Monday, June 13, 2011

Tree Fairies ("devas") in Buddhism

Simone Gaulier, Groningen Univ., Buddhism in Afghanistan and Central Asia (Vol. 2)

DRYADS (Tree Devas)
The theme of the tree spirit (dryad) inherited from nature genii found in the Vedas and Vedic Brahmanism in ancient India was inherited by early Buddhism. Such a theme had already been adopted to represent Maya, Siddhartha's mother, during the birth of the Bodhisat (buddha-to-be).

She became a Sal tree spirit (Salabhanjika), as Wisdom Quarterly has demonstrated. These themes from around the area the Shakyans [the Buddha's family clan] ruled, in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan in the ancient Northwest Indian frontier, grew in Gandharan art.

The devas became incorporated in various depictions of Buddhist legends. In Afghanistan (e.g., Shotorak), these supple figures surround bas relief images of Maitreya (the future Buddha or "Messiah") and Siddhartha (the historical Buddha) enthroned.

They were discreetly presented in one of the final nirvana scenes on the same site, appearing down to the waist in the Sal (Sala) trees. The same dryad (female tree spirit or bhummi devi) can be found by the end of the 6th century in Kyzyl as the Buddha is passing into nirvana. Her bust emerges from a flowering Sal tree, casting a shower of petals on the body of the Buddha.

Gandharvas and Apsaras
The Gandharvas are music-playing genii (devas) ruled by Dhrtarastra, the Great King of the Eastern Sky. The flying Apsaras are celestial figures forming one of the eight categories of supernatural beings in Buddhist cosmology developed in its iconography. The most famous is perhaps Pancaskikha, the harp playing companion and charioteer for Sakra (Indra).

Variations of these graceful figures filled the transcendent scenes of the Buddhist legends with increasing frequency. But they already seem to have served in the early Buddhist sects to express the superhuman destiny of the Buddha. In Bamiyan [former Afghan site of the largest Buddha statues in the world], for example, they contributed to an atmosphere of celestial glory.

Richly adorned and wearing sophisticated princely garments, the Gandharvas have generally been given masculine features, while the Apsaras assumed a feminine appearance despite the indeterminate sex of such supernatural creatures.

"Angelic" figures (in Miran), garland bearers (Yotkan), crown bearers (Fondukistan and Kyzyl), the bearers of baskets filled with flowers (Kumtura), revolving in the air (Kyzyl), or appearing on the balcony of celestial palaces (Shotorak and Kyzyl), this subtle and elegant throng was to provide later Mahayana Buddhism with the heavenly orchestras of its Pure Lands. [And these elements were later incorporated into the religions of the Near East, most notably Christianity.]

Lokapalas ("Four Great Kings")
The "guardians of the four directions" (Lokapalas) appear in the art of Gandhara (ancient northwest India, now Pakistan and Afghanistan) in the course of one of the episodes in the life of the Buddha -- "the offering of the four bowls." The Buddha has his first meal after enlightenment.

Four neutral devas (literally, "shining ones," fairies, elemental, nature spirits) later took on a militant character in Central Asia, around Khotan. Aurel Stein discovered statues of them at the gate of a burial mound reliquary (stupa) in Rawak. They are the "four great kings" of the sky -- Vaisarvana of the North tramples a demon. A prince in armor with pointed ears heralds the celestial kings as depicted in Asian caves (Tun-huang, Turfan, and Bezeklik, etc.)

They seem to be advanced space aliens in helmets, military dress, protected by breast-plates -- Dhrtarastra (East), Virudhaka (south), and Viupaksa (West) bearing swords and spears.

On Earth there are not only fairies but ogres (yakshas) -- "Pan" like nature men, wolf men, abominable snowmen, men of the mountain, intelligent bipedal hominids who at best were only half human. Like the reptilians (nagas, dragons, serpents, vipers, tyrant rulers) they were derived from Vedic mythology. The tree spirits were sometimes celestial, sometimes earthbound nature beings -- bhummi devas -- in early Buddhism.

Trees are life-sustaining along the Himalayan foothills from Afghanistan to India (

The World's "Second Oldest Profession"
The Getty and many other top American museums are part of a long history of illicit art trade. Looted art has been trafficked for as long as art has been in existence, and Frammolino says this is due to the overpowering effects of antiquity. Aprodite is the stone goddess (pictured above), from Felch and Frammolino's new book: Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum [the Getty].

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