BUDDHA PERFORMING MIRACLE AT GRIDHRAKUTA
A number of ivory triptychs of the Buddha have come to light from Kashmir, most of which belong to the 8th–9th century. A growing need for personal rituals and portable shrines could have inspired the creation of such triptychs in different materials.
During the 7th–8th centuries, particularly under the rule of King Lalitaditya (c. 699–735 CE), Kashmir flourished as an important centre of art. Exposed to various currents of artistic expressions, through the brisk movements of the surrounding kingdoms in their power game, Kashmir emerged as a confluence of cultures and developed a distinctive Kashmiri art style. This triptych is one of the early examples of this style.
The ivory faithfully illustrates the scene of the miracle on mount Gridhrakuta narrated in the Saddharma Pundarika. The text gives a picturesque description of the event, “Then did those who were assembled and sitting together in that congregation, monks, nuns, male and female lay devotees, gods, nagas, goblins, Gandharvas and demons, Garudas, kinnaras, the great serpent, men and beings not human, as well as governors of a region, rulers of armies and rulers of four continents, all of them with their followers, gaze on the Lord in astonishment, in amazement, in ecstasy. And at that moment there issued a ray from within the circle of hair between the eyebrows of the Lord.”
The image represents a very interesting and meticulous account of the event. Buddha carved in deep relief is seated in Padmasana under a tri-foiled arched cave resting on gadrooned pillars. The sanghati covering his shoulders ends in beautiful pleats spreading over his knees. Typical of Kashmiri images of this period, the folds of the sanghati look like an open collar around the neck. The antarvastra or a tight-fitting garment underneath the sanghati covering his legs is clearly visible. His hair is tied in a bun and an urna is prominently marked on his forehead. His half-closed fish-shaped eyes, the pointed nose which is slightly broken now, and bow-shaped smiling lips are rendered in a style peculiar to this period in Kashmir. The throne bears figures of antelopes and a pair of lions below.
He is flanked on either side by six pairs of identical figures. These figures include two yakshas, two royal figures seated with folded hands and head bent down in adoration of the Buddha. The figures of the Gandharvas, two of whom are holding a flower or pearl trays, as well as the devotees, are seen peeping out of small spaces in between, eager to witness the miracle. Amazed by this sight, the two ascetics seated on top wearing matted locks on their head, have their eyes closed in deep ecstasy and express wonder with the gesture of their hand.
Two exquisite royal figures, though separately carved, belong to the same group and are placed as devotees on either side of the Buddha, standing elegantly facing him in a slight profile. The highly stylised posture of their hands is probably the depiction of the tantric form of a variant of namaskara mudra. As described by Geshe Kelsang Gyasto in his book Tantric Grounds and Paths, “to do this (special mudra) we place our palms together in the mudra of prostration but leave the fingertips slightly apart, like the petals of a lotus flower starting to open, and tuck our thumbs inside to symbolise a precious jewel hidden within the lotus.” Each king is also attended by a person with a tray full of flowers or pearls, a chauri bearer and another attendant.
The treatment of the siddhas is realistic. It is an imagistic narration where, in a limited given space encircling the main image, the artist has tried to depict the entire episode without following any sequence of events, just concentrating on the expression of the superhuman power of the Buddha. Each figure is carved with amazing minuteness, painstakingly avoiding any monotony. The images are partially painted.
8th century CE
Main figure: 10 x 7.5 x 2.1 cms, Attendant (left): 6.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 cms, Attendant (right): 6.1 x 2.5 x 1 cms