Theses Doctoral

The Great Life Story of the Body of the Buddha: Re-examination and Re-assessment of the Images and Narratives of the Life of Buddha Shakyamuni

Vendova, Dessislava

This dissertation is a comparative, interdisciplinary, and transregional study of the connections between textual and iconographic representations of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s extended biography, and a re-assessment of its role and significance for the spread of Buddhism from India through Central Asia to China between the third century BCE to around the sixth century CE. My research relies on diverse sources: early Buddhist canonical sources; the earliest textual versions of the Buddha’s life stories in Chinese, Sanskrit, and Pali; art historical and archaeological material remains from early stupa sites and cave temples in India, Central Asia, and China; and also other visual material such as Buddha images, stelae, votive stupas, portable shrines, etc. Utilizing a multidisciplinary approach, I propose a new interpretative framework to re-evaluate the connections between the Buddha’s life stories and his body. In this dissertation, I suggest a new approach to “reading” the Buddha’s extended biography, which I posit is not merely a story of his life, but essentially is a story of his body. With that thesis in mind, I also shed new light on the role and function of the Buddha’s biography in the production and use of images, proposing a new hypothesis to re-examine the design and construction of early stupa sites and cave temples. This study suggests a common iconographical programme that lasted for several centuries and demonstrates how this programme connects to the story of the Buddha and his body.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2026-02-05.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Faure, Bernard R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 22, 2021