Northwest India, a rare bodhisattva

6th century, Northwest India (or Northwestern Provinces?), Avalokiteshvara, brass, at the Fondation Alain Border in Gruyère (Switzerland).

Avalokiteshvara is seated on a wicker hassock, his left foot placed on a lotus, his right arm resting on his knee, his head slightly tilted towards his hand. This pensive form of the bodhisattva, the use of a wicker seat and the design of the lotus in his left hand are common in Swat Valley art, yet his eyes are not inlaid with silver, his dhoti is arranged differently at the waist, a large piece of cloth spreads over the seat like butterfly wings, and there are two lotuses sprouting from the base ( we saw a couple of brassy works from Jammu and Kashmir with this feature). He wears a singular and very spectacular headdress.

 

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Pala India, various bodhisattvas (4)

8th-9th c., India NE, Nalanda, Avalokiteshvara, c.a.+sil., 22 cm, tenzingasianart.com

8th-9th century, Northeastern India, Nalanda, Avalokiteshvara, copper alloy with silver-inlaid eyes, private collection, photo by Tenzing Asian Art.

Avalokiteshvara is seated at royal ease on a throne with a stepped plinth and two recumbent lions at the front, his right foot placed on a lotus. He is adorned with floral accessories reminiscent of Swat Valley works and has an effigy of Amitabha in his headdress, a lotus embossed in the palm of his right hand, a sash across his chest.

11th century, Northeastern India, Lokanatha Avalokiteshvara, gilt bronze (copper alloy), private col., photo on Christie’s

Unlike the previous figure, who leans on his left arm, the above holds the stem of a lotus in his left hand. He also has an effigy of Amitabha in his headdress and a sash across his chest but no crown. Particularly popular in India, this form of Avalokiteshvara is known as Khasarpani Lokanata or Khasarpani Lokeshvara.

11th-12th century, Northeastern India, Maitreya, bronze with silver-inlaid eyes, private col., photo by Christie’s.

Maitreya, identified by the stupa in his headdress and the ritual water pot on the blue lotus to his left, is seated at royal ease with the left (rather than the right) leg pendent, his right hand doing a gesture to dispel fear.

11th century, Northeast India, Manjushri, copper alloy, private collection, photo on Bonhams.

Manjushri seated in the vajra position, sword in hand, presses the Prajnaparamita sutra against his heart.

12th century, India, Manjushri, copper alloy, private collection, photo by Andrew Lau for Hollywood Galleries

A rare sculpture of him standing on a tall lotus pedestal with a stepped plinth, the backplate decorated with a stippled lotus motif and some elephants with birds on their head and some makaras around it. He brandishes a sword and holding a manuscript.

 

Pala India, various bodhisattvas (3)

11th-12th century, Northeast India, Maitreya, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Bonhams.

Identified by the stupa in his headdress, Maitreya, in his bodhisattva appearance, does the ‘turning the wheel of the law’ gesture with his hands, his left foot placed on a lotus fastened to the base.

12th c., India Eastern, Chaturbhuja Lokeshvara, 15,3 cm, c.a.+pig., Sotheby's

12th century, Eastern India, Chaturbhuja Lokeshvara, copper alloy with pigments, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

The most popular four-hand form of Avalokiteshvara, a rosary (plus a blue lotus in this case) and a lotus in his upper hands, the main ones clasped to hold a wish-granting jewel against his heart.

Undated (Pala period), India, Avalokiteshvara, gilt copper alloy with silver inlay, private collection, photo on Hanhai Auction.

The same bodhisattva in his equally popular ‘lotus bearer’ form, his right hand displaying supreme generosity, the other holding the stem of a (broken) lotus, his eyes and urna inlaid with silver, adorned with a low tiara and side bows typical of the period, his tall braided chignon topped with a jewel.

13th century, India, Manjushri, bronze (copper alloy) with pigments, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York (USA).

White Manjushri standing.

11th century, India, Bihar or Bengal, Manjushri, gilt copper alloy with silver and copper inlay, at the Asia Society Museum, photo on Asia Society

This form of Manjushri riding a lion or seated on a lion throne, usually with a leg pendant, does the ‘turning the wheel of dharma‘ gesture with his hands while holding the stem of a blue lotus wound around his arm and topped with the Prajnaparamita sutra. He may have another lotus to his right to support the hilt of a sword (broken here).

12th century, India, Vadisimha Manjushri, brass with silver and copper inlay, private collection, photo on Himalayan Art Resources

On this rare work there are two lotuses, each supporting a book topped with three pearls.

12th century, Northeast India, Manjuvajra Namasangiti, brass with copper and silver inlay, private collection, photo by Hanhai Auctions as before.

Manjushri with three heads and six hands, seated with his legs locked, his main hands crossed over his heart. The upper hands hold a sword and a blue lotus topped with a book, the lower ones hold a bow and what is supposed to be an arrow.

12th century, Northeast India, Vajrapani (labelled Vajrasattva), copper alloy with traces of cold gold and pigments, private collection, photo by Koller

A singular Vajrapani, standing on a lotus atop a ‘tortoise’ pedestal complete with flaming arch, the vajra sceptre held horizontally and pointing towards his heart, a vajra bell held vertically in his left hand.

He wears a knee-length dhoti with a lotus print, held in place with a belt with a lotus bud pendant, and a thin scarf decorated with an incised geometrical motif that matches his belt.

Pala India, Avalokiteshvara – various forms (4)


8th-12th century, India, (Avalokiteshvara?), black stone, at the Patna Museum (India), photo from the Huntington Archive.

The iconography of this seated figure corresponds to various forms of Avalokiteshvara, his right hand extended in a gesture of generosity, the other holding the stem of a lotus flower. We have seen similar serpentine armbands on various 7th or 8th century Nepalese bodhisattvas. The strands of hair ending like a hook are most unusual, the fan-shaped hair bunch is reminiscent of Pakistan/Swat Valley works.

10th century, India, Avalokiteshvara, schist, San Francisco Museum of Art (USA).

Pala India sculptures, especially when made out of stone, often include attendants on each side of the main deity. The effigy of Amitabha in his headdress tells us that the central character here is Avalokiteshvara.

11th century, India, Simhanada Lokeshvara, stone, at the Birmingham Museum (UK).

When seated on a snow lion, Avalokiteshvara has a third eye, clearly visible on this well-preserved sculpture. The above sits sideways on a cushion, leaning on his left arm, the left hand holding the stem of a lotus, the other hand resting over his knee. Placed at the base of his tall pile of matted hair, with curls cascading on each side, is a small effigy of Amitabha. To his right is a large trident with a snake coiled around it, a symbol of Hindu origin.

12th century, Northeast India, Avalokiteshvara, black schist, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

The bodhisattva of compassion is seated with a leg pendant, the foot placed on a large lotus flower attached to the base, his hands probably in the same position as on the first picture.

There is a small effigy of Amitabha almost hidden behind the central panel of his low tiara.

Pala India, Avalokiteshvara – various forms (3)

10th-11th century, Northeastern India or (Indian artist in) Western Tibet, Avalokiteshvara, gilt bronze with silver inlay, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Standing in a slightly rigid pose, his right hand displaying generosity, the other holding the stem of a (broken) lotus, Avalokiteshvara wears a long garment held in place with a small belt, a sacred thread made of silver and princely jewellery made of silver and gilt metal.

The silver-inlaid eyes with the pupils half covered by heavy lids are typical of Indian Pala art but not so the squarish contour of the face or the body proportions (thick limbs and broad shoulders). The deity wears a low tiara with a silver rim and small side panels set away from the central leaf. His tall chignon includes a cascade of curls falling on each side, the lower part and the finial seem to be missing. A few loose strands rest on his shoulders as is customary with bodhisattva imagery.

11th century, India, Bihar, Lokanatha, brass, at the Patna Museum (India), photo by Anandajoti Bhikkhu.

Lokanatha Lokeshvara may be seated or standing, his right hand stretched palm out to display generosity, the left hand holding the stem of a lotus, an effigy of Amitabha in his matted hair. This figure stands on a single lotus atop a stepped plinth with a kneeling figure in one corner, probably the donor. The mandorla with individually sculpted swirling flames is typical of the Bihar area.

11th century, India, Bihar, Avalokiteshvara, brass, at the Patna Museum (India), photo by Anandajoti Bhikkhu.

An early tantric form of the same deity is described has having four arms, holding a rosary in the upper right hand, the stem of a lotus and a tridanda (trident made of lotus stalks) in his left hands, the lower right hand doing the boon-granting gesture.

11th century, India, Bihar, Avalokiteshvara, brass, at the Patna Museum (India), photo by Anandajoti Bhikkhu.

On this more life-like example we can clearly see the rosary, and an effigy of Amitabha in his headdress. His short dhoti is held in place with a double belt and he wears a sash knotted across his chest, some princely jewellery and a beaded sacred thread. The lotus on which he stands is on a throne supported by two lions lying sideways and separated by a cloth.

 

Pala India, various bodhisattvas (2)

8th-11th c., India, Bihar, Nalanda, Vajrapani, bronze, Nalanda Site M., Huntington

8th-11th century, India, Bihar, Vajrapani, bronze, Nalanda Site Museum, photo from the  Huntington Archive.

Vajrapani in his peaceful form, seated at royal ease, holds a very large vajra sceptre in his left hand and what looks like a fly whisk in the other. He is adorned with floral earrings matched by his necklace and his buckle. We have seen several gilt works from the Nepalese Licchavi and transitional periods with the same lotus base, crown, earrings and halo.

Undated (11th century?), India, Bihar, bodhisattva, bronze, at the Patna Museum (India), photo by Anandajoti Bhikkhu.

This realistic figure, with his hair pulled in a top knot like a Mahasiddha, holds a blue lotus that supports a book topped with a pearl normally associated with Manjushri, who may be seated on a snow lion with a leg pendant. But according to textual sources the simhanada form of Manjushri has an effigy of Akshobhya in his crown, both hands ‘turning the wheel of dharma‘, and he may have a blue lotus by his side but not his usual book on top. Avalokiteshvara may also be seated this way on a snow lion, but neither the position of the hands nor the book correspond to him. This bodhisattva’s right hand does a gesture to bestow refuge. His necklace includes a pendant with a wheel of dharma.

12th century, India, Bengla, Maitreya, silver with copper, brass, gold, turquoise, on a gilt bronze pedestal, at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA).

The use of silver is rare in Himalayan sculpture and often accompanied by a gilt lotus base. Maitreya, in his bodhisattva appearance, holds the stem of a lotus topped with a ritual water pot and what looks like a branch of the ashoka tree in his left hand, the other is held towards the viewer with the palm out in a timid gesture to dispel fear. His short lower garment is held in place with a very elaborate belt that matches his large necklace and armbands.

His tall chignon is dyed with blue pigment and topped with an elegant lotus finial inset with a large turquoise cabochon. More lotus blooms decorate his earrings.

12th century, India, Maitreya, bronze (copper alloy), at the Rubin Museum of Art.

This bodhisattva doesn’t normally hold a rosary but the water pot on the lotus to his left and the stupa at the top of the flaming arch identify him as Maitreya.

Pala India, triads

11th century, Northeast India, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Vajrasattva, gilt copper alloy, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, photo by Ulrich von Schroeder.

From time to time we come across a group of three figures, buddhas and/or bodhisattvas, standing or seated, two of them smaller and acting as attendants to the main deity. This particular set shows Manjushri with Avalokiteshvara in his padmapani form to his right and Vajrasattva to his left. The cold gold and pigments were probably added in Tibet.

Manjushri holds the stem of a lotus that traditionally supports the Prajnaparamita sutra, which in this instance appears to be balancing over his left shoulder.

Vajrasattva has a stupa in his headdress – usually associated with Maitreya. He holds an upright vajra sceptre in his right hand at heart level and a vajra-handled bell placed horizontally and pointing towards his hip.

Avalokiteshvara also has a lotus in his left hand, and an effigy of Amitabha in his crown.

11th century, Northeast India, Shakdakshari Lokeshvara with Manidhara and Shadakshari Mahavidya, brass, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, photo by Ulrich von Schroeder.

These are the six-syllable deities Shadakshari Lokeshvara at the centre, his main hands pressing a wish-granting gem against his heart, the other hands holding a rosary and a lotus flower, Shadakshari Mahavidya to his left, Manidhara, who  holds a blue lotus and a rosary, to his right.

12th c., India E., triad, sil.+gilt cop., Manidhara with upright vajra+blue lotus, Shadakshari, same or Mahavidhya, 19 cm, HK Sotheby's

12th century, Northeast India, silver and gilt copper, Shadakshari Lokeshvara with Manidhara and Shadakshari Lokeshvara or Mahavidya, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

A similar triad, with an attendant seated at royal ease and holding an upright vajra and a blue lotus and the other with a similar iconography as the main deity, both male it seems.

11th-12th century, Northeast Indian, Khasarpana (Avalokiteshvara) with Sudhanakumara and Hayagriva, brass, is or was at the gTsug Lakhang, photo by Ulrich von Schroeder.

This form of Avalokiteshvara, seated with a leg pendent, his right hand displaying supreme generosity, the other holding the stem of a lotus, may be accompanied by Hayagriva and Sudhanakumara. In such cases, Hayagriva is reported as having a yaksha appearance, his right hand raised in homage to the main deity, the other propped on a staff, while Sudhanakumara has a princely appearance and carries a book under one arm.