The Kashmir Collection at the British Museum
The British Museum has a great Collection of Sculptures from Kashmir from the first Millenium AD. We try and highlight some of the selected pieces from the Museums Collection. All Pics and Descriptions are from the British Museum Website (http://www.britishmuseum.org/)
Sculpture of grey chlorite of the goddess Lakshmi, from Kashmir, northwest India. The deity is depicted seated in the pralambapadasana pose on a lion throne and crowned with a diadem made up of three crescent moons, in the Sassanian manner (now a little damaged). The nimbate deity is lustrated by two male attendants who bear large globular pots. In her right hand she holds a damaged lotus, while in her left hand she grasps the animal-headed terminal of an Indianised version of a classical cornucopia with, issuing from the very top, what is to become one of her foremost symbols, a full-bellied pot, purnaghata, bursting with abundance. At each side and below the lustrating male figures, are two camaradharani, while below them are two small male figures who pour pots of gold at her feet. Her throne is set on a plain moulded plinth typical of sculpture from Kashmir. / The sculpture is an unusually large and early example of imaging of the non-Buddhist sculpture of this region. It is also remarkable in that it clearly shows the way in which the Gandhara idiom of the 2nd-4th centuries was transmuted into a distinctively Indian form; here we are in the transition between the two, with a depiction of a Hindu goddess (Lakshmi is the goddess of prosperity and wealth) and yet with features such as the pleated costume so reminiscent of Roman dress as well as the cornucopia, both brought ultimately from the west, while her crown is based on a Sassanian (Persian, and thus also western) model.
6th C / Kashmir
A figure of Vishnu, the left hand holding a conch, other 3 arms & feet missing. Made of stone (schist).
800 AD / Kashmir School / Height: 28.56 centimetres
Relief panel in smooth green chlorite of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha. The god is depicted enthroned and in the pose known as lalitasana, appropriate for an important person at ease. The throne is supported by lions, while at the centre, the remains of a human figure, perhaps a prostrate devotee, can be seen.
The deity wears the typical Kashmiri crown which derives, ultimately from Sasanian prototypes – note, the crescent moon elements along the front of the diadem. Other jewellery items include a necklace of beads, a garland, vanamala, across his lower body and – only clearly visible on the reverse – a sacred thread, yajnopavita. He is shown four-armed in the usual form, though one arm, the lower right, is damaged and the attribute cannot now be identified (though one would expect it to have been a broken tusk). The other three arms hold the canonical attributes of: rosary, mala (upper right); axe, parasu (upper left), a variant on the elephant goad, ankusa (the axe instead of the goad is seen elsewhere amongst Kashmiri images of Ganesha); and bowl of sweets, laddu (lower left). The figure is nimbate though this is only substantially visible from the reverse where it is depicted in the usual Kashmiri fashion as a disc lightly set into the surface of the soft stone.
Above the deity's right ear, a small circular hole has been drilled through the stone at some point in its life. This is perhaps all that remains of an ear ornament for the image; a similar, though now broken hole is seen on the left side. / The overall surface of the sculpture is smooth, the result over many centuries of use in a shrine. In Hindu veneration, puja, the rubbing of images with sandal-paste or other offerings, or the mere touching as a means of honouring and of reassurance, means that images from antiquity – especially those from a domestic shrine context, like this one – frequently have details that have been slightly or sometimes wholly, erased. The wonderfully tactile quality of the chlorite, make holding this image an added pleasure.
The lion support to the throne is found elsewhere in the Northwest though elsewhere in the subcontinent, and especially later in the trajectory of this god of auspiciousness, the rat is the animal more usually associated with him.
9thC / Kashmir
Seated Buddha seated on lion throne supported on a lotus with two deer facing a dharmacakra.
9th Century / Kashmir School Swat
A figure of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara seated on a cylindrical stool in a rocky setting, above two pairs of seated goats; wearing multicoloured lower garment with strips; his hands making the gestures of giving and protection (turned inwards), and holding a rosary, a triple staff, a waterpot, and the stalk of lotus; his 'parent' Buddha seated on his headdress, and an antelope skin draped over one shoulder. Made of brass with inlaid copper and silver inlaid and some gilding.
Identified by von Schroeder as Sugatisandarsana Lokesvara.Zwalf 1985
The Bodhisattva sits on a cylindrical stool in a rocky setting, with goats, perhaps of his mountain home Potalaka. His presumably multicoloured lower garment is shown by alternating strips of inlaid brass, silver and copper. The texts call this complex form of Bodhisattva 'Lokeśvara who points out good births' and his hands, read clockwise, make the gestures of giving and protection (unusually turned inwards), and hold a rosary, a triple staff, a waterpot, and the stalk of the silver-inlaid lotus. His 'parent' Buddha sits prominently on his headdress, and an antelope skin is draped over one shoulder.
10 Century /Kashmir
Standing figure of a four-armed Vishnu, flanked by personified weapons, Gadadevi – the club – and Cakrapurusa – the discus. Cast in a copper-alloy and inlaid with silver; abraded.
9thC-10thC / Kashmir School / Height: 237 millimetres Width: 135 millimetres Depth: 45 millimetres
Censer of copper alloy in the form of a four-armed flying male celestial figure who carries above his head, in his two upper hands, a hinged spherical vessel (one of the upper arms is now broken at the elbow). The vessel is pierced at the top to allow for the exit of aromatic smoke resulting from burning incense powder or resin inside the covered bowl. The figure bends on his left leg with the foot bent back beneath the body, while the right leg is thrust out behind; this would have formed the beginning of the handle but everything from the right knee downwards is now lost. The figure is clad in a dhoti which is clearly visible around the knees and lower legs, while over his left shoulder, the sacred thread (yajnopavita), is shown.
Censers feature in temple ritual as the conveyors of sweet-smelling smoke to the image of the deity (this is the offering of the sense of smell, just as lamps in the arati ritual, provide the offering of the sense of sight).
The figure is solid-cast using the lost-wax process; the censer-bowl is hollow-cast.
Floral imagery, so appropriate for this type of temple utensil, is apparent throughout, as follows:
1 – the figure kneels on his left knee on a lotus pedestal with downward-pointing petals (twelve full petals in total, but with one at the back missing; in between and below each full petal, a smaller one is visible)
2 – in his hands, joined in the posture of supplication and greeting, anjali mudra, further lotus blossoms are held
3 – hanging over his shoulders across his elbows and down to the bended knee is an intricately depicted garland (vanamala).
4 – upper-arm bands, one on each arm, are decorated with fully-open flowers
5 – flowers decorate the typical Kashmiri three-part crown, and floral garlands hang from it on to the shoulders of the figure
6 – where the crown meets the ears there are fully open blossoms, as is common in medieval stone and bronze sculpture from Kashmir
7 – the vessel, which the celestial figure carries above his head is, on the lower part, decorated with a lotus-petal design while the upper part bears a lush floral scroll
8 – the finial is set on the top of the vessel within a full-blown flower and the nozzle through which the incense passes is in the form of an opening flower.
In the very extensive bibliography for this sculpture, there has been some slight variation in the date suggested for it, but all scholars have placed it within the 9th-10th century bracket and thus mostly within the period of rule of the Utpala dynasty (856-939 AD). The accomplishment of the bronze casting and the iconography, all unequivocally place the production of the sculpture in, or close to, the Kashmir valley.
The last owner of the censer, wrote one of the most important articles about it (Digby 1991). In that article, Simon Digby identified the celestial figure as the leader of the gandharvas, the band of musicians and servers who attend on the gods. The name Puspadanta or Flower-teeth (ie. flowers carried between the teeth) for this figure was suggested by Digby. His identification is based 1) on the medieval text, the Mahimnastava where Puspadanta is described, and 2) the placing of the composition of the text in Kashmir. The linkage between this flower-bedecked image and the flower-thief who, in the text, is described as an aerial figure carrying floral offerings to his Lord, Shiva, makes convincing reading. In the same article, Digby relates the censer to the figures found on the massive back-plate from Devsar, now in the Sri Pratap Singh Museum, in Srinagar, and dated to the 10th century. He also notes that, like the back-plate, the censer has probably been buried at some time in the ancient past, thus accounting for the loss of both the lower right leg and the handle of the censer. This doubtless also explains the greenish patina and the lack of any evidence of significant smoothing of the image; such smoothing is frequently seen on images and utensils which have been in temple use over many centuries. He speculates that, when complete, the censer would have had what he called ‘a recurved handle’, ie. a handle arched away from the figure and thus able to balance the significant weight of the censer itself.
9thC / Kashmir
A leaf in black schist from a diptych depicting on one side a headless seated figure, probably an ascetic and on the other the Assault of Mara in the upper register and in the lower the First Sermon.
Similar leaves of carved stone survive, parts of diptychs, portable folding objects showing scenes from the Buddha's life. The headless figure, hand on chin and seated on a stool above his Brahmin's waterpot, may be the ascetic who predicted the newborn's Buddha destiny; on the reverse panels show, above, the assault of Māra and, below, the First Sermon with the wheel just recognisable below the Buddha. The leaf was found at Khotan, in Central Asia, and is not the only example of this kind of object to have been found outside the Kashmir- Gandhara area of its manufacture.
Figures (group of). Typical Kashmir stupa on reverse. Made of stone (schist).