Mahasiddha Virupa

15th century
Copper alloy
Height: 27 cm - 10 ⅝ in

The Mahasiddha Virupa, lineage master ofthe Sakya Order, is one of the most well-represented mahasiddhas in Tibetan art.[1] Here, he is depicted in his mosttypical posture with left leg folded beneath his round belly, right leg boundnear his torso by a yoga-patta, andright hand gesturing to stop the sun. Contorted in anger, Virupa's face has been cast with features thathighlight his contentious nature. His round eyes bulge from beneath furrowed eyebrows, and his mouth isopen as if in mid-command. Atophis head, a mass of hair is piled in the stylized knot of an ascetic. The yogi wears only a short dhoti, barely visible beneath the foldof his stomach, and a simple array of jewelry including a floral tiara, hoopearrings, foliate armbands, a single necklace, and a double strand of beadsthat crisscrosses his body, both front and back. Although not ostentatiously adorned, Virupa's corpulent formattests to his appetite for earthly delights. In fact, it was his penchant for food and drink that led tothe mahasiddha's expulsion from themonastery of Somapuri where he had achieved the status of enlightenment.

Following his departure from Somapuri,Virupa continued to roam the land converting non-believers to Buddhism. Yet, he did not give up his proclivityfor liquor. Once, at a tavern inKanasati, he willed the sun to stop in order that he could continue to drinkwithout paying. It is thisspecific moment, evident by the presence of certain iconographic elements,which is portrayed by the bronze.[2]

The base itself is the most unusualcomponent of the piece. Mostoften, Virupa sits upon a lotus base, yet here the base has taken an angularform. Around the circumference ofthe rock-like structure, a pair of lions, flying apsaras and other animals have beencarved. One of the apsaras holds the stem of the lotusflower on which the mahasiddha, as asymbol of his enlightened status, rests his right foot. On top of the base, a diminutivevessel-bearing figure stands as if to serve Virupa, and opposite, a kapala is balanced upon a vase.


[1] Mahasiddhas or "great attainers" are a group of eighty-four Indianteachers, based on historical or semi-historical figures, who lived between theeighth and twelfth centuries, achieving the final beatitude of Buddhahood in asingle lifetime. These monks,although unorthodox in their lifestyles, play a major role in Tibetan Buddhismas teachers, scholars, magicians and links between humanity and thedivine. See Linrothe (2006), p.302.

[2] Ibid. No other mahasiddha is depicted in the samevariety of poses, each related to a specific narrative episode, as Virupa. Among the multiple forms in which hehas been portrayed, the present is most popular.