Chapter 2: India

Gilgit and Kashmir

In 1938 a cache of Buddhist manuscripts written on birch bark and palm leaves was discovered in a ruined stupa in Gilgit in Pakistan.1 The manuscripts are generally dated between the fourth and ninth centuries. None of the manuscripts themselves is illuminated, but the group contained three sets of wood covers, each illustrated on the inside (pis. 1-3). Publishing two pairs of these covers in 1968, P. Banerjee suggested that the covers were probably painted in the ninth century, although he added the caveat that the devotees receiving blessings from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas “seem to have features of a somewhat later date.”2 If these book covers are indeed of the ninth-tenth century then they constitute the earliest surviving examples of this type of painting from the Indian subcontinent.

Interestingly, on two pairs of covers are vertical images, reminiscent of banner paintings or scrolls. On the third pair, however, the compositions are horizontal, in the usual manner for such covers. On one pair of covers (Pl. 2) are a nimbated Buddha and a bodhisattva, both seated and apparently preaching to a pair of devotees seated below their feet. Above the halo of each deity is a conopy with fluttering ribbons and a band of pearls. On the second pair (Pl. 1) two bodhisattvas stand elegantly on the right and bless two kneeling devotees. Above each bodhisattva is a Buddha seated in meditation. Both bodhisattvas have been identified as Padmapani or Avalokitesvara. Similarly crowned and bejeweled, the bodhisattvas are clad differently. One wears a dhoti that extends below the knees; the other is wrapped in a short loincloth. This figure holds a lotus with his left hand and possibly the other does as well. The Buddha above has been identified as Amitabha, but this is uncertain.

On one of the horizontal covers (Pl.3) three Buddhas, clad in red monastic robes as in the other covers, are seated against a purplish blue background strewn with flowers. Each is seated on a lotus in the meditation posture and is surroundedby an aureole and nimbus. While the two flanking Buddhas form the. meditation gesture with their hands on their laps, the central Buddha is engaged in preaching. He is further distinguished by a densely painted red aureole and white nimbus. On the other cover against a similar background two bodhisattvas to the right receive homage from two lay devotees or priests. Facing each other, the bodhisattvas sit on lotuses in a relaxed manner with legs crossed at the ankles; the mortals kneel as they offer a garland, wreath, and lamp. The bodhisattva seated in front and engaged in preaching is probably the future Buddha Maitreya; the other is difficult to identify.

Dutta 1939-43.
Banerjee 1968, pp. 114-18.

Stylistically the first two covers relate to various examples of Buddhist paintings in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Certainly, there are affinities with murals from such sites as Dandan Uliq and Balawaste in Central Asia as well as Bamiyan in Afghanistan. The vertical composition is distinctly reminscent of the narrow painted banners that have been found in large numbers in Dunhuang and other Central Asian sites.3 Banerjee has also compared these rare Gilgit covers with surviving murals in certain west Tibetan monasteries and has suggested that they provide some idea of the lost Kashmiri painting style.

No example of any type of early Kashmiri painting, however, has survived in the valley itself. If the eleventh-century west Tibetan manuscript illuminations in Los Angeles (pis. 36- 37) or some of the murals at the Alchi monastery do, in fact, reflect the lost Kashmiri painting style, then it must be admitted that the Gilgit covers are painted in a distinctly different style.4 Certainly, the pictures on the Gilgit covers reveal nothing of the sumptuous and scintillating coloring, complex compositions, elegant drawing, or stylistic sophistication of the Alchi murals or, for that matter, the Los Angeles Prajnaparamita illuminations. On the contrary, not only are the figures on the Gilgit covers differently proportioned, but they are drawn more loosely and perfunctorily with thick, jagged outlines. The colors, too, are quite different both in tonality and intesity; those on the Gilgit covers being far less vibrant and luminescent. Even more important, while belonging to the same stylistic tradition, the Gilgit covers were probably painted by different artists.

The facial features of the deities on the covers are, quite different. The almost square, broad shapes of the faces on the first pair of covers (pis. 1-2) are dominated by large, open, staring eyes. The faces in the second pair of covers (Pl. 3) are not only differently shaped and proportioned, but the eyes are half shut with one eye distinctly projecting beyond the outline of the foreshortened half of the face as in later Jain figures in west Indian manuscript illuminations. While generally the bodies are modeled in the so-called Kashmiri style, the proportions, garments, jewelry, and scarves of the two sets of deities as well as the forms, features, and attire of the donors in the two sets of covers clearly differ.
See Whitfield 1982, pls. 46-47 for stylistically related paintings of the ninth century, as well as figs. 87 ff. for the banners. Compare also painted wood panels from Dandan Uliq (Stein 1975, pis. LXIII-LXVII).
Pal and Fournier 1982.

Similarly, the second pair of covers with their floral backgrounds, figurative types and details of attire and jewelry reflects a third substyle within the general tradition. The features of the devotees are totally different than those in the other two pairs, and they are turbaned and clothed differently. Also, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas wear more colorful garments and diadems, quite unlike those worn by their counterparts on the two other covers. The colors differ considerably between the two sets of covers. It is, therefore, extremely difficult not only to date these covers precisely but also to determine whether they were done at the same time.

Very likely the donors were from various regions, for they display distinct features and attire. Gilgit was situated on a frequented trade route, and its society was, therefore, very likely multiracial. The varieties of turbans worn on the Indian subcontinent as well as in Afghanistan and Central Asia are always a good indication of different tribal or racial types. Assuming that these manuscripts, or at least the covers, were all painted in the local monastery, where they were deposited in the stupa, the paintings may reflect a local style that was an amalgam of Kashmiri and Central Asian features. The manuscripts may also have been prepared elsewhere and brought to the region. Certainly, no manuscript covers either from India, Nepal, or Tibet have yet been found that have vertically oriented compositions. This may indicate that the first two covers were painted in a more northernly site in Central Asia where the artist, whether lay or monk, modeled them after banners. The closer stylistic affinity with Central Asian paintings, as suggested by Banerjee, also points to a more northern provenance for these two covers. Thus, by comparing these examples with Central Asian paintings, a ninth-or tenth- century date for these two covers is not improbable.

The second pair, however, presents more difficulties. The practice of strewing the purplish blue background with flowers is more prevalent in the Indian tradition. The features and attire of the worshipers are certainly more Indian and even somewhat reminiscent of donor figures seen in later Nepali paintings. With their full, fleshy faces, printed garments, and crown designs as well as their manner of sitting and the gesture of the second bodhisattva’s right hand,the figures are closely related to eleventh-century bronzes from Kashmir. The somewhat elongated proportions of the Buddhas as well as the manner of delineating their garments are, conversely, reminiscent of Buddha images on Pala and Nepali manuscripts of the twelfth century (see pis. 13, 23). Thus, a similar date for these two Gilgit covers seems more likely, and they may well have been the creations of a local artist who was familiar with an Indian rather than Central Asian painting tradition.

No examples of painting have survived from Kashmir proper. Beginning from the fourth century, however, Kashmir was an important center of Buddhism, and some of the birch- bark manuscripts recovered from Central Asia and Gilgit may well have been written in Kashmir. Neither Faxian nor Xuanzang mention anything about the tradition of copying manuscripts in Kashmir. What is more certain is that Kashmir supported a flourishing school of painting certainly by the eleventh century. Even if one did not rely on the tradition preserved by Taranath, it is known from other Tibetan sources that artists from Kashmir were brought to the ancient Guge Kingdom in western Tibet in the eleventh century to decorate local monastries with both murals and sculptures (see Chapter 4). Several murals that have survived in west Tibetan monasteries, such as those in Alchi, Sumda, Tabo, and elsewhere, were very likely painted by Kashmiri artists and their Tibetan colleagues.

The best known among these miraculously preserved examples of west Tibetan murals are the resplendent paintings that fill the walls of the temples at the monastic site of Alchi in Ladakh. These wall paintings and the less-than-a-dozen brilliantly illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript, which Guiseppe Tucci recovered from Toling in Guge, reflect what must have been a highly creative school of painting in Kashmir during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Surmising from the Tibetan evidence, it is clear that the Kashmiri painting style must have been highly original, not only distinct from the Gupta style as reflected at Ajanta but also from other contemporary Indian styles. The Gilgit manuscript cover illustrations in no way achieve the brilliance of coloring, richness of imagination, and technical sophistication that must have been the hallmarks of the Kashmiri painting tradition.

Eastern India

Faxian’s testimony, discussed in Chapter I, is unambiguous about a flourishing Buddhist tradition of copying manuscripts on palm leaves as early as circa A.D. 400 in Tamluk in West Bengal. Books were also copied in some monasteries in Bihar, and the tradition of writing and illuminating palm-leaf books was continued in the coastal state of Orissa until recent times. Palm-leaf books were prepared in the Buddhist monasteries of southern India as well as the Deccan and Gujrat in the west, but none is known to have survived. Significantly, the only Indian books that have survived in Tibet and Nepal appear to be those copied and illuminated in the monasteries of Bihar and Bengal. Faxian does not specifically mention the practice of illustrating the manuscripts, but he does state that he drew images and pictures while he was at Tamluk. Thus, the tradition of copying manuscripts and perhaps even illustrating them appears to have been vigorously pursued by the Buddhists of eastern India at least from the fifth century.

The earliest surviving examples of Buddhist illuminated manuscripts from eastern India belong, however, to the first quarter of the eleventh century when political power in the region was wielded by the Pala dynasty (c. 750-1150). Although all were not Buddhists, the Palas were munificent patrons of the monasteries in their empire and in fact were responsible for building and generously endowing several in Bihar and Bengal. Even though most of these monasteries were founded by early Pala monarchs, it is surprising that virtually all surviving Buddhist manuscripts copied and illustrated in east Indian monasteries belong to the later Pala period, from the tenth through the twelfth centuries. While palm- leaf manuscripts from the ninth century have survived, none is illustrated. Recently, however, a beautiful painted book cover has been published as a work of the ninth century and belonging to eastern India (figs. 7-9). It is, therefore, necessary to begin our survey of east Indian manuscript illuminations with a brief discussion of this cover, even though stylistically the cover was almost certainly painted in Nepal.

It has long been accepted [Martin Lerner observes] that the genesis of the eastern Indian school of painting and of its slightly later offshoot, the Nepali style, seen on palm- leaf manuscripts and their protective wooden covers must be sought in the cave paintings of western India, particularly at Ajanta, Bagh and Ellora. Unfortunately, until now there has been no painting that might serve as the bridge linking these two traditions.... The gap has been a major obstacle both to the confirmation of the theory regarding the origin of the Pala style and to an understanding of the early development of portable painting. This single painted wooden manuscript cover from the Kronos Collections [now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York] seems to be the missing link, the first tangible evidence confirming the theory. After such a long period of searching, its discovery is indeed very exciting, and of the greatest significance to Indian painting scholarship.

The question of where the cover was painted is obviously fundamental. It is said to have come from a library in western India many years ago, but the palette employed allies it with eastern traditions, and the format and iconography relate it to eleventh-century Pala-Nepali manuscript paintings. The style of painting on the cover, however, is considerably earlier, and more closely allied to the western cave painting tradition than anything previously known.5

When discussing Buddhist manuscript illumination, it is always hazardous to date an isolated cover precisely. Even when a manuscript is firmly dated there is no guarantee that the covers are not later replacements. Since the covers were meant to protect the manuscripts they did not receive the same careful treatment and were more vulnerable both to the ravages of time and man. Moreover, the overall monographic scheme as well as details of the Metropolitan cover clearly relate it more closely to Nepali manuscript covers than to those painted in eastern India. No Buddhist covers or illuminated manuscripts have yet been found in western India. The central panel of the goddess Prajnaparamita flanked by two bodhisattvas is frequently encountered in Nepali book covers and rarely in those from eastern India. Scenes from the life of the Buddha also occur more often on Nepali book covers, while in Pala-period manuscripts they are usually accommodated on the manuscript pages. The strange juxtaposition of the life scenes with disregard for their chronological sequence is also a characteristic of Nepali book covers, most notably seen in two painted covers from Nepal in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Pl.22). In fact, in his discussion Lerner has frequently suggested that the Los Angeles covers parallel in iconography the Metropolitan covers.

Lerner 1984, pp. 86-89; also for color reproductions.
Fig. 7. Cover of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. Nepal, c. 1000. Wood, 5.
Fig. 8. Buddha’s First Sermon at Sarnath, from the same manuscript as Fig. 7.
Fig. 9. Buddha Taming the Mad Elephant, from the same manuscript as Fig. 7.

In the scene of the birth at Lumbini, the four gods who receive the Buddha are led by Indra, behind whom is the fourarmed Brahma who is followed by a crowned, green figure, who probably represents Vishnu. The fourth figure, not mentioned by Lerner, has a dark complexion and must represent Siva. These are precisely the four figures who flank the Buddha in the scene of his descent from the Tushita heaven in the Los Angeles cover. Moreover, usually these four are included in Nepali representations of the birth scene but to my knowledge not in Pala illustrations. Further, the diadems worn by Indra, Vishnu, and Vajrapani are of the Nepali rather than the Pala type. The Metropolitan cover shares one other significant monographic feature with the Los Angeles covers: the manner in which the four figures are portrayed along the bottom of the Sravasti miracle of multiple Buddhas panel at extreme right.

The same figures are also included in the Los Angeles panel depicting the scene, but they are more spirited in displaying their amazement at the Buddha’s magical powers. In any event, what appears to be animal skins flung across the left shoulders of the figures in the Metropolitan composition have assumed the shapes of fan palms in the Los Angeles representation. In no east Indian illuminations are the dismayed observers of this miracle similarly portrayed, and the covention, therefore, must be regarded as a Nepali innovation.

Stylistically as well this cover is related more closely to Nepali rather than east Indian illuminations. This is clearly demonstrated by even a cursory comparison of the figure of Prajnaparamita with numerous Nepali representations of this this goddess (Pl. 23, fig. 38). Generally, all the figures on the Metropolitan cover reveal the same suave proportions, delicate features, and linear, though soft modeling, characteristic of the Nepali tradition. By contrast, the figures in Pala paintings are drawn more vigorously with bolder and more swiftly rendered outlines. In the east Indian figures the outlines are more strongly emphasized, thereby imparting a greater sense of plastic volume, with slight shading. Moreover, the proportions of the figures, faces, and features are quite distinct in Pala paintings. The Nepali faces are more perfectly round, and the features are more delicately rendered as on this cover. In Pala paintings the faces are more oval with strongly pointed chins and the features are drawn with greater freedom and expressiveness. Finally, the design of the garments, crowns, and thrones as well as the softer hues, but especially the distinctive red color, are all elements of Nepali rather than Pala manuscript illustrations.

Fig. 10. Death of the Buddha, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1015. Palm leaf. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. See aslo pl. 4.
Fig. 11. A celestial female, from the same manuscript as fig. 10.

As to the date of this so-called Indian book cover, Lerner has generally suggested that stylistically the pictures are closer to the Ajanta murals than they are to either Nepali or Pala paintings. He has not, however, substantiated his claim with any precise comparison. As a matter of fact, in many ways the Nepali paintings of the eleventh-twelfth centuries have preserved elements of the classical Ajanta style, although in a residual form, than those from eastern India. When Stella Kramrisch and others discused the general affinity of the east Indian style with the much earlier Ajanta style, they based their conclusions on such extraordinary Nepali book covers as that in the National Museum, New Delhi, depicting the Vessantara Jataka (fig. 40] or the charming, but somewhat naive illustrations of the earliest Nepali manuscript of the Prajnaparamita painted in 1015 at Cambridge (Pl. 20). Indeed, all these and several other Nepali manuscripts (Pl. 25, fig. 42) show a much stronger stylistic affinity with the Ajanta style, and if this is the sole criterion then they should all be dated to the ninth century. Thus, it seems impossible to accept either the suggested provenance or the date of the Metropolitan book cover. A ninth-century date seems much too early when this cover is compared with the illuminations in a recently discovered manuscript dedicated in the year 27 of Mahipala I, corresponding to about A.D. 1015 (pis. 4-5, figs. 10- 11). Rather than eastern or western India and the ninth century, it is almost certainly a work of a talented Nepali artist, perhaps around the turn of the first millennium A.D.

The most creative phase of Buddhist manuscript illuminations in eastern Indian lasted for only two centuries, from about 1000 until 1200. The two principal books that were more frequently illuminated than any other were the Prajnaparamita and the Pancharaksha. Neither has any narrative content. That the Prajnaparmita should be the most popular text to be copied and illuminated is evident from the text itself. Not only does the text highly recommend that the copying and worshiping of a manuscript of the Prajnaparmita constitute an act of the greatest piety, but the faithful is also told that it is even more meritorious to donate a copy than own one: “In each case,” says the Buddha, “a person who could not only write this perfection of wisdom and recite it by himself, but would write it for others and give it away to them would easily beget greater merit.”6 This explains unambiguously why most manuscripts of the Prajnaparmita, or for that matter other sacred texts, were commissioned by people to be given to monks and monasteries.

Conzone 1970. p. 40.
Pl. 1. Covers with Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Pakistan, Gilgit; 9th - 10th century (?). wood. Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar, India.
Pl. 2. Reverse of Pl. 1 showing a Buddha and a bodhisattva.
Pl. 3. Covers with Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Pakistan, Gilgit; 9th - 10 century (?). Wood. Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar, India.
Pl. 5. Buddha Taming the Mad Elephant, from the same manuscript as pl. 4.
Pl. 4a. Illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1015. Palm leaf, each page: approx. 51.0 x 4.5 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. See also Fig. 10
Pl. 4b. Illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1015. Palm leaf, each page: approx. 51.0 x 4.5 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. See also Fig. 10
Pl. 4c. Illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1015. Palm leaf, each page: approx. 51.0 x 4.5 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. See also Fig. 10
Pl. 4d. Illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1015. Palm leaf, each page: approx. 51.0 x 4.5 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. See also Fig. 10
Pl 6. Miracle of Monkeys, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1075 - 80. Palm leaf. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta. See also figs. 14, 17.
Pl 7. Miracle of Monkeys, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1075 - 80. Palm leaf. H. 5.0 cm. Cambridge University Library. See also figs. 13, 15

As to the popularity of the Pancharaksha, apart from gaining spiritual merit from the act of donation, the arcane charms contained in the text are considered highly effective against all sorts of physical and spiritual ailments. The very presence of the manuscript in the house was considered as a means of averting all kinds of disease and evil influences. Hence while manuscripts of the Prajnaparamita and other philosophical texts were deposited in monasteries where they could be recited and worshiped by monks, those of the Pancharaksha were often kept in the home, as is still done by pious Buddhists in Nepal. A copy of the manuscript is also used in Nepali courts for the Buddhists to take their oath. As a matter of fact, the Prajnaparamita itself states that the possession of a manuscript provides protection from all sorts of harms. “Moreover, ” says the Buddha, “the house, room or palace of the devotee will be well guarded if it contains a copy of the book. No one will harm him, except as punishment of past deeds.7

Generally, the illuminations in Prajnaparamita manuscripts consist of images of the Mahayana and Vajrayana deities and the eight conventional scenes from the life of Buddha Sakyamuni, known as the eight great miracles. The addition of divine images supposedly increased the potency of the manuscript and prolonged its life. Moreover, since the book itself was directly worshiped, the presence of the pictures meant that the gods were also being venerated at the same time. Thus, the primary purpose of adding divine images was not necessarily to beautify a book but to enhance its devotional value and protect it from material harm. As to why the Eight Great Miracles were added to the manuscript or on their covers, as in Nepal, most scholars have failed to offer any satisfactory explanation. Later Buddhism places equal emphasis on the word, the body, and the image of the Buddha. Specifically, the Prajnaparamita mentions, that the relics of the Buddha are as worthy of receiving the devotee’s homage, and in a sense the eight miracles represent the eight important pilgrimage centers where the Buddha’s physical relics were actually deposited and venerated in stupas. Thus, by including the eight stereotyped representations in the manuscript, a Buddhist was, in fact, achieving double merit.

Fig.12. Miracle of Sravasti, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India., Bihar; c. 1075 -80. Palm leaf. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta. See also Pl. 6
Fig. 13. Miracle of Sravasti, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1075 - 80. Palm leaf. H.5.0 cm Cambridge University Library. See also Pl. 7.

The illustrations in the Pancharaksha manuscripts generally relate directly to the text. The pictures include images of the five presiding deities of the five (pahcha) protective charms (raksha) and five transcendental Buddhas of the Vajrayana pantheon. The iconographic programs for the Indian Prajnaparamita and Pancharaksha manuscripts were followed also in Nepal, with the only difference that the scenes from the life of the Buddha were in many instances transferred to the covers. Both in India and Nepal the number of illustrations in the Pancharaksha manuscripts was occasionally increased by the inclusion of other divinities of the Vajrayana pantheon.

7. Conze 1970, p. 33.

Early Buddhist manuscripts of eastern India usually have been discussed together with those of Nepal. The observations made about the style are said to be true of both Indian and Nepali illuminations. In an earlier publication I have clearly demonstrated that although both Nepal and eastern India were closely allied, the two areas developed two distinct and recognizable painting styles. Furthermore, two distinct expressions of the same style can be differentiated in Bihar and Bengal, especially in eastern Bengal, where Buddhism has survived until the present day in the hilly regions of Chittagong in the southeast. A perusal of the postcolophon statements of east Indian manuscripts clearly indicate that while a large number were copied in the great monasteries of Bihar, such as Nalanda and Vikramsila, a great deal was executed in the monasteries of Bengal. For instance, a Pancharaksha manuscript, now in Tibet, was copied and illustrated probably in a monastery in Vikrampur, near Dhaka in Bangladesh, during the reign of Govindachandra (r. 1020-45).8 In fact, several manuscripts were copied while the Chandra dynasty (c. 850- 1050) held sway in eastern Bengal. A manuscript of the Prajnaparamita, now in the Baroda museum (fig. 25) was copied and illuminated in the eighth regnal year of King Harivarmadeva (r. second half eleventh century), who also was a ruler in eastern Bengal.9 Thus, there is sufficient evidence to determine which manuscripts were copied and illuminated in Bihar and which in Bengal. Subtle nuances of style distinguish the two modes. A third painting style flourished as well in the eastern region, in Orissa, where Buddhism was a prosperous religion. Very likely Buddhist manuscripts, too, were once copied and illuminated in Orissa, but none has survived. Taranath mentions a King Buddapaksha of Orissa, who in ancient times built a temple called Ratnagiri and “prepared three copies each of the scriptural works of the Mahayana and Hinayana and kept these in the temples.”10 In this chapter we will first discuss the manuscript illuminations produced in Bihar and then take up the question of Bengali manuscripts.

Saraswati 1978, pp. 39-40.
Ibid. pp. 45-46
Chimpa and Chatto- padhyaya 1980, p. 144.


The two most important centers for copying and illuminating manuscripts in Bihar during the Pala period were the great monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramasila. Nalanda was founded during the Gupta period, probably by the sixth- century monarch Narasirhhagupta Baladitya, and remained the leading center of Buddhism throughout the Pala period. Vikramasila was founded by the Pala monarch Dharmapala (r.c. A.D. 775-810). Curiously, no reaming manuscript seems to have been copied in Bodhgaya, the most important Buddhist temple and pilgrimage center in Bihar. Considering that Nalanda was destroyed by fire several times, it is surprising that so many manuscripts copied or dedicated there should have survived.

Scholars disagree as to the earliest surviving illuminated manuscript from eastern India. Two illuminated manuscripts of the Prajnaparamita are regarded as the earliest because both were dedicated in the reign of Mahipala, who is identified with the first of two rulers of that name. The first Mahipala ascended the throne sometime during the 980s and enjoyed a long reign of almost four decades. The two manuscripts in question were dedicated in the year 5 (Cambridge University Library) and in the year 6 (Asiatic Society, CalcuttaJ of Mahipala. While most scholars consider both manuscripts to have been dedicated during the reign of Mahipala I, S. K. Saraswati has attributed the Cambridge manuscript of year 5 to the second Pala monarch of this name.11 Mahipala II is considered to have enjoyed a brief reign of no more than three years between 1072 and 1075. Thus, if Saraswati is correct, then the Cambridge manuscript at least would extend his reign by two years. Historically, this is not improbable. Before the problem of these two manuscripts is resolved, however, it is appropriate to introduce a recently discovered manuscript that can without any question be attributed to Mahipala I .

This manuscript, too, is of the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita and is, unfortunately, rather badly damaged. Nevertheless, what remains of the last page contains a miniature and a large portion of the colophon. The information gleaned from this page can be summarized as follows. The manuscript was dedicated in the twenty-seventh regnal year of Mahipala by Tejoka, wife of Srikumara, a devout Buddhist and kayastha.12 Two other dates 194 and 355 were added later, and both refer to the Nepali era. The earlier date, 194, corresponds to 1074, which would make an identification of this Mahipala with the second Pala monarch of that name improbable. The second Mahipala ascended the throne around 1072 or somewhat later, and it is, therefore, unlikely that this manuscript found its way to Nepal by 1074. Of the two, only Mahipala I is known to have enjoyed a long reign of forty years, and hence the twenty-seventh year can only refer to his reign. This date can be definitely confirmed by an examination of the style of writing, which is much closer to the cursive script seen in at least two manuscripts in the Cambridge Library that are undoubtedly early. Cecil Bendall, who catalogued the collection, considered both to be of the ninth century, and there seems no reason to disagree with him.13 Thus, one can securely consider this manuscript to have been copied in the twenty-seventh regnal year of Mahipala I and hence sometime between 1004 and 1014 depending on his exact year of accession.

Saraswati 1978, pp. 42 and 58-59.
These pages may well be. from a manuscript mentioned by Saraswati (1978, p. 39), which was in a private collection and which he could not examine at length. That manuscript was dated in the twenty-seventh regnal year of Mahipala.

Altogether there were ten principal panels in four leaves and eight narrow bands around the string holes, each filled with a standing female figure (Pl. 4). One of the ten panels in the last leaf is now missing altogether. The scenes from the life of the Buddha are placed along the edges, and the last illumination on the last page is of the Mahaparinirvana. The central panels on two pages contain images of Prajnaparamita and Manjusri, each of whom holds two lotuses and two books. Manjusri rides a lion. The life scenes that can be definitely identified are the birth and the enlightenment on the same page with Prajnaparamita. Two identical preaching Buddhas flank the Bodhisattva Manjusri. Since the bottom of both miniatures are damaged, they cannot be specifically identified, but one is very likely the first sermon at Sarnath and the other the great miracle at Sravasti, although the depiction does not include multiple Buddhas. On the left of the third page, which, in fact, is the second last page of the manuscript, the Buddha is accompanied by a monk holding a bowl standing before a flame. Between the Buddha and the flame are four tiny lions. This scene very likely represents the taming of the mad elephant, who probably was bowing low at the Buddha’s feet in the damaged portion of the miniature. The lions are said to have emanated from the Buddha’s hands to tame the elephant. There is no central panel on this leaf, and the next miracle is that of the Buddha’s descent from the Tushita heaven, accompanied by Indra and Brahma, after having preached to his mother. In addition, a monk kneels before the Buddha. The missing miracle on the last page was very likely that of the monkey offering honey at Vaisali; the remaining composition depicted the Mahaparinirvana. Most unusual, however, are the standing females in the cartouches around the string holes, a motif not known to occur in any other Buddhist manuscript either from eastern India or Nepal.14

The style in which these females are painted as well as their figural forms, facial features, and attire are quite distinctive. More fleshy than the usual females in Pala-period illuminations, they wear blouses, as does Prajnaparamita, and stand more naturalistically than do the females on either of the other Mahipala manuscripts. Indeed, none of the figures in these illuminations reflects the exaggerated stance or angularity generally associated with Pala figures. Curiously, while these standing females as well as the goddess are decorously attired, Maya is shown naked, except for a loincloth and a gossamer scarf. Her sister, however, wears a blouse. Although there is almost no attempt at shading, the contours are remarkably expressive in defining the volume of the figures. The hands and feet are not as disproportionately large as in other Bihar manuscripts, and certainly the proportions seem to echo the suave elegance and rounded fullness of late Gupta and early Pala sculpture. This is particularly evident in the representations of the Buddha as well as the monk in the taming of the elephant miracle. Note the fine modeling of the forms underneath the transparent garments. The eyes are beautifully drawn without extended outlines and are highly expressive. Another curious feature of these illuminations is that blue has not been used in any panel, except for the lotuses in Manjusri’s hands. Apart from the black outlines, the only colors are green, yellow, red, and white. In the Mahaparinirvana scene the Buddha stretches out much more naturalistically than he does in other eleventh-century illuminations and a stupa is added at the top. The simplicity of the scene achieves an unusual dignity.

Bendall 1883,pl. l, 1-2

Although no place is mentioned in the colophon, very likely the manuscript was copied and illuminated in Bihar. The distinctive style may be the work of an original artist, or the 14 manuscript may have been rendered in western Bihar, not far from Sarnath from where a later inscription of Mahipala I has been found. Indeed, the paleography is much closer to that in the Sarnath inscription of 1026 than it is to the writing in the other Mahipala manuscripts.15 Certainly these illuminations present unusual monographic features not encountered in any other early Pala manuscript. In the enlightenment scene the 15subsidiary figures were obviously accommodated in the wide frame, not commonly seen in other manuscripts. These illuminations, therefore, must be regarded as an unusual expression of the Pala style in Bihar or even in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

In addition to the Cambridge and Calcutta manuscripts a third manuscript was dedicated in the seventh regnal year of a Mahipala.16 In each of these three manuscripts the postcolophon statement consistently refers to Mahipala as the son of Vigrahapala.17 In the newly discovered manuscript of the year 27, however, Vigrahapala’s name is not mentioned. The problem is compounded by the fact that the father and predecessor of both Mahipalas was called Vigrahapala. The consistency with which the father’s name is mentioned in three manuscripts with early regnal years (5, 6, and 7) would suggest that they refer to the same monarch. Unfortunately, the paleography of the script is not very helpful. What may be generally asserted is that the script in the manuscript of year 27 is definitely earlier than the others, and certainly the Cambridge and Asiatic Society manuscripts are both written in the Siddhamatrika script of the eleventh century. This script is much closer in form to those in manuscripts copied during the reign of Nayapala(c. 1050-70) than it is to the Kutila script in the manuscript discussed above.18

Similar female figures are represented on a door frame carved in the eleventh regnal year of Mahipala I found at Nalanda [S. Huntington, 1984, Pl. 56). One wonders if the inclusion of such frames is not meant to suggest a shrine.
S. Huntington 1984, Pl. 58.

While the illuminations in the Cambridge and Asiatic Society manuscripts are closely related in composition and iconography, they differ in style and quality. Precisely on stylistic grounds scholars have questioned the appropriateness of attributing the Cambridge manuscript to Mahipala I. The figures in this manuscript are less suavely modeled than those in the Asiatic Society manuscript, and the drawing is not as smooth or fluent (Pl. 7 and figs. 13, 15). Of course these differences may be attributed to two different, but contemporary workshops. Compared to the manuscript of the twenty- seventh regnal year, the line in both these manuscripts is less firmly drawn, especially in the facial features, and exudes a nervous energy more characteristic of most Bihar miniatures of the eleventh-twelfth centuries. The modulation of colors in the Asiatic Society miniatures conveys a greater sense of volume than in either the year 27 pictures or those in the Cambridge manuscript. Indeed, in the latter the colors appear to be rather thinly applied. In both the Cambridge and Asiatic Society manuscripts indigo blue is consistently applied as the principal background color, a feature that remains characteristic of most subsequent east Indian and Nepali miniatures, but little or no blue is used in the miniatures of the year 27 manuscript.

Mentioned by Saraswati (1978, p. 39) as being in the family of a brahmin in Mithila.
For the Calcutta manuscript colophon, see Shastri 1917, pp. 1-2; for the Cambridge manuscript, see Bendall 1883, pp. 100-101.
What is certain is that the script in the year 27 manuscript is closer to the post-Gupta script than that in the two other manuscripts.
Fig. 14. Birth of the Buddha, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1075 - 80. Palm leaf. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta. See also Pl. 6.
Fig. 15. Birth of the Buddha, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1075 - 80. Palm leaf. 5.0 cm. Cambridge University Library See also Pl. 7
Fig. 16. Scenes from the life of the Buddha. India, Uttar Pradesh, Sarnath; 7th century. Sandstone. Sarnath Museum.

As to the compositional and iconographical variations, in the Sravasti miracle scene in the newly discovered manuscript, no additional Buddhas are shown, but in the Cambridge and Asiatic Society manuscripts the formula with three Buddhas is well established. In the Asiatic Society representation the two additional Buddhas are placed behind the cushion of the frontal figure (fig. 12), but in the Cambridge manuscript the cushion is altogther omitted (fig. 13). In both Cambridge and Asiatic Society manuscripts in the scene of the Buddha’s birth Maya rests on her sister’s shoulders, although the representation is more perfunctory in the former (figs. 14- 15). In the year 27 representation the two figures do not touch and certainly Maya’s posture is not as unnaturally exaggerated as it is in both other compositions. In the Nalagiri scene of the year 27 manuscript only one monk stands behind the Buddha, whereas in the Asiatic Society manuscript a second monk is added between the master and the elephant, who is shown twice, once bowing low and again raising his trunk. Neither the lions nor the flame are included in this manuscript, but a tree fills the space above the elephant. In the Cambridge representation of this scene not only are two monks included but also tiny lions and a flame above the elephant, which is shown twice. More interesting is the fact that the two monks are small figures, and like frightened children cling to the person of the Buddha, one on either side. Such psychological perceptiveness occurs from time to time in this otherwise convention-bound tradition.

The newly discovered manuscript certainly is illuminated in a distinctive style. If the Cambridge and Asiatic Society manuscripts are considered to belong to the first Mahipala, then the discrepancy in style must be explained. It is of course possible that the three manuscripts were illuminated by three very individual artists. Conversely, the variations may also indicate a stylistic progression. That the year 27 manuscript was certainly painted during the reign of Mahipala I is in no doubt. It is possible that the dates in the other two refer to this king, but considering all the evidence it seems unlikely. Both probably were copied and illuminated during the rule of Mahipala II.19

Most scholars have emphasized the close relation of these early Buddhist manuscript illuminations with the fifth- century Ajanta and eighth-century Ellora murals. The artists

This is probably true also of the third manuscript dedicated in the year 7. If the conclusion suggested here is accepted, then we must revise the second Mahipala’s dates, for he would appear to have reigned for at least seven years.
Fig. 17 Miracle of the Monkeys, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1075 - 80. Palm leaf. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta. See also Pl. 6.
Fig. 18 Miracle of the Monkeys, from a
Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; 12th century. Palm-leaf. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C.

at Ajanta made much use of shading with colors to impart a sense of plasticity to the form, whereas those at Ellora depended more on the manipulation of the outline to model their figures. Imthe earliest Pala miniatures, such as those discussed, one sees an admixture of both tendencies. While some modeling is achieved by means of highlighting, volume generally is suggested by fortifying the fluid outline with summary shading. While it cannot be denied that these diminutive compositions continue the earlier Ajanta tradition in a residual manner, the kinship between the two traditions should not be overemphasized. The artists responsible for painting these miniatures must have been well aware of the limitations of the manuscript format, in contrast to their forebears at Ajanta who were faced with painting entire wall surfaces. The manuscript illuminators had to accommodate a composition within a frame that was never more than 7V.2 centimeters wide. The Ajanta painters, however, filled enormous walls with sprawling compositions, which often merged into one another. Only on the covers of their manuscripts were the artists able to create slightly larger compositions, but here, too, they preferred to divide the space into two or three panels.

Pala artists were allowed little scope to be innovative. The themes as well as the mode of the pictures, whether in the manuscript itself or on the covers, were established by convention. These themes either include hieratic images of gods or the eight great miracle scenes, each represented in a separate composition. The scribe may have determined whether there should be one, two, or three illuminations per page for he had to leave empty spaces to accommodate the work of the artist. Some manuscripts are more elaborately illuminated than others, and we have no way of determining whether the decision to diversify and enhance the number of illustrations depended on the donor or the artist himself. There are subtle, yet distinct differences between the styles that prevailed in eastern India and Nepal and between Bihar and Bengal. Even within Bihar differences are perceptible between one century and another, as also between the work of a mediocre and a talented artist.

Fig. 19. Three pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1118. Palm leaf, each page: 6.0 x 54 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Fig. 20.Scenes from the life of the Buddha and a seated deity, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; 12th century. Palm leaf. 6.4 x 49.5 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Nash and Alice Heeramaneck Collection.

For the scenes of the life of the Buddha, the early Pala manuscript painters seem to have continued the convention established by the sculptors of the Gupta period in Sarnath rather than the more succinct method adopted by the sculptors of their own time. Here, too, however, the Pala painters were not blind imitators as a comparison between the representations of the same subject in a Pala manuscript and a Sarnath relief demonstrates (Pl. 6, fig. 16). The scene takes place in Vaisali, where a monkey offered some honey to the meditating Buddha and thereby snapped the chain of rebirth to attain final emancipation. In the Sarnath relief the Buddha is an impassive figure, and despite the presence of the bowl in his hand he seems totally unaware of the monkey who approaches him on his right. The flying figure is probably an angel witnessing the wondrous act. The Pala miniaturist has given us a more lively composition with stylized trees suggesting a forest setting. The Buddha, turned in three-quarter profile to the left, interacts with the monkeys, one of whom stands and offers the bowl while the other dances in the foreground. A comparison of the same subject in a later manuscript now in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., shows a further variation in the representation (fig. 18). The Buddha sits on a more elaborate throne below a decorated arch and a tree. He has already accepted the pot from one of the monkeys who stands in adoration. A second monkey dances in the foreground,while a third stands behind the Buddha. In point of fact, all three simians represent the same monkey who first approaches the Buddha from behind, then confronts him after perhaps circumambulating the enthroned master and then ecstatically dances to his death and liberation. Thus, certainly the earlier Sarnath representation did not serve as the east Indian illuminators’ model, and there must have been an earlier tradition of narrative painting that they followed.

Even within their limitations, the artists made alterations and additions that considerably enhance the aesthetic appeal of these miniatures. Nepali artists, too, did not rigidly follow the Indian models. Apart from evolving a recognizably different style of painting, they introduced further compositional and iconographical variations, clearly displaying their innovative flair.

While more than one figure is accommodated in each panel depicting a miracle and their interaction contributes considerably in animating the composition, the deities are represented more hieratically either alone or with two attendant figures in a given panel (figs. 19-20). Generally, they either sit or stand in the prescribed postures or are shown dancing. Sometimes they sit on thrones within shrines but usually on lotuses, which are rendered with remarkable variation. Frequently they are also provided with cushions of variegated designs and colors. These cushions as well as the attire provide much information regarding contemporary textiles and costumes. The background is usually painted a deep indigo blue, often scattered with flowers to denote a sacred space, and immediately behind the cushions is a red nimbus and aureole, which increase the illusion of greater depth, even though the layers of colors are generally applied flatly. For compositions with dancing figures or angry divinities, who stand in the more militant posture, the immediate background is often filled with a lively flame design (Pl. 10), which considerably enhances the composition’s aesthetic appeal. Usually, however, the Pala artists animated their figures, whether seated or standing (Pl. 12, fig. 19). by exaggerating the posture and contorting the body by imitating the S shape. Stella Kramrisch has characterized these highly swaying, unnatural forms as sickle shapes. This mannerism is less evident in early illuminations and seems to have become more pronounced during the latter half of the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, which witnessed the apogee of the tradition in Bihar.

Fig. 21.Four pages of a Pjnaparamita manuscript, India, Bihar; 12th century. Palm leaf. The Asia society; Mr. and Mrs. John d. also pl. 10.

In addition to the emphasis on the sickle shape, the figures in these Bihar illuminations are often characterized by rather disproportionately large feet and hands, noticeable especially in the images of the Buddha. Obviously, in such diminutive representations the artists were not expected to follow canons ot proportions too rigidly, but generally the figures are well proportioned. The oval faces with rather pointed chins are quite distinctive. Furthermore, the figures seem always to smile, which is achieved by extending the edges of the lips and eyes. Occasionally, the Pala artists were inclined to extend the outline of the further eye, when the heads are shown in three- quarter profile in an unnaturalistic fashion (see fig. 20). This cliche' was consciously developed as a mannerism by west Indian artists after the twelfth century and is also encountered in the north.

The complexion of the various deities was determined by monographic injunctions. Otherwise the artist was probably free to choose his colors. While the primary colors predominate, the artist also used various shades of purple, brown, and gray. Red is the dominant color, and gold and silver were not used either in eastern India or in Nepal. While the nimbus behind a deity is generally painted red, the colors blue, yellow, and white were also used, depending on the complexion of the figure. Thus, the use of contrasting colors was an effective means of distinguishing the outline and imparting a greater sense of volume to the enclosed mass. Architectural motifs and trees in the background (figs. 22-23) also enriched the composition and added to a feeling of space. The trees are generally stylized and appear to have been added both as religious and topographical symbols. The artist was very likely quite free to add such devices, and these regional variations help us determine whether the manuscript was illuminated in Bihar, Bengal, or Nepal. By and large, however the Bihar artist seems to have remained more conservative than his Bengali or Nepali counterpart in enlivening his pictures with man-made and natural elements. Generally, the figures in the Bengal manuscripts are drawn more freely and spontaneously, resulting in more animated representations. Although the overall style in all three regions remained strongly linear, the Bihar artists preferred to use denser colors revealing a richer tonality. To that extent and because he also employed color modeling to add substance to the figure, his expressive and vivacious style may be regarded as more painterly than those prevalent in the two other regions.

It will not be possible to review the dozens of surviving illuminated manuscripts that were executed in Bihar during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Many have been published and discussed elsewhere and are fairly well known. All, of course, are not of equal importance or quality. Some are also better preserved than others. Only those that have exceptionally beautiful miniatures or are of unusual aesthetic interest will be noted.

Fig. 22. Covers of a Prajnaparamita manuscript (details). India, Bihar; c. 1140. Wood. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Fig. 23a-b. Covers with enshrined deities (details). India, Bihar; 1150 - 1200. Wood, each 6.3 x 57.0 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Nash and Alice Heeramaneck Collection.

The Pancharaksha manuscript at Cambridge, dedicated by Queen Uddaka during the fourteenth regnal year of Nayapala, corresponding to A.C. 1052, has some fine pictures (Pl. 8). Copiously illustrated with Buddhas, divinities, and stupas, it must, have been painted by one of the best artists of the time, since it was a royal gift, unless the lady herself painted the pictures. That the scribe wrote with a fine hand is evident from the clarity and firmness of the script. Sections of the text are separated by beautifully drawn pen-and-ink floral designs, which were very likely rendered by the scribe. In that case, it is not improbable that he himself was an artist. Even a cursory comparison with other contemporary illuminations reveals the stylistic distinctiveness of these representations. Not only are the figural forms somewhat different with rounder faces and softer features, but the outline is less flamboyant and more carefully drawn. The design of the cushion is quite similar to the pen-and-ink floral motif. This is one of the few manuscripts in which yellow and white have been used as background colors instead of the more ubiquitous red. The pictures are also rare in that they offer the only examples of Pala-period illuminations that show the use of gilding for the flesh of some of the figures. In any event, if Queen Uddaka was not responsible for the pictures, then the artist she employed was both talented and enterprising.

Some of the finest illuminated manuscripts of the Pala period were dedicated during the long reign of Ramapala (c. 1075- 1128), and several are profusely illustrated. Among the better- known illuminated manuscripts of this period are a Pancharaksha, copied in c. 1084, now in the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Benares, a Prajnaparamita, of c. 1090, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and the Vrendenburg manuscript, also of the Prajnaparamita, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The miniature reproduced here from the Vrendenburg manuscript depicts Goddess Mahasri Tara preaching before an audience of two (Pl. 9). Apart from the consummate elegance of the figural forms, noteworthy is the unusual placement of the goddess in the composition and her relaxed, yet somewhat awkward posture. Most figures in these and other Bihar manuscripts of the Ramapala period are characterized by subtle, although naturalistic modeling, despite the diminutive size of the pictures.

Four illuminated pages, now in the Asia Society, New York, belong to a richly illustrated, but dispersed manuscript of a Prajnaparamita, probably of the time of Ramapala (Pl. 10, fig. 21). Each page not only contains an image of a deity in the middle, but the edges, too, are decorated with stupas, other figures, or ornamental designs. In fact, in many ways these narrow panels are more interesting than the larger central compositions. Some figures, such as the celestial female illustrated here (Pl. 11), are among the finest Pala-period illuminations. In addition, the illuminator decorated the small square panels around the string holes with colored geometrical and floral designs or with delightfully animated studies of ganders, lions, bulls, and monks. Incidentally, the eight great miracles were given less importance in this manuscript and were relegated to the edges. For the study of Buddhist iconography this manuscript is as important as the better-known 1015 Prajnaparamita manuscript from Nepal (see Chapter 3).

That the tradition of manuscript illumination in Bihar remained productive almost until the end of the twelfth century, despite the decline of Nalanda and Vikramasila, is evident from a number of richly painted books. One was dedicated by the nun Mahasribhadra, the disciple of the female elder Vijayasribhadra. It was copied in the village known as Dyaptali, which cannot be identified, in the fourteenth regnal year of Madanapala (r. 1143/44-1161/62).20

The manuscript is now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. When it was published (Lee 1942), the colophon remained undeciphered.

The remaining pages are illuminated with images of deities and scenes from the life of the Buddha (Pl. 13). These representations of the miracles are painted with unusual iconographic features. In the third folio from the top, the miracle of Sravasti is undoubtedly depicted in the panel on the right. That the two flanking figures are Buddhas is clearly demonstrated by their cranial bumps. They also face away from Buddha Sakyamuni as in most such compositions. In the picture at the other end of the page and in the center of themiddle page,the Buddha is flanked by two adoring monks. Because they do not have cranial bumps, they may be identified as monks. Nevertheless, their divine nature is evident by their nimbuses. The scenes represented in these two panels are difficult to identify. The figures are well drawn and are of iconographic interest and obviously the illuminator was an accomplished artist. Such technical skill is also displayed in a manuscript dedicated in the fourth regnal year of Gomindrapala, whose identity is not known, but who is generally thought to have ruled somewhere in Bihar toward the end of the twelfth century.21

Saraswati 1978, pp. 104,107,110,113, and 116 for color reproductions.

No early surviving Pala manuscript possesses its original covers. From the twelfth century a number of covers has survived that are stylistically related to the illuminations within the manuscript, although they are more sumptuously delineated. Among the most lively and innovative are two covers in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that belong to a Prajnaparamita manuscript, copied in Nalanda in the eighteenth regnal year of Nayapala, who ruled around the mideleventh century. The covers were painted by an artist other than the one responsible for the manuscript illuminations (Pl. 14). Thus, whether the covers were made at the time the manuscript was copied is debatable. The difference in style may reflect the skill of two artists working at the same time or during different periods, although no other surviving manuscript or cover from Bihar or Bengal was painted quite in this vivacious and unself-conscious style. While it is tempting to conclude that the covers may have been painted later in Nepal, that the style belongs to the Pala rather than Nepali tradition is incontrovertable. In no other manuscript or cover have so many scenes from the life of the Buddha, other than the eight great miracles, been depicted in such detail and with so much verve and expressiveness.22

For a detailed description and complete reproduction of these covers, see Pal 1984a, Pl. 59. Coomaraswamy

Perhaps the most elaborate covers, although much abraded, belong to a Prajnaparamita manuscript now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.23 It was copied during the fourth regnal year of King Gopala, who is generally identified as Gopala III, whose reign probably began in c.1130. The same artist was responsbile for both the manuscript covers and the text illuminations, and these may well be among the few surviving examples of Pala-period book covers that have remained attached to the manuscript for which they were originally made. Moreover, a comparison with the British Museum manuscript copied in Vikramsila in the fifteenth regnal year of this same monarch makes it very likely that the Boston manuscript was copied and illuminated at least in Bihar, if not in the same monastery.24 Not only are the Boston covers ornamented with unusual subjects, but the compositions of the individual panels are among the most elaborate known in Pala-period manuscript illuminations. In the segments illustrated here (fig. 22) are two panels depicting (on top) three Buddhas of the past followed by the future Buddha Maitreya and a scene of jubilation, perhaps in the Tushita heaven with a lively group of musicians along the bottom and other divine devotees all around the regally seated, discoursing bodhisattva. Below are a busy scene of the Buddha’s birth with unusual iconographic features and again a scene of discourse, this time by a goddess before an assembly of monks and gods. The enshrined goddess may represent Tara or Prajnaparamita. In addition to detailed architectural settings, a variety of trees and flowers fill the background and enhance the vivacity of these crowded compositions. The wide variety of postures and gestures in the representations of the audience, the liveliness of the dancing figures, and the arrangement of the groups clearly reveal the artist’s keen sense of observation and technical sophistication. There is nothing static about these compositions, which are both well organized and highly energized.

Stylistically of about the same period and no less vivacious are two book covers in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (fig. 23 a-b) that must also be attributed to an inventive artist. The representations of Vajrayana gods and goddesses are of unusual iconographic interest and are clearly isolated by architectural devices with palms and banana trees in the background. Each deity is also accompanied by at least two acolytes standing, sitting, or kneeling in various postures. On one cover, where the divinities stand straight and upright with their multiple arms, these subsidiary figures introduce a sense of lively movement. On the second cover, however, the illuminator seems to have departed from the norm by showing the deities walking or riding toward the middle of the covers. Especially charming is the representation of the bodhisattva Manjusri majestically riding sidesaddle on a cantering lion. A flywisk bearer and a demonic parasol bearer at the back run along with the animal, the artist’s sense of humour is evident by his placement of the “image” on the lion and his whimsical description of the animal. His perceptiveness is apparent in the delineation of the rocks below the lion, a realistic detail rarely encountered in such hieratic compositions.

With the decline of Buddhism in Bihar during the twelfth century, the tradition of copying and illuminating manuscripts rapidly deteriorated. By the thirteenth century most major Buddhist establishments had been destroyed by Muslim invaders. At this time many local monks fled to Nepal and Tibet carrying with them precious manuscripts containing the words of the Buddha. It would be wrong to presume, however, that Buddhism disappeared overnight in these regions. Certainly in Bengal Buddhism survived for a longer period. In Bihar, too, Buddhism continued to linger in isolated places as late as the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556- 1605), and manuscripts continued to be commissioned and illuminated at least into the fifteenth century.

Coomaraswamy 1921.
Losty 1982, p. 32 and Pl. III.

Most well known among these later examples of Buddhist manuscripts from Bihar is that of the Kalachakratantra in the Cambridge University Library (Pl. 15). It was copied in the year 1446 in the village of Keraki, probably not far from the town of Ara.25 Although the manuscript itself is not illustrated, its covers are adorned with Buddha images and scenes from the life of the Buddha on the inside and jataka tales on the outside. While some earlier Pala covers are decorated with floral motifs on the outside, it is extremely rare to find both sides of a cover painted with images or narrative subjects either in eastern India or Nepal. In Tibet usually the outside is carved with images. Jatakas also are the subject of illustrations on the covers of a Karandavvuha manuscript in the Swali collection, Bombay, copied and illustrated in the Houndi village (probably in Bihar) in the year 1455.26 Considering that the Pala or Nepali artists rarely painted jataka stories in any of the manuscripts, this sudden use of the subject on the covers .of two such different books in the fifteenth century is rather surprising.

In any event, stylistically these fifteenth-century Bihar manuscript illuminations are important for historical rather than aesthetic reasons. The pictures in the Karandavyuha manuscript are almost rudimentary pen-and-ink sketches, rendered in the same coarse and perfunctory style as the slightly earlier Kalachakratantra covers. Somewhat better executed, these are more richly colored and are a distant echo of the earlier Pala-period style. The figures are crudely drawn without much sophistication either in their proportions or expressions. Obviously the persons responsible for these pictures had little talent and were perhaps simply copying earlier paintings in an amateurish manner. Many features, however, such as the pronounced elongation of the further eye (which began to appear already in the twelfth century) or the greater emphasis on linearism, relate these naive, but historically significant painting to contemporary styles elsewhere in the subcontinent. They, in fact, fill an important gap in the history of the' pictorial tradition in eastern India and unequivocally demonstrate the existence of Buddhists and Buddhism in fifteenth-century Bihar.

See Pal 1965 for a complete discussion of the document; also Ghosh 1971 and Losty 1982, p. 62.
See Pal 1966 and Chandra 1971.

The gap between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries can be narrowed further with a thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript from Bengal and two isolated covers adorned with enshrined images of deities and the eight conventional miracles (fig. 24 a-b).27 While still echoing the elegance and sophistication of twelfth-century manuscript illuminations, the carelessness in the drawing of both figures and architectural elements is closer to fifteenth-century pictures than to earlier examples. Indeed, the figures in the birth scene are remarkably similar to those on the Kalachakratantra covers, while the seated Buddha on the extreme left of this cover has its parallels in many gilt bronzes that are generally attributed to fourteenth-century Tibet. The seated monks in the dividers of the second cover are strongly reminiscent of the monks in fourteenth-century Jain manuscripts of western India. They may also be compared with the even more perfunctory renderings of the Buddha in the 1289 Bengal manuscript (fig. 30). Although of better quality, the Benares covers are probably of about the same date or a few decades younger. What they do unequivocally proclaim is the rapid disintegration of manuscript illumination in Bihar during the thirteenth century. Although an occasional Buddhist manuscript continued to be copied well into the htteenth century, the art ot book illumination had lost its patrons as well as its creative vitality.

The manuscript is a Pancharaksha now in the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. It was dedicated in 1289 when Madhusena was the ruler of Gauda in West Bengal (see Saraswati 1978 for color reproductions). The covers are now in the Bharat Kala Bhavan in Benares. A third cover almost certainly painted in Bihar, and not Nepal under Indian influence as suggested by Losty, is in the British Library (Zwalf 1984, pp. 121 and 131). Losty is correct in suggesting a date around 1400.
Fig. 24 a-b.Covers with scenes from the life of the Buddha and Vajrayana deities (details). India, Bihar, 14th century (?). Wood. Present location unknown.


As early as the early fifth century, according to Faxian, Tamluk was already an important center for the copying of manuscripts. This is also corroborated by other Chinese pilgrims well into the seventh century. During the Pala period Buddhism flourished in Bengal, and several dynasties— especially in the eastern part of the region—were followers of the faith and generous patrons of monasteries. There were many important monasteries all over Bengal, including the famous Somapurimahavihara in modern Paharpur, Bangladesh. That the tradition of copying and illuminating manuscripts should have flourished in Bengal until after the thirteenth century, when the state was overrun by Muslims and most major monasteries destroyed or abandoned, should not be surprising. Fortunately, not only have a number of manuscripts survived that are known to have been copied in Bengal, but some are illuminated.


An illuminated manuscript of the Pancharaksha, preserved in Tibet, was dedicated during the reign of a devout Buddhist king named Govindachandra. He is undoubtedly the ruler of that name belonging to the Chandra dynasty, which ruled from Vikrampur near Dhaka, Bangladesh. At least three manuscripts from the reign of King Harivarmadeva have survived. It appears that the Varmans, who were originally from Orissa, overthrew the Chandra dynasty in the second half of the eleventh century. Harivarman enjoyed a long reign of at least forty-six years from about 1073/74. All three manuscripts are of the Prajnaparamita, and two are illustrated. One is unpublished and is in the Varendra Research Society, Rajshahi, Bangladesh, another is in the Baroda Museum in India.28

The Baroda manuscript was copied in Mahanta Monastery in the eighth regnal year of Harivarma, corresponding to 1081/82. Twenty-two manuscript pages are illustrated with central panels. In addition, the area around the string holes is illuminated with decorative patterns, while the edges are adorned with stupas of various shapes and forms. Most central panels contain hieratic images of gods and goddesses with or without acolytes and scenes of stupa worship. The miniatures reproduced here show Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara standing within a shrine and two serpent-kings worshiping a stupa floating in water [fig. 25 a-b). This scene may represent the recovery of the Prajnaparamita by Nagarjuna from the nether world. It can be easily discerned that these miniatures reflect a different expression of the Pala style as seen in Bihar. The drawing is not as firm as in contemporary Ramapala-period manuscript illuminations, and the colors are less opaque and approximate more closely watercolors. The architectural details as well as the garments and ornaments are often omitted altogether,and if included, they are rendered with a distinctly impressionistic flair. The outlines of the figures are hardly discernible, and the colors are applied in a flat, spare manner. The facial features are more summarily executed, especially the mouths, which are at times mere dashes and dots. In general, compared with the more meticulously rendered illuminations in contemporary manuscripts of Bihar, these pictures reveal a freer, more impressionistic technique that is no less expressive.

See Saraswati 1978, pp. 46-47; also pp. 77-80 for two color reproductions of the Baroda manuscript.
Pl. 8. A bodhisattva, from a Pancharaksha manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1054. Palm leaf. H. 5.2. cm. Cambridge Univeristy Library.
Pl. 9.Mahasri Tara, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; c. 1110. Palm leaf. H. 6.0 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Pl. 10.A Vajrayana deity, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; 12th century.Palm leaf. The Asia Society;Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. See also fig. 21.
Pl. 11.Figures on the margins of pages from the same manuscript as Pl. 10
Pl. 12.Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; 12th century. Palm leaf. Swali Collection, Bombay.
Pl. 13.Illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. India, Bihar; dated 1157 - 58. Palm leaf. The Detroit Institute of Art.
Pl. 14. Covers with scenes from the life of the Budhha (details). India, Bihar; c. 1050. Wood. H. 5-3 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection.

Even a more richly illuminated manuscript of the Prajnaparamita, probably from the same workshop if not by the same hand, is now dispersed in several public and private collections in North America (Pl. 16, fig. 26). Rendered in the same impressionistic, vivacious style, the subject matter of these illuminations reveals even greater variety than the Baroda manuscript. The illuminations of this manuscript are indeed a rich source of the study of religious architecture in contemporary Bengal. Moreover, some shrines are placed against a rocky background, revealing a remarkably imaginative conceputalization of the rock motif. In fact, these stylized, stavelike, multicolored rock formations are closely related to similar forms that occur in murals in Pagan, Burma, and in paintings from Tibet.29 Indeed, this is an important clue in establishing the stylistic links between Pala-period Indian paintings and the murals and early thankas of Tibet. Because of their close proximity, the Burmese Buddhists of the Pagan kingdom must have remained in close contact with their counterparts in Bengal. Very likely such illuminated manuscripts were taken into Pagan and used as models for murals as well as sculptures.30 The use of shrines to enclose images was much more current in Pala-period sculptures in Bengal than in Bihar.31 In Pala manuscript illuminations only one type of stepped roof architecture is used, mostly in manuscripts of the Ramapala (c. 1080-1133) and later periods. The figures in these Bengali manuscript illuminations, with their pinched waists and slim, elegant forms, are closely related to those seen in contemporary sculptures from Bengal and Burma.

One of the finest and liveliest representations is that of a group of dancers with the larger figure’s head set off by a nimbus fringed with peacock feathers (fig. 26). The white complexion of the figure and lotus in his left hand identifies him as Avalokitesvara, who is known to dance in his Padmanarttesvara form, but to my knowledge no other representation includes such a nimbus. Large fans ringed with pea-cock feathers continued to be used as symbols of sovereignty until recent time in many parts of India. Noteworthy also is the complete absence of color modeling, and, although the outline is not as strongly defined as in contemporary Bihar illuminations,the freedom and spontaneity of these representations make them lively and attractive.

Pal 1984, pp. 29 ff. for a discussion of the style’s influence on Tibetan paintings as well as Luce 1969-70 for parallel in Pagan murals.
30. See Woodward 1981
See S. Huntington 1984.

Because of these two manuscripts from eastern Bengal, it becomes now possible to attribute several others to Bengal rather than Bihar. At least two are in the British Library and have recently been partially published.32 One is a manuscript of the Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita and contains sixty nine miniatures, marginal decorations of geometric and ara-besque designs, and charming representations of animals and birds in the narrow panels around the string holes. In his cata-logue J. R Losty correctly makes the following observations:

Losty 1982, pp. 20 and 33, no. 8, and p. 34, no. 10.
Pl. 15. Covers of Kalachakratantra manuscript with jataka stories (details). India, Bihar; dated 1446. Wood H. 5.8 cm. Cambridge University Library.
Pl. 16. Iluminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. Undivided Bengal; 12th century. Palm leaf. R. H. Ellsworth Collection, New York.
Pl. 17. Illuminated pages of a Prajnaparamita manuscript. Undivided Bengal (?); early 12th century. Palm leaf. R. H. Ellsworth Collection, New York.
Pl. 18.Details from Pl. 17.
Pl. 19 a - d. Book covers of a Vajrayana text. Undivided Bengal, 12th century. Wood. R. H. Ellsworth Collection, New York.

There are two styles represented in the miniatures of this Ms. One is an angular, linear style in which the scenes from the life of the Buddha are painted, with flat color planes and hardly any modelling. The Buddha when standing carries his throne-back and cushion around with him. The other style is somewhat more modelled, and there are some lovely Bodhisattvas painted in pink, green and dark blue, fully modelled, but still with angular features and pointed chins. Even these are not so fully modelled as the figures in the Ramapala Ms. of c. 1118 or the Govindapala [III] Ms. of 1165, both from Nalanda.33

Losty then concludes that it seems safer to date it to the late Pala period in'the middle of the twelfth century, from a monastery other than Nalanda or Vikramasila.

By comparing this manuscript with that from Baroda or the dispersed North American manuscript there can be no doubt that this, too, was painted somewhere in Bengal. In one of the miniatures in the British Library manuscript is the same dancing bodhisattva with only one female partner (figs. 26-27) rather than two in the North American manuscript. Although he turns in the reverse direction and is without the nimbus, there can be little doubt that both miniatures belong to the same tradition. Even more compelling are the panels, apparently representing narrative subjects, that include the rock formations that seem to be characteristic of Bengal miniatures and have not yet been found in any manuscripts illuminated in Bihar. The strongly linear style and lack of modeling noted by Losty are also features seen in the Baroda manuscript, while the peculiar representation of the throne back in the scene of the Buddha’s death is closely related to a relief depicting the same subject in Pagan, as discussed by H. Woodward, in a recent article.34 Thus, a Bengal provenace and a date in the first half of the twelfth century seem certain for this manuscript with fascinating illuminations. That some pictures are related to contemporary Bihar miniatures is not surprising. The artist may well have used such a manuscript as a model, or he may have migrated from Bihar to a more prosperous monastery in Bengal.

The British Library also possesses two other documents that can almost certainly be attributed to monasteries in Bengal rather than Bihar. One of these consists of an isolated book cover that may once have protected a Prajnaparamita manuscript. The other is a complete and copiously illustrated manuscript of the Karandavyuha, a Mahayana text that exalts the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and strongly recommends his worship. While publishing them Losty noted their close stylistic kinships and thought both were painted in “eastern India outside the Pala dominions.”35

Curiously, the cover not only contains scenes other than the eight great miracles but the historical sequence of the events have been ignored (fig. 28). Also, the narration begins on the right rather than the left. The birth of the Buddha is followed by a damaged scene in the palace with a building quite typical of Bengal. Then the Buddha is seen departing on his horse, which is followed by the scene of the miracle of the multiple Buddhas at Sravasti. Not surprisingly the central panel is devoted to the scene of the Enlightenment, followed by the first sermon at Sarnath. It seems obvious that in flanking the Enlightenment with two almost identical compositions the illuminator was concerned with visual symmetry rather than historical considerations. After the first sermon we again go back in time to the occasion after his departure when the Buddha cut off his hair. Then follows two images of meditating Buddhas, one emaciated and the other healthy, obviously depicting his austerities before the Enlightenment. The final representation is of the miracle of the monkey.

Losty 1982, p. 33.
See note 30.
Zwalf 1985, pp. 53 and 69, and Losty 1982, p. 34.
Fig. 25. a-b. Miniatures from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. Undivided Bengal; dated 1081/82. Palm leaf. Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery, Baroda.
Fig. 26. Dancing bodhisattva from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. Undivided Bengal (?); 12th century. Palm leaf. McGill University Library, Montreal. See also Pl. 16.
Fig. 27 a - c. Illuminated pages from a Prajnaparamita manuscript. Undivided Bengal; 1100 - 1150. Palm leaf. British Library, London.

Although the Karandavyuha manuscript bears no postcolophon statement, its importance lies in the fact that some of its pictures relate to the text. The central panels of three pages published recently depict the story of the bodhisattva’s escape on the magic horse called Balaha from the clutches of demonesses in an island called Tamradvipa; the discoursing Bodhisattva Sarvanivaranaviskambin, chief interlocutor of the text; and a hieratic image of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara dispensing the water of immortality to the suffering denizens of hell (fig. 29). This composition contains an unusual representation of a tree emerging from a pot, anticipating the later configurations of Chintamani Lokesvara in Nepali art. Indeed, this and other foliage in these miniatures are represented quite distinctively and are not encountered in Bihar manuscripts.

Commenting on the rather unusual style of the miniatures, Losty perceptively noted that “the miniatures are in a fluent almost purely linear style, that is different from the known styles associated with the Palas or with Nepal, and closely related to the only known illustrated Buddhist Ms. from eastern India done outside the Pala empire.”36 This is obviously the Baroda manuscript already discussed. Losty further commented on a distinctive architectural form found in these miniatures and its relationship to contemporary temples in Orissa and the Bankura district of West Bengal. He finally concludes that “stylistically the Ms. may be dated to the first half of the eleventh century, when the Bankura area along with all south western Bengal was under the control of the Hindu Sena dynasty.” One assumes that the reference to the eleventh rather than the twelfth century, when the Senas rose to power, is a misprint. Moreover, in a later publication, Losty himself supports a date around 1100 for this manuscript, which is more to the mark.

That the manuscript was copied and illuminated in Bengal rather than Bihar is in no doubt. This is clearly evident from the style of the marginal figures and the representations of the narrative panels that reveal the same linear, flat, and perfunctory manner already encountered in other manuscripts from that area. The colors, however, are not quite as thinly applied, and the angularity of the figures is somewhat less pronounced. The architectural style can be observed in sculptures from various sites in both West Bengal and Bangladesh. Comparisions may also be made with the enshrined figures on the stem of a lotus mandala, probably made in Bengal.37 A more precise location for this manuscript, however, can be suggested by comparing the peculiar iconography and composition of the panel showing Avalokitesvara redeeming the denizens of hell with a relief depicting the same subject discovered from Badarhati in the Hooghly district of West Bengal.38 There, too, an enormously thick lotus stem rises from a pot like a trunk and forms a canopy over the bodhisattva. And, as in the miniature, a boar-or bird-faced creature kneels below the god’s outstretched right hand and receives the elixir. Thus, rather than the Bankura district, as suggested by Losty, this manuscript was probably copied and illuminated in the Hooghly district, which is not too far from Tamluk, the ancient center of manuscript perparation. With its unusual subject matter and expectionally rich miniatures, it also remains one of the most interesting illuminated manuscripts from Bengal.

Losty 1982, p. 34. and also for the following quotations.
P. Pal, The Sensuous Immortals (Los Angles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977), pp. 96-97.
S. Huntington 1984, fig.221.
Fig. 28. Cover with scenes from the life of the Buddha. Undivided Bengal; 12th century. 6.25 x 33 cm. Wood. British Library, London.
Fig. 29. Three pages of a Karandavyuha manuscript (details). Undivided Bengal; 12th century. Palm leaf. Each page: 5.0 x 35.0 cm. British Library, London.

More difficult to place is yet another manuscript of the early twelfth century, now in the Ellsworth collection, New York (pis. 17-18).39 In some ways this is the most sumptuously illuminated Buddhist manuscript to have survived from the Indian subcontinent. While the general scheme of the miniatures reveals nothing unusual, what is remarkable is that each page has been further enriched with a wide red border adorned with a continuous design of stupas and very fine filigreelike ornamental forms in pale yellow along the bottom and top. Together with the miniatures, these borders imbue the pages with unusual luminosity. This is truly an illuminated book of extraordinary beauty and elegance.

While all the Buddhist deities in the central panels are seated within shrines that are similar to those encountered in manuscripts painted in Bihar (figs. 22-23), the figures in the margins are even more varied and lively than those embellishing a Prajnaparamita manuscript probably rendered in Bihar during the reign of Ramapala (Pl. 11). Nevertheless, the 37 modeling of these figures lacks the plasticity of the Bihar miniatures and reveals no attempt at tonal variation. This simplification of both the coloring and patterning of the architectural 38 background is more characteristic of Bengali rather than Bihar 39- illuminations.Thatthe illuminator wasaware of the Bihar tradition is evident, and one may conclude that this richly illuminated manuscript was copied and painted somewhere in West Bengal.

The entire manuscript is now in the R. H. Ellsworth collection in New York.
Fig. 30. Goddess Mahamayuri, from a Pancharaksha manuscript. Undivided Bengal; dated 1289. Palm leaf. The Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta.

Finally, two covers adorned with images of Vajrayana deities are not only among the finest covers of the Pala period now known, but very likely they were painted in Bengal rather than Bihar (Pl. 19).40 On one cover the central tableaux of an embracing Hevajra and Nairatma is flanked by a group of eight goddesses. Clearly this is a representation of the mandala of Hevajra as in a contemporary bronze example.41 On the second cover are nine copulating divine couples with Samvara in the center. Stylistically as well these figures are closer to those in the bronze mandala or other examples found within the confines of undivided Bengal. Not only are the figures on the covers elegantly vivacious, but the animals and birds below the feet of some of the deities are rendered with singular charm. Although not as dense or well modulated as the colors in the best Bihar illuminations, the reds, blues, and yellows are vivid and sparkling. The designs of the garments have been articulately rendered, and the forms underneath are among the most sensuous encountered in such illuminations. Both for technical virtuousity and aesthetic appeal, these two covers, probably from a manuscript of the Hevajratantra and belonging to the early twelfth century, are a tour de force in the early Bengal pictorial tradition.

The covers are now in the R. H. Ellsworth collection in New York.
See note 37.

That the entire tradition began declining rapidly in Bihar and Bengal even during the first half of the twelfth century is clearly evident from a Prajnaparamita manuscript copied and dedicated either in Bengal or Mithila around 1124 and another manuscript, perhaps painted a century later, now in Tokyo.42 The pictures in the former may have been added a good deal later, although it is possible that they were painted by an incompetent artist. Stylistically, they show the same amateurish drawing and crude coloring encountered in the Tokyo manuscript and are only marginally better than the miniatures in a Pancharaksha manuscript (fig. 30) dedicated in 1289, when Madhusenadeva was ruling Gauda (present- day Murshidabad district in West Bengal). These vestiges of what a century or so before was a creative pictorial tradition only confirm the rapid decline of Buddhism in eastern India with the arrival of the Muslims in the first half of the thirteenth century.

For color reproductions of the Tokyo manuscript, see Saraswati 1978.