Nicolas Morrissey. Exhibition Review: ‘Cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There can be little question that the emergence and development of tantric or Esoteric Buddhism dramatically transformed the religious and visual landscape of South Asia during the medieval period (7th–12th century). In turn, the myriad innovations in ritual practice and the attendant artistic production during this last epoch of Indian Buddhism figured prominently in shaping the orientation of Buddhism as it was transmitted to the Himalayan regions and beyond. In spite of its inestimable historical importance, however, this period in the history of Buddhist art and religion has until relatively recently remained largely on the periphery of academic inquiry, in part due to the burdensome legacy of the overtly negative—and often invidious—appraisals of it circulated by 19th and early 20th century Western interpreters, many of whom tended to misapprehend this particular aspect of South Asian and Himalayan cultural heritage as an expression of a corrupt or degraded form of Buddhism. In this regard the current exhibition, ‘Cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas’, stands as both a timely intervention and an admirable introduction to the vibrant diversity of the expansive pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities that came to populate the Esoteric Buddhist visual world.