On defining Buddhist art in Bengal : the Dhaka region
This dissertation addresses the significance of regional developments in Indian art by focusing on the Buddhist art tradition of the Dhaka region in East Bengal from approximately the seventh to twelfth century CE. The Buddhist images and sites examined in this dissertation formed a part of a greater corpus of Buddhist art usually defined as ‘Eastern Indian art of the early medieval period or the PAlA-Sena period’. Art historians have concentrated on explaining common factors that determine Buddhist art of this region, because this is where the last stage of Indian Buddhism flourished, and thus its art has been considered as a product of the same stage of Buddhism as well as the same dynastic patronage. My study of Buddhist art from the Dhaka area is proposed as a first step toward a characterization of the different local traditions in eastern India, particularly, in Bengal, which has been neglected in the study of Buddhist art. The present study divides the Buddhist images from the Dhaka region into two groups according to their size. The size of the images helps one to place them in either a public or a private context. On the basis of surviving sculptures, most of the central Buddhist worship objects from the Dhaka region portray multi-headed and -armed deities that personify transcendent wisdom. Private worship objects also often portray these deities. The presence of large images of unique wisdom goddesses in the Dhaka region, who were never portrayed or only portrayed in a small size in other regions, suggests that the Buddhist practice in the Dhaka region was closely engaged in the assimilation of various goddess cults. The present study challenges the traditional distinction between iconography and style. By discussing individual components of the images as a whole, this dissertation also seeks to identify the major characteristics of Buddhist art from the Dhaka region.