Yakṣas: Essays in the Water Cosmology

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Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1993 - Literary Criticism - 339 pages
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Yaksas is the sixth in the series of the Collected Works of A. K. Coomaraswamy in the IGNCA's publication programme. Yaksas was originally published by the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in two parts (1928 and 1931). Subsequently, Ananda Coomaraswamy rethought his topic and collected a great deal of iconographic and literary material that permitted him to reconstitute a pre-Vedic cosmology with which the Yaksas, a whole series of pre-and non-Vedic divinities, were intimately associated. In part 1, Coomaraswamy examined the origin of Yaksas in the context of Vedic, Brahmanical and Upanisadic literature, as also theories held by writers such as Fergusson and Dr. Vogel. He attempted to bring together, from literary and archaeological sources, material sufficient to present a clear picture of an even more important phase of non- and pre-Aryan preoccupation with the concept of the Yaksas and Yaksis. Coomaraswamy's thorough revisions of the early chapters of part 1 are incorporated in this edition. Coomaraswamy dealt with the interpretative levels of the artistic motif in part 2. He delved deeper to unfold the water cosmology underlying what may appear on surface as either a minor deity or tutelary God, or only an ornamental motif. He revealed that the Yaksas do not as much control the waters as mere waters but are the essence in the waters which is one with the serpent, tree or amrita or elixir of the Devas. Coomaraswamy did not restrict himself to the Indian literature on water cosmology but drew attention to many ancient cultures, e.g. those of Egypt and Iran. Through the examination of sources of water cosmology and the motifs of the Yaksas, he examined that other motif ofIndian art, namely, the Mithuna. He showed the connection between water cosmology, Yaksas, and the idea of the productive pair Mithuna to not only Varuna but also to the other motifs known to both Indian and European traditions, such as the motif of the Holy Grail and the Tree of Life. The previously unpublished part 3 completes Coomaraswamy's treatment of the Yaksas theme. The publication of this seminal critical text, with the addition of new materials previously unpublished and obtained from manuscript sources housed in the Princeton University Library, will facilitate further research and interpretation.

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User Review  - pbjwelch - LibraryThing

A classic text on yaksas, fertility goddesses, vegetation spirits, makara, lotus and other elements of Hindu (and Buddhist) iconography written by one of the greatest of Indian art historians (1877 ... Read full review


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A. K. Coomaraswamy was one of the world's greatest art historians and scholars of traditional iconography and is the author of numerous works, including Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art and The Door in the Sky.

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