Vajrapurusha

We saw some Nepalese sculptures of peaceful Vajrapani gently patting on the head an infant-looking creature who has the tip of a vajra finial on his head and stands with his arms crossed over his chest. Described as [the embodiment of] a vajra sceptre by the Cleveland museum and labelled Vajra Anucha at LACMA and in the Huntington archive, he is mentioned in a 9th century Nepalese text as emerging from the soles of Vajrapani’s feet, in a circle of flames and with a wrathful appearance, to stand by him and assist him in his mission to convert non-believers to the Buddhist faith.

Circa 1000 AD, Nepal, Personified Thunderbolt (Vajra Purusha), copper alloy with traces of paint, at the Los Angeles County Museum (USA)

Stone sculptures of a similar character, known as Vajrapurusha/Vajra Purusha in the Hindu religion, were found in early Buddhist and Hindu shrines in India. He was revered as an independent entity in Nepal during the Licchavi and the Transitional Period (5th-12th century). The above example has three vajra prongs emerging from his round cap and wears a tiger skin loincloth held in place with a knotted cobra snake. He is adorned with snakes, a sash and what looks like a wing-like scarf (unfortunately there is no explanation about that at LACMA).

10th century, Nepal, Vajrapurusha, stone, was sadly stolen from the Tah-Bahal in Patan (Nepal), photo by Lain S. Bangdel on Stolen Images of Nepal

On this image he has a celestial scarf floating behind his shoulders and part of his head.

10th century, Nepal, Vajrapurusha, gilt copper alloy, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena (USA).

Here the scarf forms an omega-shaped nimbus, and there is a flaming halo fastened to his shoulders. No doubt this unusual accessory is linked to Indra’s nature (Lord of the highest heavenly realm in Buddhism) and maybe to his other attribute, the rainbow.

14th century, Tibet or Nepal, Anthropomorphized Vajra, private collection, photo on Christie’s.

This extremely rare sculpture depicts a vajra with three heads, six hands, two legs. Clad in a tiger skin loin cloth and adorned with a garland of skulls, he holds an axe and a lasso in the lower ones, a dagger and possibly a lasso (now missing) in the middle ones, a triple gem (triratna) and a lasso in the upper ones (see close up on above link). The heads are crowned with a row of skulls topped with a half vajra finial and he appears to be chewing a snake or a corpse.

5th-7th century, Gandhara, Sahri Bahlol, Chakrapurusha (personification of Vishnu’s discus), bronze, at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada).

Although not related to Buddhism, this sculpture of Chakrapurusha is interesting because it is reminiscent of the friendly yaksha appearance so popular in Tibetan art, and because the solar disc behind him is a recurrent feature in Gandharan sculptures of buddhas and bodhisattvas.

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Vajrapani

Undated, Swat Valley, Vajrapani, stone, found at Nimogram, now at the Swat Museum in Saidu Sharif, photo and article by Llewelyn Morgan .

An athletic Gandharan Vajrapani wearing nothing but a loincloth and holding a large vajra sceptre upright in his left hand.

‘Bearded Vajrapani holding a thunderbolt in his left hand, 2nd-3rd century A.D.’, at the Peshawar Museum, photo same as before.

Quite a different style for this bust of the deity, dressed in a pleated garment that covers both shoulders and coiffed with what the author describes as Indra’s round cap, thus linking the Vedic god of lightening, thunder and storm to the buddhist thunderbolt (vajra) holder.

6th century, India, Gupta period, Vajrapani, bronze (copper alloy, with silver-inlaid eyes), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (USA).

Vajrapani with a princely appearance, adorned with crown and jewellery, seated on a brocaded cushion, his legs not quite locked, his attribute held horizontally in the left hand, the forefinger of his right hand raised in what is normally understood as a threatening gesture although his face is not particularly wrathful.

early 10th century, India, Bihar, Vajrapani, black basalt, at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (UK).

On this Pala image he holds his attribute upright before his heart, and has the stem of a blue lotus in his left hand.

Undated, Tibet, Vajrapani, (copper alloy with cold gold), at the Tibet House Museum in New Delhi, photo on HAR

A standing figure with the stem of a blue lotus in his left hand and a vajra sceptre in the other, held down at knee level, his slender body adorned with princely accessories including an Indian-style festooned belt. The way his beaded jewellery is incised rather than modelled, and the circular motif on his chignon and his crown suggest a Western Tibetan origin (and a circa 13th century dating?).

18th century, Nepal, Vajrapani, gilt bronze with traces of pigment, at the Norton Simon Museum  in Pasadena (USA). 

This vajrapani (vajra bearer) is in fact Indra, seated in the royal ease position on a lotus supported by two lions, leaning on his left hand, flanked by lotuses each supporting a vajra sceptre, his right hand doing the fear-allaying gesture, the mitre-like hat he usually wears (in Nepal) decorated with a visvajra at the front.

8th century, Kashmir, Vajrapani, brass with silver inlay and pigment, at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA).

A very interesting wrathful Vajrapani with a yaksha appearance, seated on a cushion atop a rocky formation with lions at the front, a leg pendant, adorned with knotted cobra snakes including one tying his flaming hair (dyed with powdered cinnabar), his faces and neck painted with cold gold, the eyes and teeth inlaid with silver. Apart from a very large vajra sceptre leaning against his left arm, he holds a club in his right hand – linking him with Hercules, a recurrent figure in the Greco-buddhist art of Gandhara.

18th century, Mongolia, Vajrapani, gilt bronze (copper alloy) with traces of polychromy, photo on gg-art

Wratfhul Vajrapani standing, wielding his attribute in his right hand and doing a threatening gesture with the other with the forefinger raised, a lasso wound around it, a form known as chanda/canda Vajrapani.

The yaksha appearance

8th century, Nepal, Yakshas, stone, private collection, photo  on issuu.

In Himalayan art, many wrathful entities and some semi-peaceful or peaceful ones have a yaksha appearance. Originally nature spirits, yakshas are naked pot-bellied dwarfish creatures with bulging eyes.

Undated, Nepal, stone, Yaksha, at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (UK).

They may have a beard.

10th century, Nepal, dwarf attendant, wood with traces of paint, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA).

On early Buddhist sculptures from India and Nepal they may appear as attendants, usually standing with one arm towards the deity they accompany.

9th century, Jammu and Kashmir, yaksha and two lions, stone, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (USA).

In Kashmir and Tibet they may support Shakyamuni’s throne with their arms, along with snow lions and sometimes viyalas. They may sit in the vajra position or crouch.

15th century, Tibet, Vaishravana, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo on Nagel

Yakshas may wear a Mongolian armour or kingly attire. Vaishravana, guardian of the north on a mandala and worldly protector, is the king of the yakshas. The twelve heavenly generals who guard the medicine buddha Bhaisajyaguru are alsoyakshas. They wear kingly attire and all have a mongoose under their left arm and an implement in the other.

18th century, Tibeto-Chinese, Kubera, gilt bronze, private collection, photo on Nagel

Vaishravana’s retinue includes eight horsemen with a Yaksha appearance, dressed in Mongolian armour and boots, each with a mongoose under his left arm and an object in the other. Two of them have a sword: Kubera, who normally wears a makara helmet, and Bijakundalin, who turns his back to the viewer on paintings.

13th-14th century, Nepal, Jambhala, gilt copper with pigments, photo on Swoonart

Presumably a variant of Yellow Jambhala, who may hold a gem-shaped fruit, this peaceful character with  a  yaksha appearance holds a  pot of gems in his left hand instead of the preceptive mongoose. Like Black Jambhala, his eyes point in opposite directions. His long matted hair recalls a yaksha from one of the Ajanta caves in India (see below).

Yaksha pouring coins, Ajanta Cave 26, published in The Buddhist Caves at Aurangabad by Pía Brancaccio, fig. 115, reproduced on Brancaccio

17th-18th century, Nepal, identity uncertain, (labelled Mahakala), terracotta, private collection, photo by Marie-Catherine Daffos for aaoarts

Wrathful deities with a yaksha appearance have a ferocious look with bared fangs a furled tongue, a third eye, flaming hair standing on their head and they often hold wrathful implements. The above has his right foot on a skull cup, he holds a sword, a vajra sceptre and a lasso in his right hands, a vajra bell in his lower left hand, the other arms are missing.

The contents of consecrated statues

15th century, Tibet, Shakyamuni, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Most metal sculptures made in Tibet and other parts of the Himalayan region are hollow cast.

All sorts of things were placed inside hollow-cast statues before sealing the cavity with a pure copper plate set into the rim of the base.

We often hear of small paintings or texts on rolls of cotton but a study carried out by the Los Angeles County Museum on 171 statues made in Tibet, Kashmir and the Swat Valley revealed that many more things may appear when the base plate of a consecrated statue is removed. It also showed that some statues had been opened and their contents changed, then the statue resealed and newly consecrated, and that some statues without a lotus base or with solid legs had small objects inserted through an opening at the back. Among the list of things found were:

pieces of silk, wads of paper, cotton cloth, painted wood, ivory or shell; pieces of bone tied with a string; charcoal, stones, sawdust, juniper leaves, twigs, chunks of wood; seeds, cloves, kernels, walnuts, grain; coral beads, a metal statue of Vairochana with four faces, itself hollow cast; clay stupas and tsa tsas; cremation ashes, human teeth and hair; a shrog shin (life-stick or soul-pole).

18th century, Tibet, Padmasambhava, parcel gilt silver repoussé, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

According to Bonhams the contents of this sculpture, opened then resealed in 1988, included a silver prayer wheel, an iron ritual dagger, a silver amulet box, multiple inscribed and illustrated prayer scrolls, votive clay plaques, rosary beads and counters, cloth fragments and pouches, teeth and human hair.

 

Figures with mongoose

JAMBHALA

The god of wealth and king of the yakshas has a peaceful and several wrathful forms.

14th century, Nepal, Yellow Jambhala (labelled Kubera), brass, private collection, photo by Galerie Petillon.

Yellow Jambhala has a peaceful appearance and always holds a jewel-spitting mongoose in his left hand and a lemon in the other.

Figures with mongoose

18th century, Tibet (or China?), Black Jambhala, gilt bronze with stone inlay, private collection, photo by Lempertz  

Black Jambhala has a wrathful appearance and holds a skull cup in his right hand and a mongoose disgorging a jewel in the other. The above has a Mongolian or Chinese hairstyle, with the flaming hair slanting to his left side.

18th century, Tibet, White Jambhala (labelled Vaishravana), gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Cambiaste.

Himalayan sculptures of White Jambhala are often late Chinese-style works on which the mongoose is not depicted. He has a wrathful appearance and may ride a dragon, a lion or a mongoose. He holds a sword or a stick in his right hand and may have a ritual staff and/or a banner propped against his left arm. The above (published in a previous post) is seated on a lion and holds a lemon and a mongoose.

When depicted with his consort, Red Jambhala has one head and four hands, he holds a wheel in each right hand and a mongoose in each left hand.

VAISHRAVANA AND RETINUE

Undated, (Tibet?), gilt metal, Vaishravana, private collection, published on Himalayan Art resources.

Worldly protector Vaishravana, guardian of the north on a mandala, (nearly) always wears a Mongolian armour and holds a closed parasol or victory banner in his right hand and a mongoose in the other. He usually sits on a snow lion.

15th century, Himalayan Region, Vaishravana, metal, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

On this rare example he doesn’t wear an armour and looks more like yellow Jambhala but the object in his right hand isn’t a lemon (it looks like the handle of a parasol or banner) and he sits on a snow lion (although we did see one rare case of Yellow Jambhala seated on a lion, he had a lemon in his left hand). His mongoose is vomiting extraordinarily large jewels.

Undated, Tibet, Vaishravana retinue figure, stone, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA)

Vaishravana has a retinue of eight horsemen (often labelled ‘Vaishravana’) who hold a mongoose in one hand and an attribute in the other (the Himalayan Art Resources website give a list and description of each). The above has a triratna in his right hand.

KUBERA

Circa 11th century, Nepal, Kubera, gilt copper, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Hardly present in Himalayan Buddhist sculptures, in the Hindu religion Kubera/Kuber/Kuvera is the king of the yakshas and the Lord of Wealth (Jambhala in the Himalayas), and a lokapala (Vaishravana in Buddhist art).  Like the yakshas, he is naked and has a dwarfish appearance. He may hold various attributes in his right hand, a sheaf of wheat and sometimes a mongoose in the left one.

YAKSHA GENERALS

Despite their name, the twelve Yaksha general who are part of the medicine buddha retinue don’t wear an armour. They have a regal appearance, coiffed with a foliate crown with bows and ribbons, adorned with jewellery and a shawl or scarf, wearing a long lower garment loosely wrapping their legs and showing their bare feet. All of them hold in their left hand a mongoose disgorging jewels.

18th century, Tibet or Sino-Tibetan, Yaksha general (labelled Jambhala), gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Lempertz.

Five of them hold a stick. This may be the one with the dark blue skin.

18th-19th century, Tibet, Yaksha general (labelled Jambhala), gilt bronze, private collection, photo by Lempertz.

The only one who holds a lasso has yellow skin.

Undated, Tibet, Yaksha general, gilt bronze, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (USA).

The one who holds a vajra sceptre is among four who have a yellow body.

HISTORICAL CHARACTERS

17th century, Tibet, arhat Bakula, gilt bronze (copper alloy), at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

This arhat is identified by the jewel-spitting mongoose he holds in both hands.

OTHERS

13th century, Tibet, Dakini, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

In the Tibetan section of this blog we saw this rare Nepalese-style sculpture of a dakini holding a mongoose by the neck with her left hand.

 

15th century, Tibet, Densatil, Dorje Rabtenman, Freer & Sackler Gallery.

The form of Shri Devi known as Dorje Rabtenma in Tibet also holds a mongoose disgorging jewels.

From India to Tibet via Nepal

9th century, Eastern India, bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, copper, cold gold on face, private collection.

9th century (Pala period), Eastern India, bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, copper, cold gold on face, private collection.

Avalokiteshvara is identified through the effigy of Amitabha in his headdress and the long-stem lotus in his left hand. His ankle-length dhoti is held in place with a belt. He wears a simple necklace, armbands and bracelets and a wide sash across his chest. The crown with very low panels and the tall chignon are typical of Pala India.

11th-12th century (Thakuri period), Nepal, bodhisattva Manjushri, copper alloy with cold gold on the face, published by Carlton Rochelle.

11th-12th century (Transitional period), Nepal, bodhisattva Manjushri, copper alloy with cold gold on the face, published by Carlton Rochell.

Manjushri holds a manuscript in his left hand while making a symbolical gesture with the other. His dress and jewellery are quite similar to the previous statue but the crown made of three tall triangular panels is typical of the Nepalese Transitional period.

13th century circa, Tibet, buddha Amitabha, copper alloy with traces of gilding, published by Rossi & Rossi.

Circa 13th century, Tibet, buddha Amitabha, copper alloy with traces of gilding, published by Rossi & Rossi.

Amitabha would normally have a begging bowl in his cupped hand. The very slender waist,  punched navel and this type of crown are common features of Thakuri/transitional sculptures which originated in Pala India and made their way to Tibet via the artists of Nepal.

Tibet, 13th-14th century “lotus frames”

13th-14th century, Tibet, buddha Akshobya, c.a., private collection.

13th-14th century, Tibet, buddha Akshobhya, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Koller.

13th-14th c., Tibet, buddha Vairocana, copper alloy with copper, silver and stone inlay, pigment, private collection.

13th-14th century, Tibet, Vairocana, copper alloy with copper, silver and stone inlay, pigment, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

14th century, Tibet, buddha Amoghasiddhi, copper alloy with copper inlay, private collection.

14th century, Tibet, buddha Amoghasiddhi, copper alloy with copper inlay, private collection, photo by Mossgreen.

These buddhas are surrounded with long-stemmed lotuses acting as a kind of frame, instead of the usual flowing scarf. Their overall style shows an Indian influence ( posture, body proportions, very tall chignon) but the facial features are typical of Tibet. The same goes for the double lotus base on which they sit, with its fat apple-shaped petals.

This style is quite common among Tibetan sculptures of non-historical buddhas made towards the 13th century and 14th century. The middle picture shows a more elaborate pattern with scrolls which developed in the 15th century.