BUDDHIST CULTURAL LINKAGES BETWEEN BENGAL AND SOUTH EAST ASIA
BUDDHIST CULTURAL LINKAGES BETWEEN BENGALAND SOUTH EAST ASIA
Bengal, covering the Ganga delta and the trans-Meghna zones up to the southeasternmost parts of Bangladesh, (for details see the chapter on Historical Geography) was ideally suited to linkages with South-east Asia from remote times. The extensive Bengal coast, from Suhma to Harikela sub-regions, covered the entire delta - the largest delta in the world. The fluvial network paves the way for riverine communications between the coast and the interior. There is little doubt that the Bengal/Ganga delta provides the land-locked Ganga plains with the crucial outlet to the Bay of Bengal. The Bay of Bengal network is inextricably interlocked with the mainland and maritime South-east Asia. On the other hand, the close proximity of Harikela with Arakan offers the overland corridor to mainland South-east Asia. In no other zones of the subcontinent this combination of the overland and maritime networks with South-east Asia is offered by geography. This unique natural endowment made Bengal one of the most significant areas for sustained interactions with South-east Asia (see the section on trade in the chapter on Economic Life).
interactions between these two areas with a particular thrust on the role of Buddhism as the pivotal feature of this network. Bengal, along with Bihar, is noted for the flourishing condition of Buddhism and this area marked one of the last bastions of Buddhism from the 10th century CE onwards, when in the greater parts of the subcontinent Buddhism had started to fade out gradually. The 6001300 CE phase will particularly figure in our present discussion. As during this period outstanding Buddhist monasteries emerged and flourished at Nalanda, Vikramashila, Somapura and Mainamati, it is only natural that Bengal’s Buddhist network with South-east Asia is often studied from the point of these premier Buddhist centres in Bihar, northern and south-eastern Bengal (Magadha, Abga, Pundra and Samatata regions). Recent decades have also brought to light the importance of the trans-Meghna tracts (Samatata and Harikela) in this Buddhist network. This historiographical shift will be addressed in our present effort. One should clearly underline here that our survey of the Buddhist network between
HISTORY OF BANGLADESH
Bengal and South-east Asia does not rest on the models of ‘Greater India’ and ‘Indianization’of South-east Asia; this essay has its epistemological moorings to the concepts of ‘cultural convergence’ and ‘cross-cultural exchanges’ on interactive principles.1 Regions around the Bay were involved in a network of communications - be it trade or religious or both - which could be formed by sea links and common borderlines.2 Bengal in general and Southeastern Bengal in particular (especially after 600 CE) was engaged in commercial and religious interactions with countries of Southeast Asia. Among the prevalent Indic religions, Buddhism was the forerunner in this case, as spread of Buddhism was closely connected with mercantile activities. As a proselytizing religion that bore a positive attitude to trade and was not averse to seafaring (unlike orthodox Brahmanical religions), Buddhism reached out to countries beyond the subcontinent, especially to South-east Asia. Trade routes were the main conduits through which ideas and artifacts associated with Buddhism traveled far and wide. Regions of Southeast Asia became connected with Bengal through Buddhist monks, ritual items, images, doctrines etc. Buddhist ideas in the mainland area of Southeast Asia, may have reached by the second century CE, particularly in Myanmar and Thailand. The earliest epigraphic evidence associated with Buddhism in the maritime regions of Southeast Asia dates from the fifth century CE. That Buddhism was already embedded in the society of the region is evident from the fact that in the north of Wellesly province (in the Malay Peninsula), we have the famous inscription of Mahanavika Buddhagupta datable to the 5th century CE.3 The stone slab depicts a rounded stupa crowned with a finial from which rises a seven tiered parasol. This Buddhagupta hailed from Raktamrttika (identified with Raktamrttika mahavihara in the Chiruti region of Murshidabad, West Bengal).4 The incription records prayers to the Buddha, possibly on the completion of Buddhagupta’s sea- A replica of Sanskrit inscription (Mahanavika Buddhagupta) voyage to Malayasia. It is a clear
pointer to the movement of a Buddhist master mariner from Bengal to Malay area. In view of his hailing from Raktamrttika mahavihara in the present Murshidabad district of West Bengal, it is likely that the Buddhist mariner sailed out from Tamralipta, the premier port in the Suhma sub-region of ancient Bengal. With regard to centres that helped dissemination of Buddhism, K.R. Hall demonstrated that from the tenth century CE, three new centers of international Buddhism emerged. According to him, India’s Bihar-Bengal region, having linkage with Tibet and Central Asia, was the initial center in the evolution of Tantric Buddhism, under the patronage of the Pala rulers of this area. Simultaneously Sri Lanka became the center of a revitalized Theravada Buddhism and China emerged as the new center of Buddhism’s Mahayana sects.5 Each of these new Buddhist centers was situated in a strategically important region of international trade. To this we must add South eastern Bangladesh, comprising sub-regions of Samatata (Noakhali, Comilla) and Harikela (Chattagram), which had a long history of the prevalence and practice of Mahayana Buddhism. The best possible cue to have an idea of Samatata’s linkage with regions of Southeast Asia comes from the writings of Xuan Zang (c. 629-645 CE, travels in the subcontinent). Xuan Zang informs us that Samatata’s frontiers bordered on the great sea and the very name Samatata suggests a flat coastal area. Then he enlists the places in Southeast Asia as having links with Samatata or could be easily accessed from Samatata. These are Shi-li-cha-ta-lo (Xriksetra in Myanmar), Kia-mo-land-kia (Kamalabka, identified with Pegu and the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar), Tolo-po-ti (Dvaravati in present Thailand), I-shung-na-pu-lo (Ixanapura, to the east of Dvaravati), Mo-ho-chen-po (Mahacampa in Vietnam) and Yen-nio-nachen (identification uncertain, Java according to some).6 From our numismatic and art history sources it is now possible to show the veracity of Xuan Zang’s statement regarding Southeastern Bengal’s connectivity with regions of Southeast Asia.7 The earliest indications of Harikela’s maritime network across the Bay of Bengal comes from I jing (travels in India in 67595 CE), who was aware of sea-borne journeys from Java and the Malay Peninsula to Holaikalo or Harikela, located, according to him, in the easternmost part of eastern India. As per his accounts, Tan-Kwong, a Chinese priest came to India by the southern sea route and having arrived at A-li-ki-lo (Harikela), he was reported to have found much favour with the king of Harikela.8 The point to be noted is that as early as 7th century CE, even while Tamralipta had peaked as a great port in the western sector of Bengal; there must have been a port in the territory of Harikela participating in the commercial and cultural networks in the Bay of Bengal. However with the decline of the port of Tamralipta in the mid-8th century CE, Samandar, the
port of Harikela gained visibility in Arabic and Persian accounts. The earliest reference to Bay of Bengal as Bahr-i-Harkand comes from the Silsilat alTawarikh by Sulayman Tajir in 851 CE.9 Harkand was obviously derived from Harikela. The Moroccan traveller al Idrisi, in his ‘The Delight of those who seek to wander through the regions of the world’(Nuzhatu-l Mushtak) of the mid-12th century CE, writes, “Samandar is a large town, commercial and rich, and where there are good profits to be made….”10 He based a large portion of his work on the Kitabu-l Masalik Wa-l Mamalik (Book of Roads and Kingdoms) written by Ibn Khurdadbe in the late 9th century CE, who also wrote about Samandar.11 The descriptions point to the fact that Samandar was a premier port of southeastern Bengal at that time. In the first half of the ninth century Xrivijaya sent a mission to the Pala court in Bengal in a move to expand the Xrivijayan network.12 Western Bengal did not have any port at that time, so it must have been the port of Samandar through which the network was connected. Thus through these two centres of Buddhism in India, interaction between the followers of Buddhism (both monks and laymen) and Buddhist centres round the Bay of Bengal took place. This connected history of Buddhism which spanned the two sides of Bay of Bengal can be further understood through a study of miniature images, Buddhist clay tablets, and related artifacts, the importance of which has been recently grasped in the context of the Buddhist cultural exchanges in the Bay of Bengal zone. Our study primarily focuses on Myanmar, Peninsular Thailand and Java for possible areas of interaction.
Dedication of miniature Buddha and Bodhisattva images in Buddhist shrines was a common feature in South Asia and perhaps was also adopted as a practice in Southeast Asia. It was an important practice as it entailed merit to the donor. The size of most of these objects suggests that they were portable artifacts and found in monasteries. In case of Salban Vihara, Mainamati, Bangladesh many of them were found in different cells13 signifying that these were objects of worship or donation. They could be ‘pilgrim ritual objects’, acquired by devoted worshippers and students, and were carried to the distant homelands and/or destinations of the Buddhist pilgrims/monks. Apart from the role of the images serving as mementos of travels, donation of miniature stupas and its placement at these ritual sites could also be seen as an act of piety by the pilgrim monk. Donation of miniature stupas to a ritual centre acquired for the donor the highest religious merit. This was acknowledged by the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (600?-664CE) when he explains the spiritual importance of these miniature stupas.14 Numerous miniature metal images, datable to the middle to late first millennium CE, have also been found at the various contemporary monastic sites in eastern India and Bangladesh. Herein
the hoard of sixty-six bronze Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, recovered in 1927 at Jhewari (Jhiuri) near Chittagong is of supreme importance. Bronzes from Jhewari represent Buddha in bhu-sparxa mudra, Buddha standing in the abhaya-mudra, seated in dhyana or vyakhyana mudra, and in vajrasana attended by Maitreya and Avalokitexvara, as well as Vajrasattva, Padmapani, Mavjuxri, and Vasudhara15 These range in height between 3.75cm to 5.02 cm. Six of the Jhewari images bear undated votive inscriptions which have been paleographically assigned to the middle of the ninth to the tenth century CE. A few of the images display features reminiscent of Burmese statuary.16 A group of bronze images were also excavated at Mainamati, an important Buddhist monastic site in Comilla, Bangladesh.17 Tara and Mavjuxri are two most popular iconic types from Mainamati and it is possible to connect them with bronzes from Peninsular Thailand. To cite an example, from Hua Khu, Chaiya district a bronze image of an eight-armed Tara has been found and is now housed in the Bangkok National Museum. In the opinion of Piriya Krairiksh, the iconography of this image is similar to that of a figure found in East Bengal.18 Though Kraikrish has not given further details, it appears that there could be similarity with bronzes from Mainamati. The iconographic treatment of this image is similar to an image of Mavjuxri from Mainamati. There was coincident migration of what were considered to be
spiritually potent Buddhist iconography most notably the Avalokitexvara. Here we take the case of Avalokitexvara seated in a pensive mood depicted in various sculptures across South Asia. Of the various forms of this deity, this ‘pensive’ representation is unique. Gouriswar Bhattacharya points out that the Avalokitexvara is called pensive because the Bodhisattva is captured in a thoughtful gesture, but no appropriate accompanying nomenclature of the deity is found in any literary Buddhist sources of this era.19 A particular bronze, bejeweled, four-armed Avalokitexvara in a pensive mood, now housed in Radyapustaka Museum in Surakarta, Indonesia is perhaps an important link.20 The Avalokitexvara has a solid aureole with flame motifs interspersed on the outer periphery. The pedestal is a rectangular seat with double-petalled lotuses. This bronze image reminds us of the bronze images from Mainamati in style and treatment. Here one may make the case that there was a strong connection between Javanese bronze and bronzes from Southeastern Bangladesh during the ninth century CE. According to Pauline Lunsingh Scheurleer, ‘Indo-Javanese bronzes’ did not originate from Nalanda or any other centers of Bihar as was earlier believed.21 According to her Southeastern Bengal was easily accessible to ships coming from Southeast Asian countries. She feels that Javanese bronzes had stronger similarities with sculptural schools of Comilla and Chittagong, which belonged to the Pala School of sculpture, but had its own different regional
idiom.22 This assumes a special significance in the light of the suggestion of B.N. Mukherjee that there was a parallel school of sculpture in the trans-Meghna zone with stylistic features distinct from the dominant Pala-Sena sculptures.
to 16th centuries CE. In the inscriptions and old Javanese literature actual references to such contacts are found. The inscription of Kelurak, (778 CE) Central Java mentions an Indian guru Kumaraghosa who came from Gaudidvipa.24 Gaudidvipa obviously relates to Gauda region of Bengal whose connotation extended to Bengal and Bihar under the Palas by the 8th century CE. During the eighth century the port of Tamralipta lost its relevance and it is probable that Kumaraghosa went to Java from a port from the Chittagong region. This suggests that the movement of monks and teachers from Southeastern Bengal to Java was not unusual. Therefore there is a possibility that from the eighth century onwards bronzes from Southeastern Bengal were also imported into Java. But within a short space of time icons with indigenous Javanese elements predominated. Another contemporary pensive bronze Avalokitexvara with two hands is housed in Rongoworsitto museum, Semarang, Indonesia. This bronze deity seemingly has a strong Pala influence in its facial expression. These bronze images remind us of the bronze images from Mainamati or Jhewari in style and treatment. Acomparison between the pedestal and the representation of the lotus seat in the Jhewari bronzes and the Avalokitexvara images from Java would point towards interaction between two ateliers. Thus along with indigenous elements, some commonalty in manufacture and artistic representation can be perceived. We would like to point out that when looking for adaptation it is important not to look for the emulation of iconography in its entirety, but elements in sculptures which could have been adapted to an already existing art form. Thus between Javanese bronzes and Jhewari bronzes we perceive such adaptations in seating posture, aureole and pedestal.25 The images of pensive Avalokitexvara afford evidence to account for the contemporary interaction of styles from different areas of Bengal to Java, which resulted in certain similar stylistic features being borrowed by one Buddhist centre of worship and production from another. We shall come across such evidence also in case of Buddhist clay tablets. Another genre of sculpture made from stucco recovered from Moghalmari, a Buddhist monastic site in west Medinipur district of West Bengal, shows close affinity with the Javanese site of Batujaya, where similar decorative motifs in stucco have been discovered from a monastic context.26 It is likely that this contact was established through Tamralipta as it stood in proximity to the Buddhist site of Moghalmari. Thus at a spatially wider level, the basic elements of modelling have remarkable elements of connectivity with those from maritime Southeast Asia.
Closely integrated to the making of bronze sculptures were the raw materials required and tin was an important alloy. In spite of the fact that Bengal did not produce tin, there was still a profusion of bronze sculptures widely distributed across the eastern Bay of Bengal and straits of Melaka region. Thus there had to be links, directly or indirectly, with tin producing areas. As tin was a trading commodity along trans-Asiatic routes, it is possible that Southeastern Bengal received its share of tin from the Malay Isthmian tract. Within the upper part of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, the richest tin deposits were located near modern Ranong on the west coast and in areas around Nakhon Si Thammarat on the east coast. A later text, Wang Ta-yuan’s (of the Yuan dynasty) Tao-I Chih-lioh (Description of the Barbarians of the Isles), dated to 1349 CE, includes high quality tin artifacts among the indigenous products of early Tambralinga Malay Peninsula coastline.27 It will be worthwhile to mention here that the early to mid-tenth century ship wreck in the Java Sea, known as the Intan Shipwreck, was excavated in 1997 by Michael Flecker. The artefacts from this one shipwreck provide graphic evidence of great craftsmanship, advanced technology, religious fervour, cross-cultural influences, and aggressive international trade.28 Among its cargo were an assortment of metal moulds and ritual utensils associated with Mahayana Buddhism.29 This shipwreck recovering demonstrates that a regionally constructed seagoing vessel traded between Sumatra and Java, strategically between the powerful empire of Srivijaya on the Northeast Sumatra coastline and the central Javanese upstream state of Mataram, the ship carried bronzes seemingly cast in Sumatra, showing the strong Buddhist and Brahmanical influences derivative of the Bengal region. According to Flecker, since Bengal, like Java, had no tin, seafarers could have previously transported tin from the Kedah coastline of the Malay coastline to Bengal, where local artisans made the icons, and then shipped these to Java.30 Coastal societies of the Malay region paved a pivotal role in the international maritime economy. Derek Heng demonstrated that they were acting as entrepot hubs between the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and Island Southeast Asia. They were transshipping products to littoral states bordering these water bodies.31 New archaeological excavations also suggest that regional use of tin was more likely to have been linked with Bangka Island off the Southeast Sumatra coast, which was a known region of the Srivijaya realm, and would have been a logical stopover on the eastern end of the Straits of Melaka passageway prior to a vessel’s departure for Java.32 Additionally, the Intan shipment included several moulds for local
artisans to use to produce bronze and terracotta Buddhist miniature shrines. Similar Buddhist miniature shrines form an important artifact of Jhewari hoard too. The icons produced by these moulds appear in the Borobudur
Buddhist Stupa panel relief dating to eighth/ninth century CE. These Buddhist icons, according to Kenneth Hall “were consistent with the international movement of Buddhist clerics and pilgrims in those times, as Buddhism had been embraced by Java’s kings as a means to transcend ethnic loyalties and societal institutions.”33 The types of religious artifacts found on the Intan wreck are even more conspicuous in quantity on another major tenth-century shipwreck, recovered sixty miles (100 kilometers) off the Java north coast from Cirebon. The Cirebon wreck carried cargo similar to that found on the Intan vessel, with the exception that it had significantly more bronze religious artifacts, intended for temple worship, and Buddhist clay moulds, to produce ritual objects for wider public consumption.34 The Cirebon and Intan cargoes show how two Southeast Asian ships were specializing only in the eastern sector of that network, yet their cargoes reveal solid, if indirect, links with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Southeast Asian trade.35 Instead of referencing Bengal in general as a regional source of Buddhist artifacts, we can precisely point towards its Southeastern region as a crucial source. Key to this sub-regional focus is the potential of the Chittagong region as the source of workshops for metal casting. Archaeological evidence that attests to the affluence of a Buddhist establishment at or near the present Chittagong town for at least three centuries, from the ninth to the end of the eleventh century, was important enough to draw pilgrim from other places, as these would link to the Intan ship wrecks stupa mould cargo. The Buddhist establishment could be the
Pandita Vihara mentioned in the Tibetan texts.36 Similarity between a miniature stupa from Salban Vihara in Mainamati, Bangladesh and the Khuhaphimuk cave, at Yala in peninsular Thailand is striking. Both are replicas of stupas in bronze where we have representations of seated Buddha in four niches. Both Samatata and Harikela were important Buddhist ritual sites in this period and would have been strategically located and linked to the regional maritime networks. As reported above, it is clear that from eighth century onwards bronzes from Southeastern Bengal, whether as the point of origin or as the vital source of Buddhist liturgical inspiration were imported into Java. While at first Javanese bronze masters clearly copied imported icons, and within a short span of time local production prevailed. The indigenous Javanese elements clearly predominated in subsequent iconography. The significant number of bronze items in regional shipwrecks clearly offers testimony to the localization of Buddhism in Java. Production of images on a mass scale was a significant ritual practice of the Buddhist world. This ritual practice was clearly linked to the concept of the ideology of merit. Actions conducive to acquiring merit were actually aimed at a ‘good rebirth’ in the future.37 One such action was the
production of small clay images from seals or moulds, often stamped with the ye dharma verse,38 the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. It gained a pan Asian character and was a vital source for gaining enlightenment. In spite of their smaller size, some clay tablets possess comparable beauty and craftsmanship. These tablets were diffused across Asia thereby suggesting their mobility as voyaging objects or for copying of moulds to quench the thirst for merit of the devotees of Buddhism.39
In this section we shall focus on the transmission of one of the ritual practices as represented in moulded clay tablets from Bengal-Bihar as well as Peninsular Thailand. The practice was the worship of eight bodhisattvas: a) Avalokitexvara,, b) Maitreya, c) Akaxagarbha, d) Samantabhadra, e) Vajrapani, f) Mavjuxri, g) Sarvanivaranaviskambhin, h) Ksitigarbha.40 These eight bodhisattvas are represented in different art mediums in the Buddhist world, dating from around the fifth century CE and continuing for a period of several centuries, and the moulded clay tablets were one of them. They perform the activities of the Buddha families in the mundane world of sentient beings. It has been suggested that ritual practices connected with the eight bodhisattvas spread from eastern India, through regions of Peninsular Thailand to Malayasia.41 This observation is based on the fact that quite an impressive number of such tablets with this motif have been found from Wat KhaoKhrom and Phunphin in Surat Thani province in Peninsular Thailand, in Trang in Peninsular Thailand and in the lime stone cave of Gua Berhala in Upper Kelantan, Malayasia. The tablets from Surat Thani have been dated by Pattatoran Chirapravati to the ninth or tenth century CE on the basis of palaeography. On the reverse five seals the ‘Ye Dharma’ formula has been stamped. In the opinion of Pattatoran Chirapravati these tablets are collectively significant records of the development of religious practice in the Peninsula which was largely influenced by eastern India.42 This study suggests, based on the available evidence, and most notably the tablets dating to ninth /tenth centuries that instead of broadly designating the region of transmission from eastern India we can perhaps indicate Nalanda as a possible source of diffusion coincident to these tablets.
There are two reasons for this, firstly a round clay tablet from Nalanda, housed at the Asutosh Museum in Kolkata, datable stylistically to around eighth to ninth century CE, bears the representation of worship of eight bodhisattvas with Buddha in the middle, which in our present state of knowledge has not been seen in clay tablets in Southeastern Bengal datable to the same period, which were recovered from the Salban vihara in Mainamati (Bangladesh), the other point of diffusion of ideas and motifs. Since the roles of Xakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha who belonged to the Xakya clan)
and Vairocana are interchangeable, the Xakyamuni Buddha prominent in Nalanda and Vairocana found in Surat Thani represent basically the same mandala. In sum, this eighth/ninth century mandala was regionally prominent, as its depictions are found in contemporary sites ultimately linked to Nalanda and thus are evidence of linkage among that period’s Buddhist ritual sites with potential implications of some degree of cultural, if not economic, exchanges between the Pala realm and contemporary Malay Peninsula and Straits of Melaka sites. Secondly it can be said in general that perhaps due to the politico-historical connection between the Bengal-Bihar based Palas and the contemporary Xailendra Rulers of Xrivijaya on the Southeast Sumatra coastline, these images/motifs common in Nalanda influenced the tablets from Peninsular Thailand. Bodhgaya, which was a virtual ritual centre in the Pala kingdom, is known to have interacted more with Myanmar in this period and thus naturally has a strong influence on the clay tablets found in Myanmar.
structure at Bodhgaya are a hallmark of Bodhgaya-era Buddhism as replicated in the tablets from various sites of Myanmar, but not from Peninsular Thailand. The fact that Buddha is seated underneath a structure associated with the site of enlightenment links the image with that important event in the Buddha’s life. Replication of the xikhara of the Mahabodhi temple in the Myanmarese tablets is natural considering the link it had with Bodhgaya.43 Thus this collective data can be dated to the eighth/ninth century CE, as this corresponds to the reign of the Pala rulers in Bengal and Bihar. Many such tablets have been recovered from cave sites in Myanmar - Kawgoon in lower Myanmar, Kyankku, near Pagan and Tagaung in northern Myanmar. In the case of the tablets with depiction of Mahabodhi temple, the motif of the temple inspired belief and finally its adoption into a ritual practice. When pilgrims came to Bodhgaya they bought these clay tablets, offered them to the sacred memory of the Buddha and took back home as memento, which also signified the completion of pilgrimage. Here we may bring in the patronage showered upon Bodhgaya by the rulers of the Pagan kingdom. The reign of king Kyanzittha (1084-1112 CE) witnessed the first Burmese mission to the Bodhi tree and temple in Bodhgaya. From the Burmese inscriptions we learn that there were three such missions during the Pagan period with the purpose of repairing the Mahabodhi temple. The last mission took place from 1296 to 1298, while the second cannot be dated.44 Nicolas’ essay enlightens us on some musical instruments, relevant to the Buddhst circuit needs to be placed here. Based on minute examination of two Sanskrit terms (kacchapi or lute and kamsya or kabsya or bell metal/gong)
and their derivatives in Sanskrit (including textual and epigraphic sources) and their derivatives in Java, Philipines, Thailand, Sulawesi, Cham, Khem and Myanmar, Nicolas demonstrates their presence at important Buddhist centres and Buddhist rituals.. How these musical instruments and musical performances were integrated to contemporary religious institutions and establishments have also been discussed by him. Particularly notable are his searches for musical instruments from shipwrecks, implying thereby that musical instruments circulated in the Indian Ocean maritime zone. By citing the instance of Burmese ruler Kyanzittha’s sending musical instruments to Bodhgaya during the construction of the famous temple (12th century), he highlights the possibility of movements of musical instruments from Southeast Asia to South Asia. This speaks clearly of the cultural interactions and exchanges in the Bay of Bengal zone which did not witness merely one-way cultural flow from the subcontinent.45 In this context one may also recall the Buddhist tradition that the celebrated Vajrayana monk Atixa Dipabkara sailed to Suvarnadvipa (possibly Xrivijaya) in a merchant vessel to undergo his apprenticeship under Candrakirtti for 12 years (1011-1023) in Buddhist philosophy; he is said to have returned to Bengal by sea route once again before he became the most important figure in the Vikramaxila monastery.46 Once again the image of South-east Asia as a centre of Buddhist learning, attracting scholars from the western shores of the Bay of Bengal has to be taken into account here.
A remarkable event happened in Pagan during the reign of king Jeyyasinkha (1211-1231/2 CE). He constructed a slightly smaller replica of the Mahabodhi temple at Pagan. For the first time a full size temple was built, though there were small scale illustrations of the temple in clay tablets. It is to be noted that this replication did not stop the Burmese kings to venerate the original. Behind this veneration there was a political motif as suggested by Tilman Frasch. In his opinion, a closer look at the Burmese kings reveals that sending gifts for Bodhgaya was in fact an important act for all those kings who wished to confirm their status and position, e.g. Kyanzittha had served as an army leader before he placed himself on the throne.47 So there was the issue of legitimacy linked to patronage to Bodhgaya temple.
Coming back to the image of pensive Avalokitexvara we find that
among the sculptures housed in the Mainamati site museum, we come across a plaque from the site of Kutilamura, Mainamati, Bangladesh, datable to roughly the eighth century CE, which depicts a four-armed Avalokitexvara, seated on the principal lotus with attendants of the deity on smaller lotuses. This Avalokitexvara is distinguished by Jatabhara (matted hair) and a threequarter profile of the face.48 Here the Avalokitexvara seems to be in a pensive
mood. The sculpture bears the usual Buddhist creed. An oval shaped tablet from Nalanda housed in the Asutosh Museum bears more or less a similar iconographical composition. It shows a figure of Avalokitexvara seated in maharajalila on a lotus and with six arms. His hair is tied in a chignon and a pearl necklace is the only ornament adorning his otherwise bare torso. His head is inclined to the right and rests against the palm of the uppermost right hand. The second right hand seems to carry the rosary and the lowest right hand shows varada mudra (the gesture of charity or gift giving). Of the three left hands only one is visible, which rests on the lotus seat. He is bejeweled. A beaded halo can be seen around his head. Two lines of Buddhist creed are at the bottom of the tablet. This tablet has been assigned to the 9th century CE. A contemporary tablet from Yala, Peninsular Thailand is almost similar to the one from Nalanda, except that it is four-handed and its upper right hand holds a rosary. His head is slightly tilted to the right and a beaded halo also appears around his head. His torso is bare too except for a necklace. Another interesting feature of this tablet is the attempt to make a rim with folds, albeit crude, like some of the moulded tablets from Nalanda or contemporary Southeastern Bengal sites. Thus this could be a case where different models were seen but the craftsman, not being an expert, could not emulate the original icon properly. Another case of iconographic adoption or adaptation can be seen at Tham Khao Kao in a four-armed bejeweled Avalokitexvara, seated in vajrasana. The lower right hand performs the Varada mudra; the left hand placed on his left thigh holds the stalk of a full blooming lotus. His upper right hand holds an aksamala, and the upper left hand holds a book. Like the Pala period sculptures, the deity is seen to be depicted with a roll of fat in his abdomen. The tablet has the ‘Ye Dharma’stanza written in nagari script and dates to the ninth/tenth centuries CE. This tablet bears close resemblance to a tablet found from Nalanda datable to eighth/ninth century CE, housed in the Victoria and Albert museum in London (I. M.5-1914), though the manufacture of the Nalanda icon is much cruder.49 These are examples emanating from network of exchanges across the Buddhist world in the Bay of Bengal. It is important to underline that the cult of Avalokitexvara seems to have become popular on account its association with the concept of his offering protection from various dangers, including dangers during sea-voyages. This role of the Avalokitexvara as protector from ship-wreck subsequently gets transferred to Tara, his consort. Literally meaning the goddess who helps ford (some water bodies), Tara not only gains immense prominence in Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhist philosophy. An image of Tara offering protection from eight kinds of dangers, including ship-wreck, is captured in a sculpture from the Buddhist site of Ratnagiri in Odisha.50
Tablets with images of Tara were also discovered from monastic sites. We have the representation of eight armed Tara from Mainamati. A conception of Astamahabhaya Tara has eight arms, corresponding to the number of perils from which she offers rescue. The eight arms display an array of implements and gestures. Tara’s role as liberator from the eight great fears, Astamahabhaya, was defined in the seventh century CE. This was the period when the grammarian Candragomin51 wrote several hymns to Tara as saviour from the eight fears: lions, elephants, fire, snakes, thieves, shipwreck, captivity and evil spirits. With regard to the textual basis to the worship of Tara in regions of Bengal and Southeast Asia, we have a very important verse from Mañjuxrimulakalpa, datable to around eighth century CE, referring to places where the cult of Tara was prevalent.52 It reads, ‘And then a mighty Yaksa king also practices Tara. In Harikela, Karmarabga, Kamarupa and Kalasa (: sidhyate ca tada tara yaksarat caiva mahabalah /harikele karmarabge ca kamarupe kalasahvaye // MMK-53.833 //). What is noteworthy is that the region of Harikela, identified with the Chittagong region and Samatata, identified with Comilla-Noakhali area, abounds in Buddhist monasteries where we find small bronze images of Tara along with other deities. Moreover from the Mainamati copper plate dated 1220 CE, and issued in the 17th regnal year of king Ranavabkamalla XriHarikaladeva53 it is learnt that Dhadi-eba, a minister of the king, donated a piece of land in favour of a vihara dedicated to Durgottara (a form of the Buddhist goddess Tara) in the town of Pattikera (Patikara or Paitkara is a paragana near Mainamati). Thus Tara was venerated in the coastal region of southeastern Bangladesh. Beautiful clay tablet depicting Xyama Tara has been found from this region. Identification of Kalaxa with a place in lower Burma seems plausible. It is very difficult to identify Karmarabga. Sircar places it in lower Myanmar along with Kalasa as its capital.54 Recently Griffiths has offered a viable identification of Karmarabga with Arakan.55 In view of Arakan’s close association with Harikela and with Samatata, this identification seems plausible.
which links Arakan ruler with the Buddhist world of Samatata. Stanza 57 of the inscription mentions a place called Pilakkavanaka: ‘At [the place] called Pilakkavanaka, formerly named Domagha (?), also there have been constructed streets, various pleasances, causeways and passages’.56 It may be noted that in South Tripura, which was a part of ancient Samatata, there is a place called Pilak Pathar. A Buddhist monastery has been excavated there and Harikela coins have been found in the nearby Belonia subdivision. Moreover like the Harikela coins we have coins with Piraka
written on them following the same tradition of locality coins with placenames,57 suggesting a connection with Arakan. It may be that since Pilak was a Buddhist pilgrim site with regular movement of monks, Anandacandra made donations for improving the roadways and causeways of Pilak for easy access from Arakan. Thus Pilak, like Mainamati, was also among the network of Buddhist sites although it may have acted as a subsidiary centre in relation to Mainamati. The Buddhist murals of Myanmar too bear testimony to Southeastern Bengal’s interaction with Myanmar among many other spheres. Claudine Bautze Picron in her study on the murals of Pagan58 states that “the source for these murals both from iconographic and stylistic points of view, might well be sought in north-east India….” She further states that “while the style of the murals behind the cult image, or of any Buddha image, finds its closest match in images from Bihar, the depiction of the Jatakas is more closely related to the pictorial tradition of south-east Bangladesh.” Strong similarities are seen in the use of colour; beside the dark blue of the background, red and white dominate, just as in the manuscript illustrations of southeast Bengal. In other words the stylistic source of these murals lies in the district of Comilla. A case in point is the manuscripts dated in the reign of Harivarman (c.1073-1127 CE), son of Jatavarman of Samatata. These manuscripts reflect an idiom which represents stylistic features of the region also noticed in stone sculptures (plain background, importance of the outer line delineating the volume) of the Comilla area. Bautze-Picron rightly states that this area evidently constituted the outer eastern frontier of the ‘Indian’ Buddhist Art in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and as such was a cultural transitory zone between India and Myanmar.59 Thus circulation of Buddhist rituals and iconography along with other artistic trends across the Bay of Bengal network was possible through interactions with different regions of Bengal and Bihar. The key role the coasts of Southeastern Bengal can hardly be missed in the making of the Buddhist circuit connecting Bengal with South-east Asia. Its participation in the circulation of rituals and artifacts associated with Buddhism is gaining historical visibility. Buddhist approaches to merit making found expression in the moulded clay tablets and also miniature images which were donated to the monasteries and these were products of the ideology of merit acting as voyaging objects. These new and emerging perspectives have been sought here to be integrated to the existing knowledge of the stellar role played by celebrated centres like Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Vikramaxila and Somapura viharas in promoting Buddhist cultural linkages and interactions between early Bengal and the-then South-east Asia.
Notes and References
1 For elaborate discussion see Chapter Hermann Kulke, ‘Early State Formation and “Indianization”: Reflections on the Concepts of Cultural Convergence’, in Noboru Karashima (ed.), Medieval Religious Movements and Social Change, Tokyo, 2016: 15778; for cross cultural exchanges see Pierre Yves Manguin, A. Mani and Geoff Wade (eds.), Early Interactions between South and South-east Asia: Reflections on Cross-cultural Exchanges, Singapore and New Delhi, 2011.
2 Tilman Frasch, ‘A Buddhist Network in the Bay of Bengal: Relations between Bodhgaya, Burma and Sri Lanka’, in Claude Guillot, Denys Lombard and Roderich Ptak (eds.), From The Mediterranean To The China Sea: Miscellaneous Notes, Wiesbaden 1998: 69-92 perceives the Bay of Bengal as the ‘Buddhist Mediterranean’. He obviously draws upon the Braudelian concept of longue duree and the unity of a maritime space. This impressive formulation however does not take into account that the Bay of Bengal network was not solely, even predominantly, a Buddhist network zone. From the 8th century onwards the sustained interactions between the Coromandel coast and Southeast Asia were not merely characterized by Buddhist network. See, Hermann Kulke, K.Kesavapani and Vijay Sakhuja eds., From Nagapattianam to Suwarnadwipa, Singapore and New Delhi, 2010. It is also not easy to apply the Braudelian model of time (divided into longue duree/structure, conjuncture and event to the Indian Ocean context. See Ashin Das Gupta and M.N. Pearson (eds.), India and the Indian Ocean 1500-1800, Calcutta, 1985.
3 D.C. Sircar, Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilization, vol. I, Calcutta, 1942: 497.
4 S.R. Das Excavations at Rajbadidanga, Calcutta, 1968
5 K.R. Hall, ‘Indonesia’s Evolving Relationships in the Ninth to Eleventh Centuries: Evidence From Contemporary Shipwrecks and Epigraphy’, Indonesia, 90, October, 2010:6.
6 T. Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels, New Delhi, 1961: 201.
7 Suchandra Ghosh, Exploring Connectivity: Southeastern Bengal and Beyond, Kolkata, 2014.
8 J. Takakusu, (tr.), A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago (A.D.671-695) by I-tsing, Oxford,1896 : xxxiii, xlvi, liii, 44.
9 M. Reinaud (ed.), Sulayman al-Tajir and Abu Zaid Hasan al-Sirafi, Silsilat al- Tawarikh, Frankfurt, 1994, reprint of 1845 Paris edition.
10 H.M. Elliot and J. Dowson, The History of India As Told by its own Historians, vol.I, Allahabad, 1964: 90.
11 Ibid.: 16. For the widespread commercial linkage of Samandar and Harikela region, including the circulation of metallic currency there, see B.N. Mukherjee, ‘Commerce and Money in the Central and Western Sectors of Eastern India’, Indian Museum Bulletin, XVI, 1982: 65-83. The Chittagong area has yielded epigraphic and iconographic testimonies to the lively condition of Buddhism. See Gauriswar Bhattacharyya, ‘An Inscribed Vase from Chittagong, Bangladesh’, South Asian Archaeology, 1991; also Debala Mitra, Bronzes from Bangladesh: A study of Buddhist Images from District Chittagong, New Delhi, 1982.
662 HISTORY OF BANGLADESH
12 This is clearly evident from the Nalanda CP of Devapala granting five villages to the Nalanda monastery at the request of the Xailendra ruler of Yavadvipa, Balaputradeva.
13 M. Harunur Rashid, The Early History of South-East Bengal In the Light of Archaeological Material, Dhaka,2008: 116-128.
14 T. Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels, New Delhi, 1961: 201.
15 Asok K. Bhattacharya, Jhewari Bronze Buddhas, A Study in History and Style, Calcutta, 1989.
16 Gautam Sengupta, ‘Art of South-Eastern Bengal: An Overview’Journal of Ancient Indian History. Vol.XIX: parts1-2, 1989-90: 125-130
17 A.B.M Husain (ed.), Mainamati-Devaparvata, Dhaka, 1997: 218.
18 Piriya Krairiksh, Art in Peninsular Thailand Prior to the Fourteenth Century A.D., Bangkok, 1980: 178, plate-50.
19 Gouriswar Bhattacharya, “The “Pensive” Bodhisatva From Uddiyana (Swat Valley) To Pattikera (Mainamati)- A Unique Example From Magadha (South Bihar)”, Journal of Bengal Art, 7, 2002: 125-138.
20 I am extremely thankful to Ms Sofia Sundstrom for the images of pensive Avalokitexvara from Java.
21 In revisionists views the icons did originate from the Comilla and the Chittagong districts in Bangladesh.
22 Pauline Lunsingh Scheurleer and Marijke J. Klokke, Divine Bronze, Ancient Indonesian Bronzes from A.D. 600 to 1600, Amsterdam, 1988.
23 B.N. Mukherjee, Eastern Indian Sculptures, a Parallel Tradition, Calcutta, 1980; also see, S.K. Mitra (ed.), Eastern Indian Bronzes, Calcutta, 1980.
24 H. B. Sarkar, Corpus of Inscriptions of Java, vol. 1, Calcutta, 1971: 41-8.
25 Suchandra Ghosh, ‘Exploring Southeastern Bengal’s connected Histories with Southeast Asia through Numismatic and Art Historical lens’, Journal of Bengal Art, vol. , Dhaka: 2015.
26 Pierre-Yves Manguin and Agustijanto Indradjaya, ‘The Archaeology of Batujaya (West Java, Indonesia): An Interim Report’, in Elisabeth A. Bacus, Ian C. Glover and Vincent Piggot(eds.), Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, Bangkok, 2006: 254-57. Also see Asok Datta, Excavations at Moghalmari: First Interim Report (2003-04 to 2006-07), Kolkata, 2008. Rajat Sanyal and Suchandra Ghosh, ‘Enduring Passages, Voyaging Objects: New Evidence on Indian Ocean Linkage from Southern Bengal’ (Forthcoming)
27 Stuart Munro Hay, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, The Archaeology, History and Legends of a Southern Thai Town, Bangkok, 2002: 335.
28 Michael Flecker, ‘Treasures From the Java Sea (The Tenth Century Intan Shipwreck)’ in Heritage Asia Magazine, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2004 – February 2005: 1.
29 Michael Flecker, “The Archaeological Excavation of the Tenth-Century Intan Shipwreck,” British Archaeological Reports International Series 1047, Oxford, 2002: 43-45.
30 K.R., Hall, “Indonesia’s Evolving Relationships in the Ninth to Eleventh Centuries: Evidence From Contemporary Shipwrecks and Epigraphy”, Indonesia, 90, October, 2010: 6.
31 Derek Heng, ‘Socio-Political Structure, Membership, Mobility in the Pre-Modern Malay World: The case of Singapore in the 14th Century’ in Ulbe Bosma, Gijs Kessler and Leo
Lucassen (eds.), Migration and Membership Regimes in Global and Historical Perspective: An Introduction, Leiden, 2013: 116.
32 Pierre-Yves Manguin, “The Sumatran Coastline in the Straits of Bangka: New Evidence,” SPAFA Digest 3,2 1982: 24-29.
33 K.R., Hall, “Indonesia’s Evolving Relationships”, 2010: 7.
34 H. Liebner, Nan-Han/Cirebon Wreck, Database of Registered Finds, Jakarta, 2006.
35 Janice Stargardt, ‘Indian Ocean Trade in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries: Demand, Distance, and Profit’, South Asian Studies, 30:1,2014: 35-55.
36 Debala Mitra, Bronzes from Bangladesh: A Study of Buddhist Images from District Chittagong, Delhi, 1982: 26.
37 Nicholas Revire, ‘Glimpses of Buddhist Practices and Rituals in Dvaravati and Its Neighbouring Cultures’, in Nicholas Revire and Stephen A. Murphy(eds.), Before Siam, Essays in Art and Archaeology, Bangkok, 2014: 241-271.
38 For a detailed discussion on this verse see Peter Skilling, ‘Buddhist Sealings and the Ye Dharma stanza’ in Gautam Sengupta and Sharmi Chakraborty (eds.), Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia, New Delhi, 2008: 503-525.
39 Suchandra Ghosh, “Viewing Our Shared Past through Buddhist Votive Tablets Across Eastern India, Bangladesh and Peninsular Thailand”, in Upinder Singh and Parul Pandya Dhar (eds.), Asian Encounters: Exploring Connected Histories, Delhi, 2014: 194.
40 Benoytosh Bhattacharyya, The Indian Buddhist Iconography, Calcutta, 1968.
41 Skilling, ‘Buddhist Sealings and the Ye Dharma stanza’, 2008: 377.
42 Pattatoran Chirapravati, ‘Development of Buddhist Traditions In Peninsular Thailand: A Study Based on Votive Tablets (Seventh to Eleventh Centuries),’ in Nora A. Taylor (ed.), Studies in Southeast Asian Art, Essays in Honor of Stanley J.O’Connor, New York, 2000:
43 John Guy, The Mahabodhi Temple: Pilgrim Souvenirs of Buddhist India, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 133, No. 1059,Jun., 1991: 356-367
44 Tilman Frasch, ‘A Buddhist Network in the Bay of Bengal’ 1998:82
45 See Arsenio Nicolas, ‘Musical Exchange between India and Southeast Asia’, in Manguin, Mani and Wade (eds.), Early Interactions between South and South-east Asia: 347-70
46 Adhir Chakravarti and R.C. Majumdar ‘India’s Contacts with the Outside World’, in R.S. Sharma and K.M. Shrimali (eds.), A Comprehensive History of India, Vol. IV, pt. 2, New Delhi, 2008: 761-99; especially 770-71.
47 Tilman Frasch, ‘A Buddhist Network’,1998: 82-83.
48 Gautam Sengupta, ‘Art of South-Eastern Bengal: An Overview” Journal of Ancient Indian History,’ Vol.XIX: parts1-2, 1989-90: 125.
49 Suchandra Ghosh, ‘Buddhist Clay Tablets across Bay of Bengal: Case Studies of Shared Heritage’, in Anna Dallapicola and Anila Verghese (eds.), India and Southeast Asia:
Cultural Discourses, Mumbai, 2017.
50 For the linkage of the cult of Avalokitesvara with sea-voyages see Osmund Bopearachchhi, ‘Sri Lanka and Maritime Trade: Bodhisattva Avalokitexvara as the Protector of Mariners’, in Upindrasingh and Parul Pndya Dhar (eds.), Asian Encounters, Exploring Connected Histories, New Delhi, 2014: 161-187; for the image of the Tara from Ratnagiri see Himanshuprabha Ray, ‘Coastal Settlements and Communities: Defining the Maritime Landscape in Early South Asia’ in Lakshmi Subramanyan (ed.), Ports, Towns, Cities, Mumbai, 2008: 58-77; specially 75.
51 Candragomin (c. 7th century CE),was the famous grammarian from Varendra whose core territory lay in north of Bengal, ( here Bengal meaning West Bengal and Bangladesh). He was the author of Candravyakarana and said to have attained the vision of arya Avalokitexvara and Tara.
52 P.L. Vaidya, (ed.), AryaMañjuurimûlakalpa, (Mahayanasutrasamgraha, part II, Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, no.18), Darbhanga, 1964: 508
53 D.C. Bhattacharyya, ‘The Mainamati Copper-Plate of Ranavankamalla Harikeladeva’, Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. IX, 1933: 282-289.
54 D.C. Sircar, ‘Indological Notes’, Journal of Ancient Indian History, Vol. IX, 1976: 211-213.
55 Arlo Griffiths, ‘Three More Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan: New Perspectives on Its Name, Dynastic History, and Buddhist Culture in the First Millennium’, The Journal of Burma Studies Vol. 19 No. 2 (2015): 281-340.
56 F. H Johnston, ‘Some Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol.II, 1944: 377-388, stanza 57.
57 M. Mitchiner, The Land of Water: Coinage and History of Bangladesh and Later Arakan Circa 300 BC to the Present Day, London:Hawkins Publication, 2000: 74. That the Harikela silver currency was influenced by the coinage of the Chandra ruler of Arakan was first established by B.N. Mukherjee, ‘The Original Territory of Harikela’, Bangladesh Lalitkala, I, 1975.
58 Claudine Bautze-Picron, The Buddhist Murals of Pagan, Timeless Vistas of the Cosmos, Bangkok, 2003: 167-168.
59 Claudine Bautze-Picron, ‘Buddhist Painting During the Reign of Harivarman (end of the 11th century) in Southeast Bangladesh’, Journal of Bengal Art, Vol. 4, Dhaka,1999: 159-197.