Eastern Indian / Buddha Shakyamuni / Pala period, late 9th-early 10th centuryEastern Indian
Buddha Shakyamuni
Pala period, late 9th-early 10th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Indian
Creator Dates/Places: Eastern Indian
Creator Active Place: Eastern Indian
Creator Name-CRT: Eastern Indian
Title: Buddha Shakyamuni
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 867
Creation End Date: 933
Creation Date: Pala period, late 9th-early 10th century
Creation Place: India, Bihar
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Schist
Dimensions: H. 28 1/4 in. (71.8 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.037
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org
Context: One of the most important Indian Buddhist cultures developed and flourished in eastern India from the 8th to 12th centuries. During this period, Bihar and Bengal--present-day West Bengal state and the nation of Bangladesh--were primarily under the control of the Pala family. Since this region was also the birthplace of the Buddha Shakyamuni and the site of many of his miraculous deeds, pilgrims and devotees from all over Asia traveled to eastern India to worship and study Buddhism at the famous monasteries there. As a result, the influence of Pala-style art spread throughout Asia.

This Buddha's elongated body, well-defined waist, and thin facial features, as well as the elaboration of detail, exemplify the style of Pala sculpture of the early 10th century. Reliefs of this type, among the most common produced during the Pala period, were placed in niches in architectural monuments or shrines. This relief depicts Shakyamuni in the posture of meditation under a pipal tree (ficus religiosa). He sits on a lotus pedestal atop a base decorated with lions and other figures, his left hand in the gesture of meditation (dhyanamudra) and his right hand making the gesture of touching the earth (bhumisparshamudra). In Buddhist art, the earth-touching gesture is used to represent the story of Shakyamuni's defeat of the demon Mara. Because the forces of evil did not want the Buddha-to-be to become enlightened or lead the way for others, Mara tried to distract him from meditation by tempting him with beautiful women, pummeling him with natural forces, and attacking him with demon hordes. In response, Shakyamuni reached down to touch the ground, calling upon the earth to validate his quest. The earth responded thunderously and Mara was vanquished.

In this relief, the Buddha is attended by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya, who stand to his right and left, respectively. The traditional Buddhist consecratory formula is inscribed around a lush halo that encircles Shakyamuni's head. Two stupas are shown to either side of this inscription, but the precise meaning of these stupas, which are found on other Pala-period pieces, remains elusive. One possibility is that they represent the existence of buddhas in past and future ages, signifying the endurance of Buddhism. The small female figure holding a pot at the base represents the earth goddess, while the accompanying male figure shown offering a flower garland to the Buddha portrays the donor of the artwork.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 20.
Related Document Description: Huntington, Susan L. 'Pre Pala and Pala Period Sculptures in the Rockefeller Collection.' Apollo (November 1983), pp. 372, 374.
Related Document Description: Kim, Hongnam. The Story of a Painting: A Korean Buddhist Treasure from the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation. New York: Asia Society Galleries, 1991, p. 2.
Related Document Description: Newman, Richard. The Stone Sculpture of India: A Study of the Materials Used by Indian Sculptors from ca. 2nd Century B.C. to the 16th Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 1984, pp. 34, 62, 68, 77, 84.
Related Document Description: Queens Museum. Aspects of Indian Art and Life. New York: Queens County Art and Cultural Center, 1983, p. 22.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.037
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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