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Absence of the Buddha Image in Early Buddhist Art

Toward its Significance in Comparative Religion by: Kanoko Tanaka

Dr. Tanaka, for the first time ever, explores the ‘absence’ of the Buddha-image in early Buddhist art. Applying the motif of the ‘empty throne’, she undertakes a comparative study of Buddhism and other religions.



ISBN: 9788124600900
Year Of Publication: 2014
Edition: 2nd
Pages : xiv, 257
Bibliographic Details : 2 Tables; 14 Figures; 25 B/w illustrations; 32 Coloured plates Appendix; Bibliography; Index
Language : English
Binding : Hardcover
Publisher: D.K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Size: 25 cm.
Weight: 900


It is next to impossible today to even think of Buddhism without the presence of the Buddha image! The image of the Buddha, in truth, has not only come to symbolise the essence of Buddhism but is also a brilliant expression of the cultural/artistic achievements of the Buddhists since ancient times. Surprisingly, the Buddha image developed at a later stage of the evolutionary process; after the parinirvana of the Buddha, the Buddhists for a considerable time beheld the Buddha and experienced him in their own minds without taking recourse to the Buddha image itself. In Absence of the Buddha Image in Early Buddhist Art, Dr. Tanaka, a well-versed scholar, has for the first time ever explored the ‘absence’ of the Buddha image in Buddhist art — particularly in the period from third century bc to late first century ad — in order to rediscover the significance of this phenomenon. Dr. Tanaka observes Bharhut and Sanchi sculptures to point out the most essential motifs and elements of stupa-art design — the visible facts pertaining to the absence of the Buddha image. The author studies the religious, philosophical, artistic and political significance of the visible facts, highlighting the concept of the ‘empty throne’ as the motif representative of that absence. She applies the ‘empty throne’ concept to the sanctuaries of monotheistic religions, and thus undertakes a comparative study of Buddhism and other religions, particularly, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism to suggest that present-day discussions on the linkage between religions can centre on this theme. The dexterous handling of the topic combined with the author’s use of first-hand research material makes this an erudite study. The directness in the author’s approach and the unwavering eye on the theme sustains the interest throughout. An abundance of visual material, i.e., drawings and photographs, and tables immensely aid in analysis of the visible facts. This intense work on a rich theme offers well-researched and interesting material that will be useful to scholars of religious studies, fine arts and even philosophy.


Acknowledgement Abbreviations
1. Introduction
2. Visible Facts
The Role of ‘Stupa-Art’ (Fine Arts Dedicated to the Stupa)
A Rediscovery of ‘Vedika-design’
The Importance of ‘Stupa-motif’ in Stupa-Art
The Basic Composition of Stupa-Art
A Consideration of the Visible Facts

3. Possible Interpretations
The Religious Aspects
The Artistic Aspects
The Political Aspects
4. The Concept of the Empty Throne
Its Meaning for Buddhist People
Its Categories in Comparative Religion
A Discovery of its Modernity
5. Conclusion
A List of Visuals
A Guide to the Visuals
Select Bibliography

Meet the Author
Kanoko Tanaka, born in 1964 and a Ph.D. from the University of Delhi, is an eminent scholar and a member of the International Institute for the Study of Religion, Tokyo, who has devoted more than a decade to studying the methodology and practice of religious studies. Her papers on Buddhist art and comparative religion have been appreciated in academic societies and institutes all over the world. She has won special acclaim for her elaborate theories of ‘the stupa-art’, ‘the vedika-design’, ‘the stepped-pyramidal motifs’ and ‘the empty throne’ in early Buddhist art, which were first presented by her at the XXIXth International Congress of the History of Art, ‘Memory and Oblivion’, held in Amsterdam in 1996.
Books of Kanoko Tanaka