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ART

INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON BUDDHIST ICONOGRAPHY

In April 1984, forty scholars from ten countries gathered to discuss the rich traditions of Buddhist iconography and the variations in different Buddhist societies. These traditions have had a profound impact on the art and iconography all over Asia. The papers given at the seminar shed light on many facets of Buddhist iconography: its history, significance, philosophy, symbolism, techniques and impact on other cultures.

TIBETAN CALLIGRAPHY

Judges examining calligraphy entries
Some samples of the winning calligraphy entries

As part of the celebration of Tibet House Silver Jubilee a calligraphy competition in the Tibetan script was held in l990 followed by an exhibition of the winning pieces and a two-day workshop. Traditionally, the practice of calligraphy in Tibet was a form of meditation or sadhana. It was considered the foundation of all studies, and students underwent ten to fifteen years of rigorous training. However, Tibetan calligraphy has suffered a decline since. The competition was conceived to encourage interest in this spiritual art form. There were over 800 participants. Lama Doboom Tulku noted at the prize giving ceremony that the event was a reassuring sign that calligraphy continues to be a living Tibetan discipline.

BUDDHIST ART OF SOUTH ASIA FROM THE THIRD CENTURY BC TO THE SEVENTH CENTURY AD

Even as the irreplaceable loss to the Buddhist cultural heritage at Bamiyan took place, Tibet House and India International Centre organised a seminar on ‘Buddhist Art of South Asia from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century AD’ on March 25 and 26, 2001.

Lama Doboom Tulku, in his welcome address referred to the destruction of the gigantic Buddha statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan as an attempt to erase a chapter in human history. He suggested to go beyond collective condemnation of the act to constructive measures to prevent the recurrence of such vandalism. In his inaugural address Ven. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, Head Lama of Ladakh, drew attention to less obvious forms of destruction - such as neglect - that the rich and varied artistic heritage of the subcontinent suffers from.

In keeping with the tradition of scholarly debate within Buddhism, the seminar touched upon some core issues in Buddhist studies. It generated and revived debates pertaining to the interpretation of available data, bringing to the fore the diverse theoretical and ideological persuasions of the participants.

Dr. Amita Ray presented a chronology of the growth of Buddhism and Buddhist art in the Krishna-Godavari Valley. Dr. Lolita Nehru showed rare slides on the multi-layered Buddhist art heritage of Afghanistan. Dr. I.K. Sarma shared fresh archeological evidence on Buddhism from Andhra-Karnataka and Sri Lanka, Dr. A.P. Jamkhedkar focussed on some lesser known Buddhist vestiges from Eastern Vidarbha. Dr. M.K. Dhavlikar discussed Kuda, the late Hinayana outpost on the West Coast and Dr. M.C. Joshi offered his perspective on the emergence of anthropomorphic images of the Buddha and the Divyavadan tradition.

Eminent historian Prof. G.C. Pande saw Buddhist philosophical ideas as the defining factor in the emergence of Buddhist art and iconography. This was supported by Dr. Deepa Nag’s exposition on the concept of Sunyata. Venerable Choegyal Rinpoche’s presentation was inspired by his personal experience as a practicing Buddhist monk who also paints.

INTERDISCIPLINARY LECTURES ON INDO-TIBETAN ART

In February 2002 Tibet House organised four exciting lectures on Indo- Tibetan art and culture as a special series that was offered on four consecutive days. On February 20, Dr. Yael Bentor, who teaches classical Tibetan language and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, spoke on ‘Outer and Inner Fire Rituals in the Indo-Tibetan Vajrayana Tradition’. The following day, Dr. Anne Vergati, a social anthropologist and research fellow from CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique), Paris, made a presentation on ‘The Buddhist Paradise in Nepalese Painting’. February 22 had Dr. Mona Schrempf analysing ‘Communal Healing Rituals and their Performance at the Tibetan New Year’ from a socio-cultural point of view. Dr. Schrempf is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. On the final day, Dr. Schrempf drew upon her doctoral research to examine ‘Cham Performance in Eastern Tibet’.