Eastern Indian / Crowned Buddha Shakyamuni / Pala period, 11th centuryEastern Indian
Crowned Buddha Shakyamuni
Pala period, 11th 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: Crowned Buddha Shakyamuni
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1000
Creation End Date: 1099
Creation Date: Pala period, 11th century
Creation Place: India, Bihar
Object Type: Sculpture
Classification Term: Reliefs
Materials and Techniques: Schist
Dimensions: H. 27 3/4 in. (70.5 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.036
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org
Context: One of the longest lasting and most important Buddhist cultures of India developed and flourished in eastern India from the 8th to the 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. However, various other families, in particular the Senas, also controlled smaller sections of this region at different times. Monks from all over Asia traveled to eastern India to study Buddhism at the famous monasteries there. As a result, the influence of Pala-style art spread throughout Asia. Pala contributions to Buddhist art include the development of a new figural type, which was loosely based on prototypes developed during the Gupta period (c. 320-c. 500) in north and north-central India, and the evolution of a more complicated iconography that illustrates contemporary changes in Buddhist thought.

The long bodies with well-defined waists and long, thin facial features seen in this stone relief exemplify the style of Pala sculpture in the 11th century. The relief illustrates the moment before Shakyamuni's enlightenment, when the meditating Buddha-to-be was attacked by the demon Mara and his evil forces who challenged his right to seek enlightenment. In response, Shakyamuni reached down to touch the ground, calling upon the earth to validate his quest, a gesture depicted in this sculpture. Steles such as this are found in niches in architectural monuments or shrines.

Eleventh-century Pala art is distinguished by an interest in detail and greater iconographic complexity. Here the central Shakyamuni Buddha figure is seated on an elaborate throne. His right hand makes the earth-touching gesture (bhumisparshamudra), while his left is held in the gesture of meditation (dhyanamudra). Around him are arrayed four smaller buddha images. Each of these five major figures has a nimbus with a decorated border encircling his head or body. In addition to two branches of the pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), under which he achieved enlightenment, Shakyamuni has a canopy above his head. The earth goddess and a male donor are depicted on the pedestal, and the Buddhist consecratory formula is inscribed along its base.

The crouching lions on the base symbolize the Buddha's role as an earthly ruler or king, as well as the process of enlightenment, which is sometimes described as a lion's roar. The Buddha wears a crown and jewelry, adornments that first appear in Pala-period sculptures dating to the 11th century. The importance of crowns in the representation of Shakyamuni and other buddhas has been linked to the development of the esoteric branch of Buddhism, which stresses the importance of rites and ceremonies in the quest for enlightenment.

Each of the surrounding buddhas represents an episode in the life of Shakyamuni, identifiable by subtle variations in their posture and gesture, and the objects held in their hands. Moving clockwise from the lower left are Shakyamuni's descentfrom the Heaven of Thirty-three Gods, which he visited to preach to his mother; the first sermon; the story of a monkey's offering of honey to the Buddha; and the taming of the mad elephant Nalagiri sent by his evil cousin to kill him. The figures are four of a standardized group of scenes called the Eight Great Events. These events can be interpreted as both historical records and as paradigms for the process of enlightenment. For example, the taming of the elephant can be understood as a symbol of the mastery of certain aspects of the self that must be disciplined.

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: Christie, Manson, and Woods. Fine Chinese Porcelain and Hardstones; Indian Stone Carvings and Oriental Objects of Art (auction, London, July 2, 1962), p. 158, pl. 14.
Related Document Description: Cotter, Holland. 'In the Shade of the Bodhi Tree.' Art in America (November 1990), pp. 172-80, 219-21.
Related Document Description: Huntington, Susan L. 'Pre Pala and Pala Period Sculptures in the Rockefeller Collection.' Apollo (November 1983), pp. 372, 374-75.
Related Document Description: Huntington, Susan L., and John C. Huntington. Leaves from the Bodhi Tree: The Art of Pala India (8th-12th Centuries) and Its International Legacy. Dayton and Seattle: Dayton Art Institute and University of Washington Press, 1990, pp. 140-41.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd--Part II. New York: Asia Society, 1975, pp. 14, 20.
Related Document Description: Leidy, Denise Patry. 'Iconography and Provenance: Buddhist Art from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection.' Orientations (March 1993), p. 53.
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, 68, 77, 84.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 58, 59.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 46, 121-22.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.036
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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