Women as Donors of Inscribed Buddhist Sculptures in Early Medieval Bihar and Bengal

Birendra Nath Prasad


Through an analysis of dedicatory inscriptions on Buddhist sculptures donated by women in early medieval Bihar and Bengal, this paper explores the nature of female patronage of Buddhist religious centres in this area. It argues that there were important regional differences in the sculptures donated by women. Buddhist religious centres of Magadha were very enthusiastic in attracting and retaining patronage from such donors. Similar patterns prevailed in the Kiul-Lakhisarai area of Aṅga.

Women from diverse social backgrounds donated sculptures to Buddhist religious centres in both areas as objects of worship, which may be one of the reasons for the survival of the Bhikṣuṇī saṅgha in the Kiul-Lakhisarai area as late as the late 12th century AD. East of the Kiul-Lakhisarai area in general, and Bengal in particular, Buddhist religious centres seem to have been reluctant to enter into
ritual engagements with their non-monastic non-aristocratic women devotees. This had a significant bearing on the social history of Buddhism in that area.

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