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In an article entitled “On the Antiquity of Nepalese Metalcraft” published in 1975, Mary Slusser (1918-2017) discussed two important metal sculptures of standing Buddhas from Nepal . One is the earliest dated metal sculpture from Nepal yet known, a standing Buddha with an extensive inscription dated to the equivalent of CE 591, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum (fig. 1) . This image has caused considerable disagreement among art historians who remain divided as to whether the image itself (as opposed to the base, which likely was cast separately from the figure) is of Indian or Nepalese origin . The other image is a lovely standing Buddha presently in the collection of the Kimbell Art Museum, first exhibited in 1975 in Dr. Pratapaditya Pal’s exhibition in the Asia House Gallery Where the Gods Are Young (fig. 2). This sculpture is inscribed but not dated, but is generally agreed to be from the 7th century, a date that can be inferred from the paleography and linguistic style of the inscription . Other metal images of the standing Buddha from Nepal have been published since Slusser’s article which can be dated on stylistic grounds to around the same ca. 7th century period or slightly later (see figs. 13-17 below). None of these is inscribed.
A standing Buddha in Guita Bahi in eastern Patan, over life-size and probably the largest Nepalese metal sculpture now known, must be counted as one of the great marvels of Nepalese metalcraft. This Buddha presides as the main deity (New. gandhurī devatā) of Prathamaśrī mahāvihāra, the largest of the three viharas that make up Guita Bahi. At 6 feet 8 inches, (2m 3 cm) it is the largest of the main deities of the viharas of Patan, and likely of the entire Kathmandu valley .
The god is now worshipped as Dīpaṅkara, a Buddha of the past whose cult is very popular among the Newar Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley .The identification as Dīpaṅkara is reinforced by means of an extensive covering of the figure in gilded repoussé copper, which likely dates from the 18th or 19th century (fig. 3). This sculpture has been published only a few times in the past, and the images published have shown the figure with the later repoussé covering in place .
This is the devout religious work of Śākyabhikṣu Yaśomitra, (donated with the aim) that his father and mother, his teachers and all sentient beings might obtain enlightenment (anuttarajñāna, the unsurpassed wisdom). This bronze image of Lord Buddha was consecrated by the permission of the Great King Rāmadeva, when ruling for a long time, and the well-wisher the great Mahāsāmanta Kramalila. Dated the 13th (lunar day of) the waxing moon of the (month of) Mārgaśīrṣa of the (Shaka) Era 464 (December 542 CE.) .This inscription is well preserved and very clear, and specifically mentions a Buddha “made of bronze” (bhagavato buddhasya kāṅsya pratimā). It is the only Licchavi inscription we know of that refers specifically to a metal sculpture of the Buddha. Because of the mention of the king Rāmadeva and the Mahāsāmanta Kramalīla, the dating is secure and there is no doubt regarding the reading of the year. One other dated inscription mentions Rāmadeva and Kramalīla , and another inscription on the base of a well-known stone sculpture of Avalokiteśvara, has also been assigned to the time of Rāmadeva .
How shall we ascertain the date of the standing Buddha of Guita?
The discovery of the Licchavi inscription inscribed on the back of the base strongly suggests that the Buddha is in fact the original mid-6th century sculpture. When the vihara which housed it was restored in the late 13th century after a major earthquake the sculpture was re-consecrated on the same base – with an inscription added on the front of the pedestal commemorating the reconstruction of the vihara.
Another possibility might be that the present image was indeed a replacement of the original 6th century sculpture, destroyed or damaged beyond repair in some earlier disaster, but made well before the post-earthquake restoration and consecration recorded in 1279. And yet a third possibility is that any previous image was damaged beyond repair and that the present image was made for the 1279 reconstruction of the vihara.
Could this wonderful figure in fact be as early as the mid-sixth century? An examination of the image itself, and a comparison with other dated sculptures of the same subject, and a survey of the art historical scholarship of this particular theme is useful in an attempt to reach a conclusion.
In order to aid fellow art historians – and visitors in general - in forming their own judgment, we offer here a group of comparable Nepalese sculptures of the standing Buddha, both in metal and in stone, from the earliest period to the 13th century, the time of the inscription on the front of the base. For convenience, we have repeated fig. 1 and fig. 2 with this group, as fig. 12 and fig. 15. Sculptures which are inscribed have the figure numbers of the thumbnail captions in red. Often these inscriptions are often not specifically dated; those that do have a date are shown with that date, in C.E., after the figure number. The only sculptures with inscriptions are fig. nos. 12, 14 and 15, and of these only fig. 12 (previously shown as fig. 1), the Cleveland Buddha, has an inscribed date. In addition, we will include in the thumbnail captions the range of dates assigned to each sculpture by the various historians who have studied it; citations for all these dates are included in the captions of the large image page linked to the thumbnail.
It has always been my belief that the history of art in Nepal should be firmly based on whatever dated works are available, but as we shall see in assessing the standing Buddha, those are very few and far between, so that art historians are obliged to arrive at dates through comparisons with other sculptures, a process known as “stylistic analysis”. Given the paucity of dated sculpture – in the group we will examine there is only one dated sculpture - much stylistic analysis regarding the age of works of art is necessarily highly conjectural.
The following gallery of images could not have been compiled without the extraordinary work - and generosity with his images - of Ulrich von Schroeder, whose books have become indispensible guides to Himalayan art . Again, please note that the images below are thumbnails, which can be clicked to go to a “large image page” with an enlarged (and further enlargeable) image and accompanied by full caption details, and in some cases other detail images. The captions include the full details of the citations we mention in the text.
We will start below “at the beginning” with the sculptures of the standing Buddha that have been ascribed to the earliest dates by the art historians who have published studies of Nepalese sculpture. It is indicative of the uncertainty surrounding the dating of sculpture that the very first image we show, a stone figure now missing but originally in a small shrine in the Vajrayogini complex in Sankhu, has been dated from the 4th c. to the 12th c. by the three scholars who have published it (fig. 9 -see caption citations for details). It is certainly of an early type, and seems to suggest a sculptural tradition at its very beginnings, which is likely why Ulrich von Schroeder assigned it a 4th century date. The second, fig. 10, is a wonderful and very well-known fragmentary figure of the Buddha from Chabahil – called by Ulrich von Schroeder, who fell in love with this sculpture when he first came to Nepal in 1965 – “the most famous of all Nepalese stone sculptures of standing Buddhas”. He and most other scholars agree on a date of the 5th or 6th centuries. The third, fig. 11, is the well-known Buddha in Bāṅgemūḍhā Ṭole in the heart of old Kathmandu, and here scholars also agree on a ca. 5/6th century date. The fourth, fig. 12 - the same as our fig. 1 above, is the earliest known dated bronze sculpture from Nepal, The Cleveland Buddha, which has been dated to CE 591, although the reading of the date is undergoing review . Please click on the thumbnails to access the large image page for each sculpture, where you will also find citations of previous publications of the image and the dates assigned by the authors.
5th -6th c.
Fig. 12 (also fig. 1)
6th -8th c.
7th -8th c.
With the next three figures (figs. 25-27) we see considerably more variation in style than we have seen before, and we note that several of these following sculptures were very likely made in Tibet, although Nepalese influence is evident. Fig. 25 is a small figure on a rectangular base from the Lhasa Tsug Lakhang, or Jokhang, and has been dated by Ulrich von Schroeder to the 11th c.; von Schroeder attributes it to the “Tibetan Gilt Copper Traditions”. Fig. 26 is another sculpture from the Lima Lhakhang, in the Potala Palace, which von Schroeder also dates to the 11th century while placing it in the “Nepalese Schools in Tibet”. It shares the “Indian” disposition of the hands (see note 12), and is unusual for this group in the portrayal of the robe which is shown leaving the right shoulder bare and the right side of the body free of the robe, while all other portrayals so far, including the Guita Buddha, show both shoulders covered and the robe falling behind the body on both sides . In Fig. 27, another sculpture of the Tsuglhakhang or Jokhang, again dated to the 11th c. by von Schroeder, we see again both shoulders covered, but the treatment of the robe - flaring out from the body from just above the waist – and the general proportions of the figure, with a large head and the hands pulled in to the body, depart from what we’ve seen earlier. The hands are in positions we have not yet seen, the right hand down in varada mudra as we’ve seen in most of the Nepalese portrayals, but the left hand holding the robe at about the level of the waist as is often the case with the Indian-style sculptures.
There are three possibilities regarding the date of the Buddha of Guita.
1) The first possibility is that the Guita Buddha is the very “bronze Buddha” of the Licchavi inscription on the back of the pedestal, which has survived all the subsequent earthquakes, and thus dates to 542 C.E, making it not only the largest metal sculpture known from Nepal but also the earliest.
2) A second possibility is that it is a work earlier than the 1279 inscription, but later than the sculpture mentioned in the Licchavi inscription, perhaps from the 8h-9th centuries, a sculpture made to replace the Licchavi image when it was damaged beyond repair, but which survived the earthquake which necessitated the 1279 renovation of the vihara.
3) A third possibility is that it is a late 13th c work made to copy and replace an earlier image – either the bronze Buddha of the Licchavi inscription on the back of the pedestal, or perhaps to replace a later replacement of that Buddha which was in turn damaged beyond repair in another earthquake which struck some time before the renovation of the vihara in 1279.
After reviewing the gallery of standing Buddha sculptures (Figs 9-31 above) the third option appears highly unlikely. The thirteenth century examples we have reviewed (Figs 29-30), do not begin to approach the style and sophistication of the Guita Buddha. If such a gigantic sculpture had been made to copy and replace an earlier image it would be likely that the feat would have been specifically mentioned in the 1279 inscription.
It is our opinion that the first is correct. This is almost surely the “statue of a bronze Buddha” consecrated by Yaśomitra during the reign of Rāmadeva in December of CE 542.
It has survived many earthquakes – as many as 15 or more if the estimate of one earthquake every 75-100 years is correct (a calculation which was correct in the case of the 2015 quake, which occurred 81 years after the great earthquake of 1934) . The latest we could reasonably date the sculpture would be to 1279, meaning that it has survived in very good condition for some 740 years. This would give it a good chance of having survived the previous 737 years. The only damage to this remarkable sculpture is the loss of most of the little finger of the right hand, and the loss of sections of both earlobes. The very size of the sculpture no doubt protected it. Where many smaller sculptures are destroyed by falling timbers or masonry in an earthqauke, in the case of this over life-size sculpture, the building would have collapsed around it.
The most powerful argument that this is the Buddha of 542 is of course the inscription, hidden for years on the back of the pedestal, and giving all the details of the religious donation of an image; and not just any image, but specifically a “bronze statue of Lord Buddha”. In contrast, the inscription of 1279 gives no details at all regarding “the gods”; it is concentrated on the history of, and restoration of, the monastery itself, which strongly suggests the Buddha was already there at the time. It is unlikely that a sculpture of such magnitude would have been newly consecrated without any mention of a donor.
The Licchavi inscription is in almost perfect condition, in contrast with the inscription on the front of the base, which has suffered considerable damage despite being half the age. It is likely that the Licchavi inscription was always on the back of the base, and thus hidden from view or the tactile worship of devotees. This placement would be unusual, as most dedicatory inscriptions are incised on the front, rather than the rear, except in the case of smaller later bronzes, where often the inscription is found on the empty rear of a lotus pedestal. If the Licchavi inscription was originally on the front, then we must assume that at some point (perhaps in 1279) the position of the Buddha was reversed on the base and the new inscription carved. Because of the difference in the condition of the two inscriptions, this would appear to be less likely than the possibility that we see the Buddha today in the same relationship to its stone base as was the case when it was first made and consecrated. Furthermore, the Licchavi inscription is carved on an elevated section of the stone base just behind the Buddha’s feet; had the inscription been in front, it would have hidden the feet of the sculpture (see Fig 8, details)
Unfortunately it has not been possible to make a detailed close-up examination of the sculpture itself or of the base. From the photographs we have, it is clear that the feet of the Buddha are planted on a shallow oval two-level stepped subsidiary base, curved at the front corners. This subsidiary curved base is either part of the stone base, or is part of the Buddha and thus in metal (as we suspect is the case), or a combination of the two, with the top plate being in metal and the lower part in stone (Fig. 32, also see fig. 4, detail 5, base). Metal sculptures of standing Buddhas that have been separated from their original bases often have a flat base plate, as is the case of the copper standing Buddha in the upstairs shrine in Sankhu, whose base plate is embedded in a block of wood (fig. 18, detail 4). So at this point we really do not know exactly how the sculpture is attached to its base. A full physical examination of the connection between the metal sculpture and the stone base is much to be desired, and hopefully will be possible at some point in the future.
In all cases where a sculpture is attached to a separately made base with an inscription, it is prudent to question whether they were made at the same time. It is partially this healthy skepticism which has created the controversy surrounding the origin of the Cleveland Buddha (figs. 1, 12), as technical analysis revealed that the sculpture and the base appear to be separate castings, allowing the supposition that the sculpture was made in India while the inscription on the base is clearly Nepalese.
The same uncertainty is true of the Guita Buddha. It is primarily this uncertainty that may lead scholars to hypothesize that the second option we have presented is correct, that the Buddha we now see, while certainly of a style older than the inscription of 1279, must be later than the original Licchavi inscription, and is a replacement of a somewhat later period. While this remains a possibility, it would seem strange that a further consecration of the original figure, of such an extraordinary size and presence, would have been consecrated on the same base as the original, without commemorating the replacement in some way in another inscription that would have been passed down.
In my first article regarding the dating of Nepalese metal sculptures, I wrote, “…it will be clear to the reader familiar with the corpus of Nepalese works of art in metal presently known to us, that the dates engraved on several of these sculptures are surprisingly early, and contrary to the opinion expressed by some scholars that Nepalese works of art are too often assigned unreasonably early dates, they seem to present some evidence that the reverse is in fact the case.” 
In 2010, Mary Slusser, the author of the article whose title we have paraphrased here, presented evidence via radiocarbon testing that we have long underestimated the age of some of the greatest wood sculptures of the Kathmandu valley. Her reassessment brought the earliest wooden sculptures back from the previously earliest envisaged date of the 13th century by some 5 to 6 centuries, with the earliest wooden struts being dated by C14 to the period of CE 660-860, and two free standing sculptures even earlier, to ca. 531-680 .
We feel a similar reassessment may now be due for the dating of metal sculpture as well. If the Guita Buddha is indeed the bronze statue commissioned by the pious monk Yaśomitra in 542, then we must reassess the age of several of the other sculptures we have reviewed above.
There is still much we do not know about the Guita Buddha. Clearly a high copper content alloy and surely a hollow casting, no seams are visible in the surface that would indicate that it was joined together with separately cast pieces, as is often done for larger sculptures today. If it is a single pour, that is a stupendous feat of technology for any metal-casting tradition in any age. We have much to learn and hopefully further research can be carried out on this extraordinary work of Buddhist art.
One of the greatest and earliest metal sculptures of Nepal has been hidden in its late medieval disguise for centuries: the magnificent “bronze image of Lord Buddha” of 542 CE of Guita Bahi.
1. Slussser, Mary Shepherd, 1975, “On the Antiquity of Nepalese Metalcraft”, Archives of Asian Art, XXIX, pp 80 -94, with a reading and translation of the inscription of figs. 1 and 2 by Gautamvajra Vajracharya. Slusser's article was built on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, specifically his 1971 article "Three Dated Nepali Bronzes and Their Stylistic Significance.", where he noted "wild speculation among scholars" regarding the dating of Nepali bronzes, and the often dismissive attitude of early scholars regarding the antiquity of bronzes from Nepal (Pal, 1971, "Three Dated Nepali Bronzes and Their Stylistic Significance." Archives of Asian Art, vol. 25, 1971, pp 58-59).
2. A further study of the inscription is underway in Nepal, which may recommend some changes in the reading supplied by Gautamvajra Vajracharya in the article by Mary Slusser, (Slussser, Mary Shepherd, 1975, p. 93).
3. Several scholars decided it was of Indian origin:
Stanislaw Czuma, “A Gupta-Style Bronze Buddha”, The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 57, no. 2, (1970): 55-67.
John Guy, “Parading the Buddha in the Post-Gupta Age”, Orientations, March 2016, pp. 102-12 and
Aurora Graldi, “Travelling Icons and Travelling Donors: A Metal Buddha Image in The Cleveland Museum of Art”, Orientations, Vol. 49, No 1, Jan-Feb 2018: 96-102
Other scholars treat it as Nepalese:
Slussser, Mary Shepherd, 1975, “On the Antiquity of Nepalese Metalcraft”, Archives of Asian Art, XXIX, (1975-76) with reading and translation of the inscription by Gautam Vajracharya, p.93.
Slusser, 1982, Nepal Mandala, Vol 2, pl 448.
Pal, Pratapaditya , 1978, The Ideal Image, [catalogue of the exhibition held at Asia House Gallery] (New York: The Asia Society) fig 71, p. 118.
von Schroeder, Ulrich, 1981, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, 74E.
Alsop, Ian, 2005, “Metal Image-casting in Nepal” in Van Alphen, ed, Cast for Eternity, (Antwerp: Ethnographic Museum) p. 103.
4. Slussser, Mary Shepherd, 1975, “On the Antiquity of Nepalese Metalcraft”, reading and translation of the inscription by Gautam Vajracharya, p. 93.
Also, Pal, Pratapaditya, 1975, Nepal, Where the Gods are Young, [catalogue of the exhibition held at Asia House Gallery] (New York: The Asia Society), no. 1 Buddha Śākyamuni, 7th c.:
von Schroeder, Ulrich, 1981, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, 75F, 7th century:
Vajracharya, Gautama V., 2016, Nepalese Seasons: Rain and Ritual, Rubin Museum of Art, New York p. 162-164, cat 52, Devavatara Buddha, 7th c.
5. This term, gandhurī devatā often applied to the presiding deity of a Buddhist vihara has puzzled scholars. Kashinath Tamot has recently provided a convincing etymology tying the term to the prakrit/hybrid Sanskrit term gandhakuti (Tamot 2020). It is worth noting here that there are several identifications of the early standing Buddhas of Nepal. They have been traditionally called either Sakyamuni Buddha or Maitreya Buddha, often depending on their position within an ensemble or the style of their robe. Another popular designation among the Newars for the traditional Nepalese standing Buddha is Devāvatara, which is a reference to the story of the Buddha coming down from the Tushita heaven after visiting his mother (see also note 12).
6. Vajracarya, Herakaji, 1999 (N.S. 1119) Guitaḥyā Bahi Vihāra Sangh (Gustala Mahāvihāra, Prathamaśrī mahāvihāra, Vasuccaśīla Mahāvihāra chagū adhyayana (A study of the Guita Bahi vihāra Sangha), p. 53. The size of 6’ 8” was given “without base” but has not been verified, and while it does not include the rectangular stone base, it may perhaps include the subsidiary base (see fig. 32). Vajracarya also noted that this is the only “main deity” (gandhurī devatā) that is positioned above ground level.
7. The Dīpaṅkara cult become popular in the Malla period, perhaps as early as the 14th century, and is still very popular today. The earliest documentary evidence of images of Dīpaṅkara is from the mid 15th c. (Michaels, 2013, p 320). Guita Bahi holds an important place in the Dīpaṅkara cult in the Kathmandu valley, and takes its modern name from the legends associated with the Dīpaṅkara story: Dipāvati Nagare Sarvānandanṛpa Saṃskārita Padmoccaśrī Māhavihara. Several important Newar Buddhist rituals are closely connected with the worship of Dīpaṅkara, including the annual Pañcadān (“five offerings”) festival; the Patan observance of Pañcadān starts at Guita Bahi. (Vajracarya, Herakaji, 1999, p. 55, nos. 14 & 15).
8. Slusser, Mary Shepherd, 1982, Nepal Mandala, two vols. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press), vol. 2, plates 485, 486, “copper repousse, 13th c. (?);
Vajracarya, Herakaji, 1999 (N.S. 1119) Guitaḥyā Bahi Vihāra Sangh (Gustala Mahāvihāra, Prathamaśrī mahāvihāra, Vasuccaśīla Mahāvihāra chagu adhyayana (A study of the Guita Bahi vihāra Sangha) (Dipavatī Putsakālaya, Guita, Patan), 2nd fig before p. 1
Michaels, Axel, 2013, " From Syncretism to Transculturality: The Dīpaṅkara Procession in the Kathmandu Valley" in Hüsken/Michaels, editors, South Asian Festivals on the Move, (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag), pp 317-342. Fig. 2, 13th c.
The later repoussé covering has acted as a kind of disguise. Had this covering not been in place the real date of the sculpture might have been surmised much earlier. This situation is repeated in the case of several other sculptures in the Kathmandu valley.
9. Bijayaratna Shakya, Rajan Shakya and Phalsman Shakya are three extraordinary artists and friends who are also art history sleuths with an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Himalayan metals arts. Phalsman is a master engraver, and Bijay and Rajan are master lost-wax sculptors. They have taken me to many wonderful places in Patan, and it was through them that I first saw not only the astonishing Buddha of Guita but also the Buddha of the International Meditation Centre near Śaṅkhamūl (see Fig. 17 detail 2). Their close relationship with Guita Bahi was reinforced by the work they carried out with several other artists in recreating the wonderful clay sculptures of Amoghapaśa Lokeśvara in Vasuccaśīla Māhavihāra in Guita (Shakya, Gyanendra, 2010).
10. Vajracarya, Herakaji, 1999 (N.S. 1119) Guita Vihāra Sangh (Gustala Mahāvihāra, Prathamaśrī mahāvihāra, Vasuccashīla Mahāvihāra chagu adhyayana (A study of the Guita Bhai vihāra Sangha), p. 61, reading: translation in Newari by Shantaharsha Vajracharya 1999, fn 38, p. 87.
11. see Appendix 1 for a full reading, translation and notes on this important inscription, and also The Buddha of Guita Bahi: Part II Inscriptions and Historical Notes, by Kashinath Tamot, forthcoming on asianart.com at asianart.com/articles/guita/part2. Here is a rough English translation based on the Newari of Shantaharsha Vajracharya in Vajracarya, Herakaji, 1999, fn 38, p. 87 and the Nepali translation of Dhanavajra Vajracharya (Vajracharya, Dhanavajra, 2011, p. 139):
Salutations to the Buddha, He who has defeated anger and all other enemies, who has received the full initiation of the kingdom of the dharma; may the mighty (bira) Buddha, adorned with all qualities, bless all the beings of the three worlds forever.
The great city of Lalitpur is renowned in all directions. There are found many temples (where men of virtue) practice knowledge. On the Eastern side of this great city, there is the beautiful vihāra of Gusatala. There the bhikṣu called Yatīndra Gautamaśrī, of great fame, who dispels the darkness... of the kaliyuga through wisdom and the daily practice of the mantra, oversees the saṁgha of the pious bhikṣus of the monastery. This saintly person with the help of the entire saṁgha of bhikṣus, established other viharas in Lalitpur. His disciple, Kṣāntiśrī, was best of all those who observed the vows and the path.
On the first of the bright half of Māgh in the year 399, he systematically restored the earthquake-damaged monastery. They consecrated the god(s) and performed the lākṣahuti fire sacrifice, and raised the great flag. By the virtue of this act, may the king reign piously, may the rain come and the earth be filled with grain. May it be good for all mankind.
12. The only damage visible on the statue are the missing little finger of the right hand, the losses of most of the earlobes of both ears, and a very small nick on the nose of the Buddha, all of these losses are visible in both pre- and post- earthquake photographs (see fig. 4 and details).
13. Rajbanshi, Shyam Sundar, 2016, “Pāṭan guitabahīko aprakāśita licchavikālakā abhilekha. श्यामसुन्दर राजवंशी, "पाटन गुइतबहीको अप्रकाशित लिच्छविकालका अभिलेख" in Abhilekha, journal of the National Archives, (vol. 33, 2016:74-76) See also Appendix 1, Appendix 1, Inscription 4: The Guita Bahi Buddha Licchavi Inscription by Kashinath Tamot with Dr. Nayanath Paudel http://asianart.com/articles/guita/part1/app8.html.
See also Part II of this article, The Buddha of Guita Bahi: Inscriptions and Historical Notes, by Kashinath Tamot, forthcoming in asianart.com/articles/guita/part2.
14. a translation of Rajbanshi, Shyam Sundar, 2016, “Pāṭan guitabahīko aprakāśita licchavikālakā abhilekha. (Unpublished inscription of Licchavi Period from Patan Guita Bahi)”. Abhilekha (National Archives, Kathmandu), No. 33 (VS 2072), pp. 74-76.
For a full treatment of this inscription please see AppenAppendix 1, Inscription 4 : The Guita Bahi Buddha Licchavi Inscription by Kashinath Tamot with Dr. Nayanath Paudeldix 1, Inscription 4: The Guita Bahi Buddha Licchavi Inscription by Kashinath Tamot with Dr. Nayanath Paudel http://asianart.com/articles/guita/part1/app8.html.
See also Part II of this article, The Buddha of Guita Bahi: Inscriptions and Historical Notes, by Kashinath Tamot, forthcoming in asianart.com/articles/guita/part2/.
15. For further details and an image of the Avalokiteśvara sculpture, see Appendix 1, Inscription 4, The Guita Bahi Buddha Licchavi Inscription by Kashinath Tamot with Dr. Nayanath Paudel http://asianart.com/articles/guita/part1/app8.html.
16. Ulrich von Schroeder’s books are indispensible guides to the art of the entire Himalayan region and India. In addition to his encyclopedic volumes, he has offered free use – as long as the published credits are included - of a myriad of photographs via the DVD that was offered with his volume 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet – subsequently published on jokhangsculpture.com, and the SD card that accompanies Vol II of his recently released Nepalese Stone Sculptures. The jokhangsculpture.com images are identified as such wherever they are used in the images below, and the images from the Nepalese Stone Sculptures SD card are identified by the marker “NSS SD card”. From these notes in the captions the reader will very quickly see how much we are indebted to Ulrich von Schoeder’s tireless scholarship and generous sharing of images. In the latter effort he has been joined by numerous museums that have abandoned the practice of controlling the release of images of their holdings and have instead made the images available to all users, an admirable and rational change from previous practice.
17. von Schroeder, Ulrich, 2019, Nepalese Stone Sculptures, two vols, vol II, Buddhist p. 880.
18. A Nepalese scholar and epigraphist is proposing an alternate reading of the inscription which may change the suggested date of this sculpture. This study will be published soon.
19. Slussser, Mary Shepherd, 1975, "On the Antiquity of Nepalese Metalcraft", Archives of Asian Art, XXIX, (1975-76), p. 81, also n. 5.
20. This variation is of some importance in comparing the Nepalese tradition versus the Indian. It should be noted that Ulrich von Schroeder, in von Schroeder, 2001, Buddhist Sculpture in Tibet, two vols, vol. One; Indian & Nepalese, records four other sculptures with this arrangement of the hands, (nos 136A-B, 137A-C, 137D-E, and 141C-E, which we illustrate here as fig. 23). See also note 21.
21. We will be referring to many images of the standing Buddha in this article. Since our investigation is largely art historical, we will not address two issues that are involved with the iconography and identity of these figures.
One issue involves the variation in the positions of the hands for standing Buddha figures from Nepal and India. The first arrangement has the right hand in “abhaya mudrā” or the gesture of fearlessness, and the left hand holding the hem of the robe either down beside the left leg or at about waist height. This arrangement of the hands of the Buddha is common in bronzes (and stone sculptures) attributed to Gupta India, but is also found in some Nepalese depictions (see figs 1/12, 13, 16, and 23). Another arrangement, usually (but not always) found in Nepalese sculptures, and seen in the Guita Buddha, shows the Buddha standing with his right hand open, down along his right side, a gesture either interpreted as varada mudrā, the gesture of giving or charity, or as Viśvavyākaraṇa mudrā; and with the left hand holding the tip of the robe raised near the left shoulder. The variation in the name for the gesture of the right hand seems to depend on the identification of the figure as either Śākyamuni (varada) or Maitreya (Viśvavyākaraṇa).
The other issue regards the iconographical identification of the Nepalese standing Buddha figures. They are identified as Buddha Śākyamuni, Maitreya or sometimes, Devāvatara (see Vajracharya, Gautama V., 2016, pp 162-164, cat 52). Often these identifications are based on the appearance of the robe (smooth or pleated) and /or the positions of the hands, as we see above in the two definitions of the most common gesture of the right hand in Nepalese standing Buddhas.
We will not use these identifications in this article where we will usually refer to the images as “standing Buddha” (although in the full captions to images we will note in the citations when more specific identifications are used by other authors).
These issues are important and of considerable interest, but we will not address them in this article.
22. Slusser, Mary Shepherd, 1982, Nepal Mandala, pl. 458.
23. This arrangement of the robe is more often found in the Indian Pala tradition and subsequent Buddhist styles influenced by the Pala tradition.
24. von Schroeder dated it to 11/12th c. in his earlier Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001); it is not unusual for scholars to reassess their opinions of dating occasionally.
25. von Schroeder, Ulrich, 2019, Nepalese Stone Sculptures, two vols, vol II, Buddhist pp 898 – 903, pl 281A – 283F.
26. The various reading of Indian scholars, 343, 233, 353 (later corrected to 213), or 313 were arrived at assuming that the Gupta era of CE 319/320 was the era of the inscription, while Vajracharya’s reading is based on the Śaka era of CE 78. Dr. Czuma’s preferred reading, 313 (300-10-3), resulted in the CE date 632/633 he proposed in his first article on the sculpture. Dr. Czuma did contemplate a Nepalese origin, which was suggested by some of the language in the inscription and by the supposed origin of the sculpture from the Nepalese Terai, but the Nepalese traditional Śaka era or other eras “could not even be considered because they will be much too early for the style of the Cleveland Museum figure” if the reading of 313 (300-10-3) was accepted (p. 63). Gautam Vajracarya read the first character as 500 (500-10-3) which as Śaka samvat equaled CE 591, which ended up being only 41 or 42 years earlier than the date arrived at by Czuma’ Gupta era 313 reading. One of the problems affecting these readings stems from the fact that the characters for 100, 200, 300 and 500 in the Licchavi character set are not that different from each other, and in an inscription which is not completely pristine, confusion can occur.
A further study of this inscription is underway by several scholars in Nepal.
27. Two other examples of controversy surrounding dates involve figures of Visnu. A small sculpture of Visnu appeared briefly in the Bombay market sometime around 1971, and was sufficiently well-photographed by the then Prince of Wales Museum to allow the inscription to be read with the year as “172”. Scholars disagreed on the era this date referred to. Several scholars assigned it to the Nepal Samvat, resulting in a CE date of 1052 (see Pal 1971, p. 60-61, also n. 10; von Schoeder, 1981, fig. 83c, p. 322; Slusser, 1982, Vol 1, app. IV-1, no. 171, where era is shown as (NS?)). One scholar considered this a surprisingly early date on stylistic grounds (Khandalavala, p. 34). Later, scholars attributed the date to the Manadeva era or Amsuvarman era of the late Licchavi period resulting in 748 CE; this latter view has now generally been agreed upon. (Pal 1971, note 10; Alsop 1984 pp 26-31; Vajracharya G, 2012, 10-12; Vajracharya, D, 1973, inscription no. 171, pp 590-591). This is another example of the problem of assigning the correct era to a date, although in this case the reading was not in dispute. In the case of the Cleveland Buddha, the readings and the eras differed, it was dated first using the Gupta era with one reading (300-10-3) and then using the Śaka era with another reading (500-10-3).
Another Viṣṇu sculpture, a gilt repousse plaque of the god in the Los Angeles County Museum, was the source of confusion caused by an unusual way of writing the date. The year was written “in words” as “trayasamadhike vatsarake śate” which, with the help of Dhanavajra Vajracharya, was interpreted by the author as “in the year 103” or CE 983 (Alsop, 1984, 33); Dhanavajra’s nephew Gautamvajra Vajracharya agreed with the reading but corrected the translation to “in the year, (which is) three times more than a hundred” that is, “in the year 300” , or CE 1180, which solved the knotty problem of the appearance of so many late elements in the plaque (Vajracharya G., 2012, pp 16-17: Alsop, 2015, https://www.asianart.com/articles/visnu/index.html).
28. The inscription has not yet been read and translated in full, although previous research indicates it “names several donors who dedicate the merit from commissioning this image to the attainment of supreme knowledge (i.e. Buddhahood) by their teachers, kinsfolk and all sentient beings.” (Zwalf, ed. 1984 p. 122). A Nepalese epigraphist, Nayanath Paudel, has indicated he feels the paleography would indicate a time around the time of Amshuvarma, early 7th century, thus in the middle range of the estimates given by previous scholars (Paudel, Nayanath, 2020, forthcoming.)
29. von Schroeder, Ulrich, 2019, Nepalese Stone Sculptures, two vols, vol II, Buddhist fig. VII-7, 280A and 280B p. 878 and 896. Although many scholars dated this huge sculpture to an early period, others did not. Dr. Pratapditya Pal, in his seminal 1974 treatise Art of Nepal: Part I, Sculpture, found it odd that this sculpture (which he did not include in his plates) survived the destructive raid of 1349 of Sultan Samsud-din without “even a surface scratch” and noted that, along with another sculpture, it poses an “almost insoluble problem in the history of Nepali sculpture”; he dated the smaller of the two sculptures (von Schroeder, 2019, 280A) to the 17th century (Pal, 1974, pp 54-55, 54, n. 12, and fig. 78).
30. See The Standing Buddha of Guita Bahi: Part II Inscriptions and Historical Notes, by Kashinath Tamot, forthcoming on asianart.com, for further information on medieval earthquakes from Nepalese historical records. A Wikipedia page sums up earthquakes in Nepal from 1255 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_earthquakes_in_Nepal.
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