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Marcel Nies

8. Vajrasattva
14th c.
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, eyes are inlaid with silver
height 51.5 cm.


In Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, the Ka-Dam-Pa sect was founded by the Indian Guru Atisa in the 11th century. Also known as "the reformed red hat sect", they worshipped Vajrasattva as the Adi-Buddha, the embodiment of the five cosmic elements and the spiritual father of the five transcendental Buddhas. This important Buddha persists in a Bodhisattva form in order to help mankind on the path leading to enlightenment. His attributes are the vajra (diamond-scepter) and the ghanta (bell), respectively male and female and symbolic of compassion and wisdom. Vajrasattva is regarded as a spiritual hero who is associated with power and maleness, and is accordingly subject of many hymns and verses.

Seated in vajrasana (legs crossed) in the diamond or interlocking lotus position, Vajrasattva's right hand is raised to his chest level to originally hold a vajra. His left hand is extended down his left body and resting on his upper left leg and is holding a ghanta (bell). The ushnisa is the symbol of his ultimate wisdom and is part of the high coiffure which has a lotus-bud finial, the sign of purity and spiritual elevation. Some locks of hair are falling onto his shoulders. The Buddha wears an urna (sign of illumination) on his forehead and is dressed in the garments of a Bodhisattva; adorned with a three leaf crown, open flower blooms above his ears, circular earrings, two necklaces, bracelets, anklets and ornaments. The elongated earlobes denote royalty.

Until the founding of the Ge-Lug-Pa sect by Tsong Khapa in the 15th century, Vajrasattva was a popular deity and worshipped by the Ka-Dam-Pa sect as the most important Buddha. There are a number of arguments to date this bronze no later than the 14th century. Similar to many other early Tibetan examples this temple-image of Vajrasattva was made to be seen in a frontal way (the back is not finished with details). Early stylistic characteristics are the three-leaf crown, the large circular earrings, the open flower blooms above the ears, the shape of the ornaments (scarfs), the engraved designs with triangles and catfoot-prints, the connecting struts, as well as the superbly executed necklaces, bracelets, armlets and anklets. In contrast to later Tibetan images which seem to be more realistic in shape, this Buddha radiates a more archaic idealism. The form of the pronounced lotusleaves supporting the lotusbud are a clear influence of the Indian Pala style.

As exemplified by the god's powerful positions, this cosmic Buddha is depicted in a superbly well balanced form with beautiful proportions and finely delineated details. The monumental bronze is cast in a beautiful light metal alloy, complemented by the fine natural patina. Vajrasattva's majestic appearance is enhanced by the subtle tension of his upright body and the posture (Vajrasana) of his legs, revealing a sense of mysticism and enlightenment. The bronze is among the most expressive and largest early examples of Vajrasattva in a western collection; it is an important icon of early Tibetan art.

Published: Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo Tibetan bronze, Hong Kong 1981, nr. 38E, page 188.

Collection Mr. J. Gelpey, London.
Collection Mrs. Kemper, London.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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