19. Virupa
(cat. pl. 42)
c. 15th century
Gilt copper
h. 14 cm


Virupa was a ninth-century follower of the teachings of the dakini Vajravarahi.350 He resided in the eastern Indian monastery of Somapuri for twenty-four years before being ejected for eating the monastery's pigeons. He proceeded to wander the land, performing miracles and receiving sustenance where and when it was to be found. He was angered by the river goddess, Ganga Devi, when she refused him food and drink and he parted her waters and crossed to the other side, entering the town of Kanasata. The yogin found a tavern and was given food and wine by the barmaid; he enjoyed it enormously and demanded more. When the barmaid asked for payment, he pledged her the sun by arresting its motion and continued drinking for days, consuming five hundred elephant loads of spirits. The country was thrown into confusion by the effects of these endless days and the King of Kanasata had no solution to offer. Eventually, he was visited in a dream by the Sun Goddess herself; She informed him that She was bound in her position as the result of a debt to a barmaid. The King paid the bill, Virupa disappeared, and the sun continued in its course.

This episode in the yogin's life is portrayed in this sculpture: his right hand and his gaze are directed towards the sun. The lotus base, with its high rim below the row of well-rounded pearls and the double row of elongated lotus petals, is typical of c. fifteenth-century Tibetan works. It is similar to those of the Yongle period,351 although in this work, the stamens of the lotus flower are delineated above the upper row of petals, a common feature in the Nepalese tradition. Moreover, the technique in which the garland of flowers is separately cast and applied is typical of Nepalese craftsmanship, as seen in a later image of Nairatma in this collection (pl. 28). In Tibet, Virupa is particularly important to the Sakya order, which traditionally offered patronage to Newari artists. (cat. pl. 42)

350. This account is drawn from that which appears in Dowman (1985), pp. 44-6.
351. Further, the baseplate is beautifully fitted and engraved with a vis'vavajra; it retains traces of a red pigment - the application of which was a practice common in the Yongle period (See Weldon 1996) and originating in Nepal, as noted above, p. 74.

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