Not exactly one of the forms rigidified in the Buddha’s iconography, this image of the Buddha represents him in his more accomplished form : the Buddha in total. This image, a masterpiece of Tibetan tradition of the Buddha’s iconography, slightly Indianised, the same style of coiffure, tuft of hair above and a ‘mani’ – gem, atop, extra large earlobes, sharp narrower nose with pointed tip, lips almost with the same breath as has the nose, face with a broad upper and angular lower, eye-brows, almost like a flying eagle in distant sky, eyes covered under folds of eye-lids looking like those of an elephant, broad shoulders, tall arms but palms and fingers of moderate size, represents Lord Buddha seated cross-legged with feet turned upwards, having appearance of lotus-petals, a posture conventionalised in spiritual iconography as padmasana.
The image is unparalleled in its artistic merit and divine lustre. The composure on the face, the mode of his left hand with upwards turned palm, closed eyes and sublimity enshrining his entire being are obviously the attributes of ‘dhyana’ – meditation. One of the most attracting features of the image is the sheet of cloth wrapped around the Buddha’s body known in the Buddhist tradition as ‘sanghati’. Against the Buddha’s golden hued body the sanghati, draping his figure, overwhelms the eye with the magic of its rich lustrous maroon which its broad gold border designed beautifully and the sanghati’s more visible parts inlaid with gold patterns : shoulder, arm, knee-points …, further multiply. The artist has not conceived a seat to install his image. Rather, he has so arranged the gold border of sanghati, especially its lotus-like forepart : five bell-shaped loops, that it looks like a seat under the image. He has added beneath it just three legs, designed like a lion’s, two on the front and one on the back. Conjointly with them the border acquires a seat’s look.
The statue represents the post-enlightenment period in the Buddha’s life. It is after the realization has been accomplished that his right hand ejects proclaiming that the path to light has been obtained. With the twist and curve of its forefinger and thumb, a gesture conventionalised in iconographic tradition as ‘vitark’ or ‘vyakhyana-mudra’ – interpretive or teaching posture, it removes the veil of ignorance and brings the light in. The Buddha’s images in ‘vitark’ or ‘vyakhyana-mudra’ illustrate two contexts : one, the ‘dharma-chakra-pravartana’ – setting the wheel of Law in motion, the occasion of his first sermon that he delivered at Sarnath to his five prior colleagues after attaining Enlightenment, and the other, his journey pan subcontinent as the universal teacher. However, the portrayal of both in Buddhist sculptures varies from this image. While in the former ‘vitark-mudra’ is the both hands’ gesture, in the latter, ‘vitark-mudra’ is invariably the gesture of a standing or rather walking Buddha figure, not seated as here.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.