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An Indian Image of Brahm Author(s): Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Source: Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Vol. 40, No.

239 (Jun., 1942), pp. 40-41 Published by: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4170838 . Accessed: 20/10/2011 10:43
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XL, 40 An Indian

BULLETIN Image

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of Brahma

large seated figure1 of the Indian deity THE Brahma, recently received by gift from Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, makes an impressive addition to the Museum's collections of Indian stone sculpture. The figure is of South Indian origin, and almost It certainly from a site in the Madras Presidency. belongs to the tradition of the Pallava monuments of which the outstanding examples (of the seventh century) are found at Mamallapuram near Madras, and to that of the succeeding Cola style, of both of which schools the Museum possesses notable exam? ples, an image of Durga (published in the Bulletin, No. 148), and a seated figure of Siva. The new image we are inclined to assign to the Vijayanagar Period, about A. D. 1 350-1 600 ; but because of the unbroken continuity of the tradition, which is still followed, it is often very difficult to estimate the date of particular figures of which the exact prov? enance is unknown, and the present example may be as late as the Madura or Nayaka Period, of which the most important monuments date from the seventeenth century; in this case it would be ap? proximately contemporary with the remains of a temple from Madura now exhibited in the Penn? In any case the new image is sylvania Museum.2 a magnificent realization of its hieratic theme, as can well be seen from the accompanying detail of the left face; it is in a perfect state of preservation; and fills a gap in our collections, both historically and iconographically. The God Brahma is well known as a member of the "later" Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, whose functions considered apart are those of Creation, Destruction and Preservation. All three are sometimes represented side by side, seated on lotus flowers borne by a common stem which springs from the navel of Narayana.3 This conception is closely related to that of the Trimurti, in which the figures of Brahma and Vishnu are represented as emerging from the left and right sides of a standing figure of S'iva. The details of the iconography depend, in fact, upon the worshipper's point of view; the three divinities, proceeding from one another and participating in a common essence, are differentiated only according to their functions. In other words, there is no such thing as a Hindu "polytheism." The names of God correspond to his aspects (RV. V.44.6), and it is because of his abundance that, like St. Thomas Aquinas, "We do not say 'the only God' since deity is common to several" {Sum. We are told, in fact, that by Theol, 1.31.2). paying honor and worship to his trinitarian names one rises higher and higher in the scale of being, but that when at last the names are denied, then one reaches the "unity of the Person" (Maitri Upanishad, IV.6). It is not auite true, as has been sometimes asserted. 1.614m.;width, ^cc. No.42.120. Height, .532m. 74 m.;depth, W. N. A Pillared Hallfroma Temple 2SeeBrown, at Madura, 1940. and India,Pennsylvania Museum, Oxford, A. K., Elements of Buddhist 1935, 3Coomaraswamy, Iconography, from Burma). Fig. 17 (anexample

that there are no temples individually and independ? ently dedicated to Brahma, or that worship is paid It is true that Brahma only to S'iva and Vishnu. temples are very few and that there is no separate cult of Brahma in the sense that there is of S'iva and Vishnu. I believe that the real reason for this is to be seen in the fact that whereas there are no specifi? cally human representatives of S'iva or Vishnu (unless as "special incarnations"), whose domain is supraterrestrial, it may be said that Brahma is daily and universally worshipped in the honor paid to Brah? mans, who are his living images {Altar ey a Brahmana, VIII.26 etc.). At the same time it must not be overlooked that "there exists (and should exist) no temple which has not got all three members of the Trinity, be it a S'iva's temple or Vishnu's. The niche' on the northern wall of the central shrine of the Vishnu's or S'iva's temple should contain an image of Brahma and must receive daily pujd"j It may be added to this that representations of the worship of Brahma are to be found in all complete sets of Ragmala paintings, in depiction of Khambavati Ragini; examples in the Museum collections are illustrated in the Catalogue of Rajput Paint? ings, Pis. IV and XXV. The "later" Trinity coincides with the earlier Vedic Trinity according to the following scheme, enunciated in the Maitri Upanishad, IV. 6: Food Vishnu (Sky) Aditya (Sun) Vayu (Spirit) Breath Rudra (Firmament) Time Brahma (Earth) Agni (Fire) These are the rulers of Sky, Air, and Earth, and are the "three forms of Agni," which he assumes to fill these worlds.3 It is primarily with this Agni, Fire, nosier Deus ignis consumens, and wup aelfaov of Heracleitus, in his primary capacity of High Priest of the Sacrifice, that Brahma is to be identified. The word Brahma itself is the masculine form of the neuter noun brahman, which as Brahma, in the general sense of Vigor, Growth, Expansion, and "Word,"4 is the most abstract of the Indian names of "God"; from the same word in the sense of Sacerdotium, lepareia, comes "Brahman" (Brahmin) as the designation of the priestly caste. Brahma, in other words, is in divinis a designation of the Person of the Spiritual Power, and humanly a designation of the High Priest who knows every detail of the sacrificial ritual, but takes no active part, and especial? ly no vocal part, in its actual celebration, in which the other officiating Brahmans participate; the human Brahma is, furthermore, the king's Spiritual Director and Counsellor, just as is Agni Indra's Adviser in divinis. All this is essential to an understanding of the iconography, of which, as usual, every detail is our a niche xThat canbe clearly seenfrom thefact image occupied is relatively unfinished i. e., in much thatthe rear andflattened, lower therest ofthefigure.Thisaffords relief than a good illustration of thefact inartis by nomeans that"frontality" a "primitive" but always feature, an iconographic it is onlyforsuchComprehensors often as requirement; ofGod." Cf.Combaz, Moses to "seetheback G., "Laloide frontalite dans la sculpture Rev.desArtsAsiatiques, VII.1931. indienne," T. A. G., Elements 11.502. of Hindu 2Rao, Iconography, Power" oftheoneChrist, tothe"Triple seeBaynes, Corresponding Bruce 77. Codex, pp.64, commentators 4"In mediaeval thebeginning understood, (or,asmost it, wastheWord" in thefirst Ll). (John principle)

BULLETIN

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XL, 41

? \m Brahma:profileview of left face intelligible and significant. It will be seen that our image is four-faced and four-armed, and seated on a lotus pedestal (padmasana). Of the four arms, the upper right is in abhaya mudra, signifying "Do not fear"; the lower right holds a lotus, probably in token of the essentially "playful" character of the divine operation;1 the upper left holds a rosary (aksamala), implying the repetition of prayers, or rather incantations (another value of the word brah? ma = mantra); the lower left is empty, but by the position of the fingers seems to imply the holding of the Book (pustat\a, i. e. the Vedas), or of the Water-vessel {kamandalu) often represented as dis? tinctive attributes of Brahma. Two distinctive features of this iconography are prefigured in the Rgveda, where Agni-BrhaspatiVacaspati is "the Brahma of the Gods"; thus in 1See A. K., "Lila" inJAOS,61, 1941 Coomaraswamy, VI. 1 1.12 Varuna, proceeding as Agni the Priest "with his purifying ladle" (often represented as an attribute of Brahma in the later iconography) is al? ready "four-faced," while in 1.31.13 Agni, the Brahma of IV.9.4 and VII.7.5, is "of four-fold vision," rightly understood by the Commentator to mean "facing towards the four directions."1 So also the lotus-throne or support (characteristic also for the Buddha in his presentations at Amaravati as a pillar of fire) reflects the lotus-birth of Vasisjha 1 and Agni's lotus-birth in (Agni) in RVVII.33.1 VI.16.13. Brahma, in short, is a representation of the deity in his specifically sacerdotal aspect. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. 2On thespatial ofthefour faces of GodseeP. Mus,"Has significance Brahma four inJISOA, faces?", V, 1937. Thefour oftheanthropomorphic faces alsoto those image correspond ofa pyramidion, cf.Speculum, XIV, 1939,p. 72.