A gilt copper figure of Yogambara  Nepal, circa 13th century

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Lot 5
A gilt copper figure of Yogambara
Nepal, circa 13th century

Sold for US$ 785,000 inc. premium
A gilt copper figure of Yogambara
Nepal, circa 13th century
The three-headed, six-armed god caresses Jnanadakini's breast with one hand, holding the skullcup, arrow (now missing), bow, bell, and thunderbolt scepter (vajra) in arms held with a dancer's poise, Jnanadakini meets Yogambara's gaze as she wraps herself around his torso, both deities' belts are unhooked, their clasps ajar at their backs.
7 in. (18 cm) high


  • Entwined in a lovers' embrace, Yogambara and Jnanadakini symbolize blissful transcendence, the experiential goal and highest teaching of Esoteric Buddhism.

    A casting tour de force, the artist has masterfully rendered the complex iconography of two intertwined bodies, imbuing the figures with a sense of tenderness and calm. The sculpture bears the hallmarks of Nepalese craftsmanship - beautifully gilded copper, jewelry delicately inlaid with gems. The physiognomy is also Nepalese, the features diminutive and finely formed. From at least the 7th century, Newar craftsmen were renowned for their artistic talents, creating sculpture and painting in the Kathmandu Valley and also for patrons in Tibet and China. Many surviving Nepalese works of art were produced by itinerant artists beyond the borders of Nepal. A series of devastating raids in the Kathmandu Valley between the end of the 13th and the middle of the 14th centuries decimated the Valley's wooden architecture, and countless sculptures and paintings as well.1 Thus, Nepalese works of art — made for and by Nepalese — are rare from the 13th century and earlier.

    Remnants of red powder in the crowns of both figures indicate its use in ritual ceremonies long ago. The Tibetan pilgrim Dharmasvamin lived in Nepal between 1226-34 where he witnessed the worship of a celebrated image over the course of several weeks. According to his account, the image was removed from the temple in great pageantry. Offerings including curd, milk, sugar water, and honey were poured over the head of the statue, and then it was washed. The ablutions continued over the course of two weeks. Again accompanied by a great spectacle, the image was returned to its chapel where red pigment was reapplied.2 While we cannot know the precise rituals once associated with this image, the red pigment in the crowns and wear to the gilding suggest that similar rites may have been enacted.

    Nearly twenty monasteries in the Kathmandu Valley today house images of Yogambara in the monasteries' agam, or tantric chapel.3 As historian John Locke notes, "Every Newar family has a lineage deity, degu dya (or digu dya), a deity that is worshipped annually by all members of an extended family or lineage. Theoretically all who worship the deity are descended from a common ancestor. Every family attached to a baha[l] has a lineage deity; and, in all but a few cases, the entire sangha of a baha[l] has the same lineage deity...A large number of the sanghas identify their deity as Yogambara, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, or Vajravarahi."4

    Yogambara is a lineage deity associated with Kwa Bahal in Patan, perhaps founded by King Bhaskaradeva in the 11th century.5 Along the first floor of the eastern wing of the bahal is a tantric chapel (agam) which houses an image of Yogambara.6 Worship of the tantric deity is a focal point for ritual devotion in the community, performed by ten monastery elders. Locke mentions daily and monthly ceremonies (puja). "On the day of the full moon the whole group [of 10 elders] first performs a puja to the kwapa-dya [main image of the monastery] ...and after that a puja to Yogambara followed by a feast."7

    The liturgy associated with Yogambara can be found in the Chaturpitha Tantra.8 Yogambara's seventy-seven-deity mandala appears in the Vajravali, a text compiled around 1101-1108 at Vikramashila monastery by the Indian Buddhist scholar Abhayakaragupta (1084-1130).9 The iconography of this exceptional sculpture is thus rooted in eastern Indian medieval Buddhist culture. A Sanskrit manuscript of the Vajravali, dated nepal samvat 202 (1081 CE) was copied at the Turaharnavarna Mahavihara in Manigalake in Nepal.10 There were many ties between Buddhist centers in eastern India and Nepal as teachers, students, and merchants linked the two regions. The Kathmandu Valley also served as an entrepôt for transmission of Buddhism to Tibet. Tibetan Buddhist Marpa (1012-1097) received Yogambara initiations in Nepal from Paindapa.11 Yogambara subsequently became an important deity in Tibet, introduced by Marpa and Ngog Lotsawa, both of whom spent time in the Kathmandu Valley en route to and from India and Tibet.12

    In the 13th century, when this image is likely to have been made, north India was transformed by a series of catastrophic raids that effectively eradicated Buddhism from the region. Monks and others connected with the massive monastic universities ( mahavihara) of north India perished or fled, many finding refuge in Nepal. The Kathmandu Valley Buddhist community was immeasurably enriched by this influx of talent, and manuscripts and small bronzes were brought by these refugees. It is possible that the Newar artist who created this Yogambara and Jnanadakini sculpture was inspired by eastern Indian art. The lotus petal base is not typically Nepalese but does resemble examples from eastern Indian medieval sculpture.13 In its superb casting, lustrous gilding, skillfully inset gems and size, the sculpture may be compared with a c. 13th century Nepalese sculpture of Uma-Maheshvara in a private collection.14

    1. Luciano Petech, Mediaeval History of Nepal, Rome, 1958, pp. 102-126.
    2. George Roerich, trans., Biography of Dharmasvamin (Chag lo-tsa-ba dpal), Patna, 1959, pp. 6, 54-5.
    3. John Locke, Buddhist Monasteries of Nepal, Kathmandu, 1985, pp. 518.
    4. ibid., p. 13. See also Dina Bangdel, "Tantra in Nepal" in John Huntington and Dina Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, Columbus, 2003, pp. 29-35.
    5. John Locke, 1985, pp. 517-18; Niels Gutschow, Architecture of the Newars, Serindia, 2011, vol. II, p. 758.
    6. ibid., p. 758. A second tantric chapel holds an image of Cakrasamvara-Vajravarahi.
    7. John Locke, 1985, p. 38.
    8. http://www.himalayanart.org/image.cfm/776.html
    9. Raghuvira Chandra and Lokesh Chandra, Tibetan Mandalas (Vajravali and Tantra-Samuccaya), Delhi, 1995. See also D.C. Bhattacharyya, "Abhayakaragupta's Vajravali-nama-mandalopayika" in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R.A. Stein. Vol. 1, Bruxelles: Institute Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 1981, and Gudrun Buhnemann and Musahi Tachikawa (eds.) Nispannayogavali: Two Sanskrit Manuscripts from Nepal, Tokyo, 1991.
    10. John Locke, 1985, p. 39. According to Locke, Manigalake is the area where Kwa Baha is located, and the name Turaharnavarna may have been an earlier name for the monastery that is also known today as Hiranyavarna, "Golden Temple".
    11. John Huntington and Dina Bangdel, 2003, p. 33.
    12. Tibetan images of Yogambara can be seen at: http://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=521
    13. N R Ray, K Khandalavala, S Gorakshkar, Eastern Indian Bronzes, New Delhi, 1986, figs. 179, 226-227 and passim. For possible Nepalese antecedents, see Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, figs. 79A, 79B, 80C.
    14. Published in Jane Casey, Naman Ahuja, and David Weldon, Divine Presence: Arts of India and the Himalayas, Milan, 2003, pp. 114-15. See also a c. 14th century gilt copper sculpture of Yogambara and Jnanadakini in the Hung Foundation, Taipei, published in Hung's Arts Foundation, 30 Antique Bar: 2012, Taipei, 2012, pp. 136-43.

    Jane Casey - January 2014

    Private American Collection
A gilt copper figure of Yogambara  Nepal, circa 13th century
A gilt copper figure of Yogambara  Nepal, circa 13th century
A gilt copper figure of Yogambara  Nepal, circa 13th century
A gilt copper figure of Yogambara  Nepal, circa 13th century
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