Vishnu Riding on Garuda
dated to 1004
Gilt copper repoussé
H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm); W. 11 5/8 in. (29.5 cm); D. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Jeffrey B. Soref and Natalie Soref Gifts, 2012
Not on view
This rare and masterful example of Nepalese repoussé depicts Vishnu in flight astride his half-avian, half-human mount, Garuda. In his two raised hands he displays a flaming discus (cakra) and a club (gada), and holds a conch in one lowered hand and gestures with the other. Flanking him, atop Garuda’s outstretched wings, are the diminutive figures of his wives—Lakshmi, goddess of fortune, and Bhudevi, the earth goddess—with their hands raised in reverence. Surrounding the ensemble, Garuda’s tail feathers serve as a magnificent backdrop resembling the plumage of a peacock, associated with Vishnu’s most popular avatar, Krishna.The iconography reflects archaic conventions of the Gupta period, when this version of Vishnu on Garuda was introduced to Nepal. Vishnu was the premier deity of the ruling Gupta household, and the Garuda their dynastic symbol. Vishnu’s association with royalty was continued by the Licchavi royal household in Nepal. The inscription here refers to Vishnu not as Garudasana (“Vishnu seated on Garuda”) but as Garudadhvaja, “One Whose Banner is Garuda,” the Gupta clan symbol. This relief served as a protective sheath (kosa) for a stone icon of the same subject and is the oldest known example outside Nepal. As an exemplar of the cold-hammering repoussé technique, it stands testament to the extreme sophistication and skill of early Nepalese metalworkers.