So for months on end I have been very busy with my schedule. With a well-functioning job as a University lecturer and good responsibilities with business and all I have been very engaged since the last quarter of last year. Add to that the constant prodding by my supervisor to complete my MA thesis in the given academic year (2073! Yes, to all my non-Nepali readers, we are living in the future!!) my mind and my daily routines were all like a locomotive. Anyway, after teaching four courses to three different semesters in the space of about four months and lots of writing, rewriting, few days of leg cramps and lots and lots of walking plus a sprained ankle I did it. April 11, 2017 Tuesday would be one of my most memorable days to talk about. I will not go into detail about my (initially nervous) presentation and all the important people who were among the audience. I straightaway present to you the abstract of my thesis. Do enjoy!
Buddhist Elements in Ancient Yakṣa Images of Nepal
Presented by: Suyog Prajapati
The Yakṣa has had multiple meanings, ranging from an abstract concept in the Vedic period to a powerful mythological being. Yakṣas have been shown as images and mentioned in various literary sources for well over two thousand years. They have always been an essential part of various folk cultures. Especially in the Buddhist Pāli texts like the Jātaka stories and Saṃyutta Nikāya they have been treated extensively in relation to the Bodhisattva and the Buddha. They became more prominent in the Indic region during and after the Maurya period (ca 4th to 2nd c BCE) as they began to be widely represented in art forms, most importantly those of the expanding Buddhist religion. As Buddhism reached the Northern regions and the Nepal Proper (NP) or Kathmandu valley, it absorbed the local deities including yakṣas and yakṣiṇīs. The concept of Yakṣa was pivotal for the transition of Buddhist art from the symbolic to anthropomorphic. By the time images began to be made, Buddhism had made a paradigm shift from a monastic movement into a cult, a large part of which was fuelled by the Yakṣa in the form of art.
This thesis is aimed at describing clearly the influence of Yakṣa on ancient images of Nepal from a Buddhist perspective. For this, the Buddhist notion of Yakṣa has been first derived from literary sources. Then, various yakṣa, yakṣiṇī and related Buddha/Bodhisattva images from NP have been studied, comparing them to similar ones from India. Finally, based on history, iconography and aesthetics, the mode of incorporation of these deities in the Buddhist tradition of NP has been defined.
|The demi-god at the National Museum in Chauni, Kathmandu|
Statement of Problem
The following problems have been stated for the purpose of the study:
1. What or who is the Yakṣa according to Buddhism?
2. What are the Yakṣa related ancient images of Kathmandu valley?
3. How has the Yakṣa concept affected the Buddhist art of Nepal?
Objective of Study
Similarly, this thesis was written with the following objectives:
1. To review the available Buddhist literature and define the Yakṣa concept.
2. To identify and study the Yakṣa related stone sculptures of Kathmandu valley dated up to the 6th c CE.
3. To determine how the concept of supra-natural beings and demi-gods (i.e. yakṣa/yakṣiṇī) were incorporated into the aesthetics of Buddhist images of NP.
Methodology and design
This work is primarily a documentary and field research. Canonical and non-canonical Pāli texts and selected Sanskrit texts (in the form of translations) served as primary sources while other works served as secondary sources. Information regarding the Yakṣa was collected from these and analysed to give its clear concept in Buddhist light. Various yakṣa, yakṣiṇī and Buddha/Bodhisattva related images from NP were located, identified and studied, comparing them to images from India. Among these the Buddhist elements were identified and finally conclusions were drawn.
Limitations of the study
Only images from selected sites in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur and the National Museum were taken as field data. The time period covered is from the 3rd c BCE to 6th c CE. Only selected Pāli and Sanskrit Buddhist texts were studied. Most of the time secondary sources were referred to.
Chapter I: Introduction
Chapter II: Buddhist Concept of Yakṣa
Chapter III: Yakṣa and Buddha/Bodhisattva in Art
Chapter IV: Buddhist Elements in Yakṣa Images
Chapter V: Conclusions and Suggestions
Results of the study
Pāli sources present Yakkhas in ambiguous ways. Some are morally opposed to the Buddha Dharma, some are supportive and some are neutral but later become inclined. The Buddha or Bodhisattva is always presented as superior to the afflicted yakkhas and yakkhinīs. The Sanskrit sūtras also show the Buddha in an exalted position but the animosity of yakṣas towards the Buddha is seen to have largely seceded. Yakṣas mentioned in these later texts are almost always audiences or ardent followers of the Buddha. In some texts, the Buddha/Boddhisattva is also addressed as yakṣa. Primeval deities like Indra and Vaiśravaṇa (among the four great kings, Caturmahārāja) are mentioned as yakṣas as well. So in a Buddhist context Yakṣa gives a range of connotations. Specifically though, any powerful and non-human being is considered Yakṣa.
The above trend is clearly seen in art. Beginning with narrative arts and then various steles, yakṣas and yakṣiṇīs assume a variety of roles that can be linked to the principles of welfare propounded by Buddhism. Yakṣas in art are of free standing, seated or crouching types, guardian or attendant types and of beautiful voluptuous female types. They were models for humanly representation of the Buddha and Bodhisattva as well as deities related to protection and prosperity that are till today part of the larger Buddhist culture. Examples of the freestanding type include the Jaya Varma idol from Māligāon, the headless torso from Hāḍigāon and their offshoots like the Bāṅgemuḍhā Buddha and attendant Bodhisattvas. Seated and crouching types are represented by the Kuvera from Satyanārāyaṇa temple in Hāḍigāon and various caryatids. Attendants are seen in different steles and plinths. Female figures include Hārītī images from various places. These examples from NP have been compared to those from India, such as the Parkham yakṣa, architectural components from Sāñcī and Bharhut and other sculptures from the Kuṣāṇa and Gupta periods. The use of Yakṣa in Buddhism through these images in a social context served three functions—to bestow wealth, progeny and protection.
The notion of Yakṣa has always been held in high esteem across all social strata. As Mahāyāna gained prominence in the early centuries of the common era, its devotional aspects and the innate wish of the people to attain benefits therefore most probably allowed for the incorporation of the timeless concept of Yakṣa into the ancient Buddhist art of NP. The core philosophy of Yakṣa lies in the water cosmology and due to its fluid nature it served as a multifarious lexicon to illustrate and spread the liberating principles of the Buddha’s Dharma. The stone images studied here show the variety with which this abstract concept has been treated to meet this purpose. Over the centuries such traits manifested in numerous ways and ultimately gave rise to the ideal pictures of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and their acolytes that have prevailed in Nepal and the world till today.
(Supervisor: Dr. Milan Ratna Shakya)
MA Semester IV
Roll no. 5/TU reg. no. 5-1-20-6-2005
Academic year: 2070/71 (semester system 1st batch)
Central Department of Buddhist Studies,
Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Date: April 11, 2017 (Tuesday)
Thank you for your presence!