The Collection


The Collection

The collection is divided into categories to allow easier comparison of the various images and figurines in each category. The categories will include images of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Hindu and Buddhist deities, figures of Javanese characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and Javanese or other figurines, as yet unidentified. In addition to the figurines of bronze and brass, items of other materials that bear a relationship to the main collection and other miscellaneous bronze or brass items will be included. Photographs of items not part of the collection may be added to illustrate the history or origins of certain figurines in the collection.

The categorization of some items in the collection, especially bodhisattvas, is complicated because, after hundreds of years, the understanding of the actual identity and the meaning of the iconography of certain images is difficult to discern.  Anyone studying in this field must draw comparisons of their significance in various cultures and how this affected their creation and use in Java.  The writer follows the Theravada tradition and despite extensive research including checking the meanings of Sanskrit terms, may have misinterpreted the meanings of some terms and the understanding of those who follow the Mahayana or Vajrayana traditions and hopes for their forbearance.  Comments and criticisms would be welcomed.

The Buddha Images
In the Theravada tradition, the images are of the Buddha Siddhattha Gotama and are mostly standing with one hand lifted in the abhayamudra; or seated in the padmasana position with the hands in the bhumisparshamudra, although other mudras are found too. The various mudras are often used in combinations thus widening their meanings. In the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions other Buddhas are found and, although the images may be similar, the mudras may give some guidance in their identification.

Vairocana means coming from the sun, thus connotes brilliance.  He is the cosmic primordial Buddha and displays the dharmachakramudra (the mudra of rotating the dharma wheel).

Akshobhya means immovable or imperturbable.  He is compared to a mirror, which remains imperturbable from what it reflects.  He makes the bhumisparshamudra (the earth touching mudra).

Ratnasambhava means born from the jewel.  He is believed to transform the negative human trait of pride into the wisdom of sameness makes us see the common humanity underlying all men and women.  He displays the varadamudra (the mudra of giving boons).

Amitabha means immeasurable splendour and is often translated as infinite light.  He makes the dhyanamudra (the mudra of meditation).

Amoghasiddhi means accomplishment of the absence of delusion or stupidity.  He conquers obstacles to achieve the Buddhist path and destroys the poison of envy. He makes the abhayamudra (the mudra of driving away danger and fear).

The subject and study of the Meditation Buddhas is very complex and is perhaps most developed in the Vajrayana tradition in Tibet. The various meditation Buddhas have various other characteristics and associations, including colours, elements and symbols, attributed to them.  These would need much space to describe and interpret and are beyond the discussion of the subject matter of this collection.

The Bodhisattva Images
A bodhisattva is an enlightened being, who declines full Buddhahood in order to help others. This is the path on which Mahayana Buddhism is based. The various manifestations of some of the bodhisattvas will be shown. In Pāḷi the term is bodhisatta, but since the figurines displayed are from the Mahayana tradition, Sanskrit terms will be used in descriptions in the text. The pre-eminent bodhisattva is Avalokitesvara from the Sanskrit ava, down; lokita to observe; and īśvara, lord (the final a and initial i are elided and the word becomes eśvara).  Thus the meaning: The Lord who looks down.  It is implied that he perceives the problems of people.  However, it is conjectured that the original term was Avalokitasvara where the final word was svara, which means sound or noise.  This could be translated:  The perceiver of the sounds or lamentations below.  In fact the Chinese name: 觀世音 Guānshìyīn translates as:  He who perceives the world’s lamentations.  This is usually shortened to Guānyīn.  It is interesting to note that the form Avalokitasvara is found in Sanskrit texts as early as the 5th century CE, but the present form did not appear until the 7th century CE.

The first bodhisattvas in India were male and as the Mahayana tradition spread through Eastern Asia, this initially remained the case.  In China the Bodhisattva Avalokitasvara eventually was identified with an earlier Chinese goddess and after the Song Dynasty (9th to12th century CE), became exclusively female, thus the form of the present Guānshìyīn to this day. Similarly in Japan the same bodhisattva is known as Kanzeon or shortened to Kan’on.  While earlier images may be male and many are still extant, since about the 9th century CE, the female form is more common there too.

The above details are necessary to explain the writer’s confusion, when trying to identify figurines. Not only is there a problem to be sure of whether an image should be male or female, but from country to country the names and significance may change, e.g. in some traditions the Bodhisattva Tara was said to have been created from the tears of Avalokitesvara; in others Tara is the female counterpart of, or the consort of Avalokitesvara (such as in Tibet) and in others simply a manifestation of Avalokitesvara. Another confusion is that both images may be shown holding the lotus: padmapani.

Hindu and Buddhist Deity Images
Hindu deities or their significance have changed over the ages.  Earlier deities, who were powerful such as Indra, who has the epithet Devapati or Lord of the gods, is still well known because of his place in the Rig Veda.  However, many Hindu deities became more prominent such as Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.  During the Hindu period in Java, Shiva was the predominant Hindu deity. Buddhism, especially the Mahayana and Tantrayana traditions, has adopted many deities from the Hindu culture and tradition and they hold an important place in Buddhist traditions.  The Karandavyuha Sutra (4th – 5th century CE) presents the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara as the supreme Buddhist ishvara (divine lord), who is even greater than that of any other bodhisattva or Buddha and the progenitor of various heavenly bodies and major divinities. Alexander Studholme, in a monograph[1] on the sutra, writes:  ‘The sun and moon are said to be born from the bodhisattva’s eyes, Mahesvara [Siva] from his brow, Brahma from his shoulders, Narayana [Vishnu] from his heart, Sarasvati from his teeth, the winds from his mouth, the earth from his feet and the sky from his stomach.’.

1. Alexander Studholme, The Origins of Om Manipadme Hum: A Study of the Karandavyuha Sutra, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2002.

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