In search of imprints of Buddhism : Peravurani Buddha
During the first week of September 2018, there were news reports about the finding of a Buddha sculpture in a temple tank at Peravurani in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. The sculpture was in sitting dhyana posture.
On iconographical aspects, the Peravurani Buddha differed from the Nagapattinam Buddha bronze found in the Chola country comprising of composite Thanjavur, composite Trichy and Pudukottai district. The age of the sculpture has to be ascertained. My comment on Peravurani Buddha appeared in the Times of India, 11th September 2018.
For granite Buddhas, historian Mayilai Seeni Venkatasamy’s “Bouthamum Tamilum” (1940) was the primary source. In his work he cited about the prevalence of 10 granite Buddhas in the Chola country comprising composite Thanjavur, composite Trichy and Pudukottai district in his work.
For Nagapattinam Buddha bronze T.N.Ramachandran’s “The Nagapattinam and other Buddhist bronzes in the Madras Museum” (Director of Museums, Chennai, I Edn 1954, Rpt. 1992). T.N.Ramachandran in the preface of his work says: “Nagapattinam Bronzes – Buddhist bronzes, though rare in South India, are occasionally found mostly in Tanjore district, dating from 11th to 15th century A.D. From Nagapattinam, since 1856, about 350 Buddhist bronzes of the Mahayana, some inscribed, were recovered from Vihara sites raised by the Sailendras of Sumatra in the time of the Chola Kings Rajaraja I and Rajendra Chola I. Some of these bronzes belong to early Chola (871-1070 A.D.) and a large number of the rest to the later Chola period (1070-1250 A.D.). They have been studied in detail in this bulletin”.
While carrying out “Chola Nattil Boutham” (Buddhism in the Chola country, in Tamil, Tamil University, Thanjavur, 1999, unpublished thesis) more than 60 granite Buddhas, have been found including 15 which were identified by me. I have also collected photographs of the Nagapattinam Buddha bronzes exhibited in various museums in and outside India. In India they were exhibited in Indian Museum (Kolkata), Patna Museum (Patna), Central Museum (Nagpur), Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India in Mumbai), Government Art Museum (Thiruvananthapuram), Municipal Museum (Gwalior), State Museum (Lucknow), Government Central Museum (Jaipur), SPS Museum, (Srinagar), Museum & Picture Gallery (Vadorara), Watson Museum (Rajkot) and Art Gallery (Thanjavur) All the Buddhas - granite and bronze - are either in standing and sitting dhyana posture.
In Tamil Nadu large collection of Nagapattinam Buddha bronzes are exhibited in Government Museum, Egmore, Chennai. A Nagapattinam Buddha bronze, in standing posture, is exhibited in Art Gallery, Thanjavur. During field study in 1999, one such Buddha, in sitting posture, in the style of Nagapattinam Buddha bronze, worshipped as Munisvaran was found in Ayyampet, Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, with the help of historian Mr Ayyampet Selvaraj. It resembled the Buddha exhibited in the Indian Museum.
45 Nagapattinam Buddha bronzes were found in Sellur in Kudavasal Taluk of Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. (Dina Thanthi, 26 February 2004) Ranging from 7 cm to 52 cm they belonged to 11th to 13th centuries CE. During December 2011 they were exhibited in the Government Museum at Egmore. These 45 artefacts form an impressive addition to the Nagapattinam Collection of 350Buddha bronzes, which were discovered between 1856 and 1930s at Vellipalayam and Nanayakkara Street in Nagapattinam. (Stunning indicators of Nagapattinam Buddhist legacy, The Hindu, 25 December 2011)
Two sculptures in standing posture were found in Thanjavur of which one resembled Nagapattinam Buddha bronze. It was reported that it was a Jain sculpture.
On iconographical aspects, the Peravurani Buddha differ from the Nagapattinam Buddha bronze found in the Chola country, but the impact of workmanship of Nagapattinam Buddha could be found in it. Among others, the shape of usnisha, the posture of the right hand, the style of dress over the chest of Peravurani Buddha differ from that of Nagapattinam Buddha bronzes. The Nagapattinam Buddha would have flame like usnisha, while the right hand would be in abaya posture and the dress would leave the right chest and arm bare. A detailed iconographic study by the subject experts would be of much helpful to find age of the sculpture.