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Marcel Nies

8. Buddha Sakyamuni
India; Nagapattinam
14th century
Bronze cast in two pieces in the lost wax method, fine dark patina
height 42 cm.

Buddha Sakyamuni

The historical Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni was born around 560 B.C. between the hills of South Nepal and the Rapti river. He is the Buddha of compassion who, having achieved the highest evolutionary perfection, turns suffering into happiness for all living beings. His father was a Raja who ruled over the Northeastern province of India, the district of the holy Ganges river. The young prince was married to Yashodhara when he was about 17 years old and together they had a son named Rahula. At the age of 29, he left his life of luxury as he felt compelled to purify his body and soul, by ridding himself of earthly impulses and temptations, and make it an instrument of the mind.

Buddha is depicted in a standing posture on a throne, holding his right hand in abhaya mudra, the hand pose of protection and the blessing of fearlessness. His left hand is in varada mudra, the gesture of charity. Buddha has elongated earlobes which reflect his royal origins; a flame ushnisa rises above his head, symbolising his spiritual wisdom. Buddha is dressed in a fine sanghati monks robe, with his right shoulder and arm bare, and a shawl over his left shoulder. A halo is depicted behind the Buddha's image, the side parts with a pillar design, on top of which is displayed the wheel of the Buddhist law (cakra), symbolising the eight-fold path leading to perfection. The upper part of the nimbus is showing a number of flames and is topped by a stylised vase, the symbol of the treasury of all desires.

The celebrated philosopher Samkaracharya, who was active in the eighth century, is regarded by the Hindus as the destroyer of Buddhism in India. By the 11th century, Buddhism no longer influenced the religious life in the South. The great exception however is the important Buddhist site of Nagapattinam. Since the Palavas used this site on the eastern coast in the Tanjore district for one of their dockyards, it remained a Buddhist centre till the 15th century, producing a number of fine Buddhist bronzes, showing similarities with those from neighbouring Buddhist sites from Sri-Lanka. The Tamil inscription underlines the Nagapattinam origin of the bronze, which can be dated, based on its stylistic characteristics, to the early phase of the Vijayanagar period, circa 14th century. A similar piece is in the Alsdorf collection, published in 'A Collecting Odyssey', P. Pal, page 122.

The Buddha is depicted with fine volumes and articulated lines, the body parts radiating from underneath his thin cloth. His upright posture and the convincing positions of his hands enhances the Buddha's expression of power of authority. The perfection of the halo and pedestal reinforces the sense of fully idealised beauty in the image. The bronze is a rare and fine casting, reflecting the quality of sophisticated knowledge of bronze casting in Nagapattinam. This important temple image is created with great imagination, revealing a serene and lively Buddha, a great teacher of fearlessness and charity.

Formerly in the collection of Mrs. W. van Hoogstraten-Fetlaer, Netherlands.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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