Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Bodhisattva Non-iconic Forms

Bodhisattva (Non-iconic) | Bodhisattva Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Bodhisattva Non-iconic Forms Description (below)
- Bodhisattva Iconic Forms Definition
- Bodhisattva Definition
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

There are two types of depictions of bodhisattva (full definition of term), non-iconic and iconic. The non-iconic derive from the Buddhist Mahayana literature (sutra) and the iconic, or iconographic, derive from the Buddhist Vajrayana literature (tantra). The images of bodhisattva below are non-iconic and follow the artistic traditions of the time, art school, and choices of the artist. Non-iconic means they do not have fixed body colour, posture or hand attributes. Later traditions, artistic and religious, began to mix Tantric iconography with the non-iconic imagery of the Mahayana Sutra bodhisattva. For example Manjushri would be depicted as orange in colour and holding a sword, seated in a variety of relaxed postures. Avalokiteshvara would be white in colour and holding a white lotus flower, etc.

Tantric depictions of the bodhisattva are derived from specific Tantra literature and are iconographic which means strict as to colour, posture, number of limbs and heads, hand attributes, surroundings, etc. All aspects of the form of the iconographic bodhisattva relate to symbolic or mnemonic meaning which cannot be changed or altered by an artist or donor.

Jeff Watt 9-2004 [updated 5-2018]