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Sculpture - Bodhisattva Vajrapani

Bodhisattva Vajrapani

  • Object:

    Sculpture

  • Place of origin:

    Bihar (made)

  • Date:

    early 10th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved black basalt

  • Museum number:

    IM.2-1932

  • Gallery location:

    South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b, case 1

This sculpture shows the Bodhisattva Vajrapani seated in the royal-ease (‘ajalilasana) posture on a lion-supported throne. (A bodhisattva is the name given to one on the path to becoming a buddha.). The handsome figure - beautifully poised, relaxed and dignified - is a classic expression of this royal posture.

He wears princely ornaments appropriate to a bodhisattva, including a four-tiered crown surmounted by a half vajra (thunderbolt), large ear ornaments, a torque and elaborate upper arm-bands. His right hand holds a vajra, the major symbol of his identity, to his chest. A further symbol, the blue lotus, blooms at his left shoulder.

The throne-back is adorned with rearing lions and fantastic makara heads, while female celestial beings (kinnari) appear above. Behind Vajrapani’s head is an oval aureole surmounted by an umbrella of honour. A devanagari script inscription in the nimbus cites Buddhist creeds. This is undated, but a companion panel of the Goddess Tara in the Indian Museum, Calcutta, has a dedicatory inscription dated to the first year of the rule of Gopaladeva II (equivalent to 910 CE).

Vajrapani, or at least his use of the thunderbolt sceptre symbol (vajra), is generally seen as having evolved from Indra, the ancient Vedic storm god. The vajra was therefore associated with a lightning strike. It was seen as a divine weapon and was used in Hindu tantrism where it was associated specifically with driving away evil forces and with vigour and the linga (the phallic symbol of the god Shiva). In Buddhist Vajrayana rites it was also seen as the indestructible element. This ancient symbol also found expression in the trisula, Shiva’s trident, to which it is related.

Physical description

Bodhisattva Vajrapani is carved in high relief, seated relaxed in the "royal ease" rajalila posture on a rectangular lion-supported throne. He is clad in Bodhisattva ornaments and wears on his head a four-tiered crown surmounted by a half vajra. His right hand holds before the breast a vertical vajra, whilst the left hand rests over the left thigh making the chin mudra with the thumb and index finger. His symbol, the blue lotus, blooms at his left shoulder. The throne has a square back flanked with rearing lions and makara heads, whist celestial beings float above it. Behind the head is an oval aureole surmounted by an umbrella of honour. At the edge of the rounded top of the stella and on the umbrella is incised the Buddha creed, in tenth-century Devanagari characters. The inscription is incomplete, missing part at the top right.

A companion panel of the Goddess Tara in the Indian Museum, Calcutta has a dedicatory inscription dated to the year 910A.D.
"The first year of the rule of Gopaladeva II"

The Bodhisatva Vajrapani is carved in high relief, seated in the maharajalilasana (royal ease posture) on a cushion placed on a lion-throne (simhasana) on the back rest of which a leogryph is shown on each side with a makara-head on top, and above the makara-heads a kinnara (half human and half bird) pair is shown playing a drum and cymbals. Bodhisatva's left leg hangs down from the throne and rests on a small lotus. He wears various ornaments, a sacred thread (upavita) with pearls and a four-tiered crown (karanda-mukuta) surmounted by a half vajra. His right hand holds a vericalvajra in front of his chest, whilst the left hand holds the stalk of a blue lotus, his particular flower Behind his head there is an inscribed oval aureole (sirascakra) surmounted by an umbrella of honour.
At the ege of the rounded top of the stela and on the umbrella, the dharma-paryaya or the so-called Buddhist creed is engraved in siddhamratrka script. Below in the cavity of the pedestal at the proper right, close to the lion, a caitya-window symbol is given which may indicate that the sculpture originated in Kurkihar, Gaya district., Bihar.

Place of Origin

Bihar (made)

Date

early 10th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved black basalt

Marks and inscriptions

Ye dharma hetu prabhava he [tum tesham tathagata]sya vada ttesham cha yo nirodha evam va di mahashramana.
The Buddhist creed. Read by Dr Sayantani Pal, University of Calcutta (having been noted below by Dr Bhattacharya). The inscription is incomplete because it is missing at the top right. It starts at the top left and then finishes on the aureole.
"Description: Bodhisatva Vajrapani is carved in high relief, seated in the maharajalilasana (royal ease posture) on a cushion placed on a lion-throne (simhasana) on the back rest of which a leogryph is shown on each side with a makara-head on top, and above the makara-heads a kinnara (half human and half bird) pair is shown playing a drum and cymbals. Bodhisatva's left leg hangs down from the throne and rests on a small lotus. He wears various ornaments, a sacred thread (upavita) with pearls and a four-tiered crown (karanda-mukuta) surmounted by a half vajra. His right hand holds a vericalvajra in front of his chest, whilst the left hand holds the stalk of a blue lotus, his particular flower Behind his head there is an oval aureole (sirascakra) surmounted by an umbrella of honour.
At the ege of the rounded top of the stela and on the umbrella, the dharma-paryaya or the so-called Buddhist creed is engraved in siddhamratrka script. Below in the cavity of the pedestal at the proper right, close to the lion, a caitya-window symbol is given which may indicate that the sculpture originated in Kurkihar, Gaya district., Bihar.
[Textual reference is wrong. Fig 18 of Stella Kramrisch in Rupam, Oct. 1929 , is not Tara, but the Hindu goddess Vagisvari; see Joachim Bautze, Vagisvari, in Taddei & G. De Marco (eds.) South Asian Archaeology,1997, Rome, 2000, pp. 1229-1248.]
Stylistically this image of Vajrapani may be compared with the seated stone figure of Avalokiteshwara from Magadha (South Bihar) (IC 35608). See Claudine Bautze-Picton, The Art of Eastern India, Berlin 1998, p.33, no.49." Gauriswar Bhattacharya., 13 July 2006.

Dimensions

Height: 35 cm, Width: 8 in, Thickness: 3.75 in maximum, Weight: 10 kg, Width: 19 cm, :, Depth: 9.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased Spinks £60

Descriptive line

Bodhisattva Vajrapani, Pala, Stone, Bihar, Eastern India, 10th century.

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

See Rupam, October 1929 "Pala and Sena Sculpture" by Stella Kramrisch, figure 18.
Guy, John (ed.), L'Escultura en los Templos Indios: L’Art de la Devoción, : Fundacio La Caixa, Barcelona, 2007. p.140 cat. 100.
ISBN 9788476649466

Production Note

Nalanda, Bihar, Eastern India

Materials

Basalt

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Buddhism

Categories

Sculpture; Buddhism

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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