Dorothy Wong, “First Images of the Buddha: the Case of Udayana Buddha Statues”

Monday, March 21, 2022
6:15 pm | Virtual

Lecture promotion imageBettman Lecture Series, Columbia University

In Buddhist cultures across Asia, the “First Images” of the Buddha hold a special status. Derived from the prototype allegedly commissioned by King Udayana and made in the likeness of the Buddha, the prototype and its copies possess attributes commonly associated with miraculous images, including supernatural forces in creation, mobility or immobility, light emission, and protective power as palladia. From China to Japan, Mongolia, and Tibet, the so-called Udayana Buddhas were widely worshiped. Acquisitions of Udayana Buddha statues enabled monastic institutions to claim religious orthodoxy and empowered royal patrons to assert legitimacy. Artistically, two very distinct types of Udayana Buddha images exist, one seated and the other standing with stylized drapery. This paper is part of a larger project studying miraculous images in China, employing the case study of Udayana Buddha images to analyze what accounts for miraculous attributes, contexts for cultic developments, the intersections (or lack thereof) of textual and visual records, artistic sources, and how recent discourse on material religion can shed light on this phenomenon.