A RARE BLACK STONE STELE OF THE BUDDHA'S DESCENT FROM THE TRAYATRIMSHA HEAVEN
A RARE BLACK STONE STELE OF THE BUDDHA'S DESCENT FROM THE TRAYATRIMSHA HEAVEN
A RARE BLACK STONE STELE OF THE BUDDHA'S DESCENT FROM THE TRAYATRIMSHA HEAVEN
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A RARE BLACK STONE STELE OF THE BUDDHA'S DESCENT FROM THE TRAYATRIMSHA HEAVEN
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THE JOHN C. AND SUSAN L. HUNTINGTON COLLECTION
A RARE BLACK STONE STELE OF THE BUDDHA'S DESCENT FROM THE TRAYATRIMSHA HEAVEN

NORTHEASTERN INDIA, BIHAR, PALA PERIOD, 9TH CENTURY

细节
A RARE BLACK STONE STELE OF THE BUDDHA'S DESCENT FROM THE TRAYATRIMSHA HEAVEN
NORTHEASTERN INDIA, BIHAR, PALA PERIOD, 9TH CENTURY
26 1/2 in. (67.3 cm.) high
来源
Gump's, San Francisco, 8 April 1975.
The John C. and Susan L. Huntington Collection, Columbus, Ohio.
出版
Himalayan Art Resources, item no. 24798.

荣誉呈献

Tristan Bruck
Tristan Bruck Specialist, Head of Sale

拍品专文

The northeastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, in what is today the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh, were, in the eighth through twelfth centuries, some of the most important intellectual, cultural, and artistic centers of South Asia. The location of many of the Buddha’s most important life stories, including the attainment of enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, these regions coalesced into a relatively unified political entity under the reign of the Pala dynasty. The political stability and economic prosperity afforded by Pala rule resulted in the growth of numerous Buddhist institutions, including the university of Nalanda and the monastery of Vikramashila. Scholars and pilgrims from across Asia traveled to Pala territory to study or worship, and there was an explosion in the production of Buddhist images from the eighth century until the devastation of the region as a Buddhist center at the end of the twelfth century. Thousands of small, portable images in bronze, wood and stone were made as tokens for these traveling pilgrims, many of which were preserved in other countries such as Tibet and Nepal. An important tradition of carving more permanent and larger images in stone, often in the dark, almost black schist found in the region, was also established, and the present image is an exemplar of this latter tradition.
The central image of Buddha Shakyamuni is depicted in a diaphanous sanghati draped over both shoulders, revealing the soft contours of the Buddha’s body beneath. The depiction of the Buddha’s form, barely concealed by his robes, follows closely the earlier Gupta styles such as those developed at Sarnath. The Buddha stands on a double-lotus base carved with an inscription below, and is framed by a U-shaped coil of foliate garlands, with further inscriptions running at either side of his body. He is flanked by the diminutive images of Brahma on his right side and Indra at his left. The former is indicated by the presence of two visible faces (the other two are not represented due to the complex composition of the stele, but the viewer would have accepted the presence of the other two) and his overall ascetic appearance, and the latter by the princely garb (Indra being considered the king of the Trayatrimsha). Brahma clutches the shaft of a parasol that rises behind the image of Buddha and shades his head at the top of the stele; such imagery has its roots in early Indian culture and was considered a sign of respect for a great person or leader. Indra holds a bowl of offerings in his folded hands, another symbol of reverence towards the central image of the Buddha. The significant juxtaposition in size of the figure of Buddha and the two attendant Brahmanical deities reinforces the preeminence of Buddha over the Brahmanical deities and Buddhism above the Brahmanical faith.
The present stele depicts the moment of Buddha Shakyamuni’s descent from the Trayatrimsha heaven. Following the Buddha’s miraculous displays at Shravasti, Shakyamuni ascended to the Trayatrimsha, the second realm of heaven where the devas reside. His mother, Maya, descended from the Tushita heaven to receive his teachings on the abhidharma. The Trayatrimsha, literally the ‘realm of thirty-three,’ refers in this case to the figurative thirty-three deities, ie, the entire pantheon of Brahmanical gods, that reside in that heaven. After he finished his teachings in the Trayatrimsha, the Buddha asked Indra to construct a ladder or staircase for his descent; the central ladder was to be constructed of precious jewels, while ladders flanking on either side, for the use of the Brahmanical deities, were constructed of gold and silver. Three steps of the ladders are shown beneath Brahma and Indra and two steps appear beneath the Buddha’s lotus pedestal. Compare the present work with a closely-related example in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum (Acc. no. 961.171), illustrated by S. Huntington in Leaves from the Bodhi Tree: The Art of Pala India (8th-12th centuries) and Its International Legacy, Seattle, 1990, pp. 132-133, cat. no. 9.The Buddha’s descent from the Trayatrimsha heaven is considered to be one of the eight great moments in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha (alongside the birth of the Buddha, the triumph over Mara, the first sermon, the miracle at Shravasti, the monkey’s gift of honey, the taming of Nalagiri, and the death, or parinirvana). Some Pala-period stelae depict all eight scenes in a single composition, such as a tenth-century black stone stele from the James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, and illustrated by R. Ghose in In the Footsteps of the Buddha: An Iconic Journey from India to China, Hong Kong, 1998, p. 178, cat. 24. As the present work depicts just a single scene from the life of the Buddha, it has been posited that groups of stelae, each with a life scene, might have been worshipped ensemble. When placed in niches within the walls of a temple or Buddhist institution (as indicated by the unfinished backs of many Pala stelae), such a grouping would have been a powerful visual reminder of the transcendence of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Buddhist faith.
The inscriptions running at either side of the Buddha's body can be translated as: "Of all objects which proceed from a cause, the Tathagata has explained the cause, and He has explained their cessation also; this is the doctrine of the great Samana." The inscription at the base of the stele is less legible, but can possibly be translated as "Pious gift of Harimitra []."

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