The Buddha’s Nirvana and Medieval Chinese Relic Deposits
The Buddha Sakymuni’s entry into nirvana was a moment of great significance in the history of Buddhism. Pictorial representations of this event began to gain prevalence in China in the sixth century and had remained a major subject in Chinese Buddhist art ever since.
In this talk, Sonya Lee focuses on nirvana images especially made for underground pagoda crypts with Buddhist relics enshrined inside. From painted murals to decorations on reliquaries and freestanding sculptures, the many variations in which the motif appeared in relic deposits point to sophisticated uses of visual images to define the kind and symbolic values of the relics that they accompanied.
Selected examples from the eighth to twelfth centuries are examined to better illuminate the material dimensions of relic worship as well as some fundamental changes that Buddhism underwent in its continued engagement in medieval Chinese society.