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A large and important black stone stele of Buddha's descent from Trayastrimsha Heaven
A large and important black stone stele of Buddha's descent from Trayastrimsha Heaven

NORTHEASTERN INDIA, PALA PERIOD, CIRCA 10TH CENTURY

Details
A large and important black stone stele of Buddha's descent from Trayastrimsha Heaven
Northeastern India, Pala period, circa 10th century
Standing on a double-lotus base with his right hand in varadamudra and his left holding the folds of his diaphanous sanghati, adorned with a torq and lotiform earrings, the face with gentle smile and downcast eyes centered by a raised urna, the hair in loose curls at the forehead and surmounted by a foliate tiara, backed by a nimbus and torana supporting two diminutive stupas and flanked by Brahma and Indra, who holds a parasol above Buddha's head
48¼ in. (122.4 cm.) high
Provenance
Private collection, United States, by January 1990
Sale Room Notice
Please note, the provenance of this work should read: "Private collection, London, by January 1990."

Lot Essay

The present stele is part of a corpus of similar works found in the Pala context which have often been interpreted as depicting Buddha's descent from the Trayastrimsha Heaven. After performing the miracles at Sravasti, Buddha ascended to the Trayastrimsha Heaven to teach the abhidharma to his mother, Mahamaya, and the other gods there. After three months, Buddha returned to Earth to continue his teachings; in his descent, he was aided by Brahma and the other gods, including Indra. Seeking to express the superiority of Buddha's teachings over those of the Hindu gods, Brahma and Indra are depicted significantly smaller than the monumental Buddha. Furthermore, Indra, despite being crowned, is shown holding a parasol over Buddha's head, indicating his subservience to Buddha. The descent from the Trayastrimsha Heaven was one of eight important moments in Buddha's life that became canonized in the Pala context. Because of the uniformity in which this scene is represented in Pala art, some scholars have speculated that a large sculpture at Samkashya, the reputed site of Buddha's return, may have served as a model for the Pala steles; see S. Huntington, et al., Leaves from the Bodhi Tree, 1990, p. 133

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