Vajrapani Tibet 19th century
Bronze, H: 26 cm
MIK Collection I. 10178

One of the main Bodhisattvas of Tibet, Vajrapani is the holder of the ‘secret doctrine’ that overcomes all external obstacles. Vagra embodies the power to vanquish the 'demons’ of the inner and outer worlds that cause pain and suffering. A wrathful diety with a threatening gesture called tarjanimudra, Vadripani is the guardian of Buddha Sakyamuni.

Vajrapani, together with Avalokiteshvara and Manjusri are collectively known as rigs gsum mgon po, the three main Bodhisattvas of Tibet.  This powerful protector stands in the archer pose with right leg bent and legs extended.  He holds the thunderbolt (vajra) aloft in his right hand, and his left hand forms the threatening gesture (tarjanimudra), with the middle fingers touching and forefinger and little finger raised.  Vajrapani is a wrathful deity and here he is depicted as a squat figure with a round belly.  His bulging eyes are inlaid with blue lapis lazuli and there is a third eye on the forehead.  His mouth is open to reveal fangs and, as is typical of wrathful deities, his flaming hair is surmounted by a thunderbolt painted red.

The figure is naked except for a lower garmet consisting of a tiger skin.  Vajrapani is bedecked with strings of jewelry, serpents, scarves, and a garland of freshly severed heads.  A feeling of power emanates from this masterfully sculpted figure

Vajrapani is the holder of the “secret doctrine” that overcomes all internal and external obsticles.  In this image he holds a vajra which embodies the power of the Buddha’s esoteric doctrine to vanquish the 'demons’ of the outer and inner worlds that cause pain and suffering for living beings.  In Buddhist iconography, Vajrapani first appeared in Gandharan art as a guardian of the Buddha Sakyamuni.  His iconography evolved through the ages and his form became more complex.  The Gandharan Vajrapani carries a simple bone-like thunderbolt while the thunderbolt held by this bronze Vajrapani is more sophisticated, with a narrow waist and clusters of nine prongs at each end representing the nine divisions (yånas) of Buddha’s teaching.

(R. Ghosh, In the Footsteps of the Buddha. pp. 245-46)