Fragrant Stories: The Buddhist Landscape of the Early Deccan
19 November 2021
This talk will explore the earliest recorded cultural landscape of the Deccan, that of monastic Buddhism, which prospered from around the second century BCE through to the mid-first millennium CE.
The Buddhist Deccan has left a rich archaeological and artistic legacy, which when read alongside the canonical and narrative literature of early Buddhism, paints a vision of a colourful and fragrant world where the monastery served not only as a sanctuary for mendicants, but also as a place of beauty and quietude intended to attract lay followers. Both the literature and art is rich in sensory imagery, in apparent contradiction of the vouched goals of asceticism and denial at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. Was this imagery simply a literary and visual foil against which to set the challenges of the Buddhist quest, or did it represent a more profound ambivalence in the reality of early lived Buddhist – one where economic viability was dependent on the support of a prosperous lay community, attracted to a more worldly vision of a Buddhist paradise?