Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Hillary Langberg Defense: INVOKING THE GODDESS: THE ROLE OF FEMALE DEITIES IN MAHAYANA INDIAN BUDDHISM OF THE MIDDLE PERIOD

Wed, May 30, 2018 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118), UT Austin Campus

10:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Hillary Langberg Defense: INVOKING THE GODDESS: THE ROLE OF FEMALE DEITIES IN MAHAYANA INDIAN BUDDHISM OF THE MIDDLE PERIOD

Invoking the Goddess: The Role of Female Deities in Mahāyāna Indian Buddhism of the Middle Period

This project focuses on the position and function of female deities in Mahāyāna Indian Buddhism from roughly the second to the seventh centuries of the Common Era. Over the course of this period, female deities assume an increasingly prominent role in Mahāyāna Buddhism at the same time that ritual practices based inthe recitation of mantras (strings of powerful syllables) become theologically significant. In the six Sanskrit texts that I investigate, there is a close linkage between female deities and mantra recitation practices in a variety of scriptural accounts. Yet how these episodes relate to one another and to the eventual importance of goddesses in Mahāyāna ritual, doctrine, and material culture has not been the subject of systematic study. The emergence of a new class of female deities in Buddhist visual imagery happens concurrently with an advancement in ritual technology in the Mañjuśriyamūlakalpa, beginning roughly the sixth century CE. Here, we find female deities (vidyārājñīs, mantra queens) as part of maṇḍalas (sacred diagrams) in stone sculpture, in situ within the ancient monastic cave complexes of present-day Maharashtra. In order to clarify the varying roles of female deities in the texts, my project will incorporate a supplementary analysis of sculptural themes from the western Deccan caves that highlight the role of female deities in both Mahāyāna doctrine and ritual practices (c. sixth to seventh centuries CE). This research ultimately sheds light on the historical development of the ontological status of female deities in South Asian Mahāyāna contexts.

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