RE: stock phrase about women?
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
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.
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