Mahasiddha

15th/16th century
Tibet
Copper alloy
Height: 37 cm - 14 ½ in


The Tibetan propensity to individualizeportraits of venerated Buddhist teachers is evident in this image of a mahasiddha. Comfortably seated upon a raised double lotus base, the yogiis idealized yet idiosyncratic in appearance. Although no inscription identifies the figure, his roundface, fine features and ample belly relate to those of a specific historical mahasiddha, one of a group ofeighty-four tantric yogis who thrivedin India from the eighth through twelfth centuries. However, as is typical, he bears divine attributes that callto mind his elevated status: elongated earlobes, a necklace on which an imageof a seated Buddha flanked by vajrasis cast in high relief, and a kapalawhich is cupped in his lowered left hand.

The artist has captured the expressivequality of the Indian Adept's face in his wry smile and alert silver-inlaideyes, both of which make the figure appear approachable to worshippers. Pulled into a matted topknot behind afoliate crown, his hair is worn in the style of an Indian yogi which differsfrom the traditional Tibetan aesthetic. The mahasiddha is swathed in athick cloak, its hem decorated by a whimsical pattern, which falls in foldsacross his body.[1] Although the robe fails to envelop hisprotruding stomach, a yoga-patta withbeautifully incised design and long strands of intersecting beads cover thefigure's torso. It is evident thatthe bronze has been cast with a wonderful sense of naturalism throughout. This is especially apparent in thesensitively rendered folds of flesh, and the manner in which the fabric twistsat the yogi's elbow to reveal its inner lining.

Tibetan monks traveled during the eleventhand twelfth centuries, at great risk, to India in pursuit of the study ofBuddhism. They held Indian mastersin high regard and brought their texts and teachings back to Tibet where theywere widely embraced. Given thegreat reverence with which the Tibetans portrayed their own teachers, it is naturalthat enlightened Indian mahasiddhaswere also greatly esteemed subjects.

Notes:

[1] From the fifteenth century, as evidence of the ongoing relationshipbetween Tibet and the Yuan and Ming courts, Tibetan monks' robes are oftendecorated by elaborate patterns derived from Chinese silks. See Weldon and Singer (1999), p. 140.