Crowned Amitayus Buddha

11th century, Pala Dynasty
Eastern India, Bihar
Black stone
Height: 45 cm - 17 ⅝ in.

The elegant simplicity of this stele standsin contrast to the more elaborate images associated with the later years of thePala Dynasty. Beautifully depictedagainst a plain background, Amitayus meditates serenely in dhyanasana upon a broad-petal lotus throne. Aside from the pair of stupas carved in high relief on eitherside of his head, no other element diverts focus from the central Buddha.[1] He is clothed in a long, sheer,form-fitting dhoti, and adorned by asingle collar-like necklace bearing a lovely foliate motif. His ears are decorated by a pair oflotus flower earrings, and his role as a cosmic Buddha is indicated by a tallfoliate crown bordered by a row of beading.[2] In keeping with traditionaliconography, Amitayus, or the Buddha of Infinite Life, holds a vase of theelixir of immortality in his lap. As the counterpart of Amitabha, one of the Five Transcendent Buddhas, hisrole is to transform lust into wisdom and to aid in the attainment of longlife.[3] Images of crowned Buddhas, bothSakyamuni and the Five Transcendent Buddhas, were prolifically produced byartists during the Pala period as they were a widely beloved subject at thetime.

Sculpture associated with the early part ofthe Pala Dynasty is characterized by a rounded stele, unembellishedcomposition, and the development of uniquely Pala facial features. Although these stylistic elements arevisible here, the slightly rigid, elongated torso, well-defined waist and long,fine facial features of the piece suggest a slightly later origin.[4] Given that Pala images of crownedBuddhas are said to have first appeared during the eleventh century,[5]an eleventh century date for the present Amitayus seems most appropriate.


Private Collection, New York (acquired inthe 1960s)


[1] The exact symbolism of the pair of stupas often depicted in Pala sculpture remains unclear. It has been suggested that theyrepresent the existence of Buddhas in both the past and future, thus signifyingthe perpetuation of Buddhism. SeeLeidy (1994), p. 36.

[2] Specifically, the five prongs of Amitayus' crown represent the fivetranscendental insights attained by the Buddha as part of hisEnlightenment. See Huntington andHuntington (1990), p. 104.

[3] See Rhie and Thurman (2000), p. 355.

[4] For examples of tenth century Pala steles, see Huntington andHuntington (1990), nos. 11-19.

[5] See Leidy (1994), p. 37. Leidy asserts that no images of the Buddha wearing a crown or jewelryappear in Pala-period sculpture prior to the eleventh century.