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Sitting pose of Apsara

Sitting pose of a Korean aprasa shows an ancient Chinese style:

fig.1 This relief is on a large bronze bell(3.3m high) in National Kyon-Jyu museum, Kyon-Jyu, Korea. One of two aprasa. This rubbing image is approx. 120 x 40cm(fig.1). It was casted in A.D.771 by a Schilla king in Pondok-sa temple. The temple was dissapeared in flood about 1440.
Flying robes and pendants are very fine. Mystic cloud accompany. Its face has worn down. This pose is different from many Indian, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism images. Heals up, and toes and knees on seat. Buddhism deities (Buddha and bodhisattovas ) usually sit as following styles:
Padmasana(lotus style ):cross legged on seat. This example is a limestone panel is from Baoquin temple in Xsian, Shensi province(fig.2). In Tokyo National Museum, approx. 100cm high. around A.D. 701-750. fig.2

Lalitasana (relax style)the right leg pendant and the left folded horizontally ,or the left leg pendant and the right folded horizontally. This example is a bronze Maytreya bodhisatttvas in "Ya-Tchu-JI" temple in Osaka, Japan, dated A.D.666, 19.5cm high(fig.3).


This seat is strange, too. Not like lotus seat but rope mat like sunflower.

Among Chinese Buddhist images,I can find a few examples, one pose example in relief of Lung Meng Caves (A.D.7th cent.) near Luoyang, Honan Province. A few pose examples in Tunghuan Caves. Three seats examples in North wall of No.220 of Tunghuan caves. In 6th cave of Yung-kang caves, Ta-tong, Shan-si Province, a series of 3 devoting boddhisatvas relief do "Ki-ZA"(ca. A.D.490s). Those are few.

fig.4 In Japan, I've found a twin aprasa. This is a fragment of silk embroidery(fig. 4). It is a fragment of silk banner to decorate temple(approx. 11cm wide). In 1931, in a private collection in Kyoto. Background is green. I regret that I can't show colour plate. Scholars think its original provenance should be Horyu-ji monastery in Nara and its date 7th century. Another fragments are stored in museums( I count Tokyo Arts College Museum, Tokyo National Museum, Horu-ji Monastery). Their pose are padmasana, but their seats are same. I think this similarity should not be accident.

A.D.7th century gilt bronze banners are stored in Tokyo National Museum, which were transferred from Horyu-ji monastery to the Imperial Household in 1878.. They have many openwork apsaras. One of their poses is THIS POSE. Poses of the apsaras have several variations : Flying, Half Kneels, etc.

Japanese formal manner "Ogasawara Manner" calls this style "Ki-Za", and teaches "Do Ki-Za as an intermediate pose when one stands from seat or one sit on seat"

Many Japanese live on TATAMI(straw mat) until now. Their formal sitting style is "Sei-Za" : with knees bent and with toes directly beneath the body. When one is standing or moving from the formal sitting pose "Sei-Za", one formally poses "Ki-Za". Now many Japanese do "Ki-Za" only in tea ceremony or very formal ceremony.

In modern Korea, half kneeled ( rising one knee) style is formal. This pose is also interesting. I`ll write another cut. "Sei-Za" is pose of criminal in modern Korea.

In ancient china, this bronze figurine clearly shows "Sei-Za"(fig. 5). This is said to be unearthed from famous tombs of Luoyang Chin-sun:B.C.3-4th century. 29cm high. Former in Grenville Lindell Winthlop Collection. Now, maybe Sacklar Museum in Harvard University, USA. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto has a similar bronze figurine.

fig.6 In this Chinese lacquer painting(Real size is about 7cm high. ) in middle Han dynasty (B.C.1?-A.D. 1 th? century), I find similar pose(fig. 6). Since cloth covers legs, it is ambiguous whether they do "Ki-Za" or "Sei-Za". This is detail of decoration of basket (Real size 7cm high. Entire basket size is 39x19x19cm) which was unearthed in Lo-lan near Pyongyang : a colonial city of Han Empire in Korea. The factory might be in the continental, Sczewan or Hunan province, because incised inscriptions on other lacquers from Lo-lan show such production areas. This painting shows that at that period, Chinese sit on seat with "Sei-Za". and did a intermediate pose "Ki-Za" as traditional japanese do.

fig.7 Another example:painting on a brick(16x37cm) in A.D.3-4th century(fig. 7). A lady manages fire in kitchen. Her pose should be "Ki-Za", since "Sei-Za" is not convenient to manage fire. This brick is one of 600 painted bricks unearthed western corner of china(Kan-su Province): steppe area along Silkroad.

These several examples shows that "Ki-Za" and "Sei-Za" are ancient chinese poses (B.C.4th--A.D 4th century). Chinese did such life in Han dynasty and later as these examples show. After then chinese became user of chairs and tables. At least after 9th century, Chinese lived on chairs.

Perhaps, Korea and Japan : outskirts of Chinese civilization preserved the older style , and the style fused new apsaras iconography.

fig.8 fig.9 It is less plausible that "Ki-ZA" inherited Korean/Japanese pre-historical tradition. Before Han dynasty, Chinese already had the pose. Kogryo(Northen Korea) tombs(ca. A.D.400) fresco( left) shows chairs(fig.8). In 5-6th century, Japan, I can see Haniwa: pottery figurines on and surrounding large tombs. They show they usually sit on stool or sit on seat with cross-legged or "Sei-Za" or "KiZA" ;please see RIGHT figure (fig.9).

I've concluded that "Ki-ZA" should have Chinese origin.

I can't explain why there aren't many such pose in Chinese Buddhist images even before 9th century. In Tunghuan caves, I only pick up some donors doing "Sei-Za", and some boddhisatvas doing "Ki-ZA" . I hope readers to be interested in this subject.


  1. Heibonsha, Lungmen Caves, 2volumes, 1981, Tokyo
  2. Ogasawara Kiyonobu, Introduction to Ogasawara Manner, 1973, Tokyo

Plate sources

  1. fig3,4: Asuka-En, History of Japanese Arts, Vol.1, 1931, Nara, Japan
  2. fig.5: Asuka-En, TO-YO-BIJYUTU, No.23, July, 1936, Nara, Japan
  3. fig.6: The Bijutsu Kenkyu, No. XCVI, Dec.,1939, Tokyo
  4. fig.7: Wen-wu, No. 2 of 1976, Beijing
  5. fig.8: Katutosi Ono, Wall paintings of KaoKouli-Tombs, 1957, Tokyo.
  6. fig.9: Gumma Prefectural Museum of History, "Haniwa of Gumma", 1979, Gumma, Japan



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