The Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography is an endeavour of half a century to identify, classify, describe and delineate the bewildering variation in Buddhist icons. It spans the last twenty centuries, and it is a comparative study of unprecedented geographic variations, besides the ever-evolving visualizations of great masters who introduced extraordinary plurality of divine forms in the dharanis and sadhanas.
The multiple forms of a theonym arise in varying contexts. For example, Hevajra of the Hevajra-tantra holds crania in his hands, while the Hevajra of the Samputa-tantra has weapons. Both are subdivided into four each on the planes of kaya, vak, citta and hrdaya, with two, four, eight and sixteen arms. The dictionary classifies such several types of a deity and places each in its theogonic structure, specifies the earliest date of its occurrence (e.g. Amoghapasa appears in Chinese in AD 587), the earliest image, the direction in which it is placed in the specific quarter of the mandala, its classification, colour, crown or hairdo, ferocious or serene appearance, number of eyes and heads, hair standing up and/or flaming, number of arms and attributes held in them, consort, lord of the family (kulesa), and so on. The esoteric name, symbolic form (samaya), bija (hierogram), mantra, mudra and mandala are given in this Dictionary for the first time and on an extensive scale. The Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu and other names are given under the main entry, as well as cross-referenced in their own alphabetic order.
The Dictionary details the characteristic attributes, chronology and symbolism of over twelve thousand main and minor deities. It reflects the extraordinary cultural, literary, aesthetic and spiritual achievements of several nations of Asia over two millennia.
It will help to identify the masterpieces along with the profusion of masters and divine beings around them. The last few decades have seen an exuberant flourishing of the study and popularization of the patrimony of Buddhist art for its aesthetic magnificence. This Dictionary will add a dimension of precision and depth of perception to the visual tradition of paintings and sculptures.
Prof. Lokesh Chandra is a renowned scholar of Tibetan, Mongolian and Sino-Japanese Buddhism. He has to his credit over 360 works and text editions. Among them are classics like his Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature, Buddhist Iconography of Tibet, and the present Dictionary of Buddhist Art in about 20 Volume. Prof. Lokesh Chandra was nominated by the President of the Republic of India to the Parliament in 1974-80 and again in 1980-86. He has been a Vice-President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Presently he is Director, International Academy of Indian Culture.
Every volume of the Dictionary that appears in print brings a downpour of hieronyms in the great beat of Being. They are names and forms of deeper awareness, an intensification of consciousness, the opening of the eye of contemplation, a rich map of mandalic structures, states and realms. The vast riches of spiritual power take shape and the energies of the divine flow through human becoming in the never-ending search for new insights. The Dictionary becomes a renewing language to communicate the complex realities of cosmic consciousness in symbolic forms. The meaning of the Dictionary is "walk on".
Certain goddesses are found only in the Lamaist tradition, or have evolved therein, for instance, Kamesvari (Mong. Kami-suvari) is pictured only in the Mongolian Kanjur of AD 1717-20.
Ksitigarbha, also called Ksitisa in the Nispanna-yogavali, has thirty-three forms, he became popular in the fifth century during the period of Sixteen States when China was plagued by internecine war. Buddhabhadra's translation of the Avatamsaka enumerates him among Bodhisattvas, and the Dasacakra-Ksitigarbha-sutra was translated into Chinese during the Northern Liang dynasty of Hun origin. Dasacakra means a powerful cakra-vartin king who has tens of wheeled chariots. Ksitigarbha is also spoken of as the Protector of China. His Sutra alludes to fear of death in the face of enemies and that all impediments shall be removed. The text related to each form of Ksitigarbha has been identified, so that the earliest known date can be set down, and the context of the Sutra enables one to identity the deities involved in his retinue.
Kurukulla confers success in enchanting men and women, kings and ministers in the rites of vasikarana. She has thirteen forms with two, four, six or eight arms. She is mostly red, but also white in two instances (nos.1, 9). The several variations in the attributes of a single deity have been brought together in this Dictionary for the first time, and have been succinctly differentiated.
Even minor goddesses have multiple forms: their attributes differ in the mandalas of various main deities. For example, nine Kalaratri have different colours, and the attributes of each vary as can be seen in this Dictionary on pages 1587-1588:
The Dictionary offers cross-cultural examination of a wide range of data in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, and SE Asian languages, inscribing new contextual and social values, and a fresh understanding of the role of the 'Icon' in history in the complex web of religious and political interactions.
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