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Marcel Nies

9. Padmapani
Nepal; Thakuri
11th century
Black basalt, traces of red pigments
height 47.5 cm


Padmapani is one of the most popular divinities in the Buddhist pantheon. He is known as 'the lotus carrier', a form of the Buddhist Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. 'The lord of compassion' is an emanation of the oldest of the five cosmic Buddhas, Amithaba, who symbolises the stream of life and represents the summer. Padmapani is believed to have created the fourth world, which is the actual universe and is supposed to have created all animate things. His famous mantra is: 'Om mani padme hum' (the lotus is the jewel of creation). Padmapani is the personification of the all-pitying one and the power of creation, of which the padma (lotus flower) beside his left shoulder is the symbol.

Padmapani is portrayed in an elegant standing tribhanga (thrice bent) posture, with his left knee slightly bent, standing on a double lotus throne. He holds his right hand in varada mudra, the gesture of charity. His symbol, the Padma, is depicted at his left shoulder; this water plant symbolises purity and spiritual elevation. Padmapani is dressed like an Indian prince, wearing a tall central tiara, depicting the wheel of the Buddhist law and flowery motifs, and a finely folded dhoti hanging down between and alongside his legs and covering his both knees. The Bodhisattva is decorated with earrings, a necklace, armlets, bracelets, a belt and a jaynopavita (a sacred cord).

The Thakuri dynasty is the transitional period in the art history of Nepal (879-1200 A.D.), and takes a place between the the domination of the Lichavi and Malla monarchs, coinciding with the hegemony of the Indian Pala dynasty (750-1160 A.D.). The many stylistic elements of this classic Padmapani are typical for the Thakuri period; the ornaments sticking out above his ears, the shape of the large earrings, the style of the dhoti with engraved double lines, and folded ornaments down to his ankles, the snake shaped armlets positioned high upon the arms, the large lotus leaves in the throne, and the large single-leaved tiara.

Expressed with serene inner power, this Padmapani has an elegant and well controlled balanced tribhanga movement. Beautiful volumes and striking positions of his arms and hands intensify the natural and harmonious structure of this exquisitely carved and fine detailed work of art; a piece of hard rock has been masterfully transformed into a shape of soft beauty. Padmapani, who is continuously engaged in helping humanity, is depicted as a graceful and elegant youth, expressing convincingly his status as a Buddhist god of wisdom, compassion and creation.

Formerly in the collection of Peter van der Zalm, Netherlands.
Formerly in the collection of Valter Fabiani, Italy.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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