Tibet, various mahasiddhas (12)

16th century, Tibet, Virupa, gilt metal (copper alloy with turquoise inlay and pigment), private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources

Virupa is seated in a relaxed manner, his right hand raised ‘to stop the course of the sun’, the other holding a skull cup before his heart. His celestials scarf and the meditation belt holding his right knee are decorated with a stippled lotus pattern.

15th century, Tibet, Avadhutipa, metal (copper alloy) with painted face and hair, private collection, photo on HAR

This non-buddhist Indian king converted by Damarupa is always part of a set with other characters and deities. He often leans on his left arm while making a symbolic gesture with his right hand. The above leans on his right arm and makes the gesture of debate with the other (unless the photo is the wrong way round, which sometimes happens). He wears a floral tiara, bone jewellery, and a bone cross-belt. Note the way his right leg is placed on the left thigh, in the Nepalese fashion, but instead of being tucked under the right knee, his right foot is at a right angle on the lotus base. His left hand makes the fear-allaying gesture.

Undated, Tibet?, unidentified Indian adept, (gilt metal with stone and pearl inlay, private collection, photo on HAR

This character seated on an antelope skin and holding a skull cup before him appears to have clutched another attribute, now lost, in his right hand (or it may have been a small dog, which would identify him as Kukkuripa).

Tibet, Shakyamuni – unusual works (14)

11th-12th century, Western Tibet, Guge, Shakyamuni, bronze, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institutionin Washington DC (USA).

Everything about this buddha is unusual and indicates that the artist didn’t copy an Indian image even though the influence of the austere Pala-style is noticeable in the facial features and the rigid stance. The buddha’s sanghati is neatly pleated along his left arm before flowing in an exaggerated manner, revealing his left hip and thigh. A round flap on his right shoulder (a view of the back shows that it arises from nowhere) contrasts with the ‘swallow tail’ end of the cloth that traditionally rests on the left one. The way the robe is gathered over and under his ankles is also singular. The hem of his garments, the petals on the lotus base, the large lotus finial on his head are decorated with incisions, a technique often used in Western Tibet at that period. Instead of being cupped in the gesture of meditation, his left hand is held diagonally (and couldn’t have supported an upright vajra that would identify him as Akshobhya).

His incised eyebrows curl up towards the temples, his hairline has no curls, the rest of the hair is arranged in rows of bead-like hair, no chignon.

13th century, Western Tibet, Guge, Shakyamuni, copper alloy with copper and silver inlay, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institutionas before.

This buddha is seated on a double lotus base with plump petals and thick lower beading typical of the period, but with one curly petal at the front (of the lower row) and covered with a silver and copper inlaid cloth.

His nails, the engraved border of his garment, and part of the rice grain motif on the cloth are inlaid with copper, the remaining rice grains are inlaid with silver. The cloth and the upper part of the lotus throne are (most unusually) decorated with an engraved lotus pattern. We will note, also, the visible hem of the layer under the part of the sanghati that covers the left shoulder, and the artistic folds over the shoulder.

Tibet, Blue Achala (3)

15th century, Tibet, Achala, metal (gilt copper alloy with pigment and cold gold), private collection, photo on HAR.

One of the few wrathful entities of the Himalayan pantheon who may have a human appearance, Blue Achala is clad in a tiger skin knotted at the front and adorned with a crown and princely jewellery richly inlaid with small cabochons, a sacred cord, a celestial scarf with ‘raining jewel’ extremities. He brandishes a flaming sword and holds a lasso. We saw one with blue hair and on with a helmet on HAR ,  this one has red hair topped with a half-vajra sceptre. Unlike the White form, who has a gaping mouth, this form always bites his lower lip with is upper fangs.

Swat Valley, various bodhisattvas (7)

5th-6th century, Swat Valley, Post-Gandhara style, Avalokiteshvara, bronze, item IS.9-79 at the V&A Museum in London (UK).

Avalokiteshvara stands with his right hand dismissing fear and the other holding the long stem of an open lotus. He wears a short dhoti and has a celestial scarf folded over his left arm, no crown or jewellery.


6th-7th century, Gandhara, figure (bodhisattva), bronze, item EA2000.23 at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

It is not uncommon for Swat Valley sculptures to depict a bodhisattva seated with his legs locked, his right hand held towards him, the left one holding an attribute. We saw a Maitreya from the Rijks Museum and another on HAR with the same hand position (Avalokiteshvara holds his right hand closer to his head when portrayed in a pensive mood), but there is no water pot to confirm the identity.

Circa 6th century, Swat Valley, Seated Buddha with Attendants, lead plaque, private collection, photo on Sotheby’s

On this rare lead plaque Maitreya, standing on the right of the buddha, holds a small water pot by the neck in his left hand; on the other side, Avalokiteshvara holds the long stem of a lotus in his left hand. They both make the fear-allaying gesture with their right hand. Shakyamuni makes the preaching gesture.

Tibet, Jambhala – various forms (11)

Jambhala is a wealth deity and king of the yakshas. As such, he has a yaksha appearance, with a third eye, and is either peaceful, wrathful, or semi-wrathful.

15th century, Tibet or Nepal?, Black Jambhala, stone, private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources

Ucchusma Jambhala, a wrathful manifestation of Amoghasiddhi, is always depicted standing in the warrior pose (on Ganapati or on a male victim who holds a treasure), naked, ithyphallic, adorned with snakes, holding a jewel-spitting mongoose in his left hand and a skull cup or a pot of gem in the other. He usually has an effigy of a wisdom buddha in his hair, no crown, no jewellery.

17th-18th century, Eastern Tibet, White Jambhala, gilt bronze with coral inlay, at the Victoria & Albert Museumin London (UK).

White Jambhala, seated sideways on a dragon that holds a flaming jewel in one of its front paws and stands over some jewels piled onto the lotus base. This form of Jambhala, an emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, may have the usual mongoose in his left hand, along with a folded banner and a ritual staff, or a club tipped with jewels, as could have been the case here. His right hand holds a coral bead instead of the sword, stick or trident that one would expect.

Undated, Tibet, (Yellow Jambhala), copper (alloy?), at the V&A museum

Yellow Jambhala, identified by the citron in his right hand and the mongoose disgorging jewels onto the base under his left arm, is seated with his right foot placed on a pot of gem attached to the lotus base, a jewelled staff tucked under his right arm.

Pala India, various buddhas (5)

9th century, Northeastern India, Ratnasambhava, bronze, private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 11418, lot 12.

A rare Pala period portable sculpture of Ratnasambhava, identified by the jewel he displays in his right hand. He is dressed in a sanghati that covers both shoulders and sits on a Nalanda-style lotus supported by a four-legged stepped plinth. The flaming disc behind him is decorated with bodhi tree leaves and topped with a parasol, two items associated with the historical buddha. 

12th c., India NE, Amitabha, c.a.+sil.+cop., 10 cm, part of set, tang at back, 07oct19, ImagesoD, lot 908, HK Bonhams

12th century, Northeastern India, Amitabha, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, private collection, photo on Bonhams, Hong Kong

Seated with his legs locked and his hands in the gesture of meditation, his bowl now lost, Amitabha wears a heavy garment with an embroidered border inlaid with copper (like his lips and nails). 

9th century, Northeastern India, Bihar, Kurkihar, Akshobhya (or Shakyamuni?), bronze with silver and copper inlay, at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA).

We saw a very similar sculpture of Shakyamuni from the Indian Museum in Kolkata, seated on a Nalanda-style lotus atop a stepped lion throne, which on this occasion is covered with a cloth and has another two legs to support the small stepped projection at the front. This one has a small vajra sceptre placed horizontally before him, generally understood to be a reminder of the moment he reached an enlightenment. (In theory, Akshobhya has an upright vajra sceptre in his left hand or at the front of his throne –  not on the lotus base – and his mount is the elephant).


Pala India, Tara (3)

12th c., India, Vajratara, c.a.+sil.+cop., 12 cm, Tenzing Asian Art

12th century, India, Vajratara, copper alloy and silver inlay, private collection, photo on Tenzing Asian Art

This rare form of Tara has three eyes and 4 or 8 arms. With the eight-arm form, the lower right hand is in the gesture of generosity and holds a conch shell; the remaining right hands hold an arrow, a noose, a vajra sceptre. One of her left hands makes a threatening gesture and holds another arrow, the remaining hands hold a lotus, a bow, a hook (elephant goad). 

8th-9th c., India NE, Tara, c.a., 19,4 cm, Nalanda, utpala, flaming aureole, 07oct19, ImagesoD lot 918, HK Bonhams

8th-9th century, Northeastern India, Nalanda, Tara (labelled ‘Syamatara’, copper alloy, private collection, photo on Bonhams, Hong Kong

 Tara  stands on a single lotus pedestal with a beaded mandorla punctuated by a few flames, holding the stem of a blue lotus (utpala) in her left hand. 

10th c. cir?, India E., Tara, stone, 18mar09, sale N08525 lot 40, Sotheby's

Pala period, Eastern India, Tara, stone, private collection, photo on Sotheby’s

Green Tara is always seated with a leg pendent. She holds the stem of a blue lotus in her left hand and often makes the gesture of supreme generosity with the other.

10th-11th c., India NE, Tara, brass+sil.+cop., 10,1 cm, 23sep20, Indian, Him. lot 606, Bonhams

10th-11th century, Northeastern India, White Tara, brass with copper and silver inlay, private collection, photo on Bonhams

When seated, White Tara always has her legs in the vajra position and often has seven eyes: a third eye on her forehead, two on the palm of her hands and two on the sole of her feet, although in this case she has a rectangular urna on her forehead and roundels on her hands and feet, all made of silver, like parts of her jewellery, belt, dhoti, and even the lotus pendant at the end of her belt. Her lips, other dots on her garment, her medium-size necklace, and one of her armbands are inlaid with copper (the other has a different shape altogether, which is unusual).

Pala India, Avalokiteshvara – various forms (7)

8th-9th c., India NE, Avalokiteshvara, bronze, 21,5 cm, Nalanda, lab. Padmapani, 9439:A24294 Indian M. in Kolkata

8th-9th century, Northeastern India, Padmapani (Avalokiteshvara), bronze, item 9439/A24294 at the Indian Museum in Kolkata (India).

Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, stands on a double-lotus pedestal, surrounded by an arch with lotus flowers and buds, a large lotus flower above his head, holding the long stem of a lotus and making the gesture of generosity with his right hand.

10th c., India NE, Avalokitesvhara, black chlorite, 8 cm, Nalanda, lab. Padmapani, 1977.59 Cleveland MoA

10th century, Northeastern India, Nalanda, Padmapani (Avalokiteshvara), black chlorite, item 1977.59 at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA).

Seated with a leg pendent, the foot resting on a large lotus flower stemming from the murky waters below his  throne, he  holds a clump of open lotuses in his left hand and displays the gesture of supreme generosity with the other, revealing a lotus embossed in the palm of his hand.

11th-12th c., India NE, Avalokiteshvara, stone, 97 cm, phyllite, 5 buddhas, adorant, Hayagriva, 18oct05, sale 2675 lot 38, Amsterdam Christie's

11th-12th century, Northeastern India, Avalokiteshvara-Lokanatha, phyllite stone, private collection, photo on Christie’s, Amsterdam

A similar form of Avalokiteshvara accompanied by the five wisdom buddhas (above his head), a devotee (to his right), a yaksha attendant identified as Hayagriva by the auction house (to his left), two donors among scrolling vines (below his throne).

10th c., India NE, Avalokiteshvara, stone, 46,3 cm, lab. padmapani, Avalokita, 25mar04, 1355 lot 40, Christie's

10th century, Northeastern India, Avalokiteshvara (labelled ‘Padmapani’), stone, private collection, photo on Christie’s

An unusual sculpture of him with four arms, holding a rosary, the stem of a lotus, and what looks like a Gandhara-style vajra sceptre but may be a sheathed lasso, possibly a variant of Avalokita. There is an effigy of Amitabha in his headdress.

12th c., India E., Avalokiteshvara, c.a.+sil. eyes, 9,4 cm, Khasarpana L. dharmacakra, 26may 21, a celebration of enlightenment lot 113, HK Sotheby's

12th century, Eastern India, Avalokiteshvara, copper alloy with silver-inlaid eyes, private collection, photo on Sotheby’sIn one of his Khasarpana Lokeshvara variants, Avalokiteshvara may be seated with a leg pendent, flanked by lotuses, his hands making the  ‘turning the wheel of dharma‘ gesture (especially in Tibet). He has no antelope skin over his left shoulder but the above has a large round ornament with a silver-inlaid centre, possibly a stylised open lotus flower. His eyes, urna, and the centre of the flowers on his armbands are also inlaid with silver.

Pala India, Achala (2)

11th c., India N., Achala, metal(+cold g.+pig.), flowing noose, blue form, dated 12th on har35969, 20398 HAR

11th century (dated 12th century on HAR ), Northern India, Achala, metal (gilt copper alloy with blue pigment and traces of cold gold), private collection, photo on HAR

A rare Pala period sculpture of Blue Achala, whose upper fangs always bite down his lower lip, crushing Ganapati atop a double-lotus pedestal. He wields a sword and holds a noose with one end flowing above his left shoulder. His tight-fitting dhoti is made from the skin of a tiger, the head of the animal seemingly devouring his right knee. He is adorned with snakes, bone jewellery, and a low tiara that partially masks a small effigy of buddha Akshobhya placed against his mitre-like hair (dyed with blue mineral pigment although most other wrathful entities always have red hair – his may be red, blue or even black).

12th c., India N.(E), Achala, metal, blue, 11482 HAR

12th century, Northern India, Achala, metal (brass), private collection, photo on HAR

Another rare Indian sculpture of Blue Achala, with his right leg bent and his left knee on the base, in which case he never has a victim under him. This time he wears a lower garment with a stippled round pattern corresponding to a leopard skin, more commonly worn by wrathful female entities. 

Tibet, Vajradhara (9)

15th-16th c., Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt bronze+turq.+pig., 39 cm, Hb10 maotorino.it

15th-16th century, Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt bronze with turquoise inlay and pigments, item Hb10 at the Museo d’Arte Orientale in Turin (Italy).

The position of his hands, crossed over his heart, identify this male figure as buddha Vajradhara.

15th-16th c., Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt bronze+stones, 19 cm, vajra finial, vajra+ghanta on lotus, floral+cloud motif dhoti, 22mar11, sale 2425 lot 313, Christie's

15th-16th century, Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt bronze with stone inlay, private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 2425, lot 313.

When his hands are empty, he is flanked by lotuses that support a vajra sceptre to his right and a vajra bell to his left. In this case the former is placed horizontally while the latter is upright.

16th c., Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt c.a.+glass+stones, 12 cm, vajra+bell on lotuses, 02jun21, A197AS lot 115, Koller

16th century, Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt copper alloy with stone inlay and glass replacement, private collection, photo on Koller.

On this example the attributes are both upright.

15th-16th c., Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt c.a.+glass+stone, 16 cm, 02jun21, A197AS lot 113, Koller

15th-16th century, Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt copper alloy with stone inlay and glass, private collection, photo on Koller.


17th c., Tibet, Vajradhara, gilt bronze, 23 cm, from Tashi Lhunpo mon., Myriad Forms, Hol. Gal

17th century, Tibet, Tashi Lhunpo monastery, Vajradhara, gilt bronze, private collection, photo on Hollywood Galleries