Ritual Meaning of “Water and Land”: A Study of Buddhist Ceremonial Paintings of the Song and Yuan Dynasties

Maudsley, Catherine Ruth
Supervisor: Prof. Q.L. Wan

The Water and Land Rite for souls of the dead is preeminent among Buddhist rituals, and it is richly documented in Song and Yuan dynasties’ literary and pictorial materials. This rite’s extensive pantheon and its purpose can only be understood, however, by examining both texts and images. Used in conjunction, ritual texts and images transform temple space into consecrated areas.

Wall and scroll paintings introduce the god’s presence into the ceremonial venue. This study, then, considers the liturgical texts, wall and scroll paintings, including those with a religious subject matter and those which were commissioned as acts of piety, and ritual paraphernalia, either of or connected with the Water and Land Rite.

Chapter 33 of the Song dynasty encyclopedia of Buddhism, Fozu tongji concerns festivals, rites and their arts. Its author, the monk Zhipan, also wrote a liturgical text for the Water and Land Rite, and his texts are the principal literary documents used in this study.

Shanxi province wall paintings, both in situ and in museum collections, document a wide range of ceremonial arts. Paintings from Guangsheng Si, Mingyingwang Dian, Xinghua Si and Yongle Gong show conversion rites, supplication and worship of the gods, for example. A Yuan dynasty Water and Land wall painting from Pilu Si, Hebei province depicts that rite.

Sets of ceremonial scroll paintings may range from a triptych to the over one-hundred Water and Land scrolls preserved in Baoning Si, Shanxi. Religious scroll paintings from the Ningpo region of Zhejiang province supply exensive pictorial documentation of cult practices in the Song and Yuan dynasties, particularly the cult of lohans, the Six Ways of Rebirth and the Ten Kings of Hell.

The significance of Buddhist cults and their ritual meanings is ascertained with the use of procedures from the History of Art and History of Religions disciplines.