Stone relief of Vajrasattva

From eastern India, 10th century AD

The Supreme Buddha holding the symbols of wisdom and compassion

In the later developments of Buddhism the figure of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni, was joined by a whole range of other Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities. In the esoteric system of Vajrayana Buddhism the Supreme (Adi) Buddha is Vajrasattva. From his meditations emerged the Jina, or Conqueror Buddhas, such as Vairocana.

In this huge relief, Vajrasattva sits on a double lotus throne supported by lions, with male and female donor figures on each side. He is distinguished by the bell that he holds in his left hand and the vajra, or thunderbolt (missing here) in his right hand. The vajra and the bell are the distinctive ritual implements of Vajrayana Buddhism. They are commonly seen in Tibetan art. The huge stele against which this figure is carved is encircled with flames and vajras. Two votive stupas appear either side of Vajrasattva's head, like those placed at the pilgrimage sites of eastern India.

Between the eighth and twelfth centuries, eastern India was dominated by the rule of the Pala dynasty of kings. Huge quantities of sculpture were produced in this period, both in stone and metal. Very little architecture survives from eastern India in a complete state, but stone reliefs such as this one were placed in the niches of brick temples. Both Hindu and Buddhist subjects were sculpted in a similar style.

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Height: 184.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1872.7-1.27


Bridge Collection


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