Cult and Colossus: Buddhist Sculpture from Odisha in History and Memory (ca. eighth to twelfth centuries)
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CitationDhingra, Sonali. 2021. Cult and Colossus: Buddhist Sculpture from Odisha in History and Memory (ca. eighth to twelfth centuries). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractA careful analysis of the role of scale has scarcely found a place in South Asian art-historical writings, which are primarily concerned with iconography, eliding questions of materiality or context. This dissertation examines an overlooked corpus of colossal stone Buddhist sculptures that belong to Odisha (on India’s eastern coast). The ubiquity of large-scale sculptural carving at Buddhist sites in Odisha between the eighth and twelfth centuries compels us to consider when, how, and why a propensity for monumentality in stone carving at Buddhist establishments developed in this region. Studying this corpus of sculptures from material, phenomenological and archaeological perspectives sheds light on the ontological valence of cultic sculptures in South Asian Buddhist contexts.
This dissertation is divided into three parts: The first part, “Colossus and Chronology,” frames the dissertation theoretically and places the corpus in a chronological sequence; the second part, “Making and Materials,” attends to the artistic innovations in the conception and making of cultic sculptures of the Buddha Śākyamuni and bodhisattvas in Odisha. The third portion of this project, “Physical Context and Performative Use,” focuses on placing objects in devotional spaces and determining their cultic significance and ritual function at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri.
It makes four contributions: 1) Theorizes the significance of scale in making and viewing the sculpted devotional image in South Asia, more broadly. 2) Clarifies the chronology and physical context of Buddhist cultic sculpture from Odisha. 3) Emphasizes the innovative role of unnamed artists and image-designers in making sculpture efficacious via material strategies such as monumentality and spatial depth. 4) Demonstrates that the medieval Indian Buddhist imagination apprehended Buddhist cultic icons, such as those of Bodhisattva Amoghapāśa (lit. ‘one who holds an unfailing noose), as “things,” animate and empowered mediators in worldly matters—active through their over-human scale, placement, style, iconography, and ritual consecration. The epilogue highlights how the phenomenological aspects of Buddhist sculptures participated and continue to participate in forging cultural memory and imagination of the past in Odisha.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368480
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