Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Indian Adept (siddha) - Padampa Sanggye

རྒྱ་གར་གྱི་གྲུབ་ཆེན། 印度大成就者
(item no. 31496)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1200 - 1299
Lineages Buddhist and Uncertain
Size 33.70cm (13.27in) high
Material Metal
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Lay Person

Gender: Male

TBRC: P1243

Interpretation / Description

Padampa Sanggye (died 1117?). The figure is tentatively identified as Padampa Sanggye based on the small coiled knots of hair. Comparable figures of yogis with similar hair are found with examples HAR 30817, 68480 and a painting 59965. Padampa Sanggye is also depicted in both painting and sculpture with typical mahasiddha style long hair as well as tight coils of hair similar to Shaiva yogis and their matted locks.

The figure is not definitively identified although a good argument can be made that it is Padampa Sanggye based on similar characteristics found in both sculpture and painting. It could also be some other yogi yet unidentified, however an argument can also be made that it is the infant Buddha at the time of birth as depicted in some painting examples. (See a set of mahasiddhha figures in a similar size).

The figure is completely naked seated with the hands folded in the lap in a meditation gesture. The legs are crossed right over left in vajra posture. If the figure is Shaiva or a Hindu Tantrika then the leg posture would likely be called 'lotus.' The hair on the top of the head is uniform and created from small tight twists of hair - a feature similar to that of Buddhas along with other identified depictions of Padampa Sanggye. The long earlobes are pierced but do not show any sign of ever having attached earrings. The lengthened earlobes do indicate some type of noble birth. The eyes are wide and staring with an ever so slight furrowed brow. The face is wide with a noticeably small nose and an almost pursed mouth with well defined lips. Three curved lines are visible on the neck under the chin. The chest, shoulders and stomach are slightly large without any muscle definition. The skin of the armpits below the shoulders are particularly fleshy.

Blue colouring (azurite?) has at one time been applied to the hair. The sides of the face and around the ears show evidence of cold gold having been applied. There are marks uniformly found on the body at the forehead, chest, navel, upper surface of the two knees, middle of the back, upper sides of the two thighs, two shoulders and behind the ears. These marks likely indicate where the pipes, or flutes, were located for the actual casting of the metal. The base is missing. The marks are discoloured and the most obvious, such as the front and the back, have likely become more apparent by the effects of human handling over the centuries. Although suggested by some that the marks represent chakras of the internal body in tantric physiognomy, that however is not supported by the evidence.

Two struts approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch extend vertically from the base of the figure. The sculpture is hollow and a plate has been added to seal the bottom with an incised vishvavajra design (double vajra sceptre). The plate appears to be a later addition after the original base was removed and possibly lost. An x-ray image indicates a linga-like object inserted within the lower torso of the figure. It is not known if this linga and other materials were original to the time of the construction and consecration of the sculpture or added later when the base new base plate was installed.

The identification of this figure has for the last number of decades, through the last half of the 20th century, considered to be by Western art authorities, either a yogi or mahasiddha-like figure. With this idea firmly in mind then the logical steps were to find the nearest comparable yogi or mahasiddha figures and to narrow down the possibilities for identification. Padampa Sanggye is clearly the closest in terms of the most commonly known and iconographically identifiable of those siddhas.

It is possible that this figure is completely unrelated to Padampa Sanggye. It is possible that the small coiled hair is a shared characteristic with other popular figures of the time. The sculpture could also represent a famous yogi of the 12th or 13th century. The date listed above is based on a previous publication date of 11th to 12th century (Tibetan Bronzes: Technical Observations. Chandra Reedy. See reference below). It would be unlikely that a metal sculpture would be made in the 11th century for Padampa when he most probably died in the first quarter of the 12th century. Opinions on the dating of the sculpture range from 11th to 14th century. Dating of the piece remains an open discussion. Chandra Reedy in her publication labels the sculpture as West Tibet (providing Tsang province is included) which is most probable. The piece is likely to have been created in Tsang or slightly west of there.

The sculpture could perhaps also be a Shaiva yogi or saint. However if that were the case then certainly evidence would be readily seen on the face and body where sandalwood paste, saffron, oil, food and other such substances would have been applied and smeared on the body over centuries. This evidence is not found. Nor is blue hair and cold gold common with Shaiva, Vaishnava or Shakta worship.

An alternate possibility is that this sculpture is depicting the naked infant Buddha in meditation posture. The twist of hair might not be fully formed as they are with a completely enlightened Buddha having the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks. The earlobes are long and the three marks on the neck are clearing there. The infant buddha entered the world wide eyed. There is a distinct fleshy quality to the body and a lack of any hair except for the top of the head. Even the linga withdrawn within the body is included among the minor and major marks. There are examples in painting where the birth of the buddha depicts him as entering the world in a cross legged meditation posture. Currently there are no Himalayan sculptural examples. Is it possible that this is what is being depicted with this sculpture?

Jeff Watt 1-2015 [updated 3-2015] See the Publications:

Himalayan Bronzes: Technology, Style and Choices. Chandra L. Reedy. Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1997.

Tibetan Bronzes: Technical Observations. Chandra Reedy. IN: On the Path to Void: Buddhist Art in the Tibetan Realm Marg (Mumbai 1996), pp. 162-177.

Padampa Sangye: A History of Representation of a South Indian Siddha in Tibet. Dan Martin. Pages 108-123. In: Holy Madness, Portraits of Tantric Siddhas. Rob Linrothe, Editor. Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2006.

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