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Figure - Shalabhanjika


  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Mathura (made)

  • Date:

    2nd century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mottled red sandstone

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b, case EXP

This double-sided pillar bracket relief was reportedly recovered from a Jain stupa (shrine) site at Mathura. Carved in mottled red sandstone, it represents Vrikshaka, a female nature-spirit guardian (yakshi).
She stands with her right arm raised over her head to hold the branch of a flowering Ashoka tree and is decked with courtly jewellery. Her left hand rests on the richly bejewelled girdle which she wears on her hips. Around her neck she wears two bead-necklaces, each forearm is covered with bracelets and her ears have large jewelled earplugs. The figure is seemingly naked. However, a ridge across the stomach and the sash falling down her left side indicate a skirt of transparent diaphanous fabric, perhaps a fine muslin.
At some point in its post-excavation history this relief was sawn into two. This enabled both faces to be exhibited and it was assigned two museum numbers (IM.72-1927 and IM.73-1927). It was restored as a single object in the 1980s.

Physical description

Part of a curving gateway (torana) bracket decorated with a shalabhanjika or yakshi holding a branch of a tree with long, lanceolate leaves. This is one half of the bracket which has a similar figure on the reverse ( IM.73-1927). It was formerly sliced in two for display purposes, but is now rejoined. The figure is damaged having been cut off at the knees and she has also lost both hands and a portion of her left breast. Her hair is smoothed over her head with a shallow, oval bun at the front. She wears courtly jewellery, including ear-lobe ornaments, two bead necklaces and arm bangles from her wrists almost to her elbows. She also wears a belt round her hips made of over-lapping fish-scale-like segments with an elaborate central clasp. This belt secures a diaphanous skirt (antariya) which has a narrow girdle in front below her waist, which leaves the rest of her lower body nude. There is a looped sash shown behind her on her right and folds of the skirt are visible between her legs. This bracket belonged to a ceremonial gateway (torana) marking an entrance to a shrine, recorded as coming from a Jain stupa at the time of acquisition, but possibly actually from a Budhist site.

Place of Origin

Mathura (made)


2nd century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Mottled red sandstone


Height: 119 cm, Width: 58 cm, Depth: 30 cm, Weight: 290 kg

Object history note

Purchased from Imre Schwaiger in 1927

Historical context note

These tree spirits served as guardians in an architectural setting. They have their origins in the free-standing sculptures of female nature-cult figures (yakshi), of which many of the finest have been recovered in the region of Mathura. These figures, along with their male counterparts, provided the prototypes when anthropomorphic images were demanded to serve the devotional need of India's emerging new religions, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. The religious affiliation of this particular bracket is not clear, but a Buddhist stupa is most probable. Similar figures have been excavated at Kushan-period sites in and around Mathura, such as the Kankali Tila stupa, Songk, and elsewhere.

Descriptive line

Part of a rail pillar, red mottled sandstone, Mathura, northern India, 2nd century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

p.58, Cat.18
L'escultura en el temples indis : l'art de la devoció : exposició organitzada per la Fundació "La Caixa" i el Victoria & Albert Museum, Londres. [Barcelona: Obra social, Fundació "la Caixa", c2007 Number: 9788476649466
p.18, pl.9
Guy, John Indian temple sculpture . London: V&A Publications, 2007
Shermann E. Lee: A Kushan Yakshi Bracket, Artibus Asiae , Vol. XII, 1949, p184
Great Oriental Art Exhibition, Kyoto, Japan, 1977, pl. 5
'a yakshi in the Government Museum, Mathura', Oriental Art, Summer 1979, XXV, 2, p.250

p. 12, fig.2.
Ashmore, Sonia. "Muslin", London, V&A Publishing, 2012.
p. 59
Ayers, J. Oriental Art in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1983, ISBN 0-85667-120-7
pl. 3
Irwin, John C., Indian Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1968
Irwin, John, C., A Brief Guide to Indian Art, H.M.S.O. 1962
fig. 1, pp. 4-5
Irwin, John; Indian Art: Victoria & Albert Museum departmental guide, H.M.S.O. ISBN 0 905209117, 1978
Orientations; vol. 40. no. 4; May 2009; The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum.
John Guy; Adoring the Stupa, Adoring the Buddha: Kushan Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum p. 45

Labels and date

Bracket with Tree Spirits (Yakshi)

Kushan period

In early Indian cults yakshis were female nature spirits.
They were then absorbed into Buddhist and Jain worship
as images of fertility.This bracket is carved on each side
with a figure of a yakshi holding a flowering tree. It formed
part of a gateway marking one of the approaches to a
Buddhist or Jain stupa (relic mound).

Northern India (Mathura, Uttar Pradesh)

Museum nos. IM.72, 73-1927
Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, North India
Kusana dynasty
2nd century A.D.

Yakshi were animistic Nature-spirits belonging to early Indian cults which were absorbed into Buddhist and Jain worship as images of fertility. These two figures formed part of an architectural gateway (torana) which would have marked one of the approaches to a stupa (relic mound).

IM 72 & 73-1927 [1988]

Production Note

Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, northern India





Subjects depicted

Buddhism; Jainism


Sculpture; Jain


South & South East Asia Collection

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