6. Samvara and Vajravarahi
(cat. pl. 8)
Eastern India
c. 11th-12th centuries
Kaolinite85 with traces of pigment
h. 7 cm

 Sam vara and Vajravarahi

Samvara assumes the alidha pose as he stands on a recumbent figure.86 The four-armed god embraces his consort Vajravarahi as he clasps the ritual bell (ghanta) and thunderbolt scepter (vajra); he also holds a ritual staff (khadvanga) and a hand drum (damaru). Vajravarahi stretches her left leg in tandem with his, while securing her right leg around his left hip. In an exquisite detail, her right calf and foot can be seen at the back of the image, her toes splayed and pressed against his back; the crook of her left arm catches the back of his neck, and she rests the skull cup she holds in her left hand in front of his shoulder. She holds a ritual chopper (kartrika) aloft in her right hand.

Kaolinite is a very finely grained material, capable of holding fine detail. For this reason it was used for small images such as this, which are likely to have served in personal meditational practices. Several dozen small medieval period kaolinite, mudstone and pyrophyllite images have survived. The original provenance of these works has been the subject of much scholarly debate, with different authors attributing some of the same images to eastern India, Tibet, or Burma.87 Steven Kossak has recently argued that many of these works in mudstone or pyrophyllite should be attributed to Bangladesh or West Bengal, regions of eastern India that supported centres of Esoteric Buddhism during the medieval period.88 A mudstone sculpture of the Hindu goddess Durga Mahisasuramardini was recently acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Citing both the Hindu iconography of the figure and elements of style, Kossak argues convincingly that the work should be assigned an eastern Indian provenance.89

This Nyingjei Lam Samvara and Vajravarahi has important features in common with the Metropolitan Durga. The lines marking the flaming haloes are similarly drawn in both works, and the rounded beads along their lotus bases, the double row of pearls in their bracelets and their anklets are all rendered in a virtually identical manner Samvara's and Durga's coiffures are arranged in similar thick locks (jatamukuta). They also both have the pointed noses commonly portrayed in eastern Indian medieval art,90 and both Samvara and Durga have distinctively cusped eyebrows. Like many other small, easily portable works, this sculpture was probably transported to Tibet by pilgrims during the medieval period. Traces of pigment indicate that the image was worshipped in Tibet. (cat. pl. 8)

85. X-ray analysis conducted by the Department of Mineralogy at the Natural History Museum in London suggested that the image was made of sedimentary kaolinite, a clay with the chemical formula Al2Si2O5(OH)4
86. Normally, Samvara tramples two figures: Bhairava and Kalaratri; See Mallmann (1975), p. 188.
87. See Huntington and Huntington (1990), pp. 361-2 and Kossak (1998), p. 19.
88. Kossak (1998), p. 20.
89. lbid. , pp, 19-20, fig. 1.
90. See Huntington (1984), pl. 72.

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