The elegantly modelled god sits in maharajalilasana – the posture of royal ease. His left hand, holding the stalk of a lotus which rises above his shoulder, rests on his seat balancing the inclination of his body. On the bloom is the vajra or thunderbolt. His outstretched right hand, in gajahasta (elephant trunk gesture), rests on his raised right knee. The diminutive figure is richly ornamented with necklaces, yajnopavita (sacred thread), and a waistband with an interesting medallion clasp. The ornamental plates covering his legs look more like armour plates. A scarf, separately attached to the image, falls in a loop behind his neck and left hand. The lotus-petalled prabhavali (aureole) symbolizes his divine status.
Several features distinguish this Nepali image of Indra. One is the third eye placed horizontally across the forehead. Indra was cursed with having a thousand sores on his body which were later converted into eyes. Usually only one is shown in sculptures and it is delineated on the forehead like a normal eye, unlike the vertical third eye of Shiva. Second, the type of crown seen here is restricted to images of Indra and to Nepal – with antecedents in the art of Gandhara. Third, in Nepali images, Indra is generally seated in the pose of royal ease, which is appropriate for the king of the gods, but not encountered in India. Finally, he is the great wielder of the thunderbolt which is as old as the Vedic mythology.
Indra was one of the most important Vedic deities who destroyed the asuras, the demon enemies of the gods. He was also invoked for favours, including sending rains. In the later Hindu pantheon he was demoted to the position of guardian deity of the easterly direction (one of the ashtadikpalas); however he takes precedence in this group. His Vedic role as god of the rains continues to be remembered in Nepal where the annual festival of Indra – Indrayatra – is a national festival. It incorporates the more ancient Indo-European cosmic pillar cult.
In Buddhist mythology, Indra is credited with medicinal-healing qualities including as a remover of barrenness in women.
Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection
Gilt bronze set in turquoise
c. 18th century CE
12.9 x 11 x 4.8 cm