Visualizing the power of wisdom : Mañjuvajra Mandala, an eleventh century Pāla period sculpture from Bengal



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Among the extant examples of carved-stone deity mūrtis from Pāla-period Bengal, few express their subject matter in such dynamic and aesthetically refined visual terms as a sculpture now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Entitled Mañjuvajra Mandala, the stele depicts a three-faced six-armed form of the bodhisattva of wisdom, Mañjuśrī. It dates from the latest phase of Vajrayāna Buddhism in India and likely reflects sādhana practices that entail mandala visualization rituals and union with a female consort. Although a superbly carved piece and an unusual form, it has not yet been fully studied. Surviving relevant texts locate Mañjuvajra primarily within a mandala diagram as the focus of sādhana visualization rituals. The purpose of this thesis is to explore aspects of the sculpture's execution that add to its meaning and, in turn, provide an enriched understanding of Vajrayāna practice. The innovative composition and metonymic forms of this Mañjuvajra sculpture demonstrate the congruency of religious content and artistic depiction in a powerful and multivalent manner.