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Book: Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism

Chapter: 10. Making Senses of the Story: Narrative, Art and Affect in Ancient India

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.39999


In this chapter Walters returns to influential earlier work in which he pointed to apparent correspondences between late canonical Pāli texts of the Khuddaka Nikāya (especially Apadāna, Buddhavaṃsa and Cariyāpiṭaka, the “ABCs”) and archaeological and epigraphic evidence from the monumental stupa sites of early post-Aśokan South Asia (2nd - 1st c., BCE). Walters’ concern in that work was to reconstruct the overlap of Buddhist narrative with monumental art and epigraphs as a context in which to understand the elite, royal, and sometimes imperial sponsorship of the sites in question. He suggested that the affective experience of participants created in that conjuncture of story with stupa might help make sense of the imperial and other elite sponsorship of the latter, both because individual elite donors could imagine their own participation as progress in traversing the soteriological maps drawn by the ABCs, and because the congregation of wider populaces to participate in stupa festivals could serve more mundane ends including political mobilization, economic or intellectual exchange, and the enhancement of social prestige through public displays of piety. In this new chapter, Walters enlarges those considerations in two ways. On one hand, he moves beyond the cataloguing of individual narrative details (such as technical terminology for architectural features or liturgical practices, or narrative segments) which emerge simultaneously in both the textual and the archaeological record to explore how collectively those “details” situate stupa-cult participants within the textual narrative as a whole. In particular, he suggests that such an experience is facilitated through homology of the whole site to “big picture” images narrated in these texts (in particular, the ratanacankama of Buddhavaṃsa and the buddha-pāsāda of Buddhāpadāna). He makes this argument in part through considering the visual within a larger range of senses simultaneously engaged by the texts and the monuments, which he suggests might have contributed to the persistence and enlargement of such embodied imagination of whole “Buddhaverses” or pure lands in subsequent Buddhist traditions. On the other hand, he enlarges this work by including consideration of a parallel Sri Lankan site, Mihintale, during the same period, an example of the adaptability of the narrative-and-monument conjuncture as the religion was adopted beyond its original home. As such, this chapter bridges the general Introduction and the rest of the volume by painting a compelling picture of the role of narrative in physical sites of devotional and political activity in early South Asia.

Chapter Contributors

  • Jonathan Walters ( - jwalters) 'Whitman College, Washington'