Some Details from the Representations of the Parinirvāṇa Cycle in the Art of Gandhara and Kucha

The Iconography of the Wandering Ascetics (Parivrājaka, Nirgrantha and Ājīvika)

  • Monika Zin (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Buddhism began representing narratives early, albeit with one challenge which the artists faced: they were required to abstain from depicting the Buddha as a person. Prior to (at least) 100 CE, and for some areas even later, symbols were substituted for the figure of Buddha’s person, or the space where he would have been depicted was left empty, so that only the objects and accompanying individuals around that location made it possible for the viewer to determine where his figure was meant to be. Despite this hindrance, or perhaps because of it—as it was essential that the picture be legible even without the protagonist—Buddhist art rapidly created a complex and sophisticated system of pictorial rules which made it possible to illustrate narrative content. These rules are not always comprehensible to us. This is the case, for example, when a person or an animal appears twice in the same pictorial unit. The reverse is also true, where the protagonist appears only once although figures, animals, or objects nearby signalise that whatwe are seeing is not one episode taking place in one moment but instead several episodes which took place successively in different time periods, or even in different locations. Such method of representation is often called "conflated". Several episodes from the life-story of the Buddha (represented at first aniconically and later including the figure of the Buddha as a person) were likewise depicted in such a way. [...]