Shifting Stones, Shaping the Past: Sculpture from the Buddhist Stupas of Andhra Pradesh
In a wide-ranging exploration of the creation and use of Buddhist art in Andhra Pradesh, India, from the second and third centuries of the Common Era to the present, Catherine Becker shows how material remains and visual experiences shape and reveal essential human concerns. Shifting Stones, Shaping the Past begins with an analysis of the ornamentation of Andhra's ancient Buddhist sites, such as the lavish limestone reliefs depicting scenes of devotion and lively narratives on the main stupa at Amaravati. As many such monuments have fallen into disrepair, it is temping to view them as ruins, however, through an examination of recent state-sponsored tourism campaigns and new devotional activities at the sites, Becker shows that the monuments are in active use and even ascribed innate power and agency. Becker finds intriguing parallels between the significance of imagery in ancient times and the new social, political, and religious roles of these objects and spaces. While the precise functions expected of these monuments have shifted, the belief that they have the ability to effect spiritual and mental transformation has remained consistent. Becker argues that the efficacy of Buddhist art relies on the careful attention of its makers to the formal properties of art and to the harnessing of the imaginative potential of the human senses. In this respect, Buddhist art mirrors the teaching techniques attributed to the Buddha, who often engaged his pupils' desires and emotions as tools for spiritual progress.
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