Ulrich von Schroeder
North-Eastern India: Pala Schools
During the Pala period, between the 8th and 12th centuries, the Buddhist monasteries of North-Eastern India were the most important centres of Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings. The universities included Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Vikramasila, and Odantapuri. These places not only attracted students from all over India and the Himalayas, but also from Tibet and places as far away as China. Missionaries to foreign countries and visitors on their way home carried not only manuscripts with them, but also statues of all kinds, in addition to paintings on palm-leaf and cloth. This explains the impact of Pala art styles in every country professing Mahayana Buddhism, including all the regions of the Himalayas and Tibet. As a result of the Muslims conquest, monastic Buddhism disappeared in Northern India at the end of the 12th century.
The craftsmanship of the Pala artisans in North-Eastern India, especially during the 11th/12th centuries, resembles more the works of jewellers than the craft of metal workers. Among the statues of the Alain Bordier collection is a rare Buddha statue. This brass image represents an ancient replica of the most sacred Buddha image in the whole world – the stone statue of Buddha Sakyamuni inside the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodhgaya (7). Prior to the Muslim invasion of Northern India at the end of the 12th century, this stone Buddha, dating from the 10th century, had been removed and was only reinstalled in the late 19th century. Between the 14th and 19th centuries a Burmese brick statue, erected between 1295 and 1298, occupied the sanctum of the most famous existing Buddhist temple. This explains why numerous Tibetan and Nepalese statues and paintings depicting the Sakyamuni installed in the Mahabodhi Stupa resemble Burmese Buddhas characterized by broad shoulders and short necks.
Another small brass statue represents the Buddhist goddess Mahasri-Tara seated in the “attitude of ease” (lalitasana) on a double lotus pedestal (8). She displays the “gesture of the wheel of the law” (dharmacakra-mudra) and is lavishly bedecked with ornaments. According to the iconographic compendiums, the Mahasri-Tara is the only Tara displaying this gesture. A more aggressive stance radiates from Acala, who tramples on the defeated corpse of the Hindu god Ganesa (9). Acala brandishes in the right uplifted hand the sword as symbol of “cutting through ignorance”, and holds with the left hand, displayed in the gesture of threatening, the noose, an attribute of mainly wrathful deities to catch the enemies of Buddhism. Also worth attention is a miniature stone carving of Kapaladhara Hevajra united with Nairatmya (10). This image depicts the sixteen-armed form of the Yi dam Hevajra, with eight faces and four legs, paired with Nairatmya.
The art of Pagan in Upper Burma was very much influenced by the Eastern Indian art styles. In particular the the Pala workshops were closely connected with the art of Pagan during the 11th and 12th centuries. Although numerous crowned Buddhas are known in the art of Pagan, images inlaid to such an extent with silver and copper are rare (11). The differences in style between North-Eastern India and Upper Burma are not striking but rather indicated by faint distinctions. Especially the modelling of the head, the upper torso, and the short necks, are distinguishable characteristics. Another illustrated image of Sakyamuni was carved of a yellowish-beige stone known in Myanmar as andagu (12). This statue documents an early transitional phase in the development of the Pagan Style based on the traditions of the Eastern Indian Pala Schools.
7. Buddha Sakyamuni. N.-E. India; Late Pala style: 11th/12th century
Brass; hollow cast. Inlaid with silver and copper. Height: 18 cm
8. Mahasri-Tara. N.-E. India; Late Pala style: 11th/12th century
Brass; hollow cast. Inlaid with silver and copper. Height: 11.3 cm
9. Acala. N.-E. India; Late Pala style: 11th/12th century
Brass; hollow cast. Inlaid with silver and copper. Height: 12 cm
10. Kapaladhara Hevajra. N.-E. India; Late Pala: 11th/12th century
Dark grey stone (possibly phyllite). Height: 12.3 cm
11. Crowned Buddha. Burma; Pagan Period: 12th century
Brass; inlaid with silver and copper. Height: 11.2 cm
12. Buddha Sakyamuni. Burma; Pagan Period: 11th century
Yellowish beige andagu stone. Height: 9 cm