This late 12th-century seated sculpture of Achala Vidyaraja represents one of the many Buddhist deities introduced to Japan during the Heian period as part of the imagery associated with Esoteric Buddhism. Achala, whose name means 'immovable,' is one of a group of five wisdom kings or vidyarajas, each of whom represents the powers of one of the five buddhas who symbolize the five divisions of the Diamond World (Vajradhatu). Achala Vidyaraja, the most important of the five wisdom kings, represents the powers of Vairochana Buddha. This sculpture was once part of a group of five figures, and would have been placed at the center of the other four wisdom kings. The image follows conventions for the representation of Achala recorded in iconographic texts associated with the teachings of the influential monk Kukai or Kobo Daishi (774-835): his body is plump and generally blue or black; he has long matted hair, a ferocious expression, fangs, and bulging eyes--and his left eye is often shown squinting. Achala is seated on a tiered pedestal and once held a sword in his right hand and a lasso in his left. He wears a long, full garment, which is folded over at the waist, and a scarf, which drapes around his left shoulder and over his upper torso.
Stylistically, this sculpture illustrates the transition from the courtly style of 11th-century art to the more dramatic and naturalistic traditions favored by the Kamakura-period (1185-1333) military elite. Achala's broad flat torso, his plump hands and feet, the way in which his scarf is tied--in particular the piece of cloth that covers the left shoulder--and the stylized folds of his lower garment typify the art of the late 11th and early 12th centuries. The slight articulation at his waist, the definition in his cheeks, and the spiky curls in his hair, however, prefigure the more realistic styles of sculptures from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The statue was made of Japanese cypress (hinoki) using the joined woodblock method of construction developed in the 11th century. In this technique, different parts--such as the head, feet, hands, and torso--were carved from separate pieces of wood, the head and torso were hollowed out, and then the pieces were assembled. After joining, the sculptures were often covered with a gessolike material (gofun) and painted and decorated with cut gold and silver leaf (kirikane). Traces of red pigment and gold leaf are found on this sculpture, although both are badly abraded.