Buddha Vairocana (Dari), Tang dynasty (618–906), early 8th century
Gilt leaded bronze, lost–wax cast; H. 7 7/8 in. (20 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1942 (43.24.3)
The broad shoulders, indented waist, and long powerful legs of this Buddha illustrate an important stylistic tradition found throughout East Asia in the eighth and ninth centuries. The combination of this body type and strong facial features points to Kashmir as the source for this type of Buddha image and reflects the strong cultural and political ties between Tang China and the Kashmiri Karakhoto in the early eighth century.
The Buddha holds his hands in a variant of the gesture of teaching (dharmachakramudra) in which the small finger of the left hand touches the thumb of the right. Frequently found in the art of Kashmir, the gesture is thought to identify the Buddha Vairocana, who is understood as the generative force of the cosmos and both creates and maintains the phenomenal world. Devotion to Vairocana, which arose in the fourth century and flourished from the sixth through the ninth century, can be linked in part to texts and practices that included the use of cosmic diagrams known as mandalas as well as devotion to new and powerful protective deities. An intriguing wheel-like device on the base suggests that this exquisitely cast sculpture may once have been a type of mandala enclosed by four large leaves that opened and closed to reveal the icon within. Although no earlier examples are known, several Indian works of this type are preserved from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and examples from Tibet and China are also known.