10th century
Copper alloy
Height: 41 cm- 16 ⅛ in

Standing in a graceful tribhanga upon a double lotus base, this bodhisattva is identifiedas Vajrapani (Thunderbolt-bearer) by the presence of a vajra (thunderbolt) that is balanced upon the open palm of his lefthand. Although appropriatelyadorned by jewelry and garments befitting a bodhisattva, the figure presents anoverall elegant simplicity that is typical of the Nepalese aesthetic. A long, patterned dhoti and diagonally-tied sash cover Vajrapani's lower body, and adouble-stranded necklace, the center of which is decorated by a prominentfoliate pendant with three dangling jewels,[1]adorns his torso. Upon the deity'shead is a splendid, foliate, tiered crown. Behind this headdress, his hair is upswept in a toweringchignon, barely visible from the front. Deeply engaged in meditation, the bodhisattva bears a serene expression;his almond-shaped eyes are heavily downcast, and his small mouth set in thesubtlest of smiles.

One of the oldest members of the Buddhistpantheon, Vajrapani was first represented as a protector and constant companionto the Buddha in early Buddhist art. It was not until Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to the region that thedeity took on the form of a peaceful bodhisattva whose role was to aidworshippers in the attainment of nirvana.

The present Vajrapani is a wonderfulexample of Transitional period (879 - 1200 A.D.) Nepalese sculpture.[2] When compared to an eleventh centurybodhisattva at the Norton Simon Museum,[3]the slender proportions, smooth modeling, lotus base, clothing style and crowntype are similar. Yet, the detailsof the Norton Simon example are somewhat more refined, suggesting a slightlyearlier tenth-century date for the present example. Another related tenth century bodhisattva is found in thecollection of The British Museum.[4]


[1] Necklaces bearing a central pendant with three dangling gems arecharacteristic of tenth century Nepalese sculpture. See von Schroeder (1981), figs. 80e-8g.

[2] Pal asserts that the best surviving Nepalese bronzes were castduring the Transitional period. Pal (1985), p. 18.

[3] See Pal (2003), no. 46.

[4] See von Schroeder (1981), fig. 80C.