|Date Range||1400 - 1499|
|Lineages||Gelug and Buddhist|
|Size||17cm (6.69in) high|
|Material||Metal, Mercuric Gild|
Vajrabhairava, Ekavira (Solitary Hero) with nine faces and thirty-four hands.
Vajrabhairava is a wrathful form of Manjushri and functions as one of the meditational deities of the method (father) classification of Anuttarayoga Tantra in Tantric Buddhism, while neither a protector deity nor being included in any Buddhist classifications of protectors. As a principal meditational deity, he belongs to the Vajrabhairava and Yamari class of tantras and specifically arises from the Vajrabhairava Root Tantra.
The practice of Vajrabhairava is common to the three main Sarma Schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug. Among the Gelug school, Vajrabhairava is the principal meditational deity taught for Anuttarayoga practice along with the meditational deities Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara. With many different resources of Vajrabhairava teaching, the one inheriting from Rwo Lotsawa is the most widespread.
In this sculpture, Vajrabhairava represents the solitary form with nine faces, thirty-four hands and sixteen legs. The central face is in the form of a buffalo, and there are three additional faces placed to the immediate right side and three more faces placed to the immediate left side. Above the central buffalo face are two more faces one above the other, and the upper face represents the semi-wrathful form of Manjushri. This ‘circular face’ form belongs to the Gelug tradition and differs from the ‘stacked face’ form that is mainly adopted by other schools. The front pair of hands hold the curved knife and skullcup, and other hands hold various types of ritual symbols.
Despite the sculpture lacking a base and the possibility of an imperial inscription, the fine and heavy gilt and sumptuous decoration, as well as the U-form beaded short necklace and the long necklace, along with the delicate U-form beaded jewelry falling from the waistband, it is possible to attribute the sculpture as an early 15th century style that closely follows the courtly style of Ming imperial prototype. In the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande period (1426-1435), there was a strong relationship between the Tibetan dignitaries and the Imperial court. Many Buddhist sculptures were produced by Chinese patrons as diplomatic gifts for Tibetan monks and nobles. The tributary system between the Tibetan dignitaries and the Imperial court, accompanied by the promotion of Tibetan Buddhism, influenced the aesthetic fashion and stimulated the production of Tibetan Buddhist sculpture in the Ming capital, Nanjing, followed by Beijing. This further led to the emergence of ateliers producing the Yong-Xuan style sculpture in response to the need from both Tibetan and Chinese patrons. This group of sculpture - which this Vajrabhairava statue undoubtedly belongs - is attributed as the so called “Yong-Xuan” courtly style.
Chen Ping-Yang 6-2018
Ekavira Vajrabhairava (Tibetan: dor je jig je. English: Solitary Vajra Terror): a complex Buddhist tantric deity of imperial quality and quite possibly of imperial commission.
Vajrabhairava is a wrathful form of Manjushri and functions as a meditational deity of the Anuttarayoga Classification in Tantric Buddhism. Vajrabhairava is NOT a protector deity and is NOT included in any Buddhist classifications of protectors. As a principal meditational deity Vajrabhairava, belongs to the Vajrabhairava and Yamari class of tantras and specifically arises from the Vajrabhairava Root Tantra (Tib.: jig je tsa gyu). The Vajrabhairava and Yamari Tantras belong to the method (father) classification of Anuttaryoga Tantra.
The practice of Vajrabhairava is common to the three main Sarma Schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug. Among the Sakya it is counted as one of the four main tantric deities along with Hevajra, Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara (Tib.: gyu de shi). Amongst the various Kagyu Schools the Drigungpa are strong upholders of the practice. In the Gelug School Vajrabhairava is the principal meditational deity taught for Anuttarayoga practice along with the meditational deities Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara. There are numerous forms and styles of practice from the very complex with numerous surrounding retinue deities to the very concise with a single central Heruka form - one face and two arms. From among the many different lineages and teachings of Vajrabhairava to enter Tibet it is said that the principal lineages were those of Rwa Lotsawa and Mal Lotsawa.
Vajrabhairava has nine face, thirty-four arms and sixteen legs. The central face/head is that of a buffalo. Seven more face are wrathful in appearance and the upper most head is that of Manjushri. Each of the hands holds a distinct and unique attribute. The legs are generally slightly bent at the right knee and the left legs fully extended to the side. In this example Vajrabhairava is solitary and without a female consort. He is fierce and wrathful in appearance and the metaphor for his tantric practice is 'death.'
The decorations adorning the body are fixed in number and iconographically explained in the ritual literature. Generally there are two types of ornaments, peaceful and wrathful. Vajrabhairava despite having a buffalo head, and catagorized in modern Buddhist iconography as having Animal-featured Appearance, is traditionally catagorized as a wrathful deity and hence wearing the classical wrathful ornaments and vestments. The types of ornaments are numbered variously depending on there origin or how they are worn on the body. The ornaments are charnel ground related such as the three garments (elephant, human & tiger), human bone ornaments - dried and fresh, including a crown of skulls, a necklace of fifty freshly severed heads, and bracelets of bone.
Depending on the Tantric system there are either five or eight spotted snake ornaments of various colours. There are three smeared substances such as ashes, clotted blood and moldy grease. There are also six bone ornaments: hair net, earrings, short necklace, long necklace, girdle, bracelets and anklets. With differences between artistic and regional styles they are mostly found with the representations of the six bone ornaments.
There are iconographic and stylistic differences that can inform the varying depictions of Vajrabhairava. Iconographically there is the arrangement of the nine heads, the gaze of the central face and the positions of the thirty-four arms. The earliest arrangement of the heads has three stacks of three one above the other. This version was and still remains popular with the Sakya and Kagyu traditions. A later variation popular with the Gelug tradition has the central three faces stacked and three additional horizontal faces to the right and to the left sides. Popular with the Gelug it is generally observed that the face of Vajrabhairava looks straight forward without tilting to the right or left. The Sakya and Kagyu traditions generally have the face turned slightly and looking to the proper left side of the deity figure.
The position of the arms can also have two basic variations. The first and earlier depicts the sixteen arms on the right and left like an opened hand fan with each arm, upper and forearm, clearly depicted. The second variation overlaps the sixteen arms of the right and left and visually depicts the full arms of only eight in front with the remaining eight behind. The sixteen hands of the right and left sides remain clearly visible along with the attributes in the hands. It is not immediately known if these difference are a religious iconographic variation or an artistic variation derived from the imagination of the artist.
The stylistic differences are two. The first is with the hand attributes and the second is the ornamentation on the body. The hand attributes can change over time and they can also change regionally depending on the culture in which the sculpture is being created. Attributes such as a sword, knife, shield and the others can vary greatly in shape and design based on the culture in which the artist is born.
The context of the sculpture is hard to determine, however, with many objects such as this they could have been produced in number and distributed to major and minor Buddhist temples on such important days as the emperor's birthday, mother's birthday or other such anniversaries. Without the lotus base and an imperial mark it cannot be confirmed if this was a work sponsored by Yongle, Xuande or some other emperor of the early to mid 15th century.
The condition of the figure is good with no apparent looses or breaks in the sculpture. The faces, arms and legs are intact. However, the lotus base upon which the deity stands is missing along with the figures and animals that he tramples upon. Those trampled figures would likely have been affixed to the lotus base. It is also likely that there was a ring of fire acting like a frame for the figure. The fire, cast and gilt, would have been fixed to the lotus base with slots and tangs. Mild looses and wear can be seen overall along with rubbed gilding. In general the work in is fine condition and maintains its original integrity.
Jeff Watt [updated 3-2019]
Sculpture: Yongle & Xuande Style (Masterworks)
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava (Chinese Style Sculpture)
Collection of Zhiguan (Sculpture)
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava (Early Works, Sculpture)
Collection of Zhiguan Museum of Fine Art
Buddhist Deity: Vajrabhairava Main Page
Collection of Zhiguan Museum of Fine Art (RMA 2019)
Sculpture: Yongle Style, Xuande & Zhengtong Period Sculpture