NCERT Extracts - Cultural Developments (c. 600 BCE-600 CE)
Category : UPSC
How Buddhist Texts Were Prepared and Preserved
- None of the Buddha's speeches were written down during his lifetime. After his death his teachings were compiled by his disciples at a council of "elders" or senior monks at Vesali (Pali for Vaishali in present-day Bihar).
- These compilations were known as Tipitaka - literally, three baskets to hold different types of texts. They were first transmitted orally and then written and classified according to length as well as subject matter.
- Vinaya Pitaka - It included rules and regulations for those who joined the sangha.
- Sutta Pitaka - Buddha's teachings were included in the Sutta Pitaka.
- Abhidhamma Pitaka - It dealt with philosophical matters.
- Each pitaka comprised a number of individual texts. Later, commentaries were written on these texts by Buddhist scholars.
- Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa - As Buddhism travelled to new regions such as Sri Lanka, other texts such as the Dipavamsa (literally, the chronicle of the island) and Mahavamsa (the great chronicle) were written, containing regional histories of Buddhism.
- Many of these works contained biographies of the Buddha. Some of the oldest texts are in Pali, while later compositions are in Sanskrit.
- When Buddhism spread to East Asia, pilgrims such as Fa Xian and Xuan Zang travelled all the way from China to India in search of texts. These they took back to their own country, where they were translated by scholars.
- This unique Buddhist text, part of the Sutta Pitaka, is a collection of verses composed by bhikkhunis. It provides an insight into women's social and spiritual experiences.
Why were stupas built
- There were some places that were regarded as sacred. This was because relics of the Buddha such as his bodily remains or objects used by him were buried there. These were mounds known as stupas.
- The tradition of erecting stupas may have been pre-Buddhist, but they came to be associated with Buddhism. Since they contained relics regarded as sacred, the entire stupa came to be venerated as an emblem of both the Buddha and Buddhism.
Stories in stone
- A part of the northern gateway of Sanchi depict a rural scene, with thatched huts and trees. However, art historians who have carefully studied the sculpture at Sanchi identify it as a scene from the Vessantara Jataka. This is a story about a generous prince who gave away everything to a Brahmana, and went to live in the forest with his wife and children.
Symbols of worship
- Art historians had to acquire familiarity with hagiographies of the Buddha in order to understand Buddhist sculpture.
- According to hagiographies, the Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating und a tree. Many early sculptors did not show the Buddha in human form.
- Instead, they showed his presence through symbols. The empty seat was meant to indicate the meditation of the Buddha, and the stupa was meant to represent the mahaparinibbana.
- Another frequently used symbol was the wheel. This stood for the first sermon of the Buddha, delivered at Samath.
- Other sculptures at Sanchi were perhaps not directly inspired by Buddhist ideas,
- These include beautiful women swinging from the edge of the gateway, holding onto a tree. It could be a representation of what is described in Sanskrit as a Shalabhanjika.
- According to popular belief, this was a woman whose touch caused trees to flower and bear fruit. It is likely that this was regarded as an auspicious symbol as integrated into the decoration of the stupa.
- The shalabhanjika motif suggests that many people who turned to Buddhism enriched it with their own pre-Buddhist and even non-Buddhist beliefs, practices and idea Some of the recurrent motifs in the sculpture at Sanchi were evidently derived from these traditions.
- While the Jatakas contain several animal stories that are depicted at Sanchi, it is likely that many of these animals were carved to create lively scenes to draw viewers..
- While some historians identify the figure as Maya, the mother of the Buddha, other identify her with a popular goddess, Gajalakshmi - literally, the goddess of good fortune - who is associated with elephants, it is also possible that devotees who saw these sculptures identified the figure with both Maya and Gajalakshmi.
- Consider the serpent, which is found on several pillars. This motif seems to be derived from popular traditions, which were not always recorded m texts.
Paintings from the past
- The paintings at Ajanta depict stories from the Jatakas. These include depictions of courtly life, processions, men and women at work, and festivals.
- The artists used the technique of shading to give a three-dimensional quality.
- Supporters of Mahayana regarded other Buddhists as followers of Hinayana, However, followers of the older tradition described themselves as theravadins,, that is, those who followed the path of old, respected teachers, the theras.
The Growth of Puranic Hinduism
- The notion of a saviour was not unique to Buddhism. We find similar ideas begin developed in different ways within traditions that we now consider part of Hinduism.
- In the case of Vaishnavism, cults developed around the various avatars or incarnations of the deity. Ten avatars were recognised within the tradition.
- These were forms that the deity was believed to have assumed in order to save the world whenever it was threatened by disorder and destruction because of the dominance of evil forces. It is likely that different avatars were popular in different parts of the country
- Puranas literally mean old.They contained stories about gods and goddesses. Generally,they were written in simple Sanskrit verse, and were meant to be read aloud to everybody,including women and Shudras, who did not have access to Vedic learning.
- Much of what is contained in the Puranas evolved through interaction amongst people - priests, merchants, and ordinary men and women who travelled from place to place sharing ideas and beliefs.
- Around the time that the stupas at sites such as Sanchi were acquiring their present form, the first temples to house images of gods and goddesses were also being built.
- The early temple was a small square room, called the garbhagriha, with a single doorway for the worshipper to enter and offer worship to the image.
- Gradually, a tall structure, known as the shikhara, was built over the central shrine Temple walls were often decorated with sculpture.
- Later temples became far more elaborate - with assembly halls, huge walls and gateways, and arrangements for supplying water.
- One of the unique features of early temples was that some of these were hollowed out of huge rocks, as artificial caves. The tradition of building artificial caves was an old one.
- Some of the earliest of these were constructed in the third century BCE on the orders of Asoka for renouncers who belonged to the Ajivika sect. This tradition evolved through various stages and culminatd much latere in the eighth century in the carving out of an entire temple, that of Kailashnatha (a name of Shiva).
Some Important Terms
- Hagiography - It is a biography of a saint or religious leader. Hagiographies often praise the saint's achievements, and may not always be literally accurate.
- Chaitya - Chaitya may also have been derived from the word chita, meaning a funeral pyre, and by extension a funerary mound.
- Meghaduta is a best-known poem written by Kalidas.
- The story of a Monkey King is shown on a piece of sculpture on Bharhut stupa.