lower orders of the people including the pre-
by some scholars as cult objects. They have explained some words in the Rig
Veda as deprecatory of this pre-Aryan mode of worship. But while the Vedic
teachers might condemn the religious practices of the earlier inhabitants, their
own sacrifice-ridden religion came to be gradually modified through its long
contact with the indigenous cult. With the rise of theistic cults, a deep
mystical feeling of single-minded devotion to a personal deity came into
existence. The deities emerged not from the Vedic pantheon but from the folk
divinities described in Buddhist and Jaina texts as Vyantara-devatas, from
mythical ones like Shiva and Shakti and from apotheosized heroes like
Vasudeva Krishna, Buddha and Mahavira. The worshippers of Yakshas and
Nagas appear to have been the most primitive group and ironically it was
primarily their example that was followed by the members of the other sects.
Transition from Aniconic to Iconographic Tradition The fact that
Buddha was not represented in human form in the early stages of his
deification underlines the aniconic tradition followed by the earlier sculptors
of India. Various symbols of Buddhism were employed on the early Buddhist
art forms to represent Buddha. The architectural remains of Bharhut, Sanchi
and early Amaravati bear witness to this. But the exact time when the first
regular icons of the Buddha appeared as also the place of their origin are still
debated. Some scholars opine that the Indo-Greek artists of Gandhara were
the earliest iconographers, but others give the credit to the indigenous
sculptors of Mathura. However, it is more likely that the earliest images of
Buddha came to be made almost simultaneously by both the Gandhara and
Mathura schools, for the sculptural and iconographic traits of their respective
creations differ in basic details. Stone images of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas
have come from Gandhara, while such images as well as other sculptures
connected with the Brahmanical and Jain creeds have been found at Mathura.
Both these groups can be collectively assigned to the first two or three
centuries of the Christian era.
Epigraphic references to images and temples The followers of the
theistic cults wanted the images of the various deities and their accessories
for ritual use, and the icons had to be enshrined in temples (the deva-grihas
or prasadas) for regular worship. An inscription of the 1st century BC found at
Besnagar refers to the ‘excellent palace of the god Vasudeva’, which makes it