RE: stock phrase about women? 

Hartmut Buescher buescher at HUM.KU.DK
Fri Mar 12 10:36:02 UTC 2004

<Your suggestion that the reading vanabhanga in itself 
<is a result of this interpretation of an earlier 
<*va.nabhanga is very inspiring. I shall definitely 
<think about it. It is a possiblity which I have 
<neglected so far. 

Already some years ago, when providing Edgerton's (BHSD) 
entry on vraNa with a reference to the note 136 in Martin Delhey's 
(at that time) partial edition and translation of the SamAhitA BhUmi, 
this note had convinced me that the TheravAda and the 
MUlasarvAstivAda exegetical traditions represented clearly separate 
branches of interpretation. Independently of how we answer the 
question concerning the historical priority of interpretation 
(not necessarily belonging to the TherevAda tradition -- as the 
present Cousins-Delhey-saMvAda has shown), the fact that 
vraNa is attested as a part of expressions referring either to the 
nine openings of the body (cf. BHSD s.v.) or, more specifically, 
to the "female wound" (strIvraNa; pw, MW) evidently justifies 
Martin's preference to take this meaning as the basis for 
further elaborations. 
Now, to extend the thread of our discussion into another direction, 
it seems to me that we can actually draw on archaeological evidence 
to gain a better understanding of what the attractive act of 
vraNabhaGga may have connoted in the classical Indian Buddhist 
context (for which Tibetan interpretations may hardly be taken as 
valid in this case). 
Leaving open the question to what extent sculptural representations 
of even ordinary human beings reflected de facto social realities, 
we recognise that also Buddhist religious monuments have often 
been decorated with social scenes etc. showing gaily posturing 
women. Often they wear only a girdle around the waist from which 
a piece of cloth (in stone) is hanging down, thus preserving a 
minimum of decorum by preventing the "wound" to be seen. 
Yet, frequently those portrayed women do not at all prevent any 
sight of their private parts, but enact what apparently has been 
designated as vraNabhaGga, "ex-posing the wound". 
Ad hoc (i.e. without particular investigations and without specialised 
literature at hand, right now), I found evidence of such sculptures 
stemming from Sanchi, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda and Mathura. 
The most well-known vraNabhaGga sculpture is probably the 
so-called ("tree-embracing") yakSI adorning the eastern gate 
to the Sanchi Stupa I: here we can clearly see that that part 
of the girdle, which is supposed to preserve the decorum by 
vertically suspending from the girdle's horizontal part, has been 
pushed to one side leaving the middle part of the lower belly 
intentionally exposed (hardly with the intention of chasing 
potential visitors of the Stupa away). 

A Buddhist sculpture of a women that is most interesting for 
the present concern comes from Mathura (2nd cent. AD): 
rather than merely a piece of cloth vertically dangling between 
her legs, she wears a long skirt reaching down to her ankles 
so as to be even better protected. But no! The artist has caught 
her in the very act of opening the skirt in front and performing 
the eighth of the eight ways of binding men to her: the act 
of vraNabhaGga. And in order to bring out the significance 
of her act with sufficiently great clarity -- as if even 21st-century 
philologists should not fail to understand it -- the artist 
symbolically portrayed the lady exposing her vraNa as standing 
on top of a prostrated man! 
Though Phyllis, while legendarily riding on Aristotle, is not said 
to have exposed hers, one is somehow reminded of the basic 
similarity of the demonstration. 
Anyway, it appears to me that further investigations exploring 
archaeological data would sustain Martin's initial suggestion 
with even stronger evidence, and that the outcome of these 
discussions in the course of the last days probably is that we'll be 
able to provide the art historians with a new technical term for a 
particular type of artistic portrayal. 

Best regards, 

Hartmut Buescher 

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