Divine Gestures: Channels of Enlightenment
March 16-24, 2023
Opening reception, March 16, 6-8pm
Bringing together some of the most rare and exquisite pieces of sculpture from India, Nepal, Tibet and ancient Gandhara, Divine Gestures: Channels of Enlightenment lies at the intersection of religious iconography and fine-craftsmanship. Iconography is often seen through a multivalent lens of factual discourse and the essence of it being a medium to channelize and embody the energy of the respective deity is often overlooked. This exhibit is an ode to the iconographic elements of a sculpture that bridge the tangible and intangible realms of art.
Rajasthan, 11th Century
38 1⁄2 in. (98 cm.) high
Sotheby’s New York, Indian and Southeast Asian Art, Lot 65, 21 September, 2001
The God of cosmic dance, Shiva here can be seen in the Natesha form. The peculiar attributes of Shiva, the Jata Mukuta (crown of an ascetic) and the Trinetra (one with three eyes) enable the identification of the sculpture. The use of sandstone and stylistic features point towards the Rajasthani origins of the sculpture. Shiva as Natesha is said to be the keeper of energy of the cosmos and protects the seekers of liberation and grace. Anand Coomaraswamy, the renowned Indian art scholar, in his essay, The Dance of Shiva, has described the Nadanta dance form of Shiva which is extremely similar to the iconographic delineation of this sculpture. He describes the legend associated with it as follows:
In the forest of Taragam dwelt multitudes of heretical rishis, following the Mimamsa. Thither proceeded Shiva to confute them, accompanied by Vishnu disguised as a beautiful woman, Ati-Sheshan. The rishis were at first led to violent dispute amongst themselves, but their anger was soon directed against Shiva, and they endeavored to destroy him by means of incantations. A fierce tiger was created in sacrificial fires, and rushed upon him; but smiling gently, He seized it and, with the nail of his little finger, stripped of its skin, and wrapped it about himself like a silken cloth.Undiscouraged by failure, the sages renewed their offerings, and produced a monstrous serpent, which however, Shiva seized and wreathed about His neck like a
garland. Then he began to dance; but there rushed upon Him a last monster in the shape of a malignant dwarf, Muyalaka. Upon him the God pressed the tip of his foot, and broke the creature’s back, so that it writhed upon the ground; and so, his last foe prostate Shiva resumed the dance, witnessed by gods and rishis.
The Nadanta form being one of the diverse forms of dance portrays that the various dancing forms of Shiva have been subject to renewal, recreation and destruction, thus being indicative of the balance of the universe. Thomas Schlotterback in his essay ‘Siva Nataraja’ elaborates on the meaning of Nadanta which encompasses five activities of Shiva being the singular activities of Panchapreta (five forces) Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Maheshvara and Sadashiva. Through the dance, Shiva becomes the culmination of all activities Pancakarya (five activities), viz: Shrishti (overlooking, creation, evolution), Sthiti (preservation, support), Samhara (destruction, evolution), Tirobhava (veiling, embodiment, illusion), and
also, giving rest), Anugraha (release, salvation, grace) which are associated with the Panchapreta (five forces) mentioned above.
Refer RN: 1986.1288 from Art Institute of Chicago for the depiction of similar subject matter.
40 x 26 x 12 in. (101.6 x 66.04 x 30.48 cm.)
Christie's New York Indian and Southeast Asian Art, Lot 61, 20th September 2006
This stele torso figure of Vishnu is adorning a Kirit Mukut (Crown). The upper left arm with the Chakra (discus) and the upper right arm with a foliate gada (mace) is reminiscent of the four-armed iconography of Vishnu. The iconographic attributes of discus and mace resonate to the role of Vishnu being the preserver of cosmic order in Hindu mythology; thus complementing the role of Brahma being the creator (responsible for the creation of the universe) and Shiva the destroyer (the reason for evolution).
Three deities at the top are flanked by the apasaras (celestial beings) at both ends. The open-work in the center with the foliate patterns bedecks the nimbus of the deity. It is said that Vishnu descended on earth in the form of ten avatars (incarnations) to restore cosmic order. Two of these avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu can be seen on either side of the stele figure. It is suggestive that the sculpture would have once consisted of other avatars (incarnations) depicted on the two sides similarly.
A similar stele of Vishnu flanked by the ten avatars, from the Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art (1982.53) is very similar to the present sculpture. It is published in Vishnu Hinduism’s Blue Skinned Saviour. Cummins and Poddar, while describing the aforementioned piece, draw attention to the fact that an image with such an inclusive and complex iconography would have appeared in a prominent position in a temple or possibly enshrined on an altar in a sanctum. The subject matter of this piece blurs the boundary between the physical form of Vishnu as a savior and the temporary incarnations he assumes in order to restore the cosmic order.
Attributed to a master of the first generation after Nainsukh
Guler or Kangra, C. 1775
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Folio: 6 3⁄4 x 10 5⁄8 in. (17.1 x 27 cm.)
mage: 6 x 9 7⁄8 in. (15.2 x 25.1 cm.)
Maharaja Manvindra Shah of Terhi-Garhwal Sotheby, New York, 22 March, 2002, Lot 51
M.S. Randhawa, Kangra Paintings of the Gita Govinda, New Delhi, 1963, pl. XI.
W.G. Archer, Paintings from the Punjab Hills, Belgium, 1973, Vol. II, no. 33 (iii), p. 206
The Norton Simon Museum of Art, L.5.2002.1
Rapt in the charm of the flute melody, Gopis surround Krishna in a divinely enchanting fashion. The tenderly rendered nature and female forms in such paintings from the Gita Govinda are evocative of the translation of poetry into painting. The Gita Govinda is a 12th century poetic metaphor about the spiritual union through the divine relationship between Krishna, Radha and the gopis of Vrindavan. The figures of women in these paintings, as M.S. Randhawa described in Kangra Paintings of the Gita Govinda, are painted with grace, warmth and passion. These delicate and chiseled figures gliding with grace are symbolic of the beauty of womanhood. The scene here is a pictorial representation of the divine leela (play) orchestrated by Krishna.
It is an illustration of a verse from Canto VII of Gita Govinda which has been translated as follows:
“The sound of Krishna’s flute charms the entire creation, animate as well as inanimate. The deer-eyed gopis of Vraja are so fascinated therewith that Mandara flowers which decorate their coiffure fall. May the sound of Krishna’s flute, the enemy of Kamsa and savior of gods, bless you all!”
The depiction of love in the painting has been layered with a divine aspect to it. This scene of divine play or enactment of love is symbolic of the piety that encompasses the bond between the divine and the devotee. The iconography of the foreground and background both immerse the viewer in a love laced temperament. The present depiction is rare, however for similar subject matter from Gita Govinda refer SL.17.2011.38.48 from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Lot 66 from the C. Welch Part II auction at Sotheby’s London in 2011 and Lot 366 from the Christie’s New York auction (no.2724) of Indian and South Asian art 2013 are fitting comparables for the present painting.
Tibet, 15th century
9 3⁄4 in. (24.8 cm.) high
The collection of Holger Rosell (1917–2009), Stockholm.
The collection of the National Museum Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Stockholm. Uppsala Auktionskammare, 5 December 2014, lot 1001.
Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 8375.
The present figure represents the primordial buddha Vajradhara. His hands—crossed in front of his heart in vajrahumkara mudra (the gesture of the ‘adamantine sound’) holding a vajra/dorje and ghanta/drilbu (bell)—make him easily recognizable. His elaborate ornaments identify him as a symbolic buddha in bodhisattva appearance.
This lustrous figure of Vajradhara is finely sculpted on a double-lotus base, clad in a dhoti with a shawl draped over his shoulders, flowing down symmetrically on either side of his torso to rest on his seat. An urna of inset turquoise sits below his five-leaf tiara behind which his hair is pulled into a neat pile surmounted by a half vajra. The complexity of the woven knots within his chignon is revealed from the backside of the sculpture, as is the careful execution of each element, despite the fact that these facets are frequently hidden.
The sculpture is embellished with small turquoise and ruby or garnet cabochons set in bezels to accentuate his crown, necklace, armbands, and belt—a style of inlay more common among Nepalese bronzes than Tibetan ones. However, the square face, the straight slope of the buddha’s nose in profile, the exclusion of a garuda element from the crown, and the festooned design of Vajradhara’s prominent necklace point to a Tibetan origin.
HAR LINK: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/8375
circa 1800 Painted wood
21 in. (53.3 cm.) high
The collection of Philip Goldman, London. Hayward Gallery, London.
Tantra, Hayward Gallery, London, Art Council of Great Britain, 30 September–7 November 1971.
P. Rawson, Tantra: Hayward Gallery, London, 1971, p. 31, no. 115. Himalayan Art Resources (himalayanart.org), item no. 7547.
The present sculpture depicts Vajravarahi, a prominent female deity in tantric Buddhism and consort of Chakrasamvara. Although she is usually shown accompanying or embracing him as his other half, Vajravarahi alone is often considered to be a godly representation of the combined wisdom held by all buddhas. One of Vajravarahi’s eminent identifying features is the sow head, or varahi, emerging from behind her proper right ear. Tibetan Buddhists have symbolically used the sow to represent ignorance within their practices and the attached head implies the defeat of the beast, reinforcing Vajravarahi’s overarching wisdom and general triumph over ignorance.
Another one of Vajravarahi’s identifying features is her distinct pose, which appears as though she is frozen in movement, with her proper right leg bent towards her proper left thigh–a position that is referred to as ardhaparyanka. Beneath her lies a corpse, a Buddhist representation of the ultimate evil that has been conquered by Vajravarahi’s immense power. In addition to her decorated body and billowing drapery, Vajravarahi proudly wears an intricate headpiece with the heads of five humans. She also wears a large garland of severed heads that hangs around her dancing figure. In her raised proper right hand she holds a knife that is thought to be used to cut out irrelevant worldly concepts and leave only an acute awareness or jnana. Her proper left hand
holds a small cup, usually a skull, that is said to be filled with blood or the scrambled ideas of humans. The present sculpture’s intense and violent imagery further emphasizes Vajravarahi’s vigor and power as she symbolically defeats ignorance, the fear of death, and other earthly or mundane views.
For another depiction of Vajravarahi, see Himalayan Art Resources, item no. 34057. This Vajrayogini (Vajravarahi’s form without the sow head) also displays the deity’s standard iconography and pose as well as similar billowing drapery.
HAR LINK: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/7547