Buddha as the Lord of Medicine
The Buddha is seated in padmasana (lotus pose) holding a myrobalan in his right hand resting on his knee, while his left hand, which rests in his lap, supports a pot. He wears a samghati (upper garment) with a bold incised border over his left shoulder falling at the back in an unusual pattern. His elongated earlobes touch the shoulders. He has a prominent urna (tuft of hair between the eyebrows). His hair done in sharp curled ringlets rises into a three-tiered ushnisha (cranial protuberance) with a bud-shaped chintamani (wisdom jewel) above. His hair is secured with a headband with knots tied over the ears and tassels falling on both sides. His lotus seat is modeled only frontally; the rear was left plain for a possible inscription.
In Sanskrit, the term bhaishajya meaning healing, takes its root from bhishaj, to cure. In the Vedic mythology the celestial twins, Ashvinikumars, are the physicians of the gods. In Buddhism, aside from its physical aspect, healing also relates metaphorically to spiritual awakening. Bhaishajyaguru symbolizes Sakyamuni’s ability to heal the body as well as dispel the spirit of darkness. The concept is embodied in the Bhaishajyaguru Sutra which was first translated into Chinese by Srimitra around 317–322 CE, and later re-translated into Tibetan. The Sutra acknowledges seven Medicine Buddhas. However, in Tibet, Bhaishajyaguru with his own seven brothers is joined by Sakyamuni, making a group of nine. But they are rare as a group either in sculpture or painting in Tibet.
Basically, the image of Sakyamuni was modified by assigning the attribute of the myrobalan fruit, an important ingredient in Indian pharmacopia, to create images of the Healing Buddha. Further iconographic developments took place in Central Asia through which the cult of Bhaishajyaguru travelled to East Asia and Tibet.
Sir D.J. Tata Collection
18th century CE
17 x 11 x 9 cm