Turtles (and elephants) all the way down?

John C. Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Sat Apr 3 16:48:16 UTC 2010

In Buddhist Art, especially early, elephants play a major role in  
"supporting" structural establishments Buddhist worlds, presumably  
paradises, although the early literature does not mention that as part  
of of the Buddhist architectural considerations. Pitalkhora and Karle  
in the western caves have elephant plinths, and the Maha-stupa at  
Anuradhapura has a spectacular one all around it. In all cases the  
elephants face the viewer and support the structure on their backs.

In later Buddhist art, (ca, 11th century and on) in India, Nepal and  
Tibet the elephant commonly figures as either throne supports under  
the seat of a Buddhist figure (often a Buddha) or as part of the side  
throne-back supports, in which they often support other, often mythic,  
animals.  From the existence of these I would suggest that elephants  
were an early (as early as we have sculpture of them) marker of the  
division between the mundane and the attained worlds.

As for turtles, offhand, I cannot think of a one in Buddhism. Maybe  
somebody else knows of some.



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