Figure of VajrapaniOn display
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Figure of Vajrapani
Date14th century (1301 - 1400)
Material and technique
Dimensions18 x 13 x 5 cm max. (height x width x depth)
No. of items
Bequeathed by Douglas and Mary Barrett, 2013.
Museum locationFirst floor | Gallery 32 | India from AD 600
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This sculpture of Vajrapani, the Bodhisattva who holds the Vajra, strongly reflects Nepalese aesthetic models and affords an interesting comparison with the development of contemporary Tibetan iconographic conventions for wrathful protector deities. Here we see a slender, youthful male, exuding vitality and charm as he wields the vajra and stands with one leg extended, lightly trampling two demons underfoot, in a very elegant alidha pose. He is adorned from head to foot in strands of jewellery, and the crown has many inset semi-precious stones above several rows of entwined beads which deck his forehead. The earrings are concentric rings from which a small ruby is suspended. His triple-strand necklace is also retained by cabochon gems. The garlands of belts which surround his hips are also replete with gems, as are the bands decorating his feet. In Tibet, Vajrapani would instead have a stocky, over-muscular body, giving a sense of strength and fierce rage; his jewellery would be limited to a strand or two of snakes coiled round his wrists and chest, and perhaps a trilobate diadem of skulls and cylindrical disc earrings (compare the Vajrapani figure on the Om mantra plaque, cat. 58).
In terms of workmanship, this Vajrapani is fully modelled and finished in the round. The hair falls in coiled locks below the shoulders, the garland of skulls continues at the back, draped over the shoulders and finishing at the waist. At the waist, the multiple strands of beads of the belt drape over the hips, almost forming a garment. There are bells as well as jewels suspended from the strands of beads. The dhoti of a draped skin around the hips is just suggested by a feline face on the right thigh. The meditation strap in gold beads makes a diagonal across the length of his back. The whole body has slender harmonious proportions. Although the lean and slightly elongated arms and legs are extended, they convey no sense of exertion but instead a serene poise.
Vajrapani’s head has the very high piled and tressed chignon reflecting the canons of Pala India, set with jewels and gold ornaments in front, and a red jewel finial at the top of the chignon. The ears are close to the head, the earrings are not separately modelled. The forehead is wide, creating the impression of a rather square face, glancing downwards. The mouth is small and slightly open, revealing two very delicate fangs.
The perfectly oval prabha (surround) has two rows of beading along the edges, in between which there are small vajras modelled around the entire length of the arc. Despite the sculptor’s obvious pleasure in embellishment, the lotus pedestal is not decorated all away around. At the back there are two holes into which an additional, larger torana would have been inserted.
In: Heller, Amy, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2008)
Heller, Amy, Early Himalayan Art (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2008), no. 11 on pp. 66-67, illus. pp. 66-67