Parnashavari (‘Wild Leafy One’) is mentioned in the Hevajra Tantra together with four other great goddesses, with whom she forms a pentad of deities called ‘Wisdoms’. The term refers to the role played in tantric Buddhism by the female element, corresponding to Wisdom and Emptiness, which have to be joined with Compassion and Means, as symbolised by the male element, in order to allow the practitioner to reach Enlightenment as well as Buddhahood. The development and success of the late esoteric schools of Indian Buddhism – whose doctrines were taught in Tibet both by Tibetan teachers who had studied them in India and by Indian masters that were invited to the Land of Snows – is reﬂected in the growing importance that female deities acquired within the Buddhist pantheon.
Like Hevajra, Parnashavari belongs to the family of the cosmic Buddha Akshobhya, whose very emblem, the vajra, she holds in her upper right hand. The Sadhanamala, a collection of invocations addressed to Buddhist deities, describes her as a splendid young girl dressed in leaves, but bedecked with all the ornaments beﬁtting important goddesses: a crown, earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets and anklets in gold. Parnashavari is portrayed here in her manifestation with three heads, each with three eyes, the expression on her main face being neither peaceful nor wrathful, while she grins and chuckles with her two side faces. She stands on a lunar disc supported by a huge lotus ﬂower in a threatening attitude, slightly bent on her right knee in a militant posture, removing or tying up obstacles with the weapons and attributes she holds in her hands: the vajra, a bow, an arrow, a rope, an axe (whose elaborate handle is visible here) and a leafy branch.
Parnashavari’s diadem, richly decorated with vegetable motifs, the circlet of leaves she wears around her neck, her thatched skirt of fresh leaves, as well as her belly, slightly sagging, betray the origin of her iconography, which should be traced to the early pre-Buddhist Indian pantheon peopled with deities symbolising the world of nature, including trees and rivers: yakshas, yakshis, nymphs and driads. Her representation follows Indian iconography as well as aesthetics, according to which the human body reaches its perfect stage of development at the age of sixteen, when its energy, almost exploding, is just about contained within the surface, which appears almost plump, like a blooming ﬂower, at its last stage of extension. Though this statue is stylistically related to the aesthetic environment of the Nepal Valley, it was presumably fashioned by Newar artists in Tibet, as suggested also by the presence of turquoise in the earrings. Indeed it may be related to the famous and ﬁne statuary production at the monastery of Densathil, in central Tibet, belonging to the Phagmotru order of the Kagyü tradition.
The ungilded copper rectangular ‘door’ in the back of the image, here cast by the lost-wax process, seals the entrance through which various kinds of relics, invocations written on tiny rolls of paper, barley seeds, medicinal plants, precious and semiprecious stones as well as coins may be placed inside the statue in accordance with precise criteria before consecration, without which the statue is lifeless and cannot fulﬁl its religious purposes.