Àchala (‘Mountain’, literally ‘Immobile’ in the sense of ‘Immovable’) is one of the most strenuous defenders of the Buddhist doctrine and is also known under other names, such as Chandamahâròshana. He belongs to the families of the cosmic Buddhas Akshobhya and Vairòchana as well as to the group of the ten Krodha (‘Furious’) protectors of the màndala, and he is always shown with a wrathful aspect and a martial posture. This tantric deity is recognizable from his squint and his weapons: the sword, which he brandishes with his right hand in order to frighten Brahmanical gods and demigods, and the rope, here ending with half a vajra, which the god holds in the left hand at the height of his heart, displaying the gesture of warning with his forefinger extended, in order to guide sentient beings. Àchala tramples the Hindu gods Îshana, the guardian of the northeast direction, and Ganesha, also known as Vighna (‘Obstacle’), as explained by a legend whereby the elephant-headed god tried to prevent a Buddhist pàndita from attaining perfection by putting unsurmountable aspects on his way, only to be defeated by Vighnântaka (‘Destroyer of Obstacles’), the Krodha of the northern direction with whom Àchala is often associated.(1)
The iconography of this deity is related to the Kàdampa (bKa’-gdams-pa, ‘Bound by the Word’ of the Buddha) tradition established in Tibet during the first half of the 11th century by the main Tibetan disciple of the Indian scholar Àtisha, who was invited by the rulers of western Tibet to re-establish Buddhism in their kingdom. Àtisha’s praise to Àchala describes the latter as wearing tiger and snake ornaments, as illustrated here by the band fastening his chignon as well as by his bracelets and anklets, his canines putting an end to birth and death, thus delivering sentient beings from the condition of suffering.(2) His finely pleated scarf as well as the shape of the petals of the lotus supporting the sun disc upon which the god stands betray the influence of Indian aesthetics at the time of the Pâla and Sena dynasties as transmitted from India to Tibet via the Nepal Valley, where brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, has been traditionally used along with pure copper to fashion religious images.
This statue may have been commissioned and cast within a Kàdampa environment in central Tibet, or more likely in the more powerful and wealthier principality of the sophisticated Sakya order, which established its cultural hegemony in southwest Tibet after its abbots submitted to Mongol authority in the middle of the 13th century and later became the representatives of the Yuan dynasty in most of Tibet, to the detriment of other Tibetan religious orders and principalities. The role played by Newar artists in Tibet and even at the Yuan court can be hardly overestimated and in some cases it is difficult to determine whether sculptures which are obviously Newar were cast in Tibet or transported there from the Nepal Valley.(3) That style, which for convenience' sake has been sometimes called ‘Tibeto-Newar’, coexisted alongside idioms which may be characterized as typically ‘Tibetan’ and ‘Newar’.
1) Cf. Marie-Thérèse de, Mallmann, 'Introduction a à l'iconographie du ta ântrisme bouddhique', Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris 1975, pp. 83-84, 166 and 447, Amy Heller, 'Arte tibetana. Lo sviluppo della spiritualità e dell'arte in Tibet dal 600 al 2000 d. C.', Jaca Book, Milano 1999, p. 147, pl. 78, and Alice Getty, Ganesa. A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi 1971, p. 43.
2) Cf. Amy Heller, op. cit., p. 147.
3) Pratapaditya Pal, 'The Art of Tibet', The Asia Society, New York 1969, p. 33.