India (Kashmir)

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 237

This powerful figurine is best understood as the Mahayana bodhisattva Vajrapani, who appropriated the lighting-bolt scepter (Skt: vajra) of Indra, the Vedic storm god, and repurposed it. Its meaning shifted from that being associated with the life-affirming power of storms (e.g. the monsoons), to the Buddhist savior Vajrapani, who facilitates journeying the path of enlightenment and aiding crystal clear thought as penetrating as a lighting strike.

In this, among the earliest representations known from the greater Kashmir world, the double-ended thunderbolt symbol is imposingly large, the shaft of which extends the length of Vajrapani’s figure. In addition to the massive device with its distinctive prongs, the bodhisattva holds a rosary (aksamala). His face is somewhat abraded but traces of a moustache remain, and he wears a distinctive headdress of an elaborate cockade with hanging strings of pearls disgorging from the center, in the Gupta-manner. Large annular earplugs, also of known Gupta type, are shown frontally. He wears a sacred cord (yanopavita) and short waist cloth with a sheathed dagger secured in the belt. In his raised proper left hand he holds the oversized vajra, and his head is framed by a large unadorned circular halo.

Vajrapani, Gray chorite, India (Kashmir)

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