Function of Jātaka Depictions

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The conception of the Buddha image as a “living” Buddha in medieval Indian monasteries support the point that “truth” can be realized instantly and spontaneously through physical contact with the Buddha. The painted and plastic imagery of the Buddha’s past lives must have worked in this fashion to deliver the truth through contact with the worshiper.

Even when the visual images are organized to reflect the narrative nature of a verbal text (events related through time), the visual images are there to express the Buddhistic nature of the monument, to locate the Buddha and his teaching, not to tell a story. It is, therefore, unlikely that the Jātakas were used as didactic devices by the monks; thus the imagery was not “read,” or even looked at in any logical or analytical fashion.

This theory frees the visual text to rearrange the events in the narrative, to make new connections that are not narrative in nature, to arrange the events by principles other than, for example, telling a story through time.


Reference: Robert L. Brown (1997): ‘Narrative as Icon‘, pp. 63-100.

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