This book deals with crucial though controversial questions in Buddhist art: the origin of the Buddha image and the iconography of the Buddha images.
The earliest Buddhist art of Sanchi and Bharhut is aniconic : The Buddha is represented in symbols only. In the later Buddhist art of Gandhara and Mathura, the Buddha is represented in human form: he is the principal subject of sculptural art. The book seeks to explore the geographical area in which the image of the Buddha first emerged and whether the Buddhist doctrines-Hinayana or Mahayana-had anything to do with this transformation.
The Buddha image, as developed eventually at Sarnath, became the model for the Buddha images in whole of Asia, south-east, central and eastern Asia.
The iconographic features of the Buddha image are superficially an aberration, being in apparent conflict with the doctrine. The Buddha had cut off his hair at the time of his renunciation; the rules of the order enjoin that a monk must be tonsured and must discard and eschew all riches. However, in his images, the Buddha has hair on his head; later he is also endowed with a crown and jewels.
After an exhaustive examination of the views of various scholars, the book answers these questions and resolves the controversies on the basis of literary, numismatic and epigraphic sources. More importantly it makes use of the valuable evidence from the contemporaneous Jaina art : Aniconism of early Jaina art and the iconographic features of Jaina images. The implications of this study are also important : Does India owe idolatry to Buddhism? Was this of foreign inspiration? Was the Buddha image fashioned after the Vedic Brahma and whether the Buddha's usnisa and Buddhist art motifs are rooted in the Vedic tradition?
The book is profusely illustrated and provides rich and stimulating fare to students of Indian art in general and of Buddhist art in particular.