to the University Museum.

“These photographs have high artistic value,” Howard said. “James and Lucy Lo used natural light and often placed mirrors in the caves to create special lighting effects and create a sense of the caves’ spirituality.

“James Lo also experimented with his photo angles; for instance, shooting a 50-foot reclining Buddha from the vantage point of the head of the statue rather than from the feet looking toward the head. The result is a more intimate and serene shot of the Buddha. Other landscape photos they took give a sense of the harsh but beautiful desert terrain the caves inhabit.”
The collection of 31 black-and-white photographs is from the Lo Archive and the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University. The Mogao and Yulin caves illustrate artistic and architectural achievements, as well as provide an intimate look at the history of Buddhism and other religions of the region.

Museum officials were excited about the opportunity to open the exhibit to conference attendees, said Robert Saarnio, museum director. The conference included workshops, panel discussions, lectures and film screenings of Asian poetry and literature, history, language, art, philosophy and politics.

“These are exactly the kinds of multidisciplinary and cross-campus partnerships that the museum seeks to foster and welcome, wherein great art and artifact content can be exhibited in such close correspondence to curricular, research and teaching endeavors,” Saarnio said.
The museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

[link]

Unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch

The Island

"Unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch from Tissamaharama"

“Unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch from Tissamaharama”

January 10, 2017, 9:10 pm

By Osmund Bopearachchi

(UC Berkeley-CNRS Paris)

The present article is based on a unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch – Cakravartin in Sanskrit, cakravartin in Pali and Sakvithi in Sinhalese – found accidently in Tissamaharama, now conserved in the head office of the Department of Archaeology, Colombo (see plate 1). I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Prof. Senarath Disanayaka, Director General of Archaeology, for authorising me to publish it. Before discussing the importance of this relief in understanding the early forms of Sri Lankan art, let me narrate briefly the story of its discovery. Mr. K. Lahiru Sampath, from Tissamaharama found this sculpture in early 2016, in the irrigation canal carrying water from the Tissa Reservoir to the paddy-fields in the vicinity of the Tissamaharama Rajamahavihara. The canal runs along the Tissa-Akurugoda Road between the two ancient sites of Tissamaharama stupa and Sandagiri Dagoba. The precise place of its discovery, according to Ms. Rathubambarandage Nirosha kanthi, Curator of the Yatala Archaeological Museum, is about 100m from the junction of Rubberwatta Road and Tissa-Akurugoda Road, towards Tissamaharama Rajamahavihara. The villager who found it at the depth of the dried-out canal, seeing its unusual iconography and understanding its archaeological importance, donated it to the chief monk of the Yatala Rajamahaviharya. Through the intervention of Ms. Wasanthi Alahakoon, Regional Office, Department of Archaeology in Galle, the plaque was given to the head Office of the Department of Archaeology in Colombo on the 5th of February 2016. On the 7th of July 2016, on the day of the annual celebrations of archaeology (Puravidya Dinaya), the Department of Archaeology officially honoured Mr. K. Lahiru Sampath for his contribution.

Iconography:

The plaque depicts a Universal Monarch, considered an ideal universal king, who reigns ethically and compassionately over the entire world. In a Buddhist context, Cakra-vartin means the one who turns the Dharmacakra, or Wheel of the Dharma. The central figure with the raised right arm is no doubt a universal monarch, since he is shown with all the seven treasures that a Cakravartin should posses. The concept of Cakravartin, the universal monarch with Seven Jewels, as correctly argued by Monika Zin, is a frequent topic in Buddhist literature: Mahasudassanasutta (Dighanikaya XVII); Brahmayusutta (Majjhimanikaya 9 l); Mahapadanasutta (Dighanikaya XIV); Lakkhanasutta (Dighanikaya XXX); Cakkavattisihanadasutta (Dighanikaya XXVI); and Cakkavatisutta (Samyuttanikaya XLYL.5.2), to name only canonical Pali texts. In the Cakkavattisihanadasutta (The Lion’s Roar on the Turning of the Wheel), in the Dighanikaya, the Buddha defines the seven treasures possessed by a wheel-turning monarch as: the Wheel Treasure, the Elephant Treasure, the Horse treasure, the Jewel Treasure, the Woman Treasure, the Householder Treasure, and the Counsellor Treasure. In Buddhist literature, the notion of a ‘Wheel-Turner,’ or Cakravartin, applies to the Buddha himself. For example, in the Lalitavistara Sutra,

when the sage Asita came to see the newly born prince Siddhartha in the royal palace of Kapilavastu, he looked at the Bodhisattva, and saw that his body was wonderfully adorned with the thirty-two marks and eighty signs of a great being predicted to either subdue and conquer the entire world and its oceans without using force or weapons or to leave his home and go forth as a homeless monk and a Tathāgata, a completely perfect Buddha. He further says that if the Bodhisattva remains at home, he will be a Dharma king, possessing the seven jewels: the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the mani stone, the queen, the chancellor and the counselor. Likewise, the present plaque depicts the universal monarch with all the seven treasures. The Cakravartin stands in the middle, wearing an upper garment (uttarīya) over an under garment (paridhāna) belted with a cord around the waist, imitating most probably a fine silk fabric, wrapped around the left shoulder and arm leaving most of the torso exposed. His majesty is emphasized by the highly elaborated jatamukuta (headdress) with a crest in the middle and rich jewellery: long earrings, bracelets and a flat collar necklace. He raises his right hand executing the gesture of making the coins (wealth) to drop from the sky. Although the coins are not depicted clearly, the famous relief of the Cakravartin from Jaggayyapeta stupa in Andhra Pradesh, shows very clearly square coins resembling closely punch-marked coins. Once the identity of the principal figure is established, it is easy to interpret the other characters and symbols depicted on this hitherto unpublished plaque. To our right, at the upper extremity, is a forepart of elephant and to its right, and close to the head of the universal king, is a head of a horse. The unusual symbol between the head and raised right arm of the monarch is the wheel treasure. The symbol at the upper extremity to our left, taking the form of a conch (shankha), is the gem. Among the three standing human figures, the one to our right holding a water pot and wearing a lavish jatamukuta and rich jewellery is the householder treasure or the son of the monarch and heir to the throne.
Dressed in sumptuous garments, wearing long earrings and a sophisticated headdress, and holding most probably a lotus (symbol of purity), the queen (or the woman treasure) is shown standing between the heir to the throne and the Cakravartin. The figure standing to our left, richly dressed with fine jewellery and garments, with arms crossed over the chest, is the Counsellor. This plaque thus depicts the universal monarch with all the seven treasures. Though there are sculptures attempting to depict the Cakravartin in early Sri Lankan art, to my knowledge, this the only ancient sculpture so far attested to in the island showing this ideal universal king with all the seven symbols. We shall come back to this point a little later. Continue reading