Whereas the cold god and pigments on the face and the blue pigment on the hair indicate that it was worshipped in Tibet, this sculpture has several features associated with sculptures made in Gilgit such as the facial features, the five-leaf crown made of overlapping triangular panels, the long wavy ribbons, the floral earrings, the row of pearls, all identical to those on an 8th century Gilgit Shakyamuni in the Asian Society collection (labelled Vairochana on Himalayan Art Resources) and another in a private collection, both published in previous posts. A standing buddha at the Tibet Museum in Lhasa, labelled 7th century Gilgit, has a similar robe with a pronounced V-neck and deep concentric folds.
This rare sculpture depicts a buddha seated on a cushion with a copper and silver inlaid pattern typical of the Gilgit area (with a textile design from Central Asia), on a throne supported by two lions and a yaksha between two columns, a row of tassels at the top, a rocky formation below, the backplate or mandorla is missing. The buddha has silver-inlaid eyes and a copper-inlaid lower lip. He wears an unusual undergarment with silver and copper inlaid roundels and a sanghati with a v-shape neckline and concentric folds – a model often seen on Kashmiri works from the same period.
One end of the robe rests over his left shoulder and another piece over his left knee, a rare feature which L.N. Laurent relates to another two buddhas, one attributed to Gilgit and presently at the Potala and another attributed to Kashmir and presently at the Norton Simon Museum, both published in a previous post and reproduced below for ease of comparison. In his view, all three sculptures were made in the same atelier, although not necessarily at the same time. For more information, in particular why this buddha could also depict Vairochana, see the full article by L.N. Laurent on: http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_26_06.pdf.
This buddha also wears an undergarment with a silver and copper inlaid motif.
The circular pattern on the lower part of this buddha’s undergarment is often seen on Kashmiri buddhas.
When seated in the European fashion, Maitreya (bodhisattva and buddha of the future) normally hold his hands in the dharmacakra mudra as above, and there is a stupa at the top of the mandorla behind him, but in this case the throne on which he was seated and the corresponding back panel are missing. Alternatively, this may be an image of the historical buddha. It is not uncommon for Gilgit and early Kashmir works to depict him this way. We will notice the V-shaped neck with tassels, the flat, wavy crown ribbons typical of the area, the broad facial features with heavy eyelids and the unusual crown.
This masterpiece depicts the historical buddha seated in the “European fashion” (both legs pendant) with his feet resting on lotus flowers, on a throne supported by lions over a lotus base with flat pointed petals, itself over a plinth imitating a rocky formation, with kneeling donors at the front corners, all of which forms a composition typical of the area. Other noticeable features are the very regular pleating of the garments, the shape of the crowns and their broad, flat, wavy ribbons, the multiple lotus flowers used as adornments, the V-shaped neck with tassels of his upper garment (seen before on 7th-8th century sculptures labelled “Kashmir”), the facial features with heavy-lidded eyes, broad forehead, plum cheeks and a small chin. The buddha is not only crowned but also adorned with princely jewellery like a bodhisattva, a feature common among Gilgit and Swat Valley area sculptures. He is flanked by two kashmir-style bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara Padmapani to his left and probably Maitreya to his right. On the tier below there is a standing figure and, further down, the kneeling donors – King Nandi Vikramadityadeva and his queen – identified through the inscription at the front.
Vairocana, identified through the turning-the-wheel-of-dharma gesture (dharmacakra mudra), is seated in the lotus position on a plain cushion over a cloth with tassels typical of the Gilgit and Swat Valley area. The throne is supported by two kneeling donors mentioned in the inscription at the front. His eyes and the urna on his forehead are inlaid with silver and his lips and details of his garments with copper. He wears a low crown, a short necklace and some bracelets.