9. Bodhisattva
(cat. pl. 11)
c. 11th-12th centuries
Gilt copper with pigment
h. 37.7cm


This intriguing figure poses considerable challenges involving its iconography, date and provenance. The bodhisattva holds a gem between the index finger and the thumb of his right hand; the left hand is poised in what appears to be a grasping gesture, and although there is no physical evidence that an attribute was ever held in this hand, it may have held the stem of a lotus.175 Two iconographically similar works are briefly noted here, as they may hold keys to the eventual precise identification of this image. Two sculptures in the Norton Simon Museum depict crowned and bejewelled bodhisattvas, each of whom holds a single gem or seed in his right hand, and - like this bodhisattva - is adorned with a tripartite pendant.176 The two Norton Simon images probably represent standing and seated manifestations of the same deity, as their attributes are virtually identical: a single gem or seed in the right hand and, in the left, a lotus surmounted by the three jewels (triratna).177 Pratapaditya Pal has tentatively identified the Norton Simon figures as representations of Ratnapani, a bodhisattva whose main identifying symbols are the gem and the lotus.178

This Nyingjei Lam bodhisattva may, like the Norton Simon images, represent Ratnapani. However, some form of Manjusri is another possibility. Mallmann has noted that the tiger tooth necklace - as worn by this Nyingjei Lam bodhisattva - is exclusively associated with Manjusri.179 Moreover, a four-armed manifestation of Manjusri known as Siddhaikavira holds the gem in his lower right hand.180

Whatever the precise iconographic identity of this figure, the style, like that of the previous example (no. 8; cat. pl. 10), is rooted in the sculptural traditions of Nepal. And the two sculptures exhibit very similar renditions of jewellery- crown band, earrings, necklace, upper armbands, bracelets. Both figures are rendered in copper, and are similarly modelled. However familiar with the Nepalese tradition he may have been, the sculptor of this work made the crown panels proportionately larger than they would have been in Nepal,181 and they tilt backwards in a manner uncharacteristic of Nepalese works. Similarly, the upper armbands are disproportionately large, and the fingers of the right hand are shorter than one would expect to find in a Nepalese image. The face and indeed the entire surface of the image lack the sensual qualities that characterize Nepalese sculpture. 182 Although this image was clearly created by a sculptor well versed in the artistic traditions of the Kathmandu Valley, the departures f rom the canons of classic Nepalese sculpture suggest that it was made for a patron outside the valley. Because Tibetan Buddhist communities were subjected to persecution and neglect between c. 842 and 978,183 it is unlikely that a work of such size would have been commissioned before the eleventh century, and a c. eleventh-to twelfth-century date is therefore proposed. (cat. pl. 11)

175. The remnants of a support at the back of the image indicate it was once connected to a prabhamandala, to which a lotus may have been attached.
176. It is unclear whether the Norton Simon pendants include tiger teeth, See discussion below.
177. Pal notes some ambiguity in the depiction of the lotuses in these works. Of the standing figure, he writes: '… the stem is remarkably short and the flower looks more like an ice cream cone, while …[in the seated figure] the stem is longer, but the flower, unlike a conventional lotus, looks like three jewels against a flaming aureole. ' See Pal (1996), fig. 7 and 8, p. 24.
178. According to some iconographic texts, Ratnapani's lotus is surmounted by a lunar disc: See Bhattacharya (1968), p. 87 and Mallmann (1975), pp. 319-20.
179. Mallmann (1964), pp. 34-5: '…le collier � griffes de fauves [est], en iconographie bouddhique, le privil�ge exclusif de Manjus'ri; jamais[il n'est] attribu� � un autre Bodhisattva'.
180. Perhaps this attribute is the reason underlying Schroeder's identification of the two Norton Simon images as Manjus'ri Siddhaikavira. See Mallmann (1964), p. 34; Schroeder (1981), figs. 81A and 82D.
181. Note a similarly rendered and similarly disproportionate crown element worn by a Tibetan image of a bodhisattva in the Norton Simon Museum, published in Pal (1996), fig. 8a.
182. For comparison with a Kathmandu Valley work, See the c. eleventh-century Siva in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, published in Pal (1985), p. 99.
183. That is, between the death of King Lang Darma and the beginning of Buddhism's resurgence in that region. See Vitali (1990), p. 37.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer