Himalayan Art Resources

Iconography: Deities That Are No Longer Popular (Non-Iconic)

Popularity of Deities Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Non-Iconic Figures Description (below)
- Bodhisattva Categories
- Confusions
- Others...

- Deities That Are No Longer Popular (Iconic)
- Deities No Longer Popular (Non-Iconic)

Standing Figures:
- Manjushri
- Lokeshvara
- Vajrapani
- Maitreya
- Tara
- Unidentified Forms
- Others...

Seated Figures:
- Relaxed Posture (Description)
- Thinking Posture (Lokeshvara)
- Manjushri (Relaxed Posture)
- Maitreya (Relaxed Posture)
- Avalokiteshvara (Relaxed Posture)
- Tara (Sculpture, non-standard iconography)
- Tara in a Relaxed Posture
- Others...

The figures from Mahayana literature listed above are some of the most popular in Buddhist art. The non-iconic forms which were popular with early Buddhism became less popular over time and by the 14/15th century had almost completely disappeared. The later representations for each of these figures was drawn from the Tantric literature and became standardized on the iconic forms of each of the deities. In most cases there were two or three standardized forms for each deity. Lokeshvara is most commonly represented as the four armed Chaturbhuja or the Eleven Faced Avalokiteshvara. Manjushri is depicted as orange Arapachana or in the white Siddhaikavira form.

Each figure, male or female, has the same basic physical appearance: peaceful, one face, two arms, jewel ornaments and heavenly garments, seated or standing. All of the figures represented are only identifiable by their attributes; Lokeshvara by the large lotus blossom, Vajrapani by the vajra scepter, Manjushri and the book or sword. Maitreya by the water flask, and Tara merely because she is female.

Although the Buddhist characters have remained popular over time the individual non-iconic physical appearances have not. Not knowing if a figure was created as an individual object or part of a larger set of sculpture makes it very difficult to understand its context, cultural, regional or religious. Some figures could have been made individually for personal use or a home shrine while others might be part of a larger group and intended to be displayed in a temple, or for funerary rituals, or the consecration of a new monastery or temple.

Jeff Watt 8-2021

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).