This is a very interesting talk by the American scholar of Buddhism, Prof. Robert deCaroli, which was given at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC in 2014.
In it he summarises his research into the origins of the first Buddha images, which surprisingly only started to appear after the so-called aniconic phase of Buddhist art which lasted for around 2-3 centuries.
Prof. deCaroli’s main idea is that we cannot study this subject in isolation from the cultural norms that prevailed in the culture in which Buddhism was embedded, and when we look there we find no figures of supreme (as opposed to local) gods, or religious figures of the Buddha’s stature were being depicted in India at that time.
The intriguing thing is to ask the question, why not? And in this lecture Prof. deCaroli goes into some detail as to why he thinks that was so, throwing a lot of light on the history of Buddhist art, and the emergence of the Buddha figure.
The talk is followed by nearly 10 minutes of questions, some more relevant than others, and Prof. deCaroli’s answers to them. I should mention that the talk starts over 9 minutes into the recording, and finishes before another good, but unrelated programme.
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