Masterclass : Between earth and water: Mainamati and Vikrampur in South and East Bengal by Claudine Bautze-Picron, 10/11/2017, Leiden University
Mainamati was the most important Buddhist settlement in Southeast Bengal from the eighth century onwards, being the gateway to the land of the Buddha for monks and merchants having navigated from insular Southeast Asia and for those who came on foot from various regions of nearby Burma.
Its position was inherited by Vikrampur, a vast area located South of Dhaka, which was a major political centre in South and Southeast Bengal from the eleventh up to the early thirteenth century. Although it was also located on the road followed by Buddhist monks and pilgrims when travelling from the region of Chittagong, with its port open on the Bay of Bengal, up to Bihar and thus partly inherited the position earlier held by Mainamati, Vikrampur was a stronghold of Brahmanism, offering thus a radical departure with the religious situation encountered up to the 10th century.
The artistic production of this region between Vikrampur, Mainamati and Chittagong had a huge impact on the transfer of iconographic models towards Southeast Asia: Eleventh and twelfth-century murals in the temples of Bagan prove the existence of trade relations with Southeast Bengal, and cast images from the region of Mainamati were exported to Java in the eighth and ninth centuries, opening a way which was going to be followed up to the early thirteenth century with images found in Sumatra and Java that are clearly inspired from models created in Vikrampur.
A careful scrutiny of the artistic material found in continental and insular Southeast Asia proves the importance of the Mainamati-Vikrampur region as source of inspiration but also shows how these ‘imported’ models were assimilated before becoming part of the local culture. Moreover, these testimonies might help in trying to get a better understanding of how images were regarded in Bengal: besides the fact that they were worshipped, could they have had other functions? Could they inform about the way the Buddhist community perceived itself in the cultural landscape of the time?
Dr Claudine Bautze-Picron studied at the Universities of Brussels (MA), Lille, Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi (M.Phil. in Indian History) and Aix-en-Provence (“Thèse d’État” = Ph.D.). She was a research fellow at the National Centre of Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) in Paris, UMR 7528 (“Mondes Iranien et Indien”) and Lecturer at the Free University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Research and publications:
Her research has focused for a long period on the art of Eastern India (Bihar/West Bengal/Bangladesh) from the 8th to the 12th c. and on various issues related to Buddhist iconography in India. This work culminated also in the publication of the catalogue of the collection of eastern Indian sculpture in the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin (Eastern Indian Sculpture in the Museum of Indian Art, Berlin, Berlin, 1998) and of two books concerned with the image of the bejewelled or crowned Buddha in India and Burma (The Bejewelled Buddha from India to Burma, New Considerations, New Delhi, 2010) and with the Buddhist site of Kurkihar in Bihar (The forgotten Place, Stone Sculpture at Kurkihar, New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 2014).
Since nearly 15 years, she has also been working on the murals of Pagan (Burma) from the 10th to the 13th c. (The Buddhist Murals of Pagan, Timeless vistas of the cosmos, Bangkok, 2003).