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3 - In the Footsteps of Amoghavajra (705–774): Southern Indian Artistic Mode in Tang China and its Transmission to Tibet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2023

Andrea Acri
Affiliation:
École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris
Peter Sharrock
Affiliation:
University of London
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Summary

Introduction

As a starting point, this research analyses the imagery in a distinctive Indian artistic mode found in various paintings from Mogao and Yulin caves. The material under review belongs to the 8th to 11th century and often features Esoteric Buddhist imagery. Since some of the early examples within this group belong to the period of the Tibetan occupation of the Hexi Corridor, their artistic mode has often been ascribed—erroneously, in my view—to the cultural influence of Tibet. Several recent publications on this topic provoked me to address the issues that I see in such attributions. Contrary to this common opinion, I will argue that this artistic mode is, in fact, influenced by Southern Indian art and, in particular, certain stylistic and iconographic features can be traced exclusively to the art of the Pallava kingdom in Tamil Nadu and the Pallava influenced art of the Western Deccan, thereby ruling out alleged artistic influences from Tibet. Moreover, the discussed images are closely affiliated with teachings introduced to China by Vajrabodhi (or Vajrabuddhi, Ch. 金剛智, 671–741) in the first half of the 8th century and specifically propagated in Hexi by Amoghavajra (Ch. 不空 Bukong, 705–774) in the mid-8th century. Thus, the presence of such depictions in artwork from the Tibetan period merely signifies the continuation and Tibetan appropriation of the artistic and religious trends that existed in Hexi before the Tibetan conquest. Furthermore, it will be shown that this artistic mode was transmitted to Central Tibet during the Tibetan occupation of the Hexi Corridor and can be recognized in sculptures from a number of early Central Tibetan temples. I argue that this artistic transmission was a result of significant religious transmission, which included, but was likely not limited to, the cult of Vairocana and the eight great bodhisattvas, as well as the teachings of the Yoga tradition (i.e. Yogatantras according to the Tibetan classification).

This article is divided into four major parts. Part 1 presents a brief historical overview of Buddhism and artistic trends in Hexi before the Tibetan conquest. Part 2 discusses the most representative depictions within this group of materials and their connection to Southern Indian art and Amoghavajra’s textual heritage. In Part 3, I will provide an overview of Southern Indian influence on Buddhist art in China in general and situate this Hexi group of images within a larger picture.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Creative South
Buddhist and Hindu Art in Mediaeval Maritime Asia
, pp. 66 - 125
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
First published in: 2023

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