3. Buddha
(cat. pl. 3)
Kashmir, India
c. 9th century
Copper alloy with silver
h. 26 cm


This highly accomplished image represents the Buddha in the gesture of religious instruction (dharmacakra pravartana mudra). The Buddha is depicted according to established iconographic norms for the represention of enlightened beings, with webbed fingers, elongated earlobes, a mark between his brows (urna), a cranial protuberance (usnisa) and a coiffure which suggests hair that is arranged in tight curls. The urna and the eyes are inlaid with silver, and the pupils are further enhanced with a black, pitch-like substance. The image is rendered with exquisite subtlety, expressing a luminous presence with a powerful, inward focus.

The image invites comparison with a superb sculpture in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.53 The Virginia Buddha, like this image, is presented on a lotus base consisting of two rows of downward pointing lotus petals, in turn supported by a simple, tiered platform.54 Both images emphasize the sensuous qualities of form, with the contours of the Buddha's body partly revealed through his beautifully draped robes. They also exhibit a minimal use of other, inlaid metals, in sharp contrast to two celebrated images of the Buddha, one in the Norton Simon Foundation, the other in the John D. Rockefeller III Collection, both heavily inlaid.55 A support located just below the back of the neck would once have attached the Nyingjei Lam sculpture to an aureole. There would have been another support now indicated by an aperture into which a brass plate has been inserted at the back of the head; the plate is decorated with rudimentary punch marks to suggest curls of hair (fig. 3). It is likely that this plate was added during the process of consecration, after the image reached Tibet.

Dated Kashmiri images are extremely rare and the chronology of this regional school is still somewhat tentative. A c. ninth-century date, based on a comparison with two dated Kashmiri works, is proposed for this image. The first dated image is a stone Buddha fragment in the National Museum, New Delhi, that dates to c. AD 739.56 The body type and facial features of the New Delhi Buddha are very similar to those of many of the renowned Kashmiri carved ivories57 and those of the acclaimed Buddha in the Norton Simon Foundation. The Nyingjei Lam image is more softly modelled than the dated stone fragment and the Norton Simon Buddha, closer to works normally attributed to the ninth century.58 The second dated image, a figure of Avalokitesvara dated AD 980-1003, now in the Sri Pratap Singh Museum in Srinagar,59 has the less satisfying proportions and the somewhat exaggerated facial features that reflect a later phase of the Kashmiri style; this work must predate it by a considerable margin.60   (cat. pl. 3)

53. Published in Pal (1975), pp. 96-7 and Schroeder (1981), fig. 14F.
54. See also a standing Buddha in a private collection, published in Schroeder (1981), fig. 17C.
55. Published in Pal (1975), pp. 92-3 and 106-7 respectively.
56. The date fragment is published in Siudmak (1989), p. 52, fig. 19 and note 10. Siudmak notes that the date inscribed on the stone is the fifteenth year of the Laukika era, which he interprets as corresponding to AD 739. See his note 10, in which he disagrees with P. G. Paul's date of a century earlier.
57. The ivories are published in Czuma (1989).
58. For a chronology of Kashmiri metalwork, See Pal (1989).
59. Published in Pal (1989), p. 79.
60. An inscription along the base is written in sarada script: ratnapalasvami pala 55. Our thanks to Isabelle Onians of Wolfson College, Oxford, for her help in providing a preliminary transliteration of this inscription. Our thanks to Professor Dr Oskar von Hinüber of Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany, who was able to transliterate the sarada inscription, to translate it, and to shed considerable light on its significance. Dr von Hinüber notes that the important part of the inscription is the presence of the pala weight, and the description of the sculpture as [weighing] 55 pala.

The exact value of this weight is not known, but the statue weighs 2582. 9 grams, suggesting that - in this instance at least - a pala would correspond to approximately 46. 96 grams. Recall Kalhana's description of an enormous Kashmiri image created from eighty-four thousand palas of silver (see p. 14, above). Dr von Hinüber was kind enough to refer our query to Dr Richard Salomon of the University of Washington, who has written about inscriptions that mention the weights of images (See Salomon, 1996).

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer