Defining The Image (Measurement In Image-Making)

Defining The Image (Measurement In Image-Making)

FREE Delivery
$21.75  $29   (25% off)
Ships in 1-3 days
Item Code: NAD982
Author: Charles Willemen
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 9788170308423
Pages: 103 (8 B/W illustrations )
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 Inch X 6.0 Inch
Weight 260 gm
About the Book

In the “applied” arts of India iconometry, talamana, the knowledge of the measurements and the proportions of images, has an old tradition, not entirely different from the Greek and the Renaissance tradition. Ever since B. Laufer’s study about the Citralaksana in 1913 the subject has raised new interest among artists and scholars alike. The Indian Buddhist Pratimalaksana, which is edited in transcription and translated into English here, may date from the 10th century, anyway before Atisa (died 1054). The Tibetan translation was made by the Tibetan Grags –pa-rgyal-mtshan (ca. 1285-1378) and the Indian Dharmadhara, in southern Tibet before 1322, date of Bu-ston’s catalogue. The text most probably belongs to the Mulasarvastivada tradition. The Chinese translation is the work of the Mongolian aristocrat mGon-po skyabs, Gongbu chabu in Chinese (ca. 1690-1750). The text was brought out in 1742 at Qianlong’s court in Beijing. mGon-po skuyabs translated the Tibetan text to Chinese, and he added a commentary using Tibetan literature. The Chinese text in the volume is based on the Japanese edition T. 1419, but the stanzas are numbered, and the commentary in prose is separated from the main text. Illustrations have been added. The glossaries at the end will help further more research, it is hoped. The Chinese translation of Sanskrit words is often very useful to know the exact meaning of a term, in both languages.

About The Author

Charles Willemen obtained his Ph.D. in 1971 with a study of the Chinese Udanavarga. Studied in Japan under H. Nakamura in the University of Tokyo in 1972. Fullbright-Hays visiting Scholar at Harvard University, Dept. of East Asian Languages and Civilisations in 1974. Has taught at many universities in Europe and in Asia? E.g Guest Professor: Beijing Language and Culture University, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Banaras Hindu University, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Vishavabharti University in Shantineketan. has published extensively about Buddhism in South and East Asia and about Chinese art. Member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences since 1997.


In many silpasastras one finds a section which deals with iconometry, talamana. A text now often referred to is Varahamihira’s Brhatsamhita (sixth century), and Bhattotpala’s commentary (967 CE). Buddhist literature also has its iconometrical texts. They actually come from a common brahmanical tradition. Ancient Indian craftsmen, i.c. painters, were not necessarily linked with a specific religious tradition. They were primarily members of a guild of painters. But the Buddhist tradition nevertheless introduced adaptations, producing sthaviriya texts, and later mantrayana texts too.

Early in the twentieth century S. Levi discovered Sanskrit iconometrical texts in the Darbar Library in Nepal. Some of these Newari Sanskrit manuscripts found their way to the Visvabharati Library in Santiniketan, and generated initial interest.

P. Ch. Bagchi stimulated research there, drawing attention to the Kriyasamuccaya too. Sri-Lanka also has its share of Sanskrit iconometrical texts, such as the Bimbamana, also called Sariputra, and the Alekhyalaksana. These texts were really introduced by H. Ruelius in 1968, and published and studied in his doctoral dissertation in 1974. The Alekhyalaksana seems to be a more recent compilation, maybe twelfth or thirteenth century, with Buddhist elements only in its Sinhalese commentary. Consisting of thirty-one Sanskrit stanzas and its Sinhalese Sannaya, the text speaks about the measurements of the human body. The BM supposedly dates from about the same period. Its oldest manuscript dates from 1352 CE. The text counts one hundred and thirty-nine Sanskrit stanzas and has a Sinhalese Sannaya. It only deals with the measurements of a Buddha statue. E.W. Marasinghe says that the BM shows a definite link with the last two chapters of the Citrakarmasastra, a text which may have been written before the seventh century, but the two texts represent different traditions. The Citrakarma is openly mahayana.

The Citralaksana
The best known text to this day is the Tibetan Citralaksana. It was studied and translated in the pioneering German work of B. Laufer in 1913. New and additional light was thrown on the CL by G. Roth in 1990. He translated the CL as “The Characteristic Marks of a Painting.” He clearly states that the text shows no trace of a Buddhist tradition. No attempt is made to give the CL a Buddhistic appearance. G. Roth says that the text originated in a guild of craftsmen who were not Buddhists. The other texts mentioned above, may have originated in the same circles, but they are given a Buddhist interpretation. G. Roth stressed that the Indian artist was a transmitter of a common cultural heritage, across sectarian borders. The three parts which together form the CL may be a product of the Gupta age, sixth century or somewhat earlier. Also H. Ruelius advanced that opinion, tracing the CL back to the time of Varahamihira, sixth century.

At the end of the first part of the text, the title is mentioned, i.e.”Traits of painting” in Tibetan. The author is called Nagnajit. In this part the supernatural origin of painting is narrated. Brahma orders a king to paint the deceased son of a grieving brahmana. Brahma had advised the king to go to Visvakarman. Brahma had advised the king to go to Vivakarman for instructions to execute the painting. The term nagnajit, conqueror of the naked, is used for the king. who conquers the naked pretas and returns the dead son to life. G. Roth says that nagnajit originally was a designation of a victorious champion in athletic contests, a designation suitable for a king of Gandhara. Later on, the term Nagnajit became the name of the author of a treatise called CL, which relates that, after he had conquered Yama and his naked pretes, a kingn was called nagnajit by Brahma. This Nagnnajit may have lived before Varahamihara. The second part of the text ends with the title “Origin of Sacrificial Rites”. The third and main part deals with the corporal measurements, actually of a cakravartin.’ The text does not speak about the thirty-two characteristic marks. The CL is, however, preserved by the Buddhists.

The Pratimalaksana
A Sanskrit text has been published by Sakaki Ryozaburo in Geibun 9, 3, 1918: 255-261. This author also translates the text in Japanese (pp. 262-267). J. N. Banerjea edited and translated a Newari Sanskrit manuscript in 1932. Haridas Mitra edited another Newari Sanskrit manuscript in 1933. H. Mitra supposes that the archetypus of the manuscripts was written in Gupta script, certainly not later than the tenth century. The presently available manuscripts may be dated in the thirteenth century. Mori Noboru proposes that the PL was completed in the tenth century, because G. Tucci mentions a Tibetan translation by Atisa (982-1054). The text is more recent than the CL and older than the BM. There is a commentary, Vivarana, on the PL, translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan by Grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan and Dharmadhara. The colophon of the Tibetan PLV contains two parts. The first one, in prose, informs us that the Indian sage Dharmadhara and the Tibetan Grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan (Kirtidhvaja), lo-tsa-ba (translator) from Yar-kluns translated the text in Gun-than, in Man-yul. The second part, a stanza, makes it clear that the text was translated at the request of the Bhotapandita, Tibetan sage, Dam-chos-’dzin (Saddharniadhara) in Gun-than. The Chinese commentary gives the same information. The Tibetan PLV is mentioned in Bu-ston’s catalogue of 1322. So, the translation wa made early in the fourteenth century, a period when Nepalese artisans had a considerable influence in the Yuan empire (1279-1368), spreading there Himalayan and Pala art from Bengal.

The Sanskrit of the Vivarana, as can be seen in H. Mitra’s edition of the PL, reproduced three chapters of the Kriyasamuccaya, the earlier text being the KS. G. Roth has established this connection between the KS and the PL V. He says that the KS was almost certainly compiled before the twelfth century by Avadhuti Srimad Jagaddarpana from Vikramasila. The Sanskrit Vivarana is a loan from the KS. The basic Sanskrit PL has introductory prose which definitely makes it a Buddhist sutra. It contains a dialogue between Buddha and Sariputra. Having returned to the Jetavana from the Tusita Heaven, where he had expounded the doctrine to his mother, Buddha was asked by Sariputra how to represent him after he had passed away. Thereupon Buddha expounds the measurements when making his likeness. The Chinese version, translated from Tibetan, also places the dialogue in the Jetavana in Sravasti, but Buddha is about to ascend to the Trayastrimsa Heaven to preach to his mother. At that moment Sariputra asks Buddha how to make an image, and Buddha expounds the measurements. So, there is more than one version of the PL. The Chinese commentary, referring to the Tibetan, mentions three translations and one commentary. Yuexi and Henmi Baiei have said that the three translations are PL, PML, and CL, and that the one commentary is PLV. The one commentary probably is PLV, but it is difficult to understand that CL could be one of those three translations. G. Tucci says that the Tibetan tradition, as preserved by sMan-than-pa (fifteenth century), knows four versions of the PL. It seems that maybe three of the four versions mentioned by G. Tucci may have been a PL. One may have been a PML. Of the three PL one is translated by Atisa, called sariputrapariprcchä, because it is expounded at Sanputra’s request.

Sariputra appears as an artist in three avadabas in the Mulasarvastivadavinaya. In the Chinese Ksudrakavastu of that same vinaya Buddha, who is about to ascend to the Trayastrimsa Heaven, was making conversions in sravasti and he sees brahma- nas and artisans from far and near, who then go forth to become sramanas. So it is no surprise that the codification of the rules for artists is connected with Sariputra. This seems to be a sthaviriya tradition, of which there is more than one kind. The Chinese PL and its Tibetan original may have belonged to the Mulasarvastivada tradition. This does not mean that the affiliation of the Singhalese texts, e.g. BM, is exactly the same. Anyway, the PL is Buddhist, describing the Buddha, and only the Buddha, and his thirty-two characteristic marks. The Sanskrit versions mention the term bodhisattva in the introduction, but the Chinese (Tibetan) does not. The Sanskrit clearly only describes a Buddha, in forty-nine stanzas. I count thirty-three stanzas in the Chinese (Tibetan). It is beyond any doubt that there were a number of versions of the PL.

The PML or Atreyatilaka, a text which is close to the PL, has a brahmanical origin, but Buddhist elements have been included. H. Ruelius has established that the PML is mainly based on the Pratimasthapanalaksana, in which Buddha is not mentioned. G. Roth explains that the author, Atreya, a descendant of Atri, belongs to brahmanical circles. Also the PL has been attributed to Atreya, legendary descendant of Visvakarman. The measurements in the PML slightly differ from the PL, and certainly from the CL. The PML was edited and translated by Ph. N. Bose in 1929. J.N. Banerjea, who is critical of Ph. N. Bose, edited the text again in 1956.


IIThe sanskrit pratimalaksana
IIIThe chinese pratimalaksana
Add a review
Have A Question

For privacy concerns, please view our Privacy Policy