European Private Collection, acquired in 1995
This plinth from an important eastern Indian stupa is assembled from four separately-cast gilt-copper arches (torana) with crouching elephants, rampant leogryphs, and jewel-topped pillars supporting trilobate spans, makara at either end of the crossbars, bodhisattvas and celestial figures above, and with kirtimukha at the apex.
Separately-cast silver Buddhas and bodhisattvas are placed within the niches. In the principal shrine, Buddha Maravijaya, with hands in bhumisparsha mudra, is seated on a lotus supported by two nagaraja with a vajra before him indicating the vajrasana site at Bodh Gaya, and flanked by Avalokiteshvara on the left and Maitreya on the right. On one side panel Vairocana Buddha is flanked by Manjushri on the left and Vajrapani on the right. On the other side Bhaishajyaguru, holding a begging bowl and a fruit, is accompanied by two bodhisattvas who are traditionally identified as Suryabhaskara and Chandrabhaskara, and at the back the teaching Buddha, with his lotus seat supported by two nagaraja, is flanked by unidentified bodhisattvas.
The eastern Indian tradition of casting deities in silver with contrasting, separately-cast gilt-copper bases or supporting structures is further demonstrated in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s silver Maitreya standing on a separate gilt-copper pedestal (that would have been further incorporated into a gilt copper throne with prabha). The silver stupa plinth and the Cleveland Maitreya have both been painted according to Tibetan ritual practice, and both objects were probably taken from India to Tibet in the medieval period, either by pilgrims as relics or for safekeeping during foreign Islamic incursions in India at the turn of the twelfth century. These fabulous Indian sculptures would have been treasured in Tibet as revered icons from the Buddhist motherland.
Another important eleventh-century Pala statue—the gilt-copper crowned Buddha Shakyamuni currently at Mindrolling in central Tibet—is so close in style to the silver Buddhas that it may have been made in the same eastern Indian atelier as the stupa plinth: compare the lotus tendrils and the distinctive pedestals of the attendants to the silver Maravijaya and the silver teaching Buddha (the bodhisattvas now missing from the Mindrolling Buddha), and the angular folds of the robe on the shoulder and in the left hand of the silver Maravijaya Buddha.
1 A smaller eleventh-century Pala stupa plinth with what may be same iconographic arrangement of Buddhas and bodhisattvas is illustrated in Sotheby’s, New York, March 26, 2003, no. 40
2 David Weldon and Jane Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection, London, 1999, figs. 15, 16
3 Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, Vol. I, p. 265, pl. 84C