Re: stock phrase about women? 

Hartmut Buescher buescher at HUM.KU.DK
Sun Mar 14 03:19:31 UTC 2004

Stephen Hodge wrote:

<All things considered, I would rank the suggested possible interpretations 
<regarding the ultimate underlying / original meaning in my order of 
<preference as follows: 

<1.    Love-tokens in the form of flowers and fruit 
<2.    Joshing banter 
<3.    Open-spread vagina 

In spite of Stephen Hodge's noble ranking of possible interpretations --
while this would, no doubt, be the preferable one should the correct
interpretation of vraNabhGga depend on what appeals to us as the most decent
mode of behaviour -- the archaeological evidence, as suggested, may better
not be lighthandedly ignored, as it furnishes us with directly visible data
of cultural codes of deportment provided by the culture concerned itself.
PratyakSa goes before anumAna; though, of course, what one sees when looking
at something still somehow depends on one's focus, capacity, intentional
prestructure, etc. For example, the suggestion I provided in my previous
mail about the famous yakSI from the eastern gate of the Great Sanchi Stupa
was a surprise to myself. It was the fresh outcome of leisurely looking into
some books on classical Indian Buddhist sculpture, but now with the explicit
intention of finding out what it could tell us with regard to the problem of
the meaning of vraNabhaGga on basis of the working-hypothesis: given Martin
Delhey's hesitant suggestion is correct, there might actually be some sort
of archaeological documentation. 
I did not expect to find something corresponding to Stephen's third option
in the Buddhist context; though this type of image -- the so-called
uttAnapad posture -- is, as well-known, an almost ubiquitous representation
of an obviously important aspect of the Indian goddess (cf. Carol Radcliffe
Bolon, Forms of the Goddess LajjA GaurI in Indian Art). 
Yet, while decent (nevertheless mostly bare-breasted) women in Buddhist Art
were shown as carrying at least a decorous piece of cloth vertically
suspending from a girdle around the waist, one cannot fail to recognise that
there are clear cases where a woman's intentional disclosure of the vraNa,
sometimes additionally supported by a particular bending of the body, has
been carved into stone (cf., e.g., Indian Sculpture: Masterpieces of Indian,
Khmer and Cham Art; photographs by W. & B. Forman, text: M. M. Deneck,
London [Spring Books] 1962: pl. 40 [from Amaravati, 2nd. cent.; now in
British Museum]). 
Even after having become conscious of this pattern, it was still only due to
an excellent colour photograph of another YakSI from Sanchi (as plate 20 in:
Monuments of Civilization - India; text M. Taddei; New York [Grosset &
Dunlop] 1978; orig. publ. under the Italian title Le Grandi Civilta: India
Antica, 1972]) that I was able to recognise the artist's intention: sure
enough, she had a vertical piece of cloth hanging down from a girdle around
her waist, but here it was torn to one side disclosing .... well, the
continuity of a sublime sense of physical representation originally inspired
by the Greeks through their influence upon the art of Gandhara. First now I
recognised what previously I had simply not perceived: that we find the same
intentional disclosure of the vraNa also in the case of the most famous
Sanchi YakSI (cf., e.g., op. cit., pl. 19 [which is in colour]), as well as
in the case of numerous other ones. Yet, due to my typical slow-wittedness,
it was only the Mathura representation of a woman tearing open her skirt in
an act of disclosure (bhaGga), a prostrated man under her feet, that the
almost iconographic nature of this artistic image dawned upon me (therefore
my self-ironic remark about the 21st cent. philologist). Most significant is
also the fact that this portrayal is only one in a series of other Mathura
stone-carvings apparently "iconographically" representing other aspects of
the male Buddhist perception of the woman's art of binding man (cf. Ludwig
Bachhofer, Early Indian Sculpture, London 1939 [Indian repr. 1973], vol. I,
plates 92-93): in all cases the woman is standing on top of a prostrated
male, one woman is looking into a mirror while giving a last touch to her
facial beauty, one is moving her upper body in dance so much that her hairs
are flung on one of her shoulders from behind and her chain of pearls seems
to fly around rather than just hanging down, etc.  
I do not know how many pieces belonging to this series have survived. 
And, naturally, it would require further investigations to clarify the exact
relationship between this Mathura-series of displaying female skills of
enticement and the aSTasthAnasaMgRhItA zubhatA. 
The beauty comprising eight types of display is said to constitute a
nourishment for respectively the excitement and the increase of sexual
desire, which either has not yet or which already has arisen (ayam
anutpannasya kAmacchandasyotpattaye utpannasya ca vRddhaye(?) AhAraH
[SamAhitA BhUmi, ed. Delhey 1998]).
Therefore, we are not BACK "in the realm of the overtly sexual" and there is
not "a rather sudden 'gear-change' " from which, Stephen, we have to shrink
back -- all the eight sthAnas are directly related to sex (kAma). And this
is likewise brought home by the Mathura-series. These ladies do hardly try
to imitate zakuntalA  before her marriage à la Gandharva-- rather, they are
reflecting the fact that, in general, there is a considerable difference
between Abhidharma and KAvya concerning aesthetic sensibilities bearing on
the relationship between man and woman. No doubt, MammaTa is right, as S. D.
Vasudeva has pointed out, in finding the term vraNa utterly out of place in
a poem evocatively describing, e.g., the beauty of a love-lorn young woman
watching the arrival of monsoon-clouds, her husband being still abroad.

Best regards,

Hartmut Buescher

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