Cambodia, Angkor Wat, 12th century
height 32.5 cm
With eight heads and sixteen arms, Hevajra dances on a small anthropoid figure. This bronze sculpture is a typical Khmer rendering of Hevajra, much in line with early representations in India.
In Tibetan and Nepalese tantric Buddhist painting and bronze sculpture, Hevajra is usually shown in sexual union with his female companion Yogini Nairatmya, standing in the leftward-leaning alidha position. In that case he has four legs, is clad in a tiger skin, and wears a skull crown and a garland of decapitated heads. Based on the Hevajra tantra, an esoteric ninth-century Indian textbook, Hevajra (who is also identifed with Heruka) represents profound and complex tantric theories about duality in unity. The tantric practitioner’s ultimate goal is shunyata (emptiness), defned as neither being nor non-being. He is an invocation syllable, while vajra (the thunderbolt) signifes the Absolute. Later tantric images, mostly produced in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Eastern India, symbolize this abstruse philosophy by the explicit depiction of intercourse between male and female.
As the Hevajra tantra specifes, our figure has eight heads, here in three tiers, each with a third eye on the forehead. Although not directly manifest, the prescribed four legs are suggested by a line that follows the outside of the legs. Each of Hevajra’s eight left hands holds a skull cup containing a seated figure. In each right hand is a different animal. Some suggest that all these miniature figures personify the ‘Absolute’ in which gods, men and animals are the main actors. Most probably this bronze was the central figure of a mandala.
Hevajra’s dancing pose, arrested mid-step, is remarkable. Rising on the toes of his bent left leg he tramples the corpse of a supine man-like fgure who personifes the enemy of the dharma. His right leg is bent even more sharply, so that the ball of the ﬂexed right foot rests on the calf of the left leg. This position derives from an ancient Indian dance posture called kunchita.
Another remarkable feature of this piece is the short loincloth. Usually made of tiger skin in Himalayan images, this Khmer version of the dhoti or sampot, is fashioned from snakeskin, secured around the waist by a jewelled belt and with a swaying fishtail panel hanging between the legs. The rest of the jewellery is fairly sober – plain bracelets on each wrist, simple anklets, beaded diadems and earrings, and a pectoral that is more elaborately worked at the back with nine pendants.
The two sets of arms were cast separately and slotted into the shoulders, the join being covered by a round decorated buckle. The tang under the left foot passes through the corpse of the supine figure and into the separate drum-like lotus pedestal.
This Hevajra in pure Angkor Wat style impresses with its radiating appearance, refinement, straightforward execution and firmness of posture.
Spink and Son, London, before 1987.
Collection D. Latchford, London, 1987-2015.
Private collection, USA, 2015-2018.
E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford, Adoration and Glory, The Golden Age of Khmer Art, Chicago, 2004, fg. 144.
P. Krairiksh, The Sacred Image, Sculptures from Thailand, Köln, 1979, fig. 34.
W. Felten and M. Lerner, Das Erbe Asiens: Skulpturen des Khmer und Thai vom 6. bis 14 Jahrhundert, Stuttgart, 1988, fig. 37.
R. Goepper, W. Felten and M. Lerner, Entdeckungen, Skulpturen der Khmer und Thai, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst der Stadt Köln, Köln, 1989, pp. 110-111.
M. Brand and C. Phoeurn, The Age of Angkor, Treasures from the National Museum of Cambodia, The Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1992, pp. 102-103.
N. Dalsheimer, Les collections du musée national de Phnom Penh, L’art du Cambodge, Paris, 2001, fig. 132.
P. Baptiste and T. Zéphir, L’Art khmer dans les collections du musée Guimet, Paris, 2008, fig. 92.
H. I. Jessup, Masterpieces of the National Museum of Cambodia, An Introduction to the Collection, USA, 2009, fig. 48.
E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford, Khmer Bronzes, New Interpretations of the Past, Chicago, 2011, figs. 7.23 & 9.14.
Detail: close up view