Ulrich von Schroeder
North-Western India: Swat and Kashmir Regions
The oldest Buddhist statues in the Alain Bordier Collection date from the 6th/7th centuries and originate from the North-Western part of the Indian subcontinent, in particular the greater Swat and Kashmir regions. Most prominent among these objects is an unusual large brass image from the greater Swat region representing an ascetic form of Avalokitesvara (1). Another highlight is a brass statue of the type of Buddhist Bodhisattva identified as “pensive form of Avalokitesvara” (2). For this kind of gesture displayed with the right hand, no textual reference has yet been found. Nevertheless, the undoubtedly pensive and perhaps sorrowful mood may perhaps depict the Bodhisattva as the “lord of great compassion” (mahakarunika). The “pensive gesture” is also associated with a meditating form of Avalokitesvara. Presumably indebted to Greco-Roman influence, this type of Bodhisattva manifested itself on the Indian subcontinent for the first time during the Kusana dynasty (1st–3rd century AD) in the art of Gandhara, and also in Mathura. The iconographic type of Bodhisattva images displaying the “pensive gesture” spread from India to China and further to Korea and Japan.
Some of the most refined Buddhist sculptures originating from North-Western India can be attributed to the Patola-Sahi, a kingdom that flourished between the 6th and 8th centuries, and whose territories comprised the Gilgit area in Northern Pakistan (3). Depicted is a crowned Buddha Sakyamuni displaying the “gesture of the wheel of the doctrine” (dharmacakra-mudrå). According to the dated dedicatory Sarada inscription, this image was donated in the year 54 of the Laukika era, which is equal to the year 78/9 of an unknown century. Compared with other published statues, the most probable date could be: 624/25 + 54 = 678/ 9.
The valley of Kashmir, located in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent, represents another region with a long tradition of Buddhism. Among the illustrated statues is a small representation of Buddha seated in the diamond attitude and displaying the “gesture of the wheel of the law” (4). The shining surface of the metal is the result of extensive ritual worship by successive generations of Buddhist monks in India and Tibet. The stylistic and technical characteristic of this Buddha image point to the Kashmir area as the location of manufacture and dates from the first half of the 8th century.
Most common among the metal statues originating from North-Western India are representations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Female representations such as the depicted “green Tara” (5) were more popular in the adjoining areas of Western Tibet. The donor kneeling in adoration beside the pedestal might depict a Tibetan patron who commissioned this image from a Kashmiri craftsman.
In modern literature it has become the custom to identify Buddha images seated with both legs pendant (bhadrasana) and displaying the “gesture of the wheel of the doctrine” as Buddha Maitreya, the “future Buddha” (6). However, as indicated by other Buddha statues, such images may as well commemorate the first sermon of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni at Sarnath. Confirmed by Chinese translations of Indian Sanskrit sadhanas, the Stupa is one of the principal emblems of Maitreya. Yet the Stupa crowning the nimbus of the illustrated Buddha image is not a proof that this image represents Maitreya beyond a doubt. Rather, as illustrated by countless Kashmir images of different iconographies, this feature is not restricted to representations of Maitreya only.
1. Avalokitesvara Padmapani. N.-W. India; Swat: 7th century
Brass; hollow cast; inlaid with silver. Height: 23.5 cm
2. Pensive Avalokitesvara. N.-W. India; Gupta Style: 6th century
Brass; hollow cast. Height: 14.5 cm
3. Crowned Buddha. N.-W. India; Gilgit: dated 678/679 AD
Brass; inlaid with silver and copper. Height: 22 cm
4. Buddha Sakyamuni. N.-W. India; Kashmir: 700–750 AD
Brass; inlaid with silver. Height: 12 cm
5. Syama-Tara. N.-W. India; Kashmir: ca. 10th century
Brass; hollow cast. Height: 14.5 cm
6. Maitreya or Sakyamuni. N.-W. India; Kashmir: 9th/10th century
Brass; inlaid with silver and copper. Height: 15.9 cm