's avataaras in Art

John Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Tue Jun 1 17:33:18 UTC 2004

While the Dasha avatara are barely on my list of 
interests, my students,  Anu Vedagiri and Chaya 
Chandrasekhar, pass on the following:

The earliest known image set is the ca. third 
century Yelesveram (at Nagarjunakkonda) stele 
with fragments of the ten around him.

The base of the Gupta temple at Deogarh was 
"supposed" (see Vats) to have a dasha avatara, 
set around the base, but it was fragmentary and 
is presently stored in a seemingly "permanently" 
locked godown at the site.

The Rashtrakuta (ca 8th century) Cave fifteen at 
Ellora, is known as the Dasha avatara, but will 
have to check our photographs to see if there is 
a real set in it or not.

Complete sets of them show up in Pala sculpture 
in the ninth and tenth centuries.

Prior examples of several avatara are important 
individual images Varaha, Narasimha, Trivikram, 
Krishna, are all sixth century or earlier.

A 2nd or 3rd cemtury Narasimha has just been discovered in Andhra

If any one is interested a small web site could be put up in a few days


>  > This of course raises the larger question of when exactly the
>>  das'aavataara scheme takes on its canonical form. The late
>>  A.L. Basham once remarked to me that he did not know of
>>  its datable occurrence in the literature prior to the
>>  das'aavataaracarita of K.semendra, which would imply
>>  that the Kaalacakra is in fact the earliest roughly
>>  datable source. But on the surface it seems that this
>>  can't be correct. I join with Prof. Newman in seeking
>>  enlightenment from those who are expert in the early
>>  Vai.s.nava corpus. Of course, art historical evidence
>>  might also help to date the basic ten avataara scheme.
>>  Matthew Kapstein
>>  > The 11th cent. Buddhist Kaalacakra tantra (2nd pa.tala, vv. 6-8)
>>  > employs the names of the ten avataaras of to designate ten
>>  > phases of human life, from conception to death. I would be grateful
>>  > for any references to comparable usage in other Indic sources, or for
>>  > expert judgement that this usage is unique to the Kaalacakra.
>>  >
>>  > John Newman
>>  > Humanities
>>  > New College of Florida
>>  > Sarasota, FL 34243 USA
>>  >
>Matthew Kapstein
>Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies
>The Divinity School of the University of Chicago
>Directeur d'études
>Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

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