Comme le sel, je suis le cours de l’eau. Le chamanisme à écriture des Yi du Yunnan (Chine), Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie, 2008
Bengal and Nepal stone sculpture
- a comparison from a religous point of view
A comparison of Bengal and Nepal stone sculpture exhibits close affinities as well as distinct differences.
The Uma-Mahesvara murti is the most ubiquitous Saiva icon in both areas, while the Ardhanarisvaramurti, on the other hand, is the rarest one. The high respect towards the individuality and independence of Devi, the Great Mother, might be an adequate explanation for that phenomenon.
Regarding Vaisnava sculpture a tripartite group is predominant in both countries: while, however, Bengal favours a central, four-armed Visnu flanked by Laksmi on his right and Sarasvati on his left side, Newar art prefers central Visnu accompanied by Laksmi on his right, yet Garuda on his left side. Here, the exchange of Garuda by Sarasvati in Bengal can well be interpreted as a purposeful humiliation of Brahma, who preserved just a marginal competence as priest and gardien of the zenith. Brahma's aspect as a god of creation, in many other Indian areas expressed in the form of the so called trimurti, is absent both in Bengal and in Nepal;
An important specimen in respect of Hindu sculpture is the image of Surya.
In Bengal there is much evidence of the existence of a particular sect of sun worshippers attested by a large amount of elaborated images. The adherents of that sect, the Sauras, called themselves Paramadityas according to inscriptions. Surya wears boots and - in contrast to Western India - no armour (kancuka), but an upper garment as many other Indian gods. Surya's entourage consists of the traditional acolytes Dandin and Pingala, two wives and two arrow-shooters. While Surya enjoys hight respect by Hindus as well as by Buddhists in Nepal a particular Saura sect cannot be proved, as I have pointed out in a recent article on Sun Worship in Nepal (Pandanus 01, 2008).
The fate of Buddhism is quite different in both areas. In Bengal Buddhism came to an end with the Pala and Sena dynasties in 13th century, in Nepal Newar Buddhism is still alive, yet much assimilated to Hindu ritual and imagery.
The early Pala period in Bengal (750-900 AD) corresponds to the late Licchavi period in the Kathmandu valley. The figure of the Buddha is more or less similar in both countries, both continue the Sarnath tradition of the smooth and the Gandhara tradition of the pleated garment (samghati). Among the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara seems to be the most popular one. In Bengal the most prevalent type of image is a stela consisting of a flat backside and figures in more or less high relief. The Hindu stone sculptures have varied forms. The most prevalent Buddhist stone sculptures in Nepal are caityas exhibiting the Buddha, the metaphysical Tathagatas, Bodhisattvas and other divinities.
A unique type of image in Nepal is an octagonal (around 1 m high) stone, the Dharmadhatuvagisvaramandala. Its upper surface is a round disc covered with figural or symbolical representations of Buddhist deities. The main figure, however, is Manjusri or Vagisvara, the mythical creator of the Kathmandu valley.
Concluding our short survey we come back to the beginning: among many masks of Avalokitesvara his appearance as Halahala-Lokesvara with his Prajna is a magnificent Buddhist adaptation of the popular Uma-Mahesvara icon in Nepal.