The Elements of Buddhist iconography was first published by the Harvard University Press in 1935. This new edition, ably edited and revised by Krishna Deva has been enriched by incorporating the additions made by Coomaraswamy in his own hand in his personal copy.
This volume is a sustained demonstration of Coomaraswamy's knowledge of the external features of iconography, his knowledge of the entire metaphysical tradition underlying the iconography, as well as the corresponding traditions in Islam and Christianity. It is a demonstration of the characteristic of a universe of discourse based on a detailed textual, iconography and comparative studies that include the metaphysics phraseology and iconography of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
Buddhist art in India begins about the second century BCE, with a well-developed set of symbols in its iconography. But it does not seem possible to completely separate Buddhism as religion and art from the main current of lndian religion and art, or to think these symbols suddenly developed as a new creation. Coomaraswamy believes that the source of early iconography of the Buddhist art is in still earlier Vedic and Upanisadic conceptions. In addition, he noticed many surprising similarities between passages in the Vedic literature and in the medieval Christian theologians and mystics. The illuminating parallels found in the non-Indian traditions convinced him that mystical theology the world over is the same.
The present study deals with the basic symbols of Buddhist art, viz. the Tree of Life, the Earth-Lotus, the Word-Wheel, the Lotus-Throne and the Fiery Pillar, and shows that these symbols can be traced back beyond their first representation in Buddhist iconography through the an iconic period of the Brahmanical Vedas, even into the Rgvedic period itself, and that they represent a universal Indian symbolism and set of theological concepts.
Elements of Buddhist Iconography,Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, Manohar, Hardcover, Paperback, 146 pp, $25.00