Beginning with a few aniconic symbols, like foot prints, a throne, the Bo tree or stupas, in the prechristian Indian art, Buddhism came to evolve a variety of picturesque representations of a Self-Existent, Superimmanent Principle: in myriad forms and emanations that range from the superbly magnificent to sheerly grotesque. Endowed with diverse iconographic attributes, Buddhist deities/saints/demons have grown, over the rolling centuries, into bewildering numbers, legions. Which all, leave alone the neophytes, not even the best of scholars can recognize! The names of the divinities and their cultural/regional perceptions — owing largely to the plurality of Buddhist pantheons, have only gone on to further complicate their identification. Unveiled, for the first time, in the pages of this Encyclopaedia, is a panorama of Buddhist deities, demigods, godlings, saints and demons, with spotlight on the concretized, recognizable forms and the subtle symbolism they involve. In its nearly 8000 alphabetically arranged articles of varying lengths, it mixes gods and demons, bhiksus and btsans, the aesthetic and the grotesque — in fact, nearly the whole range of good and evil forces which the inspired among the adherents of the Buddhist faith conceived so ingeniously! Professor Bunce has painstakingly marshalled a wealth of data from authoritative language sources, notably, Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Newari/Nepalese, Chinese, Mongolian, Japanese, Siamese/Thai, Annamese/Viet Namese, Javanese, and Sinhalese, in his effort to capture almost the entire framework of Buddhist divinities: a multi-pantheonic framework, together with its classes, groups and hierarchies, ranging from Adi-Buddha to Arhats and yet beyond. Himself a distinguished scholar of Oriental/Buddhist Art, Dr. Bunce incorporates, in scrupulous detail, the iconographic attributes of deities: like colours, heads/eyes, hands, objects held, body, feet, asanas, mudras, ornaments, vahanas, emanations, and whether calm or wrathful — which, with a generous supplement of illustrations: about 300 elegant line-drawings and several colour plates, highlight the distinctiveness of each individual figure. Also included in the Encyclopaedia are user’s guide, glossaries (of asanas, mudras and attributes), identification charts, a hierarchic table, and bibliographic references. Growing from years of Professor Bunce’s persevered research and study, this compilation is certainly the first ever to draw together most of the Buddhist divinities/mythological characters, in their distinctly recognizable forms. And is, therefore, indispensable to both the specialists and non-specialists trying to identify each from a whole host of these figural representations.
This book was added to South Asia bookstore on Wednesday 16 August, 2006.