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Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism

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This volume explores the interaction between text and image in Indian Buddhist contexts, including not only the complex relationship between verbal stories and visual representations at Indian sites, but also the ways in which visual imagery is used within textual narratives. The chapters are authored by a mixture of textual scholars and art historians, bringing together different disciplinary perspectives in order to seek a richer understanding of how text and art relate, and of the role of narrative imagery in different media and contexts.

The book opens with an introduction that explores what narratives and visual narratives are, and why we might want to study narrative images alongside imagery-rich literary narratives. The volume is then divided into three parts. The chapters in “Part I: Visual Narratives” (Zaghet, Reddy, Zin) explore visual depictions of stories in their own right; those in “Part II: Narrative Networks” (Mace, Appleton & Clark, Strong) seek to understand the relationship between specific visual and verbal narratives; and those in “Part III: Narrative Visions” (Gummer, Fiordalis, Walters) primarily investigate how visual imagery and visualisation work in textual narratives.

The volume seeks to bridge the divide that traditionally exists between textual scholars and art historians, and to challenge the contributors to think beyond the usual boundaries of our work.

Published: Apr 22, 2022

Section Chapter Authors
Front Matter
Abbreviations Naomi Appleton
Preface Naomi Appleton
Chapter 1
Setting the Scene: Verbal and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism Naomi Appleton
Part I: Visual Narratives
2. Rethinking Chronology and Narrative Modes: The Case of Sancī Stūpa 2 Flavia Zaghet
3. The Power of Image and Imagery: Visualising the Divine and the Human in Painted Narratives of Ajaṇṭā Madhulika Reddy
4. Visualizing a Teaching: Sermon Scenes in Kucha Monika Zin
Part II: Narrative Networks
5. Localizing Narrative through Image: The Nun Utpalavarṇā in a Stone Relief from Kaushambi Sonya Rhie Mace
6. Beyond Textual and Visual “Versions”: The Story Cluster of the Six-tusked Elephant Bodhisattva Naomi Appleton, Chris Clark
7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha's Lifestory John Strong
Part III: Narrative Visions
8. The Buddha as Spiritual Sovereign: Narrative Figurations of Knowledge and Power David Fiordalis
9. Seeing the Dharma: Narrative Darśan in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa Natalie Gummer
10. Making Senses of the Story: Narrative, Art and Affect in Ancient India Jonathan Walters
End Matter
Index Naomi Appleton


This entire volume is a noteworthy contribution, remarkable in its thoughtful approach to the diverse relationships between textual/oral storytelling practices and visual narratives (both material in the form of art and mentally generated as visions). To varying degrees, all of the essays explore fascinating aspects of these relationships. I anticipate that this book will be of great interest to all scholars of Buddhism (in India and beyond), which is a real contribution, as often art historical and textual specialists publish in different venues.
Catherine Becker, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Art History, University of Illinois at Chicago

This volume explores the intersection of Buddhist art and literature, and the complex ways that verbal and visual narratives engage one another. The result is a brilliant synthesis that is sure to appeal to a wide cross-section of scholars and will no doubt be cited many times in the years to come.
Andy Rotman, Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor and Professor of Religion, Buddhist Studies, and South Asian Studies, Smith College