Shalabhanjika thumbnail 1
Shalabhanjika thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b

Shalabhanjika

Figure
2nd century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

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.

Object details

Categories
Object type
Titles
  • Shalabhanjika (generic title)
  • Yakshi (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Mottled red sandstone
Brief description
Part of a rail pillar, red mottled sandstone, Mathura, northern India, 2nd century
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.
Dimensions
  • Height: 52.5cm (Note: IM.72-1927 forms part of one object with IM.73-1927. The measurements apply equally to both objects.)
  • Maximum from point furthest left to point furthest right width: 24cm (Note: IM.72-1927 forms part of one object with IM.73-1927. The measurements apply equally to both objects.)
  • Depth: 18.5cm (Note: IM.72-1927 forms part of one object with IM.73-1927. The measurements apply equally to both objects.)
Style
Gallery label
  • Bracket with Tree Spirits (Yakshi) 100–200 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). Sandstone Northern India (Mathura, Uttar Pradesh) Museum nos. IM.72, 73-1927 (06/06/2011)
  • TREE SPIRITS (YAKSHI) Sandstone 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)
Object history
Purchased from Imre Schwaiger in 1927
Historical context
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.
Production
Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, northern India
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Associated object
IM.73-1927 (Ensemble)
Bibliographic references
  • 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.58, Cat.18
  • Guy, John Indian temple sculpture . London: V&A Publications, 2007 p.18, pl.9
  • 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
  • Ashmore, Sonia. "Muslin", London, V&A Publishing, 2012. p. 12, fig.2.
  • Ayers, J. Oriental Art in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1983, ISBN 0-85667-120-7 p. 59
  • Irwin, John C., Indian Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1968 pl. 3
  • Irwin, John, C., A Brief Guide to Indian Art, H.M.S.O. 1962
  • Irwin, John; Indian Art: Victoria & Albert Museum departmental guide, H.M.S.O. ISBN 0 905209117, 1978 fig. 1, pp. 4-5
  • 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
Collection
Accession number
IM.72-1927

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Record createdFebruary 13, 2000
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