India, 3 unidentified deities

11th-12th century, Northeast India, bodhisattva, brass, private collection, photo by Christie's.

11th-12th century, Northeast India, labelled bodhisattva, brass, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Both Nagarjuna, the Indian teacher, and Nageshvara Raja, a buddha, have a hood of seven (or nine) snakes, but they sit in the vajra position and hold their hands in a symbolic gesture. This deity (with a rather fierce expression) is seated at royal ease and holds the stem of a lotus in his left hand and a lotus flower in the other. He is adorned with a low tiara, large round earrings, a necklace, a sacred thread, a celestial scarf and snakes. This could be a Naga king (nagaraja), of Hindu origin.

11th century, Northeast India, bodhisattva, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, same as before.

11th century, Northeast India, bodhisattva, copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, same as before.

Another deity seated at royal ease, adorned with a low tiara, a sacred thread,  jewellery, a sash decorated with a stippled motif, his eyes and urna inlaid with silver, his lips inlaid with copper, holding the stem of a lotus topped with a manuscript, an attribute normally associated with Manjushri.

11th-c-india-ne-bodhisattva-c-a-83-cm-sil-cop-inlay-stippled-pattern-on-striped-dhotiinlaid-roundels-sash-christies

His short dhoti has the same motif as the sash and it is inlaid with silver and copper. The way he holds his right hand doesn’t correspond to any of the gestures displayed by Manjushri, which leaves some doubt as to his identity.

12th century, Northeast India, bodhisattva, copper alloy with silver inlay, same as before.

12th century, Northeast India, bodhisattva, copper alloy with silver inlay, same as before.

Another way of sitting at royal ease consists in one of the legs being pendant, the other drawn in. The above has his right leg folded with the foot resting on the left thigh.

12th-c-ne-india-bodhisattva-85-cm-brasssil-eyesurna-stupa-in-headdresslotus-christies

His eyes and large rectangular urna are inlaid with silver.

The tall mass of matted hair worn without a crown is a feature normally associated with a form of Avalokiteshvara, who may display the fear-allaying gesture with his right hand and hold the stem of a lotus with the other, but the stupa in his headdress and in the flower next to him point to Maitreya, who, in Northeast India,  may be seated at royal ease, and who may also display the fear-allaying gesture with his right hand. When doing so, his left hand either displays the meditation gesture or holds the stem of a champaka flower, one of his emblems.

2 thoughts on “India, 3 unidentified deities

  1. Yes, the snake heads on the hood of what may be the naga king all seem to be laughing, and as cross as he may look he is very endearing too! Now that the page on hand gestures is published, the next project is a page on implements/attributes that help identify many of these figures.

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