Painted wood figure of the bodhisattva Manjushri

From Nepal
18th-19th century AD

Buddhism comes to the Kathmandu Valley

Manjushri is one of the most important bodhisattvas, symbolizing wisdom. He is identified by two major attributes: the sword with which he cuts through ignorance and the palm-leaf manuscript, the Prajnaparamita Sutra. This is one of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism and is often personified as a goddess. Manjushri may also carry a bow and arrow, as he does here, symbols of the effort to combat the evils of delusion and egotism.

In Nepal, Manjushri is the central figure in the myth of the Kathmandu Valley's origin. The valley was filled with water, forming a vast lake full of naga (snake-deities). Manjushri cut through the mountains at the edge of the valley, draining all the water away and defeating the naga. The whole valley was thus made habitable. The Chobar Gorge south of Kathmandu is the place where the bodhisattva's sword cut a wedge through the mountains, and is a sacred site marked by several temples.

In Nepal and Tibet wood was used both for images and for the structure of temples. Many Nepali temples have wooden brackets carved in the form of deities and reliefs built into the brick walls. But this image was sculpted and painted for use within a temple and placed upon an altar.

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More information


M. Hutt, Nepal: a guide to the art and (Kiscadale Ltd., Stirling, 1994)


Height: 22.000 inches

Museum number

Asia OA 1958.12-15.3


Brooke Sewell Fund


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