Sanskrit Beyond Text: The Use of Bonji (Siddham) in Mandala and Other Imagery in Ancient and Medieval Japan
Dine, Susan Michelle
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This thesis features selected examples of Japanese art from the Heian period to the Kamakura period that carry within their artistic representation the use of Sanskrit characters. As such, it is about the dissemination of Sanskrit characters in Japan and their deployment in visual culture--an area of Japanese art history that has been, to date, understudied. This phenomenon began by the ninth century with the importation of both Esoteric Buddhist texts and objects with Sanskrit, evolved to include non-religious as well as Buddhist objects during the medieval era, and continued into modern times. My thesis explores shifts in the appearance, deployment and function of Sanskrit on non-textual religious objects which, while always illustrating the polysemy of the sign, spread from representing specific deities and doctrine in Esoteric Buddhism to additionally representing concepts that supported the dogmatic integration of Shinto and Buddhism that was already practically inherent in the culture of ancient and medieval Japan.
- Art history